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Proper 5 | Ordinary Time 10, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  We never get it right ‘til we’re right with God.   The texts press us to proclaim Justification By Grace and God’s loving Providential activities, along with attention to their implications for Christian life (Sanctification) and Social Ethics, as well as contrasting God’s ways to our Sinful activity.

Psalm 138
A thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble 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 are to give thanks for God delivering them.  The thanks are given in the Temple court (v.2).  Reference to giving thanks for the gods [elohim] (v.1) likely refers to Yahweh’s supremacy over all the gods of the other nations.  The hymn includes a prophecy that all the kings of the world will praise [yadah, literally stretching out one’s hands in praise] God (vv.4-5).  This seems to be fulfilled in Christianity.

God is said to be high [rum] though He regards the lowly [shaphal, or humble], is One Who preserves us, and is a God of steadfast love [chesed, literally lovingkindness or mercy], Who preserves the Psalmist even when walking in the midst of trouble.  The phrase “work of God’s hands” is a reference to all of God’s works (vv.6-8).  A preferential option for the poor is suggested here.

Application: Sermons on this text will stress God’s mercy and the praise He warrants as a result (Justification By Grace and Sanctification).  It might also be possible to highlight how this love is especially for the poor (Social Ethics) or to explore the other gods (the modern idols which we pursue like wealth, good times, etc.), how such pursuits land us in trouble (Sin), noting that God is still greater.


Psalm 130
A lament prayer for deliverance from personal trouble.  This is one of the Songs of Ascent (or Pilgrim Psalms).   Recall that such Psalms are so-named for referring to the ascent of pilgrims to Jerusalem on the way to the Temple, which required of them ascent up a mountain.  (Some instead claim that these Psalms are so named because they have an ascending style of poetic form.)

The Psalmist cries out for help out of the depths [maamaqqim] (vv.1-2).  He notes that though none are worthy to stand before God, yet His is forgiving [selchah, a sending away], not marking [shamar, literally observing] iniquities (vv.3-4).  God is portrayed as a God of steadfast love [the Hebrew term chesed is used here; see exposition of Psalm 138, above].  The Psalmist assures that He will redeem [padah, also meaning “free”] Israel, presumably from all its national difficulties (vv.7-8).

Application: This Psalm invites sermons on God’s love, how He overlooks our Sin, even as we wallow in them and the despair we often experience (Justification By Grace), or how He sets our nation free from destructive patterns — the growing poverty and racial injustice (Social Ethics).

1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15)
The origin of this Book as a distinct text derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings).  This Book is probably the result of two or three sources: (1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; (2) Editor-molded materials brought together into a connected history, implying a critique of the events, deeming kingship as problematic, and so must be set under the rule of God and Samuel His Prophet; (3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).  The role of this last source not surprisingly entails that a central theme in the Book is the struggle to remain obedient to Torah, to be God’s covenant people, and to inherit divine blessings. This is the story of the development of kingship in Israel, over Samuel’s objections.

The account begins with Samuel being approached in Ramah (a town about 25 miles north of Jerusalem) by the elders of Israel.  They tell him his sons are not faithful as he has been, and they urge him to appoint a king [melek] like other nations had (8:4-5).  This displeased Samuel (8:6).  Yahweh tells him to proceed with the request, interpreting it as a rejection of Him, for He is their true King (8:7).  The Lord proceeds to recount how the people have repeatedly forsaken Him (a theme consistent with the Book’s Deuteronomistic strand) (8:8).  He has Samuel warn them what kings will do to them (8:9).  Samuel complies, issuing the warning that the king will take the sons of the elders to administer his chariots, command the people, and reap his harvest (8:10-12).  Their daughters will be made his cooks (8:13).  The king will take over their fields and commandeer one tenth of their grain (8:14-15).  He will take the elders’ possessions, effectively rendering them slaves (8:16-17).  Then they will cry out, but the Lord will not answer (8:18).  The people of Israel refuse to listen, wanting a king like other nations (8:19-20).  After a long narrative on how Saul was chosen to be king (chs. 9-11), the Lesson may end with Samuel’s direction to go to Gilgal (a town about 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem) to make Saul King (11:14-15).

Application: The Lesson provides opportunities to proclaim our Sin in the exercise of power
(Social Ethics and Ministry) and how power ultimately belongs to God (Providence), so that it is only rightly used when surrendered to Him.


Genesis 3:8-15
We have previously noted that like all five Book of the Pentateuch, this Book of Origins is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions.  This one is just comprised of three strands: (1) J, ninth /tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); (2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and (3) P or Priestly source, dated from the sixth century BC.  This Lesson offers an account of the Lord’s punishment for the first sin of Adam and Eve, as narrated by J.

Having eaten the fruit of the forbidden trees, now aware of their guilt (vv.6-7), the first couple heard the sound of Yahweh walking in the garden and hide from His Presence (v.8).  But the Lord God calls for them, and the man claims to have been afraid because he was naked (vv.9-10).  Yahweh confronts Adam with how he learned this, whether he had eaten from the forbidden tree and the man [adam] claims that the woman [ishshah] had given him the fruit of the tree.  In blaming the woman for his sin, the man indirectly blames God Who gave her to him.  The woman blames the serpent [nachash], contending she was tricked [the Hebrew word hissioni is a play on the hissing of serpents] (vv.11-13).  Yahweh Elohim responds with a curse on the serpent explaining why he crawls on his belly and is the enemy of humans (vv.14-15).

Application: Sermons on this Complementary First Lesson can clarify the nature of Original Sin, highlighting our tendency to blame someone else for our own indiscretions in contrast to the other texts which make clear that God’s ways are to overlook what others (what we) do (Justification By Grace).

2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1
This Epistle was written by Paul to address strained relations with the Corinthian church which had further deteriorated during the period after I Corinthians was written.   Chapters 10-13 are so different in style and tone from the first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they are the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4.

In this text Paul offers a further defense of his ministry, explaining the roots of his courage to keep on facing all the challenges.  With likely reference to Psalm 116:10 he claims that belief leads to confession of faith (4:13), a confession that the Lord Who raised Jesus will raise the faithful (4:14).  He refers to grace [charis] extending to more and more, and so more and more might increase thanksgiving (4:15).

In the afflictions endured, Paul says he does not lose heart.  Relying on images typical of both Hellenistic popular philosophy (Greek philosophical dualism) and also Jewish expectations about the End, he speaks of an outer nature [ekso hemown, meaning the “outward of us”] wasting away so that our inner nature [eso hemown, literally the “inward of us”] may be renewed (4:16-17).  We do not look at what can be seen for it is temporary, but at the eternal [aionieos] which cannot be seen (4:18).  If the earthly tent [oika, leiterally house, a common Hellenistic term for the body] is destroyed, we have a building [oikodome] from God in the heavens (5:1).  Paul seems clearly here to be relying on Greek dualistic conceptions of human nature, as body and soul.

Application: In this text we are given the chance to proclaim how our Sin leads to a false construction of reality, but that the Gospel (Justification By Grace) gives us a new way to see the world, helping us to recognize that the burdens of life are joyous occasions for service and overcoming the fear of death (Sanctification and Future Eschatology).

Mark 3:20-35
Again we consider a text in the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a Book that was perhaps the source of other Gospels, perhaps based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source).  Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts  12:12-25; 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (I Peter 5:13).  Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (esp. Gentiles), as this Gospel 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 account is a story concerning Jesus’ power, including allegations about Him and teachings on the sin against the Holy Spirit as well as who His true kindred are.  Though much of the text appears in the other Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:22-32, 46-50; Luke 11:14-23; 8:1-19), Mark’s version is unique.  Only in his version does the account clearly occur in Jesus’ home (Capernaum, according to Mark [3:19b; 2:1].  He is reported to have been surrounded by crowds.  Even to the point of precluding His having time to eat.  Again unique to the Markan version, Pharisees and others reportedly claim that He is crazy, caused by possession by the pagan god Beelzebul (vv.20-22).  (Some translations suggest that it was Jesus’ family who had this fear, but others say it was really all those intimate with Him who kept these feelings.)  Jesus is said to respond to Jerusalem Pharisees making this charge by offering parables [paraboles].  He contends that He could have cast out demons were He part of them, for a house divided against itself could not stand (vv.23-26).  He utters the famous condemnation of the of the unforgivable sin — the sin against the Holy Spirit, though all other sins will be forgiven [aphiemi, literally “sent away”] (vv.28-29).  This teaching was uttered by Jesus against those who had rejected Him for having an unclean spirit, linking the Spirit to demons (v.30), presumably shedding light on what the sin against the Holy Spirit [pneuma to hagion] is.

Mary and Jesus’ siblings come to see Him (vv.21,31-32).  Some scholars suggest that references to His siblings might merely indicate Jesus’ relatives (cousins, etc.).  Only in Mark is this event linked to the concern that Jesus might be crazy, another indication of this Gospel’s emphasis on the blindness of those nearest to Jesus.  He responds that His family are His followers, those who do God’s Will (vv.33-35).  The fact that Jesus’ followers could be sisters and his mother might suggest that women were among His followers.

Application: With this text we are afforded opportunities to proclaim forgiveness (Justification By Grace, understood as God sending away our Sin) when typically we live in sin by taking Jesus and the Father for granted, acting more like His family than His Disciples (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