The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, 7 October 2018
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
St. Mark 10:2-16
Background: Letter to the Hebrews
While attributed to Paul, many scholars feel that the Epistle to the Hebrews is not from his hand, although it imitates Paul’s style. The Greek of Hebrews is of a finer quality than that of Paul, showing eloquence that surpasses the writing of Paul. Because of its intricate connection with the Jerusalem temple, it was most likely written prior to the destruction of the Temple. There are other connections as well. Some see in its description of the priestly Jesus, a connection with the messianic priest found in the Qumran scrolls. Using this typology, the author describes Jesus as a true priestly messiah, not the militant one that the people of the time had expected. In a way, Hebrews is an explanation speaking to a time of great oppression, and likely war. Thus the book is an exhortation to the people to wait patiently for the priest/king. Some also see it as an effort to call early Christians back, to “hold fast to our confession.” The author wants the audience to understand that something new had happened in the person of Jesus, and compares Jesus’ teachings to those of the prophets and the old covenant. He sees Jesus’ revelation as a superior one. Thus Jesus is not the expected son of David, but rather sharing a human and divine nature, and a priestly mission.
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason." Then Satan answered the LORD, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life."
So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die." But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
For clarity’s sake, it might be best ot read the entirety of the first chapter of Job. Although a great deal of the material is repeated in the second chapter, the fuller description fills in the details of the tail that we are to be told. It helps us understand the iterative nature of Job’s troubles and of the increasing efforts that the Adversary (our translation – “Satan”) makes to get at Job and to test his assertion. The text quickly gets at the human condition that underlies this contest, “Skin for skin – touch his bone and flesh.” When it comes to our being, Satan thinks that this is the border of our love and appreciation of God. In a sense, Job’s wife makes the same assertion with he terse statement, “Do you still cling to your innocence? Curse God and die.” I am reminded of the Star Trek – Next Generation move in which Data (the android) is given skin to feel what it’s like to be human. It becomes his weakest point. God’s startling agreement to the contest is a surprising development, with no kind of explanation for his character here, which seems separate from what is ordinarily seen in God’s behavior. It’s important to remember that we are reading a folktale, here and the niceties of theology have been neatly set aside. Such expressions and arguments will be given by Job’s companions who will besiege him with advice in the coming chapters
Breaking open Job:
- What do you think of God’s wager with Satan?
- How might you defend it?
- What’s your impression of Job’s wife?
Psalm 26 Judica me, Domine
Give judgment for me, O LORD,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
Test me, O LORD, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.
For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.
I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.
I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.
I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD, *
that I may go in procession round your altar,
Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *
and recounting all your wonderful deeds.
LORD, I love the house in which you dwell *
and the place where your glory abides.
Do not sweep me away with sinners, *
nor my life with those who thirst for blood,
Whose hands are full of evil plots, *
and their right hand full of bribes.
As for me, I will live with integrity; *
redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.
My foot stands on level ground; *
in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.
This is the anti-confession, for it is an announcement of the psalmist’s innocence. He asks to submit to God’s judgment, “Test me, O LORD, and try me; examine my heart and my mind.” He then goes on to explain why he feels capable of such a test. He keeps good company, and walks faithfully with God, he doesn’t sit down with the wicked – and on it goes. This is a good accompaniment with the troubled speeches of Job.
Breaking open Psalm 26
- Do you think the author has too much pride? Why?
- How innocent are you?
- What do you do with any guilt that you might have?
The LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken."
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
We come into this reading in the midst of the second creation account, wherein the male and the female are created. It functions as a bit of an etiology – explaining the two sexes. Here it is not man alone who is created from the soil, but each beast, and bird are likewise fashioned. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for “rib” is also used in speaking about architecture – so that God functions here as both potter, “formed”, or “fashioned”, and “build”. The closing line of the pericope also explains the etiology of the story – this is why marriage is constructed as it is in this society.
Breaking open Genesis:
- How do you feel about this story as a woman?
- How do you feel about this story as a man?
- How do you feel about this view of marriage?
Psalm 8 Domine, Dominus noster
O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
The translation in the BCP is unfortunate – governor just has too many associations with it. Robert Alter translates the phrase as “Master”, but that probably has too many sexist connotations. In Alter’s translation he tries to mirror the Hebrew pun (adonenu and ‘adir) with the English “Master – Majestic”. He also does some rearrangement with the initial verses:
“Lord, our Master,
how majestic Your name in all the earth!
Whose splendor was told over the heavens.
From the mouth of babes and suclings
You founded strength”
The contrast of the magnificence of the Lord’s name is compared to the utterances of children, from the lowest in the social scale. God’s strength comes from those who love God. The martial phrases, “you have set up a stronghold against your adversaries” may be the foreign gods who still challenge YHWH’s place in the land, or it may be an allusion to the cosmic struggle of God against the chaos. That seems more likely in this creation psalm that celebrates “the work of your fingers.” When we arrive at the creation of humankind, we are confronted with an existential thought, “What is man that you should be mindful of him?” Our reverie as we observe God’s creation is interrupted. The psalmist then orders creation, the angels (actually gods), then humankind, cattle, birds, and finally fish. The poem comes to an end with a repetition of the initial phrase – a complete circle that envelops the cosmos.
Breaking open Psalm 8:
- How do you describe God’s majesty?
- How is that majesty seen in creation?
- How is it seen in you?
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,
"What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet."
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,
"I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."
In this reading we have a prologue to the book, and then a section on “Superior Salvation.” In the Greek there is a proliferation of words beginning with the letter “p”, all of which helps the reader or hearer to focus on the words being spoken. The author (see the background, above) sets to his (or her, some think that the author is Priscilla) task quickly by styling Jesus as “the heir of all things,” and as the Wisdom of God. Jesus reflects the imprint of God. In a contrast to the words of Psalm 8, the author sees Jesus in a different light, as “much superior to angels.” Indeed, the psalm is quoted in the following section, beginning his argument concerning the superiority of the revelation in Jesus. As we walk through Hebrews in the coming Sundays, we shall follow this argument more fully.
Breaking open Hebrews:
- What do you think of Hebrew’s notion of a “superior salvation”?
- Google Priscilla in the Bible. Could she have written this?
- How are superior creatures in your thinking?
St. Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The pericopes that we will read today treat on some major themes: a continuing discussion on discipleship and then concurrent discussions on marriage and divorce and children. The scene is set by the Pharisees who continue to ask him questions as a test. Here it is ostensibly about marriage, but really about Jesus’ thoughts on faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. Jesus sees through their trap, however. Jesus sees God’s will expressed in creation, but also sees that the allowance for divorce is really a sop given to those who cannot live up to God’s vision. Here Jesus functions as the authority, giving the Law its true meaning and focus.
Suddenly we are back looking at the orders of creation – here the relative status of children. It is a mirror or an extension of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship – although that Jesus assigns a greater value to children speaks of his radical view of the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples don’t see it – for them the old order still obtains, and they rebuke the children. One commentator opines that this is really a reflection of the Marcan community’s discussion about infant baptism.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What do you think of Jesus’ teaching about diverce?
- How might that play out in your life?
- Do our times have something different to say?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller
 Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 1216.