Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for October 7, 2018

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22

THE READINGS

First Reading: Job 1:1; 2:1-10 Alternate Genesis 2:18-24
1:1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. . .
2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.
2 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
3 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.”
4 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Worth Noting: How do you react to suffering? Last week’s reading from James urged prayers and anointing by the elders of the community. Is this a common practice in your community?

Psalm 26 Alternate: Psalm 8
1 Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.

 4 I do not sit with the worthless,
nor do I consort with hypocrites;
5 I hate the company of evildoers,
and will not sit with the wicked.

 6 I wash my hands in innocence,
and go around your altar, O LORD,
7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving,
and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell,
and the place where your glory abides.
9 Do not sweep me away with sinners,
nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
10 those in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.

 11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.

Worth Noting: In dire straits, the psalmist looks for help, contrasting her own righteous relationship within the covenant community with evil enemies. The place of communal worship provides sanctuary. It may sound self-righteous, but the psalmist recognizes that God initiated and the community preserves and embodies the covenant. When attacked by depression, frustration, rejection, or frailty, do you turn to your community and its institutions for victory? How do you express yourself before God?

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. . .
2:1 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere,

What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8 subjecting all things under their feet.

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Gospel: Mark 10:2-16
2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES

Introduction to Hebrews

Earliest Christian readers accepted Hebrews knowing not when, where, by whom, or for whom it was composed. Scholars today range the likely dates of composition from 70 to 100 c.e. As to where, Rome and Jerusalem are often cited. Committed Christ followers, author and first (implied) audience certainly knew more of the Old Testament and the rituals of the Second Temple than would a random cross-section of Gentiles. As a consequence, no matter where one sticks the pin for their location, the initial audience were probably in the late stages of preparation for baptism, having previously affiliated with Jewish religious tradition(s), as Jews or Gentile Godfearers.
Hebrews unfolds the image of Christ as immortal High Priest who has completed the perfect sacrifice for sin. The community has experienced harassment and may have lost members as a consequence. Realizing the rewards available from Christ’s sacrifice, Hebrews urges the remnant to remain faithful, alternating explanations of Christ’s impact, supported by extensive quotations from the Old Testament, with exhortations to faithfulness. The readier must recognize that as Christ and the saints of the Old Testament suffered, the community must expect to suffer also.
The Lectionary includes excerpts from chapters 1 to 10 from now until Advent, chapters 11 to 13 next spring, and selections during Christmas, Lent, and Holy Week, concentrating on the text’s understanding of the nature and impact of Christ.

Entering into the Scriptures

Mark’s account of Jesus’ teaching on divorce is far from the only New Testament teaching on marriage. Notable is the counter-cultural, revolutionary teaching at its core. Gentiles and Jews alike viewed marriage as a mutually dissolvable contract between two families. Once the contract is dissolved, the parties would be free to enter into a new contract, to remarry.
In 1 Corinthians. Paul sets out his teachings (and the earliest Christian teaching we have) in opposition to this view. In chapter 7, he begins with a demand for a relationship of mutual reciprocity, claiming that neither spouse has “authority” over their own body (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Contrary to the contract view of marriage, he counsels against divorce and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). In the next two verses, Paul provides an exception to the general rule (unbelieving spouse leaves the marriage, verse 15), but urges believers not to divorce unbelievers if they consent to stay in the relationship and his reason is revelatory: “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. . .” (1 Corinthians 7:14). Here, at least, he doesn’t say that good examples might lead to future conversions. It is the marriage relationship itself that sanctifies and sanctifies even unbelievers.
Ephesians 5 has some of the last teachings on divorce in the New Testament. At verse 22 (the verse homilists hate to see), we hear “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.” The offense to modern sensibilities might be somewhat diminished were the preceding verse offered as context: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Even more revealing is the analogy the author draws later in the same chapter between marriage and the relationship of Christ and the Church: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). In their relationship of mutual love, Ephesians tells us, a married couple mirrors the sanctifying, salvific relationship between Christ and Church.
With this exalted view of marriage running through the discourse, it is not surprising that the Gospels take a dim view of divorce. Matthew permits divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery. Mark and Luke have essentially the same teaching, that a couple who divorce may not remarry (Mark 10:8-9; Luke 10:11-12).
Never at question has been the right of a spouse to leave an abusive relationship. The issue for Paul and the Gospel writers was what happens next. The Church has also thought long and hard about what constitutes a marriage, beyond the legal contract between two people. Today, Christian traditions view the consequences of divorce differently, just as was true in the earliest Church.

“Don’t Treat Me Like a Child! I’m All Grown Up!”

Why must we become as little children? Many of us have a difficult time achieving maturity – accepting responsibility for our own actions and for our role in the world. We do not appreciate being told that we should be like little children (Mark 10:15). Nor does Jesus treat his own disciples as “little children.” He corrects them, certainly, but also sends them out to do the work of God’s reign – healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the Gospel. In this he treats them as responsible adults.
It appears that the teaching about becoming a little child anticipates the conversation with the rich young man in Mark 10:16-33 (next week’s Lectionary), immediately after this encounter. The rich young man follows all the laws and lives as a responsible member of society. Jesus criticizes him not because of this, but because he will not give up his possessions to follow Jesus. Perhaps like many of us, the rich young man believes that with his toys he can control his own destiny. Little children have no possessions and scant control over their lives. They harbor no illusions that they do. Those adults making an adult decision to dispose of their possessions and cede control of their lives to Jesus are those most likely to receive the kingdom of God.

Questions for Discussion

The book of Job deals with the most important issues in religion: Why is there evil in the world? How should we react to the evil we and others experience? Job’s suffering cries out against the typical answers in the Bible (evil to humans follows their evil deeds), for Job, though righteous, suffers enormously. As the suffering comes from a workplace dispute between God and Satan, God’s district attorney, it is not God’s finest moment in the Bible. How does your community wrestle with these issues?

Does your community view the marriage relationship as sanctifying for the spouses? How have you experienced this aspect of marriage? What might it say about the role of sexual union in marriage?

In what way do you see children as closer to God than adults? Have you experienced a child-like moment that brought you closer to God? Can you duplicate it?

For a PDF 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.
The oil painting “Suffer the Little Children to Come unto me,” by Pieter van Lint (1609-1690) has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law including all neighboring and related rights.
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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