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Proper 8 / Pentecost 4 / Ordinary Time 13, Cycle A

The joyful life of freedom. This is another Sunday when the Pentecost season’s focus on the Christian life (Sanctification) highlights how living as a Christian is not arduous but freeing (Justification by Grace). But linked with this theme of freedom is an appreciation of the prophetic law and its condemning, judgmental word (Sin).

Psalm 13
This is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies in the form of a lament. It has been traditionally attributed to David, but it is unlikely to have been written by the king. In fact, as we have noted, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the Psalms may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about trust in God in the face of hard times that all the faithful experience.

The lesson begins with the psalmist’s complaints about his fate and laments about how long he must endure (vv. 1-2). Prayers for help are offered. The psalmist claims that if his death ensues his enemy will feel vindicated (vv. 3-4). An expression of trust in the Lord’s loving kindness [chesed] and a vow to praise him for his bountiful dealings [gamal] with us follows (vv. 5-6).

Application: The song affords opportunities for us to reflect on our enemies (both persons and social structures that oppress) and to lament them (Sin). But the final word is our trust in God’s loving kindness (Providence and Justification by Grace). This awareness of God’s care for us leads to spontaneous acts and lives of praise (Sanctification).


Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
The Psalm is identified as a Maskil, an artful song composed with artful skill, composed by Ethan the Ezrahite. He was either a wise man of Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31) or a temple musician (1 Chronicles 15:17, 19). This is a hymn extolling God’s power and faithfulness; it has its origins as part of a king’s prayer for deliverance from his enemies. The psalmist promises to sing of Yahweh’s steadfast love [chesed, also translated "mercies"] (v. 1). His faithfulness [emunah] is as firm as the heavens (v. 2). His covenant with David is recollected (vv. 3-4). (Selah appearing at the end of v. 4 is a liturgical direction which may indicate that there should be an instrumental interlude at this point in the singing of the Psalm.) Those who experience the festal shout in worship (a seemingly ecstatic experience or joyful praise celebrating the Lord’s rule, as described in 2 Samuel 6:15) and walk in the light of Yahweh’s countenance are happy (v. 15). He is the glory of their strength. By Yahweh’s favor the people’s horn ([qeren], an image for the king) is exalted (v. 17). Our shield [magen, or ruler] and king are said to belong to the Lord (v. 18).

Application: This Psalm also affords opportunities for us to reflect on our enemies (both persons and social structures that oppress) and to lament them (Sin). But much like the previous Psalm, the focus is on God’s love and his commitment to his promises, including the Davidic covenant. As such this is an occasion to preach on how Christ is the embodiment of God’s faithfulness. All that we have that protects us from our enemies (including just and good governmental structures) belongs to and is from God (Providence, Justification by Grace, and Social Ethics). This awareness of God’s care for us will lead us to joyful praise (Sanctification and Worship).

Genesis 22:1-14
Because of the use of both Yahweh and Elohim in this story of the testing of Abraham it is difficult to determine which of the four oral traditions that comprise the book of Genesis is the source, though some prominent scholars believe it to be the work of the E strand (the eighth century BC strand, so named for referring to God as Elohim) (Claus Westermann, Handbook to the Old Testament, p. 33). In its final edited form the account seems to function as a way to put an end to child sacrifice, a practice that did occur at times in Israel’s history (Judges 11:29-40; 2 Kings 16:2-4). Or perhaps it was merely to show that God had surrendered a claim on the life of the firstborn (Exodus 13:2, 11-16; 34:19-20). Elohim is said to have tested Abraham and he responds (v. 1). The patriarch is told to take Isaac and bring him from Philistia to Morah (a mountain range whose location is unknown, but is identified by 2 Chronicles 3:1 within the site of Jerusalem) to sacrifice him as a burnt offering (v. 2). Abraham gets up in the morning with Isaac and begins to cut wood for the offering (v. 3). On the third day, along with young servants, they arrive at the location (v. 4).

Abraham tells his young servants to remain behind while he and Isaac go to worship (v. 5). Abraham takes wood (v. 6). Isaac asks where the lamb for the offering is and Abraham responds that God will provide (vv. 7-8). Arriving at the site God had designated, Abraham builds an altar and binds his son, laying him on the wood (v. 9). He takes a knife to kill Isaac (v. 10). An angel of Yahweh intervenes, claiming that now he knows Abraham fears God, withholding nothing from him (vv. 11-12). Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket and prepares it as an offering (v. 13). He calls the place “The Lord will provide” (v. 14).

Application: The text suggests that Christian life is not governed by God’s law, that we are free from it (Sanctification). On some rare occasions God may call us to violate the Ten Commandments, as he did in this case. (This is an opportunity to expose parishioners to the concept of a Situational Ethic.) Another possibility might be to proclaim how the Lord provides when it seems least likely that he will (Providence).


Jeremiah 28:5-9
As we have noted in explaining the previous Sunday’s complementary version of the First Lesson, this is a book of prophecies of the last seventh/early sixth centuries BC prophet of Judah, dictated to his aide Baruch, during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah through the era of the Babylonian captivity. The lesson reports on Jeremiah’s confrontation with the prophet Hananiah, who had predicted the return of the Babylonian exiles within two years (vv. 1-4).

The confrontation reportedly takes place in the presence of the priests and all those standing before the Jerusalem Temple (v. 5). To Hananiah’s optimistic word Jeremiah proclaims Amen, expressing hope that Yahweh would bring home the Babylonian exiles (v. 6). But Jeremiah notes that the previous prophets had predicted war, famine, and pestilence (v. 8). One like Hananiah who predicted peace can only be believed when that comes true, and only then can it be known that he is of the Lord (v. 9; cf. Deuteronomy 18:20-21). Jeremiah’s message of punishment for sin by far dominates the Old Testament prophetic traditions over those which promise good fortune. It might also be possible to read the lesson from a New Testament point of view, understanding Jeremiah to prophesy Jesus, insofar as no prophet but Jesus can actually deliver on the promise of peace. Or picking up on last week’s Gospel Lesson (Matthew 10:34-36), the text could be construed as a reminder that Jesus is a true prophet precisely because he does not come to bring peace.

Application: One possibility is to proclaim how because of sin we all deserve punishment, that feel-good preaching without judgment is not the word of God. Read as prophetic of Christ, it might be possible to develop one or both of the points made in the final sentences of the preceding paragraphs (stressing that none but Christ can bring peace or that even Christ comes to create turmoil and judgment, for his personhood divides human beings in the sense of our either being for him or against him).

Romans 6:12-23
This is a continuation of a discussion of the nature of the Christian life in this self-introduction by Paul to the church in Rome. The lesson reports on Paul’s discussion of the two slaveries under which we stand. He begins by urging the faithful not to let sin [hamartia] exercise dominion in the mortal bodies or to make them obey sin’s passions/lusts [epithumia]. Instead they should present themselves to God as those brought from death to life, for they are instruments of righteousness [dikaiousune] (vv. 12-13). Sin will have no dominion over them, he claims, for they are not under the law [nomos] but under grace [charis] (v. 14). Paul denies that this implies that we should sin (v. 15). For to present oneself as an obedient slave [doulos] entails becoming slaves to the one obeyed, be it sin (leading to death) or obedience (leading to righteousness) (v. 16). (Clearly 4:5 and God reckoning those with faith to be righteous is in the background of these remarks. Recall that even in the Old Testament the concept of righteousness is not about distributive justice but has to do with relationships [Nehemiah 9:8; Isaiah 57:1; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 371]. This is the way New Testament scholarship tends to understand the concept [Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 371].) Thanks to God, those who had been slaves of sin have become obedient to the teaching entrusted to them, making them slaves of righteousness (bound to good relationship with God) (vv. 17-19). When slaves of sin, the Romans had been free regarding righteousness, but got no advantage from that (vv. 20-21). Now freed from sin and enslaved to God, they have been sanctified [hagiazmon, set apart], whose end is eternal life (v. 22). (Holiness and eternal life ensue as a result of the righteousness bestowed on us, the right relationship created by God through faith.) The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ (v. 23).

Application: The text affords an opportunity to address criticisms of Christian freedom as leading to permissiveness. In fact we are slaves to sin, as we live under the law (living lives as if we had to prove our worth by the things we do). It is like we cannot stop seeking to prove we are somebody. This is a lust or passion that mercilessly drives us in all we do, a life in which we feel trapped and headed for destruction (Original Sin). But now released from needing to perform good works, we become trapped in a new way. Grace places us in a new relationship with God, setting us apart from the ways of sin. Grace and love give us no choice. Overwhelmed by God’s love, we are placed in a right relationship with God that has its way with us, drives us to holiness and life, and makes sin not so alluring. The bondage to a right relationship with God sets us free from sin’s passions (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

Matthew 10:40-42
We return to using the gospel of the present liturgical year, the most Jewish of all the gospels. It was not likely written by the apostle who bears its name. The original audience was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). In this lesson Jesus is continuing to commission and instruct the twelve. He tells them that whoever welcomes them welcomes him and the Father. Whoever welcomes (shows hospitality to) a prophet [prophetes] in the prophet’s name receives a prophet’s reward [misthos, wage]. (This may refer to v. 32, the promise that Christ will acknowledge/confess the faithful before the Father.) Given the book’s Jewish roots and preoccupations, it is not surprising that a concern about the prophets typifies Matthew (2:15; 3:3; 5:17). Jesus proceeds to note that whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person receives the reward of the righteous [dikaios] (vv. 40-41). Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to the “little ones” [mikron] (Jesus’ disciples are said to be his children) will not lose their rewards (v. 42). Obedience to the law continues to be the way of righteousness for Matthew’s Jesus, for given the Jewish orientation of the book it is reasonable to interpret the references to righteousness as law (Torah)-abiding. Matthew’s editing of these statements is unique compared to their use by the other Gospel writers. But when we keep in mind that these exhortations emerged in the context of last week’s Gospel Lesson during which Jesus affirmed the value of the disciples (v. 31), it seems just as likely that the references to righteousness pertain to “right relationship” with God (see the discussion of dikaiosune in the Second Lesson above).

Application: At least two possibilities for sermons emerge. Matthew’s Jesus is concerned with prophecy, and so the themes noted in the complementary version of the First Lesson could be applied to this text, with the stipulation that it is the prophet’s task to confess Christ, to proclaim the judgmental word on our sin. This is related to the demands made in this lesson, that our actions toward others are deserving of rewards or punishments (commandments to which we cannot measure up). Another option, more in line with the Theme of the Day, would be to understand the behaviors Jesus outlines as joyful responses stemming from the right new relationships (the righteousness) God has bestowed on us (his proclamation of our value) (Justification by Grace and 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