The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, 11 October 2015

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Amox 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 14:12-14
St. Mark 10:17-31

Background: The Great Shema and The Great Commandment
Jesus takes the great prayer of Israel, the Great Shema, which is prayed in the morning and the evening, and combines it with another quotation from Leviticus to create the great commandment that is the focus of the Gospel for today. This version only appears in Mark, with Matthew and Luke using the original form. The Shema, “Hear (O) Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. The second half in Jesus’ usage, comes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” With this usage, Jesus, in Mark, weds the primary creedal statement of Israel, with another part of the Torah to make for a summation of the law, a new commandment.

Track 1

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Then Job answered:
"Today also my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

"If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!"

Job continues his conversation with his friends, as they struggle to understand Job’s fate and dilemma. Job is enwrapped in a sense of bitterness and loneliness. There is a sense of hope mixed in with a sense of desperation and loss. The author describes the completeness of this psychological state by describing it in a dimensional manner. Job’s comments about not finding God to his right or to his left are also translated as the directions of the compass. Job is lost in the middle, and yet he feels that if he only had access to the presence of God, he could make his case, “he would give heed to me.” We stand with him in the midst of the dilemma – the ability to make one’s case to God, and the devastating quote, “If only I could vanish in darkness.”

Breaking open Job:
  1. What do you do when God seems absent to you?
  2. Where do you go to find God?
  3. What case do you need to make before God?

Psalm 22:1-15 Deus, Deus meus

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.

Yet you are the Holy One, *
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.

But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.

All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,

"He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him."

Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
and kept me safe upon my mother's breast.

I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.

Many young bulls encircle me; *
strong bulls of Bashan surround me.

They open wide their jaws at me, *
like a ravening and a roaring lion.

I am poured out like water;
all my bones are out of joint; *
my heart within my breast is melting wax.

My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.

We are familiar with this psalm, with its usage during the liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum. It is well matched to the reading from Job and shares a similar psychology, “I am a worm and no man.”  Here also is an absent and silent God, whom the author sees as enthroned on the praises of Israel, but silent. What shall he do with the trust of God that he has inherited from his fathers and mothers?  He is alone with the reaction of others, wanting God to uphold and keep him. His loneliness is not like that of Job, however. The relationship he sees with God has lasted a lifetime, for you drew me out of the womb, made me safe at my mother’s breasts.” The mother is the model of the care that he yearns for. Like Daniel, he is in the midst of trouble, surrounded by bulls and lions, his very personhood melting like wax.

Breaking open Psalm 22
  1. What is good about you?
  2. What might be better?
  3. How does God stand beside you in your troubles?

Track 2:

Amos 5:6-7,10-15

Seek the LORD and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins--
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

One commentator has described this pericope along with the material that follows it as “A Lament for the Death of Israel.” This poem is preceded by sections of Amos that serve as oracles against the surrounding nations (1:3-2:16), against Judah (2:4-5), and finally against Israel (2:6-16). There is wrath here, divine wrath. The righteousness and justice that God has expected from the people is absent, with greediness, and forgetfulness of the poor being substituted.  What the people have acquired they shall not have, for it will be taken away by the nations that surround them. Is there a solution? It is mentioned in a bit of a verse, “Hate evil and love good.” That’s what Job and his friends are arguing about in Track 1.

Breaking open Amos:
  1. What is Amos’ message here?
  2. Why is God angry?
  3. What is the hope in this message?

Psalm 90:12-17 Domine, refugium

So teach us to number our days *
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? *
be gracious to your servants.

Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
and the years in which we suffered adversity.

Show your servants your works *
and your splendor to their children.

May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands;
prosper our handiwork.

Here the psalmist sees humankind caught in time, and again we have a plea that God might not tarry but be present with us. The psalm is a tacit description of the frailty of human life, a limited existence. Yet even in the midst of that short span, the psalmist yearns for God’s presence.  As we see ancient things, reminders of our humanity and our handiwork, being destroyed by those who do not value humanity, we need to mind ourselves of a God who constantly creates and holds creation well. “Show your servants your works.” For us, this should be a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Hopefully it will inform our own handiwork.

Breaking open Psalm 90:
  1. How much longer do you think that you will live?
  2. What do you have left to do?
  3. What has God done for you?

Hebrews 4:12-16

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

I can recall an old Dürer print with the Ancient of Days enthroned amongst the seven candlesticks, his tongue replaced by a two-edged sword. That is the first image that the author gives us in this pericope, the Word of God – a sword that cuts deeply and truly. What are our intentions, and how do they match up with what God wills? This is the question that the author wants us to discern, for we will be judged and known by them. Perhaps the interesting aspect to this is that not only God will know what we are about, but our neighbor as well. This serves as a good entrée into the Great Commandment in the Gospel for this day (below).

The second paragraph sees Jesus in the guise of the Great High Priest. There is a spiritual atmosphere here. Jesus was not a member of the tribe of Levi, so the author describes for us how this Jesus qualifies for this great honor. Jesus is beyond the humanity of the Levitical priesthood, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus does participate with us in the trials of humanity, and gives us an example of how to approach God – with boldness. He grasps mercy and grace for us, and encourages us to do the same.

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. Where does God’s word cut to the quick for you?
  2. What does that experience teach you?
  3. For what would you have Jesus intercede?

St. Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."                                                           

What we have here in this pericope is an extended lesson that Jesus opens up for the disciples on discipleship and riches. There are three episodes: a) Jesus and the Rich Young Man, b) The difficulties of being Rich, and c) Giving Up and receiving Eternal Rewards. All of these three elements are held together loosely, and may have originally been separate elements. They are unified however in their approach to the notions of riches as being an encumbrance to discipleship, God’s love and preference for the poor, and finally what rewards there might be. The first episode should be familiar to those who have chosen to be religious brothers and sisters, and who have chosen a life of poverty. Such a choice has usually not been one that we have taken, and we may be blind to the influence that things have in our lives. We live in a society that has come close to criminalizing the poor, and we are not the first society to have done so. This is the radical nature of the Jesus that Mark sets before us. There are things that need to be given up for the sake of loving God, our neighbor, and oddly enough, even ourselves as well. The Jesus of Mark indicates that even the things given up will be renewed – made new – a new creation. As Gilbert and Sullivan would say, it’s a topsy-turvy world – the first will be last and the last first.                               

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Are you poor or are you rich?
  2. Whom do you know that is poor?
  3. How have you helped them?

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

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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