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Proper 18 | Ordinary Time 23, Cycle A

Sunday between September 4 and September 10 inclusive

When we study these texts in their context, it becomes apparent they share the theme that “God is concerned about every individual within the community of faith.” Beyond this theme each of these texts has its own nuances.

Exodus 12:1-14
This text in which the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread are institutionalized is clearly a statement that God is concerned about every Israelite. Placing some of the blood of the animal sacrificed on the doorpost of each home is to be an immunization of all of the Israelites, to separate them from the oppressive Egyptians who are to be punished and weakened by the death of the first-born of all of the oppressors’ people and animals. That this Festival is a reminder of God’s love and concern for one’s own people while punishing and weakening the oppressors is a contrast with the encouragement of Jesus and of Paul to “kill one’s oppressors with acts of kindness,” giving them food and drink. It is a reminder to us of the diverse opinions expressed within our biblical texts, and we should not merely choose an opinion from among these that corresponds to our own opinion and then condemn others among our fellow believers who choose a different biblical opinion as their own.

Psalm 149
The distinction between God’s concern for the People of Israel and God’s concern for other persons is clearly made also in this psalm. Every Israelite is urged to praise the Lord with joyous song and dance but with a two-edged sword in their hands or at least within quick and easy reach. The timbrel and lyre are to be used to make music for the Lord, and the two-edged sword to destroy their enemies.

Ezekiel 33:7-11
The Ezekiel traditions are noteworthy for the transition within them from corporate responsibility and accountability to individual responsibility and accountability. This transition can be seen in this Ezekiel 33:7-11 segment.

As a result of the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the nation, those who survived and maintained the Israelite traditions as exiles in Babylon were perceived as surviving as individuals. The prophet Ezekiel was called and commissioned, therefore, to speak words of judgment and of hope not so much to the entire nation as to individuals within “Israel.” This emphasis on individual responsibility and on individual accountability and on the judgment by God of each individual became important in Israelite apocalyptic thought and was carried over into Christian thought with emphasis on individual salvation. The individual may survive even though the nation is no longer in existence. Although God was certainly perceived as being concerned about every individual person prior to the time of the development of the Ezekiel traditions, from that time on there has been much more concern for each person. In Ezekiel 33:8 this emphasis on each person is so great that it is written the prophet will be held responsible for the death of any individual person among the Israelite people to whom God’s word of warning was not relayed by the prophet.

Psalm 119:33-40
Within this portion of the extensive Psalm 119, as well as throughout the entire Psalm with the exception of verses 1-4 in which all individuals are considered, the psalmist speaks as an individual. Even in verses 1-4 it is those who are individuals who live in accordance with the commandments of the Torah who are said to be blessed. For example in verse 94 we read, “I belong to you. Save me!” It is not “We are your people. Save us!”

In verses 33-40 the psalmist wrote “Teach me… Give me understanding… Lead me… Give me life.” There is no reference to the nation. Since for most of their years since 586 BCE the Israelites-Jews have had no nation, their primary perceptions of God have been on an individual basis. During the first four centuries of the development of the Church, followers of Jesus had no nation, and their perceptions of God were primarily individual also. After Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and within the nations that were formed after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christians have added a national component to their religion so strong that in many instances in the USA being American is more significant for some persons than is being Christian, and some want to insist that to be an American a person must be a Christian.

Romans 13:8-14
Within the first seven verses in Romans 13 the Apostle Paul indicated that, in his opinion, each person among the followers of Jesus who was living within the Roman Empire would fare best by being subject to the Roman authorities by paying the required taxes and showing respect and appropriate honor to those authorities. While doing this, however, Paul carefully placed Caesar and the officials who governed under Caesar into positions that were definitely subordinate to God. He wrote that such officials have no authority except the authority given to them by God and that God has appointed them.

In Romans 13:8-14 Paul wrote that followers of Jesus should have no obligations to anyone except to love each other. Paul wrote that each person is to follow the summary commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Each person is to “Put on the garment of the Lord Jesus Christ and not be thinking about the use of physical resources for evil purposes.”

Matthew 18:15-20
Within its context in Matthew 18, this text is also an expression of God’s concern for every human being. It follows immediately after the Matthean account of the one lost sheep that has gone astray, and it is followed by the saying about unlimited interpersonal forgiveness. Whatever can be done, such as a personal visit of concern for every individual person, should be done. There are no civil courts, no ecclesial courts such as were developed much later in the history of the Church, to be involved here.

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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