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Proper 11 / Pentecost 6 / Ordinary Time 16, Cycle A

The surprises of faith. We are reminded again in these texts that God works in hidden and surprising ways, ultimately overcoming the forces of evil. Justification by Grace and Providence are again the central themes. But the texts also invite consideration of the Atonement (Classic View of Christ overcoming the forces of evil, despite appearances) and Sanctification (the struggles involved in Christian living).

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
This Psalm is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies (a lament), attributed to David. Again we are reminded that Psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, this particular Psalm is probably of a later date, appended to the original collection, which comprises book 5 of Psalms. Thus as we have previously noted, many scholars have concluded 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 trust in God in the face of hard times that all the faithful experience. The inscription “to the leader” at the Psalm’s outset probably is addressed to the leader of musicians in the Jerusalem Temple.

The song begins with an affirmation that everything we have ever done is known by God (vv. 1-6). God is said to be active in our lives (v. 5). Thus nothing can be kept secret from God for he is everywhere, even in heaven and in Sheol (the abode of death) (vv. 7-12). Even the darkness [chashekah] is not dark to God, so we cannot hide in the dark (vv. 11-12). After discussions of God’s role in our birth and his intimate knowledge of us all along with an exclamation of wonder about God, followed by a prayer for vindication (vv. 13-22), the psalmist invites God to search his heart and test his thoughts to see if there is any wicked in him and to lead him in the way everlasting (or way of the ancients) (vv. 23-24).

Application: The main theme of the text invites sermons offering comfort that there is no sphere of life or the created order in which God is not present, that he knows us intimately and so our enemies and evil cannot ultimately prevail (Providence). The psalmist’s confidence expressed in the closing verses that God will judge him positively could be construed Christocentrically as the voice of the faithful who knows that in Christ the verdict is innocent (Justification by Grace) and that we can only stay away from wickedness when led by God (the role of grace in leading the Christian life).


Psalm 86:11-17
A prayer for deliverance from personal enemies attributed to David, a lament. See comments on the previous Psalm regarding what to make of references to David in the Psalms. In that sense this song is a reminder about trust in God that all the faithful experience.

The Lord is petitioned to teach us that we might know the way of truth, receiving an undivided heart to revere his name (v. 11). A thanksgiving is spoken in confidential anticipation of deliverance [natsal] (vv. 12-13). Reference is made to God’s deliverance of us from Sheol (the abode of death). A prayer is offered for preservation from enemies, who are also portrayed as enemies of God. Yahweh is said to be slow to anger and full of mercy [chesed, which may also be translated as "loving kindness"] (vv. 14-15). The Lord is petitioned to be gracious [channun] and give strength/hardness [oz]. Reference to “child of a serving girl” is a synonym for the psalmist describing himself as Yahweh’s servant (v. 16). A sign of God’s favor is requested, putting to shame those who hate the psalmist, for Yahweh has comforted [nacham] him (v. 17).

Application: The Psalm provides a fine opportunity to extol the love of God (even in the Old Testament), a love that delivers us from death and from the enemies who surround us (Justification by Grace, Classic View of Atonement [see Theme of the Day], and Eschatology).

Genesis 28:10-19a
We have previously noted that most Old Testament scholars concur that, like the other books of the Pentateuch, Genesis is likely the product of four distinct oral strands. This account of Jacob’s dream of the ladder is likely the work of the eighth century BC source designated E, for its use of the Hebrew term Elohim to designate God.

Jacob is reported to have left Beer-Sheba to travel to Haran (a very long journey from a location far south of where Jerusalem is located to a region hundreds of miles to the northeast) (v. 10). He came to a certain place, staying there for a night and sleeping on a stone (v. 11). He dreams of a ladder [sullam] reaching to heaven on which angels ascend and descend (v. 12). Yahweh stood beside Jacob and identified himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac, and the land on which he rested would be given to Jacob’s offspring, a people through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed (vv. 13-14). The Lord promises to preserve Jacob wherever he goes and will bring him back to the land (v. 15). Jacob awakes and claims Yahweh is in the place. He is afraid, claiming the place is awesome, none other than the house of God [bayith elohim] (vv. 16-17). He arises in the morning, pours oil on the stone he had used, sets it up for a pillar, and calls it Bethel (which resembles the Hebrew for “house of God”) (vv. 18-19a). Such anointing with oil made the place holy, and the use of a pillar was regarded as a sacred stone, which was typical of other ancient sanctuaries in the region (as per Joshua 24:26 and 1 Kings 7:2, 6).

Application: A sermon on this text affords a good opportunity to undercut the myth that Jacob climbs a ladder to get to God. More properly, Yahweh comes to us, as he did Jacob! And his presence at Bethel (the place of encountering Jacob) makes it sacred territory. Everyday spaces, the places of God’s interaction with us, are surprisingly holy (Providence, Creation, and Justification by Grace, stressing God’s initiative are the main themes).


Isaiah 44:6-8
The Complementary Version of the First Lesson continues to focus on this heavily edited book, the product of two or three distinct literary strands. This text (again not the work of the sixth-century BC historical prophet Isaiah) is likely the work of an author (perhaps familiar with or to the prophet) probably just before the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. Following a discussion of the redemption and restoration of Israel, consideration is given in a psalm to God’s uniqueness. Yahweh the king and his redeemer [gaal ] the Lord of hosts declares that he is he first and last, besides whom there is no god (vv. 6-7). None is like him, he declares, for only he has announced of old the things to come (v. 7). The faithful are told not to fear, for they are his witnesses and there is no god but him. He is identified as a rock [tsur] (v. 8).

Application: With this text we have another opportunity for a sermon on how our enemies and evil cannot ultimately prevail (Providence and Justification by Grace). The theme of Yahweh as redeemer and overcoming our fear permits a Christological interpretation of the text, and so its images could give rise to atonement themes or God’s overcoming of bad times politically, like the Hebrews faced in the era of Second Isaiah (Social Ethics).

Romans 8:12-25
Paul’s letter of introduction to the Romans continues with a discussion of the Spirit in relation to the flesh, moving on to the hope of fulfillment. He notes first that we are debtors, but not to the flesh, for to live according to the flesh leads to death. (As we have previously noted, the Greek word sarx employed by Paul refers not to the physical body but to sinful flesh, to the sin which has corrupted our bodies and lives in their entirety.) But if by the Spirit [pneuma] the deeds of the body are put to death we will live (vv. 12-13). Paul then proceeds to note that all led by the Spirit are God’s children (v. 14). It seems that when the Spirit leads us to bear witness with our spirit to cry that God is our Father/Abba (presumably in ecstatic ways [see Galatians 4:6-7]), we are not made slaves but children of God, and so heirs [kleronomos] (vv. 15-16). The apostle adds that as children of God we are heirs with Christ; if we suffer with him we are also glorified with him (v. 17). Paul says he does not consider the sufferings of the present time worth comparing with the glory [doxa] to be revealed to us (v. 18).

The apostle continues by noting that the creation [krisis] waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but the will of the one who subjected it in hope (vv. 19-20). He then proclaims that creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom [eleutheros] of the glory of the children of God (v. 21). It is then observed that the faithful and the whole creation groan in labor pains, possessing the Spirit’s first fruits but waiting for fulfillment (vv. 22-23). Reference is made to the hope [elpis] in which we are saved, a hope that is not seen. In hoping for what we do not see, we must hope in patience/endurance [makroth] (vv. 24-25).

Application: The text affords an opportunity to delve into hopelessness about the human situation; how even the created order itself is impacted by sin. But it also offers a word of hope that with endurance we can see our freedom (Justification by Grace and Eschatology). The Holy Spirit’s work in this connection or a sermon on the work of the Spirit might be developed.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples (9:9), this is a book written by an anonymous author addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). This lesson, unique to Matthew, recounts Jesus’ teaching of the parable of the weeds in the field and Matthew’s explanation (not part of the original parable). This parable and the parables in next week’s gospel deal with the problem of apostasy in the church. The perspective taken is a clear critique of the tendency of the Pharisees and Qumran community to advocate the creation of a sect of devout believers separate from the unfaithful.

Jesus begins by comparing the kingdom of heaven to one who sowed good seed, but while everyone was asleep the enemy came and sowed weeds (vv. 24-25). Seed and weeds grew together (v. 26). The master’s slaves ask him if he did not sow good seeds in view of the weeds (v. 27). The master responds that an enemy has done this. He declines the slaves’ offer to gather in the good crop because then the wheat would be uprooted (vv. 28-29). He would have them grow together until the harvest [therismos] when the reapers will also collect the weeds, bind them, and burn them (v. 30).

After telling the parable of the mustard seed and Matthew’s explanation of why Jesus taught in parables (vv. 31-35), the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable used in this lesson (v. 36). This is done “in the house,” and so was done privately. (Thus it is not surprising it appears only in Matthew, and in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, 57.) Jesus equates the sower with the Son of Man [huios to anthropou], the field with the world, good seed with the children of the kingdom [basileia], weeds with the children of evil, the enemy with the devil, the harvest with the eschaton, and reapers with the angels (vv. 37-39). New Testament scholars are inclined to regard the Matthean references to Son of Man as connoting references to the eschatological Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14 (and also see Daniel 2:36-45 on the Last Judgment in that book). This suggests that Matthew had in mind Jesus as judge or agent of the end times (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 531). Thus we observe in Matthew a blurring of Jesus’ time on earth and his eschatological exaltation. The world is moving toward a goal and is to be understood henceforth on the basis of its future (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 309). The burning of the weeds is said to transpire at the end of the age and the Son of Man will send his angels to collect all causes of sin and evildoers to be thrown in the furnace (vv. 40-42). The righteous [dikaios] will shine like the sun. Jesus exhorts those with ears to listen (v. 43; cf. Daniel 12:3). It is good to be reminded once again of the concept of “righteousness.”

Matthew’s Jewish context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God, which seems to be a gift (18:3) (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, pp. 135-136; Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 271; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371).

Application: The lesson affords opportunity for clear affirmations about the ambiguities of life that the faithful need to live side by side with the unfaithful (Sin and Sanctification). The judgment of who belongs to the kingdom of God is Christ’s. But when we note how even for Matthew righteousness is a gift, then this text provides occasion for sermons on Justification by Grace and Eschatology.

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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