September 6 to 12 (Ordinary 23)

What's ahead in the Bible readings for this week
September 6 to 12, 2018
The Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
The Sixteenth Week After Pentecost

This week's image

Helping the Homeless

We see two women providing food to a man who is most likely homeless. This is part of what God calls us to do. At the same time, we are also called to root out the causes of homelessness and hunger. It is not enough to share what we have; we must also take action that brings the kingdom of God closer to fruition by upending the social structures that create homelessness and hunger.

Gospels, Epistles, and Psalms

Acting on our faith is the emphasis again in our readings. In the Sunday Epistle reading, James has this to say:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Paul says something similar in our Friday Epistle reading: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” The Psalm of preparation in the complementary series repeats the message:

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
 whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
 the sea, and all that is in them;¹
who keeps faith forever;
 who executes justice for the oppressed;
 who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
 the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
 he upholds the orphan and the widow,
 but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The semi-continuous Psalm also reminds us to do good:

For the scepter of wickedness
 shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous,
 so that the righteous might not stretch out their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
 and to those who are upright in their hearts.
But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways
 the Lord will lead away with evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel!

We are to act as God acts, and God's actions are described in the Psalms.

 

In our Sunday Gospel reading, A Syrophoenician woman—an outsider—comes to ask Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus at first insults her, saying, “it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” She wasn't taking no for an answer, and responded, “even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” In response, Christ healed her daughter. The point, for me at least, is that she acted. The Saturday Gospe reading gives us Matthew's version of this story.

The Wednesday Gospel involves Jesus curing a boy that his disciples were unable to cure. He tells them that if they had faith even as large a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible for them. That is the sort of faith that I pray for. He also says that fasting and prayer are necessary to defeat this boy's demon.

We also read from the Letter to the Hebrews; one of the readings has a favorite passage, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” As I was reading it this week, I saw something new in it. The writer is telling us to lay aside every weight. Not just the weight of sin, but the weight of worry, the weight of hopelessness, and the weight of helplessness.

In the complementary series, we have a canticle rather than a Psalm during the reflection period. A canticle, according to Wikepedia, is a song of praise using a Bible text other than a Psalm. The link will lead you to the article on canticles. There are far more than I was aware of; different church traditions use different ones at specific times. Our canticle this week is King Hezekiah's prayer of gratitude after he was cured of a deadly condition by God through Isaiah. One of my spiritual practices is to write in my journal at least one thing that I am grateful for each day. It helps to remind me that despite whatever difficulties I may be facing at the moment, there are good things in my life and in the world.

Hebrew Scriptures

In the complementary series, we read from Isaiah for part of the week. The Monday lesson has a passage that is quoted at least three times in the Christian scriptures, and describes the work of Jesus: the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame leap like deer. May we have the faith that allows us to enact such miracles. We also have one of the stories beloved by Sunday School teachers everywhere: the defeat of Jericho, where “the walls come tumbling down.”

In the semi-continuous series, we are reading from Proverbs. Proverbs is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible, which also includes Job, Ecclesiates, and the deuterocanonical or Apocryphal books Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. The word wisdom occurs forty-two times in Proverbs, eighteen times in Job, twenty-eight times in Ecclesiates, sixty times in Sirach, and thirty times in Wisdom. These books are concerned both with practical wisdom and how to understand wisdom and its relationship to God. Wisdom can mean aphorisms, instructions for youth, magical knowledge from the gods (as in oaths), royal discernment (as in Solomon) and critical inquiry. We now know that there are Mesopotamian and Egyptian wisdom writings; this makes the idea that the wisdom books are mere distillations of the law less likely. Scholars think that the books were most likely written by scribes or others in the service of the king or the priesthood. This information is from “Introduction to Wisdom Literature” by Richard J. Clifford, S.J., in volume V of The New Interpreter's Bible.

May these readings bring a blessing into your life and move you to act to bring the reign of God to earth.

Mike Gilbertson

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Summaries and links for the week ahead

Thursday to Sunday Psalms
Complementary Psalm 146
Trust in God, not mortals.
Semi-continuous Psalm 125 Trust in God, who surrounds mortals.

Thursday: Preparation for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Isaiah 30:27-33 God sifts the nations in a sieve of destruction.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 1:1-19 Avoid the violent.
Both Romans 2:1-11 God's judgment will apply to everyone. Do not judge another, for if you do so you condemn yourself.

 

 

Friday: Preparation for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Isaiah 32:1-8 There will be a kingdom of righteousness.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 4:10-27 Walk on the straight path, not the path of the wicked.
Both Romans 2:12-16 It is the doers of the law, not the hearers, who are righteous before God.

 

 

Saturday: Preparation for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Isaiah 33:1-9 God will fill Zion with righteousness and justice.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 8:1-31 Wisdom calls to those who need her.
Both Matthew 15:21-31 Jesus heals the Canaanite woman's daughter, and many others along the Sea of Galilee.

 

 

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Isaiah 35:4-7a When God comes, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame will leap like deer.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 A good name is better than great riches.
Both James 2:1-17 The sin of favoritism
Both Mark 7:24-37 Jesus heals a Gentile woman's daughter.

 

Monday to Wednesday Canticle/Psalm
Complementary Canticle Isaiah 38:10-20
King Hezekiah prays, "The Lord will save me."
Semi-continuous Psalm 73:1-20 The evil will fall to ruin.

 

Monday: Reflection on the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Joshua 6:1-21 Jericho and its walls fall.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 8:32-9:6 The one who finds wisdom finds life.
Both Hebrews 11:29-12:2 Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, lay aside every weight and the sin that ensnares us.

 

 

Tuesday: Reflection on the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Joshua 8:1-23 Ai falls because of a battle plan given to Joshua by God.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 11 Without guidance, the people fall; with many counselors there is deliverance.
Both Hebrews 12:3-13 Endure hardship as discipline, for God is treating you as children. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

 

 

Wednesday: Reflection on the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Complementary Judges 15:9-20 Samson's vengeance against the Philistines.
Semi-continuous Proverbs 14:1-9 The mocker seeks wisdom without finding it. Knowledge comes easily to the discerning.
Both Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus heals a boy the disciples could not heal. He explained that if they had faith even the size of a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible for them.

*Denominations have different ways of designating the weeks during the year, so your church may refer to this week by a different name. Regardless of the name, the readings are the same. Here is an explanation: Calendar Explanation

Selections from Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 1995 by the Consultation on Common Texts.

Unless otherwise indicated, Bible text is from The New Revised Standard Version, (NRSV) copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All right reserved.

Image credit: Helping the Homeless by Ed Yourdon from New York City, USA, via Wikimedia Commons. This image is used under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 license.