Jesus has just taught the disciples that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Clearly at least James and John did not understand him, as they ask rather brazenly for the right to sit at his right and left hand.
The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24B)
1st Reading (Track 1): Job 38:1-7, [35-41]
After 35 chapters of back and forth dialogue between Job and his friends, and a stranger named Elihu, Job gets his answer from God. It is not an answer about the cause of his suffering, but a reminder that the world God has created is bigger than any one individual life. Some see this response as being directly related to Job’s curse of his birth in chapter 3. Others see it as God defending the mystery of life. If the latter is correct, there is no answer to Job’s question, just the freedom of creation and the God who made it.
38:1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
[35 Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? 36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? 37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38 when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 39 Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40 when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?]
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b (Track 1)
Psalm 104 is a hymn of creation, praising God as its sole creator. There is a sense of a storm in these opening verses of the psalm, similar to the opening of our reading from Job today. Verses 5-9 extol God’s mastery of the waters of chaos, with an echo of the story of the Flood from Genesis.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul; *
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and splendor.
2 You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.
3 You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
you make the clouds your chariot;
you ride on the wings of the wind.
4 You make the winds your messengers *
and flames of fire your servants.
5 You have set the earth upon its foundations; *
so that it never shall move at any time.
6 You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle; *
the waters stood higher than the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled; *
at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.
8 They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath, *
to the places you had appointed for them.
9 You set the limits that they should not pass; *
they shall not again cover the earth.
25 O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
1st Reading (Track 2): Isaiah 53:4-12
Our first reading is from one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant from the latter portion of the Book of Isaiah. The last line of today’s Gospel is more or less a quote of 53:11. Without the necessity of taking this passage as a word-for-word understanding of how the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us, Mark is saying that Jesus’ witness can be understood through the lens of the Suffering Servant, who offers his life as an atonement for the sins of others and is exalted by God.
53:4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Psalm 91:9-16 (Track 2)
Psalm 91 is a prayer of great confidence by one who has faith in God. It promises ultimate security for one who trusts in “the Most High.” Like many of the psalms it is idealistic. God’s people do suffer, and Christians follow One who suffered in solidarity with us, as both the Old Testament reading and Gospel reading for today testify.
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,
10 There shall no evil happen to you *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge of you, *
to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
under your feet.
14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I shall answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10
Hebrews 5 continues the image of Jesus as our eternal high priest, designated by God, who is able to relate to us because he shared our life and our death. Verses 5 and 6 first quote Psalm 2:7 and then Psalm 110:4. Melchizedek is a mysterious figure who appears in Genesis 14:17-20. The author of Hebrews uses this figure, who comes out of nowhere in the Abraham story, and who is given no story, i.e., no beginning and no end, to pre-figure the priesthood of Christ, which is greater than the priesthood of Aaron because it is eternal.
5:1 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you;” 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel Reading: Mark 10:35-45
Jesus has just taught the disciples that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Clearly at least James and John did not understand him, as they ask rather brazenly for the right to sit at his right and left hand. Despite their bravado that they “are able” to bear what Jesus will bear, they still do not understand that he is talking about his suffering and death. The rest of the disciples are angry at their presumption, but Jesus uses the occasion to make even plainer his understanding that in the Kingdom of God the rules of power are upside down.
10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
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. Visit our website for more information.