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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 29 - Year B
Job 38:1-7; Psalm 104:1-9,24; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

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-Nine (Proper 24) B

     
JOB 38:1-7          In this long poem dealing with the problem of
suffering, Job's friends and a fourth participant, Elihu,  have all said
their pieces. None have satisfactorily answered the eternal question: Why
do the innocent suffer? 

 Now God enters the dialogue in response to Job's hostility. The divine
rhetoric majestically declares the works of divine creativity and
providence. Yet it never answers the fundamental question. It  merely
humbles Job and illustrates the vast gulf between human and divine
understanding. The problem remains a mystery.


PSALM 104:1-9,24    This magnificent hymn of praise blesses God as the
Creator and Upholder of all. Creation and control of nature by a
supernatural power found expression in many cultures of the ancient world.
The Jewish faith affirmed that the God of Israel brought all things into
being and saw that they were good. 


HEBREWS 5:1-10      The passage defines the role of the ideal priest
expressed as the representative of others. Accordingly, he  offers the
appropriate sacrifice on the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, the Day of
Atonement. 

Jesus, the Man of Galilee who is the Son of God, fulfills all the
conditions as the ideal priest. By his obedience, suffering and death on
the cross, the representative of God and humanity, wrought the atonement
"designated by God," i.e. as God intends the story of human salvation to
unfold.


MARK 10:35-45       Their conviction that he is the Messiah firmly
established, James and John boldly put their request for precedence in the
messianic kingdom to Jesus. As he so often did, Jesus responded with
another question. His reply symbolized his death and the two sacraments the
church still uses to tell of its meaning.

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

JOB 38:1-7   The structure of the Book of Job consists of four main parts.
The prologue and the epilogue are  purely narrative and thought to have
existed as a separate story before the poetry and dialogue in three cycles
was written.  he long speech by Elihu, the fourth participant in the
dialogue with Job, may also have been composed separately.  n whatever
manner the final form of the book occurred, we now have one of the great
works of literature dealing with a universal human concern.  ts essential
value lies in the way it questions and challenges earlier traditions of
Hebrew moral theology that suffering is the inevitable retribution for sin.
More than that, it emphasizes the moral quality of each person's life and
denies that the circumstances of life as the common criterion for piety.

At this point in the poem, Job's friends and a fourth participant, Elihu, 
have all said their pieces.  None have satisfactorily answered the eternal
question: Why do the innocent suffer?  Now in response to Job's hostility,
Yahweh enters the dialogue.  In a long series of rhetorical questions,
Yahweh majestically declares the works of divine creativity and providence.
Yet the divine rhetoric never answers the fundamental question.  It merely
humbles Job and illustrates the vast gulf between human and divine
understanding.  The solution to the problem remains a mystery.

Yahweh's relentless questioning never accuses Job of ethical
transgressions, but does deny Job's right to question divine wisdom and
power.  This brief excerpt focuses attention on creation Yahweh speaking
from a whirlwind is a typical prophetic medium for a theophany.  The
creation motif continues through most of remaining segments of Yahweh's
address. 

An appeal to creation is frequently used to justify the existence of God.
Half a century ago, the eminent British theologian, P.T. Forsyth, declared
that we had not yet got over our delight with having discovered evolution
as the key to creation.  Our fascination today with nuclear energy and the
unraveling of the genetic code tends to give science an even greater sense
of its own power.  At the same time, does not the destructive brutality of
our fratricidal conflicts and the exploitive ruination of our environment 
reveal how much our moral judgment has diminished even as our power over
creation has increased.  Would this not be the challenge that God threw at
us if any of us could take Job's place in a similar rhetorical theophany?


PSALM 104:1-9,24   Echoing the rhetoric of Job 38-41, this magnificent hymn
praises Yahweh as the Creator and Upholder of all.  Originating in a
primitive form of animism, creation and control of nature by a supernatural
power found expression in many cultures of the ancient world.  An Egyptian 
"Hymn to the Aton" dating from the time of the 14th century BCE most
closely resembles this psalm.  The Jewish faith affirmed that Yahweh, the
God of Israel, brought all things into being and saw that they were good. 

The phrase that Yahweh is "wrapped in light as with a garment" (vs. 2)
conveys the idea that while humans may see the effects of divine
creativity, the true nature of the deity is concealed.  The metaphor may
well express the fact that while no one can look at the sun without harm,
yet the sun casts its light that all else is fully revealed.

A tiered universe is portrayed in vs.3 where the words "you set the beams
of your chambers on the waters" suggest successive layers of the heavens
where Yahweh is presumed to dwell.  In vs.4, "winds" as ministering
messengers appears to refer to angels.  Jewish tradition likened angels
doing Yahweh's errands to wind and those in the heavenly choir as fire.
However, these metaphors do seem to remove the deity from direct contact
with creation.  This rather deistic concept of divine creativity receives
further reinforcement in the limits set on the  boundaries of the waters of
chaos described in vss.5-9.

The reading skips to vs. 24 which summarizes the whole content of the
psalm.  The created universe came about through the wisdom of Yahweh. Even
the most penetrating modern science cannot contradict the psalmist's faith.


HEBREWS 5:1-10  The passage defines the role of the ideal high priest
expressed as the representative of others.  Accordingly, he  offers the
appropriate sacrifice on the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, the Day of
Atonement.  As with most apologetic statements of faith, the image of the
ideal high priest and his role in the Hebrew tradition rarely agrees with
the actual historical record.  This reference may appear all the more
surprising from a Christian apologist who must have known about the role
the high priests Annas and Caiaphas played in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Perhaps that explains why the author of this letter refers specifically to
Aaron, the original high priest according to the priestly tradition of the
Pentateuch (Exodus 28-29) and Chronicles (1 Chron. 24:1).  Indeed, the
latter part of the Book of Exodus and the whole of Leviticus and Numbers
focus overwhelmingly on Aaron and his functions as high priest of Israel.

In order to draw the parallel between the high priest and Christ, however,
the author goes further back into the Israelite tradition to the mysterious
figure of Melchizedek, an ancient Canaanite priest-king of Salem to whom
Abraham submitted and paid tribute (Gen. 14:17-24).  Consequently,
Melchizedek was regarded as superior to both Abraham, his descendent,
Aaron, and the Aaronic priesthood.  Fragments of text from one of the Dead
Sea Scrolls revealed that the Melchizedek tradition was very much alive in
late Judaism.  It would appear that this tradition was well-known to the
author of this letter and to his audience.  Further, Melchizedek served an
even more important purpose for this author.  He became the core of his
messianic argument.  In his analysis of these fragments, Geza Vermes gave
very helpful insight into the role of this enigmatic figure. (*The Complete
Dead Sea Scrolls in English.* Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 1997, 500-502.)

The Qumran scroll designated *11Q Melchizedek* identifies Melchizedek with
the archangel Michael as the Prince of Heaven, the head of the "sons of
Heaven" or "gods of Justice."  He is also referred to as *elohim* and *el*
which in this context means a judge rather than God.  Melchizedek is
portrayed as presiding over the judgment of Belial/Satan, the Prince of
Darkness.  This is an eschatological midrash presaging an event which will
occur on the Day of Atonement at the end of the tenth Jubilee cycle.
Melchizedek liberates those whom Satan has held captive (Isaiah 61:10),
restores property to rightful owners (Lev. 25:13) and remits debts (Deut.
15:2)

By introducing Melchizidek in relation to Jesus here and much more
explicitly in chapter 7, the author of the letter is making a profound
messianic confession.  Jesus, the Man of Galilee who is the Son of God,
fulfilled all the conditions as the ideal priest.  By his obedience,
suffering and death, the representative of God and humanity wrought the
atonement God intends for human salvation.  He was more than that, however,
in that by his death he became the eschatological Liberator in the same way
that Melchizedek had been portrayed in the Qumran scroll.


MARK 10:35-45   Prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, a wide
variety of sacrifices played a major part in the religious observances of
the Jewish people.  In two volumes of *The Interpreter's Dictionary of the
Bible* ( vol.4, R-Z, 147ff and the supplemental vol., 763ff) two articles
on the subject extend over 20 pages.  This emphasis on sacrifice as a means
of worship or propitiation should not be regarded as unusual.  All
religious traditions have included sacrifices of one kind or another.
Throughout the past two millennia Christians have taken great pains to
clarify the difference between those traditions and the Christian forms of
sacrifice, although not always successfully.  The two parts of this
pericope provide the basis for that distinction.

Their conviction that he is the Messiah firmly established, James and John
boldly put to Jesus their request for precedence in the messianic kingdom.
As he so often did, Jesus responded with another question.  This question
symbolized his suffering and death in the sacramental language of cup and
baptism the church still uses to tell of its meaning. 

It may be instructive to note how the other gospels dealt with the same
incident.  Matthew put the blame on "the mother of the sons of Zebedee"
(Matt. 20:20) perhaps out of respect for James and John, two of the inner
circle of apostles.  According to Acts 12:1-2, James also became the first
apostle to be martyred.  Luke, on the other hand, does not identify who
raised the issue of precedence, but does include Jesus' response to the
anger of the others at James and John, as does Matthew (20:24-28).  From
this one naturally concludes that the emphasis of this pericope must be
placed on the latter part rather than on the question James and John asked.

Thus we are challenged to deal with the nature of sacrifice in the
Christian tradition.  Significantly, *The Interpreter's Dictionary of the
Bible* (IDB) discusses "Sacrifice in the NT" under the heading of
"Atonement" although that word does not appear anywhere in the NT.  This
appears to say that only in the Christian tradition is an atoning sacrifice
effective.  Indeed, the summary of the IDB article reads: "The NT declares
that in Christ and his death is all that man needs in order to find his
sins forgiven and his life reconciled to God; in him is that which can
cancel out the ill effects of sin, release man from the burden of its
guilt, and grant him peace with God." (IDB, I.311)

Also notable are the closing words of this pericope on which generations of
Christians have built the substitution theory of atonement: "to give his
life as a ransom for many" (vs.45).  Generally speaking, scholars agree
that Isaiah 53 had considerable influence on the saying and its subsequent
theological use.  Others have argued that this is simply a vivid metaphor
for what Paul wrote in Gal. 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free."  Two
references in the Pastoral Letters (1 Tim. 2:6 and Titus 2:14) also reflect
this same statement in Mark.

Finally, we must ask if the uniqueness of Christian sacrifice as defined in
this passage depends on offering oneself instead of some valued possession,
even one's first born child as was common in those cultures which practiced
human sacrifice.  If so, what does this say about the theological stance
that in Christ God offered himself?  As Paul said in 2 Cor. 5:19, "In
Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their
trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to
us."  Are we not saying, therefore, that Christian sacrifice is the
sacrifice of God-in-Christ internalized by each person by the action of the
Holy Spirit transforming our every word and deed into an expression of
God's self-giving love?
     
                         
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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