The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, 18 October 2015
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b
Genesis Isaiah 53:4-12
St. Mark 10:35-45
Jesus, in the Gospel for this morning, opens the door for us to look at the nature of leadership in the ancient world. Plato described tyrants (tyrannos) as ones who rule without law and use cruel and extreme tactics against their own people. Thus Jesus provides an extreme example of secular leadership, a model against which he describes those who would lead in the Kingdom of Heaven. The line between “legitimate” leadership and that, which is “illegitimate”, is thin indeed. Whether one came to power through the machinations of the military (as in Rome) or by means of local politics is not the point. In ancient usage the term was neither negative nor positive – it merely attempted to describe the means by which power was achieved. It would be good for us to understand the context of Jesus words, and why Jesus contrasts his vision of the Kingdom with that which really obtained in the Roman world. Then we can see the radical nature of his idea.
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? "
["Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, `Here we are'? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?
"Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?"]
In the final phase and indeed at the climax of the Book of Job God provides context to the entire situation, the victimization of Job, the trial of his faith, and the subsequent conversation that attempts to discover how the righteous live before God. This pericope is a theophany (a vision of God that is often accompanied by forces of nature) in which Job experiences the foundational nature of the God who creates. It is mean as an embrace of all that has gone before and all that is to come. It puts the response of the friends, the wife, and Job as well, into a context and finds it wanting. Job is presented as a man with many responsibilities that are then taken away from him. Only one responsibility remains, that being the necessity of being a righteous one. God, in this vision and reading, presents God’s own obligations as the great creator. Our own obligations pale in comparison with what God gives us.
Breaking open Job:
- What does nature tell you about God?
- How do you explain the wonders of the cosmos?
- How do you explain the chaos of your own life?
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b Benedic, anima mea
Bless the LORD, O my soul; *
O LORD my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and splendor.
You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.
You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
you make the clouds your chariot;
you ride on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers *
and flames of fire your servants.
You have set the earth upon its foundations, *
so that it never shall move at any time.
You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle; *
the waters stood higher than the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled; *
at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.
They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath, *
to the places you had appointed for them.
You set the limits that they should not pass; *
they shall not again cover the earth.
O LORD, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
This psalm may have served as the inspiration of the reading from Job, in which the psalmist exults in God’s creative work. God is pictured as a monarch, but is robed not in earthly splendor but in the beauty of the cosmos, you wrap yourself with light as with a cloak.” So then continues a series of activities that describe God’s majesty – laying the beams, riding, making the winds and flames, founding, covering, and others. In verse 3 we have an image of the firmament, the dome that separates the waters above the heavens from the earth (and its waters) below. In subsequent phrases about the Deep or the waters, we see glimpses of the ancient near east’s mythology of the great battle between chaos and order – God creating the order. The final verse sums up the sentiment of the poem, “How manifold are your works, in wisdom you have made them all.”
Breaking open Psalm 104:
- How does God recreate your life?
- What are God’s activities in your life?
- How does God deal with the chaos in your life?
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
This pericope begins by looking straight ahead to what has happened in the past, and the servant is described in terms of what he has accomplished. As to the actual time of the writing, we are on the cusp of liberation of the exiles by Cyrus. Thus the look at the acts of the Servant (Israel) is important in understand that which is to come. As I often advise, the entire pericope (52:13 – 53:12) ought to be read, and if you are truly interested the entire section (Jerusalem in the Time of Cyrus, 49:1 – 55:13) ought to be explored.
In a manner of speaking, the servant experienced punishments and sufferings that he did not deserve, and draws our mind to the experiences of Job (see Track 1 First Reading, above). The images are grim. In a note in my own copy of Klaus Westermann’s commentary on Deutero Isaiah, at his description, “The shuddering or horror which we today feel at the sight of a badly disfigured face still has here the full effect of cutting off or ostracizing one so ‘horribly’ marked.” I wrote in the margins, “Grünewald”. Perhaps this is a kind of awe that Second Isaiah observes, as the past suffering gives way to the hope of return. The subtext here is the temple, where the servant seems to be a substitution for the offering, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” The need for this reading will become evident when you arrive at the gospel reading and hear its initial request. The lesson here and there is one of urgency –who has the stuff to both lead and serve?
Breaking open Genesis:
- Why does Isaiah go to such lengths to describe the ugliness of the servant?
- What do you do with the ugliness of the crucifixion?
- Do you not look at it?
Psalm 91:9-16 Qui habitat
Because you have made the LORD your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,
There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.
They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
One commentator has described this psalm as an “amulet psalm,” something read or remembered to keep the individual safe from harm, and under God’s provident protection. The first verses, not included in this reading, help establish that motif. Our reading continues the listing of God’s protective activity; indeed, God is described as, “your refuge”. We get a glimpse in verse 10 of the nomadic origins of this psalm, although the word “tent” is blunted in our translation with the word, “dwelling.” Other protections are noted: protection against the rocky landscape which one had to traverse, the presence of formidable beasts, “the lion and the adder.” God continues to speak about the depth f God’s efforts to protect and to save. Pictured even in the midst of difficulty, God is there to save.
Breaking open Psalm 91:
- Do you have “amulet prayers”?
- What are they like?
- From what do you need divine protection?
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
We continue our readings in Hebrew’s and the author’s vision of Jesus the High Priest. In this reading we will see Jesus as a mediator, appointed by God. The first verses describe the attributes of “every high priest.” Here the activities of offering and sacrifice, dealing with those who do not know God, the priests intimate knowledge of other’s weaknesses and his own participation in that weakness. The author sees these responsibilities as gifts of God. What follows are Jesus’ own appointments as high priest: called and appointed by God, Jesus’ s solidarity with humankind, knowing their weaknesses as well, and the role of mediation between God and humankind with Jesus standing in the middle. The author is not subtle here, but quotes Psalm 110:4, “a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. “ Thus the author sets up a foundation for understand Jesus in this guise, and the real effect of his work in the Kingdom.
Breaking open Hebrews:
- What do you expect of the priests who serve you?
- How are they like you?
- How are they different from you?
St. Mark 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this; they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
We need to hear the verses that are elided from this pericope (10:32-34),
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was preceding them; and they were amazed, but those following him were afraid. And taking aside the Twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him. ‘Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will contemn him to death, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles; and they will mock him and spit upon him and scourge him and kill him; and after three days he will rise.”
The request of the sons of Zebedee, which begin our pericope, seem ever so much more startling when made in the context of what Jesus has just said. It is as if they only have heard the last phrase, which has indications of glory and resolve. This is the third passion prediction, and the quirky request by the Sons of Thunder seems to give Jesus an ample opportunity to continue to teach the disciples about what is really expected of them in the Kingdom. (This, by the way, is a pattern in Mark, prediction, misunderstanding, then instruction.) What Jesus does here is to provide a correction, if not a countervision to what they (and the rest of Israel) had been expecting of him. Jesus compares the present age and its politics (if not our own as well) and how people are ruled and governed with what is expected in the Kingdom of Heaven, ‘whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” The anger of the others against James and John is also a teaching point for Jesus, for they (and we) participate in such jealousness, such a covetousness of power and wealth. The rule Jesus will have will be from the throne of the cross, and we will need to take up our own as well.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Does the act of James and John make you angry?
- What did it anger the other disciples?
- Do you struggle to have status in the world? How?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; 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