We begin several weeks of reading through the first part of the Letter to the Hebrews. It reads more like an extended sermon than a letter. Who wrote it and to whom it was written remain a mystery. The sermon begins with an exaltation of Jesus,
1st Reading (Track 1): Job 1:1; 2:1-10
The Book of Job is a witness to human suffering and a debate about its causes. The central questions of Job are whether or not God causes human suffering and what role humans play in bringing it on. The missing verses from chapter 1 in the reading below first testify to Job’s uprightness. Then Satan (literally, “the accuser”) is allowed to test Job, and disaster follows including the loss of his home and children. Then the story picks up again below with a second bad deal between the Lord and Satan for a further test. This passage ends with the declaration that Job did not sin with his lips. But the question remains for the rest of the book, can he continue to do so, or will his suffering break him?
1:1 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. 2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 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.” 3 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.” 4 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” 7 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. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. 9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” 10 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.
Psalm 26 (Track 1)
Psalm 26 is a personal lament, a cry for justice. It could easily have been on the lips of Job during his suffering (and indeed, the reading above and this psalm both contain the Hebrew word for “integrity”). Verses 6-8 may testify to some liturgical practices in ancient Israel. The psalm ends with a plaintive cry to be spared the fate of sinners.
1 Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
2 Test me, O Lord, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.
3 For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.
4 I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.
5 I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.
6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, *
that I may go in procession round your altar,
7 Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *
and recounting all your wonderful deeds.
8 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell *
and the place where your glory abides.
9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, *
nor my life with those who thirst for blood,
10 Whose hands are full of evil plots, *
and their right hand full of bribes.
11 As for me, I will live with integrity; *
redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me.
12 My foot stands on level ground; *
in the full assembly I will bless the Lord.
1st Reading (Track 2): Genesis 2:18-24
Our first reading is part of the second Creation Story (2:4b-25), focusing on the creation of humanity. The major premise is that the man is alone and needs a true partner. Nothing that has been made will suffice, so a rib of the man is built up into a woman. This creation can be a partner. Now the text goes on to give the theological justification for marriage, remembering that its primary purpose is for human beings not to be alone.
2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 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. 20 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. 21 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. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 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.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Psalm 8 (Track 2)
Psalm 8 is a celebration of God’s glory, particularly as found in the creation and in the dignity of human beings. Unusually, it is not only a response to the first reading, but is related to the passages below from Hebrews and Mark.
1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
The son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
2nd Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
We begin several weeks of reading through the first part of the Letter to the Hebrews. It reads more like an extended sermon than a letter. Who wrote it and to whom it was written remain a mystery. The sermon begins with an exaltation of Jesus, to whom all things are subject. But this one to whom all things are subject is also the one who suffered for all and so is not ashamed to call us “brothers and sisters.” This theme will continue through the first chapters of the letter.
1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 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. 3 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, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? 7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, 8 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, 9 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. 10 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. 11 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, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
Gospel Reading: Mark 10:2-16
This account of Jesus’ opposition to divorce is found only in Mark and Matthew. What is set down here was certainly meant in Mark’s community to be the final word on the matter. Our branch of the Church many years ago decided this law was too rigid to follow and began to allow re-marriage on compassionate grounds. In doing so, there was no intention to lessen the promise of life-long fidelity, only to recognize the reality that the promise is sometimes broken too much to repair. The passage ends on a different note, with Jesus using a child as an example in how one should receive the kingdom of God.
10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 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. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The Scripture readings (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution. Bulletin inserts are available by subscription. Go to our website for details.