Engaging the Word: Readings for 8/28/16 (The 15th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16; Luke 14:1,7-14. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary.

In this week’s readings, Jesus, Jeremiah, and the author of Hebrews seemed especially inspired by the Spirit. It’s interesting that the root of the word “inspire” means to breathe, to blow upon—and we can sense that our readings were God-breathed.

Jeremiah by Moretto da Brescia, 16th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah by Moretto da Brescia, 16th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 2:4-13: Although omitted in the lectionary, the first verses of our chapter begin with God’s wistful remembrance of the time when the people of Israel followed God with the devotion of a new bride and were “holy to the Lord.”

Now, however, Israel has betrayed God and is no longer a holy people. The people went after “worthless things and became worthless themselves!” God led his people through the wilderness and brought them to a good land but they defiled the land and disgraced their heritage. The rulers have rebelled and the prophets have chased after worthless gods. The people are so estranged from God that they no longer even cry out, “Where is the Lord?” The New Oxford Annotated Bible comments, “The loss of lament indicates the loss of relationship…. If a community cannot complain to God, it cannot trust in God.”

Like in a court of law, God calls on the heavens to witness this appalling state of affairs. “Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord … for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”

We only have to look around to see that estrangement from God is true today as well. The commentary in The Life with God Bible says, “Whenever we read ‘Israel’ in the testimony of Jeremiah, it is a fair analogy to also read ‘Church.’”

Psalm 81:1, 10-16: The psalm is a festival psalm, but our portion doesn’t seem very festive. Our selection is the voice of God reminding Israel what he has done for them, the consequences of their turning away and going their own way, and an invitation to listen to God once again.

Abraham receiving the Three Angels by Murillo, 1867. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Abraham receiving the Three Angels by Murillo, 1867. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16: We’re completing our lessons from Hebrews this week with a reading from the concluding chapter. The message is a straightforward guide to Christian living and is as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago. The author encourages Christians to continue in mutual love, show hospitality to strangers, care for those in prison and those being tortured, and keep honor in your marriage, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” When we follow these guidelines, we will know deep in our bones, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” We are encouraged to “remember your leaders, those who have spoken the word of God to you…imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He also reminds us to “do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Wedding Banquet by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1616. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wedding Banquet by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1616. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 14:1, 7-14: In this week’s reading, Jesus was going to a Sabbath meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, and the lawyers and Pharisees were watching him closely. The omitted verses tell another healing story. This time a man with dropsy (edema) appeared in front of Jesus. Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” They were silent and Jesus healed the man, and then said, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” Silence again.

Our reading continues this scene. Jesus notices and comments on the social mores and folkways of table fellowship. “When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor (maybe as an invited guest, he should have had the place of honor?), he told them a parable.” He rephrases Proverbs 25:6-7, which reads: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” Jesus expands on that, and adds, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus is talking about the way things work in the kingdom of God.

Jesus then goes further. He tells his host that when he gives a luncheon or a dinner, he shouldn’t invite friends, relatives, or neighbors because they’ll repay him. Instead, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I was interested in the use of the word “resurrection” in the last sentence. What did it mean to the Jews at the time of Jesus’ ministry—before Jesus’ death and resurrection? I don’t quite get it, but from limited research, I gather that the Pharisees believed in resurrection, the Sadducees did not. For the first-century Jews, resurrection meant the end of one age and the beginning of a new world—not the end of linear time.

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