- Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8
- Hebrews 7:23-28
- Mark 10:46-52
First Reading: Job's fortunes restored
This week the RCL completes its series of readings from the book of Job.
There is no intellectual resolution to the questions posed by Job's undeserved suffering, but the narrative provides a kind of "they lived happily ever afterwards" ending for the tale.
- 42:1-6 provides the final exchange between Job and God. Job seems to acknowledge that it is sufficient for him to embrace his own condition as a mortal. He relinquishes any claim to vindication and withdraws his demands for an explanation from God. It is enough to have a proper sense of his own place in the divine economy. Religion itself almost disappears in this resolution. Job stands in the presence of the Holy Other, and abandons any claims (religious or moral) on the Sacred. Simply to be a creature of this God is enough.
- 42:7-9 portrays God rebuking the friends. They have not represented God accurately in the discourse and are advised to seek Job's intercession on their behalf:
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done." 9So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job's prayer.
- 42:10-17 rounds off the tale with a description of Job's fortunate life being restored, including new children and a long life. The fairy tale quality of this ending may distract us from an interesting theological issue. The community whose values are enshrined in this ancient classic was apparently quite able to imagine an entirely satisfying and meaningful human existence without any recourse to the idea of life after death. A rich and full life, lived in the company of one's neighbors and loved ones, has not been fully appreciated by Christians. The Christian ideal of a truly blessed life has tended to focus much more on divine blessing after death, rather than on material and psychological wellbeing in this life. As contemporary Christian belief is losing its focus on life after death as the chief benefit and value in religion, the simpler focus of the biblical community responsible for Job may provide the stimulus to seek a holistic vision of human existence as part of the complex web of life on our planet and within the cosmos.
While Christians may not wish to jettison belief in life beyond death, we may wish to set such a belief within a more robust appreciation of life before death.
Second Reading: Jesus as priest
The major western lectionaries continue their reading of Hebrews this week:
- RC: Heb 5:1-6
- ECUSA: Heb 5:12-6:1,9-12
- RCL: Heb 7:23-28
These selections all come from the central section of Hebrews (4:14-10:31) with its focus on Jesus as the eternal high priest:
4:14-5:10 Christ as "a great high priest"
5:11-6:20 Appeal for steadfast hope ("an anchor for the soul")10:19-31 Concluding appeal and warnings
7:1-28 Melchizedek as a superior order of priesthood
8:1-6 Jesus as the "more excellent" priest seated in divine glory
8:7-13 The new (and "better") covenant mediated by Jesus
9:1-10 The limited and symbolic character of the tabernacle
9:11-28 Christ's priestly action as "priest and victim"
10:1-18 Christ's offering of himself "once for all"
This way of interpreting Jesus is distinctive within the NT:
- The Synoptic tradition (Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts) does not give any ground for thinking that Jesus was from priestly circles, although Luke turns John the Baptist into both a cousin of Jesus and the son of a priest from the Jerusalem temple. The Pauline writings use a considerable array of images and categories to express the significance of Jesus, but do not draw on priestly themes. The Johannine communities shared Hebrews interest in Jesus' divinity, but found no need to employ priesthood as the title "Son" seemed to meet their needs.
- The nearest we come to Hebrews seems to be 1Peter where we find some themes derived from the sacrificial cult are applied to both Jesus and the Christian:
Christians are to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus (1Pet 1:2)
Christ is like a lamb without defect or blemish (1Pet 1:20)Christ has entered into heaven and is at the right hand of God with the angels (1Pet 3:22)
Christians are fashioned into a royal priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1Pet 2:5,9)
Jesus suffered abuse and hardship in an exemplary manner (1Pet 2:20-24)
Christ suffered in the flesh (1Pet 4:1)
It seems that a case could be made that Hebrews and 1Peter share much the same theological outlook, and yet there is not the slightest hint in 1Peter that Jesus was (or could be imagined as) a Jewish priest.
Hebrews perhaps acknowledges the imaginative leap involved when it assigns Jesus to the mythical priestly order of Melchizedek, and makes not the slightest attempt to assert his physical descent from Levi. Indeed, making a virtue of necessity, Hebrews argues for the supremacy of the pre-Torah priesthood of Melchizedek over Israel's traditional priestly pedigree.
Creative spiritual imagination is at work here. In our own time so much effort has been invested in determining precisely what Jesus "actually said" and what events "really happened." Hebrews shows us a rather different approach to the questions, Who is Jesus? and, What am I called to do in response to him?
Is it possible that we have been seduced by the narrative format of the Gospels and have accorded them far more historicity than they require? Perhaps the Gospels, like the Letter to the Hebrews or the Book of Revelation, are better understood as imaginative expressions of what Jesus meant to some of his followers in the 1C?
Do we honor the sage of Galilee better by treating theological fictions as history, or by fashioning lives and communities around his message?
Gospel: Blind Bartimaeus
The Gospel story of Jesus healing the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, is common to all of the major western lectionaries this weekend.
This story can be understood as the other end of the extended exploration of the meaning of discipleship created by Mark (8:22-10:52). The Greek word hodos (translated as "way" or "road") was a code word for "Christianity" (cf. Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22 and 2Pet 2:2) and occurs several times in this section:
- 8:27 - "On the road, he started questioning his disciples ..."
- 9:33,34 - "What were you arguing about on the road?"
- 10:17 - "As he was traveling along the road ..."
- 10:52 - "And right away he regained his sight, and he started following him on the road."
In the first section of his Gospel, Mark has set up various scenes in which Jesus acts as a person of spiritual power. According to Mark, only the demons recognized his true identity as the hero sent by God to rescue people from the Evil One. Disciples and opponents alike seemed unable to determine his identity and mission.
The central section stretching from 8:22 to 10:52 provides an opportunity for Mark to present the true meaning of Jesus and, by extension, the authentic character of discipleship. Writing on the other side of 70 CE (when the Romans destroyed the temple), Mark interprets Jesus as the messiah of an empire that has power but exerts no violence. This mother's son (a paraphrase of "son of man") comes to give his life away for the sake of others. This mother's son has no special privileges, not even a safe place to sleep of a night. This mother's son will drink the cup prepared for him by God, and will be baptized in the ordeal that is his destiny. Those who grasp his identity and are drawn into the mission as disciples will do likewise.
In the final section of the Gospel (11:1-16:8) Mark sketches the final outcome of that interpretation of Jesus. It is easy to forget that our oldest copies of Mark end the story of Jesus without any Easter appearances. Neither Matthew nor Luke felt able to imitate Mark's boldness at that point. Mark looked beyond the fate of both Jesus and Jerusalem, and told his readers that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee. They were not to linger around the graveyards of Jerusalem, but to go find Jesus in the places where they had first encountered him; in the communities of the Galilee. Their job was not to protect the relics of the past, but to catch up with Jesus who was already ahead of them and blazing new trails into the future.
In the context of that brilliant literary fiction created by Mark, Bartimaeus has a symbolic role. Here is someone empowered to see Jesus clearly. He immediately follows Jesus "on the road" (Greek: en te hodo). No one else in this central section makes the connection.
- A blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26) eventually sees clearly but is sent home
- Disciples (8:27-9:1) cannot embrace a suffering messiah
- Transfiguration (9:2-13) does not achieve enlightenment for disciples
- Disciples have not understood prayer at healing of the mute spirit (9:14-29)
- Disciples argue over status in the kingdom (9:30-50)
- Disciples fail to welcome the children (10:13-16)
- Man with money (10:17-31) fails to become a disciple
- James and John seek special favors (10:32-45)
- Bartimaeus regains his sight and becomes a disciple (10:46-52)
Bartimaeus is part of a very small cast of characters in Mark's Gospel who actually understood the identity and mission of Jesus. The others include:
- An unnamed woman who anoints Jesus for burial (14:3-9)
- Roman officer in charge of the crucifixion (15:39)
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.