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Proper 16 | Ordinary Time 21 | Pentecost 13, Cycle C (2016)

The difference God makes in our lives and in our nation. The lessons for this Sunday will lead to reflections on how life looks differently because of God’s actions (Sanctification). This entails attention to Providence, Justification by Grace, and Social Ethics.

Psalm 71:1-6
This is an aged worshiper’s (v. 9) prayer/lament for deliverance from personal enemies. The psalmist claims to take refuge in Yahweh, urging that we never be put to shame (v. 1). He pleads that in the Lord’s righteousness [tsedeq] the psalmist be delivered and saved [yasha] (v. 2). He petitions that Yahweh would be a rock of refuge, a strong fortress [metsudah] to save him (v. 3). Although in its original Hebraic context this could connote legal, judgmental actions on the Lord’s part or a legalism, most Old Testament scholars note that God’s righteousness is not in any way punitive, but more about relationship. Indeed, it has to do with God’s loyalty to his covenant in saving us and even at times later in the Old Testament era the righteousness of God is construed as something bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff) in a manner not unlike what Paul says happens to Christians in Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The psalmist next pleads for rescue from the hand of the wicked and the unjust (v. 4). It is noted that the Lord is his hope [tiqvah] and trust since youth (v. 5). He has leaned on him since birth for the Lord took him from his mother’s womb (v. 6).

Application: This psalm invites sermons reminding us that God has been with us forever, never forgets his promises, and it has made a difference in our lives, as we proceed to live in the confidence that he never abandons us (Providence, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification).


Psalm 103:1-8
This is a Psalm of Praise and Thanksgiving for recovery from sickness. It is attributed to David. We have previously noted that it is unlikely that David is the author of Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). In fact some scholars conclude that references to David in the psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Ibid., p. 521). Thus this psalm may aim to have all the faithful offer thanksgivings for their recoveries.

The psalm begins with a call to bless [barak] the Lord, that all that is in us bless his holy name [shem, rernown] (v. 1). Nor should we forget his benefits in forgiving sin, healing disease, redeeming life from the pit/ruin, crowning us with steadfast love [racham, tender compassion], and satisfying us with good [tob] for life (vv. 2-5a). Youth is renewed (v. 5b).

Yahweh is said to work vindication [tsedaqah, righteousness] and justice [mishpat] for all who are oppressed (v. 6). (See the previous psalm for a discussion of the righteousness of God. Regarding the judgment of God we remind ourselves that in the Hebraic sense this is a word of comfort, in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and provide comfort, knowing that God’s just acts have an end in sight [Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 343, 358-359].) God is said to have made known his ways [derek] to Moses and to the people of Israel (v. 7). Invoking an ancient confession of faith, the Lord is said to be merciful [chesed] and gracious [channun], slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love/mercy (v. 8; cf. Exodus 34:6).

Application: Sermons on the Alternative Psalm invite exploration of the things in life that afflict us (disease, suffering, doubts, and so forth — Sin). But then comes the Good News of how God’s forgiveness, love, and compassion, his faithfulness to his promises, change things, renew life, and bestow us with good (Justification by Grace and Providence).

Jeremiah 1:4-10
We are again reminded that this book is a collection of prophecies of a late seventh or early sixth century BC prophet of Judah from the reigns of Josiah through the era of the Babylonian Captivity. He dictated these prophecies to his aide Baruch. Some of the prophet’s criticism of the house of David and the temple may relate to his having as an ancestor one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished (1 Kings 2:26-27). Three sources of the book have been identified; 1) An authentic poetic strand; 2) Biographic prose; and 3) Deuteronomic redaction (reflecting themes of the seventh century BC reforms under King Josiah). The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors see Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in a new context.

This lesson reports on Jeremiah’s call and commission. Yahweh comes to Jeremiah claiming he knew [yada, in the sense of an intimacy] him before he had formed Jeremiah in the womb. Before the prophet’s birth, Yahweh had consecrated him as prophet to the nations [goi] (vv. 4-5). Jeremiah complains to God that he does not know how to speak since he is only a boy. It is difficult to ascertain here just how young Jeremiah may have been when starting his ministry with this call. Yahweh responds that he will go to whom he commands and speak as commanded (vv. 6-7). Jeremiah should not be afraid, for the Lord will deliver [natsal, snatch away] him (v. 8). Yahweh puts words in Jeremiah’s mouth (much like he had Moses [Deuteronomy 18:18], so that Jeremiah will be a prophet like Moses) (v. 9). Jeremiah is appointed over nations to pluck up and pull down, destroy, build and plant (v. 10). Obviously, the points made in this verse seem to summarize Jeremiah’s prophetic proclamation. God’s word is here portrayed as a dynamic, vital, not static force.

Application: Sermons on this version of the First Lesson will involve a prophetic word of critique of the old order of greed and narcissism (Sin and Social Ethics) along with an awareness of our election by God, so that all the goods in our daily lives are seen as works of God (Justification by Grace, Predestination, and Sanctification construed in terms of spontaneous good works).


Isaiah 58:9b-14
The first 39 chapters are the work of the historical prophet who proclaimed a message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian empire. Chapters 40-66 emerged in the later period after the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century BC. A hypothesized third section (chapters 56-66) of the book perhaps written by Second Isaiah or by one of his disciples in view of the close stylistic similarities to chapters 40 on begins at the conclusion of the Babylonian Captivity and is likely written after the restoration of exiled Judah, expressing some disappointment about what has transpired since the exiles’ return. This lesson is from the third section, concerning Yahweh not desiring fasting, but kindness and justice. We are told that if we stop making legal accusations (implied by references to pointing fingers and speaking evil), offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then our lights [or] should rise up in the darkness (v. 10). The Lord will guide continually and satisfy needs, making us strong, like a watered garden (v. 11). Israel’s ruins will be rebuilt, raising up the foundations of many generations (v. 12). If the people refrain from trampling on the Sabbath and not pursue their own interests on that day, calling the Sabbath a delight, then they will take delight [anag] in the Lord and he will ride the people on the heights of the earth (live with success), feeding them with the heritage of Jacob (vv. 13-14). Strict observance of the Sabbath was increasingly emphasized in post-exilic Judaism (56:2).

Application: At least two distinct avenues for sermons on this Complementary First Lesson are suggested. One possibility is how observing the Sabbath can lead to many blessings (Sanctification). Or we might focus on how what God wants and does is to care for the needs of the hungry and afflicted (Providence and Social Ethics).

Hebrews 12:18-29
Readings from this anonymous treatise continue. As previously noted, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of the Levitical priests, it was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36). Emerging in the context of exhortations and warnings against rejecting God’s grace, this lesson contrasts the two covenants.

The text begins by noting that the covenant of Sinai cannot be touched (vv. 18-19). The image recalls the descent of God on Mount Sinai. (The image recalls the descent of God on Sinai [Deuteronomy 4:11-12; 5:22-25].) The people could not endure orders given, and so they trembled with fear (vv. 20-21). The faithful are reported to come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God (a reference to the holy mountain in Jerusalem), and the heavenly Jerusalem, as well as to the assembly of the firstborn of those enrolled in heaven, the spirits of the righteous [dikaiov, just ones] made perfect [teleioo, complete] (vv. 22-23). Jesus is said to be mediator [mesites] of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (v. 24).

The author urges that readers not reject who is speaking, for if they did not escape when they refused the one who wanted them on earth [presumably Moses, the spokesman of the First Covenant], it is less likely that anyone can escape if they reject [the New Covenant] the one [Christ] who warns from heaven (v. 25). The author notes that his [the Lord’s] voice shook the earth, but now he has promised to shake [saleuo, agitate] the earth and heaven. Creative things will be shaken, though what cannot be shaken will remain (vv. 26-27). This implies that the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant of Moses, except for what is lasting about the earlier covenant. Receiving this kingdom [the New Covenant] that cannot be shaken, recipients of the letter are urged to give thanks by offering God acceptable worship with reference and awe, for God is a consuming fire [pur] (vv. 28-29; cf. Deuteronomy 4:24).

Application: Sermons on this lesson provide opportunities to proclaim the new character of God’s word of unconditional love (Gospel) in relation to the old order of needing to prove ourselves. Or the focus could be upon how Jesus’ Atoning Work on the cross makes this possible (Atonement) leading us to this insight in awe (Sanctification).

Luke 13:10-17
We again are reminded that this gospel is the first installment of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. With this lesson we consider the story of Jesus healing a crippled woman, an account unique to Luke.

While teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, Jesus is reported to have encountered a woman crippled by a spirit [pneuma] for eighteen years (vv. 11-12). In response to her request for healing, he proclaims her freedom [apolelusai] from ailment, laid his hands on her, and she stood up straight (vv. 12-13). The leader of the synagogue [arxisunagogos] was indignant, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath (v. 14; cf. Exodus 20:9-10; Deuteronomy 5:13-14). The Lord answers, calling him a hypocrite since animals are cared for on the Sabbath (v. 15). Likewise a daughter of Abraham should be set free from bondage on the Sabbath (v. 16). Physical and psychic disorders are portrayed by Luke as works of Satan, in conflict with God’s purposes. Jesus’ opponents were in that way put to shame and the entire crowd rejoiced (v. 17).

Application: Sermons on this lesson will proclaim how Jesus’ presence with us overcomes our loneliness and social isolation, better enduring all that holds us in bondage (Sin and Justification by Grace).

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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