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Proper 21 | Ordinary Time 26 | Pentecost 18 (Cycle C)

Sunday between September 25 and October 1 inclusive

It is made abundantly clear in most of the texts selected for next Sunday that rich people who indulge themselves in luxury with no regard for the poor and needy will suffer in the future. The Lord will provide wonderful things for the poor and needy who turn to the Lord for help. Those who are rich and selfish can avoid future suffering if they will be generous to the poor now in the name of the Lord.

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

The rich are warned in these Amos tradition “Woe” sayings that those who selfishly and idly indulge themselves with unneeded luxury with no concern for the poor will be the first to go into exile where they will have none of these things.

What is the Word of the Lord for us in this text? What shall we do with this text in our situation? What is God saying to us through it? What implications does this text have for us in the USA on issues such as health care, adequate wages, educational opportunities, and so on? What actions does this text suggest that we should be taking as individuals, as the Church, and as citizens in the United States?

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

In the face of the impending surrender of the Israelites in Jerusalem to the attacking Babylonian army, Jeremiah purchases a field in Anathoth from his cousin Hanamel. A secure record of the transaction is made, so that during the restoration Jeremiah or his heirs will be able to claim the property. This action suggests in vivid detail the belief that at some time in the future the people of the land will again be able to own property and live in freedom in Judea. It is implied that the people who will be able to return in peace to the area will have learned that only within their relationship with the Lord God will they be sustained.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

Assurance is given by the Lord God that those who trust in the Lord will be protected by the Lord from all harm and danger. The Lord God is portrayed as an eagle sheltering its offspring. Our beautiful hymn “On Eagle’s Wings” depicts this message dramatically and should be used along with this text.

Psalm 146

In so many ways the Lord God provides love and care for those who are suffering and oppressed. The assurance given and expressed here is similar to what is written in Psalm 91. Even if the benefits promised in these psalms are not received immediately or even over long periods of time, we must maintain our faith in God and in the unmerited grace of God. That is expected of us.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

It is in verses 17-19 that we have the closest connection to the other texts selected for this occasion. Instead of merely condemning the rich and providing no guidance for them, these verses spell out quite clearly the course that should be taken by “the rich of this world.” They should set their hopes on God. They should be rich in doing good things. They should be liberal and generous, for they have the means to do this. In this way they will lay up for themselves a good foundation for the future, for life that is life indeed.

Since we have relatively few texts in our Newer Testament that express positive and constructive guidance for people who are rich, it is especially important that we use 1 Timothy 6:6-19 in a significant way next Sunday. People who are wealthy receive considerable positive guidance and reinforcement in Islam and in Hindu religions and to some extent in the Jewish tradition. Rarely do they receive positive consideration and guidance within the Newer Testament of Christianity. How are wealthy people in the congregations guided and assisted in our congregations? What is their role in the “Body of Christ”? How can we from our Newer Testament texts guide them without departing from the texts into the fallacy of a “Prosperity Gospel”? For useful suggestions here, see Karl N. Jacobson, “Unhappy business: Why the prosperity gospel doesn’t add up — in good times or bad,” The Lutheran (August 2009, pp. 34-35), or

Luke 16:19-31

This graphic Lukan parable, which probably draws upon the Egyptian folk tale of the journey of Si-Osiris to the underworld and upon the Jewish story about the condition after death of the poor scholar and of the rich publican Bar Ma’jan, has anti-Jewish overtones, even though anti-Jewish polemic may not be its only or its most important function. The rich man in it — mentioned first, along with his five brothers who remain in his father’s house — seems to represent the Jewish religious establishment. As such, he is buried, and in the Lukan viewpoint consigned to Hades, where he will soon be joined by his five brothers. He calls across the chasm to Abraham, whom he claims as his father. Abraham answers, but will offer no special favors at this point. The brothers are to be referred to their own Scriptures, but there is little likelihood that they will repent either on the basis of their own Scriptures or if someone raised from the dead (Jesus!) would come to them. Lazarus, mentioned second (generally the “Christian” position in Lukan pairing of contrasts in Lukan parables) had been poor and oppressed, but now enjoys the favored position in Abraham’s bosom.

In all of this, we see how creatively the Lukan writer developed the Lazarus figure as a Christian symbol of the resurrection, a symbol developed also in a somewhat different way in the Fourth Gospel in which it is denied that the Jews are any longer sons of Abraham. We are increasingly cognizant of the creativity of the Lukan writer and of the Johannine traditions. Furthermore, the Lukan context for this parable suggests that the parable was directed against the Pharisees. There are other indications as well that among the parables of Jesus peculiar to the Third Gospel this is one of the most likely to have been largely a Lukan composition, a skillful expression of the Lukan writer’s evaluation of the Jews who would not “repent” and join the associates of Lazarus who, although they may be poor in this life, will be secure with Abraham after their death. Because this parable is so well-known to us, we can easily fail to notice how uncharacteristic it is of the parables of the Jesus of history. Most of the action in it is not drawn from everyday life in Galilee, but from the life to come.

Having emphasized the importance of faith, of hearing the Scriptures, and of how one’s position in this present life determines one’s eternal destiny, the parable ends on a note that is almost completely pessimistic regarding the fate of the Jews who do not associate with Lazarus-type people during this life. How, therefore, shall we today respond to this text? What is the basic theological message of this text, and how shall we state that message in terms that will be relevant at our particular time and place?

The text is a beautiful example of religious language, the language of faith, in which words that are symbols of faith are combined into stories that describe divine-human encounters, as Paul Tillich described it. In the telling of this story there is much use of descriptive detail, which many generations of Christians have used in their efforts to picture as well as they can what it shall be like after their own death. We can, along with millions of our fellow Christians, merely live in that seemingly secure world of unbroken mythological consciousness (again Paul Tillich’s terminology) and do no more than repeat the vivid descriptive detail and even elaborate on it from our own rich imaginations. Should we not, however, undertake the alternative to this of seeking to determine the theological message of the text and then of stating that message in terms that will be meaningful to our own situation this coming Sunday? In this instance, the task is arduous because this parable is designed to fit a particular situation of Christian animosity against Jews in the first century.

It appears that there are two messages in the parable. One is that we may anticipate a reversal of roles and of positions in the life that is to come. The other is that most people will continue to live a life of wantonness and ease in spite of repeated warnings within their religious traditions. Here again, therefore, the “gospel” for this occasion is heard more clearly in the other texts selected than it is in Luke. It is heard in the 1 Timothy call for conduct that will result in our access to eternal life and in the psalm readings in which there is a great joy for those whose hope is in the Lord God who is Creator, Savior, and Eternal King.

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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