27 September 2015

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, 4 October 2015

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
St. Mark 10:2-16

Background: Letter to the Hebrews

While attributed to Paul, many scholars feel that the Epistle to the Hebrews is not from his hand, although it imitates Paul’s style. The Greek of Hebrews is of a finer quality than that of Paul, showing eloquence that surpasses the writing of Paul. Because of its intricate connection with the Jerusalem temple, it was most likely written prior to the destruction of the Temple. There are other connections as well. Some see in its description of the priestly Jesus, a connection with the messianic priest found in the Qumran scrolls. Using this typology, the author describes Jesus as a true priestly messiah, not the militant one that the people of the time had expected. In a way, Hebrews is an explanation speaking to a time of great oppression, and likely war. Thus the book is an exhortation to the people to wait patiently for the priest/king. Some also see it as an effort to call early Christians back, to “hold fast to our confession.” The author wants the audience to understand that something new had happened in the person of Jesus, and compares Jesus’ teachings to those of the prophets and the old covenant. He sees Jesus’ revelation as a superior one. Thus Jesus is not the expected son of David, but rather sharing a human and divine nature, and a priestly mission.

Track 1

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason." Then Satan answered the LORD, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life."
So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die." But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

For clarity’s sake, it might be best ot read the entirety of the first chapter of Job. Although a great deal of the material is repeated in the second chapter, the fuller description fills in the details of the tail that we are to be told. It helps us understand the iterative nature of Job’s troubles and of the increasing efforts that the Adversary (our translation – “Satan”) makes to get at Job and to test his assertion. The text quickly gets at the human condition that underlies this contest, “Skin for skin – touch his bone and flesh.” When it comes to our being, Satan thinks that this is the border of our love and appreciation of God. In a sense, Job’s wife makes the same assertion with he terse statement, “Do you still cling to your innocence? Curse God and die.” I am reminded of the Star Trek – Next Generation move in which Data (the android) is given skin to feel what it’s like to be human. It becomes his weakest point. God’s startling agreement to the contest is a surprising development, with no kind of explanation for his character here, which seems separate from what is ordinarily seen in God’s behavior. It’s important to remember that we are reading a folktale, here and the niceties of theology have been neatly set aside. Such expressions and arguments will be given by Job’s companions who will besiege him with advice in the coming chapters

Breaking open Job:
  1. What do you think of God’s wager with Satan?
  2. How might you defend it?
  3. What’s your impression of Job’s wife?

Psalm 26 Judica me, Domine

Give judgment for me, O LORD,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.

For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.

I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.

I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.

I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD, *
that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *
and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

LORD, I love the house in which you dwell *
and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners, *
nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

Whose hands are full of evil plots, *
and their right hand full of bribes.

As for me, I will live with integrity; *
redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

My foot stands on level ground; *
in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

This is the anti-confession, for it is an announcement of the psalmist’s innocence. He asks to submit to God’s judgment, “Test me, O LORD, and try me; examine my heart and my mind.” He then goes on to explain why he feels capable of such a test. He keeps good company, and walks faithfully with God, he doesn’t sit down with the wicked – and on it goes. This is a good accompaniment with the troubled speeches of Job.

Breaking open Psalm 26
  1. Do you think the author has too much pride? Why?
  2. How innocent are you?
  3. What do you do with any guilt that you might have?


Track 2:

Genesis 2:18-24

The LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken."

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

We come into this reading in the midst of the second creation account, wherein the male and the female are created. It functions as a bit of an etiology – explaining the two sexes. Here it is not man alone who is created from the soil, but each beast, and bird are likewise fashioned. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for “rib” is also used in speaking about architecture – so that God functions here as both potter, “formed”, or “fashioned”, and “build”. The closing line of the pericope also explains the etiology of the story – this is why marriage is constructed as it is in this society.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. How do you feel about this story as a woman?
  2. How do you feel about this story as a man?
  3. How do you feel about this view of marriage?
Psalm 8 Domine, Dominus noster

O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.

You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;

You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

The translation in the BCP is unfortunate – governor just has too many associations with it. Robert Alter translates the phrase as “Master”, but that probably has too many sexist connotations. In Alter’s translation he tries to mirror the Hebrew pun (adonenu and ‘adir) with the English “Master – Majestic”. He also does some rearrangement with the initial verses:
“Lord, our Master,
how majestic Your name in all the earth!
Whose splendor was told over the heavens.
From the mouth of babes and suclings
You founded strength”[1]

The contrast of the magnificence of the Lord’s name is compared to the utterances of children, from the lowest in the social scale. God’s strength comes from those who love God. The martial phrases, “you have set up a stronghold against your adversaries” may be the foreign gods who still challenge YHWH’s place in the land, or it may be an allusion to the cosmic struggle of God against the chaos. That seems more likely in this creation psalm that celebrates “the work of your fingers.” When we arrive at the creation of humankind, we are confronted with an existential thought, “What is man that you should be mindful of him?”  Our reverie as we observe God’s creation is interrupted. The psalmist then orders creation, the angels (actually gods), then humankind, cattle, birds, and finally fish. The poem comes to an end with a repetition of the initial phrase – a complete circle that envelops the cosmos.

Breaking open Psalm 8:
  1. How do you describe God’s majesty?
  2. How is that majesty seen in creation?
  3. How is it seen in you?

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet."

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,

"I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, 
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you." 

In this reading we have a prologue to the book, and then a section on “Superior Salvation.” In the Greek there is a proliferation of words beginning with the letter “p”, all of which helps the reader or hearer to focus on the words being spoken. The author (see the background, above) sets to his  (or her, some think that the author is Priscilla) task quickly by styling Jesus as “the heir of all things,” and as the Wisdom of God. Jesus reflects the imprint of God. In a contrast to the words of Psalm 8, the author sees Jesus in a different light, as “much superior to angels.” Indeed, the psalm is quoted in the following section, beginning his argument concerning the superiority of the revelation in Jesus. As we walk through Hebrews in the coming Sundays, we shall follow this argument more fully.

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What do you think of Hebrew’s notion of a “superior salvation”?
  2. Google Priscilla in the Bible. Could she have written this?
  3. How are superior creatures in your thinking?

St. Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The pericopes that we will read today treat on some major themes: a continuing discussion on discipleship and then concurrent discussions on marriage and divorce and children. The scene is set by the Pharisees who continue to ask him questions as a test. Here it is ostensibly about marriage, but really about Jesus’ thoughts on faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. Jesus sees through their trap, however.  Jesus sees God’s will expressed in creation, but also sees that the allowance for divorce is really a sop given to those who cannot live up to God’s vision. Here Jesus functions as the authority, giving the Law its true meaning and focus.

Suddenly we are back looking at the orders of creation – here the relative status of children. It is a mirror or an extension of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship – although that Jesus assigns a greater value to children speaks of his radical view of the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples don’t see it – for them the old order still obtains, and they rebuke the children. One commentator opines that this is really a reflection of the Marcan community’s discussion about infant baptism.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you think of Jesus’ teaching about diverce?
  2. How might that play out in your life?
  3. Do our times have something different to say?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 1216.

21 September 2015

The Eighthteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21, 27 September 2015

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
Numbers 11;4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14

James 5:13-20
St. Mark 9:38-50

Background: Esther
In the Book of Esther we have an exercise in understanding the difficulties of the Diaspora, especially the disappearance of Jewish culture and faith due to assimilation, or the threat of genocide. Esther is a handbook devoted to these questions. In some sense it is also an etiology, explaining the customs of Purim, a festival that is not mandated in the Torah. The devices of exaggeration and an on-going narrative commend it to the reader. Similar themes can be found in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50) and in the stories that surround the character of Daniel (Daniel 1-6). The stories of both Judith and Ruth also wrestle with these issues. In a detailed unfolding, the book reveals the characters, and then details their place in the story and their feelings. Finally, in the last chapters of the book, Esther acts, and the book describes the establishment of Purim.

Track One

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled." Then Queen Esther answered, "If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king." Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, "Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?" Esther said, "A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!" Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, "Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman's house, fifty cubits high." And the king said, "Hang him on that." So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Here is one instance where track 1 is of value and the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) does a good job of acquainting people with material that might otherwise be overlooked. Unless your were raised with an Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, or a similar volume, or unless you are familiar with Jewish customs and holy days, this story might have escaped you. The pericope describes, after long chapters and verses describing the intrigue of Haman to destroy the Jews, how Esther realizes and then uses her political clout to arrest the evil plot of Haman. It’s important to recognize Esther as not only having power as a member of the royal household, but her power as a woman as well. This describes to us the new notions that flowed into Judaism from the Persia, or other locals of the Diaspora. It is a lesson of living in the system, but also knowing how to use it and manipulate it.

Breaking open Esther:
1.     What are other women of courage in the Bible?
2.     What kind of opponents do you experience in life?
3.     How do you deal with them?

Psalm 124 Nisi quia Dominus

If the LORD had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;

If the LORD had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;

Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.

Blessed be the LORD! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the Name of the LORD, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

The psalm is described to us as “a song of ascents for David.” We seem to be in the midst of a liturgical work, if we understand the second verset properly, “let Israel now say;” It is a thanksgiving psalm for the whole community, although some phrases can be seen as individual expressions of thanksgiving. It is matched to the Esther text by this phrase, “when enemies rose up against us.” Although it may be rooted in the conquest by Babylon, it is general enough to be applied to several instances in which Israel stood against those who were their opponents. What follows are striking images of destruction. Some use the notion of ingestion, while others use the powerful images of water and drowning. Some of these images come from a cultural fear of the sea, or perhaps the flash floods that course down the dry wadi in the desert. The theme of being devoured is picked up again in the sixth verse where the people are described as “prey for their teeth.” The conclusion is a summary of all the action above, where God, whose name we must invoke, not only makes heaven and earth, but saves the people. God is “our help.”

Breaking open Psalm 124:
1.     How do the images of the psalm strike you?
2.     Are there times when life is too much?
3.     How? Why?


Track Two

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the LORD, "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!' I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once--if I have found favor in your sight--and do not let me see my misery."
So the LORD said to Moses, "Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you."

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, "My lord Moses, stop them!" But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!"

The chief concern of the book of Numbers is the restoration and continuation of the culture of the priestly caste, and indeed the Priestly writer(s) are probably responsible for its being written. In some sense it continues both the content and themes of Leviticus, each enjoying the same themes and concerns. Its conceit is that the book was composed in the wilderness, the initial words of the book. In a sense, this text seems to show another aspect of what the first reading in the Track 1 series is attempting – the power of individuals. Here, after a lengthy introduction that recalls the incessant complaining of Israel about food in the wilderness, we have an account of the Spirit resting upon seventy elders (seven = perfection, and ten = a number of exaggeration and completeness). Two individuals, after the pouring out of the Spirit, and then the subsequent completion of that act, continue to speak as the Spirit has directed them. Like Esther, they act. This last part of the pericope is designed to match the scene in the Gospel reading for today, where a similar outbreak of individualism is discussed.

Breaking open the Numbers:
1.     Have you ever felt filled by the Spirit? When?
2.     What did you do with all that energy?
3.     What did you say?

Psalm 19:7-14 Caeli enarrant

The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

If we are wondering what was imparted to the seventy elders in the reading from Numbers, we have only to read the verses of this psalm to understand its probable content and effect. In our selection from this psalm, the theme is announced in the seventh verse (the first of our pericope), “The laws of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul.” In a way this is a reverie about the Law, its usefulness and its wisdom. The images are splendid – gold, honey, and my favorite phrase, “the quintessence of bees”, or in our translation, “sweeter than honey in the comb.” There are other physical reactions that accompany the recitation of the Law, “the words of my mouth” and an interior and personal “meditation” result from hearing God’s words and thoughts. The psalmist hopes that these responses become an acceptable sacrifice to God.

Breaking open Psalm 19:
1.     What does your faith taste like?
2.     Can you describe that to others?
3.     Again, what might you say?

James 5:13-20

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

With the verses of this pericope, the author invites us to consider “The Future of the Wise Community”, an appropriate following on to the themes of Quick Listening, Slow Speaking, and Slowing Anger. What the community does now is to wait patiently for God’s intents, and to look at the needs of the community, here, healing. Like the elders in the first reading, the elders of this community similarly anointed by the Spirit, now lay their hands (literally) to healing, with the anointing of oil and prayer. Such anointing signifies several things – being set aside, being treated for a medical condition, being made comfortable, and others. Here it is the medicinal and the spiritual that grabs our attention. There is another theme as well, that of forgiveness. It is well matched with the idea of healing. The closing verse summarizes the intent, “if anyone among wanders from the truth and is brought back by another…(their soul is) saved from death.” Physical death, and threats of it are joined with spiritual death as the concerns that the elders of the community must keep in mind.

Breaking open James:
1.     What is the relationship of forgiveness and healing?
2.     Do you ever heal yourself? How?
3.     How do you heal others?

St. Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

We are still on our way to Jerusalem, and Jesus is still about the business of teaching his disciples what their calling truly is.

In these chapters of Mark we have a collection of sayings, all loosely gathered together to represent what it is that Jesus wants the disciples to understand. There is casuistry, “Teacher we saw…” if statements, “if your foot causes you to stumble.” and “whoever” statements. It’s all quite catholic including a variety of situations, and a variety of responses. The disciples are invited to be acting in all of life (Esther, and Eldad and Medad again). The first situation, about someone casting out demons mirrors the reading from Numbers, but also reminds us that Jesus is leading the disciples and us, by extension, into a new kingdom, a new reality. The radical nature of the Kingdom of Heaven is rehearsed in the statements that talk about loss or obstruction, and finally that the follower of Jesus must be salty, with a distinctive “taste.” If you haven’t read the Esther story yet – go back. It’s a good accompaniment to Jesus’ teachings here.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Who do you say that Jesus is?
2.     How do you talk about his crucifixion?
3.     What is your own cross?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller