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Wrestling with the Word, episode 93: Lectionary 27 (19 Pentecost), Year C (October 3, 2010) September 25, 2010

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Lectionary 27 Pentecost 19

There is a four-letter word that ruffles feathers, pumps up blood pressure, and causes arguments. It’s the word W-A-I-T. It seems like a complete waste of time to you and me and countless others. Yet God reiterates promises that are worth waiting for and calls us to make productive use of our waiting time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 93: Lectionary 27 (19 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 37:1-9
The content of the psalm with its proverbial wisdom teachings serves the acrostic structure of the psalm very well. Having to begin every verse (or in this case, every other line) with the succeeding letter of the alphabet challenges the poet to maintain a flow of movement for the poem, except when a series of short maxims make up the whole alphabet. The psalm is, in other words, a collection of wisdom teachings offered by an “old” man who has observed life for many years (v. 25). This “wise” teacher emphasizes the positive role of faith and trust in the Lord rather than fretting over the success of the wicked. According to his instruction, hope and trust in the Lord, waiting for the Lord, and taking refuge in the Lord are the ways of the righteous. The future reward for the righteous, first appearing in v. 9, is repeated 4 times as the psalm continues towards its end: “they shall inherit/possess the land/earth.” The promise flows from the lips of Jesus in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:5). Jesus promises and delivers that inheritance to “the meek,”as does v. 11 of the psalm.


Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
In response to the prophet’s questions and complaints about the apparent injustices that God allows in the world, the Lord answers there is an end to the waiting and toward that end the righteous shall live on the basis of faithfulness.

While the precise historical situation is difficult to determine on the basis of the evidence supplied, the mood and style of the book seem to reflect the period immediately prior to the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.  In particular, the material in 1:2–2:4 represents a dialogue between the prophet and God, the words of Habakkuk expressed in terms and forms characteristic of a lament. 1:2-4: Habakkuk asks about the Lord’s apparent absence and lack of concern. 1:5-11: YHWH answers in terms of promised action. 1:12—2:1: Habakkuk continues his questions and challenge. 2:2-4: YHWH answers with divine assurance and calls for faithful waiting.

Key Words
1:2.  ‘ad-’ānâ = “how long”:  The question is a characteristic element in a lament; see Ps. 13:1; 74:10; 89:46; cf. Lam 5:20.  šivva‘tî welō’ tišmā‘ = “I cry for help but you do not answer”:  For the best-known example of the question, see Ps. 22:1-2, 11 (cf. Mark 15:34; Matt. 27:46).

2:4/  wetsaddîq be’emûnātô yichyeh = “but (the) righteous will live by their (his faithfulness”; cf. Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38.  For ’emûnâ = “steadfastness, loyalty, faithfulness” see Exod. 17:12; 2 Kings 12:16.


2 Timothy 1:1-14
Having provided the opportunity for Timothy to grow up in the faith of his family, God through the apostle now challenges that same believer to hold firm to the true faith in spite of other teachings and even in the face of persecution.

The authorship of the three pastoral epistles–1 and 2 Timothy, Titus–has been debated since the beginning of the 19th century. At present, many scholars believe they were written not by Paul but by an anonymous writer who addressed the church at Ephesus on a variety of issues.  The nature of this correspondence only enables us to conclude in general terms that the issues were Gnostic teachings finding their way into the church and the danger of the world’s antagonism toward the Christians of the time.  Further, the departure of many from Paul’s teachings indicates a falling away of Christians in the face of persecution (1:15-16). Many date the authorship sometime in the second century, probably in the first half.  The reference to Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (v. 5) see Acts 16:1) seems to indicate the sequence of three generations of Christians.  The challenge to Timothy is to maintain “the faith of the mothers” in the midst of some trials confronting the church at Ephesus.


Luke 17:5-10
Addressing his disciples, Jesus Christ demands among the daily “duties” of Christian discipleship the avoidance of stumbling blocks (vss. 1-2), a boundless willingness to forgive (vss. 3-4), a faith that has power to accomplish the impossible (vss. 5-6), and a commitment to faithful service (vss. 7-10).

Parallel passage: Matthew 17:20 where the faith can move a mountain rather than a sycamore tree as here.

Immediately after the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke has gathered into one place four separate sayings on discipleship.  Previous to our pericope are the first two, both addressed to “his disciples.” The first, vv. 1-3a, is a warning against inevitable stumbling blocks to faith.  The second, vv. 3b-4, deals with the limitlessness of Christian forgiveness.  Our pericope begins with the final two, both addressed to “the apostles.” The third, vv. 5-6, illustrates the power of faith.  The fourth, vv. 7-10, explains the duty of the servants of Christ.

Key Words
V. 1.  ta skandala = “stumbling blocks”:  The word appears often in LXX as a “stumbling block” or “snare” to someone’s fidelity to God:  see Josh. 23:13 (Canaanites);  Judg. 2:3 (gods of the Canaanites); Judg. 8:27 (a golden ephod, a fertility idol?).  For people enticing Christians away from the faith by lies and a false gospel, see Acts 20:29-30; Gal. 1:6-9. For Christians causes fellow believers to stray from their faith by offensive demonstrations of freedom, see Rom. 14:13. On the other hand, Paul portrays the cross of Jesus Christ as the stumbling block (skandalon) that causes people to stumble (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11).

V. 5. prosthes hēmin pistin = “add to us faith”: Usually the word prostithēmi means to increase something that is already present. Unless insisting that the word here is used differently, the implication is that the apostles already have faith and that they are requesting an increase of faith. They are, after all, “the apostles” (see Luke 6:12-16).

V. 6.  ei echete pistin = “if you have faith”:  The present tense implies a “real” condition:  the apostles do have faith; some mss. read ei eichete pistin = “if you had faith,” implying that the apostles do not (so RSV/NRSV).  Strikingly, what follows, elegete = “you could say,” introduces a contrary-to-fact condition, supporting the variant reading “if you had faith.”

V. 10. douloi achreioi esmen, ho ōpheilomen poiēsai pepoiēkamen = “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we are obligated to do”: The duties of plowing and serving (vss. 6, 8) might reflect Pauline terminology for Christian disciples. For plowing and harvesting, see 1 Cor. 9:7b-12a. For the description of Paul himself and other Christians as “servants,” see Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:21-23; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1, etc. The function of shepherd will develop in such Johannine passages as John 21:15-17. Ultimately, the point of Jesus’ saying here is that even the everyday work of disciples does not earn God’s reward; our “unprofitable” labors cannot accomplish that. Only God’s grace accomplishes the reward—a contrast to the teaching of Psalm 37.