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Wrestling with the Word, episode 37: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 6, 2009) August 25, 2009

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The words “sight” and “vision” take a variety of interesting twists in the English language, particularly in some of the expressions we commonly use. “You are a sight for sore eyes” is a welcome compliment to receive, but “You are a sight today” is enough to make you hide your head. We speak of “vision” as eyesight, and that you are a treat for someone’s eyes comes out in the compliment, “You are an absolute vision this evening.” In the Bible, “sight” and “vision” seem to portray different realities. “Sight” and “seeing” define present experience, but “vision” unveils the opposite of what is, more like a promise. The New Testament distinguishes explicitly between “sight” and “faith,” but faith and vision are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Vision, like faith, enables us to believe in something or Someone beyond what we see, experience, measure, and calculate day in and day out. If “sight” determines the meaning of life, we are stuck with the local and global news. After all, it is no secret that “the world is a sight” and that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18, KJV). By those definitions, our lessons for this Sunday are truly out of sight!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 37: Fourteenth 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 as their help/strength, for the Creator of the universe is faithful, establishes justice for the oppressed and feeds the hungry. As Savior, the same Lord sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind (see Isa. 35:3; 61:1-2). Loving the righteous, the Lord exalts the humble, watches over the most vulnerable in the land (sojourner, widow, orphan) and promises ruin to the wicked. The psalmist acclaims this Creator-Redeemer as God as ruler for all eternity. This final verse sets justice and reversal of fortune in the vision of the Reign of God.


Isaiah 35:4-7a
On the coming Day of the Lord, God will transform the sufferings of the present time into their opposites.
From the confinement of despair, hopelessness, and God-forsakenness, the Lord comes to rescue his people to shalom.

The style and some of the major themes are virtually identical to the material in chapters 40—55. The situation is probably one of exile, that is, a fear of forsakenness by God (see Isa. 40:27; 49:14) and a feeling of being hopeless and cut off (see Ezek. 37:11).

Form Criticism
The passage resembles the idyllic portrayals of the Day of the Lord like those of Isaiah 2:2-4 and 11:6-9, and is called a “portrayal of salvation.” Such a portrayal depicts in vivid imagery a vision completely opposite the experience of present time.

Key Words
V. 4.  chizqû ’al-tîrā’û hinnê ’elōhêkem nāqām yābô’ = “Be strong, do not fear; behold, your God comes with vindication”:  See Isa. 40:9-10 and 62:11. The word nāqām reflects the Lord’s action at 61:2 and 63:14, where the meaning is “vindication” rather than “vengeance.” The vision is positive for Israel but negative toward Israel’s enemies (47:3; 59:17).

V. 4.  hû’  yābô’ weyôša‘akem = “he will come and he will save you”:  The message of salvation is the critical issue for Second Isaiah. No idol cane save the people (45:20; 46:7; 47:13, 15). Only Yahweh can save, and Yahweh has promised to do so (43:12; 49:25; cf. also 59:1).

V. 6.  kî-nibqe‘û … mayim = “for waters will burst open”:  The expression occurs at Exod. 14:21 to describe the act of God in dividing the Reed Sea. Here it promises return from exile as a new exodus (cf. 40:3, 10, 11; esp. 43:14-21; 48:10, 20-22; 50:2; 51:9-11.

V. 6.  bammidbār = “in the wilderness”: In Second Isaiah the wilderness is a place of loneliness and desolation (50:2), but Yahweh comes to change it into a place of joy (41:18-19; 51:13) and to build a highway within it (40:3; 43:19-20).


James 2:1-17
In contrast to the way of God who chose the poor as heirs of the kingdom, the addressees of this epistle have chosen to honor the rich, thereby failing to obey that royal law of scripture about loving the neighbor as yourself.

In the previous chapter, the author has written what Psalm 146 and Isaiah 35 promised, namely that in the new time of God’s reign, the fortunes of the poor and the rich will be reversed (see 1:9-10) and explained this reversal in terms of the fortunes of nature.(like Isaiah 35). The present pericope picks up the thought in terms of appropriate action toward the poor in the Christian congregation, above all, following the royal law of scripture (see Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14).


Mark 7:24-37
As demonstration that the “kingdom is at hand,” Jesus exorcises a demon from the daughter of a Greek woman and then reverses the fortunes of the man who was deaf and unable to speak, with the result that the witnesses spoke of the deed openly and zealously.

At the beginning of chapter 7, Jesus appears to be on the east side of the Sea (see 6:53). There he responded to the challenge from the Pharisees and scribes who had come from Jerusalem and deplored the fact that his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders in washing their hands before eating. Then he turned to the people and explained to them that defilement comes from what comes out of the mouth rather than from what enters it.

Key Words
V. 24. “the region of Tyre and Sidon”: The section of the land is far to the west of Jesus’ usual stage of ministry. Jesus’ forays into non-Jewish, that is, Gentile, areas are few. In v. 31 Jesus returns to the area around the Sea of Galilee. The Decapolis, Ten Cities, was a federation of originally Greek-constructed cities that lay in the so-called Trans-Jordan (the area east and southeast of the Sea of Galilee). Several of the cities had once been populated and controlled by Jews, but long before Jesus’ time, the cities of the Decapolis came under Roman authority.

V. 25. all’ euthus = “but immediately”: Mark demonstrates an urgency about the gospel of Jesus Christ by using the word “immediately” forty-two times.

V. 26.  hē de gynē hēn Hellēnis, Syrophoinikissa tō genei = “Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth”: The author could hardly have taken any more pains to emphasize that the woman was a Gentile. It is her faith in Jesus in contrast to the legalism of the Jews in the preceding paragraphs that forms the focus of this entire story. It is tempting to recall here the story of the widow of Zarephath in Sidon with whom Elijah performed miracles (1 Kings 17:8-24); Luke uses this story as part of  Jesus’ hometown sermon that emphasized God’s grace among Gentiles (Luke 4:26). Mark had earlier indicated that people from the area of Sidon and Tyre had been among the crowds who followed him (3:7-8).

V. 26. hina to daimonion ekbalē ek tēs thygatros autēs = “that he might cast the demon out of her daughter”: According to Mark, Jesus had been exorcizing demons/unclean spirits since his ministry began (1:23-26, 32-34, 39; 3:11-12, 22-23; 5:1-20; 9:14-29). He had also commissioned his twelve apostles to preach and to cast out demons (3:13-15; 6:7; cf. 9:38-39). The battle against demons was in fact the eschatological battle against Satan (see 3:23)—a necessary prelude to the reign of God.

V. 33.  kat idian = “privately”:  The word helps focus on the secrecy with which Jesus has been carrying out miracles. Note in the previous story (v. 24) he did not want anyone to know he was in town.

Vss. 34-35. estenazen kai legei autō Ephphatha, ho estin dianoichthēti kai eutheōs … “he sighed and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened,’ and immediately …”:  The word for “sigh” usually occurs in the NT as an expression of something undesirable, like anxiety or resignation (see Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 5:2, 4; Heb. 13:17). Here, however, Jesus’ sigh paves the way for his word of healing. His word accomplishes “immediately” what it says (see 1:41). The reversal of fortune for those unable to hear or to speak is part of the vision of the Day of the Lord and the Reign of God at Isa. 35:5-6 (cf. Matt. 11:5; Luke 7:22).

V. 36. kai diesteilato autois hina mēdeni legōsin, … de … =  “And he charged them to tell no one, … but …” The crowd on this occasion is no more obedient than the leper who was cleansed earlier (see 1:44-45).