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Proper 20 | Ordinary Time 25, Cycle B

Since Mark 9:30-37 is comprised of two loosely connected pericope units, most of the other texts selected for our use next Sunday branch out from Mark 9:30-37 in two different directions. Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 54, and Wisdom of Solomon 1:16–2:1, 12-22 with their emphasis on threats to life and deliverance from evil, provide a backdrop for the second Markan passion-resurrection prediction in Mark 9:30-32, and James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a provides wisdom elaborations of the Mark 9:33-37 discussion of the problem of jealousy and greed among the early followers of Jesus. There are no significant direct linkages between the Proverbs 31:10-31 text extolling the virtues of an ideal housewife and Psalm 1 that compares and contrasts the good that will come to the person who delights in living in accordance with the guidelines provided in the Torah to the wicked person who will perish, unless these latter texts are seen to point out the contrast between the righteous people and people who are jealous and greedy.

Jeremiah 11:18-20

In this personal lament of Jeremiah, which is followed by five additional laments in Jeremiah 15:10-21, 17:14-18, 18:18-23, 20:7-13, and 20:14-18, Jeremiah claims to have been shown by the Lord that Jeremiah’s enemies have plotted to slaughter him, to destroy him and his message, and to blot out his name from the earth. Jeremiah is depicted as confident, however, that the Lord, to whom Jeremiah has committed his cause, will deliver Jeremiah and take vengeance upon the enemies of Jeremiah.

We can see that within the early traditions of followers of Jesus it was perceived that if the prophet Jeremiah had been told by the Lord that his life was in danger, certainly Jesus as the Son of God must have been told by God the Father when and where Jesus would be crucified. If Jeremiah had been confident of deliverance, so also Jesus must have been confident that the Lord God would deliver Jesus, if not in the avoidance of death, then certainly in the overcoming of death in the resurrection of Jesus from death to eternal life. The justice of God as judge is “gospel” within this text.

Psalm 54

The “gospel” is expressed more clearly here than in the Jeremiah 11:28-20 text. Particularly in Psalm 54:4 we see this in the claim that “God is the one who comes to rescue me; the Lord upholds my life!” The proclamation of the gospel continues in the words of Psalm 54:6b, “Your name, O Lord, is good,” and in Psalm 54:7a, “You have delivered me from every distress.” Even though the form of this Individual Hymn of Thanksgiving may have caused the psalmist to exaggerate somewhat, the message of good news is abundantly clear in this psalm.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:16–2:1, 12-22

The ungodly, who have no hope of immortality, abuse and torment the righteous, testing them to see whether God will help and protect them. The righteous, however, know the hidden purposes of God, that God has a prize for those who are blameless, to give them an eternity of life with God.

Mark 9:30-37

As in Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 54, and Wisdom of Solomon 1:16–2:1, 12-22, there is bad news and there is good news in Mark 9:30-32. The bad news is that Jesus will be tortured and crucified by the Romans; the good news is that three days later God will raise Jesus from the dead. It is the good news of the resurrection of Jesus as Christ for us and as Redeemer of the world that is of the greatest interest to us. Because Jesus as the Risen Christ lives, we too shall live! This is the essence of the gospel as we who are Christians proclaim it.

Mark 9:33-37 is an indication that during the time of the Jesus of history and in the decades after his death there were problems of jealousy and greed among the followers of Jesus. The problems of jealousy and greed were undoubtedly greatly increased as various groups of followers of Jesus were formed, as this text and the text that we shall have the following week indicate. The solution to that problem during the 1st century, as well as now, lies in service to others rather than in the exercise of power over them. How frequently we are tempted to exercise the power that we have because of our position rather than for us to find fulfillment for our lives in service to God and to other people! The Jesus of history demonstrated service to God and to other people in a remarkable way. It is probable that Mark 9:37 is a statement of the Jesus of history only moderately embellished. Perhaps the Jesus of history took a child into his arms (probably on many similar occasions) and said something such as “Whoever takes care of a child such as this takes care of me, takes care of the whole world, and takes care of God!” (This text provides an excellent example for a “children’s sermon” and as an object lesson during a Service of Baptism.)

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

This “wisdom” text is certainly “wisdom” also for us. Have we not found that life is just as it is depicted in this text? The parenesis here can be applied to individuals, to groups, to nations, to all of humanity. What is taught in James 3:16–4:2 is similar to the basic teachings of many other great religions of the world, especially of the Buddhists. It is not unlike the teachings within the Hindu religions. We shall lose nothing by recognizing that these ideas are shared freely among the best of all of the other great religions of the world. At the same time, we can make this parenesis to be Christian parenesis by presenting it as appropriate that in response to the gospel of God’s grace shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can control and overcome our jealousy and our greed and can work and live in peace.

Proverbs 31:10-31

The opposite of a life that is tainted by jealousy and greed is depicted in this portrait of an ideal wife. From the perspective of the rabbinical tradition, she does everything that is needed within the home and household so that her husband can study the Torah at all times. How do we respond to this portrayal of an ideal life? Would the women in the congregations in which we serve want to be like this wife? Would the men want a wife like that? How would we portray the ideal wife and the ideal husband in our own context?

Psalm 1

With a wife who is as resourceful as the ideal wife depicted in Proverbs 31:10-31, her husband can, as it is expressed in Psalm 1:2, meditate day and night on the Torah that is revealed by God. There is no jealousy and there is no greed in such a household and in such a marriage.

Although few of us would expect any woman to be as industrious as the ideal wife depicted in Proverbs 31, our study of Proverbs 31:10-31 together with Psalm 1 can be very helpful for men and for women in our congregations. Should these and other texts be studied by men apart from women and by women apart from men, or is it more productive for men and women to study them in one group together? How are the Bible study groups arranged in the congregations in which we serve?

Whether studied by men apart from women, women apart from men, or men and women together, Psalm 1 is of primary importance in any study of the Psalter. It was placed where we have it in the collection of psalms for good reasons. As Denise Dombkowski Hopkins expresses it in her Journey through the Psalms, rev. ed. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2002), 66, “The context for praying, singing, or preaching the rest of the psalms is set by Psalm 1 and its declaration of the Two Ways and the joy of the Torah. Psalm 1 serves as our guidepost at the entrance to the Psalter; it helps us to keep our bearings through life’s journey because it tells us that Torah articulates God’s intentions for us.”

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen