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Proper 19 | Ordinary Time 24 | Pentecost 16, Cycle C (2016)

Why we need and what we get from the grace of God. This is a Sunday for exploring the depths of our sinful condition and how the grace of God changes this (Justification by Grace).

Psalm 14
This psalm is attributed to David, a condemnation of a cynical and unrighteous age. It is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512).

This psalm is almost identical to Psalm 53, except that this psalm refers to God as Yahweh. Both psalms are unusual in generalizing personal troubles to be characteristic of an entire generation. The corruption of the age is described. Fools [those bereft of character] deny God. All have gone astray (vv. 1-3). It is characterized by a lack of faith, wisdom, and goodness. God is said to be with the company of the righteous [tsaddiq]. It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that one lives in faultless conformity to some moral law. It has to do with living in right relationship with God and others (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371).

Threats are issued to evil-doers (vv. 4-6). They are especially indicted for mistreatment of the poor [ani]. The Lord is said to be the poor’s refuge [machseh]. The lesson ends with yearning for better times when God will deliver the people. When that happens there will be great joy [sameach, rejoicing] (v. 7).

Application: The psalm provide opportunity to condemn the lack of faith, wisdom, goodness, and concern about the poor in our own times (Sin) and to proclaim the joy that God will give to his people with the awareness that the Lord cares for the poor and will deliver them and all of us to live righteously (in right relationship with him and each other). Justification by Grace and Social Ethics are key themes in these concluding reflections.


Psalm 51:1-10
A Lament Psalm for healing and moral renewal, traditionally ascribed to David after being condemned by Nathan for sexual transgressions with Bathsheba. We have already noted it is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). In fact some scholars conclude that references to David in the Psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects, and so of all the faithful (Ibid., p. 521). In that sense this lament and plea for healing and renewal, despite our sin, is our song.

The psalmist urges God to have mercy [chanan, to be gracious] according to his steadfast love [chesed, lovingkindness] and wash away [kabas] or cleanse [taher] our sin [chata] (vv. 1-4, 7, 9). Reference to being purged with hyssop in verse 7 suggests a ceremony of sprinkling such as those reported in Exodus 12:22 and Leviticus 14:20, 48-53. But later in the psalm it is noted that God has no interest in sacrifice (vv. 16-17). Confessing his sin, the psalmist adds that sin is only sin if perceived as committed against God (v. 4). Presumably ordinary guilt is not sin. A reference is made to being born in sin (suggesting the Christian doctrine of Original Sin) (v. 5) and also to being rejected by the Holy Spirit (v. 11). The psalmist proceeds to note that God desires inward truth/steadfastness [emeth] and wisdom [chokmah] (v. 6). After reiterating the plea for deliverance and mercy (even from physical distress), the psalmist pleads for joy and gladness, that Elohim would hide his face [paninm] from the sins we have committed (vv. 7-9; cf. v. 12). This leads to hope for transformation, that the forgiven sinner be given a clean heart [leb] and a willing/steadfast spirit (v. 10).

Application: This psalm affords occasions for sermons on Original Sin, on the need for a life of penance and/or doing evangelism (Sanctification) which results from the Spirit’s work as well as transformation by the mercy and love of God, and also on Justification by Grace (both as giving us a new heart [transforming the faithful] or as overlooking our sin).

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
We are reminded that this book is a collection of prophecies of a late seventh or early sixth century BC prophet of Judah from the reigns of Josiah through the era of the Babylonian Captivity. He dictated these prophecies to his aide Baruch. Some of the prophet’s criticism of the house of David and the temple may relate to his having as an ancestor one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished (1 Kings 2:26-27). Three sources of the book have been identified; 1) An authentic poetic strand; 2) Biographic prose; and 3) Deuteronomic redaction. The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors see Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in a new context.

This lesson is a prophecy of anguish and judgment over a pending invasion of Jerusalem. At the time of the invasion it is proclaimed that there will be a hot wind sent by Yahweh from the desert (vv. 11-12). This hot wind desecrates everything in its path. In what follows, literary allusions to Genesis 1:1-2 suggest that what is transpiring is a reversal or destruction of what God did in the first creation.

Yahweh proclaims what follows in anguish (v. 19). The people of Israel are said to be foolish [evil] and stupid for they do not know Yahweh. They are skilled in doing evil [raa], though they do not know how to do good [tob] (v. 22). Yahweh looks on the earth and sees only formlessness and void [bohu, emptiness]. There was no light [or] in the heavens (v. 23). The mountains quake and all the hills were in motion (v. 24). No living thing is present (v. 25). Fruitful land had become desert and all the cities were in ruins (v. 26). Yahweh proclaims that the whole land shall be a desolation [shemamah]. Thus the earth shall mourn, and the heavens go black [qadar], for the Lord will not relent (v. 28).

Application: The version of the First Lesson affords occasion to condemn sin in its personal and social manifestations, to portray it as a contradiction of creation. When we keep in mind that in the Hebraic mindset judgment by God is a good thing, a word of comfort in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and provide comfort knowing that God’s acts have an end in sight (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 343, 358-359), then this lesson also affords opportunity to proclaim grace and forgiveness in Justification or Providence.


Exodus 32:7-14
We have previously noted that like all of the first five books of the Old Testament, Exodus is the product of several distinct literary strands, all originating between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “These are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s Prologue. This lesson, accounting Moses’ plea to God that he not punish the Hebrews, could be the work of the oldest strand of the oral tradition (J, so named for calling God Yahweh, like in this passage).

Yahweh first tells Moses to go down from Mount Sinai where he had received the Ten Commandments and other instructions, for the people led out of Egypt have acted perversely, creating an idol to whom they have sacrificed (vv. 7-9). The Lord tells Moses that his wrath will burn against them, but will make a great nation instead from Moses (v. 10). Moses begs Yahweh to relent, for Egyptians will say that the people were released only with evil intent (vv. 11-12). He asks the Lord to remember [zakar] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom Yahweh swore that they would have numerous descendants and land to inherit forever (v. 13). It is reported then that the Lord changes his mind/purpose [nacham, repents] (v. 14).

Application: This is another lesson for analyzing our sinful modern condition (our tendency to put God aside for other trinkets and fads) and for proclaiming the Good News that God changes his mind about us, remains faithful to his promises to the faithful before us, and continues to make us a great people of his (Justification by Grace and Providence).

1 Timothy 1:12-17
Along with 2 Timothy through Titus, this in one of Pastoral Letters, concerned with leadership offices and pastoral oversight. Several features make this and the other Pastoral Letters to be not likely compatible with the claim to have been written by Paul. Key Pauline themes regarding justification by faith are missing, though the author may have been acquainted with other Pauline letters. Since the author is also apparently aware of the book of Acts, this letter may not have been written until late in the first century.

Although purportedly addressed to Timothy, a young convert to Christianity and companion of Paul in his travels (Acts 16:1; Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 4:17), most of the letter is a general teaching targeting an entire congregation and readers in various congregations. Besides providing guidance on problems of church administration, the Epistle also opposes false teaching of a speculative type which may have been related to Gnosticism.

This lesson is a confession of faith in face of the false teachings addressed. The author says that he is grateful to Christ Jesus who has strengthened him, judging him faithful [pistos] by appointing him to service/ministry [diakonia], though he (presumably Paul) was formerly a blasphemer or persecutor [dioktes pursuer] (vv. 12-13a). Yet he says he received mercy [eleeo] because he acted ignorantly, and the grace [charis] of the Lord overflowed with faith [pistis] and love [agape] (vv. 13b-14). The author then refers to a saying that is said to be sure and worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom the author (assuming Paul’s persona) is the foremost (v. 15). For this reason the author says he received mercy so that in him Christ might display the utmost patience [makrothomian, long-suffering], making him an example [hupotuposis, pattren] to those who would believe in Christ (v. 16). The lesson concludes with a Jewish congregational prayer to the king of the ages, the only God who should be honored and glorified (v. 17; cf. 6:15-17).

Application: This is another lesson for proclaiming our Sin and the Good News of forgiveness (Justification by Grace), an awareness that we understand ourselves as saint and sinner (Sanctification).

Luke 15:1-10
Again we return to the first installment of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. This lesson relates Jesus’ parables of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin.

The account begins with all the tax collectors and sinners gather around Jesus. Pharisees and scribes criticize him for welcoming these sinners [hamartolous] and eating with them (vv. 1-2). Eating and drinking with sinners was offensive in ancient Israel, as food laws separated the observant Jew from sinners. We are reminded that tax collectors were suspect not just for collaborating with foreigners, but also for dishonesty collecting from debtors more than the amount prescribed (cf. 3:12-13). A concern for the weak and outcaste fits the Lukan agenda (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, p. 262). Only the lost sheep parable appears elsewhere (in Matthew 18:12-14), and in that parallel text there is no response to Pharasaic criticisms and not as clear a testimony to defending the social outcaste. In this Lucan text, Jesus follows with the tale of the one lost sheep occasioning the shepherd to leave the other 99. Reference is made to seeking the lost until found. This follows Luke’s concern about the universal (inclusion of all) (vv. 3-4). Jesus proceeds to note that when the shepherd finds the sheep, he rejoices. Likewise there is said to be more joy in heaven over a repentance [metanoeo] of a sinner than the 99 righteous who need no repentance (vv. 5-7). Similarly when a woman has ten silver coins and loses one, she will work hard to find it and if discovering it will celebrate (vv. 8-9). (In the windowless homes of Palestine, such a search did indeed involve great effort.) So there is much joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents (v. 10).

Application: The text invites sermons on human helplessness (Sin), God’s concern to forgive (Justification by Grace), and the joy that goes with this awareness (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