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Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C (September 19, 2010) September 6, 2010

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Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost)

I confess I become upset at some people’s lack of concern for others and at systems in the world that favor the rich and powerful. That anger presents quite a dilemma when I join others in expressing that God is the God of all people, that God loves everyone, and that God wants all humanity to love one another. I feel like Jonah, I suppose, in denying the grace and love of God to “obvious” sinners. All together, our lessons for this day provide some challenges to my thinking and some implications of confessing the universality of God’s love. They help us ponder how the unfathomable and exalted God lives up to the name of Creator of the world and all that lives on it. They also demonstrate how God holds the rich accountable for the poor and simultaneously calls on the poor to pray for the powerful.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 113
The psalm is the first of six called the Hallel psalms because their purpose is to “praise God.” In Judaism this collection was used especially on such important festivals as Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Verses 1-3 invite the worshipers of God in all times and places to extol the name of the Lord. Verses 4-6 explain the reason for that call to praise in two ways:  first, God’s place is far above all the nations of the earth and even above all the heavenly spaces where divine beings dwell and contest for acclaim; second, the Lord is incomparable among all creatures, divine and human. (The question “Who is like the Lord, our God…?” is used in various types of psalms in order to extol YHWH’s supremacy; see Ps. 89:6). Verses 7-9 point to the uniqueness of YHWH in another sense. Though YHWH is so exalted above earth and heaven, that same God bends down to protect and care for the lowly, even exalting them to sit with princes. This lofty God enables outcast barren women to bear children and thus become an integral part of the day’s society.

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Amos 8:4-7
To those who hasten to do dishonest business in order to further oppress the poor and the needy, God promises an unforgettable experience of judgment.

Context
In the middle of the eighth century B.C., Amos, from Tekoa near Bethlehem, was called to preach judgment against the northern kingdom Israel. As it turns out, his judgment speeches in the first two chapters of the book reached out to the nations that surrounded Israel and Judah on all sides. According to his own words, he had not been an official prophet, i.e., ordained into the prophetic guild, but a simple “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” (7:14) when the Lord sent him to prophesy to Israel, the northern kingdom.  The people up there held an optimistic view of the Day of the Lord, and they did so on the basis of YHWH’s actions for Israel in the past. Amos, however, turned the view of the Day into a threat of judgment: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!” (5:18). The passage here consists of oracles which illustrate the vision of the fate of a basket of summer fruit (8:1-3).

Key Words
Vv. 4, 6.  ’ebyôn // ‘anivvê-’ārets … dallîm //we’ebyôn = “the needy // the oppressed of the land … the poor // and the needy”:  For oppression of these people by the rulers and rich of Israel, see 2:6-7.  In terms of YHWH’s ongoing concern for the vulnerable of the land, see also such random examples as Ps. 9:9-10, 18; 82:1-4; then as responsibility given to the Davidic king, see Ps. 72:1-4. 12-14; further as the responsibility given to the people see Exod. 22:21-24; 23:6-9; Deut. 24:10-15, 17-22.  Because the people failed to carry out this assignment, this prophet, along with others, delivers the Lord’s announcement of judgment (see. e.g., Isa. 3:13-15; Ezek. 16:49).

V. 5.  hachōdeš …wehaššabbāt = “the new moon … and the sabbath”:  For restrictions on sabbath activity, see Exod. 35:3; Num. 15:32-36; Jer. 17:21-27; and Neh. 13:15-22 where transacting business is expressly forbidden.

V. 5.  ’êphâ = “ephah”:  The word means a dry measure of about forty liters (a little over 36 quarts).  For laws about weights, see Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16.

V. 6. mappal bar = “refuse of the wheat”:  The noun mappal derives from the verb nāpal = “to fall,” thus wheat fallen to the ground, trampled, wet, inferior.

V. 7.  nišba‘ YHWH bige‘ôn ya‘aqôb = “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob”:  Previously in Amos, YHWH swears by himself (see 4:2; 6:8). As for “the pride of Jacob,” the words appear earlier at 6:8 in parallelism with “strongholds” of Israel and “the city”—all of which YHWH abhors. At Ps. 47:4 the expression stands parallel to “heritage,” that is, the land of Israel.

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1 Timothy 2:1-7
Since God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, the author instructs the leaders of the church to pray and give thanks for the emperor and other governmental authorities.

Context
The verses comprise the first instruction from the unknown apostle to Timothy, leader of the church. In the historical context of the 2nd century A.D., Christians were regarded by outsiders with suspicion and distrust. Above all, since the Christians confessed their faith in Jesus as Lord, their commitment to the emperor was questionable. The advice here (like that of Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 4:14-16) attempts to address this dilemma and ultimately to advance the spread of the gospel and the church within the constraints of the Roman Empire.

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Luke 16:1-13
Jesus calls upon his disciples to face the crisis of his kingdom preaching with the prudence with which those of this age use material possessions.

Context
Chapter 15 contains three parables about the lost and found, all addressed to the Pharisees and scribes. Continuing the theme of stewardship Jesus turns to the disciples to teach this parable of the Dishonest Steward (vv. 1-8a), several applications of the parable (vv. 8b-13), and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31).

Key Words
V. 1.  anthrōpos tis ēn plousios hos eichen oikonomon = “there was a rich man who had a manager”:  The rich man was probably someone like the absentee landowner of 12:37-38, 42-47; 20:9-16, who put someone else like an oikonomos = “manager” in charge of his property.

V. 1.  diaskorpizōn = “squandering”:  The same word appears in the same sense of  the Prodigal Son (15:13). More generally, the word means to “scatter, disperse” (see Luke 1:51; Matt. 25:24, 26; 26:31 = Mk. 14:27; John 11:52).

V. 6.  dexai sou ta grammata = “receive your letters”:  The letters refer to the promissory note signed by the debtor.

V. 8.  hoti phronimōs epoiēsen = “because he acted prudently”; Note the expression phronimōteroi = “more prudently” in the second half of the verse. For phronimos used elsewhere of an oikonomos, see 12:42 where the “faithful and wise steward” will receive blessing at the homecoming of the master. At 1 Cor. 10:15 the expression appears as a compliment, but at 4:10 it is sarcastic.  See 2 Cor. 11:19 (sarcasm) and Rom. 11:25 (negative). At Matt. 25:2, 4, 8, the word stands opposite “foolish” maidens.

V. 8.  hoi huioi tou aiōnos … tous huious tou phōtos = “the children of this age … the children of light”:  The contrast is not between “worlds” or “places” but “times”: Christians are “the children of the New Day/age” (cf. Rom. 13:11-13; John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5.