O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1st Reading (Track 1): Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
The Book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish woman and her uncle, Mordecai, who deliver the Jews living in the Persian Empire from genocide. King Ahasuerus chooses Esther as his queen, although she hides her Jewish identity on the advice of her uncle. Mordecai becomes an enemy of Haman when he refuses to bow down to him. Haman tricks the king into ordering death to all the Jews in the kingdom who will not bow down to the king. When Haman plans the execution of her uncle, Esther is moved to reveal her identity and plead with the king for the life of her people. In our reading today, the tables are turned against Haman; he is executed and the Jews saved. The final verses establish a yearly feast known as Purim.
7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated. 9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
Psalm 124 (Track 1)
Psalm 124 is one of the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) which were likely songs for pilgrims on their way to celebrate one of the major festivals in Jerusalem. It is a song of thanksgiving for protection against enemies, using the images of a flood that does not drown and a snare that is broken and therefore useless.
1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2 If the Lord had not been our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
In the wake of the people’s complaints about the food that is being provided for them, Moses himself complains to God about the burden of the people. God’s response to Moses’ histrionics is to give him help. Seventy elders will be given a share of his spirit. This included two men who had not assembled at the Tent of Meeting but had remained in the camp. Their manifestation of the Spirit causes some controversy, but Moses declares that they are with them. He is not overprotective of his office. Would that all the Lord’s people were like him.
11:4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.” 16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
Psalm 19:7-14 (Track 2)
Psalm 19 is a wisdom psalm in two parts. The first (1-6) praises the glory of God in creation. The second (7-14, today’s psalm) is a hymn in praise of the law. The juxtaposition of creation and law is deliberate: both have been provided for the well-being of humankind.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocents.
8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart: *
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
Cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
2nd Reading: James 5:13-20
The end of the Letter of James describes some pastoral practices of this ancient community. Some of our own practices have roots in them. Communal prayer by elders (presbyteroi) with the anointing of the sick with oil developed into the Sacrament of Unction, or the Anointing of the Sick. Confession of Sin seems to have been tied up with this practice also, as it is in the rite for “Ministration to the Sick” in The Book of Common Prayer (pp. 453-461).
5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-50
Jesus, like Moses before him (see Numbers 11), does not want the disciples to be jealous of their authority. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus then goes on to use some difficult language trying to underscore the seriousness of treating “the little ones” rightly. He is speaking in hyperbole and figuratively, yet he is speaking very seriously. Who are “the little ones?” It is often assumed children, but more likely Jesus is referring to the average disciple and this is a special warning to those in leadership not to abuse their power. Verses 44 and 46 are omitted in the New Revised Standard translation since they are not found in the best ancient sources for this Gospel (they simply repeat verse 48).
9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
The Scripture quotations (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. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.