The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 28 October 2018

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)


Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28
St. Mark 10:46-52

Background: Jericho

This city is perhaps one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, with the oldest stratum dating around 9000 BCE. There have been more than twenty settlements located in Jericho, attracted by the various water sources and springs around the city. The name of the city is thought to have been derived from either an ancient Canaanite word meaning “fragrant”, or from the Canaanite word for “moon”, in honor of the moon god, Yarikh, whose cultic center was at Jericho. Hunter-gatherers began settling around the location of Jericho around 10,000 BCE and around 9,500 BCE we see evidence of the first permanent settlement. Here small dwellings were built and agriculture was practiced. The biblical record begins in the Bronze Age, with a large settlement constructed around 2600 BCE. Jericho fell prey to the incursions of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, and like most of the region was acquired by the Roman Empire.

Track One:

First Reading: Job 42:1-6, 10-17

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 for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

The book of Job ends with Job’s recognition of God’s power and suasion in life. He had never really forgotten that aspect of God, really only questioning the appropriate nature of divine justice. In this initial poem Job acknowledges God’s wisdom in dealing with him, and the wonders observed in creation which demonstrate God’s power. Job both hears and sees God’s truth, “I had heard of you…but now my eye sees you.”

If Job restores his vision and trust in God, God then doubly restores the family and the wealth of Job. It is at this point when we wonder about the lives lost at the beginning of the tale, that we remember that this is a folk tale, exploring the nature of God’s justice and human life. To take it all literally loses the point of the writing. The names of the second batch of children are enchanting, and underscore the fairy-tale nature of the story: Dove, Cinnamon, Horn of Eyeshade. Beauty invades a scene that was once horrific.

Breaking open Job:
  1. In what ways have you not heard nor seen God?
  2. In what ways have you?
  3. What do you think of this story and legend?

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)Benedicam Dominum

1      I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2      I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
3      Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
let us exalt his Name together.
4      I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
5      Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
6      I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
7      The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
8      Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
19    [Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
20    He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.
21    Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22    The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.]

We have encountered this psalm last on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. The liturgical reading lays aside the superscription of this psalm, which helps us to understand its despair and its resolve. The superscription is, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech who banished him, and he went away.” See I Samuel 21:14for an account of this incident where David pretends to be a madman in order to escape the wrath of Achish (not Abimelech – a scribal or editorial error) the king of Gath. Despite its connection to David (this might work well with the Track One First Reading) we can substitute Job here, who in the last and final analysis sees the wisdom and beauty of God’s justice, and has his wealth restored to him. “The Lord ransoms the life of his servants.”

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. Where is there beauty in God’s relationship with you?
  2. When have you needed that beauty?
  3. In what ways do you display that beauty to others?


Track Two:

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9

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.

Here is a note of hope in the difficult ministry of Jeremiah. He looks forward in these verses to the return of the people from the punishments of exile. The oracle is given first to the returned exiles, and later in verses 10-12(not a part of this liturgical reading) to the nations that watch from the sidelines. There is a liturgical aspect to the scene as the people are summoned to sing, raise shouts, and to give praise. The following verses are enigmatic in that they can be seen as both request and acknowledgement. Either God has redeemed or God is requested to redeem God’s people. There is a vision here of Israel in dispersion, “from the land of the north…from the farthest parts of the earth.” And there is more than geographical dispersion, but also a depiction of several conditions that affect the people, “the blind, the lame, those with child and those in labor.” The vision is one of total inclusion. All shall be gathered. In a way it is a repetition of the leaving of Israel from Egypt – a reprise of the central story of the people. 

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. From what have you been exiled in your life?
  2. Has this been good or bad?
  3. To what or where do you wish to return?

Psalm 126 In convertendo

1      When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.
2      Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
3      Then they said among the nations, *
"The Lord has done great things for them."
4      The Lord has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
5      Restore our fortunes, O Lord, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.
6      Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.
7      Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

The difficulties that Jeremiah saw befalling Israel were met in the first reading with a tone of hope. That hope is evident in this psalm in which the “fortunes” of Zion are restored. The Hebrew vocable suggests “the previous condition” as that which God is dealing and making new. So it is the stuff of dreams and hopes. These could be the words of Jeremiah’s returnees, praising God for the redemption done to them. Here also the nations observe the redemption of Israel. The poet underscores the theme by a series of reversals, “sowed with tears…reap with songs of joy”, etc. It is noted that the tense of the verbs in this psalm either indicate past or future action. That it may be anticipated might be indicated by the dream theme in the psalm. There is a sense of anticipation such as “the watercourses of the Negev” which are filled sporadically with gushes of water, and at other times lay dry.

Breaking open Psalm 126:
  1. Does it matter whether this is hope or praise?
  2. For what do you hope in your life?
  3. For what do you give praise in your life?

Second Reading: Hebrews 7:23-28

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but Jesus 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.

The author of the book of the Hebrews continues with his comparison of Jesus’ priesthood and the mortal priesthood. Death becomes an obstacle to the office, but the resurrection of Jesus insures his continuing ministry and priesthood. The argument is that it is essential that Jesus, the great high priest, should be truly differentiated from the priests that have gone before. Jesus accomplishes his priesthood in holiness, not like the other priests who were sinners. Finally there is the appointment and oath which supersedes the law – the One who “has been made perfect forever.”

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What do you see in the priesthood that distresses you?
  2. What do you see that you admire?
  3. In what ways are you a priest?

The Gospel: 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.

The placement of this scene may be more than a geographic notation but may have mythic and ritual significance as well. The crossing of the Jordan, the events at Jericho all signal a transition from one way of living to another, from one segment of history to another. Blindness is met with sight. Such a thing would alter life itself. There is discouragement, however. The bystanders have no idea as to the essential good of the situation – the possibility of a life-altering event. They discourage the man. 

The man, however, refuses to be discourages, his faith will not allow for that. He then makes his request for mercy and sight. Jesus sees the faith, and Jesus responds to the request. Now that he can see he can follow. The questions that come to mind are ones of our own blindness, or the blindness of our own times. Do we see the hopes of others, or are we blind to their aspirations, to their faith?

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What is your own blindness?
  2. Who in the story is really blind?
  3. Do you have the blind man’s courage?

Central Idea:                        Noting the hope

Instance One:                       Seeing a prophet’s hope (Job or Jeremiah)

Instance Two:                       Realizing God’s response (Job or Psalm 126)

Instance Three:                    Overcoming the discouragements of the crowd (Gospel)

Fourth Exploration:            Can we follow?

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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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