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Proper 19 / Pentecost 14 / Ordinary Time 24, Cycle A

Remembering what’s happened to us: The remedy for our stony hearts. The texts have us looking to the past for hope and confidence in facing the present. God overcomes our harshness toward each other with love (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

Psalm 114
This is a hymn praising God’s great work in creating Israel. It is one of the Egyptian Hallel (“praise”) Psalms, perhaps sung during the slaughtering of the Passover lambs. The events of the Exodus are recalled. Judah is said to be God’s sanctuary [qodesh, literally separation] and Israel his dominion [memshalah] (vv. 1-2). Remarkable natural phenomena accompanying Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea are described in the present tense in the last two verses; the moving of the mountains and the seas are construed as contemporary, as verse 8 also seems to imply (vv. 3-6; cf. Exodus 14). The physical world is summoned to praise God (vv. 7-8; cf. turning the rock into water recalls Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11).

Application: The Psalm provides a fine opportunity to celebrate what God has done in setting Israel (and us) free (Justification by Grace). Even the created order gives us occasion for this sort of praise (Creation, Providence, Sanctification, as a life of praise). The themes of God ruling over the faithful or separating them [qodesh] are helpful insights for describing how God rules in the lives of the faithful and so overcomes our sin and sloth (Sanctification).


Psalm 103:(1-7) 8-13
A Psalm of praise and thanksgiving for recovery from sickness attributed to David. We are reminded again that psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the psalms 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 trust in God in the face of hard times that all the faithful experience.

The Psalm begins with a call to bless the Lord and his holy name. Nor should we forget his benefits in forgiving sin, healing disease, redeeming life from the pit, crowning us with steadfast love, and satisfying us with good for life, redeeming [gaal] us from the pit/ruin (vv. 1-5a). The comment about the soul [nephesh] is merely a reference that the life force or breath of the psalmist praises God. Youth [Neuroth] is then said to be renewed (v. 5b). Yahweh is proclaimed as working vindication and justice [mishpat, literally "judgment"] for all who are oppressed [ashuqim] (v. 6). He has made known his ways to Moses and to the people of Israel (v. 7). The Lord, it is sung, is merciful [chesed] and gracious [channun], slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (v. 8). His forgiving compassion next receives further elaboration (vv. 9-10). His loving kindness [chesed, also translated "mercy"] is said to be greater than the highest mountain (vv. 11-12). He is like a father [ab] showing love/pity [racham] for those who fear/reverence [yare] him (v. 13).

Application: We are provided with opportunities to proclaim how we can trust God to deliver in tough times. This is an opportunity to proclaim a loving God even in the Old Testament (Justification by Grace and Providence). The editor of the Psalms wants us to recognize that as this happened to David, so in remembering it we can count on it ourselves. As our Father, God can change us to revere him. Reference to God vindicating and bringing about fair judgments for the oppressed opens the way to sermons on justice and Social Ethics.

Exodus 14:19-31
Again we read from the book of liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. The book is a compilation of three distinct oral traditions. This lesson is the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. It seems likely to be the work of the ninth/tenth-century BC oral tradition called J for its use of the name Jahweh/Yahweh when speaking of God.

The account begins with an angel [malak] of Yahweh who was going before the Israelites and the pillar of cloud [anan] moving from the front to going behind them (v. 19). Both seem to represent the presence of God, perhaps indicative of the fusing of two different oral traditions here. This cloud divided the army of Israel from the Egyptians, lighting up the night (v. 20). Moses is reported to have stretched his hand over the sea; Yahweh drives these back by a strong wind dividing the waters, and the Israelites cross the sea on the dry ground (vv. 21-23).

It is next reported that at morning watch Yahweh in the pillar of fire [esh] and cloud panicked the Egyptian army and clogged [literally "removed"] their chariot wheels. Confessing Yahweh’s support of the Israelites, they sought to flee (vv. 24-25). Moses is then commanded by Yahweh to stretch out his hand over the sea so that the water will flood over the Egyptians. Moses complies and this transpires, covering the Egyptian army so not one remains (vv. 26-28). By contrast, the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea (v. 29). The editor of the text notes that this is how the Lord saved [yasha, gave safety to] Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the dead Egyptians as well as the great work done by him against them. The people then believed in Yahweh and in his servant Moses (vv. 30-31).

Application: We are provided with an opportunity to marvel at the deliverance of Israel and reflect on trials of life we experience, how like the Israelites we panic and doubt. Analysis of the modern forms of doubt and bondage might be explored (Sin and Justification by Grace). The depiction of salvation as “safety” entails that God’s saving work has implications for justice (Social Ethics) and that living faithfully gives safety (Sanctification). The images of God appearing as fire or a great cloud are a testimony to the awesomeness of God’s presence and how that presence remedies our doubts (Sanctification). Finally, an appreciation of how God used ordinary natural phenomena like strong winds to work his will and protect the faithful (Providence) can both provide us with a way of understanding this miracle in an intellectually palatable way as well as help us understand how to this day God is miraculously active in apparently natural ways.


Genesis 50:15-21
The Complementary Version of the First Lesson returns us to the Bible’s book of Origins, also a compilation of the same three distinct oral traditions as contributed to Exodus. This lesson is the story of the final reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, an account usually credited to the eighth century BC source E (so named for calling God “Elohim”). The story begins with the realization of Joseph’s brothers that their father Israel was dead and their concern that Joseph might still bear a grudge for the wrong they had done to him (v. 15). Thus they approach Joseph, indicating that their father had begged him to forgive [nasa] their crime. Joseph wept when told this (vv. 16-17). The brothers also weep, proclaiming that they were Joseph’s slaves (v. 18). Joseph assures them not to fear, for he is not Elohim (v. 19). Though the brothers had intended to harm him, God intended it for good [tob] in order to preserve numerous people (v. 20). In this way Joseph reassures the brothers (v. 21).

Application: At least two options are made available by this text. This is a story of how forgiveness works, how only God may judge and not us (Justification). This is also an occasion for focusing on God’s paradoxical providential ways, how he takes evil and makes good out of it.

Romans 14:1-12
Paul continues to conclude his letter of introduction to the largely Jewish Roman church with a discussion of how love respects the scruples of all. He was addressing the issue of tensions in the early church between Jewish Christians who scrupulously maintained Jewish dietary restrictions and those who understood themselves to be free from these restrictions in Christ. (He addressed similar matters in 1 Corinthians 8, 10.) First he urges the Romans to welcome all who are weak in faith but not for the purpose of quarreling (v. 1). He notes that some believe in eating anything while others (whom he says are weak) eat only vegetables (v. 2). Those who do not feel bound by such dietary regulations must not despise those who abstain and those who abstain, should not pass judgment [krino] on those who eat, for God has welcomed/received [proslamsano] them to himself (v. 3).

The apostle then challenges the right of Romans to pass judgment on servants of another, for all stand or fall before their own lord. Then will each be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand (vv. 4, 10). Next Paul notes a debate on whether or not to observe the Sabbath. Those who do so seek to honor the Lord. And likewise those who eat do so in honor of the Lord (vv. 5-6). We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves, he adds. If we live [zao] we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord (vv. 7-8). Christ died and lived again so that he might be Lord of the dead and the living (v. 9). Paul then quotes Isaiah 45:23 and its reference to how every knee should bow to the Lord and every tongue confess [exomologeo] to God (v. 11). Each of us will be accountable [logon dosi] to God (v. 12).

Application: Several homiletical possibilities emerge from this text. This is certainly an opportunity to proclaim our freedom from the law and works as a way to salvation (Justification by Grace), basing this on the remembrance of similar dynamics in the early church. This is only possible because God makes us stand, does the work in giving us freedom, and changes our way of living. And precisely because of this freedom from the law we are set free from judging others (Sanctification). Another possibility is to focus Paul’s comment that we do not live and die to ourselves. Because all the faithful belong to Christ’s Body, death does not separate us from each other (Church and Eschatology).

Matthew 18:21-35
We have previously noted that this gospel is an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). It may well have been written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for its Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. That it is written in Greek seems to rule out the disciple as its author. This lesson reports Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness. Except for verses 21-22 (with a parallel in Luke 17:4) the account is unique to this gospel, perhaps because it concerns itself with relations in the church and an ecclesiological preoccupation is unique to the gospel.

The account begins with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive [aphiemi] a member of the church [adelphos, a brother] sinning against him, if seven times is sufficient (v. 21). Jesus responds that 77 times is necessary (v. 22). The number seven in Hebraic culture refers to completeness, so Jesus is teaching that a fullness of forgiveness is not enough. He compares the kingdom of heaven to a king wishing to settle accounts with his slaves. One owed him 10,000 talents (a talent being fifteen years worth of wages for a laborer). Since the slave could not pay, the lord orders him and his family to be sold (vv. 23-25; for the legitimacy of this practice in an ancient Jewish context, see Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1). The slave begs for patience in the repayment, and out of pity [splagnistheism, or compassion] the lord releases him and forgives the debt (vv. 26-27). The same slave comes upon one of his fellow slaves who owes him 1,000 denarii (worth one day’s wages) and demands payment (v. 28). The slave begs for patience but the released slave refuses, throwing the other in prison (vv. 29-30). Fellow slaves are greatly distressed about this and report it to the lord (v. 31). He summons the slave whose debt he had forgiven, asserting that the slave should have had mercy on his fellow slave as the lord had mercy on that slave (vv. 31-33). The lord then turns over his former debtor to torture until his entire debt to the lord can be paid (the torturing was a means of discovering whether the debtor was concealing any money or other valuables). Jesus claims his Father will do the same to those who fail to forgive their brother or sister (vv. 34-35). This God who lays trials on the faithful seems in line with the Jewish roots of the document (cf. Job 23:10; Psalm 7:9; Jeremiah 9:7; 11:20).

Application: The text affords occasions to proclaim our sin (unwillingness to forgive) and how Jesus and the Holy Spirit have their way with us (forgiving us so we can do nothing other than God’s thing) (Justification by Grace). Another possibility is to proclaim that we cannot but forgive others in view of God’s forgiveness of us (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