The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, 9 September 2018

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125


Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
St. Mark 7:24-37

Background: Tyre

Founded around 2750 BCE, Tyre was situated as a walled city on the mainland of modern-day Lebanon. The earliest inscriptions noting the name of Tyre appeared around 1300 BCE. It is noted in the Amarna Letters, which document its role as a city of merchants and traders. It was a principal city of Phoenicia, noted for its production of purple dye. During the Persian period it was conquered by Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, one of four Persian satrapies, Tyre, Sidon, Arwad and Byblos. It was conquered and razed in 332 BCE by Alexander, and in 126 BCE it regained its independence from the Seleucid kings. During the Roman period it exercised a degree of independence as a civitas foederati, a Roman province in 64 BCE. 

Track One:

First Reading: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Our reading for this morning is a pastiche of verses from the final chapter of the second unit of Proverbs, “The Proverbs of Solomon.” In this reading we have a good example of the proverbial (pun intended) structure of the Solomonic material. We see poetic parallelism over and over again, with matching statements or the opposite – a statement and then its antithesis. The first quotation (verses 1 and 2) espouse a value that ought to be resuscitated in our own time, the community of rich and poor together, brought together by God’s intent. Verses 8 and 9 are a good example of thesis/antithesis, where the unrighteous in their greed are compared with those who are righteous in their generosity.  Finally, in the last pair, verses 22 and 23, we have a comparison again where justice at the gate (the traditional place of judgment) may be denied the poor by some, but the poor find an advocate in the Lord.

Breaking open the Proverbs:
1.    How are you rich?
2.    How are you poor?
3.    How do you serve others?

Psalm 125 Qui confidunt

     Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, *
which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
     The hills stand about Jerusalem; *
so does the Lord stand round about his people,
from this time forth for evermore.
     The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land alloted to the just, *
so that the just shall not put their hands to evil.
     Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good *
and to those who are true of heart.
     As for those who turn aside to crooked ways,
the Lord will lead them away with the evildoers; *
but peace be upon Israel.

The psalm as a piece of Wisdom, mirrors the values expressed in the first reading. The righteous are set apart and protected from wickedness by the Lord. They are discouraged from “putting their hands to evil.” The contrast is between those who do good and those who intend evil. Jerusalem, set high on a hill, Mt. Zion, symbolizes the steadfastness of doing good – the place of integrity and justice, the dwelling of God among God’s people. The defenses are not only divine, but natural as well, “The hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the Lord stand round about (God’s) people.”

Breaking open Psalm 125:
1.       Where is your “strong place”?
2.       In what ways does God protect you?
3.       How do you protect others?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

These are songs of hope sung to the despair of a people threatened by the nations around them. They depict God as an avenger who will come “with terrible recompense” to save those threatened by the politics of their time. The prophet makes comment about “the eyes of the blind.” The hope is that they will see again, that their eyes be opened. This is not a comment on those who are ill, but about those who are blind to God’s will and intent. The postures of despair are given up to dancing. The dry wadis run with an excess of water. All of the deficiencies and wants of the people are answered by the God who provides.

Breaking open Deuteronomy
1.       In what ways are you blind?
2.       What do you have difficulty seeing that others say you must see?
3.       Where is there abundance in your life?

Psalm 146 Lauda, anima mea

Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
     Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
     When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
     Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
     Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
     Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
     The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
     The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

This thanksgiving psalm, a psalm of praise, might be a hymn sung by the desperate people in the first reading. It is not the voice of an individual, but the general hymn sung by all the people who have been saved and delivered. There is a contrast between the trust of human rulers, and the trust given to God who is both hope and help. With that, the psalmist trots out a list of deeds, godly deeds that have sustained the people: creation, justice, freedom, sight, care for the stranger, sustenance for the widow and orphan. These are the reasons for which the people sing their praise. The behaviors of God are commended to the people who need to practice them with one another.

Breaking open Psalm 146:
1.       For what do you need to give thanks?
2.       How have human rulers failed you?
3.       How have you failed others?

Second Reading: James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

The value of James is that it may represent to us a Christianity formed from the teachings of St. James of Jerusalem, or may recall the Christianity that stood apart from Paul’s theology. One commentator has described this section of the book as “An Essay on the Wisdom of ‘Quick Listening’”. This reading is a reading for our time in which two case studies document the discrimination in the Christian assembly and in the community in general. In this regard, the thoughts of the author parallel those of Saint Luke, whose agenda is concern for the poor and outcast. The questions are poignant – how does our Christian community receive any who enter our places of worship? The contrasts in the first reading and psalm in Track One might help us understand James’ points here. The oppression of the poor by the rich has no place in the Christian community. Partiality is sin. What then is the relationship of faith and works? Can we say that we believe and then do nothing to help, lift up, feed, or sustain those who have little? Luther had a great deal of trouble with these texts, but he was short-sighted in this regard. The reformation might have been even more radical if he had not dismissed James’ thought. 

Breaking open James:
1.       Whom have you learned to welcome into your church?
2.       How have you been welcomed?
3.       Whom must you yet welcome?

The Gospel: St. Mark 7:24-37

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

It is Jesus who gives evidence of what it is that Christians need to do. We have two examples here, one a gentile woman, and the other a man who was deaf. Both represent the outsider that the Epistle of James’ gives special attention to. The reaction of the two is worthy of note as well. The woman will not put up with the standard dismissal of Jews like Jesus. She simply will not accept his dismissal, “Let the children be fed first…” Her rejoinder about the crumbs serves as evidence of her faith and hear search for God. It saves her and saves her daughter as well. 

We look at the healing of the man and see not only an account of a healing, but also a symbol of Jesus role as the savior of a people. Deafness and blindness serve not only as symptoms of ill health, but also of a spiritual deprivation. The man is from the Decapolis, and represents to us any man of the world’s peoples. He is deaf and cannot hear the Word. Jesus, not wanting him to be a spectacle, takes him aside and gives him not only the ability to hear, but to speak as well. Both become the necessities of following Jesus – to hear his word, and to spread his good news as well. The encounter with Jesus is so compelling that they(suddenly the audience is included again) are astonished (shorthand for belief) and they too are compelled to speak and to tell. The courage of the woman, and the speech of the man – good for all of us.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
1.       When have you argued with God?
2.       What was the point of your argument?
3.       When has God astounded you?

Principal idea:            That our religion desires that we accept the unacceptable.

Idea 1:                          That righteousness calls us to certain behaviors (Track One: First Reading, and Psalm)
Idea 2:                          That God protects God’s own, and protects the stranger as well (Track Two: First Reading and Psalm
Idea 3:                          Faith needs to have done behaviors (Second Reading)
Idea 4:                          It is Jesus’ who models these for us. (Gospel)

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

A person smiling for the camera

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Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; 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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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