PRAISE AND COMMITMENT – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18, Year B; Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

September 5, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 or Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 125 or Psalm 146
James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17
Mark 7:24-37



Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 (1b)
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

There is a big difference between flattery and genuine praise. Royals and politicians tend to attract a good deal of fawning in attempts to gain influence or favor, but God has no need or desire to receive that kind of treatment.

The praise of God found in the Psalms is often accompanied by some unflattering displays of familiarity and long, detailed recitations of lament. Even in the midst of suffering, the Psalms give voice to authentic praise—directed to the Holy One who is faithful, merciful, and just.

The God of the Bible shows enormous disdain for flattering words and obsequious behavior.
Consider, for example, this passage from the prophet Amos: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23-24). Genuine praise always includes commitment to God’s ways of justice.

Psalm 146, appointed for today in the Lectionary, is the first of five concluding psalms that, taken together, constitute a grand doxology to the entire Psalter, the book of Israel’s hymns. Between its opening and closing expressions of praise, this song celebrates the ways in which the God of Israel is unlike those human rulers who crave flattery and power. In contrast to those mortal leaders, the God “who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ps 146:6) is faithful and just.

This hymn is remarkably detailed about the ways in which God—unlike those human royal figures—tends to the needs of the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the bowed down, the orphan, and the widow. Psalm 146 invites us to sing not of victory but of compassion.

As we join in singing the praise of God for faithful, merciful love, we are called to embrace the ethical dimension of this song. Authentic praise brings about change. We cannot sing of God’s care for the marginalized and the downtrodden without committing ourselves to a share in bringing about this vision.

Psalm 146 provides the appropriate response on this Sunday for a community that takes to heart the message of today’s other readings—the healing and transformation which Isaiah proclaims; the signs of God’s salvation that Jesus enacts in his healing ministry and recounted in today’s passage from Mark; and concern for the poor about which James writes.

Just as “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (Jas 2:17), so too praise without embracing God’s ways is empty. As we sing praise to the God who “executes justice for the oppressed” (Ps 146:7), we express not only our joy and our hope for a world ruled by compassion but also our commitment to proclaim that vision in word and in action.

A Hymn for Today: “I’ll Praise My Maker”

In his notes for Glory to God (PCUSA, 2013), Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS, writes: “This paraphrase of Psalm 146 was a great favorite of John Wesley: it appeared in his first hymn collection in 1737 (published in Charleston, South Carolina) and was on his lips when he died. The 16th-century tune to which it is set here [OLD 113TH] is the one Watts had in mind.”

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne’er be past
while life and thought and being last,
or immortality endures.

How happy they whose hopes rely
on Israel’s God, who made the sky
and earth and seas with all their train;
whose truth forever stands secure,
who saves the oppressed and feeds the poor,
and none shall find God’s promises vain.

The Lord pours eyesight on the blind;
the Lord supports the fainting mind
and sends the laboring conscience peace.
God helps the stranger in distress,
the widowed and the parentless,
and grants the prisoner sweet release.

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne’er be past
while life and thought and being last,
or immortality endures.

Text: Isaac Watts, 1719; adapt. John Wesley, 1736, alt.

Image Credit: Psalm 146:8, Wikimedia Commons

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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