Musings on the Lectionary Readings

for Proper 23 - Ordinary 28 Sunday

Oct. 12, 2003

by Philip W. Gilman


Job 23: 1-[-7, 11--12, 16--17][suggested]

·        Today again my complaint is bitter;

            My strength is spent on account of my groaning. (2)

Some scholars think Job is one of the most ancient texts of Scripture.

·        Only that shall happen

            Which has happened,

            Only that occur

            Which has occurred;

            There is nothing new

            Beneath the sun! (Eccl. 1: 9)

From before Job to this very day, mortals have reveled in wallowing in self-pity.


·        Would that I knew how to reach [the LORD],

            How to get to [God's] dwelling-place. (3)

As verses 4-7 show, Job was searching for the wrong reasons.  And verses 8-9 are real to him-- and for us-- not because God is absent from any place in all of creation (cf. Psa. 139: 7), but because we are looking in the wrong direction: at ourselves.  If we truly want to know how to reach [the LORD], then we have to stop thinking about ourselves and all our troubles, and repent: turn our attention to God.  [S]eek ye first the kingdom of God (Mat. 6: 33, KJV).


·        I have followed in [God's] tracks,

            Kept [the LORD's] way without swerving.

            I have not deviated from what [YHWH's] lips commanded;

because and only because

·        I have treasured [God's] words more than my daily bread. (11-12)

This is a prescription for curing more than self-pity.


·        God has made me fainthearted;

which is part and parcel of our mortal human-being-ness.

·        Shaddai has terrified me. (16)

And rightly so, when we consider the immense difference in our natures.  Jesus was not merely babbling when He said: "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!" (Lk. 12: 5, NNAS)  YHWH is a God of wrath, righteousness, justice, vengeance and retribution; not One to be trifled with or taken for granted.  For this reason, the grace, mercy and peace of the Lord are all the more precious and to be appreciated.


·        Yet I am not cut off by the darkness;

            [God] has concealed the thick gloom from me. (17)

Consider why, and how, the next time you start feeling sorry for yourself.


Psalm 22: 1--15 [2--16, TNK]


This portion of the Psalm echoes the lesson from Job: when we worry about ourselves, we cry:

·        My God, my God,

                why have You abandoned me;

                why so far from delivering me

                and from my anguished roaring? [2]

The truth is that God has delivered us and continues to deliver us, and that the Almighty has not abandoned us.  "[The LORD] will be with you; [God] will not fail you or forsake you.  Fear not and be not dismayed!" (Deu. 31: 8)  But when we gaze so intently at ourselves, how can we expect to see God?


·        In You our [parents] trusted;

                they trusted, and You rescued them.

            To You they cried out

                and they escaped;

                in You they trusted

                and were not disappointed. [5-6]

Any questions?


Hebrews 4: 12--16


The word of God is alive and active. (12)  What is the word of God to you?  The Bible?  But what is the Bible, really?  We call it "Scripture", that which has been written down.  Is it anything more than a lot of inert chemical spread on dead, processed wood?  In a large number of "Christian" homes, it sits, unopened and unread, on a shelf or side-table.  Not very alive and active.


Yet it is true that The word of God is alive and active.  So the word of God must be something other, more than, the Bible.  For something had to exist in the mind before it could be reduced to writing.  How did these thoughts come to mind?  Were they just imagined, dreamed up?  Or was some other process involved?  And that brings us to the topic of inspiration.  So what is the word of God to you?


Nothing in creation can hide from [God]; everything lies bare and exposed to the eyes of [the One] to whom we must render account. (13)  Coupled with Jesus' warning, this has a chilling effect. 

·        If You keep account of sins, O LORD,

                Lord, who will survive? (Psa. 130: 3)


Obviously, none of us can.  But we have a great high priest (14) who has entered the sanctuary once for all and secured an eternal liberation. (9: 12)  His blood will cleanse our conscience from the deadness of our former ways to serve the living God. (9: 14)  Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help. (16)  In the perfect sacrifice made by our great high priest, we have been brought into the light where I am not cut off by the darkness; because [God] has concealed the thick gloom from me.


Mark 10: 17--31

·        'Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?' (17) 

Think how Paul would have responded to this question.  We can almost hear him screaming: "You can't do anything!"  And John would have backed him up: Whoever puts [their] faith in [Christ] has eternal life. (Jn. 3: 36)


But Mark presents Jesus refuting them; there is something we have to do, an obligation we must fulfill: 'Go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.' (21)  Now this is awkward and perplexing.  Are John and Paul wrong?  Did James have it right?  Are works necessary after all?  How can we resolve this?


Perhaps we should read Jesus' statement as a metaphor.  He could not have meant us to take the phrase, 'sell everything you have', literally, or else all Christians would be reduced to homelessness, nakedness, hunger and thirst: abject poverty.  Rather, He must have intended for us to understand that we need to sever our ties with materialism, possessions, wealth; to unshackle ourselves from the yoke of mammon.


That sounds right, but what happens when we read on?  '[A]nd give to the poor'.  How can we make a metaphor out of that?  Trying to do so is nothing more than an attempt to avoid a responsibility*.  No, Jesus meant this literally, so we have to read the prior phrase literally, too.  We must sell, and we must give.


But do these good works lead to eternal life?  The result of selling off and giving away, Jesus said, is that we 'will have treasure in heaven'.  Our good works only bring later rewards.  Yet the stated concern was:

·        Would that I knew how to reach [the LORD],

            How to get to [God's] dwelling-place.

Was Jesus evading the question?  Or did He finally answer it: 'come and follow me.'


·        'How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!' (23) 

Lest we think this does not include us because we are not wealthy, Jesus rephrased His remark in more general terms to leave no-one, not even His disciples, out: 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!' (24)  But why should it be so hard if all we need to do is believe in Jesus?  To accept Him as our Lord and Savior?  To respond "Yes!" to Jesus' call: 'Take my yoke upon you' (Mat. 11: 29)?  The difficulty lies in the fact that, while we are wearing one yoke-- whether that of mammon or self-concern-- we cannot put on another.


            Go, sell, give; then come, follow.


*  See Jas. 2: 15-16.