- Job 23:1-9,16-17 and Psalm 22:1-15 (or Amos 5:6-7,10-15 & Psalm 90:12-17)
- Hebrews 4:12-16
- Mark 10:17-31
First Reading: Wisdom from Job
It can be helpful to have some sense of the overall structure of the Book of Job:
1:1-2:13 – Narrative prologue
3:1-31:40 – The Dialogue of Job and his friends
– First Cycle of Speeches (3:1-11.20)
– Second Cycle of Speeches (12:1-20:29)
– Third Cycle of Speeches (21:1-28:28)
– Job’s final summation (29:1-31:40)
32:1-37:24 – The Speeches of Elihu
38:1-42:6 – Job’s Dialogue with Yahweh
42:7-17 – Narrative epilogue
This week’s RCL first reading picks up part of Job’s “speech” in the third cycle. Here the hero of the tale asserts his confidence that God would vindicate him and yet finds that God seems strangely absent. The passage is a spiritual classic with its sense that the Absent One cannot be produced on demand, and seems sometimes to leave us to our fate. This is not the final position of the Book of Job, nor of the Bible as a whole, but it is interesting to reflect on the integrity of a spiritual text that can face its own worse fears (God cannot be found), name them, and then move beyond them into a sense of the One who is greater than both our questions and our traditional answers.
The RCL matches this text with Psalm 22, the ancient lament that the Christian author of the passion story would place on the lips of Jesus as he hung on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
While Christians have grown accustomed to reading this psalm through the lens of the cross, perhaps it can be read as a reflection of the Job story — or maybe just the common human experience that God seems so distant, and our own troubles seem to evoke horror and scorn.
The following links may also be of interest:
In ECUSA communities, the words of Amos provide a preparation for the Gospel story of the rich young ruler.
It is interesting that the lectionary planners could not find a prophetic text that demanded obedience to the Ten Commandments in the way that Jesus is said to have done in Mark 10:17-31. The covenant law codes of Exodus-Numbers and the great deuteronomic code are actually strangely absent from the preaching of the prophets (as recounted in the Hebrew Bible).
Had these codes in fact been given to ancient Israel as the Bible now depicts we might have expected the prophets either to cite them as authorities when demanding reform, or at least refer to them as requirements that have not been fulfilled. This suggests that the codes may have taken shape more as a response to the preaching of the prophets, rather than the prophets having been shaped by the Decalogue.
The spirit of the decalogue can be discerned in the words of Amos. Had he known the Decalogue, surely he would have quoted it as preachers and prophets have done ever since?
Wisdom of Solomon 7
In RC communities the following text from the 1C Jewish text, the Wisdom of Solomon, prepares for the Gospel story of the the rich young ruler:
I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her,
nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;
because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand,
and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.
Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.
Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands.
Unlike the rich man in Mark’s tale, here we have a wise young ruler who prefers wisdom over wealth. As we have seen in recent weeks, the Jewish wisdom writings often imagined divine Wisdom as a woman who the sage does well to court. This feminine imaging of God may itself be one of the aspects of wisdom that the contemporary church needs to pursue and embrace as we seek to live more deeply into the mystery of the God who is beyond all our creeds and liturgies—even our Scriptures?
Second Reading: Hebrews
The RCL and RC cycles draw on Hebrews 4 for the second reading. This short passage has provided several biblical images that have entered deeply into the imagination of the Christian community:
- the Word of God as sharper than a two-edged sword
- Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin
- approaching the throne of grace with boldness
The first is often misunderstood as a description of the Bible, when it is really a description of Jesus as the divine Logos or Word. Much of the contemporary debate over faith and practice seems also to reflect that misunderstanding. The Bible is not the “Word of God” but a sacred text through which we may–by God’s Spirit–encounter the divine Logos, the Living Word. It is Christ that Christians experience as the living and active one who penetrates deeply into our lives and reveals/challenges our hearts’ intentions.
The second takes us deeply into the Christian devotion to Jesus. He is revered as the eternal Word, yet seen as a truly human one subject to all the temptations that any other human person faces. In traditional Christian devotion we find it hard even to imagine Jesus as ever having sinned. The idea of his personal intrinsic sinless status probably derives from the metaphor of Jesus as the perfect sacrificial offering (the lamb without spot or blemish) rather than from any historical memory of him as “sinless.”
Still, it is worth reflecting on what such a sinless humanity might look like? Would it mean Jesus never lost his temper? As a child did he always accept his parents instruction? Did he not ever need discipline? Was doubt never a part of his journey to wholeness? Was there a journey to wholeness, or did he escape such incompleteness? If so, how “like us” was he in reality?
The value of such questions lies not so much in the ways we answer them in relation to Jesus, as in the ways they open up our own concept of what it means to be truly human and entirely authentic in our own living.
The third of these classic images is the idea that we have access to a source of divine life and grace that enables us for authentic living. The metaphor of the powerful patron to whom the supplicant goes seeking mercy and assistance comes out of the ancient world and may no longer be an appropriate way to imagine God or ourselves. But the reality that we draw on the loving presence of God for the vision and strength to live authentic human lives as disciples of Jesus and children of God can perhaps be expressed in contemporary terms.
Gospel: A question of wealth
This week’s Gospel story is commonly known as the “rich young ruler” although none of the Gospel versions of this story (Mark 10:17-22 = Matt 19:16-22 = Luke 18:18-23) present all three characteristics.
This is a story that is familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Gospel tradition, but for that reason it also repays close attention.
The story of the man with money (who Matthew describes as a youth and Luke describes as a ruler) is a good text to illustrate the literary processes by which the Gospels were created. It is most unlikely that we have accounts of three different events, in which three different persons approached Jesus for a very similar conversation, and which each Gospel has recorded independently. A close reading of the stories and their literary contexts suggests we are dealing with the same story which Matthew and Luke have borrowed from Mark and developed in slightly different ways.
If you are using these notes in a small group, it is well worth the trouble to copy the parallel texts and ask people to read closely through the three versions of the story. They should look for those places where the stories converge as well as those points where they diverge. They might then wish to discuss the following questions:
- What is the significance of these differences?
- What insights into the formation of the tradition emerge for us from these observations?
- What are the larger implications for our appreciation of the Gospels from this glimpse into their formation?
- In what ways are we richer for having all three accounts rather than just a single “life of Jesus”?
- What does “inspiration” mean for books of this kind when used by people such as us?
We also need to ask ourselves whether we are able to embrace Jesus’ radical call to let go of wealth so that we can truly be his disciples? Do we walk away “shocked” (Mark), “grieving” (Matthew) and “sad” (Luke) because we have “so many possessions”? Are we unable to let them go even if only to free our hands to receive the gift of life held out to us by the Beloved?
On the significance of the eye of the needle aphorism, see 199 Kingdom and Riches including the cited parallels from Rabbinic and Islamic texts.
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.