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Wrestling with the Word, episode 43: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 18, 2009) September 30, 2009

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

The Bible is full of surprises. Perhaps we miss some of them because either they do not fit our established views of God or the ways we live to which we are accustomed. Maybe we miss them for the same reason that writers cannot proofread their own material: their eyes see what they expect to see rather than what appears on the printed page. But for those of us who keep missing the surprises, the Bible keeps blaring them out. The lessons for today offer once again the surprise that power and life result from weakness, suffering, and service.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 43: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


Psalm 91:9-16
The psalm is a powerful attestation to the strength that comes with an individual’s trust in God. Verses 9-13 represent a priest’s promise to such a faithful individual who regards the Lord as “my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust” (v. 2). The priest responds with colorful imagery, some of it familiar, like verses 11-12. That color is matched only by the confirming response from the Lord who promises deliverance, protection, response to prayers, rescue, honor, and long life with salvation (verses 14-16).


Isaiah 53:4-12
Because of the servant’s vicarious suffering to make others righteous, God will give the servant a share of the spoils due to heroes.

These final verses of the fourth Servant Song move the issue of suffering in general to more specifically portray a servant who suffers for the sake of others (cf. Ezek. 4:1-8). In the first two servant songs (42:1-4; 49:1-6) the identity of the servant, especially in the present context, appears to be the exiled people of Jerusalem who have been dwelling for years in Babylon. At the third song, 50:4-11, the identity is not as clear, although it still could be that of the people. In this last song (52:13–53:12) many scholars argue that along with the new twist of vicarious suffering is a new identity that has more to do with an individual than with the people collectively. The difficulty caused by that interpretation is then identifying the individual the poet-prophet had in mind — a king, a prophet, and which one of those in particular.

Key Words
V. 4.  ’ākēn cholāênû hû’ nāsā  ûmak’ōbênû sebālām = “Surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains”:  The connection of the Servant and suffering is not new in this fourth song. The Servant suffers the feeling of failure in the second song at Isa. 49:4. In the third song the Servant undergoes physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his adversaries (50:6). Here, however, the terminology introduces vicarious suffering by the servant, an emphasis that is continued in vv. 5, 10, 11, 12. The words that describe the people (speaking in the first person plural) are infirmities and diseases (v. 4), transgressions and iniquities (v. 5), iniquity (vss. 6, 11), transgression/transgressors (vss. 8, 12). [The use of the verse at Matt. 8:17 has nothing to do with vicarious suffering but with Jesus’ healing miracles.]

Vv. 5-6.  The use of these verses at 1 Peter 2:24-25 is the only time in the NT that precise words of this Song are used for the vicarious suffering of Jesus.

V. 7.  kasseh lattebach yûbal = “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”:  An almost identical expression appears in one of the laments of Jeremiah at Jeremiah 11:19. The similarity has led some to believe that the servant is a prophetic figure like Jeremiah. This entire verse and the next one appear at Acts 8:32-33 to point to Jesus’ death, but not to its vicarious effect.

V. 8.  kî nigzar mē’erets chayyîm = “he was cut off from the land of the living”:  See Jer. 11:19 (again, note the comment on the previous verse); Ezek. 37:11 where the expression is figurative for a “dead” community, that is, the exiles in Babylon.

V. 11. yatsdîq tsaddîq ‘abdî lārabbîm = “The righteous one will make many to be righteous”:  The parallelism is instructive: “he will forgive their iniquities.” The causative form of the verb tsdq appears elsewhere with YHWH as the subject. At 1 Kings 8:32 the Lord is praised for “vindicating” the righteous according to his righteousness” in contrast to “condemning the guilty.” (see secular sense at Deut. 25:1; 1 Sam. 15:4). At Psalm 82:3 God charges the “gods” to “vindicate the afflicted and the destitute” (//give justice to the weak and the orphan”). The Servant of Second Isaiah finds strength in the belief that YHWH who “vindicates” him is near (Isa. 50:8). Even though YHWH declares he will “not acquit” the guilty (Exod 23:7) and promises judgment on “those who acquit the guilty” in courts of law (Isa. 5:23; cf. Prov. 17:15), he the object of the Lord’s “acquitting” are those who are sinners (see vss. 5, 8, here, and 12). [The LXX reads here dikaiōsai, the verb that Paul uses for “justify” (see especially Rom. 3: 24, 26).] As for the object of the verb here, the word rabbîm sometimes distinguishes “many” from “all”; however, the word might be idiomatic for “all,” a common idiom in several Semitic languages. The same appears to be true of the apocalyptic resurrection promised at Daniel 12:2.

V. 12.  The use of “numbered with transgressors” at Luke 22:37 is related to the poverty of Jesus and his disciples. That the servant identified with the sinners for whom he suffered and died sounds like Paul’s announcement that Jesus became cursed for us (Gal. 3:13).


Hebrews 5:1-10
Like high priests chosen in human circles, Jesus Christ, having learned obedience through suffering and made perfect, was designated by God to be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.


Mark 10:35-45
Against the world’s way of making hierarchies among people, Jesus teaches that discipleship means the first must become slaves of others.

After teaching the ways of discipleship, Jesus spoke for the third time about his death and resurrection waiting in Jerusalem, the opposite of what the disciples wanted or could handle.

Key Words
V. 35.  “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward”:  Mark is never afraid to portray the disciples in their frailty, their incomprehension, or their brazenness. Matthew, usually concerned to whitewash the disciples’ blemishes, has their mother come forward to present this proposal on her sons’ behalf.

V. 38.  ouk oidate ti aiteisthe = “You do not know what you are asking”:  The words could be a natural response to a preposterous request, but in Mark the disciples’ incomprehension is a consistent theme.

V. 38.  dynasthe piein to potērion ho ego pinō = “Are you able to drink the cup which I am to drink”:  The “cup” here, of course, is the fate which awaits Jesus in Jerusalem, as the same image is used by Jesus in Gethsemane at 14:36. In the OT “the cup” is a metaphor for divine judgment: “cup of the wine of wrath” (Jer. 25:15); “a cup of horror and devastation” (Ezek 23:32-34), “the cup of his wrath” (Isa 51:17, 22), and “a cup of reeling” (Zech 12:2). See also Jer 51:7; Obad 16; Hab 2:16; Lam 4:21; Ps 75:9.

V. 45.  kai dounai tēn psychēn autou lytron anti pollōn = “and to give his life as a ransom for many”:  While one is reminded of the terms in Isaiah 53:10-12, this verse is not precisely a quotation of that passage. As indicated in the discussion of the first lesson, the vicarious nature of the servant song is not used often in the NT. The allusion of this passage to the end of the song, however, might be one of the rare exceptions, along with 1 Peter 2:24-25.