Engaging the Word: Readings for 9/11/16 (The 17th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary.

In this week’s readings, Jeremiah announces God’s drastic judgment, Paul is jubilant and humbled by God’s forgiveness, and Jesus tells us what makes the heavens rejoice.

Sistine Chapel fresco of Jeremiah by Michelangelo, 1511. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sistine Chapel fresco of Jeremiah by Michelangelo, 1511. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28: This week’s reading is a warning of the horrific destruction and devastation about to happen to Judah—a scorching desert wind, a reversing God’s creation. It begins with the announcement of the “hot wind” of God’s judgment—not the kind that cleanses or separates the wheat from the chaff, but a wind that will sweep away everything.

Verses 13-21, which are omitted from the lectionary, tell of invaders coming from a distant land. Our reading continues with the reason: “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have not understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”

Then Jeremiah, speaking for God, envisions the coming devastation as though it had already happened. The earth was “waste and void,” the heavens “had no light.” There was “no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.” Everything was in ruins. In spite of that, there is a sliver of hope tucked into this bleak picture. “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.”

Several sources say the eight words, “yet I will not make a full end” were added later. I like how The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible puts it:  “Vs. 27 is an editor’s valuable comment that, powerful as the prophet’s thought is, it needs balancing; God’s judgments are never wholly negative, but he always brings something new and creative out of every situation.”

Psalm 14: Psalm 14 laments the breakdown of society—people are fools (coarse and brutal), society is corrupt, and sin is rampant. The community prays that the Lord will deliver them and restore the fortunes of his people.

St. Timothy, c. 1160, Musée national du Moyen Ȃge. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Timothy, c. 1160, Musée national du Moyen Ȃge. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Timothy 1:12-17: First and Second Timothy and Titus are known as the “Pastoral epistles” because they were written to Christian leaders with advice about leading church communities. Although the letters declare Paul as their author, most biblical scholars note significant differences in literary style, theology, and content, and conclude that Paul was not the author; they regard the letters as pseudepigraphical.  According toThe New Oxford Annotated Bible, this means “ascribed to the authority of a major figure but not actually written by him.” In ancient literature, it was not uncommon to honor a leader by writing in his name.

Regardless of who wrote them, these letters are part of the biblical canon, have value, and are “The Word of the Lord.” The Collect for Proper 28 (BCP pg. 236) says that our Lord caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, so that we may hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them. I feel comfortable reading these letters in the spirit of Paul.

This letter was written to Timothy while he was in Ephesus, supervising various Christian groups and training church leaders. Timothy was a companion and co-worker of Paul, and he accompanied Paul on several mission trips.

In this week’s reading, Paul is filled with gratitude and humility for being saved by God’s grace and mercy even though he once persecuted the church. For Paul, this shows, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” In other words, if God could love Paul he can love anyone, even you, even me.

Parable of the Lost Drachma by Domenico Fetti (1528-1623). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Parable of the Lost Drachma by Domenico Fetti (1528-1623). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 15:1-10: Jesus continues to upset the status quo just by being himself. In this week’s reading, the scribes and Pharisees are grumbling because Jesus is spending time and eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus responds by telling them parables.

The first one is about a lost sheep and the shepherd who leaves the other ninety-nine sheep in order to find it. The second is about a woman who has lost a silver coin, and carefully searches the house until she finds it. In both stories, the lost is found and there is much rejoicing. Jesus tells his listeners, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” and “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

One thing I noticed is that neither the sheep nor the coin “knew” that they were lost—they had to be looked for until they were found. I think some people don’t know, or recognize, or acknowledge, or admit their deep hunger for God’s love. That’s why Jesus associated and ate with sinners and tax collectors—he brought God’s love to the least and the lost. As followers of Jesus, we are called to do the same.

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