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Proper 26 | Ordinary Time 31 | Pentecost 24, Cycle C (2016)

God will make things better. The lessons for this Sunday explore the evils created by sin with lots of hope about how God makes things better (Providence, Realized Eschatology, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification construed as the Spontaneity of Good Works).

Psalm 119:137-144
We note again that Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs composed throughout Israel’s history. It is organized into five collections of books, perhaps an analogy to the five books of the Torah. The authors of each of the psalms are largely unknown, as in this case. This loosening of them from their historical origins entails the validity of their use today in very different contexts from their origins (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 523). The actual title of the book is derived from a Greek term meaning “Song” [psalmos]. The Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim, means “hymns” or “songs of praise.”

As pointed out earlier in the month, this is a Wisdom Psalm on the Law of God, especially devoted in these verses to its beauty and sweetness. It is an acrostic Psalm in which each stanza consists of eight lines beginning with the same Hebrew letter. The 22 stanzas use all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in turn.

The verses that comprise this selection are an acknowledgment of the righteousness of God as evidenced in the law. Yahweh is declared to be righteous [tsaddiq], making righteous judgments [mishpat] and likewise his decrees have this quality (vv. 137-138). The psalmist is consumed with zeal [qinah] because his foes forget his words (v. 139). The Lord’s promise is well tried and loved by his servant, who confesses to being small and despised [bazah]. Yet God’s precepts are not forgotten (vv. 140-141).

The Lord’s righteousness is said to be an everlasting [olam] righteousness. His law [torah] is the truth [emeth] (v. 142). Though trouble and anguish come upon us, the Lord’s commandments [mitsvah] are a delight [shaashuim] (v. 143). His decrees [eduth, testimonies] are righteous and forever [olam, everlasting], giving understanding [bin] and life [chayah] (v. 144). This stress on the unchanging character of God’s righteousness reminds us for the Hebrews God’s righteousness is about the perduring character of his promises (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 372, 376f).

Application: This is a Psalm for sermons reflecting on God’s righteousness as faithfulness to his promises (Justification by Grace and Creation).


Psalm 32:1-7
We consider here a personal Psalm of praise for healing and forgiveness, attributed to David. We have previously noted it is unlikely that David is the author of the 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). In that sense this psalm can be understood as a reminder that are all to praise the Lord for the healings and forgiveness experienced in their lives. It is a Maskil, that is, an artful song.

The psalm begins with an assertion that those whose transgression is forgiven [nasa, lifted away] are happy [ashar, blessed] (vv. 1-2). Since disease was regarded as punishment for sin, healing was regarded as testimony to forgiveness. The psalmist describes his experience, construing his illness as God’s work (vv. 3-4). References to Selah in the psalm after verses are liturgical directions, perhaps calling for instrumental interludes.

The healing seems to have begun after the acknowledgement of the sin (v. 5). The psalmist then commends a similar faith to the congregation, instructing its members to pray to God in distress as he did. God is said to be a hiding-place [sether], preserving us from trouble. We are to be surrounded with glad cries/songs of deliverance (vv. 6-7).

Application: This psalm invites sermons praising God for his care and forgiving love, especially in tough times (Providence, Sin, Justification by Grace).

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Nothing is known of this prophet. The oracles of the book come from different occasions in the last part of the seventh century BC, through the sixth century BC, during the height of Babylonian power. The book reflects diverse types of literature. Dominant is the first-person, almost autobiographical account of a dialogue between God and the prophets. But a liturgical genre is also in evidence. Overall the books take the form of a psalm of lament. This lesson includes part of an opening two-cycle dialogue, involving the prophet’s lament and Yahweh’s response with assurance.

The prophet laments how long the Lord will seem not to listen to his cries in the face of all the destruction and violence (1:2-3). He notes the law [torah] has become slack, justice [mishpat, judgment] never prevails, and the wicked surround the righteous [tsaddiq] (1:4). It is uncertain whether these observations originally concerned the Chaldeans or unrighteous Hebrews. The prophet continues to indicate that he will listen for a reply to his complaint (2:1). Yahweh responds with a word of assurance. He claims that his answer is plain as a road sign (2:2). There is a vision at the end [qets], and it will come even if it seems to tarry (2:3). Yahweh directs us to regard the proud who do not have a right spirit/soul [nephesh], but the righteous shall live by faith [emunah] (2:4)! 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). Our lesson makes clear that by faith and not works is the way to living in this right relationship.

Application: Sermons on this lesson will offer a word of hope by referring us to the vision of God’s future kingdom (Realized Eschatology and Justification by Grace) in the midst of the injustices in America and our lethargy about them (Social Ethics and Sin).


Isaiah 1:10-18
This is a book comprised of three distinct literary traditions. 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, 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 chapter 40 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 the work of the historical prophet. It is the first in a series of oracles involving God’s pronouncement concerning Judah’s religious superficiality.

Rulers of Sodom are told to hear the Word [dabar] of the Lord, to listen to his teaching [torah] (v. 10). Sodom is used here as an image for any city marred by evil. Mere ritual worship is said to be insufficient. The Lord asserts that the multitude of sacrifices [zebach] is nothing. He does not delight in them (v. 11). They are futile (vv. 13-14). He says he will hide his eyes when the people make prayers, for their hands are full of blood (v. 15). He urges the people to wash themselves by removing the evil of their doings, cease to do evil and learn to do good [yatab], to seek justice/judgment [mishpat] and rescue the oppressed [chamots] (vv. 16-17). Yahweh invites argument (in the legal sense of a court case before a judge), for though their sins are like scarlet they shall be like snow (v. 18). We are reminded that judgment or justice in the Hebraic sense 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).

Application: Many of the Application strategies for the other version of the First Lesson noted above apply to this text. Critiques of worship as mere ritual (going through the motions) might receive more criticism with a sermon on this version. The positive, Eschatological character of judgment and justice for the Old Testament might also be explored.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-3, 11-12
Though closely resembling 1 Thessalonians, the authorship of this book is often questioned. Some see forgery evident in 2:2 and 3:17. This has led a number scholars to regard the book as either written so soon after 1 Thessalonians that Paul still recalled his earlier wording or else it was written by a later writer using First Thessalonians’ letter as a model. While the earlier epistle assumes that the end is near, this letter contends that if we cannot know the exact time we can know that it will not come at once, that a struggle with evil must take place first, and it will be delayed. As such, this book prepares the church for a period of continued life in the world and so the faithful should continue to the pursuits of daily life.

This lesson, at the outset of the epistle, includes the Salutation, Thanksgiving, and reflections on the judgment of God. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy greet the Thessalonians wishing them grace [charis] and peace [eirene] (vv. 1-2). Such well wishes combine conventional Greek and Hebraic greetings. Paul and company express how they must always give thanks [eucharisteo] to God for the Thessalonians, for their faith [pistis] is growing and the love they have for everyone is increasing (v. 3). As a result, Paul and his say they boast of them among other churches, noting the Thessalonians’ steadfastness during the persecution they are enduring (v. 4).

After reflection on God’s judgment [krisis] of those who have afflicted the Thessalonians and his giving them relief when Christ comes again (vv. 5-10), the lesson resumes as the writer notes how he always prays for the Thessalonians, asking that God make them worthy [axiou] of his call [kaleo] and fulfilling their good resolve (v. 11). Such fulfillment will lead to the name [onoma, his character and fame] of Jesus being glorified in them and they in him, according to God’s grace in Christ (v. 12).

Application: With the lesson preachers can proclaim with thanksgiving how all our good is a Work of God (Sanctification as Spontaneous Good works and by implication the Holy Spirit). The urgency of such a lifestyle (Realized Eschatology) might also be explored.

Luke 19:1-10
We are again 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. This lesson is the story of Zacchaeus, his repentance and forgiveness, an account unique to Luke.

Jesus is reported as passing through Jericho where the chief tax collector Zacchaeus resides (vv. 1-2). He wanted to see Jesus, but due to the crowd and his short stature, could not (v. 3). Consequently Zacchaeus ran to climb on a sycamore tree to see Jesus (v. 4). There is a curiosity exhibited here, which is perhaps a yearning on his part. Jesus sees him, summons him by name, says he must stay at Zacchaeus’ house, and the tax collector hurries down the tree to welcome Jesus (vv. 5-6). Those who saw this grumbled, complaining that Jesus went to be the guest of a sinner [amartolio andri] (v. 7). Zacchaeus was resented in Jericho as a Roman collaborator who may have dishonestly elevated tax notes to his financial advantage. He responds, claiming that half his possessions he gives to the poor and would pay back four times everyone he had defrauded (v. 8). This repentance transpires in Jesus’ presence. Christ then responds that this day salvation [soteria] had come to Zacchaeus’ house as a son of Abraham, for the son of man [huios anthropou] seeks out and saves the lost [apollu] (vv. 9-10).

Application: This account invites sermons proclaiming and exhorting a grace-oriented vision of repentance (Justification by Grace, 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