Sunday, September 15, 2019

15 Pentecost 2019, Proper 20C Readings & Commentaries

Parable of the Unjust Steward

1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 8:18—9:1
In powerful poetic verse, God (and/or the prophet) expresses deep grief over the alienation of the people, which cannot be healed. The people summon God (verses 19a & 20) in the old reliable ways, but they have been rendered impotent by their idolatry (verse 19b). That they do not understand only adds to the grief. Verses 9:1 & 2 utilize Psalm 55:6-8 to sharpen the grief. God would have it otherwise. God would have there be a balm in Gilead, but there is no medicine available to cure the abandonment of God by the people. God must judge this poor people, but he will do so with great grief.

8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. 19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) 20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” 21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? 9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!”

Psalm 79:1-9 (Track 1)
Psalm 79 is a psalm of the exile. Jerusalem and the temple are no more. The loss has meant shame and even death for Israel. The poem turns on verse 5, “How long…” Ultimately it is God who has been defiled, so Israel summons and expects their God to act. Verse 8 begins the necessary process of repentance by God’s people. They must own the disaster that has befallen them. Related to the previous reading, this is a follow-up. Israel is beginning to grasp that God’s grief must become theirs, because only then can there be newness.

1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
    they have profaned your holy temple; *
              they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the
                            birds of the air, *
              and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.
3 They have shed their blood like water on every side
                            of Jerusalem, *
              and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors, *
              an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
              will your fury blaze like fire for ever?
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
              and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob *
              and made his dwelling a ruin.
8 Remember not our past sins;
    let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
              for we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; *
              deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

1st Reading (Track 2): Amos 8:4-7
Amos prophesied during the long and peaceful reign in Israel (the northern kingdom) of Jeroboam II (786-746 b.c.e.). Amos was not a professional prophet, but a shepherd from a small village called Tekoa. He was called from that agrarian vocation to deliver harsh words in a time of plenty.  Yet there was not plenty for everyone, and such was his primary message. The plenty had been built on the backs of the needy with dishonest practices. In the eyes of God and the prophet this was a major violation of the covenant, one for which the nation will be judged harshly.

8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Psalm 113 (Track 2)
Psalm 113 is a song praising the Lord as the helper of the lowly.  In Jewish tradition, it begins the “Hallel” psalms, used in connection with Passover.  Psalms 113-114 are traditionally recited before the Passover meal, and psalms 115-118 afterward. The Hebrew word “Hallelujah” literally means “Praise the Lord.” “Alleluia” is the latinized form of the word.

1 Hallelujah!  Give praise, you servants of the Lord; *
praise the Name of the Lord.
2 Let the Name of the Lord be blessed, *
from this time forth for evermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its going down *
let the Name of the Lord be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations, *
and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
6 He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
7 He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.
8 He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children.

2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
A large portion of First Timothy offers instruction for Christian living.  Here we have a plea for prayer, particularly for political rulers, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”  The writer then goes on to make clear what for him is “the truth,” i.e., acceptable teaching:  “One God, one mediator, himself human, who gave his life as a ransom.”  These are among the statements in the New Testament where one can begin to see the development of a creed.

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Gospel Reading: Luke 16:1-13
Many throughout the years have called this “the hardest parable.”  It raises several problems, fundamental among which is the fact that Jesus seems to commend dishonesty.  Or does he? Perhaps the master was overcharging interest and the manager is making that right? And what does Jesus mean by commending the dishonest manager’s shrewdness and criticizing his followers for their lack of it? Jesus tells us to “make friends” by means of “dishonest wealth.” Is that the opposite of putting them into debt? The last saying seems to be tacked on here by Luke since it doesn’t exactly relate to the parable.  But it is a familiar saying that delivers a strong and clear message: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. The Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information. And like us on Facebook!

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