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Proper 24 | Ordinary Time 29, Cycle B (2015)

It’s not all about you and me; it’s all about God. This is a Sunday for reflecting on God and his majesty, how this insight both comforts and puts us in our place (Creation, Providence, Sin, Justification by Grace).

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
This is a hymn to God the Creator. The first line calling us to bless the Lord may have been added to imitate the ending of the previous Psalm (103:20-22). The greatness of God and his majesty are extolled (vv. 1-2a). The ongoing character of God’s creative work is praised. Reference to the cloud being God’s chariot indicates the psalmist’s dependence on images used by the Canaanites to describe their storm god (vv. 2-4). In the context of further discourse on God’s work of creation, reference is made to his victory over the waters, the symbol of chaos (vv. 5-9). This image is reminiscent of the first creation account in Genesis (1:1-2, 6, 9-10). God’s works are said to be manifold, that in his wisdom [chokmah] he made them all and that the earth is full of his creatures (v. 24). Yahweh is to be praised (v. 35c).

Application: This text opens the way to sermons on creation and the majesty of God.


Psalm 91:9-16
The text is part of a Wisdom Psalm offering a meditation on God the protector of the faithful. Wisdom [chokmah] for the ancient Hebrews was a group of practical maxims dealing with everyday life (Claus Westermann, Handbook of the Old Testament, p. 224) that was derived from experience (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 418-419). A promise is proclaimed that in taking refuge in Yahweh the faithful will be protected (vv. 9-10). They will be guarded by his angels [malak, literally “messengers” or “agents”] (vv. 11-12). As a result the faithful will be able to tred on lions and trample serpents (v. 13). The psalm closes with an oracle of assurance, of protection from all trouble, an assurance of salvation [yeshuah, literally “safety”] probably uttered by a priest or temple prophet (vv. 14-16).

Application: This text invites sermons on God’s providential care of the creation, the confidence that this insight can bring in daily living (Providence, Sanctification).

Job 38:1-7 (34-41)
Like last week we note again that this book is a folktale probing faith in the midst of suffering. The date of the work is uncertain but perhaps it was composed around the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth or fifth centuries BC. There are several parallel ancient Egyptian texts. The book is a challenge to conventional Hebraic Wisdom thinking, as it appears with the older vision of the divine order of life and God’s justice in maintaining that order.

This lesson is Yahweh’s first speech in response to Job’s laments. He appears in a whirlwind [searah], a frequent setting for divine appearances (Nahum 1:3; Psalm 18:7-15; Ezekiel 1:4). Having been questioned by Job (about his plight [3:11, 16; 13:24]), Yahweh questions him specifically to demonstrate the inability of Job to understand the mysteries of the creation. This lack of understanding on Job’s part discredits the validity of his questions about why he has experienced all the misfortunes (vv. 2-3). Job and no mortals were engaged in the actual creation (vv. 4-7). None but God can send lights (v. 35) or bring rain (v. 37). None but him can feed the creatures (vv. 39, 41). Only the Lord has wisdom [chokmah] and can give understanding [binah] to human beings (vv. 37, 36).

Application: This lesson provides opportunities to preach on the majesty of God and his engagement in all dimensions of creation, an insight that weans us away from the secularism of a false sense of autonomy (Creation, Providence, Justification by Grace).


Isaiah 53:4-12
We have already noted that this book is actually the product of two or three distinct literary traditions. The first 39 chapters are the work of the historical prophet who proclaimed a message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian empire. Chapters 40-66 emerged in a later period, around the time of the fall of Babylon (in 539 BC). Chapters 40-55 are attributed to an unknown prophet who lived in Babylon during the exile. The final chapters are attributed to prophets who lived in Judah after the return to Judah from exile.

Our lesson is taken from the second section (often called Dutero-Isaiah), specifically the Fourth Servant Song. As previously noted, the identity of the servant is much discussed. Many Old Testament scholars contend that the servant is the nation of Israel. Others claim, particularly in this song where the servant himself speaks that he is an individual, perhaps a prophet like Moses or a figure for the Christ who is coming. Certainly much that the servant is said to endure in this text is suggestive of the Passion.

In this lesson the servant is said to have borne our infirmities and carried our diseases, and yet we thought of him as stricken (v. 4). It is said that he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the punishment that made us whole; by his bruises we are healed (v. 5). Like sheep, the prophecy continues, we have all gone astray and turned to our own way. The Lord has laid our iniquity on the servant (v. 6). He was oppressed yet went to the slaughter like a sheep before his shearers. He did not open his mouth (v. 7). By a perversion of justice he was taken away. None could imagine his future, for he was cut off from the land of the living and stricken for the transgression of God’s people (v. 8). They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence and he spoke no deceit (v. 9). Yet it was the will of Yahweh to crush the servant with pain. When we make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring and prolong his days. Through him the will of the Lord shall prosper (v. 10). Out of the servant’s anguish the Lord shall see light, finding satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous [tsaddiq] one, the Lord’s servant [ebed], will make many righteous [tsadaq, justify], bearing their iniquities (v. 11). Yahweh promised a portion with the great and he shall divine the spoil with the strong, because he poured out himself to death and was numbered among the transgressors. Yet he bore [nasa, bore away] the sins of many and made intercession [paga, literally to fall upon or cause] for the transgressors (v. 12).

Application: If this Complementary Version of the First Lesson is read prophetically as describing Christ and his work, it opens the way to sermons on Christ’s Atoning Work and also how (even in the Old Testament) the righteousness that the faithful have is not their own but is the gift of Christ (Justification by Grace).

Hebrews 5:1-10
We note again like last week that the book is an anonymous treatise which, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of Levitical priests, was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36).

This lesson is part of a discussion of the theme of Jesus as high priest. The author notes that every high priest [archeirus] chosen is to offer gifts and sacrifices [thusia, referring to slaughtered animals] (v. 1). He is able to deal gently [metriopathein, literally to feel in due measure] with the wayward since he is subject to weakness [asthenian] (v. 2). This gentleness stands out in relationship to the Hebraic faith of the era, which provided for no atoning sacrifice for deliberate and defiant sins like Christians claimed was given in the Son (cf. Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12). He must offer sacrifice for his own sin as well as for the people (v. 3). Like these priests, Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest but is appointed by God. Quoting Psalms 2:7 and 110:4, it is noted that God made Christ a priest after the order of the Priest-King Melchizedek of Salem (the name for Jerusalem prior to becoming David’s capital) (Genesis 14:17-20) (vv. 4-6, 10). Jesus is then described as offering up prayers with loud cries to God who would save him. He was heard the writer indicates, because of his reverent submission, learning obedience [hupalioi] (vv. 7-9a). As such, he became the source [aitios, literally “cause”] of eternal salvation [soteria] (v. 9b).

Application: Preaching on this lesson will lead to offering testimonies to the gentle love of God, made evident in Christ’s Sacrifice which is the cause of salvation, even for deliberate and defiant sinners like us (Atonement and Justification by Grace).

Mark 10:35-45
We have noted a number of times that this book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels. Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians. In this text we have the story of James and John seeking highest honor. Matthew’s gospel (20:20-28) offers a parallel account. In Luke’s version (22:24-27) we are merely exposed to Jesus’ teachings about greatness but without reference to James and John seeking honor.

These brothers (sons of Zebedee) ask Jesus to grant them whatever they ask. They request seats of honor next to him (to sit at Jesus’ right hand) in glory (vv. 35-37). Jesus responds, contending they do not know what they have asked, asking them if they know it entails enduring all that he endures (his Baptism and his cup, which probably refers to woe and suffering according to Old Testament usage [Psalm 11:6; Isaiah 51:17, 22]) (v. 38). The brothers reply that they are ready to endure all that Jesus does (v. 39). He responds that sitting at his right hand is not his gift to give, for such seats of honor will be given to those prepared. The other ten disciples are angered at James and John for their request (v. 41). Jesus responds that whoever wishes to be great among his flock must be a servant [doulos], wish to be a slave of all (vv. 42-44). Jesus identifies himself as Son of Man [huios tou anthropou] who came not be served but to serve, giving his life as a ransom for many (v. 45). It seems reasonable to think that in this case Mark’s Jesus uses the title simply to refer to himself with special focus on his life of suffering.

Application: Sermons on this lesson will condemn our self-seeking sinfulness with a proclamation of the gospel and its gift of a life-denying style of life (Justification and Sanctification).

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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