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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 24 - Year B
Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary Twenty-Four (Proper 19) B


PROVERBS 1:20-33         The general theme of the Book of Proverbs is
outlined in this passage.  Divine Wisdom personified as a woman tells of
the discipline she has to offer to willing listener and the calamity which
will befall the one who refuses to heed her counsel.
     
The phrase "the fear of the Lord" occurs in v.29 and frequently throughout
the whole book.  Reverence for God and God's will would be a modern way of
saying the same thing.


PSALM 19                 No greater evidence of the glory of God exists,
says this psalmist, than the majestic order of creation and the orderliness
of God's law.  It is also possible that we have here two psalms woven
together in vv.1-6 and 7-14.  The first part shows some similarity to
Egyptian poem honouring a sun god.  The latter part expresses purely Hebrew
religious ideas.


JAMES 3:1-12             This little sermonette stands alone unconnected to
what goes before or what follows.  But it may bear some relation to the
unstated background out of which it arose.  Were some of the teachers in
the Christian community letting their tongues lash their listeners?  James
addresses that problem in vv.1 and 2.  The rest of the passage consists of
a series of four metaphors for a careless tongue and how it may be
controlled to everyone's benefit.


MARK 8:27-38.            Jesus revealed his messiahship to his disciples on
foreign territory.  Caesarea Philippi, at one of three sources of the
Jordan River, was a vacation spa built by Philip, son of Herod the Great.
Also somewhat foreign to Jewish religious thought was the idea of a
crucified Messiah.  But Jesus rebuked Peter when he tried to dissuade Jesus
from such a course. 

************

PROVERBS 1:20-33   The general theme of the Book of Proverbs is outlined in
this passage.  Yet one can find many other references to Wisdom throughout
the OT. In his classic study, *The Way of Wisdom*, (Macmillan, 1970) the
late Profesor R.B.Y.Scott, renowned OT scholar of McGill and Princeton
Universities, made an important point in his introduction to the subject.
While Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes form the main canonical wisdom
literature, wisdom is the fruit of cultural tradition rooted in family,
tribe and local community as old as the culture itself.  Further, it would
be a mistake to suggest that a "wisdom movement" existed as a self-
conscious group seeking to bring about social change in the whole nation. 

Scott identifies four key words in 1:6 which tells much about the whole
book: proverb (*mashal*), figure or parable (*melisah*), words of the wise,
and their riddles (*hidoth*).  The personification of Wisdom in this
reading falls into the second category.  The rare word *melisah* occurs in
only two other OT passages, Habakkuak. 2:6; Isaiah14:4, and in the
apocryphal book Sirach 47:17.  Its meaning may be taken as a criticism or
warning speech.  Scott adds that the term could well be applied to the
several discourses of chapters 1-7 as well as the personifications of Chs.
8,9 and 31:1-9.

Without any tradition of philosophical discourse similar to Greek culture,
the Hebrew mind turned to story.  Rather than describe it as an abstract
attribute of Yahweh, the Hebrews personified divine Wisdom as a woman who
speaks to humans as a kindly counsellor.  On the one hand, she is a quality
of life to be attained through training and the gift of Yahweh.  On the
other, she appears as a virtual goddess or emanation from Yahweh offering
herself to anyone who will hear her.  She tells of the discipline she has
to offer to willing listener and the calamity which will befall the one who
refuses to heed her counsel.

The personification of wisdom as a woman can be seen as a distinct
departure from  Hebrew literary form.  In some respects, she takes her
place in the canon with Spirit and Logos as an intermediary between God and
human beings.  In Paul, of course, she is identified with Christ (1 Cor.
1:24,30).  In this reading in 1:20-21, she makes her presence known in the
midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life.  Like a matriarchal
grandmother, she has some sharp words to say to the observant and dire
warnings to those who will not heed what she says.

The phrase "the fear of the Lord" occurs in v.29 and frequently throughout
the whole book.  Reverence for God and God's will may be a preferred modern
way of saying the same thing.  In later OT  thought the phrase was
equivalent to the law of the priest and the word of the prophet.  However
we may wish to soften its impact, fear in the sense of a mysterious
motivating moral force cannot be discounted.  As Samuel Therrien put it in
his article in *The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible*, true love for
God "creates a sense of anguish at the very thought of evil, revolt,
rebellion or compromise. (Ps. 51:6-15)."  In other words, disregarding the
counsel of wisdom brings inevitable judgment.  Even the messianic figure of
Isaiah 11:2 receives the fear of the Lord.


PSALM 19   No greater evidence of the glory of God exists, says this
psalmist, than the majestic order of creation and the orderliness of God's
law.  It is also possible that we have here two psalms woven together in
vv. 1-6 and 7-14.  The first part shows some similarity to an Egyptian poem
honouring a sun god.  The latter part expresses purely Hebrew religious
ideas.  It is also possible that the psalmist knew of or had access the
Egyptian poem and adapted it to his own purpose to show that moral law no
less than the celestial system reveals the majestic order of the divinely
created universe.  It is not beyond reason that the psalmist also knew of
the doctrine of the harmony of the spheres advocated by the Greek
philosopher Pythagoras in the 6th century BCE. 

The cosmology of the poem represents the observations of all ancient people
which remain obvious still to the uninformed.  The sun rises in the east
and sets in the west.  Those ancients who studied the stars had not yet
understood that the earth that revolves on its axis, turning the planet
away from the sun thus creating the illusion of the sun rising and setting.
This perception still has romantic and poetic value in the literature and
folk wisdom of many cultures.  The images of the sun as a bridegroom or a
runner fit well into the literary category (vs.5).  By contrast, references
to the law in the latter part of the psalm appear much more mundane and
moralistic.  The only metaphorical images about the law express a desire
like that which the sight gold inspired and a taste like that of honey
(vs.10).

The Hebrew vocabulary of the poem is distinctively post-exilic.  The
multiple synonyms for the law - testimony, precepts, commandments,
ordinances - together with the phrase "the fear of the Lord" reflect the
wisdom tradition.  A moral earnestness commands the attention as the devout
Israelite seeks to live a blameless life in much the same way that
personified Wisdom urged upon her audience. 

Vs.14 frequently has been used as an introductory prayer before a sermon. 
Others feel that it is a perfunctory search for personal praise rather than
a summons to devout listening for the word of God in the words of the
preacher.  Perhaps more than anything else, it defines the attitude of the
preacher as well as the listeners to the message that is being proclaimed
and heard in the name of God on the basis of canonical scripture texts.

This psalm could well be sung rather than read as scripture, for above all
else, it is a hymn or anthem.  Hymns based on this psalm include a Scottish
paraphrase in common metre from the Psalter of 1650, Isaac Watts' early
18th century version; *The Heaven's declare thy glory, Lord *, sung to a
tune from Handel's *Samson* or the 19th century tune,*Walton*; or the
popular 20th century hymn *How great thou art*.  Several well known choral
anthems also celebrate the majesty of this remarkable poem.


JAMES 3:1-12   This little sermonette stands alone unconnected to what goes
before or, to some extent, to what follows.  But it may bear some relation
to the unstated background out of which it arose.  Were some of the
teachers in the Christian community letting their tongues lash their
listeners or each other in a somewhat similar way to the Corinthians to
whom Paul wrote so severely (1 Cor. 1:10-17)?  James addressed the problem
in vv.1 and 2.  He returned to the theme of conflict within the community
in 4:1. 

The rest of the passage consists of a series of metaphors for a careless
tongue and how it may be controlled to everyone's benefit.  The metaphors
are quite obvious and still familiar to modern readers: a bit in a horse's
mouth, a ship's rudder, a forest fire, the taming of wild animals and
birds, a water spring, olive trees and grapevines.  There can be no doubt
about what James meant in castigating those to whom he spoke directly or
indirectly. 

Some commentators have said that the passage exhibits a dependence on the
Hebrew wisdom tradition.  Others have seen the influence of Hellenistic
rhetoricians.  Still others have proposed that the hand of a Christian
editor is evident in vss.1-2a which carries through the whole chapter.
According to this view, the passage represents a stage in the development
of Christian teaching prior to its final definition in the official
apostolic form.

Vs.1 admonishes teachers to live by ethical standards to which others are
exempt.  Vs.2a admonishes the morally arrogant who will not admit their
mistakes.  This juxtaposition could lead to a sermon on  whether or not all
who teach (or preach or all professionals) should be regarded as ethical
models for others to follow.  This is a lively matter today with sports
figures having displaced teachers, religious and political leaders as the
popular heroes cast in this role.  The fundamental issue surely is whether
there can ever be a different moral standard for all persons representing
themselves as Christian.


MARK 8:27-38   Jesus revealed his messiahship to his disciples on foreign
territory.  Caesarea Philippi, at one of three sources of the Jordan River,
was a vacation spa built by Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great,
and dedicated to Tiberius Caesar and himself.  It was situated on a
beautiful terrace about 1150 feet above sea level on the southwest slope of
Mount Hermon overlooking the Jordan valley.  The Sea of Galilee, on the
other hand, lay nearly 700 feet below sea level.  In summer oppressive heat
drove any who could afford it to such retreats as this royal spa.  It must
have been of considerable significance to the apostolic tradition, to Mark
and to his audience that this should be the place where Jesus revealed his
full identity to the disciples.  The fundamental apostolic creed
proclaimed, "Jesus is Lord," not Caesar or his puppet king.

The villages of the neighbourhood had a much older religious heritage.  At
the source of the Jordan near the village still known by its ancient name,
Banias (Panias), one can see the remnants of a shrine dedicated to Pan and
the Nymphs, the Greek deity of shepherds.  It is probable that early
Semitic tribes also worshipped at this same site.  OT passages in Joshua
11:17, Judges 3:3 and I Chronicles 5:23 may refer to this same location as
Baal-gad or Baal-hermon.

Also somewhat foreign to Jewish religious thought was the idea of a
crucified Messiah.  The popular image of the Messiah was that of a
conquering warrior monarch who would drive away Israel's oppressors and
free them forever.  The image still has a political expression in certain
ultra-fundamentalist sects of Israeli Judaism.  On the other hand, Jewish
religious tradition did include a certain amount of suffering and rejection
on the part of its religious leaders.  One finds this in several references
to Moses and the prophets (Exod. 16:2; 17:2-4; Jer. 11:18-19; 20:7-10;
Matt, 23:37).  The concept of suffering or self-sacrifice as having a
saving effect was also present in the Jewish tradition (Exod. 32:32; Isa.
53:5, 10,12), but received explicit expression in Christian Messianism not
only in the gospels, but in the epistles (Rom. 5:6-8; Gal. 3:13; Acts 8:32;
1 Pet. 2:24-25).

Jesus rebuked Peter when he tried to dissuade him from such a course.  For
Jesus, this was yet another temptation in the guise of a close friend's
counsel.  It tested his commitment to the mission he had chosen as a result
his earlier temptations.  To counter this opposition, Jesus turned to the
wider audience of the crowd gathered with his disciples.  (Were they still
in Caesarea Philippi or was this Mark's imaginative presentation of the
issue?)  This had the effect of ending the so-called "messianic secret."

Dr. Robert McClure, the first lay Moderator of The United Church of Canada,
was a missionary surgeon whose professional career stretched across the
globe from pre-1941 China and a Communist prison to a leprosy hospital in
post-independence India, the Gaza Strip and the Indonesian jungle.  His
favourite summary of his faith in action was "Adventure with a purpose." 
He had little patience with those who refused a similar commitment for the
safety and comfort of a successful career at home.  He exemplified what
Mark quoted Jesus as saying about losing one's life to save it.  The
challenge as Mark presented it and McClure lived it parallels John's more
theological statement of what judgment really is and when it takes place
(John 3:17-21).
      
                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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