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Proper 26 | Ordinary Time 31, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  There’s always somebody to help.  This is a series of Lessons which make clear that we are not alone (Sin), that God is always  Present and this makes possible great things (Justification By Grace, Providence, and to some extent Sanctification).  These themes could be linked to the role of saints in accompanying us in our walk of faith (Church and Sanctification).

Psalm 146
This is a hymn praising God for His help.  After uttering ritual cries of Hallelujah (Praise the Lord), vowing to do so all life long (vv.1-2), the Psalmist reminds us not to put our trust in anyone but God, for all human beings will lose their breath and return to the earth in death (vv.3-4).  Those whose help is in God are said to be happy [ashar, also connoting blessed] (v.5).  Over-against human inadequacy, God is portrayed as the One Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in it, Who executes justice/judgment [mishpat] for the oppressed [ahaq], feeds the hungry, sets the prisoners free, loves the righteous [tsaddiq], and upholds orphans and widows (vv.6-9).  It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral law.  It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.370-371).  We should also remember that God’s judgment in the Hebraic sense is a Word of comfort, for 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).

Application: This Psalm might provide several homiletical possibilities.  We might reflect on the shortness of life, that only God deserves our trust (Sin and Sanctification).  It also provides    an occasion to explore with parishioners how God’s judgment is on behalf of justice, how He is on the side of the poor and those in need (Social Ethics and Providence).  More in line with the Theme of the Day is to discuss how we need not rely on ourselves, that we have God the All-Powerful One who makes life happy and blessed (Justification By Grace).


Psalm 119:1-8
This is the longest Psalm, a meditation on the Law of God.  Its length is a function of its structure.  It is an alphabetical acrostic, with each of its 22 stanzas consisting of eight lines, all beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each stanza employs the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet until all 22 letters are used.  The verses in this Lesson are a prayer for help in keeping the Law.  They convey a mood of lament, which may suggest that this part of the Psalm was a Psalm composed as a prayer for deliverance from trouble.  

Happiness/Blessedness [ashere] is said to be associated with keeping the Law (vv.1-3).  A prayer for steadfastness in keeping God’s Law follows (vv.5-8).  It is good to be reminded that the torah for the Jewish community does not refer to a legalistic demand, but is the source of guidance for living God’s Way (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p.2).   

Application: A sermon on this text might concern itself with Jewish attitudes towards the Law, helping us appreciate that Torah is a good thing for Jews.  But like Christians they believe that the Commandments are only good because they are given to enhance our relationship to God.  In living the life of faith we are not alone.  God is always alongside us in relationship (Sanctification).

Ruth 1:1-18
This Book is a short story set in the period of the Judges (1:1), underscoring the loyalty and fidelity that binds families together.  The date of composition is uncertain.  A date prior to The Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BC indicates its purpose may be to establish David’s ancestry.  A post-Exilic date might indicate the author’s efforts to counter the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah which considered intermarriage wrong.  This Lesson is the story of the Moabite Ruth’s marriage to the Judean Chilian (which means “Sickness”) and the loss of the entire family to death, save Ruth, sister-in-law Orpah, and mother-in-law Naomi (vv.1-5).  Naomi’s name means “Pleasant” and Ruth’s name derives from the Hebrew term rea, which means “friend” or “companion.”  Naomi resolves to return to her Jewish home.  Both daughters-in-law leave with her, but with her urging Orpah (whose name means “Back-of-the-neck”) returns home (vv.6-14a).  Ruth remains, resolving loyalty to Naomi and her God (vv.14b-18).

Application: This story opens the way to sermons on God’s commitment to not abandoning his people (Justification By Grace) and how that commitment inspires loyalty (Sanctification). 


Deuteronomy 6:1-9
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 the people.  It is really Three Addresses, this Lesson being a portion his Second Address, while these verses are an exposition of the meaning of the First Commandment.

Moses claims what he expounds here to be the Commandment — statutes and ordinances — that Yahweh their God has charged him to teach the people of Israel to observe in the land into which they are about to cross and occupy (v.1).  Moses calls the people and their children to fear the Lord all the days of their lives and keep all His decrees and Commandments so that their days may be long.  He would have Israel hear and obey these diligently, so that it may go well for the people and that they might multiply in the land flowing with milk and honey [debash], as Yahweh promised (vv.2-3).  A characteristic Deuteronomistic theme is that reverent obedience to the Law will result in blessings (cf.5:33).  Yahweh also is said to be their God.  We should love [aheb] Him with all our hearts [iebab] and souls [nephesh] and might [mead] (vv.4-5).  (The heart connotes the human intellect, and nephesh is merely our vitality.)  The people are to keep the words commanded this day, reciting them to their children and talking about them with children when at home, away, when lying down, and when rising (vv.6-7).  These Commands are to be put on the hand, forehead, and doorpost (vv.8-9), signifying they are in the heart.

Application: Themes noted in the Application of the second alternative for the Psalm of the Day are most appropriate to this text.  We could also proclaim how in Christ the Law has been written in our hearts, so that God’s Will becomes who are (Sanctification).  

Hebrews 9:11–14
We deal here with an anonymous treatise which, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s Sacrifice to those of Levitical priests, 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).

This Lesson is a further exposition of Christ as high priest [archiereus], particularly the characteristic of His sacrifice.  Christ is identified as a high priest of the good things that have come (or will come) (v.11).  He is said to enter the holy place thought to be the perfect tent, but not with goats and calves, but with His own blood [haima] to obtain eternal redemption [lutrosis, literally loosing] (vv.11-12).  If the blood of goats and bulls sanctify the defiled (see Leviticus 16:5-15), the blood of Christ through the Spirit offering Himself with no blemish to God can purify our conscience from “dead works” [probably a reference to sins] in order to worship God (vv.13-14). 

Application: Sermons on this Lesson will point out how Christ’s Atoning Work (Justification  By Grace) “looses us,” frees our conscience from dead works so we can live lives of praise in God’s Presence (Sanctification).

Mark 12:28-34
Again as in previous weeks, we note that this Book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels. 

It is perhaps based on oral traditions of The Passion Narratives and accounts of Jesus’ teachings (the so-called Q-Source) probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.   Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (esp. 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.

This text reports on Jesus’ teaching of The Great Commandment, an account that appears in the other Synoptic Gospels.  The scene is Jerusalem after His entrance on Palm Sunday.  After His dispute with Sadducees over whether there is a resurrection (vv.18-27), a scribe (presumably a rabbi or Pharisee who found Jesus’ advocacy of the resurrection accurate) asks Him which commandment is first (v.28), a question commonly asked at that time in rabbinic circles.  After confessing the unity of God, He teaches that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” (v.30)  He proceeds to identify the second greatest commandment, to love you neighbor as yourself (v.31).  This idea was not unique to Jesus, but does reflect some themes in the Hebrew Bible and is echoed by some second-century Jewish rabbis (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18).  The scribe responds positively, claiming in a manner consistent with some elements in the Hebrew Bible that loving God and neighbor are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8); Jesus praises Him as “not far from the kingdom.”  No one else dares pose further questions (vv.32-34).  Only in Mark’s version is the scribe praised.  Failure to pose further questions may be a sign of the Kingdom of God and the End perceived as coming near (see 1:22).

Application: A sermon on this text will teach love of neighbor (Sanctification) based on God being God — that we can love only when our priorities are focused first on Him, knowing that He alone makes it all possible (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