Engaging the Word: Readings for 10/2/16 (The 20th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary.

In this week’s readings, we disciples experience the full range of human emotions—from total despair and hopelessness to faith and trust in God’s power and sustaining presence.

Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem by Ilya Repin (1844-1930). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lamentations 1:1-6: Lamentations is a heartbreaking book of five poems written to express the sorrow of the entire nation after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC. But more than that, it expresses deep despair over God’s seeming rejection of his own people, even though it was they who had broken faith with God. The author is anonymous, though traditionally the book was attributed to Jeremiah; it follows the Book of Jeremiah in the OT. The descriptions of loss, suffering, horror, and national mourning are difficult to read. Jews still read the poems in synagogues each year to mark the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple and in memory of its final destruction in 70 AD.

In this week’s reading, Jerusalem is depicted as an abandoned widow, without comfort or protection. The Babylonians are seen as the agents of God’s punishment. “Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions.”

We in the United States have been spared the tragedy of total destruction and devastation. Yet, we, too, have experienced national loss and trauma. For example, when the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001, many of us witnessed the horror and the destruction on national television. The Book of Lamentations can give voice to our deepest pain and anguish.

Lamentations 3:19-26: Instead of a psalm, this week, we will use another passage from Lamentations as a canticle. Like our OT lesson, the canticle is a lament, but this passage affirms that the steadfast love of the Lord never ends.

St Paul by Carpaccio, 1520. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St Paul by Carpaccio, 1520. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Timothy 1:1-14:.This week’s reading is the first of four selections from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. This letter is said to be Paul’s farewell letter, and is depicted as being written from prison.

This letter is more personal than 1 Timothy, and encourages Timothy to remember the spiritual heritage he received from his grandmother and mother and to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” God gave us “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” So Paul is saying that Timothy didn’t need anything more, but that he needed to fire up the gift God had already given him.

Paul sees his imprisonment and suffering as an honor and invites Timothy (and us) to join him in suffering for the gospel and to rely on the power of God. “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”

Mulberry Tree by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mulberry Tree by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 17:5-10: Not included in our lectionary, but in the first four verses of chapter 17, Jesus told the disciples that they must not cause anyone to stumble in their faith. He said if anyone does sin and repents, the disciples must forgive—if they sin and repent seven times in a day, they must forgive every single time. These are hard sayings, and our reading begins with the disciples then saying, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” The seed of faith has already been planted in our hearts. We need to own that tiny seed, and let God make it grow and bear fruit.

Jesus then tells a parable to illustrate the proper way of living for disciples—that it should be like that of a household slave. Just as a slave, after being out in the field all day, is still expected to prepare and serve dinner without any special thanks, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.’” In his lectionary commentary, Chris Haslem  points out, The Greek word translated “worthless” means those to whom nothing is owed, to whom no favour is due, so God’s people should never presume that their obedience to God’s commands has earned them his favour.” Since the power to obey and serve comes from the grace of God, it would be somewhat ridiculous to think we are doing anything special when we welcome, worship, study, and serve in the name of Christ. Empowered by God, it’s a joy and a privilege to be used for kingdom work.

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