The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, 20 September 2015

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
St. Mark 9:30-37

Background: The Son of Man

This term, which is found in today’s Gospel, and which is scattered throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures has a variety of meanings and contexts. Ezekiel seems to have the prize in use of the term, it appearing 93 times within the Book of Ezekiel. There are an additional 14 appearances in Numbers, in the Psalms, and in the Book of Daniel. The usage ranges from defining the status of humanity vis a vie the dignity of God, and as an eschatological figure appearing at the end of the age. The New Testament usage is confined in part to Jesus’ usage of the term in all four Gospels, but is also found in Hebrews 2:6, and again in Revelation 1:13, and 14:14.  It appears 81 times in the Gospels, where it has connections to the humanity of Jesus and also to the allusions to the eschatological figures in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Synoptic Gospels there are three types of citations, 1) the coming of the Son of Man, 2) the suffering of the Son of Man, and 3) the works of the Son of Man. In the Gospel of John, the figure is a means of community and communion with God (John 1:51), offering life through his death (John 6:26, and 53), and the figure’s role as a judge of humankind (John 5:27). There are also references in Acts 7:54-57, and the quotation of Psalm 8:4 in Hebrews, noted above.

Track I:

Proverbs 31:10-31

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all."
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

This is the final pericope in the Book of Proverbs, and it is an acrostic poem, based on the alphabet. Up until this section the book has concerned itself with giving wisdom to young men, but here we have a section devoted to the ideal wife. The verses list out the attributes of this heroic woman, and some of the verses indicate a sense of independence and authority that we might not expect – “She sets her mind on a field and buys it.” This is a portrait of not just domestic industry but of someone familiar with the market in a larger sense. She, along with her husband, who is “known at the city gates” (the place where justice was dispensed, provides for the wealth of the family. The author figures her as a “worthy” participant in the life of the family and in society in general. The praise for her reaches a high point with the phrase, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Breaking open Proverbs
  1. What is the real value that the woman brings to her home?
  2. How do you encourage the women in your life?
  3. How do they encourage you?

Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the LORD, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

We move from the praise of the faithful and inventive wife to that of humankind in general, “happy are they.” In this Wisdom psalm, the author teaches us that it is to our benefit to be righteous and good. The psalm outlines the moral choices that life offers, the decisions that one must make between good and evil. Following the right way we are “blessed” or “happy.” One translator takes the notion of “meditation” on the Law in verse 2, and renders it “murmurs,” an effective image on one who utters the teachings of God under his or her breath. The Word of God is not just print, ink on parchment or paper, but our very breath. Other images follow – the tree planted by a stream of water, contrasted with the wicked that are compared to the chaff that is thrown away after the harvest. The author repeats the notion of standing upright, or walking at the beginning of the psalm, with the image of the wicked who “shall not stand upright when judgment comes.” The final result is that God knows the righteous intimately – the verb “knows” has a sexual or intimate aspect to its understanding. The psalm began with the “way of the righteous”, and now ends with the “way of the wicked.”

Breaking open Psalm 1:
  1. What is happiness in your life?
  2. How is it related to how you live your faith?
  3. How well does God know you?


Track 2:

Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22

The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his company.
For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
"Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.

"Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God's child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected."

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.

I am always slightly amused or really upset when the lectionary doesn’t have the courage to use Apocrypha books alone, but feels the need to always have a canonical reading accompany the other. So it is here, with a psalm from the Wisdom of Solomon, which some have titled, “The Deluded Reasoning of the Unrighteous.” Here we have an argument between the author and his opponents who are described as “the ungodly” in general, or perhaps apostate Jews more particularly. Where the Word of God imparts life, their words give rise to death. You might want to compare readings from Ecclesiastes, especially the third chapter to see similar comments about death. The question, which Job also will contemplate, is one of life. What is life, what is its purpose, what can we learn from it?  There are three levels to the depravity of the wicked, sexual pleasures (verses 6-9), manipulation of the weak (verses 10-11), and finally the persecution of those who are righteous (verses 12 – 20). This is stuff worthy of Amos.

Breaking open Wisdom of Solomon:
  1. In what ways are you unrighteous?
  2. Do you know the evil that is done on your behalf?
  3. How do you reconcile this with your life of faith?


Jeremiah 11:18-20

It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
"Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!"
But you, O LORD of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.

In his commentary on Jeremiah[1], Walter Brueggemann describes the material from 11:18 – 20:18 as “A Hard Message to Stubborn Jerusalem.” and our particular pericope as “A Lamb led to Slaughter.” These verses are a part of a series of pericopes that have been titled as Lamentations of Jeremiah. Brueggemann terms these as intimate prayers, and we can see that in the phraseology, “But I was like a gentle lam led to the slaughter.” It is too bad that these words cannot be heard by our congregations in the context of the readings from Track 1, in which the righteous and the wicked are contrasted, the wicked are certainly operative here, “they devised schemes.” As Christians we are familiar with these devices in the gospels where the Scribes and the Pharisees devise and scheme as well. Are these the prayers of the individual Jeremiah, or are they an individual mouthing the prayer of the community. It might be a good thing to read the words over and over again, either as Jeremiah, or as the community. What might the difference be? The individual, Jeremiah, has every right to guise himself as the innocent lamb. His opposition to the status quo (the King/Temple axis) has and will continue to cost him dearly. Thus his lamentations are worthy of being expressed. What is it that Jeremiah wants in his prayer of supplication? There are two things: 1) ‘your retribution upon them,” and God’s commitment to Jeremiah’s cause. Jeremiah has the message and asks that God uphold the messenger.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. With whom do you argue?
  2. What about?
  3. Are they moral arguments? What is your point?

Psalm 54 Deus, in nomine

Save me, O God, by your Name; *
in your might, defend my cause.

Hear my prayer, O God; *
give ear to the words of my mouth.

For the arrogant have risen up against me,
and the ruthless have sought my life, *
those who have no regard for God.

Behold, God is my helper; *
it is the Lord who sustains my life.

Render evil to those who spy on me; *
in your faithfulness, destroy them.

I will offer you a freewill sacrifice *
and praise your Name, O LORD, for it is good.

For you have rescued me from every trouble, *
and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

Given the ascription of the psalm, “For the lead player on stringed instruments, a David maskil, when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, ‘Is not David hiding out among us,’” (see I Samuel 23) this is a worthy accompaniment to the prayers and lament of Jeremiah. David also asks for help in a parlous situation. Who are the oppressors? The psalmist lists the “arrogant”, the “ruthless”, and “those who have sought my life.”  Where Jeremiah leaves us hanging on his prayer, the psalmist closes with a greater sense of surety, “God is my helper.” What follows that is the psalmist sense of thanksgiving and subsequent offerings of sacrifice and praise.

Breaking open Psalm 54:
  1. What laments do you have in your life?
  2. How do you present them in your prayers?
  3. How do you meet laments in the lives of others?

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, and devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

These readings continue James’ lessons on “slow speaking” with an addition of being “slow to anger.” Like Paul he has some words to say about boastfulness, and even more so about the wisdom of the earth (unspiritual, and devilish). This is contrasted with the wisdom from above, which is followed by an almost Pauline list of virtues. The illustrative speech, however, is soon left behind, and James confronts the specific, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?” There is here a conflict almost worthy of the Essenes. The good is in confrontation with the evil. Resistance will send the devil away, while nearness to God, will draw God in even nearer. Our slowness to anger thwarts Satan.

Breaking open James:
  1. When do you hold your tongue?
  2. How do you moderate your anger?
  3. What do you do with your anger?

St. Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

This is almost a reprise of last Sunday’s Gospel in which Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, and then goes on to misunderstand Jesus’ Passion Prediction. Here Jesus offers another Passion Prediction (the whole pericope (Mark 9:30-50) contains a third) that is also misunderstood, and actively avoided, “(they) were afraid to ask him.”

What follows is a constructive essay on what is truly necessary given the finality of the Passion. First there is an argument about “greatness” and status amongst the disciples. As Mark indicates in his introduction to the pericope, Jesus and the disciples leave the scene of active ministry and healing so as to begin a period of discourse and learning. It is in this interior approach, that the questions of primacy and placement come to bear. Jesus teaches a lesson on true primacy as he brings a child into their midst and talks about servant hood. One wonders if this is really the more difficult lesson to learn. What is the humility over against those who need to be served when compared to the humility of the cross? Perhaps it is the former that is more stinging.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does the woman exhibit her faith?
  2. What do you think of Jesus remarks?
  3. How does Jesus use the sense of touch?

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

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; 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

[1]Brueggemann, W (1998), A Commentary on Jeremiah, Exile and Homecoming, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, p. 113


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