Proper 13A

July 28, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 14: 13-21

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 32: 22-31

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 17: 1-7, 15

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Psalm 17’s poet seems worried.  He has been persecuted and is, perhaps, still being attacked by persecutors.  While the immediate context of this psalm remains unclear, some scholars suggest the oppressors have made false accusations against the poet.

    Yet the very ambiguity of Psalm 17’s context makes it ideal for addressing all sorts of worshipers’ miseries.  It could easily be the prayer of a beleaguered spouse, embattled student or harassed co-worker.  Even whole nations or people groups might take this prayer, or something like it on their lips.  So those who preach and teach this psalm will want to help worshipers and students envision some of the scenarios in which they might offer this prayer either for themselves or on behalf of others.

    Once again, however, the Lectionary does preachers, teachers and worshipers no favors by its choice of verses on which to concentrate.  The Lectionary appoints just the verses 1-7 and 15 for this Sunday, thereby leaving out the crucial description of the source(s) of the psalmist’s misery.  So those who lead a study of Psalm 17 will want to at least keep the omitted verses 8-14 in mind as they do so.

    Verses 1-5’s first stanza focuses on the psalmist herself.  There the poet both asserts her innocence and begs God to intervene on her behalf.  Yet a textual difficulty arises already in verse 1.  “Hear, O Lord, righteousness (sedeq),” the psalmist literally prays there.  Perhaps since it makes no sense to beg God to hear “righteousness,” modern translators assume the poet is asking God to hear something like her “just cause.”  They deduce the poet is begging God to hear her prayer because she’s blameless, at least in the matter of injustice done to her to which she refers here.

    Verses 6-12 address the reason the psalmist makes this plea to the Lord.  “Show the wonder of your great love,” he prays to the One who saves by God’s “right hand those who take refuge in” the Lord “from their foes.”  Perhaps the Lectionary omits verses 8-14 because of what it apparently views as the problematic nature of the psalmist’s pleas.  “Confront them,” the poet prays in verses 13 and 14.  “Bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword.”

    Yet those who know the lengths to which God went in Jesus Christ to vanquish evil know that evil’s destruction is costly.  Evil is so deeply embedded in both the human heart and parts of creation that it takes as much as the obedient life and death of God’s Son Jesus Christ to eradicate it.  So while worshipers refrain from taking the sword against their tormentors themselves, they ask God to do everything necessary to restore God’s peaceable kingdom throughout God’s groaning creation.  Worshipers also humbly remember how easy it is for God’s people to become the oppressors from whom our Christian brothers and sisters beg God for such relief.

    Verse 15 ends Psalm 17 with a profession of faith: “In righteousness I will see your face; when I awake I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”  It reveals the poet’s confidence in God’s amazing grace.  The psalmist closes not by focusing on her enemies who dominate so much of her current vision, but on the face of God that’s turned toward God’s adopted sons and daughters, day and night.

    Old Testament scholar Eric Mathis points out Psalm 17’s structure and language suggest two things.  First, the relationship between the Lord and the poet is an active rather than passive one.  The psalmist is active in her prayers for God’s help.  She also pleads with God to be active in listening and intervening on her behalf.

    However, Mathis also notes that the language of Psalm 17 suggests the relationship between God and the poet is rooted in “vulnerability and honest communication between two living beings.”  The poet expresses her vulnerability in her honest complaint about her dire straits.  She, in turn, begs God to hear her cry with God’s ears and to see her misery with God’s eyes.  The poet can plead with God this way because God is not some god made of wood or stone.  God is a living God who remains intimately involved in everything God creates, including God’s world and people.

    Psalm 17’s prayer reminds God’s people that we can bring our deepest misery and heaviest burdens to God with confidence.  We can, for Jesus’ sake, be confident God will answer and hear our prayers (6).  We can trust that God will show the wonder of God’s grace love, for Jesus’ sake.  After all, God has done that, is doing that and will continue to embrace all who find refuge in God’s strong and protective but loving arms.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 9: 1-5

    Author: Stan Mast