Lectionary Commentaries for September 1, 2019
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 14:1, 7-14

Mitzi J. Smith

Luke 14:7–14 is the third dinner invitation Jesus accepts from a Pharisee (Luke 7:36–50; 11:37–43).

At the dinner with the Pharisees and lawyers in Chapter 11, Jesus accuses them of neglecting the justice and love of God (11:42–43). Luke’s Jesus has a complex relationship with Pharisees (some suggest Jesus may have been a Pharisee himself). Although Pharisees dispute with Jesus and sometimes express hostility toward him, Jesus continues to engage and dine with them. This kind of collegiality and friendship can be difficult to understand, especially in a rigid religio-political partisan atmosphere where, as in Jesus’ day, life is (de)valued differently and ignorance, tempers, and stereotypes often prevail. Readers must be careful not to stereotype and demonize the Pharisees as Luke sometimes does. For example, when Luke depicts the Pharisees as lovers of money or as self-righteous, readers often view all Pharisees the same (16:14; 18:9–14).

Some Pharisees felt that Jesus should have a distant relationship with ‘sinners and tax collectors’ that did not involve meals and foot washing (Luke 5:29-32; 7:34; 36-50). Other Pharisees believed that Jesus should wash his hands before all meals, should not heal desperate folks on the Sabbath, and not allow his disciples to harvest and prepare food on the Sabbath (5:33-39; 6:1-5, 11:37-43). Yet, the Pharisees were also amazed that Jesus could heal and forgive sins, and some even warned Jesus when Herod wanted to kill him (5:17-26; 13:31). So, this third feast that Jesus attends in the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath should be no surprise (14:1). Jesus was likely invited; it is an invitation he did not refuse, despite it apparently being a feast for the social elite and perhaps wise, influential, and admired Rabbis like Jesus. Even among the social elite a hierarchy of importance exists.

At dinner the Pharisees closely watch Jesus; this was not first time (Luke 14:1; refer to 6:7 to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath). Likewise, Jesus is very observant of the behavior of the dinner guests (14:7). Their problematic snobby and exclusive behavior prompts Jesus to share a parable with them. Jesus observed that as the guests arrived they scrambled for front row seats closest to the host (protoklisia), in the VIP (very important person) section. The point Luke’s Jesus will make with the parable is that people who uplift (hypsoo) themselves will be humbled, but those who humble (tapeino) themselves will be exalted (14:11). Similar language is used for Jesus’ passion (20:17, 42; 24:46).

I recently registered for a religious event. I paid the lower early bird rate, but $35 more would have gotten me a VIP seat. I did not select the VIP option because the idea that my ability or willingness to pay more would determine my importance as an attendee at this conference in the eyes of the conveners and perhaps attendees and participants. Our social status or financial resources should not establish our significance in the eyes of others or in our own minds.

Luke’s Gospel begins with this theme of lifting up the marginalized and oppressed. When Elizabeth, a childless married woman, conceives, she declares that God took away her social shame and exalted her (Luke 1:24-25). Mary, a young unmarried virgin, conceives with Holy Spirit, but like other women the baby will grow in her womb for nine months, making her, we imagine, the object of her social derision (1:26-38). But Mary’s song tells the story of status reversal—God looks favorably on the humility of God’s enslaved girl (doule); future (if not the present—people can count) generations will call her blessed (1:46-55). As the Most High (hypsistos) who dwells in the Highest heaven, God exalts the poor, lowly, and marginalized, as does Jesus as the son and prophet of the Most High (1:32, 35, 76; 2:14). If the Most High God and his son visits, communes with, and uplifts the lowliest in society, surely the Pharisees and Jesus’ disciples should do the same.

Jesus also advises the dinner host, a leader of the Pharisees, that his guest list should not be limited to those within and above his social class; he should invite the marginalized, the dis-eased and physically challenged, and/or those who are socially and economically humbled. He should include people who cannot return the favor of hosting a feast to which he would be invited. This teaching is reinforced with a second parable (Luke 14:15-24). Obviously, Jesus is not viewed in the same light as the poor and marginalized people he mentions; he is one of the guests. This is likely because despite Jesus’ material poverty, his authoritative teaching and powerful healing resulted in notoriety among the crowds and a number of dinner invitations; he had authority and privilege others lacked. I like to think that Jesus was conscious of his own privilege (not just the privilege of the Pharisaic leader and his other guests). If the host responds affirmatively to Jesus’ wisdom and admonition, he will be blessed in the future, namely at the resurrection of the just (dikaioi) (14:14; see also 1: 6, 17, 25).

As John the Baptist taught, Jesus’ disciples should share their resources and excess with others so that they do not starve or become ill and are properly clothed, make amends for abusing and defrauding others, love enemies, treat haters well, bless those who curse them, pray for those who abuse them; if someone steals their coat, give them a shirt too, give to all beggars, and lend with no expectation of repayment (Luke 3:10-14; 6:27-34). This unexpected and unconventional love and kindness is because they are “children of the Most High” in the similar way that Jesus is “son of the Most High” (6:35). In his wilderness temptation, Jesus sided with the oppressed rather than exalt himself and abuse his authority and privileges. The Spirit anointed Jesus (and us) to bring good news to the poor, release of the incarcerated, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed (4:1-19)

Wealth and position are a blessing when shared and used for the betterment of humanity. We often confuse privileges with blessings. Many people born in developed countries are born into privilege relative to others born in developing regions ravaged by (neo)colonization, famine, and war. When we name privilege as God’s blessing, we tend to spiritualize God’s blessing for the less privileged/fortunate; for the privileged it is material, but for the underprivileged it is spiritual. Wealth, birthplace, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, access, health, and so on can be mistaken for Divine blessings when they are the result of privilege. God calls us to turn our privilege into blessings.

First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 25:6-7

Anne Stewart

It would be tempting to overlook this mere two-verse reading from Proverbs in the lectionary, or simply to read it as an echo of Jesus’ counsel in the gospel lesson for the day in Luke 14.

But the astute preacher should pause for further reflection on Proverbs’ wisdom.

These verses are part of a collection of proverbial sayings that offer practical advice to those who aspire to serve the royal court. Their counsel is rather straightforward, advising that the savvy courtier will not presumptuously seat himself higher than his station, but will wait to be summoned to a place of honor. This is directly from the manual of how to survive and thrive in a hierarchical system.

Yet there is also more here than meets the eye. The sayings in Proverbs are an invitation to reflect upon the sacredness of the everyday. Proverbs draws attention to the ordinary moments that reveal our character.  

The book of Proverbs is a manual of instruction for wise living. Its purpose is to teach students of every type: old and young, experienced and naïve, wise and not-so-wise. The opening words of the book explain its goal: “for learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young — let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Proverbs 1:2-5).

Unlike other books in the Old Testament, Proverbs is not filled with direct divine speech or prophetic signs. It is not a set of legal codes or narratives of the history of Israel. Rather, it contains practical wisdom that seeks to instruct the student in the realities of daily life. The majority of the book is comprised of collections of short proverbial sayings that feature vivid imagery and pithy reflections. This is one of the features that continue to make Proverbs resonate to this day. Its wisdom is timeless, for it is grounded in observations of the natural world. The sayings have an immediacy to which we can all relate.

According to Proverbs, the classroom of wisdom is the world around us. The curriculum is delivered through careful observation. For example, Proverbs 6:6-8, points to the ant as a lesson in industriousness: “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest.” Or Proverbs 26:11 states, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Even a sick dog is a lesson in wisdom! These sayings take ordinary elements from daily experience and invest them with deep reflection. In this sense, Proverbs is an invitation to view the world around us with wise eyes and discerning minds.

Proverbs also suggests that daily experiences reveal human character and are the playground for its development. A person’s wisdom (or lack thereof) is quickly revealed in their speech and actions. As Proverbs 15:2 counsels, “The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouth of fools pours out folly.” Proverbs 15:18 observes, “Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.” Daily life also provides the occasion for training one’s character and developing wisdom. This pursuit never occurs in isolation but always in the company of the community. As Proverbs 13:20 cautions, “whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”

The purpose of Proverbs’ advice about the formation of character is to promote the flourishing of the community before God. Humility is one of the chief character virtues that Proverbs prizes because of its profound conviction that all wisdom belongs to God. In this sense, the ultimate goal of wisdom is to cultivate awe and reverence of the divine. Thus Proverbs 9:10 states, “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Similarly, Proverbs 3:5 advises: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”

Practicing humility in the context of the community requires listening carefully to others before rendering judgment. No one person has the market cornered on wisdom, but the wisdom of God can be mediated through human voices. Proverbs 19:20 advises: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.” Yet the very next insists that wisdom is rooted in God alone: “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21). Humility is rooted in a confession of the limited nature of human knowledge. Ultimately, it is a character virtue that is cultivated not individually but always in relation to God and to one’s neighbors.

In this light, the advice about table etiquette presented in Proverbs 25:6-7 is not simply about navigating the royal court, but, more broadly, it is about an orientation to the world that is grounded in a theological conviction. How one treats others at the table reveals something about one’s character and one’s view of their relation to others and to God: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”

And this is also true for each of us in the 21st century. How you treat people in traffic or in line at the grocery store or in the midst of the daily inconveniences of life reveals something about how you view others and how you view God. Character is lived out in our everyday experiences. There is a sacredness to ordinary encounters, which present opportunities to exercise wisdom, humility, and the fear of the Lord. This is what Proverbs is about. Every moment is an occasion for a wisdom lesson, even seating arrangements.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 2:4-13

Tyler Mayfield

This reading is the second of six consecutive weeks of lectionary readings from the book of Jeremiah.

  • Jeremiah 1       God commissions Jeremiah
  • Jeremiah 2       God entreats the people
  • Jeremiah 18     God the potter
  • Jeremiah 4       Desolation of creation
  • Jeremiah 8       A balm in Gilead
  • Jeremiah 32     Jeremiah buys land

What an incredible opportunity for an Ordinary Time sermon series! 

Taken together these passages provide the opportunity to discuss some of the main themes of Jeremiah, particularly his oracles of judgment against God’s people, and God’s desire for repentance. One could also explore some of the more hopeful elements of Jeremiah’s preaching (for example, Jeremiah 30 and 31) to balance the lectionary’s focus here on prophetic judgment.

Last Sunday, in Jeremiah 1, we heard Jeremiah’s divine call to be a prophet and his ministerial task both to uproot and to build. The exilic backdrop of this calling requires Jeremiah to undergo the difficult theological and pastoral work of understanding the destruction of Temple and city by Babylon in light of God’s faithfulness and covenant. His calling as a prophet is not merely to preach hope, but also to reflect on how the people find themselves in such a terrible political situation.

Jeremiah 2 as lawsuit

This Sunday in Jeremiah 2 we hear fiery prophetic judgment. The words seem too negative and, well, judgmental, for our Christian worship services. It will be tempting as a preacher to run back to the Gospel reading. This week’s reading — Luke 14 — contains Jesus’s parable about a wedding banquet. Surely a parable is more appropriate doxological content for the worship of God than an oracle of judgment!

However, we may need to hear God’s plea and indictment as an important and tough word for us today. God’s appeal to the people demonstrates great concern and care for them. These words help us check our tendencies to engage only the positive and uplifting portions of the biblical story.

Imagine behind the words of Jeremiah 2 a court scene, a legal context of prosecution, defense, judge, and jury. The harsh words of accusation and judgment of this chapter come to us in the literary form of a lawsuit in which God takes the people to trial and accuses them of wrongdoing. It is an established prophetic genre used by the biblical prophets to provide reasons for judgment as well as consequences. Micah 6 is a clear and compelling example of this genre. God pleads God’s case against the people, and the mountains serve as the witnesses and jury.

God has some questions

Jeremiah 2:4-8 addresses Israel as a whole but uses the examples of two other groups in order to make the overall point more indirectly: their ancestors and their leaders.

First, the people’s ancestors are mentioned as illustrations of disobedience. They went after “The Nothing” and became nothing.1 Their striving for matters of little consequence, perhaps idols, resulting in their becoming of little consequence. The word for nothing here is the same Hebrew word used in Ecclesiastes 1:2 for “vanity.”

Second, the priests, rulers, and prophets are also condemned for their poor leadership and transgression. Even the ones who study God’s teachings did not follow God! The prophets did not prophesy in the name of God but the name of Baal, the Canaanite deity.

It is relational

The immediate literary context is helpful in order to understand this “lawsuit” and its claims. Jeremiah 2:1-3 begins this oracle with a remembrance of God and the people’s time in the wilderness together. God remembers the love of the people and their faithfulness. The mention of Israel as a bride (in verse 2) indicates that the overarching metaphor here is one of relationship, even of marital relationship. We may call the time in the wilderness the honeymoon phase! During this period, Israel was holy to the Holy One.


The oracle makes a turn in verse 9: from the past and concern for ancestors and leaders to the present and concern for “my people.” God accuses the people directly of idolatry and mocks their claim that other gods are worthy. God calls the heavens to be a horrified witness to this desolation.

The preacher will be challenged to help her audience to think about ancient idolatry as relevant to our contemporary, religiously pluralistic times. It is not as simple as chastising people for converting to other religions or denominations. Our idols are wholly different.

  • What gets in our way of living into God’s dreams for creation?
  • Where have we as a nation or a church exchanged our Living God for No-God?
  • Where have we turned our backs on God’s long-standing faithfulness?

These divine accusations are not averred in order to send the people into an emotional land of guilt and shame. Instead, it is meant to change their behavior.

The people of God are called to repent and to turn back to The Living God.


  1. Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 1-20 (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1999), 259, translates the Hebrew word, hevel, as “nothing.”



Commentary on Psalm 112

Vanessa Lovelace

A commonly held notion of the psalter is that it only contains hymns or songs of praise or thanksgiving to be used for antiphonal dialogue during worship.

However, there are several other types of psalms in the collection, to include psalms of lament, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Psalm 112 is one among the wisdom psalms and offers wisdom on the virtues of godly living (see also 1, 37, 49, 73, 127, 128, and 133).

Wisdom psalms differ from more familiar psalms in their instruction on the qualities of living a life of righteousness before God rather than one of wickedness. They also are void of any praise or lament addressed to God.1 An example of this is the contrast between Psalm 112 Psalm 111, which many scholars agree should be paired together. Although both psalms share the pattern of an acrostic poem, with every other verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, common language, and a common theme of the virtues of godly living, the former stresses the wisdom of the individual who delights in living according to these instructions while the latter is a thanksgiving psalm in praise of God who is the author of these virtues.

The righteous are happy

Psalm 112, just as Psalm 111, opens with the command to “praise the Lord” or “hallelujah.” The next stanza in Psalm 112:1 contains a formal introduction that consists of a blessing upon the righteous. They are declared happy or blessed (Heb. ’ashre) for their uprightness, which is counted as fear of the Lord. The reference to fearing the Lord is directly associated with wisdom (see Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Of course, the reader understands this blessedness to mean both obedience to and taking delight in the Lord’s commandments (112:1). More specifically, the godly are blessed because their living conforms to God’s character as described in Psalm 111.

The New Revised and New International Versions among others use the gender inclusive plural pronoun “those” to emphasize that the righteous are both female and male even though the Hebrew text has the masculine singular noun “man” as in “happy is the man” as the subject. Although the text reflects the primarily male patrons of wisdom literature in ancient times, one should not lose sight of the fact that wisdom is personified as a woman, especially as a righteous figure. Thus, we should expect that every man, woman, boy, and girl to live according to God’s righteousness.

The psalmist proclaims that not only are the righteous blessed with might, abundant wealth, and residences of their own, but such graciousness extends also to their descendants (112:2–3). With righteousness comes the responsibility to serve as a light in the darkness to others who live uprightly. The godly also show grace, mercy, and compassion towards one another (112:4). These are attributes of God (see Psalm 111:3–4). The lessons here would resonate with the literature of the other wisdom traditions.

When preparing to preach Psalm 112, one should not be quick to take it to mean that God supports prosperity gospel theology. Prosperity gospel, or the health-and-wealth gospel, preaches that God rewards adherents with wealth according to their faithfulness. Unfortunately, the other side of this teaching is that if you are poor then you are not faithful enough. Read out of context, it would be easy to see how one might conclude from these few verses that God has blessed the righteous with material blessings and good health because they were faithful. However, if we read verse 4 more closely, we find that there is more to virtuous living than being on the receiving end of God’s benefits. The shadow of darkness looms in the background. One possible interpretation is that although their righteousness—their fear of God and delight in God’s commandments—endures forever (112:3), the godly are not without adversity in their lives.

The righteous are just

As the psalmist continues to affirm that the moral character of the righteous reflects the character of God, they are also described as being generous with whatever resources that they possess and practicing justice in their affairs in the courts (112:5). Put another way, they share their blessings and they don’t cheat people. The psalmist states that the righteous stand firm in their positions and thus, they will be remembered forever (112:6). What was inferred in verse 4 is made plain in verse 7. The righteous are not immune from trouble. The psalmist declares that they are able to steel themselves in the face of bad news because they trust in the Lord. Surely, they must have been on the receiving end of bad reports or gossip of such news or the psalmist would not have mentioned them. However, instead of faltering underneath the negative hearsay, their hearts are strong. Moreover, not only will they show courage in the times of trials, but they will also triumph over their enemies (112:8).

The righteous are wise

The true character of godliness according to the psalmist in verse 9, read with verse 3, is living in right relationship with God at all times: “their righteousness endures forever” (NRSV). The righteous are gracious, compassionate, and enjoy power and wealth to the benefit of the poor and disenfranchised, not to lord it over them. Thus, while the righteous walk in the light the wicked are enveloped in darkness. The wicked envy the righteous, but their desires shall come to futility (112:10). Together the characteristics of the righteous do not align with prosperity gospel theology. Wicked people sometimes prosper, and the pious can encounter unmerited suffering. The righteous are wise enough to know that to truly be happy is to practice living according to God’s commandments whether or not they receive material benefits.


  1. For further details on wisdom psalms see my commentary on Psalm 49:1–12 the week of Sunday, August 4, 2019.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Timothy L. Adkins-Jones

This week’s lection picks up directly from last week’s reading and offers a jarring tonal shift.

The author moves immediately from describing God’s shaking and consuming power (Hebrews 12:29) to exhortations about life in community. Some have argued that this abrupt change points to this last chapter being added on after the fact either by the original author or someone else. Either way these closing remarks aren’t an exhaustive list of community ethics nor a total summation of this grand treatise, but instead they feel like the final exhortations of a writer pouring their heart out for the cause of community. Verse 1 could serve as a header for the next few verses, as the verses 2-5 really tease out what it means to “let mutual love continue.”

Mutual power

Though these verses cover a variety of areas, one of the themes that holds them together is the notion of building solidarity in relationships. Mutual love means sharing power. Following a Savior has been defined throughout this book by the sacrifice that he represents for us all, we are called then to join in the sacrifice of our own position in order to build relationships. The host must put themselves on the same level as those that they host, seeing to the needs of those that enter their home before their own. Those that are free must put themselves in the position of those that are imprisoned. In verse 3 the language is bold, as it is an exhortation to not only remember those who are in prison, but also a call for us to act as if we are in prison. There is a call here to eliminate the distance between ourselves and those that are suffering, eschewing the fear of receiving the same punishment as those that are locked away or being tortured.

Mutual love is continual solidarity with the stranger and those that are imprisoned. The depth of this call is further magnified when we realize that Romans used prison as detention centers until punishment instead of being punishment in and of itself. Prisoners were often not given food or clothing from the prison itself, and they relied on the hospitality of others to survive. The author of Hebrews here is exhorting the community to put themselves in the shoes of those that have been imprisoned and to treat them accordingly. Even the call for the marriage bed to be undefiled intimates a leveling of relationship between spouses. In a patriarchal society an exhortation “for all” to honor the marriage bed, and not simply a regulation of the woman’s sexuality was a bold declaration. In this instance, husband and wife both share the responsibility of honoring one another in their marriage bond, causing them to be in sacred solidarity with each other.

Mutual promise

The next few verses direct us to find assurance in God’s presence with us, and to use that assurance as the foundation for our discipleship. Instead of naming the love of money as the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), the author here says that we can forego the love of money because God promises never to leave us. The accompanying call to contentment isn’t based on morality here as much as it is practicality. We can afford to be content because God is always there with us. By implication we can rely on God and don’t have to rely on money. Even the exhortation to remember our leaders reminds us of need to trust in God’s solidarity with us. Verse 7 is a call back to the previous chapters that offer sheroes and heroes of the faith, but in a more local manner. The author here is not referring to the faith legends of yesteryear, but to those faithful church leaders that this community knew intimately. The community is encouraged to trust in God because they were able to witness first-hand what lives committed to Christ looked like. Our preaching might make a similar move as we remind people in our congregations of the faithful that have lived among us. God was faithful to them, and God will be faithful to everyone else.

It may be worth exploring here the relationship between our ability to trust in God’s presence, and our ability to love one another. What is it about our trust in God that allows us to love one another and be in solidarity with one another? How can the witness of those that have gone before us in the faith help us to love one another in the faith today?

Mutual praise

In the final two verses of this passage the author ties together praise and good works as necessary sacrifices made to God. This is the acceptable worship that it is to be made with “reverence and awe” as mentioned in Hebrews 12:28. By eliminating verses 9-14 from the lectionary passage, the “then” found in verse 15 does not make as much sense. The author is exhorting the community to worship in spite of any shame or abuse heaped on them from other communities. The “then,” then, is a reference to the conditions through which the community must worship. And this worship, which now includes fellowship and good deeds must continue without general appreciation or even support from the larger community. What does sacrificial worship look like in congregations today? This text might help congregations explore what it would be to continually offer a sacrifice of praise in our modern context. In what contexts, and in what ways is it dangerous and difficult to “do good and share what you have?” (Hebrews 13:16). Who are the people for whom our congregations would be ashamed to serve? What sacrifices do we have to make in order to do good? And what does it say about our society that it is ever a “sacrifice” to do good?