August 28, 2016- Proper 17 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

August 18, 2016 | by Benjamin Cowan

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Jeremiah 2:4-13 Psalm 81:1, 10-16 Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 Luke 14:1, 7-14 Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7 Psalm 112

Jeremiah 2:4-13

In the Old Testament reading, we are asked to consider what does it mean to be faithful. The text briefly recounts the story of God’s love and support for Israel and transitions to Israel’s abandonment of God and infatuation with everything else around the nation. God states that no nation has ever turned from its god like Israel has to follow other gods. Since there are no other gods, Israel has cut itself of from the source of life, God. Thus, their self-sufficient cisterns versus God as the source will prove to be a disaster.

In modern times this is seen often in the rise and fall of churches. A movement starts out with hope and faith in God, grows, becomes more structuralized, members rise up economically, and finally they began to acculturate. This results in a less dependence upon God, like their ancestors, and more dependence on themselves and cultural norms. God no longer becomes the source of life, but the community itself does. As a result, the movement that was growing and vibrant becomes a diminished shadow of itself as membership goes into decline and eventually dies off. Throughout church history this cycle has repeated itself. The words of the prophet Jeremiah are a call to live by faith and put our trust not in ourselves but in the wisdom and love of God.

Psalm 81:1 & 10-16

The Psalmist outlines the benefits of following God and the consequences of rejecting the council of God. God is always trying to lure us to the best possible outcome, but God does not impose it upon us.

Alternative Reading 1: Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7

The Sirach text warns of the dangers of pride—the exaltation of the self. The root of pride for Sirach is withdrawing from the Lord. When humans turn from the other, they turn to themselves. Sirach notes that pride brings about destruction because the person consumed with pride abandons notions of the common good and works for his/her own self-gain. Pride can happen on an individual or a larger societal level but the results are always the same, it leads to destruction.

The passage from Proverbs is a reminder of the value of choosing to be humble. In the presence of nobles, humility often brought favor from the noble versus pride, which could bring wrath. Holding others in higher regard than oneself is a virtue because it demonstrates love for the other which is the opposite of pride (Philippians 2:3). Thus, lets us be humble before God and our neighbors.

Alternative Reading 2: Psalm 112

Proverbs 22:4 states, “Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.” The psalmist in this passage brings this theme to music. For the psalmist, the righteous are those who show humility before God and their neighbors by their care for the poor and gratitude towards God. As such, the psalmist believes that these are the ones who are blessed of the Lord and will survive in times of uncertainty and trial.

Hebrews 13:1-8 & 15-16

The author of Hebrews provides a list of practical steps towards living a humble life before God. This includes praying for all and consistently doing good towards all. It also means checking ambition and believing that the purpose of life is not found in material possession but in the relationality with God and neighbor.

Luke 14:1 &7-14

In the gospel reading, Jesus uses the occasion of being invited to a dinner party to provide a lesson on humility. As Jesus observes people quickly rushing to the front seats, he proposes that it is better to take your seat in the back and be invited to the front. In a culture of honor and hierarchy, it would be a dishonor to have your seat taken away from you because of presumption of your importance. However, it is a sign of great honor for the host to bring you to the front.

In international testing, The USA ranks #1 on self-confidence of ability, however, many nations continually demonstrate higher skills in writing, reading, science and mathematics. In fact, the US in 17th in overall education and does not even rank in to 10 on those subjects. Presumption is rooted in pride, while humility often leads to hard-work and seeking out and listening to those who know how to do or have knowledge in a matter. Jesus warns his audience of actions that are rooted in something much deeper, namely the sin of pride. In like manner, Jesus tells the host that humility on his part would be to invite the poor, the hungry, and downtrodden. Doing good is not about receiving something in return from those who can pay you back but it is about putting one’s hope in God. It is humility before God because you see in all of humanity that they are the image of God. Furthermore, what God gives no one else can.