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Proper 22 | Ordinary Time 27 | Pentecost 19 (Cycle C)

Sunday between October 2 and October 8 inclusive

The unifying factor in most of the texts selected for us for next Sunday appears to be the call to “patient faithfulness.” It is a message first of all for those of us who are ministers of the word and Sacraments. If we are willing to accept this message and to apply it in our lives, we may then with integrity and enthusiasm share it with other people.

Psalm 37:1-9

Those who are wicked and oppressive may gain a temporary economic advantage, but their advantage will soon be lost. Soon the wicked will be cut off and destroyed. It would be foolish to be envious of them. The Lord will show mercy to those who are righteous; they will dwell securely in the land long after the wicked are gone. Those who are wise will trust in the Lord and wait patiently.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

After the introduction provided in Habakkuk 1:1, verses 2-3 are a lament by the prophet. Habakkuk 2:1 is an indication of the prophet’s readiness to hear and of the expectation that the Lord God will no longer be silent. The response from the Lord begins in 2:2. The response marks a transition to apocalyptic, for the message is to be written. It calls for patient faithfulness until the time when the Lord will act decisively, another important characteristic of apocalyptic.

The good news in the latter portion of 2:4, that “the tsaddik (righteous person) who remains consistently in emunah (faithfulness to the Lord) shall live,” was a favorite for the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, was very important for Martin Luther during his theological crisis, is significant for all of us as Christians, and certainly has been a basic guide for Israelites and Jews down through the centuries. The tsaddik, who within the outer limits set by the commandments in the Torah makes the necessary decisions in life, assigning priorities among the many demanding relationships of the righteous person, shall live in security, in firmness, in a covenant relationship with the Lord, with all responsible people, and with the material things of this world. It is the same for us.

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
Psalm 137

Among these three texts, only Lamentations 3:19-26 offers hope that because of the steadfast, enduring love of the Lord the desolation of Jerusalem will some day end. Only Lamentations 3:19-26 suggests that the Lord will not reject forever, that it is good for a person to wait patiently for the salvation that the Lord will provide.

Although it is understandable that there are biblical texts that depict conditions and people to whom all hope seems to be in vain, we may wonder why texts such as Lamentations 1:1-6 and Psalm 137 should be included in our Lectionary and read during our worship services. We want to encourage people to have hope in the Lord God and to wait patiently for the Lord to help them. Why should we offer to them biblical texts depicting situations of total despair, in which there are no vestiges of hope?

2 Timothy 1:1-14

This portion of the most personal of the Pauline Pastoral Epistles is perhaps based on correspondence of Paul to Timothy, but reworked and rewritten by a later writer-redactor during what that writer considered to be “the last days.” This admonition to remain faithful until the “Day of the Lord” is closely linked to the Habakkuk 2:4 text, though modified by the thought and practices that developed within later Pauline Christianity.

Luke 17:5-10

A variety of teachings are juxtaposed in these verses, including a redaction by the Lukan writer of a warning in Mark 9:42 about putting any skandala in front of these “little ones,” a call for repeated forgiveness included in various ways in Matthew and in Luke, a saying regarding the potential power available in faith, and a parable peculiar to Luke about a slave who was expected to labor unflinchingly for his master.

Comments here will be limited to the Luke 17:7-10 parable, because it is the most interesting portion of the text and because it includes the unifying theme for this occasion of “patient faithfulness.” The situation described in the parable is that of a farmer who has one slave to do his plowing, tend his cattle, and prepare his meals. The message of the parable appears to be that even with all of the diligent service that we might muster we cannot obligate God to do anything for us. Any attitude that causes us to seek rewards from God, to think that because we have done so much God must certainly respond with the things that will please us, is misguided. We are slaves to God. God does not owe us anything. Whatever God may give to us is given because of God’s grace; our only proper response is thanksgiving to God. We see this also in the parable about the ten lepers, which is placed immediately after this text.

Therefore, we are not to seek thanks from God, but are always to give thanks to God. Some of the most respected Jewish fathers wrote basically the same thing as this, as is indicated in Pirke Aboth 1:3 in the Rabbinic Literature, “Do not be like slaves who serve their master in order to try to receive a reward,” and Pirke Aboth 2:8, “No matter how diligently you have studied the Torah, do not claim merit for yourself, for that is simply what you were created to do.” We are to serve God with patient faithfulness, “in sickness and in health,” much as we indicate that we will do for our partner in marriage when we express our marriage vows.

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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