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Proper 13 | Ordinary Time 18 | Pentecost 10 (Cycle C)

Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive

The central theme of most of these texts is that it is foolish for us to trust in the transitoriness of the things that we can do but wise to place our reliance on God, who gives wisdom and knowledge and joy.

Psalm 49:1-12

In the opinion of the writer(s) of this psalm, there is no reason to be fearful of any human being, no matter how wealthy and powerful that human being may be, because no one can use riches to purchase additional years of life in order to live on forever. In spite of their splendor, all human beings will perish just as the beasts of the field die from old age, illness, or injury. Even though some people may own and control large tracks of land, their graves will be their homes forever.

Although unlike the writer(s) of this psalm, we believe that God will raise us from the dead, that which is written in this psalm is still applicable today. Those who are wealthy may be able to purchase the best possible medical care and prolong their health to some extent by proper diet, exercise, and rest, but eventually all will die. There are limits to the power of all people, even of those who are the most privileged and wealthy, for today as then all of us will die just as the beasts of the field die. Only God does not die. Only God is worthy to be feared.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

According to the writers of this text, everything about this present life is vanity, transitory, lacking in substance. Nothing is permanent. Apart from God, the writers say, there is every reason to despair; all of the possessions that are gained by the sweat of one’s brow must be left to someone else, who probably will not even appreciate them and will probably change everything that you have done back to the way that it was before you came.

Some hope is expressed beyond this text in 2:24-26. There we read that to the person who pleases God, purpose and satisfaction in life are possible. God may give to such a person wisdom and knowledge and joy, even enjoyment in the midst of toil. Those who are wise will recognize their dependence on God and will work to please God.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

After an introductory section (vv. 1-3) the problems of various types of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem are described in this psalm. When serious difficulties are encountered, the members of each group cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord delivered them from danger. This rather lengthy song was probably sung while travelers made their way toward Jerusalem. They sang in order to pass the time, to express their appreciation to the Lord, and because they enjoyed singing.

Psalm 107:4-9 describes the situation of those who wandered through desolate areas, hungry and thirsty, far from food and streams of water to sustain them. Nevertheless, when they cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord delivered them and led them straight to a city where their needs could be met. The Lord is said to provide water for the thirsty and food for those who are hungry.

Some of us may recall singing together as we traveled on our way to youth camps, Bible camps, youth conventions, and on mission service trips. It is important that we continue to provide opportunities for young people to have these “pilgrimage” experiences. In some instances persons who are retired from their work careers have somewhat similar opportunities to travel together.

Hosea 11:1-11

The love and compassion of the Lord God is so great that even though the people of Israel do not deserve such affection from the Lord whom they have rejected, the Lord longs once more to be like parents who lift their infants to their cheeks to cuddle them and to feed them. The Lord will do this to the children of Israel who return from Egypt and from Assyria to their homes in their land.

Colossians 3:1-11

This Colossians text fits well within the theme of most of the other texts selected for next weekend. Addressed to those who “have been raised from the dead together with Christ,” it directs them to turn their attention to those things that are above, to the new nature that is to conform to the image of the one who has created it. Those who have been raised from the dead together with Christ are instructed to kill within themselves all inclinations to be involved in things on this earth that are evil and of no value, things such as illicit sexual activity, immoral behavior, disgraceful passion, evil desire, and plotting to obtain more and more material things, which is idolatry. The old labels and descriptions of people are no longer applicable; people are now distinguished by whether or not they have “put on Christ” and are raised from the dead together with Christ.

As is often noted, some of this terminology is similar to what we know about teachings of groups of Gnostic Christians at the beginning of the second century. There are differences also, and to some extent Gnostic Christian terminology that was popular at that time was used here to oppose more fully developed Gnostic Christian groups. Basically, “mainline” Christians proclaimed a physical resurrection of Jesus rather than the spiritual resurrection promoted by Gnostic Christian groups.

Luke 12:13-21

This account about the man who requested that Jesus should put pressure on the man’s brother to settle an estate, Jesus’ warning against covetousness, and Jesus’ parable about the rich fool whose lands were surprisingly productive occurs in our canonical texts only here in Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel of Thomas, saying 63, however, should be compared to it. The Gospel of Thomas, saying 63, in The Nag Hammadi Library in English (New York: Harper & Row, 1977, p. 125), is as follows:

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who had much money. He said, ‘I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouse with produce, with the result that I shall lack nothing.’ Such were his intentions, but that same night he died. Let him who has ears hear.”

Comparison of the Lukan and the Gospel of Thomas accounts indicates that Luke’s account is considerably more developed, embellished, and interpreted than is the Thomas account. The Lukan account may include traditional materials that originated with the Jesus of history, who would most likely have refused to claim authority to enter into a financial dispute among brothers.

The main point of the Lukan text is not that the rich man was evil because his land was productive. Neither is it that the man was condemned because he planned to build larger storage facilities for his abundant crop. The rich man in the Lukan account is condemned for his unwillingness to share his wealth, for his planning to become lazy and gluttonous, and most of all for his placing his reliance on things — treasures on this earth — rather than on God. Therefore, the wisdom theme of this account is that the man was foolish rather than wise. The message to us is clear. We too should be wise rather than foolish. We should rely on God, not on things.

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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