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Proper 23 | Ordinary Time 28, Cycle B (2015)

Taking sin seriously. Besides exploring sin and how it permeates every aspect of our lives and makes us miserable (Sin and Social Ethics), how we need to avoid the illusion that we are basically good and decent, this is a Sunday celebrating the love of forgiveness of God (Justification by Grace).

Psalm 22:1-14
The psalm is a lament prayer for delivery from mortal illness, attributed to David. The superscript’s designation to the leader according to the deer of the dawn is probably a set of instructions to the music leader in the temple about the melody to be used.

The psalm begins with a cry for help and defense from forsakenness (vv. 1-2), quoted by Jesus on the Cross (Mark 15:34). This suggests that the psalm can be read as applying to Jesus’ Passion, an especially appropriate reading since this is labeled one of the psalms traditionally attributed to David, Jesus’ ancestor through Joseph’s lineage. Other references foreshadowing the Crucifixion are provided, such as the experience of being scorned, despised, and mocked (vv. 6-7), being forsaken (v. 11), as well as being poured out like water [mayim] as enriched by evil-doers (v. 14). There are references to the need to receive salvation [natsal, snatching away] from God (vv. 5, 8). The psalmist also confesses that God has kept Israel and him safe since birth and that Elohim has been his God since then, a remembrance inspiring the psalmist’s prayer (vv. 3-5, 9-10). Thus the psalm might be taken either as prophecy of the Crucifixion, but also as references to depictions of the sinful condition.

Application: Several possibilities for sermons emerge from this text. Read prophetically it affords opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ sufferings for us and how these events were all planned by God in advance (Atonement). We are reminded that God is truly vulnerable, for he suffered and died for us. Another possibility is to remind hearers we are made vulnerable by the sinful condition, forsaken, feeling scorned, and despised (Sin). But the good news is that God forever keeps us safe (Providence and Justification by Grace).


Psalm 90:12-17
This alternative text is part of a group lament and prayer for deliverance from national adversity. It is the only psalm traditionally attributed to Moses. After reflecting on the transience of human life (vv. 3-10), the lesson begins with a prayer that we might gain wisdom (ability to discern God’s purposes) from contemplating the shortness of life (v. 12). Prayer is offered for compassion/pity that God would satisfy us with his steadfast love [chesed, lovingkindness] so that we might be made glad [sameach] (vv. 13-14), that his works [poal] be manifest/appear [raah], and that his beauty [noam] be upon us in prospering the work of our hands (vv. 16-17).

Application: A sermon on this lesson affords an excellent opportunity to reflect on the shortness of life, nothing is lasting in our sinful human condition (Sin), but the good news is that we have a beautiful, loving God who overcomes this anxiety with gladness and makes our lives count (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
We note again that this book is folktale probing faith in the midst of suffering. The date of the work is uncertain but perhaps it was composed around the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth or fifth centuries BC. There are several parallel ancient Egyptian texts. The book is a challenge to conventional Hebraic Wisdom thinking, as it appears with the older vision of the divine order of life and God’s justice in maintaining that order. This text is a portion of one of Job’s replies to his friends, this one to the Third Discourse of Eliphaz (chapter 22).

Job wants to lay the case for his own righteousness before God, confident that he would be vindicated, so that an upright person like him could reason with God and would be acquitted (vv. 1-7). Yet he says that he cannot find God, for he is hidden (vv. 8-9). As a result Job laments that God has made his heart [leb] faint, and he wishes he could vanish in darkness as a result (vv. 16-17).

Application: A sermon on this text will undermine our self-righteousness, indicating the loneliness and emptiness of such a way of life (Sin) and to proclaim God’s forgiveness (Justification by Grace). Another approach might be to focus on God’s hiddenness occasioned by our sin and God’s use of those means to drive us to despair and prepare us for grace (Providence).


Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
The Complimentary 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 a summary of his proclamation. Some scholars contend that his addresses were gathered and combined by others to form the book.

This pericope is part of the prophet’s discussion of the horror and finality of Israel’s deserved punishment. It begins with a word of hope that there is still time to seek the Lord and live, lest he break out against the house of Joseph like fire, devouring Bethel (holy place in Canaan having to do with Jacob [Genesis 28:19; 35:14-15], about twelve miles north of Jerusalem) (v. 6). Laments are offered against those who turn justice to wormwood and bring righteousness [tsedaqah] to the ground (v. 7). Amos further warns Israel of its transgressions. He claims that Israel hates the one who reproves in the gate and abhors the one who speaks truth. They trample on the poor [dal], taking from them levies of grain, building houses but will not live in them and will not drink the wine of the vineyards sown (vv. 10-11). Many are the people’s transgressions: They afflict the righteous with taking bribes, pushing away the needy (v. 12). Thus the prudent will keep silence in such an evil time. The prophet urges them to seek good, not evil, that they may live [chayah]. And so Yahweh will be with them, hating evil loving good [tob], and establishing justice [mishpat, literally judgment]. Then it may be that Yahweh will be gracious [chanan] to the remnant of Joseph (referring to the Northern Kingdom) (vv. 13-16).

Application: This lesson affords an excellent opportunity to preach on the injustices in contemporary society, especially our exploitation of the poor and working class (Social Ethics and Sin). But the final word must be that in this struggle we move with the loving God who will overcome evil and care for the oppressed (Justification by Grace and Providence).

Hebrews 4:12-16
We note again like last week that the book is an anonymous treatise which, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of Levitical priests, was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36). This lesson is an exhortation based on Jesus’ high priesthood.

The word of God is described as living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It is said to pierce so as to divide soul from spirit, joints from marrow, and to be able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions (v. 12). Thus before God no creature is hidden, but all are laid bare before the one to whom an account must be rendered (v. 13). Because the faithful have a great high priest [archiereus] in heaven, Jesus the Son of God, they were urged to hold fast to this confession (v. 14). He is not a high priest unable to sympathize [sumpathesai, literally “suffer with”] with our weaknesses but has in every respect been tested like the faithful, though without sin (v. 15). As a result we may approach the throne of grace [charis] with boldness, finding grace to help in time of need (v. 16).

Application: With this text preachers can proclaim Christ’s atonement and also a Christology stressing the Son’s and the Father’s total identification with our suffering. These insights not only alert us to our sin but also console us and make us bold (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

Mark 10:17-31
As is well known, this book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels. It is perhaps based on oral traditions of the Passion Narratives and accounts of Jesus’ teachings (the so-called Q-Source), it was probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians. Although an anonymous work, the tradition of ascribing authorship to John Mark is largely accepted, but his identity is not always clear — whether this is the John Mark referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). There is an extra-biblical source (Eusebius of Caesarea, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2/1: 115-116) who designates Mark as the apostle to Africa. Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

This lesson tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man, an account told in a similar fashion in all the Synoptic Gospels. Following Jesus’ blessing of children (vv. 13-16), a man we later learn was rich (v. 22) asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (v. 17). He had addressed Jesus as “good teacher” [didasko agathos], a title suggesting the acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity since only God is good (vv. 17-18). Jesus responds by reciting the commandments regarding our responsibilities to and for each other (v. 19). The rich man claims to have kept these commandments (v. 20). Jesus reportedly loved the man and adds that he only lacks selling all he owns in order to give to the poor [ptochos] and urges the man to follow (v. 21). The man was shocked and left grieving, unwilling to give away his wealth (v. 22).

Jesus then teaches his disciples that it will be difficult for the rich to enter God’s kingdom [basileia]. They were perplexed, as it had been supposed at that time that wealth made the performance of religious duties possible (vv. 23-24). Jesus proceeds to note that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom (v. 25). The disciples wonder who then can be saved [sozo] (v. 26). Jesus responds that with mortals it is impossible, but not for God for whom all things are possible (v. 27). Peter next contends that he and other disciples had left everything and followed Jesus (v. 28). Jesus responds that there is no one who has family or fields for his sake who will not receive these things a hundredfold in the ages to come (vv. 29-30). Both Matthew (19:28) and Luke (22:28-30) elaborate on verse 29 in their version of the account by having Jesus make promises of glory in heaven for the faithful who have given up so much in following Jesus. Jesus adds that the last will be first and the first will be last (v. 31; see Matthew 19:30; 20:16).

Application: Several possibilities emerge from this lesson. In line with the Theme of the Day preachers will find the text helpful in making the congregation aware of our sinful propensity to put “things” (material possessions and human relationships) before God, but also proclaim an awareness that God nevertheless forgives (Sin, Justification by Grace, and Eschatology). Another approach might be to devote attention to how with a focus on the right priority (God) and revel in how he can do all, like the disciples we can follow Jesus and give it all up for him (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