Engaging the Word: Readings for 10/11/15 (20th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh 

Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Job feels abandoned by God, we learn in Hebrews that Jesus is our great high priest, and Jesus tells us about the dangers of wealth.

Job by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Job by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Job 23:1-9, 16-17: In last week’s reading from the prologue to the book of Job, we learned that Job, “a blameless and upright” man, persisted in his faith in the face of great suffering. Following the prologue, and Job’s opening monologue in chapter 3, the book has three cycles of dialogues between Job and his three friends (chapters 4-27). In these dialogues, Job’s friends speak in turn and Job responds. Job’s friends are sorry to see Job suffering, and believe Job must have sinned horribly to receive such terrible punishment. They tell Job to repent and ask for God’s mercy. Job continues to maintain his innocence. He knows his suffering is not because of his disobedience to God, but he desperately wants to understand the reason for his suffering.

This week’s reading from the third cycle. Job’s response is not to his friend, but a soliloquy describing his frustrated and anguished search for God: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him….I would lay my case before him.”  But thus far, Job has not been able to get a response from God and feels hopeless.  Job feels that God has deserted him, and Job is terrified. In his profound despair, he wishes for oblivion, “If only I could vanish in the darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.”

Psalm 22:1-15: The portion of Psalm 22 assigned for today could have been written by Job. The psalm begins in intense despair. The psalmist recalls God’s healing  presence but then is thrown back into despair.

The psalm opens with the words Jesus quoted on the cross in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We pray this psalm on Good Friday. Not in the lectionary selection, but the psalm does end in gratitude and praise for God’s saving acts.

Throne of Grace by Orcagna. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Throne of Grace by Orcagna. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hebrews 4:12-16: This week’s reading packs a lot into five verses. It begins, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” The word Of God penetrates into our innermost being and judges our thoughts and intentions.

We cannot hide from God. But we don’t need to. We have assurance of divine help in our moment of seeking. Jesus, our great high priest, the Son of God, understands us and our earthly trials, and sympathizes with our human weakness. Therefore, we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness,” and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Mark 10: 17-31: In this week’s reading, reported in all three synoptic gospels (with some variations), we have the story of a rich man who came to Jesus asking,  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Notice that the man is talking about self-improvement—what he must do. Jesus corrected the man’s use of the word “good,” for no human being can be called good—only God is good. In other words, no person can be good enough to gain entrance into the eternal life of the kingdom on his or her own merits. One must accept salvation as God’s gift in trust and faith.

Jesus and the Rich Man, Beijing, China, 1879. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus and the Rich Man, Beijing, China, 1879. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus and the man have a conversation about the commandments, and the man said he has kept the law since his youth. But Jesus knew that this man lacked one thing. Jesus said, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man “was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” In his love for the man, Jesus saw that the man put his trust in his own law-keeping  and wealth, and, that in this man’s case, his wealth got in the way of discipleship. Jesus wants all people to be free of whatever enslaves them.

After the man leaves, Jesus exclaimed, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” That confused the disciples. Jesus added, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples wondered, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter points out that he and the other apostles have left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t rebuke them. He knew their sacrifice. But he said that those who have left the things of this world for his sake will receive much in this age, but he also warns that these rewards will include persecution as well—the way of the cross. In the age to come, they will have eternal life. And he also says to forget about status before God, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

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