Monday, October 8, 2018

Proper 23B (21 Pentecost 2018) Readings & Commentaries

In our Gospel reading Jesus is asked a sincere question and gives a forthright answer.  If the questioner is to follow Jesus, he must give up control over his wealth.  He proves unable to do so.  The disciples are amazed because they assume wealth as a sign of God’s favor.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Job has been in a dialogue with three friends—Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz—since the beginning of chapter 3.  They have tried to convince him that he has done something wrong, something to deserve the disaster that has come upon him.  Job continues his lament. In today’s passage, Job brings his complaint to God, whom he knows he cannot see.  But he trusts that if he could bring his case to God, he would be vindicated.  Yet God remains hidden, and in despair Job wishes he could disappear also.

23:1 Job answered: 2 Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4 I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7 There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. 8 If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. 16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17 If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!

Psalm 22:1-15 (Track 1)
Psalm 22 is the quintessential psalm of lament.  The writer is blunt:  God, you have forgotten me.  He cites reasons why he should trust, but finally declares himself “a worm and no man,” forgotten, despised.  The psalms of lament and/or complaint are important because they speak to the human experience of a God hidden in mystery.  They validate being honest with God; God can take our complaints.

1     My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
              and are so far from my cry
              and from the words of my distress?
2     O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
              by night as well, but I find no rest.
3     Yet you are the Holy One, *
              enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4     Our forebears put their trust in you; *
              they trusted, and you delivered them.
5     They cried out to you and were delivered; *
              they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
6     But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
              scorned by all and despised by the people.
7     All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
              they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
8     “He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; *
              let him rescue him, if he delights in him.”
9     Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
              and kept me safe upon my mother’s breast.
10   I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
              you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.
11   Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
              and there is none to help.
12   Many young bulls encircle me; *
              strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
13   They open wide their jaws at me, *
              like a ravening and a roaring lion.
14   I am poured out like water;
       all my bones are out of joint; *
              my heart within my breast is melting wax.
15   My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
       my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
              and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
The prophet Amos was active during the long and peaceful reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (i.e., the Northern Kingdom). The people were no doubt satisfied that they were pleasing God because of their military dominance and prosperity. Amos is sent from his little village, Tekoa, where he was a shepherd. He is sent to speak harsh words in this prosperous season. The prosperity is built on the backs of the poor. There is no justice. This message brought Amos into conflict with the religious authorities and he was expelled from the royal sanctuary at Bethel.

5:6 Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. 7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground! 10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Psalm 90:12-17 (Track 2)
Psalm 90 is said to be a Prayer of Moses.  It is a prayer that Israel may be delivered out of its difficulties and that God would reveal himself as the One who makes Israel prosper.

12   So teach us to number our days *
              that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
13   Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry? *
              be gracious to your servants.
14   Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
              so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
15   Make us glad by the measure of the days you afflicted us *
              and the years in which we suffered adversity.
16   Show your servants your works *
              and your splendor to their children.
17   May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; *
              prosper the work of our hands;
              prosper our handiwork.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 4:12-16
Our passage today begins with a reminder in vivid language that God sees all: “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.”  Given that we are “laid bare” it is significant that we have a great high priest who has been tested as we are tested, laid bare as we have been laid bare.  We can approach the throne of this high priest with confidence that we will receive mercy and grace in time of need. The image of Jesus as our eternal high priest is a major image in this letter.

4:12 The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. 14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 10:17-31
In our Gospel reading Jesus is asked a sincere question and gives a forthright answer.  If the questioner is to follow Jesus, he must give up control over his wealth.  He proves unable to do so.  The disciples are amazed because they assume wealth as a sign of God’s favor. On the contrary, Jesus is saying: it is an obstacle to the Kingdom, as great as the obstacle of the eye of a needle to a camel.  Yet all things are possible for God.  It is also, however, a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God that “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

10:17 As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

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. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available by subscription. For information and to sign up, go to our website.

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