Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for September 16, 2018

Proper 19

THE READINGS

First Reading: Proverbs 1:20-33 Alternate: Isaiah 50:4-9a
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 Alternate: Psalm 116:1-9 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD
are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Worth Noting: The psalmist tells the story of God creating the universe and Torah, the divine instruction on how to live. How do you respond to the twin gifts of creation and instruction?

Second Reading: James 3:1-12
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.

Worth Noting: James is uncertain about the ability of humans to control their tongues (see verse 8). Given concerns today about a scarcity of common civility, the skepticism seems justified. For you, when is the greatest temptation to let your “tongue” loose? On social media? In gossip? How do you control your “tongue”?

Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
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.”

Worth Noting: In the Roman Empire, “shame” and “glory” stood at opposite ends of the spectrum. The conventional way to attain glory was to amass wealth and, with wealth, power. Jesus upends these conventions: Glory comes with the loss of life and indifference to wealth. In your community, what brings glory? Simple living?

CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES

Entering into the Scriptures

Followers of the Lectionary are in the midst of a series of first readings from Israel’s wisdom literature. In the Bible, the Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are considered examples of Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature. To these may be added Ben Sira (Sirach) and the Wisdom of Solomon, considered Deuterocanonical or Apocryphal. In general, arising in a society of continuous strife, with stagnant incomes and population under four centuries of occupation, Israel’s authors wrote these texts to describe the human quest to live life well. They described a path to wisdom as not a quest for particular, isolated knowledge or skill, but a quest to explore and understand the web of relationships in which one lives, strives, and thrives. More than guideposts for the journey, they raised the hard questions of human existence: How does the universe operate? Why are we here? Why be righteous? Read all together, one comes away impressed with the depth of their reflection, but often perplexed that there is not one clear path to wisdom.
The ambiguity reflects the overarching understanding that the individual could only live well within a web of relationships that began with the family and extended to the tribe, the nation, and the international sphere. In all of these relationships, they found God present.
Wisdom begins with the family but encompasses the public square as well. Hence the opening verse of the first reading: “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice” (Proverbs 1:20). Wisdom is practical advice, adaptable to differing circumstances. Wisdom realizes that human relationships change, grow, and die (Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”), requiring changes in the way we live. Common ground for ancients and moderns: relationships are messy.
While Biblical wisdom literature is usually thought of as from the Old Testament, the New Testament has examples of it as well. The letter of James, for instance, is often considered within the tradition of Ancient Near East wisdom literature. Much of Jesus’ teaching, using riddles, stories, and pithy statements lies within the same traditions.

 Exploring Best Seller Lists

What are the modern analogues to Biblical wisdom literature? Two categories are obvious. First, self-help books. Note the difference, however: Best sellers emphasize maintaining an individual’s youthful vigor. Aging is to be battled, not celebrated. Biblical wisdom, on the contrary, saw the human only within relationships and highly valued the wisdom of elders who had survived a dangerous environment.
A second modern wisdom category includes non-fiction works from the “right” and “left” that decry the current economic political situation and argue for important changes. Some look back to history for important lessons, others argue largely from an analysis of the current situation. While their prescriptions may differ from the Biblical commands, these works offer views of the well-ordered societies.
Overlooked may be great fiction (novels, short stories, drama) and poetry cab that lure the reader into wisdom. They help us understand what it means to be human. Fiction has the power to create worlds for the reader to explore, expanding imagination and developing empathy for others. Poets are theologians in disguise, offering glimpses of the divine through stressed language and disconcerting images. Wisdom comes from the slow realization of what it means to be living supported and constrained by a web of human and divine relationships.

Questions for Discussion

What was the first story (oral or written) that enthralled you? Does the work still teach you about the world and how to live in it?

How would you define wisdom?

To whom and to what do you turn now for wisdom?

 To download a PDF version of this week’s Journeying, click here.

 

Dennis Haugh has enjoyed working with adult seekers for over 20 years. He aims to promote engagement with and reflection on the Scriptures. To hone his skills and burnish his credentials, he earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program.  He appreciates any correspondence: dennishaugh2011@gmail.com.

Unless expressly stated otherwise, all quotations from Scripture are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
The image of a coffee-sipping reader is free for commercial use at https://pixabay.com/en/book-table-read-knowledge-wisdom-2592783/.
Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary © 2018 Dennis Haugh. Recent postings may be accessed at https://www.sttims.net/journeying-through-the-lectionary/

 

 

 

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