Bible Study: 16 Pentecost, Proper 18 (C)

September 8, 2013

Kate Balmforth, Boston College

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) 

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 18:1-11Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17Philemon 1-21Luke 14:25-33

Jeremiah 18:1-11

In this passage, Jeremiah intimates the Creation story in Genesis that tells of God forming humanity from clay. However, instead of being molded lovingly from clay in the Garden of Eden, the people of Israel are in the hands of an angry interventionist God.

This latter image of God might be the more difficult for our generation to relate to. However, I find two very positive features within Jeremiah’s vision.

First, I enjoy humanity’s freedom moving toward partnership with God. This is not the same level of partnership that we come to understand through the gospels of Jesus. Still, humanity as the clay on the potter’s wheel is asked to cooperate with the intentions of God the potter, suggesting that God expects a greater level of human participation in divine creation than God did when Adam was placed in the Garden.

Second, I appreciate the challenge to human complacency. Jeremiah’s message is for a people who have taken their relationship with God for granted. This challenge is ever relevant today.

How are we being called to participate in God’s creation?

In what ways have we begun to take our relationship with God for granted?

Psalm 139:1-5, 13-17

In this beautiful psalm, written as a plea for protection in war, we read of God’s omniscience and creative power. Everything the psalmist is, was and will be is already known to the Lord, and for this reason the psalmist offers gratitude and praise to the Lord.

For passages like this one, I find it can be very transformative to attempt to internalize the words of praise through the art of Lectio Divina. Hold the psalm in your hands while sitting in a comfortable position. Take a moment to calm your mind then begin to read the passage aloud. Reread the psalm two or three times. Between each reading, take a moment to reflect on the words that feel most significant to you. When you have finished the exercise, you may want to offer your own prayers to Lord.

Philemon 1-21

This letter to Philemon is one of the shortest of Paul’s letters. It was written during one of Paul’s imprisonments in the mid 50s. The letter was sent to a convert named Philemon, living in the Asia Minor. A slave named Onesimus had apparently escaped from Philemon to join Paul. Paul is writing to encourage Philemon to accept Onesimus back into Philemon’s household without punishment. The challenge to modern readership is the acceptance of the practice of slavery. The reality of slavery, then and now, is a horrific social problem that we must own, not just as Christians, but as human beings. This letter does provide us with a fine example of early church diplomacy and tact.

Luke 14:25-33

For many, including myself, the standards for Christian discipleship outlined in this passage seem harsh and unattainable. Indeed, the message meant to be conveyed is that Christian discipleship is not easy.

This message is for those of us who sometimes lack follow-through, for the visionaries who sometimes forget to attend to detail, or for the warm hearted who might need to reach for greater inward fortitude.

Christ calls us all to service and wants to know that we are prepared for the difficult work ahead. While the request to hate our parents may be prophetic hyperbole intended to emphasize the need for loyalty, it is clear that we must be willing to make sacrifices. The passage is packed with references to previous lessons from the Gospel of Luke, including the call to give up our possessions (Luke 12:33, 18:22), carry the cross (Luke 9:23-27), break family ties and give up our former sense of identity.

Are you prepared for the work ahead?

What challenges are preventing you from fully living into your call to discipleship?


  1. Mark Harbour says:

    Two quotes may be of interest for today’s readings –

    The first from Checkov – “People will only become better when you make them see what they are like.”

    The second from Nietzsche – “The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it, but in what one pays for it — what it costs us.”

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