October 15, 2006
Proper 23 – B
Book of Common
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Revised Common Lectionary
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 or
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 90 or Psalm 22:1-15
Reflection and Response
Today’s readings encourage us to work
for justice, to release our attachment to things and to trust Jesus to form us
into a people of compassion. Amos decries Israel’s unjust treatment of the poor
and oppressed. Trusting in God’s justice, Job (Alternative RCL) wants God to
hear his case in person. The author of Hebrews points out that only through
Jesus will any of this be fully accomplished—as our apostle and high
priest, he builds us into “God’s house.” In today’s gospel, Jesus advises a
wealthy man who seeks God to obey God’s commandments and to detach from his
possessions and focus fully on God. With God all things are possible!
First Reading: Amos
Amos ministered to the
northern kingdom of Israel during the height of its prosperity (760–750
BC). Its wealth and power rested, however, upon injustice. In scripture,
justice is more than the carrying out of abstract legal standards. Justice is
completed by the fulfillment of mutual responsibilities that arise from the
particular relationships within the community, all founded on the basic bond
between the covenant community and God. Injustice involves the use of power by
the rich and the strong in disregard for the community.
Still God offers life to the people if
they will seek the Lord. They are to seek God, however, not by relying on God’s
presence at religious shrines. They are to seek God by ensuring justice for
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Seek the LORD and
or he will break out
against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel,
with no one to quench it.
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous,
who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Psalm: Psalm 90
This psalm faces
squarely the dark realities of the human condition within the context of faith.
It laments the shortness of human life and seeks God’s presence so the people
may rejoice in all their days.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say,
“Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight are
when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away;
they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
For all our days pass away under your
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Turn, O LORD! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!
Reading: Job 23:1-9, 16-17 (RCL)
The author of Job tackles the problem
of how a just God can permit human suffering. Though the author acknowledges
the existence of a persecuting spiritual enemy (1:6–2:7), his conclusion
shuns the explanation of suffering in order to achieve a greater goal: the
revelation of the mystery of faith in the midst of suffering.
reading comes from Job’s reply to the friends whose attempts to comfort him are
summarized by their refusal to recognize his innocence and their advice that he
recognize and admit his guilt even if it is not apparent.
Sensing the futility of the friends’ accusations
and explanations because they are based on the commonly accepted view of God’s
justice, Job wants to bring his dispute with God, his real adversary, to a
judgment. Though he knows that he would be outmatched in a direct struggle, he
firmly believes that even God would come to see the justice of his cause and
consequently the wrongfulness of his suffering.
Job 23:1-9, 16-1
Then Job answered:
“Today also my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
“If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!
Psalm 22:1-5 (RCL)
consists of a lament and a thanksgiving. The psalmist describes the distress he
is suffering and his trust in God. The Lord has always been faithful to Israel
and to him. But now he is tormented by enemies, whom he likens to savage
My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I
cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they
cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a
worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me
mock at me;
they make mouths at me,
they shake their heads;
cause to the LORD;
let him deliver—let him rescue
the one in whom he delights!”
Yet it was you
who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was
cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me
you have been my God.
Do not be far
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured
out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Hebrews 3:1-6 (BCP)
In this section, the
author demonstrates Jesus’ superiority over Moses, the institutor of the
Levitical priesthood. As God’s spokesman to the people and as intercessor for
the people, Moses was a faithful servant in “God’s house” (Numbers 12:7-8).
Jesus, however, is in the position of a son “over God’s house” (v. 2), which
now includes all believers (Ephesians 2:19).
The parallelism in verses 3-4 links
Jesus with God, for the author shows that Jesus and God are “builders,” whereas
Moses, though a faithful servant, was part of the household. Jesus is thus
“apostle”—the one sent by God—and “high priest.” He is God’s
representative to humanity and humanity’s representative in the presence of
holy partners in a heavenly calling,
consider that Jesus,
the apostle and high priest of our confession,
was faithful to the one who appointed him,
just as Moses also “was faithful in all God’s house.”
Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses,
just as the builder of a house
has more honor than the house itself.
(For every house is built by someone,
but the builder of all things is God.)
Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,
to testify to the things that would be spoken later.
Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son,
and we are his house
if we hold firm the confidence
and the pride that belong to hope.
Hebrews 4:12-16 (RCL)
This reading unites
two summary points based on the author’s discussion about Jesus’ superiority to
Moses and the similarity of the Israelites’ situation in the wilderness to that
of Christian believers (3:1–4:11). The early Church saw itself as the new
people of Israel in the wilderness, living between the time of the exodus and
the time of entry into the promised land—the second coming.
God’s word probes the inmost part of
our being to reveal our true nature. Yet, in case this warning discourages us,
the author reminds us of the graciousness of Jesus, our high priest. Verses
14-16 emphasize Jesus’ solidarity with humanity. Like the high priest who
annually made atonement by entering the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:1-19),
Jesus “has passed through the heavens” (v. 14) to intercede for us. Because
Jesus has gone before us, we can approach God’s throne without fear, confident
of finding a merciful reception.
Indeed, the word of
God is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing until it divides soul from spirit,
joints from marrow;
it is able to judge the thoughts
and intentions of the heart.
And before him no creature is hidden,
but all are naked and laid bare
to the eyes of the one
to whom we must render an account.
Since, then, we have a great high priest
who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one
who in every respect has been tested
as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help in time of need.
Mark’s account of the
rich man centers on the difficulties of responding to the call to discipleship.
This event illustrates Mark’s parable of the sower, in particular those who
hear God’s word “but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the
desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing”
(Mark 4:18). The focus is on God first. Thus Jesus rejects the word “good” for
himself and redirects the man’s attention to God, the source of absolute
The man’s question reveals that he
knows of his need for something more than a basic obedience to the
commandments. Jesus’ response focuses on the root issue for the man’s
conversion–his attachment to things. Jesus does not condemn material
possessions, but urges detachment, freedom from “things” that allows for a more
radical attachment to God.
Like many in Jesus’ world, the
disciples believed that religious duties were easier for the wealthy than for
the poor, and that God sent prosperity to the righteous and poverty to the
wicked. Jesus’ teaching transcends these human limitations. He declares that
eternal life comes to every human, rich or poor, only as God’s gift.
As he was setting out
on a journey,
a man ran up and knelt before him,
and asked him,
what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him,
“Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments:
‘You shall not murder;
You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal;
You shall not bear false witness;
You shall not defraud;
Honor your father and mother.’”
He said to him,
“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said,
“You lack one thing;
go, sell what you own,
and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.”
When he heard this,
he was shocked and went away grieving,
for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it will be for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were perplexed at these words.
But Jesus said to them again,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
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.”
They were greatly astounded and said to one another,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God;
for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him,
“Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
“Truly I tell you,
there is no one who has left house
or brothers or sisters
or mother or father
or children or fields,
for my sake and for the sake of the good news,
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—
houses, brothers and sisters,
mothers and children,
and fields with persecutions—
and in the age to come eternal life.
But many who are first will be last,
and the last will be first.”
In today’s gospel,
Jesus’ baffles his disciples as he destroys their presumption that the rich
would receive the same preferential treatment in heaven as they would anywhere
else. It takes a pointed barb to puncture their assumptions. Translating Jesus’
impossible image into contemporary terms might be like saying that it would be
harder for the wealthy to enter the kingdom than for Bill Gates to get through
the night deposit slot at the neighborhood bank.
Jesus looks at his bewildered audience,
then offers them good news. Of course it is impossible for human beings to
overturn the established order, he says. But for God, the impossible is
possible. Grace can penetrate even our mixed-up social injustices, and human
beings can do astoundingly selfless things. When our efforts are joined with
God’s, we receive a surprising divine power, past our understanding. “For God
all things are possible” thus translates “for us all things are possible.”
Is there more, just beyond the margins?
The final word on the wealthy man is not yet in. Did he wander sadly for the
rest of his life, or did he ever exchange his possessions for a greater good?
We’ll never know. But Mark is a gospel filled with second chances. Jesus gives
us the same opportunity he gave the wealthy man. When we feel his gaze on us,
will we follow his dream?
In what ways, today, can I work with God to bring justice to my world?
“Riches are not
forbidden but pride of them is” (St. John Chrysostom).
Christ, my Savior, help me to be more humble,
to be a better disciple of your kingdom by...