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Proper 14 | Ordinary Time 19, Cycle A

Sunday between August 7 and August 13 inclusive

It is difficult to identify a unifying factor within the six texts selected for this week. Perhaps the best we can do will be to note that in several of these texts the human condition is characterized by anxiety and fear. In these situations of human anxiety and fear God asserts God’s self in a variety of ways, most notably in a still, small voice commanding Elijah to become even more involved than before in the political situation of his time and in God’s marvelous power and peace revealed through Jesus.

When we look objectively at the human condition today, we see that the human condition is characterized by anxiety and fear and in these situations we believe God continues to assert God’s self in a variety of ways. Perhaps when we have described the situations of anxiety and fear within the Genesis 37, 1 Kings 19, and Matthew 14 accounts, we could enter more fully into the situations depicted in these texts by sharing a few illustrations of how we personally and we as a community of faith have been and are anxious and fearful within our own situations. This should be followed by our proclamation of how we believe God asserts God’s self in our situations. Members of the congregation should be given the opportunity during the “shared” portion of the sermon or homily to participate more fully by describing how they are anxious and fearful and how they believe God asserts God’s self in their lives. No one should be pressured to share openly in this way, but in every congregation, especially in relatively small congregations, there are a few persons who are willing, perhaps even eager, to share their experiences, their perceptions, and their faith.

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
In these selections from the introductory portions of the Joseph story, we see the situations of anxiety and fear in this thoroughly dysfunctional megafamily were caused by jealousy and hatred among the brothers that were results of the favoritism openly shown to Joseph by the father they all shared and by the repeated displays of the arrogance of the young lad Joseph. The crude treatment of Joseph by the brothers as they threatened to kill Joseph and then settled for the lesser crime of selling Joseph into slavery certainly resulted in anxiety and fear in Joseph, and beyond these segments of the story, in anxiety and grave distress in the life of Jacob, the father of all of these brothers. (Since only these brief selections of the introductory portions of the Joseph story and on the following week only a few verses of the dramatic climax of the Joseph story will be read within the worship services, it would be appropriate to urge the members of the worshiping congregation to read the entire Joseph story in their homes and within their families during the time between this coming weekend and the next in order to familiarize or refamiliarize themselves with the Joseph story.)

Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
The anxiety and fear the people to whom this psalm is addressed once had as wandering sheep and goat herders without a nation and subjected to drought and famine are remembered as they are called upon to worship the Lord God of Israel. They are reminded of the intense anxiety and fear Joseph suffered when he had been sold into slavery and had been restrained by iron shackles on his feet and neck. Now, however, these thoughts of anxiety and fear no longer restrain them as they praise and acclaim the Lord God for the mighty acts of deliverance of Joseph and of their people that have resulted in the formation of their nation Israel.

1 Kings 19:9-18
Since this text is only a small segment of the extensive Elijah and Elisha traditions, it would be helpful to us in our preparation for this weekend to read again the entire collection of Elijah and Elisha traditions in 1 Kings 17–2 Kings 10, or at least 1 Kings 17:1–19:8 that precedes this text and to supply for the congregation a brief summary of 1 Kings 17:1–19:8 before this text is read within our worship service. In this summary there should be an explanation that it was because of the tyrannical power of the Sidonian Baal-worshiping Queen Jezebel and her secret police that the people of the Northern Kingdom had forsaken their covenant with the Lord God of Israel, had broken down the altars dedicated to the Lord, had killed many of the prophets of the Lord, and for self-preservation had become devotees of the Baal of Jezebel. The problem was political. Very few of the Israelite people at that time had been willing to risk their lives and the lives of their children by opposing Queen Jezebel. Even Elijah had become very anxious and fearful and had fled from the wrath of the queen. This should be explained to our people, because in several of our Newer Testament accounts, especially in Acts (as in the speech of Stephen in Acts 7:52) the Jews are viciously accused of killing their own prophets and no recognition is given of the political factors involved in the situations depicted in the Older Testament texts. Blaming all Jews for what some of them had done when forced to do so by the wicked Queen Jezebel is comparable to condemning all German people of all times for the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis in 1945. This 1 Kings 19 text emphasizes that a small group had remained, the 7,000 Israelites who had continued to be faithful to the Lord God of Israel in spite of the severe oppression. It is stated in 1 Kings 19 that Elijah should be assured that the Lord God would continue to work among the oppressed. This message should be applied also today. We believe that God continues to work among the oppressed in our time and not all people whom we may consider to be evil actually are evil.

Psalm 85:8-13
The entire psalm and not merely these final six verses should be read. When only these final six verses are read, it is as if we would skip the first two of four stanzas of a well-constructed Christian hymn. The message of this psalm is future-directed. It is a message of hope for the future, for the immediate future. Its message of hope can of course be directed into the distant future also, into our time and beyond our time.

Romans 10:5-15
Here as elsewhere in his seven basic letters, the Apostle Paul urges his readers not to be anxious and fearful but to believe that Jesus as the Risen Christ is Lord. Paul shares in this text his confidence that whoever believes this about Jesus as the Risen Christ and believes what God does in Jesus as the Risen Christ will be saved from the wrath and condemnation of God for that person’s sins.

Matthew 14:22-33
This highly symbolical account has parallels in Mark 6:45-52 and in John 6:16-21, but not in Luke. This account and its parallel accounts demonstrate the power of God in portraying Jesus walking on the sea. Since the sea is a biblical symbol of anxiety and fear, when it is proclaimed in these accounts that Jesus can walk safely and easily over the surface of the sea, they are proclaiming that Jesus can overcome all of the anxiety and fear in us. When Jesus enters the boat of his disciples (the boat being a symbol for the place that is safe for the followers of Jesus whenever Jesus is with them in it), all is calm and well.

We should, of course, put our emphasis on the symbolism and on the symbolic meaning of the account of this miracle, not on the mechanics of the event. It is better for us to visualize this miracle story for ourselves than to rely on TV and movie representations of some actor portraying Jesus and walking on a plank that has been placed just under the surface of the water, with the plank barely visible because of the angles of placement of the film maker’s cameras. Only Matthew within the three accounts of this miracle story has Peter also walking on the water, with the symbolism associated with Peter that is peculiar to Matthew. We should also note the Matthean redactors changed the reaction of the disciples from Markan bewilderment to Matthean worship.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen