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Wrestling with the Word, episode 39: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 20, 2009) September 4, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

It is not easy being a Christian in the world. It never has been, of course, because the message that Jesus preached and the gospel message about Jesus run contrary to everything the world stands for—power, control, success, and superiority over others. Those worldly traits often disguise themselves as religion of one form of another. If they indeed represent religion in and to the world, then Jesus calls his disciples to be irreligious in order to be faithful. In any case, Jesus puts his disciples in a precarious situation on planet earth. This call, however, lies at the very heart of the nature of God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 39: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 54
The psalm is a lament in which the worshipper pleads for vindication from God in the face of his enemies (called “insolent” and “ruthless”). The name of God and the might of God are used in synonymous parallelism as the means that YHWH uses to save and vindicate. The final verses (6-7), if interpreted as simultaneous with the lament, might be an attempt to please God. However, if these two verses are to be offered after experiencing God’s vindication, then they form part of a liturgy of thanksgiving—a sacrifice of thanksgiving, maybe even a todah meal. Whatever the connection between the two parts, the desire to gloat over the defeat of enemies is itself a lamentable piece of the psalmist’s theology. On that issue, however, the psalm joins many others (Ps. 23:5; 112:8; 118:7; also Judg. 16:27; Mic. 7:10, cf. Ps. 22:18).

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Jeremiah 11:18-20
Against the attempts of the wicked to stop prophetic preaching, Jeremiah uses the typical psalm of lament in order to effect satisfaction over his enemies.

Context
Because of his persistent condemnation of the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem, Jeremiah became the object of the community’s derision, and so the prophet uttered repeated laments regarding his rejection. These oft-called “confessions of Jeremiah” are typical of psalms of lament and might therefore be more stereotypical than autobiographical. Uncertain is whether or not these verses are connected with the preceding or with the following verses. If they are, as seems probable, related to vv. 21-23 and 12:1-6, then the schemes against the prophet are being made by “the people of Anathoth,” Jeremiah’s hometown. The problem is abundantly clear in their insistence that he “not prophesy in the name of the Lord” (v. 21). The Lord’s response, as Jeremiah reports it, will be to annihilate these wicked people before they blot out the remembrance of God’s prophet (vss. 22-23)—precisely what the prophet pleads for in v. 20..

Key Words
V. 19.  wa’anî  kekebes ’allup yûbal litbōach = “and I am like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”:  The terminology is similar the suffering servant at Isa. 53:7:  kasseh lattebach yûbal = “like a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

V. 19.  wenikretennû mē’erets chayyîm = “and let us cut him off from the land of the living”:  See the suffering servant of Isa. 53:8:  kî nigzar mē’erets chayyîm = “for he was cut off from the land of the living.”

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James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Christians are called to exhibit their faith by virtues that stand over against the world’s values and vices.

Context
The Epistle of James is a collection of teachings instructing Christians how to live out their faith in the world. The collection resembles the Book of Proverbs in contrasting the wisdom that brings God’s pleasure and the folly that destroys. Lists of vices and virtues, as in vv. 17-18, are not common in the OT or in Palestinian Judaism. Such lists are common, however, in Hellenistic Judaism and in the NT (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Tim. 3:2-4; Gal. 5:20-21). Unfortunately, the pericope excludes verses 4-6 that speak both of “friendship with the world” as “enmity with God” as an explanation of wars, fighting, coveting. We also lose the important quotation from Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The quote is consistent with the teaching of Jesus in Mark 9:30-37.

Key Words
3:18.  tois poiousin eirēnēn = “to/by those who make peace”:  Like that of the beatitude of Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Making peace is the sacrificial act of Jesus in Col. 1:20 (see also Eph. 2:15). This teaching seems to mean act peaceably rather than to conciliate opponents. However, in the context of killing, fighting, and waging war in 4:1-3, it might also mean conciliate.

4:7.  hypotagēte oun tō theō = “submit yourselves, therefore, to God”:  The same exhortation appears at Heb. 12:9 for the willing submission to God’s discipline for the reward of life; see also 1 Cor. 15:27-28 as the eschatological fulfillment of Satan’s submission (as defeated) and of Christ’s submission (as faithful in transferring the kingdom to the Father). In terms of failing to subject oneself to God’s will and righteousness, see Romans 8:7; 10:3. For the subjection of Christ to God, see Eph. 5:24. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt.6:11).

4:8.  eggisate tō theō kai eggei hymin = “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”:  The expression appears in the LXX in terms of the priests who have opportunity to draw near to God (Exod. 19:22; Lev. 10:3), but in the NT the privilege of drawing near is extended to all believers (see also Heb. 7:19). The exhortation appears here as the opposite of “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (end of v. 7).

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Mark 9:30-37
Jesus’ prophecy about his own suffering, death and resurrection defines both God and discipleship in terms of vulnerability and service.

Context
When Jesus, Peter, James, and John had rejoined the rest of the disciples following the Transfiguration, they discovered a crowd, among whom were the scribes arguing with the disciples. Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about with them?” (cf. v. 33). They told him that the disciples were unable to exorcize a demon. Jesus rebuked the demon and drove him out of the child. Jesus and the twelve then went off together through Galilee.

Key Words
V. 30.  “Jesus did not want any one to know where he was”:  Once again, Mark emphasized Jesus’ secret—now about his imminent death–that only the disciples may hear.

V. 31. “The Son of Man will be delivered …” This is the second time the saying is reported by Mark. The first occurs at 8:31 and the third at 10:33-34.

V. 32.  hoi de egnooun to rēma = “but they did not understand the saying”:  The incomprehensibility of the disciples  is common in Mark’s Gospel (cf. 6:52; 8:17, 21; 9:6). Their fear of asking him makes sense in the progression of events in Mark’s Gospel. At 8:33 Jesus rebuked Peter and called him Satan when he would not accept Jesus’ first prophecy about his suffering and death (8:31).

V. 33. ‘What were you arguing about on the way?”: The same question Jesus asked the crowds in v. 16, he asks now of his disciples.

V. 34.  tis meizōn = “who (is) the greatest”:  The question links this saying to the previous one about his imminent sacrifice. The sequence contrasts with the way of Jesus as sacrifice and service with the human desire for greatness. Like the teaching in James 3—4, the way of God revealed in Jesus is submission to God’s will.

V. 35. ei tis thelei prōtos einai, estai pantōn eschatos kai pantōn diakonos = “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all (people) and servant of all (people)”: Losing is winning and vice versa. The saying sounds much like Jesus’ words at 10:44-45. The saying indicates that not everyone is equal in the eyes of God: some are first on the list and others are last. The Apostle’s Paul’s discussion of the crucified Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” conveys this same contrast with the ways of the world (1 Vor. 1:18-31)..

V. 37. “welcomes one such child … me … the one who sent me”: The message to the disciples is twofold. First, instead of striving for greatness, they should become like the little vulnerable ones. Second, welcoming such a child enables people to find him (Jesus), and through Jesus, they find the Father.

The whole message is quite a contrast to the desire to gloat over the destruction of one’s enemies. Finding Jesus in welcoming the vulnerable ones is so contrary to the ways of the world, even to the ways of religious people, that it seems downright irreligious.

Far more than a virtue, this life of service and submission and hospitality to the vulnerable lie at the heart of God’s identity.

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