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Proper 17 | Ordinary Time 22, Cycle B (2015)


A love that changes lives. This is a Sunday for reflecting on the power of love that is related to God (Justification by Grace) and how the love may reflect in our lives (Sanctification, which may motivate Social Ethics).

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9
This is a Korah Psalm, a love song or ode for a royal wedding. As noted last week, the Korahites were a group of temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19) who may have collected and transmitted a number of the Psalms. The author claims to be a professional writer, joyful in his task of addressing the king (v. 1). The king is addressed in the most flattering language (v. 2). He may be addressed here as God (vv. 6-7), a common practice in the ancient Near East but unprecedented in Hebrew Scriptures. He is said to be anointed by God, with an oil of gladness beyond any of his companions (v. 7). The king is said to dwell in an ivory palace, implying great wealth (v. 8). It is added that daughters of kings are said to be among the king’s ladies of honor (v. 9).

Application: Preaching on this Psalm opens the way to reflecting on the love we may feel for God in all his majesty, specifically read references to the king’s majesty as references to Christ (Christology and Sanctification).


Psalm 15
A liturgy for admission to the temple traditionally attributed to David. It seems useful to reiterate the conclusion of many scholars that references to David in the Psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about how all the faithful with the requisite qualities may enter the temple. The song refers to those who walk blamelessly [tamin, perfectly], do what is right [work righteousness, tsedeq], speak the truth [emeth], and do no evil. We are reminded that although in its original Hebraic context the concept of righteousness could connote the demand for legal innocence, most Old Testament scholars note that this concept refers to faithfulness to a relationship. The righteousness mentioned here likely refers to those who are in relation to God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff). The Psalm continues with a reminder that those who may abide in the temple are to despise the wicked, honor the faithful [those who fear the Lord], stand by oaths, lend no money at interest, and take no bribes (vv. 2-5).

Application: Sermons on this text will remind hearers of the ancient Hebraic belief that God was present in the Jerusalem Temple, but that certain expectations existed for those who came into his presence. What ultimately makes us worthy is God making us righteous, bringing us into relationship with him (Justification by Grace), which will lead us to care for the faithful and

skepticism about economic transactions that are in our favor at the expense of others (Sanctification and Social Ethics).

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
This is a book of love poems. The date of composition is uncertain. It resembles Egyptian love songs of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC. Some consider it a unified love poem. Others regard it as a loose anthology of independent songs. The tradition of attributing the book to Solomon (the Song of Songs which is Solomon’s) cannot be substantiated. This attribution (1:1) was due to the mention of his name in 3:9, 11; 8:11-12 and to a claim made in 1 Kings 4:32. In making this connection to Solomon the biblical canon sets the book in the category of Wisdom literature, of Solomon as Israel’s wise man par excellence (1 Kings 3:1ff; 5:1ff).

Jews and Christians have historically interpreted the love songs as an interaction between God and the faithful (between Christ [the lover in the book is a shepherd or king] and the church for Christians). The tie between Hebraic wisdom and erotic language as reflected in the song is evident in Proverbs 7:6ff; 9:1ff; Sirach 51:13ff. Wisdom is pictured as a woman entering those passing. The entire book is a love dialogue between the couple. It probes the mystery and wisdom of human love; the union of lovers is a means for discovering common identity.

The lesson is the reminiscence of a springtime visit of the lover to his beloved. He comes to take her away, as the winter (the rainy season) is past. We are reminded that now is a time of singing [zamin, which is a term that could also refer to a pruning season] (vv. 10-11, 13).

Application: This is a text which inspires sermons on the life-changing character of the unconditional love of God (Justification by Grace) and its implications for Sanctification and perhaps for Social Ethics (as we use the text to witness to the character of true love in a way that critiques the American media’s prevailing models of love as a causal affair).


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
This book is primarily the work of one of the four oral traditions comprising the Pentateuch — D, a strand rooted in the sweeping religious reform under King Josiah in the seventh century BC. This literary strand also influenced the histories of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, as well as 1 and 2 Kings. This book purports to be Moses’ farewell address to the people. It is really three addresses, this lesson being the conclusion of the first address. Moses appeals for faithful obedience to God’s law, not to add anything to what the Lord has commanded (vv. 1-2). By observing these ordinances diligently, the people will show their wisdom and discernment to the peoples who will call them a great nation [goi]. For no other nation has a god [elohim] so near as Yahweh (vv. 6-7). No other great nation has statutes [choq, decreed limits] and judgments [mishpat] as the entire law [torah] set before Israel (v. 8). The statutes are to be kept in mind all the days of life and made known to the children (v. 9). Such transmission of Israel’s experience through the generations is a core Deuteronomistic theme. 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: Several possibly distinct directions for sermons follow from this text. On the one hand it provides an opportunity to reflect on the Hebraic understanding of God’s commandments, on how they might function positively for guidance in the Christian life (Sanctification). Or in line with the Theme of the Day one might stress God’s election of us and how that love (Predestination and Justification by Grace) launches us into a life of obedience (Sanctification).

James 1:17-27
This book is probably a piece of Christian Wisdom literature with an epistolary greeting appended (1:1). Traditionally attributed to James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19; Acts 15:13; 21:18), the Greek seems too good to have been his work. It was only later accepted as a canonical book (not until the third century in the west, though accepted as scripture in Alexandria during the previous century). This text is a discussion of living the faith.

The author notes that all generous acts and perfect gifts are from above, from the Father of lights [referring to the stars or angels]. The word has given Christians birth so that they are first fruits [aparche] of his creatures (vv. 17-18). Then Christians are urged to be quick to listen and slow to anger, since anger does not produce God’s righteousness (vv. 19-20). (This is an example of the wisdom character of James, as remaining silent to receive instruction was not only ancient Hebraic wisdom [Proverbs 12:15; 19:27], but also ancient Egyptian wisdom.) This insight in turn urges the faithful to rid themselves of all wickedness, welcoming in meekness — the word that is implanted [eufutov] now growing in them to give (v. 21).

The author also urges the faithful to be doers [poietes] of the word [logos], not merely listeners, for mere hearers are said to be those who just glance in a mirror and forget what they were like (vv. 22-23). But those who look into the perfect law (a reference usually applied to the Mosaic law, but here referring to the Gospel called the “law of liberty” [nomos tes eleutherias]) and who persevere will be blessed (vv. 24-25). One’s religion is said to be worthless, if he does not bridle the tongue. Religious observance that is pure before God cares for orphans and widows in their distress and also keeps the self-unstained by the world (vv. 26-27).

Application: Sermons on this text should aim to condemn our Sin manifested in our verbosity and inaction and to proclaim that God’s forgiving love (Justification by Grace) can drive us to be better listeners and more activism (Social Ethics).

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

As is well known, this book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels. Perhaps based on oral traditions of the Passion narratives and accounts of Jesus’ teachings (the so-called Q-source), it was likely written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

In this lesson Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to Gennesaret (a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, as least eighty miles north of the capital) to challenge Jesus, specifically on why he allowed his disciples to violate rituals of cleanliness (vv. 1-5; cf. Leviticus 15:11). The only parallel account to this lesson is in Matthew 15. (Luke 11:37-40 also addresses Jesus’ critique of ritual uncleanness, but it makes this point by relating a different story.) The text’s claim that all Jews observed this custom (v. 3) is an overstatement (Leviticus 22:1-2, 5-16), and the claim does not appear in Matthew’s parallel version. Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13, accusing his critics of merely honoring God with their lips (with mere human teachings) and not in their hearts [kardia] (vv. 6-8). The fact that it is the Septuagint (the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) that is cited suggests that these were not Jesus’ words. He then elaborates (in verses not included in the lesson) about how such human expectations were making it more difficult for the Jews to honor (care for) their parents (vv. 9-13) (since they were obligated to make offerings to God that might be used to help their parents). Next he reiterates that nothing outside people entering into them can defile them, but only what comes out of a person (vv. 14-15). After an interaction with the disciples in private (vv. 16-20), Jesus continues to note that the evil things that defile come from within. He speaks of evil intentions, like theft, murder, adultery, envy, and so forth (vv. 21-23).

Application: The text creates an opportunity for sermons that condemn Sin manifest in certain socio-cultural and ecclesiastical expectations (those which exclude certain people), noting how they interfere with our doing God’s will and that this can only happen with the forgiving love of God (Justification by Grace) which frees us properly to use some norms or customs of these institutions to serve God (Sanctification and Social Ethics).

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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