Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for September 23, 2018

Proper 20


First Reading: Proverbs 31:10-31 
Alternate: Wisdom of Solomon 1:15-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
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.

Worth Noting: Here’s ammunition for those who think “the more things change the more they stay the same:” ancient praise of the woman who “leans in” and “has it all.” Is she a model for your community? In what way?

Psalm 1 Alternate: Psalm 54
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

 4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Worth Noting: “Meditate on the law day and night:” Does this prefigure the modern law school student? More likely: If the law is written in creation and in our souls, may such meditation not be an awareness of ourselves and of the world around us? Might it be what we now call mindfulness?

Second Reading: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
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: Mark 9:30-37
They went on from there and 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.”

Worth Noting: Verses 30-32 report the second of three times Jesus predicted his trial and execution to clueless apostles (earlier Mark 8:31ff, and later 10:32 ff). The second half of the Gospel selection preserves a teaching against infanticide, practiced by all classes in the Greco-Roman world and for a Christian practice of rescuing infants left to die of exposure. How does your community support the parents and children of unplanned pregnancies and births?


Entering into the Scriptures

The “Capable Wife” of Proverbs 31 does it all: rising early for 20+ hour days, she cares for the needs of family while buying and managing a farm. On the one hand, she is an empowered, active model of the modern woman who “has it all,” who “leans in” to her career.  On the other hand, all of the hard work redounds to the benefit of her husband. Her value is defined in terms of her role within the family.
As with almost any subject, the Bible does not leave us with just this one image of the empowered women. Proverbs itself gives us the image of Lady Wisdom who participated in the creation of the universe (Proverbs 8:22-31). Genesis includes accounts of the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, all of whom contributed to the survival of the family. Later we hear of Deborah, the warrior-judge, and her side-kick Jael, and Esther and Judith (she’s in the Apocrypha) who took turns saving the Israelites from destruction.
In the New Testament, Mary of Nazareth does what every priest does: She reconciles heaven and earth. The Syro-Phoenician woman contributes to Jesus’ education (see Gospel two weeks ago). Mary of Magdala and other women support Jesus in his ministry. Paul cites about a dozen women who are his co-workers and benefactors in his mission – including Prisca, Phoebe, Euodia, and Synteche. Paul mentions them all without reference to any husbands or families.
Early on the Church was accused of appealing only to the “weakest of society,” meaning women, the poor, the ill-educated, the disabled, the orphans. Rather than wearing the accusation as a badge of honor, Church Fathers (gender duly noted) emphasized the masculinity of their leadership, in part by restricting the role of women. By the 8th century, their campaign had eliminated the public role of women in the major rituals of the Church.
Of course, none of the patriarchy’s attempts at defeminzation of the image of the Church kept women from exercising their gifts for leadership, teaching, and healing to the benefit of all the People of God (Juliana of Norwich, Brigit of Ireland, Clare of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna all quickly come to mind). Their stories move us far from the Bible, too far for this essay. Suffice it to say, that women through the ages have said to Proverbs’ Capable Wife “Good for you. Now let’s get on with building the City of God.”

 Whatever Led You to Do That?

Capable Wife “opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:20). Should we assume that, as with everything else, she engages in philanthropy to burnish the prestige and position of her husband and family? After all, we suspect some celebrities of underwriting projects for the benefit of their image and box office appeal. Is Capable Wife in that category?
Mixed motives seem like the human condition. Have you ever heard someone pitch a mission trip, or regular tithing because of what it meant for them when they did it? Or how about the volunteer who claims “I just feel so good when I do this”? Don’t we all do things, good things, things of God’s kingdom, because they help us to be better people? Indeed, Jesus says “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  Is servanthood a way to achieve a leadership position?
Does it matter why we do things as long as we do the work of God? Remember that when the disciples of John the Baptist interrogated Jesus he replied: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). Jesus does the work of the reign of God; that’s all you need to say.

Questions for Discussion

The Psalmist’s exhortation to constant meditation on the Law might be “mindfulness” in today’s terms. Is meditation part of your routine? Does your community promote forms of meditation?

James warns against envy and ambition as motivators (James 3:13-16). Is he telling us we will have these emotions and attitudes; just be careful not to act on them? (Old bromide: “Feelings are neither right nor wrong. They just are.”)

In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches that those welcomed into the kingdom care for others, giving us powerful motivation to help the oppressed. Do you think people help others for their personal psychological and spiritual benefit? Is that OK?

For a PDF (paper copy) version of this week’s Journeyingclick 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.
Photograph of AIDS orphans singing at the Biwi/Mchesi Orphan Care Group: https://www.flickr.com/photos/khym54/146113114
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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