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Proper 20 | Ordinary Time 25 | Pentecost 18 (Cycle C)

Sunday between September 18 and September 24 inclusive

Most of the texts selected from the Israelite Scriptures for this occasion praise the Lord for raising the poor, the needy, and the barren from the dust, and condemn those who oppress the poor. The Newer Testament texts urge the followers of Jesus as the Christ to express themselves to God with all types of prayers (1 Timothy 2:1-7) and to use material things prudently (Luke 16:1-13).

Psalm 113

This beautiful Israelite Hallelujah psalm is sung or said together with Psalm 114 at the beginning of the Seder by many Jews as a reminder that the name of the Lord is always to be praised and blessed. In this psalm the Lord is acclaimed for divine majesty and for divine concern for the poor and for the woman who is childless. From our Christian perspective, we attribute these qualities also to Jesus, who is Lord for us, our Risen Lord and Savior, the Christ.

Amos 8:4-7

There is no more incisive prophetic word of judgment than this in any of the world’s great religious literature, or any mutatis mutandis more applicable to our own or to any other human situation. The specific setting within eighth century Israelite religion is apparent in this text, but the prophetic word of judgment should be applied boldly to our own situation. This firm demand for justice and for concern for the poor among the people of the Lord is closely linked to the acclamation of the Lord as the God of justice and of concern in Psalm 113.

Psalm 79:1-9

In this first portion of this psalm the Lord is implored to remove God’s anger and wrath from the desolate people of Jerusalem and to punish instead those who have devoured the people of Jerusalem and destroyed the city and its temple.

Jeremiah 8:18–9:1

Jeremiah is represented here as in deep anguish over the pain and illness of the people of Jerusalem when the Lord is no longer in Zion. The Lord is presented in 8:19c as explaining that the Lord God is not with the people of Jerusalem because the people of Jerusalem have provoked the anger of the Lord with their worship of the images of other lords and gods. Jeremiah wishes that he would have enough tears to weep day and night for the slain people of Jerusalem.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Within the liturgical prayers of the Church we try to comply with the urgings of this fine Pauline admonition and of its standard, orthodox Christian theology. On the other hand, we should not be bound by the directions of the verses that follow in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 regarding the clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, and the subordinate position of women. We must reject the theological demands of the writer of 1 Timothy 2:15 — so different from the theological position of Paul himself — that women will be saved not by the grace of God but by bearing children. It is tragic that the leaders of the developing Church during the second century did not delete 1 Timothy 2:11-15 when they through usage canonized this document along with others written by or attributed to the Apostle Paul. They could have spared most women and most men since that time and especially during recent decades and today many problems and anguish about the authority of our Scriptures. We can only conclude that leaders in the developing Church during the second century were in agreement with the sentiments expressed in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and that they with their majority power overrode the objections of the minorities of men and of women who opposed them.

The inclusion of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 into the canon is a strong indication that God permitted majority powers in the developing Church to put into canonical status whatever they wished. This leaves us with the sober responsibility of repudiating the directives and theology of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 today. Our concern for people and for the authority of other far more important portions of Scripture demands that we repudiate elements from the texts that should have been repudiated and deleted by our spiritual fathers. If God permitted them to put 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in this document and to leave it in this document, then God will certainly permit us to repudiate it by printing it in small print status or eventually even into footnote status as a testimony to future generations that we care about our sacred Scriptures and about them.

Luke 16:1-13

This is perhaps the most problematic of all of the parables in our Four Gospels. The last four verses of the text selected here (vv. 10-13) provide a secondary application of the parable that is different from what we have in 16:1-9. For this reason, many pericopes do not include 16:10-13 with the reading of the parable itself in 16:1-9.

We may find helpful the conjecture of J.D.M. Derrett in “The Parable of the Unjust Steward, New Testament Studies 7 (1961, pp. 198-219), and in ” ‘Take thy Bond? and write Fifty’ (Luke xvi.6) The Nature of the Bond,” New Testament Studies new series 23 (1972, pp. 438-440), summarized in I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, pp. 614-617), that the steward had previously included the accumulated interest due, but now, facing the termination of his employment, reduced the debtors’ account balances to the amount of the principal of the loans, thereby pleasing the debtors and making many new friends while obeying the requirement within Israelite religion that the rich should charge no interest on loans to the poor. The problem with this conjecture is that we still have the judgment in 16:8 that the steward was dishonest. Perhaps he was dishonest in the parable in terms of his agreement to handle his employer’s business matters in accordance with the wishes of his employer, but faithful to the requirements of his religion. Possibly the “sons of this age” was used by the Lukan writer to refer to the Jews, while the “sons of light” was intended to be a reference to the followers of Jesus. That would be consistent with the techniques of the Lukan writer within Lukan parables elsewhere in the Third Gospel.

Because of our uncertainty regarding the interpretation intended for this parable, this may be one of those occasions in which the readings from the Israelite Scriptures are more usable for us than are the selections from the Newer Testament. Therefore, we may be wise to use the Older Testament readings, especially Psalm 113 and Amos 8:4-7, as our basic texts for our message this coming weekend.

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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