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Proper 15 | Ordinary Time 20, Cycle B (2015)

More about the bread that brings life, wisdom, and unity. This is a Sunday for sermons on Sanctification and Social Ethics (harmony in society), but with the reminder that these are works of God (Justification by Grace and Providence).

Psalm 111
This Hymn of Praise to Yahweh for his great deeds begins with the ritual cry of Hallelujah (Praise the Lord) and proceeds to extol God for his great deeds (especially fidelity to the covenant [berith], vv. 5, 9) (vv. 1-3). The Lord’s graciousness [channun], truth [emeth], and judgment [mishpat] are noted (vv. 4, 7). Reference to giving the people the heritage of the nations (v. 6) may refer to Canaan, which the Hebrews seized from various nations. It is good to remember that God’s judgment in the Hebraic sense is a word of comfort, in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and comfort in knowing that God’s just actions against the faithful have an end in sight (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 343, 358-359).

Yahweh is said to send redemption [peduth] to his people, and it is proclaimed that he has a holy [qadosh] and awesome name [shem] (v. 9). Fear [yirah, literally “reverence’] of the Lord is said to be the beginning of wisdom [chokmah] (v. 10). See Proverbs 1:7. The Hebrew word for wisdom used here may connote skill. This conclusion and the use of an acrostic style in the Psalm (beginning each line with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) suggest that it may also have been composed for instructional purposes.

Application: Sermons on this Psalm will praise God for his grace and his judgment of evil, or focus on how awareness of him leads to wise living and reverence (Providence, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification).


Psalm 34:9-14
As noted last week, this is a thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble, traditionally attributed to David when he feigned madness before Abimelich so that he drove him out (1 Samuel 20:10-15, where the king on whom David played this trick is King Achish of Gath). There is also an instructional and didactic agenda. The Psalm is acrostic (see the explanation of the previous Psalm). These verses are a continuation of the psalmist’s commending of his faith to the congregation. The people are called on to fear [yirah, reverence] the Lord, for they will have no want (vv. 9-11). Those who desire long life are told to keep their tongues [lashon] from evil (vv. 12-13). We are directed to fear the Lord by departing evil, doing good [tod], and seeking peace [shalom] (v. 14). We should recall again that shalom for ancient Hebrews in not merely the absence of conflict, but the wholeness of a relationship of communion, the balancing of all claims between parties in common life — a state of justice and equality (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 130).

Application: This lesson opens the way for sermons on Social Justice or reverencing God with our lives (Sanctification) ways of giving thanks to God for delivering us from trouble (Providence).

1 Kings 2:10-12–3:3-14
Again we are reminded that this book and 2 Kings were originally one book, providing an account of Israel’s history from the death of David through Jehoiachim’s release from a Babylonian prison. There is speculation that these texts are the product of the Deuteronomistic reform of Josiah, but later revised after the exile in 587 BC. This lesson is a report of David’s death and Solomon’s ascension to the throne (2:10-12). This is in line with a central theme of the book, that the promise that David would have an eternal dynasty remains secure.

Solomon is said to love [aheb] the Lord and to walk as David did (3:3). (This is one of the few Old Testament references to loving Yahweh.) Solomon seems to have gone to Gibeon, the most important worship center for the Israelites in his lifetime, prior to the erection of the Jerusalem Temple (3:4; 1 Chronicles 16:39; 21:29). In a dream that followed the Lord appears to the king. Solomon requests wisdom (an understanding [bin] heart [iebab] to judge [shaphat] the people) (3:5-9). Reference is made to Solomon being a “little child” (3:7). This is not indicative that Solomon was literally a child when he assumed the throne, but is a sign of humility.

The people of Israel are said to be elect (3:8). Pleased with the prayer, God pledges to grant Solomon not just his request for a wise [chakam], discerning mind [leb, literally heart], but also great riches and honor (3:10-13). God also promises to lengthen Solomon’s life on condition that he walks in the Lord’s statutes [choq] and commandments [mitsvah] as David had (3:14). It is good to be reminded that in ancient Hebraic thinking the law is not merely a set of rules demanding obedience. Rather it is regarded as the complete revelation of what God instructs, the complete guide to life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).

Application: This text opens to way to sermons that indicate the link between wisdom (practical knowledge rooted in experience [Sanctification]) and the love of God. The text relates this wisdom to justice (Social Ethics).


Proverbs 9:1-6
This book is a compilation of several Wisdom sayings, aphorisms traditionally ascribed to Solomon, but some of which came from Gentile scriptures (chapters 30-31) that received final editing in the post-exilic period (sixth century BC and later). Some of these sayings are indebted to other ancient near-Eastern cultures (especially Egypt). Wisdom (sometimes personified as female) in the Hebraic context was the work of sages, generally equated with the way of righteousness. It was practical knowledge of life rooted in basic experience and in faith. In this lesson, Wisdom is identified as female, inviting the unwise to a banquet.

Wisdom [chokmuh], referred to in the female gender, is said to have built her house on her seven pillars (v. 1). The house [bayith] may be the center of a good society. Wisdom is said to have slaughtered her animals, mixed her wine, and set her table (v. 2). She sends out servants, calling from the highest places in town (v. 3). Even the simple are to come, to eat bread with her, to eat the bread and drink the wine (vv. 4-5). Hearers are urged to lay aside immaturity and live with insight/understanding [binah] (v. 6).

Application: The Complementary First Lesson is another text for reflecting on the nature of Wisdom and Christian life. This practical knowledge, embedded in God, may be consumed by all. (This point might be related to the gospel with its word that Jesus is the bread that gives life.) The gift is for all, entailing a relationship between Sanctification and Social Ethics. The text can also offer an opportunity to explore the female character of God, who is Wisdom.

Ephesians 5:15-20
As noted last week, this book is a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career or by a follower of the apostle who had had a hand in assembling the collection of his epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the Pauline corpus. It was likely addressed to a younger, later generation of Christians (1:15). In this lesson Paul continues to appeal to readers to renounce pagan ways. He exhorts the faithful to live wisely [sofoi], understanding the Lord’s will [thelema], making the most of time since the days are evil [poneros, a phrase which suggests a sense that we are in the last days] (vv. 15-17). This is an apocalyptic perspective. Rather than filled with wine, we should be filled [pleroo] with the Spirit [pneuma] (v. 19). The text concludes with a call to praise God (v. 20).

Application: This text invites sermons exploring how the Holy Spirit leads to a life of praise, wisdom, and an eschatological urgency (Pneumatology, Sanctification, and Realized Eschatology).

John 6:51-58
The gospel is again drawn from the last of the gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. We have noted that it is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. It is probably based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John. Recently some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late first/early second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155).

In this lesson Jesus continues with his discourse on being the living bread [artos] that came down from heaven and proclaiming that whoever eats the bread lives forever. This bread is said to be his flesh [sarx] (v. 51). Jews dispute this (v. 52). Jesus responds, claiming that unless they eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood they will have no life (v. 53). Those who eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood are said to have eternal life [aionios zoe], for his flesh and blood are the true food and drink (vv. 54-55). Likewise, those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in Christ and he in them (v. 56). Those references are as close as John ever comes to referring to the Lord’s Supper. (Some scholars contend that these verses are too sacramental for John’s theology, and so may be later additions.) Christ then proclaims that whoever eats him will live [zao] (v. 57). He continues to contrast this bread that gives eternal life to the bread in the wilderness given to the Jews (v. 58).

Application: In this text preachers can proclaim that we are in Christ and so unified with each other (Church) that in eating Christ (Justification by Grace and the Sacraments) we are given life (Eschatology and Sanctification).

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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