The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 25 October 2015
Job 41:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22
Genesis Jeremiah 31:7-9
St. Mark 10:46-52
Background: Jeremiah and Politics
Jeremiah occupied a difficult position. His ministry stands on the cusp of an ancient world that is rapidly changing. Stuck in the middle are the People of God and their Prophet (whom they do not trust, and whose message is disdained and disregarded). It was a practical issue made of the stuff of our own time – side with Babylon, or side with Egypt. Trusting in the east was probably not a reasonable or acceptable choice. One only had to think of how the Assyrians had savaged the Northern Kingdom. Could anything better be expected from the Babylonians? That, however, is Jeremiah’s choice. Carolyn Sharpe in an article on the call of Jeremiah brings our attention to Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:5:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”
The phrase, “a prophet to the nations” ought to leap out to us. Sharp’s article seeks to define whether such a phrase was original to the text, and what its import might be. She finally sees the redaction of the book as having a political stance that was layered over the text in subsequent editions. It matters not, actually, for the political reality forces us to understand a Jeremiah who stands up against the position of the elites, and frames his own political stance with a theology that attempts to pull God (and God’s people) into the center of the dilemma. Meditating and analyzing Jeremiah’s statements, and his stance should prove helpful to us who live in such a wildly politicized time.
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Then Job answered the LORD:
"I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
`Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
`Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.'
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes."
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
One wonders what people in the Christian assembly will make of this series of readings from Job. One can only hope that some pastors and rectors will have made other materials and teaching moments available to congregations. This reading gives us Job’s insights following God’s revelation from the whirlwind. All along Job has seen God’s presence in the values of righteousness, and, interestingly, in these speeches repeats some of God’s own observations on Job, his righteousness, and situation. Job is the favored one, and God repents (if you will) restoring his fortunes and the future of his line.
The fate of the three companions to Job is elided by the Lectionary, and probably for a good reason. We have more than enough grist for the philosophical mill, without adding in their story. Nevertheless, it would be good for anyone reading or proclaiming this text to read through the elided material. It gives the complex context in which the original questions are posed, and at the end sees what reduced answers are.
The translations of the names of the daughters (oddly the sons are not so blessed) give us a sense of the poem’s devotion to beauty and to a resolution of Job’s suffering and defacement. The names are evocative of a beauty that transcends Job’s turmoil – Jemimah (dove), Keziah (Cinnamon), and Keren-happuch (Horn of Eyeshade). The women enjoy something beyond what their culture and society might have afforded them – an inheritance from Job’s hands. It is the thankful act of a man who began this conversation by bemoaning his own birth. Now he lives the promise given to Abraham.
Breaking open Job:
- Is the ending of Job a fairy-tale ending? Why?
- Why do you think that the final verses are so outrageously beautiful?
- What is the point of the Book of Job for you?
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) Benedicam Dominum
I will bless the LORD at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
I will glory in the LORD; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; *
let us exalt his Name together.\
I sought the LORD, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the LORD will deliver him out of them all.
He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
The LORD ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.]
We have encountered this psalm several times during this liturgical year. It’s ascription, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech, who banished him, and he went away.” Seems to form a good reason for pairing this psalm with the reading from Job, read from that vantage point, the phrases of the psalm invite a greater sense of understanding, “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and from all that I dreaded he saved me.” It is more than well matched when we come to verse twelve (which is not included in our reading), “Come, sons, listen to me”, Such an introduction sets us to understand the following material is in some sense Wisdom literature. Verses 19 on until the end of the poem are directly related to the Job reading, and to the psychology and theology of the Book of Job. This poem is not afraid of the “dark side”, “Many are the troubles of the righteous.” And balance is attained in the second strophe, “but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.”
Breaking open Psalm 104:
- How do you see this psalm as connected to the Job story?
- How does it remind you of God’s saving grace to you?
- How has God delivered you from harm?
Thus says the LORD:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
"Save, O LORD, your people,
the remnant of Israel."
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.
In spite of Jeremiah’s troubled stance and sayings, this pericope comes from his Book of Comfort (30:1 – 33:26). Jeremiah’s call was to speak of terror, destruction, and exile, but here another agendum obtains. In this pericope we hear of a calling back, a return from the troubles of exile. What is interesting is not only the promises that God gives to the exiled nation, but also the audience that witnesses God’s actions. Unfortunately, the verse is not included in the liturgical pericope, but seeing it here may give greater context and power to what God promises.
Hear the word of the LORD, you nations,
proclaim it on distant coasts, and say:
The One who scattered Israel, now gathers them;
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
This is not an isolated grace given only to Israel, but is also a witness to the nations of the actions of a gracious God. It smacks of Jeremiah’s growing sense of universalism, and of the call that God gives him in the first place, to be a prophet to the nations (see Background above). This is not the import of this reading on this day, however. More attention needs to be paid to what Jeremiah and Isaiah share, “among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together.” Here we can connect God’s ancient promise with the actions of Jesus with blind Bartimaeus. The old serves as a foundation for the new, but the promise and the actions are from the Ancient of Days.
Breaking open Jeremiah:
- Why does Jeremiah temper his horrific visions with this one of hope?
- Have you ever lived in exile? Describe?
- Whom has God gathered around you?
Psalm 126 In convertendo
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations, *
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.
Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
I love this psalm, especially the phrase, “then were we like those who dream.” It is not an emotion that we see in the Christianity of today – our dreams seem to be made of darker stuff. This is a song sung as one ascended to Zion, sung with joy. The verses reflect the ascent from the wilderness to the hill country, and finally to Jerusalem. The images are telling, “Restore, O Lord, our fortunes like freshets in the Negeb.” If one were to walk from Jericho to Jerusalem, up from the desert to the treed hills of Zion, one would understand the beauty and promise of this image. The sudden rains, the sudden richness of water, all refreshing God’s people. This psalm is linked to the first reading from Jeremiah, but the themes of restoration and new fortunes also link to the Gospel reading.
Breaking open Psalm 126:
- What are your dreams?
- How do they relate to your being saved?
- How does God refresh you?
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
We continue our readings from Hebrews, and again the author greets us with a reading that exults the superior nature of Christ’s priestly service. The author sees the Levitical priesthood as a weak succession, “they were prevented by death.” There mortality stifled their service, but Jesus, given to us as the Risen One, raised by the Father, is the priest that continues forever. Jesus is viewed as totally other, “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” However, he is the incarnate other – sharing our humanity, and yet praying for and making our salvation. It is all God’s design.
Breaking open Hebrews:
- What is Christ’s ministry?
- How would you describe your own?
- How are they different?
St. Mark 10:46-52
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
It is the blind man here that sees! We are coming closer to Jerusalem, and this reading serves as a sort of preview of the Palm Sunday entrance. There is shouting along the road from Bartimaeus, who not seeing, yet sees Jesus as “the Son of David.” Similar shouts will be heard on the way into Jerusalem, but here the shouts are followed by actions. Bartimaeus has faith, and believes, and this is the attitude that brings the recovery of his sight. As before the disciples urge silence, a silence that is related to their denial about Jesus’ pronounced and real destiny. In this story Jesus has his own actions, invitation, asking the man to articulate his request, and the command to go because faith has been the saving element here. Although the final verse notes the regained sight and then the following, it is actually the following that came first.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How does Baritmaeus express his faith?
- Why do the others try to silence him?
- Has your faith ever made a difference in how you see things?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; 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