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Proper 20 | Ordinary Time 25 | Pentecost 18, Cycle C (2016)

From evil to grace and wisdom. This is another Sunday for exploring the depths of our sinful condition and how the grace of God changes this (Justification by Grace). Even more attention is given to Sanctification and Social Ethics than the previous Sunday.

Psalm 79:1-9
As noted several times previously, Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs composed throughout Israel’s history. It is organized into five collections of books, perhaps an analogy to the five books of the Torah. The authors of each of the psalms are largely unknown, as in this case. This loosening of them from their historical origins entails the validity of their use today in very different contexts from their origins (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 523). The actual title of the book is derived from a Greek term meaning “Song” [psalmos]. The Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim, means “hymns” or “songs of praise.”

This psalm is an Asaph Group Lament, praying for deliverance from national enemies, probably written at the end of the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. (Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians.) It begins with a lament made to God that the temple has been defiled and Jerusalem laid to ruins (v. 1). Dead bodies of the Judeans have become food for animals (v. 2). No one is left to bury the dead (v. 3). Mass executions seem to have characterized the Babylonian conquest. The Judeans have come to be mocked by other nations, presumably charged of being abandoned by their God, so that they are without one (v. 4; cf. v. 10). Petitions are raised to Yahweh regarding how long he will remain angry (v. 5). He is begged to pour out his anger/wrath [chemah] on those who do not know him (v. 6). Petitions are offered that the Lord not to remember the iniquities of our ancestors, and his compassion [rachamim, tender mercies] come to meet us speedily (v. 8). God is asked to forgive/atone for [kaphar, cover] our sins and deliver [natsal, snatch away] us (v. 9).

Application: Sermons on this psalm will explore a sense of (individual or national) hopelessness (Sin) with the Good News of God’s forgiving love, how he “covers” our sin or “snatches it away” (Justification by Grace).


Psalm 113
This psalm is one of the Egyptian Hallel (Praise) Psalms. Such psalms were used in connection with festivals; this one and Psalm 114 are sung at Passover before the meal. This one celebrates Yahweh as helper of the humble and oppressed. Servants [ebed] of the Lord are urged to praise [halal] Yahweh’s name (v. 1). We should bless [barak] his name forever, all day (vv. 2-3). Yahweh is said to be high above all nations, and his glory [kabod] above the heavens (v. 4). None is like the Lord who is seated on high and looks down on the heavens and earth (vv. 5-6). He raises the poor [dal] from the dust and lifts up the needy from the ashes to make them sit with princes (vv. 7-8; cf. 1 Samuel 2:4-8). Testimony is given to how he gives the barren woman a home, making her a joyous mother of children (v. 9).

Application: This alternative psalm provides opportunity to proclaim God’s care for the poor and oppressed, for all in the doldrums (Justification by Grace, Providence, Social Ethics).

Jeremiah 8:18–9:1
Once again we note 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 in Judah 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 (reflecting themes of the seventh century BC religious reforms under King Josiah). The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors see Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in a new context.

This lesson is the prophet’s lament over Judah. He first expresses grief over the condemnation he must pronounce (8:18-22). Noting that the people are still not saved (reference to the harvest being passed could suggest that the people were suffering a drought) (8:20), Jeremiah wonders why there is no physician and why the people’s health has not been restored [arukah]. Reference to balm in Gilead in this verse is to resin from the styrax tree in the northern Transjordan region of Gilead. This balm was widely used for medicinal purposes in the Ancient Near East (8:22). The prophet prays that he could weep day and night for the slain of his people (9:1).

Application: This version of the First Lesson invites sermons which explore our sin and why we need to be reminded of it and the judgment we deserve. This prepares us better to appreciate the grace which Christ’s work affords (Sin and Justification by Grace).


Amos 8:4-7
The Complementary First Lesson is drawn from a collection of teaching and traditions concerning a prophet who may have written during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II in Israel (786 BC – 746 BC). From Judah, Amos did his prophesying in the Northern Kingdom, but then after the Babylonian Exile may have returned to Judah to write his proclamation. Some scholars contend that his addresses were gathered and combined by others to form the book. The lesson reports an indictment of Israel by the prophet. It is first noted how Israel has fleeced the poor [ani]. Comments about selling when the new moon is over are a reference to a monthly religious festival when selling was forbidden (vv. 4-6). Yahweh is said to claim never to be able to forget [shakach] these transgressions (v. 7).

Application: This version of the First Lesson inspires sermons proclaiming that Christians have a responsibility to engage in the struggle for social justice and against secularism (Social Ethics and Evangelism). The injustices of the market could also be investigated (Sin).

1 Timothy 2:1-7
We turn again to this Pastoral Letter, not likely compatible with the claim it makes 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 offers regulations on worship. The author urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone, including rulers, so that we might lead quiet, peaceable [hesuchios] lives (vv. 1-2). The preceding exhortation is said to be good [kalon] and acceptable in the sight of God (v. 3). God is said to desire [thelo] all to be saved [sozo] (v. 4). A psalm is cited, praising the one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus who as a human give himself as a ransom [ontilutron] for all (vv. 5-6). Assuming the persona of Paul, the author claims he was appointed a herald and apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles (v. 7).

Application: This lesson affords opportunity to proclaim that God wants everyone saved (Atonement, Justification by Grace, Single Predestination). God’s concern about government and prayer are other directions for sermons.

Luke 16:1-13
We are again reminded that this gospel is 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. In this lesson we consider Jesus’ parable of the Dishonest Manager, an account unique to Luke.

Jesus reports to the disciples how a rich man had a manager/steward [oikonomia] against whom charges had been brought for squandering the rich man’s property (v. 1). The rich man summons the manager and dismisses him from his office (v. 2). This creates much worry for the former manager who was unwilling to take on menial work or beg (vv. 3-4). Then the manager tries a new strategy. He calls on all the debtors of the rich man and forgives them a portion of their debt if they pay it in part (vv. 5-7). The master hears of this and commends the dishonest manager for acting shrewdly. Jesus adds that the sons of this age [aionos] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light [phos, the spiritually enlightened] are (v. 8).

Some scholars believe that what follows in the lesson are later additions and not directly related to the parable’s original meaning. The verses are related in the sense of helping the faithful see that life is not in the accumulation of wealth. Jesus is next reported as teaching that he would have the faithful make friends by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they will be welcomed in eternal homes [aionious skenas] (v. 9). Praise is given to those who know what is coming and adapt to it. One who has not been faithful with dishonest wealth cannot be trusted with true riches (v. 11). Jesus proceeds to note that no house-slave [oketes] can serve two masters, as he will hate one and despise others. So one cannot serve God and wealth (v. 13).

Application: Sermons on this text have the opportunity to proclaim the Christian’s responsibility for seeking economic justice and better conditions for the poor (Sin and Social Ethics). Another possibility is to encourage listeners to appreciate that there is more to life than wealth (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