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Wrestling with the Word, episode 46: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (November 8, 2009) October 28, 2009

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Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

The amazing news of the Bible is that God loves everyone, but when push comes to shove, God takes the side not of the powerful but of the oppressed and vulnerable. The other side of that same coin is that the oppressed and the vulnerable appear repeatedly as examples of faith and generosity. In part, these people appear as role models, but in another sense, they point to the role of Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 46: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


Psalm 146
The psalm is one of praise to the Lord who can accomplish what no mortal human can. A beatitude is expressed for those who count on the God of Jacob for help. As Creator of the universe, the Lord is faithful, executes justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry. As Savior of prisoners, healer of the blind, and lover of justice, the Lord protects the most vulnerable people in the land—sojourners, widows, and orphans. With all these wondrous acts of God in mind, the psalm calls on hearers to trust, not in humans, even royal ones, but in the Lord and to acclaim Yahweh as king forever.


1 Kings 17:8-16
No matter how difficult it is to trust in the promises of God, the Lord demonstrates through repeated occasions that his word can be trusted.
The word of the Lord comes through inspired spokespersons to address all people in need, even those who stand outside the confessing community.
The Lord calls upon even the poor to share what they have in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes and to bring people to faith.

The Elijah cycle (1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2) opens with an introduction of Elijah from Tishbe in Gilead. The introduction occurs in the context of an address from the prophet to King Ahab (869-850 B.C.) regarding a drought that would continue in the land until Elijah said otherwise. The drought continued until Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal (18:41-45). For the prophet himself to survive the drought, God provided means of sustenance for Elijah—first the ravens fed him in verses 4-7. Now God appoints someone else.

Key Words
V. 8.  wayehî debar-YHWH ’ēlāw = “and the word of the Lord was to him”:  The formula is common in the preaching prophets to indicate that their speeches were not their own but YHWH’s. Furthermore, almost every speech is unique.

V. 14.  kî kōh ’āmar YHWH ’elōhê yisrā’ēl = “for thus says YHWH the God of Israel”:  This expression is another formula used by the preaching prophets to introduce an oracle from the Lord.

V. 16.  kidbar YHWH ‘ašer dibbēr beyad ’ēlîyyāhû = “according to the word of the Lord which he spoke through Elijah”:  This formula is critical and expected because it indicates that the promise of God stated in v. 14 has come true. Note that at the conclusion of the following paragraph, the woman recognizes the power and effectiveness of God’s word when she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is faithful” (v. 24). Thus, the non-Israelite woman is brought to faith in the Lord and his promises because of his bringing to pass what was promised.


Hebrews 9:24-28
In contrast to the ongoing process of priests entering the earthly temple in order to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus offered the once for all sacrifice and entered the heavenly temple, from which he will come again, not to deal with sin but to save those who are waiting for him.

Beginning at 8:1 and continuing through 10:18, the author describes the ministry of Jesus as that of a high priest. Leading the readers from Jesus’ role as high priest in the heavenly sanctuary and contrasting him with the priests of the earthly sanctuary (8:1-5) and to the establishing of the promised new covenant (8:6-13), the author contrasts the sacrifices of animals with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ own body and blood (9:1-14). As a result of his sacrifice, Jesus “is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (9:15ff.).


Mark 12:38-44
Jesus condemned the scribes for making show of everything they do, but Jesus commended the poor widow who, like himself, gave up everything in quiet and faithful obedience to God.

In Mark’s Gospel, the Transfiguration story marks the turning point from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his fateful journey toward Jerusalem which he entered at the beginning of chap. 11. Having cleansed the temple, Jesus left the city and returned on two other occasions, each time confronted by various groups of people: chief priests, scribes, and elders (11:27); Pharisees and Herodians (12:13); Sadducees (12:18); scribes (12:28). In our pericope, Jesus, still teaching in the temple, takes aim at the scribes. In a sense, this passage concludes the accounts of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, for following this pericope is the Apocalypse of Mark and then the narratives about the plot to capture Jesus and kill him.

Key Words
V. 40.  hoi katesthiontes tas oikias tōn chērōn = “who devour widows’ houses”: At Isa. 10:1-2, judges and scribes are guilty of oppressing the poor and making widows their spoil. Such oppression runs counter to the explicit command of God at Exod. 22:22 where widows and orphans fall under the watchful eye of God because they are the most vulnerable in the land. Compare this indictment with the one at Matt. 23:1-11.

V. 41.  chalkon eis to gazophylakion = “money into the treasury”:  Perhaps the treasury Jesus is watching is similar to the one in the first temple mentioned at 2 Kings 12:9. There the reference is to a chest with a hole in it so that contributors would make their offerings for the payment of the artisans who worked on the temple building project and maintained it.

V. 42.  mia chēra ptōchē = “a poor widow”:  Jesus’ example of generous faith in this widow is apparently the only reason for the selection of 1 Kings 17 as the first lesson.

V. 43.  “and he called his disciples to him”:  This formula is a favorite device of Mark to mention that Jesus took the disciples aside to teach them things that were not said to the general public audience (see, e.g., 4:33-34; 6:45ff.; 9:33; 10:10).

V. 44.  panta hosa eichen … holon ton bion autēs = “everything which she had, her whole living”:  The final four Greek words might be translated literally “her whole life” and thus point ahead to the sacrifice of Jesus in giving up his life.