Sunday, September 9, 2018

Proper 19B (17 Pentecost 2018) Readings & Commentaries

Peter is stunned by Jesus declaration that he must die. It is not his vision of what “Messiah” means (and perhaps this is why Jesus does not want to go public with this revelation).

1st Reading (Track 1):  Proverbs 1:20-33
With this reading, a new figure appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, that of Wisdom personified, who is female in gender. Here she appears in the public square, calling the “simple ones” to follow her way.  Much of her speech is a warning to those who would ignore or scorn her.

1:20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. 21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:  22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. 24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, 25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, 27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, 30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. 32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; 33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Psalm 19 (Track 1)
Psalm 19 is a wisdom psalm in two parts. The first (1-6) praises the glory of God in creation. The second (7-14) 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.

1     The heavens declare the glory of God, *
              and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2     One day tells its tale to another, *
              and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3     Although they have no words or language, *
              and their voices are not heard,
4     Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
              and their message to the ends of the world.
5     In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
              it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
              it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6     It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
       and runs about to the end of it again; *
              nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
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.

Or this

Canticle (Track 1): A Song in Praise of Wisdom (Wisdom 7:26—8:1)
The Book of Wisdom is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of ancient books related to the Hebrew Scriptures that we do not consider Scripture, but as edifying in reading.  It features the figure of Wisdom, which is discussed above.

Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, *
       a flawless mirror of God’s activity,
       an image of divine goodness.
Though Wisdom is only one, *
       she can accomplish everything;
remaining self-contained, *
       she transforms all around her.
In every generation *
       Wisdom enlightens holy souls,
making them friends of God, *
       making them prophets.
For God loves nothing so much *
       as the person who lives with Wisdom.
She is more radiant than the sun, *
       and outshines every constellation.
She excels daylight by far, for day is eclipsed by night; *
       but evil does not overshadow Wisdom.
She spans the earth from pole to pole *
       and orders all things well.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 50:4-9a
This short passage is often called the Third Servant Song (the first is 42:1-4, the second 49:1-6, and the fourth 52:13—53:12).  These songs tell of a Servant who originally may have been the nation of Israel as it re-establishes itself after the return from Exile.  Christians have often heard the story of Jesus in them and treat them as prophecy.  In this song, the Servant brings good news to the weary, but is treated with disrespect and violence.  The Servant’s trust in God, however, will not falter.

50:4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5 The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9a It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Psalm 116:1-8 (Track 2)
Psalm 116 is a thanksgiving for healing, begun (v. 3) with the strongest of emotions, speaking directly to God, demanding to be heard.

1     I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of
                                          my supplication, *
              because he has inclined his ear to me whenever
                                          I called upon him.
2     The cords of death entangled me;
       the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
              I came to grief and sorrow.
3     Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: *
              “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
4     Gracious is the Lord and righteous; *
              our God is full of compassion.
5     The Lord watches over the innocent; *
              I was brought very low, and he helped me.
6     Turn again to your rest, O my soul, *
              for the Lord has treated you well.
7     For you have rescued my life from death, *
              my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
8     I will walk in the presence of the Lord *
              in the land of the living.

2nd Reading:  James 3:1-12
James is the only book of the New Testament that could be called “wisdom literature.”  Much of it reads like the Book of Proverbs.  Here is an extended warning about the use of the tongue.  The transition from verse 1 through verse 3 is a bit rough.  3:1 can stand on its own. Verse 2 may be an admission that verse 1 is idealistic.  But the primary purpose of the passage is to warn those who would live together in community of the dangers of the tongue.

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 8:27-38
In chapter 6 of Mark we heard of people who came into contact with Jesus speculating about his identity (6:14-15).  Now Jesus asks the direct question to his disciples.  Mark’s version of this story is more spare than Matthew’s.  Peter responds with a single word, “Messiah.”  Jesus does not commend him for this response, but continues to insist the disciples not tell others about him, as he has told them previously in Mark.  Peter is stunned by Jesus declaration that he must die. It is not his vision of what “Messiah” means (and perhaps this is why Jesus does not want to go public with this revelation).

8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

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.  The canticle translation is copyright © 2007, Church Publishing Incorporated. Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study use with this attribution. Bulletin inserts with these readings and commentaries are available by subscription.

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