Lent 3 B

There's an interesting match in this week's readings. Exodus 20 and Psalm 19 are also paired in Lectionary 27 A if you use the semicontinuous first reading. While the connection between the Commandments and our inability to list off all of our sins is still sound, the interplay with the 1 Corinthians 1 reading this week sends that line of thought is a different direction. We cannot be aware of how much we sin, and even if we were, it wouldn't help. And fair warning: this is long.

Exodus 20:1-17

All of chapter 20 is mentioned in a footnote to The Small Catechism, The Ten Commandments: The First Commandments (SC 1.1, n. 27) to explain that the text Luther uses for the commandments is not consistent with either this listing of the commandments or the one found in Deuteronomy 5, but reflects a common translation of the time.

Verses 2 thru 17 are cited in a footnote to The Large Catechism, Preface (LC Preface.1.1 n. 23) along with Deuteronomy 5:6-21 as the places where the Commandments can be found in the Bible.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
--Exodus 20:5-6

Verses 5 and 6 are called out in two footnotes. First in The Small Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments, Conclusion (SC 1.21, n. 45) to clarify that the conclusion that Luther provides is not in fact these verses or their equivalent in Deuteronomy 5:9-10. The second call out is in The Large Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments (LC 1.30, n. 44), which clarifies that here, it is these verses, just Luther's translation of them.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
-- Exodus 20:7

Verse 7 is quoted twice to make the same point. First, it's quoted in The Augsburg Confession, Article 24: Mass (AC 24.19, Latin text only) to comment on how the mass was being misused at the time of the Reformation. Melanchthon even wrote, "Since the beginning of the world no divine matter seems every to have been so devoted to profit as the Mass" (AC 24.20, Latin text only).

The second quote of verse 7 is in The Large Catechism, Part 1: The Second Commandment (LC 1.57) with the citation provided in a footnote (LC 1.57, n. 53). Luther's commentary is that "it is a now a common affliction throughout the world that there are just a few who do not use God's name for lies and all kinds of wickedness as there are few who trust in God with their whole heart" (LC 1.59).

Verses 8 thru 11 are cited in a footnote to The Small Catechism, The Lord's Prayer: The First Petition (SC 3.3, n. 62). While not directly an image from the Exodus reading, the caption at this point indicates the verses.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12

Verse 12 is partly quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 27: Monastic Vows (AP 27.61) to clarify the lifestyle of the Rechabites. They were not, according to Melanchthon's readings, striving to appease God or earn salvation through their faithfulness to the teachings of their parents. They were simply fulfilling this commandment.

You shall not steal.
-- Exodus 20:15

Verse 15 is quoted earlier in the same article (AP 27.46) to speak against the idea that spiritual perfection in this life is attainable by getting rid of everything you own. "The distribution, control, and possession of property," Melanchthon writes, "are civil ordinances, approved of by the Word of God in the commandment, 'You shall not steal.' The abandonment of property is neither recommended nor advised in the Scriptures."

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
-- Exodus 20:17

Verse 17 is partly quoted even earlier in the same article (AP 27.25) to show how laughable the idea is that monks have a surplus of merit. Even desiring something that someone else has--or coveting--is a sin. Good luck with that.

Psalm 19

But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
--Psalm 19:12

Verse 12 is cited four times in The Book of Concord. First, verse 12 is quoted in The Augsburg Confession, Article 11: Confession (AC 11.2) as scriptural evidence that no one should be expected to be able to list all of their sins. Verse 12 is quoted again a bit later in Article 25: Confession (AC 25.7) to make the same point. Verse 12 is also quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 11: Confession (AP 11.8) to make the same point with this great line: "we will neither remember nor understand most of our sins." Lastly, verse 12 is quoted in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 7: The Keys (SA 3.7.1), to make the point that we have been given the authority to forgive even those sins that are unknown.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
-- 1 Corinthians 1:21

Verse 21 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will. The first citation (SD 2.10) is a quote, along with several others, noting that without the Spirit's gift of faith, neither reason or intelligence can make sense of the gospel. The second citation (SD 2.51) is also a quote of the verse, again with several others, to show that God wants all people to hear the gospel.

Verses 21 is also cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.12) to show that in the matter of God's foreknowledge of who will be saved scripture points us to the Word.


While coming from discussions on Confession, Free Will, and Election the realization that an awareness of the fullness of our sin cannot save us raises up (again) how God uses the law. God's second use of the hammer of the Law to drive us to Christ reveals something about us that we don't like to recognize: we need the Law to show us our sin. This isn't simply about good order or having a well structured society. If we were to see all at once the extent of our sin, we would be crushed with despair. But God presents occasions in each of our lives for us to confront some of our sin and repent--occasions that happen many times through our lives.

The reading from John 2 shows us one of these occasions. As Jesus drives out the animals that were used for sacrifice, he makes a statement about the efficacy of those sacrifices, which had themselves become idols. People were placing their trust in the sacrifice and not in God. It amazes me how often our sin comes back to breaking the First Commandment. Thank God that our foolishness does not keep God form working in and through us.