Monday, September 20, 2021

18 Pentecost 2021, Proper 21B Readings with Commentary

 The Collect of the Day

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.

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

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.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

17 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 20B) Readings with Commentary

 

Collect of the Day

Grant us, O Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; 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):  Proverbs 31:10-31

Proverbs ends with an acrostic poem—each line in the Hebrew text begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The poem parallels the poems praising Wisdom in chapters 1—9, although here the figure of Wisdom is transformed into an earthly wife.  It is, of course, a highly idealistic vision; no woman could meet all these expectations.  Nevertheless, the poem provides a sense of what it means to live in the way of Wisdom. 

31:10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Psalm 1 (Track 1)

The Book of Psalms begins with a poem from the wisdom tradition, which typically portrays a simple division between the way of the righteous/wise with the way of the unrighteous/sinners.  The former are under the protection of God, the latter like useless chaff that the wind blows away.



1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
        nor lingered in the way of sinners,
        nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
        and they meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
    bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
        everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked; *
        they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
        nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
        but the way of the wicked is doomed.

1st Reading (Track 2): Jeremiah 11:18-20

These three verses begin a longer passage (through 12:6) in which the prophet laments his discovery that there is an assassination plot against him.  As the passage goes on, we learn that the plotters have been identified by Jeremiah as false prophets and/or priests.

 11:18 It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. 19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!” 20 But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Or this

1st Reading (Track 2): Wisdom 1:16—2:1, 12-22

The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of the Apocrypha, that collection of books that we do not consider Scripture but have set aside as edifying. Wisdom was probably written a century before Jesus’ birth.  Our reading this morning is part of a larger reflection on the reward of the just and the punishment of the wicked, states determined by reliance upon wisdom or the spurning of it.  The “ungodly” here believe death will save them from judgment and that the efforts of the righteous are futile.

1:16 The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company. 2:1 For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. 12 Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. 13 He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. 14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; 15 the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. 16 We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 19 Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. 20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” 21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, 22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.

Psalm 54 (Track 2)

Psalm 54 begins as a lament of one feeling threatened by enemies of some kind.  Like most psalms that begin in lament, it resolves into trust in the God of the covenant who is always faithful.


1 Save me, O God, by your Name; *
        in your might defend my cause.

2 Hear my prayer, O God; *
        give ear to the words of my mouth.

3 For the arrogant rise up against me,
    and the ruthless have sought my life, *
        those who have no regard for God.

4 Behold, God is my helper; *
        it is the Lord who sustains my life.

5 Render evil to those who spy on me; *
        in your faithfulness, destroy them.

6 I will offer you a freewill sacrifice *
        and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good.

7 For you have rescued me from every trouble, *
        and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

2nd Reading:  James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

The Letter of James is sometimes referred to as the book of Wisdom of the New Testament, akin to Proverbs in the Old Testament or the Book of Wisdom in the Apocrypha.  Here wisdom is exalted as the way that leads to justice, peace, and all virtue.  Opposed to wisdom are “cravings,” frustrated desires that lead to discord and even murder.  Wisdom is submission to God, but not as a slave to a master, for “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. 4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8a Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 9:30-37

Our Gospel reading today contains Jesus’ second prediction of his passion and death (the first was in last week’s reading).  As before, the disciples are stunned at the disclosure—they are uncomprehending.  They are comprehending of their social status, however, and argue about it with one another.  Jesus rebukes them by placing a child among them.  This is who to emulate.

9:30 Jesus and the disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

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.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

16 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 19B) Readings with Commentary

The Collect of the Day

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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. One way of thinking about the biblical understanding of wisdom is the capacity/necessity of discerning the mystery of God in the practicality of daily life.

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.”

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.

Or this

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.

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. Chapter 3 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 encountered Jesus speculating about his identity (6:14-15). Now Jesus asks the direct question to his disciples. Mark’s version of this story is sparer 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 quotations (except for the psalms and canticle) 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 translations are from The Book of Common Prayer. The Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 Church Publishing Co. 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.