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Wrestling with the Word, episode 38: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 13, 2009) August 27, 2009

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The cause of suffering in the world has been a question for millennia. Some of the earliest pieces of literature in history have attempted to deal with this mystery. One thing is clear: any answer is too easy. Our lessons for this day look at one aspect of suffering—and only one: suffering because of faithfulness to a commission from God. Such suffering for God’s sake means facing a rebellious world that would rather pursue self-interest than listen to God’s word of grace and love.  While the costs to the world and to our rugged individualism might be too great a price to pay, ultimately the rewards of speaking and living God’s word loom astonishingly high.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 38: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


Psalm 116:1-9
The psalmist expresses love for God as a result of God’s responding to his plea. The worshiper had cried out from the clutches of death and Sheol (v. 3), “O Lord, save my life!” (v. 4); the Lord listened and saved him from death (v. 6b, 8). The verses alternate between statements about God and prayers of thanksgiving to God. God is “gracious” (channûn), “righteous” (tsaddîq), and “merciful” (merachēm), and “protects the simple” (in wisdom teaching, those who are easily deceived). As a result of the Lord’s saving action, the psalmist confesses “I love the Lord” (v. 1) and commits a response to “walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 9).


Isaiah 50:4-9a
God enables the servant to do what is required to be his witness in a hostile world.

The passage is the third of the so-called “servant songs” in Second Isaiah, the others being (1) 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (4) 52:13–53:12. The speaker of songs 1 and 4 is the Lord, while in 2 and 3 the speaker is the servant himself. The identity of the servant has been the subject of scholarly debate for centuries, answers ranging from the prophet himself, to the king, to the exiled people of Jerusalem, and of course, to Jesus. In this song, the immediate context is interesting since vv. 1-3 speak of the Lord as having the power to deliver the people from their exile and then our verses attest to God’s accomplishing that deed through a servant (see Exod. 3:7-10). Since the poem seems to establish the speaker as one commissioned by YHWH and then faces formidable persecution, the song resembles the laments of Jeremiah (see Jer. 11:18-20; 15:15-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18).

Key Words
V. 4.  limmuddîm = “those who are taught”:  Used twice in this verse, the expression does not appear exactly the same elsewhere. The term seems to betray a wisdom background, i.e., those who are wise. Strikingly at the beginning of the verse, the servant indicates the Lord has given him the tongue of a teacher; now he presents himself as the pupil.

V. 4. leda‘at lā‘ût ’et-yā‘ēp dābār = “in order to sustain the weary with a word”: The word translated “sustain” appears only here in the entire OT. Ancient Greek manuscripts understood the word to be one that means “answer.” As for “the weary,” Second Isaiah uses the word to describe the difference between YHWH (Isa. 40:28) and the exiles (Isa. 40: 29, 30) and the results for the salvation promised (40: 31). The prophet’s mission, then, is to fulfill the prophetic office of speaking God’s word of salvation to a disillusioned people.

V. 5.  ’adōnāy YHWH pātach-lî ’ōzen = “The Lord God has opened for me an ear”:  The expression is one more example of the servant being a wise pupil or disciple, but even his willingness to listen to his teacher is an act of God.

V. 6.  gēwî nātattî lemakkîm ûlechāyay lemōretîm = “I gave my back to those who smite and my cheek to those who make bare (by pulling out the beard)”:  This act of violence resembles that at Neh. 13:25. This passage appears to form the background to the saying by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek (Matt, 5:39). In the context of Second Isaiah, the persecution described here will become even more vivid in the Fourth Servant Song at 52:13—53:12.

V. 7.  wā’ēda‘ kî-lô ’ēbôš = “and I shall know that I shall not be put to shame”:  The same expression occurs in the wisdom Psalm 119:6 where the reason is based on the worshiper keeping the commandments. Note the repeated concern about not being put to shame in the face of persecution at Ps. 25:2, 3, 20. The wisdom features are prominent in that psalm, especially in the first half, before it turns to a lament. In the context of Isaiah 50, the reason for not being ashamed is the action of the Lord in helping the servant and in being present as his vindicator in a court of law. The ultimate outcome of this God-imposed suffering on the prophet will appear at 53:12.

V. 9.  kullām kabbeged yiblû = “all of them will wear out like a garment”:  The expression is used of the created order at Ps. 102:26 where it refers to the heavens and the earth, God’s own creation, in contrast to YHWH who remains forever. Here the reference is to the servant’s adversaries who have no power in contrast to the Lord who helps the servant.


James 3:1-12
Since the tongue can be a source of blessing to God and simultaneously a source of curse, especially when used against those who are made in God’s likeness, we must keep it in check and take care how we use it to influence others.

The author had just finished a section of his lecture in which he appears to oppose Paul’s teaching about faith and works. At 2:18 he provides the teaching that he will then illustrate. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” Citing the examples of Abraham and Rahab the prostitute, the author argues that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In this pericope, the discussion of “teacher” and “tongue” recall the words from Isaiah 50:4-9a.


Mark 8:27-38
Having heard from the disciples who people think that he is and who they themselves think he is, Jesus defines himself as one who must suffer and die and rise and disciples as those who must follow him all the way.

The 8th chapter of Mark begins with the second report of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes, this time 4000 people (note there were 5000 at 6:30-44). Following an argument with the Pharisees, Jesus departed in a boat with the disciples who were dismayed over their having forgotten to bring lunch. Jesus chided them for not grasping what the miracles with the 5000 and the 4000 were all about. Then in Bethsaida Jesus gave sight to the man who was blind. (This passage was discussed also in Episode 11 for the Second Sunday in Lent.)

Key Words
V. 28. “John the Baptist … Elijah … one of the prophets”: That people connected Jesus with John the Baptist and Elijah and one of the prophets can be seen at Mark 6:14-15 as a report to Herod. John the Baptist preached a sermon that was quite similar to the one Jesus preached (see 1:4 and 1:15; even closer, see Matt. 3:2 and 4:17). As for the Elijah (and Elisha) connection, Jesus performed feeding miracles (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:14-16; Elisha at 2 Kings 4:42-44), raised from the dead a woman’s only son (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:17-24; Elisha at 2 Kings 4:32-37), and cleansed people of leprosy (Elisha at 2 Kings 5). As a result, the people announced that the prophet has arisen (Matt. 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 6:14). As for the “one of the prophets,” Jesus sounded like a prophet in his teaching and preaching; he resembled Jeremiah in particular in his sermon about the destruction of the temple (see Jer. 7 and 26).

V. 29. apokritheis ho Petros legei autō su ei ho Christos = “Answering, Peter said, ‘You are the Christ/Messiah’”: What Peter meant by this statement is not clear, but unlike the affirming response from Jesus at Matt. 16:16, here Jesus commands silence about this confession.

V. 31.  dei ton huion tou anthrōpou polla pathein = “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things”:  While the expression Son of Man in Aramaic can refer simply to a personal pronoun (cf. Mark 8:27 and Matt. 16:13), the expression has an eschatological bent. It can indicate either one who suffers and then receives the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:13ff.) or as one who comes in clouds of glory (1 Enoch). Clearly, the context here favors the former option. At v. 8, however, the latter meaning seems obvious.

V. 31. kai apoktanthēnai kai meta treis hēmeras anastēnai = “and be killed and after three days rise again”: Mark repeats the same formula for the timing at 9:31 and 10:34. Matthew (16:21; 17:22; 20:19) and Luke (9:22; 18:33) change the formula to “on the third day.” Paul cites the wording “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:5) as part of the tradition he received and passed on. The only scriptural (OT) reference to God raising any one “on the third day” occurs at Hosea 6:2 (en tē hēmera tē tritē anastēsometha); there resurrection (perhaps metaphorical) follows a judgment from God.

V. 32. kai proslabomenos ho Petros auton ’ērxato epitiman autō = “and taking him, Peter began to rebuke him”: That any one other than God or God’s Son should become the subject of the verb rebuke is forbidden in both testaments.

V. 33.  epetimēsen Petrō … satana = “he rebuked Peter … Satan”:  See Zech. 3:1-2 where YHWH rebukes Satan for standing in the way of the installation of Joshua (in Greek Iēsous) to be the priestly anointed one. Note also the objects of rebuke thus far in Mark’s Gospel:  the unclean spirit (1:25) and the storm (4:39). For a detailed examination of Jesus’ rebuke of Satan, see Foster R. McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983, 2007: 63-67).

V. 34. kai proskalesamenos ton ochlon syn tois mathētais autou eipen autois = “And calling to him the multitude with his disciples, he said to them”: The discussion Jesus held privately with his disciples regarding his identity now becomes a public matter about discipleship. Once again, the experience of the one takes on universal proportions. Strikingly, Matthew sets a quite opposite direction when he uses the formula “from that time” first to begin Jesus’ public ministry (4:17) and then—precisely where Mark begins the public teaching about discipleship—to begin the “private ministry” at 16:21.

V. 34.  akoloutheitō moi = “let him follow me”:  For Jesus’ calling to follow, see also Matt. 4:19; 18:22; 9:9; Mark 1:17; 2:14; 10:21; Luke 5:27; 9:59; 18:22; John 1:43; 21:19, 22.

V. 35.  heneken emou kai tou euaggeliou = “for my sake and the gospel’s”:  In contrast with Matt. 10:39; Luke 17:33; John 12:25, only Mark adds the words “and the gospel’s.” It connects intimately Jesus and the message about him. It also indicates for the church after Jesus the same expectation through the cross. This submission to Christ and the gospel results in salvation (see the discussion on Isaiah 50:4-9a).


In our next episode we’ll be looking at the lessons for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Psalm 54
Jeremiah 11:18-20
James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37