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Proper 11 | Ordinary Time 16 | Pentecost 9 (Cycle C)

Sunday between July 17 and July 23 inclusive

The stimulating tension between the importance of adequate faith and right living continues from last Sunday. The selections are different, but in these texts also “salvation” is possible only because of the grace of God. Adequate faith and right living are basic essentials expected of the people of God, even though apart from the grace of God these essentials would not produce salvation.

As we move through these texts, we find that in the Lukan characterization of Mary in Luke 10:38-42 the tension between adequate faith and right living is resolved. By sitting near the feet of Jesus and listening to him, she expresses her faith in God, she lives her life right in the sight of God, and she receives the grace of God. She put herself in a position to receive the grace of God. For this she was praised. Because Mary had chosen the good portion that shall not be taken away from her, she is an excellent model for us.

Psalm 52

The person addressed in 52:1-5 has neither adequate faith nor right living and is not receptive to the grace of God. Instead, this person is oppressive to the poor and trusts not in God but in excessive wealth. It is said that God will uproot this person (as a tree is toppled by a storm or a weed is pulled up from among a crop in a garden).

The psalmist, by contrast, in a song of thanksgiving (vv. 6-9), trusts in the unwavering love of God, proclaims the name of God to all who will hear, and gives thanks to God in the house of God. By the grace of God, the psalmist receives the grace of God.

Amos 8:1-12

There is no more incisive prophetic word than this in any of the world’s great religious literature, or one mutatis mutandis more applicable to our own or to any other human situation. The specific setting within eighth century BCE. Israel and Judah is apparent in this text, but the prophetic word of judgment should be applied boldly to our own situation. The firm demand for justice and God’s concern for those who are economically oppressed in this text address our own situation in the United States of greed by those who are excessively wealthy and the difficulty of finding the most appropriate ways to make adequate health care available to every person.

Psalm 15

The ancient Israelite cult used this type of Entrance-to-Worship-in-the-Temple psalm to emphasize the importance of right living. Those who would live their lives as depicted in this psalm would have a secure reputation and position in the community. Those who do what is right shall be honored in the temple of the Lord and will be receptive to the grace of God. In this psalm, doing what is right is fully elaborated; having an adequate faith is implied rather than expressed. It is implied that the person who does what is right will also have adequate faith in the Lord.

Genesis 18:1-10a

In this account also, the emphasis is on doing what is right. Abraham does everything in accordance with the best ancient Near Easter hospitality when the Lord appeared to him in the form of the three men. In this account, as in Psalm 15, adequate faith is implied rather than expressed. Abraham is presented as totally receptive to the grace of God. His wife Sarah, however, appears to be skeptical. She had not received evidence of the grace of God during her child-bearing years, and as a result she did not anticipate that she could possibly be blessed by a pregnancy now in her old age. The text makes the point, nevertheless, that in spite of her understandably inadequate faith, the grace of God will come to her. The grace of God will be marvelous for her and for Abraham; it will be miraculous. Israel, the people of God, is a marvelous miracle in this text, a special act of God’s grace, for through this child to be born, through Isaac, Jacob (Israel) the son of Isaac, will be given life.

Colossians 1:15-28

The grace of God is presented as somewhat provisional in this text, somewhat conditional, contingent on the continuation of an adequate faith, a faith that is firm and unwavering. The writer speaks about Paul’s experiences as being in some sense complementary to the sufferings of Jesus as the Christ. Right living, along with an adequate faith, is therefore considered to be of great importance here. This is one of the most significant ways in which the writer of this “Epistle to the Colossians” differed from Paul himself, even though the person wrote in Paul’s name. Most of the people who will hear the messages that we shall proclaim next weekend would probably agree with the writer of this Epistle that the grace of God comes to us somewhat provisionally, contingent on our having an adequate faith and on our demonstration of right living. Nevertheless, the gospel of God’s unmerited grace is obscured by this kind of thinking.

It would be appropriate to point out in our messages next Sunday that the writer of the Epistle to the Colossians did not maintain Paul’s emphasis on salvation by the grace of God alone, what Martin Luther found to be so meaningful and depicted in Latin as sola gratia. We have the responsibility to maintain the emphasis of the Apostle Paul on salvation by the grace of God alone, without failing at the same time to emphasize the importance of a lived faith (gelebte Glaube).

Luke 10:38-42

In this story, Martha, the good hostess who had invited Jesus to be a very special guest in the house of Martha and Mary, is depicted as doing everything that she can possibly do to make Jesus feel welcome and comfortable. It is not surprising that she is said to have resented her sister Mary’s failure to work with her in her tasks as an outstanding hostess for such an important guest. When we look at this text as it is used here in conjunction with Genesis 18:1-10a, we see that, although hospitality extended to the Lord (to Adonai in Genesis and to Jesus in Luke) is good, receptivity of the message of the Lord is far better than such a great concern for hospitality. It is that better activity of receptivity that should receive our greatest attention during our consideration of these texts. To “sit at the feet of Jesus,” to “listen to him constantly and with our full attention,” is to express our faith, to live right, and to be receptive to the grace of God. In the final analysis, it is not what we do but what God does that is of the most importance. Let us, therefore, be open and receptive to what God does in this world and in all of our lives. This is to be our proper response to the Luke 10:38-42 Jesus with Mary and Martha text.

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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