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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 30 - Year B
Job 42:1-6,10-17; Psalm 34:1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

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 Thirty (Proper 25) B


JOB 42:1-6, 10-17   Job's story ends with the old man acknowledging his
humble status before God and repenting his hostility toward God for not
giving him all the answers he sought to the problem of suffering.  His
fortunes are restored twofold when he prays for his friends.


PSALM 34:1-8        With an assurance that counters the angry doubt of Job,
this psalm declares an almost absolute trust in God to provide all the
answers to life's great questions.  The caveat remains, however, that for
the psalmist only the righteous can have such a relationship with God. 
This was the message of all of Job's friends too; and it brought him no
comfort in his suffering.


HEBREWS 7:23-28     Behind this passage stands the custom of the high
priest of the Jews entering the holy of holies once a year on the Day of
Atonement (Yom Kippur) to offer the blood of an  unblemished lamb to atone
for the nation's sins.  The sacrifice offered by Jesus on the cross, once
for all, removes the necessity of repeated sacrifices required under the
older system.  Jesus thus becomes both the eternal high priest and the
perfect sacrifice.


MARK 10:46-52       The healing of the blind man in Jericho emphasizes the
point that Mark has made throughout his gospel. Faith in Jesus not only
gives the man back his sight, but a spiritual healing enabling the man to
follow Jesus "on the way."  It could mean the way to Jerusalem and the
cross. Or it could also be interpreted as in later years "the way of
discipleship."  In Acts, the early church was described as "the followers
of the way."  Since this was the last episode in Mark's narrative before he
began telling of the death of Jesus, we can presume that both meanings were
fully intended. 

The discipleship of true faith is costly.  That remains as much so today as
it ever was.

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

JOB 42:1-6,10-17   This reading includes both the poetic and the narrative
conclusions to the composite book.  The omitted verses 7-9 provide a
transition from one form to the other and show how different the two styles
were. 

In the poetic segment (vss.1-6) Job acknowledges his humble status before
Yahweh, but first confesses that Yahweh's purpose cannot be thwarted.  By
repeating a slight variation of the opening words of Yahweh's address
(cf.38:1-2), he repents his hostility toward Yahweh for not giving him all
the answers he sought. 

Vs.5 may well contain the supreme lesson of the whole book.  Although its
questions have never been answered by any of his friends nor by Yahweh, he
has nonetheless received spiritual insight.  His friends, stand-ins for the
Wisdom schools, had all touted the traditional wisdom and the ancient
beliefs of their ancestors.  Confronted by Yahweh in the magnificent
theophany from the midst of the whirlwind (chs. 38-40), he has perceived a
new reality which he can only express in the metaphorical statement, "My
eyes see you."  Faith is like that.  It happens within each person as a
whole new set of thoughts, concepts and imagination are shaped into an
abiding conviction. 

Recognizing that he has been in the presence of Yahweh, Job finally
confesses his sinfulness.  None of the polemic accusations of his friends
could have brought him to this point.  This says something significant to
us about the way we preach.  Is it ever right to accuse others of sinful
behaviour in hopes of convicting them?  Is it not the Holy Spirit alone who
can convict us of sin (cf. John 16:7-11)?  Without naming the Spirit, Job's
visual metaphor of seeing Yahweh makes this point.

Yahweh restores Job's fortunes twofold when he prayed for his friends
(vs.10).  Here again the concern for the other person rather than oneself
clearly expressed in the prophetic literature and presaging Jesus'
commandment comes to the fore.  If Job's friends represent the classical
attitude of retributive justice, Job represents a radical revolt against
such a harsh theological stance.  So also concern for justice for the
individual person plays a significant part in the theology of the book.  As
Professor R.B.Y. Scott so ably put it in his *The Way of Wisdom*
(Macmillan, 1971. 164) , "The Book of Job tells us that the keystone of
genuine morality and all true religion is personal integrity, not proud but
humble, committed ultimately to truth and love and goodness in the faith
that these are what sustain the universe."


PSALM 34:1-8   With an assurance that counters the angry doubt of Job, this
psalm declares an almost absolute trust in God to provide all the answers
to life's great questions.  Emphasis placed on humility (vs. 2), however,
gets lost amid repeated summonses to praise (vss.1,3,8) and reassurances
that God does respond to prayer (vss.4-6).  Nonetheless, the caveat remains
that only the righteous can have such a relationship with Yahweh.  This was
the message of all of Job's friends too; and it brought him no comfort in
his suffering.

Much could be made of the metaphors in vs.6 and their representation of
traditional OT views of how God intervenes within history.  An angel
encamped around those who fear Yahweh recalls the frequently used military
name for Yahweh, "the Lord of hosts".  The epithet occurs no less than 267
times and was originally associated with the tribal confederacy at Shiloh
(1 Sam. 3:1,11).  It variously referred to angelic bodies gathered in
Yahweh's name to defend Israel or to the army of Israel itself. 

"Fear of Yahweh" is often interpreted as reverence, but this is not
credible in this instance.  Coincidence with the militaristic terminology
recalls the ancient narratives about Israel's struggle to survive
throughout the patriarchal period and the millennium before this psalm came
into existence.  Although the superscript suggests that it was of Davidic
origin, this is not so.  The psalm belongs to a limited set using the
acrostic format where each line begins with a different letter of the
Hebrew alphabet.  This artificial form, described by one commentator as a
fad, came into use late in the literary history of Israel.  It was designed
as a pedagogic practice to aid memorization or to give complete expression
to an idea or emotion.  No question can be raised about the religious
fervor of the psalmist in using this poetic style.  Christians have
frequently made use of vs.3 as a call to worship.  The superscript itself
exemplifies an even later type of Hebrew interpretation. 


HEBREWS 7:23-28   This brief excerpt continues the author's discourse about
the supremacy of Christ as priestly mediator of a better covenant than that
of the Levitical priesthood.  Behind this passage stands the custom of the
high priest of the Jews entering the holy of holies once a year on the Day
of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to offer the blood of an unblemished lamb to
atone for his own and the nation's sins.  The argument may seem
distressingly complex for a modern audience, but presumably would have
seemed quite cogent to those Jewish Christians familiar with their Jewish
religious tradition and anxious about its relationship to their new faith.
Such a concern would have been especially strong in the decades immediately
following the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

Several points of reference to both the Jewish tradition and the passion of
Christ begin in vss.23-24 by noting the temporary character of the Jewish
priesthood in contrast to the permanence of the priesthood of Christ.  The
key to this discontinuity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, although
this is only indirectly stated in the final clause of vs.24, "because he
continues forever."  This immediately relates to Christ's role as saviour
and advocate with God as a result of his ascension (vs.25).

The next phase of the argument develops around Christ's suitability for the
priestly office.  He is unique in holiness, innocence and purity, all of
which resulted in his having an exalted position in heaven due to his
death, resurrection and ascension (vs.26).  Furthermore, the author's
exposition clarifies another crucial distinction between the Jewish
tradition and the Christian faith.  Whereas on the Day of Atonement the
high priest of Judaism offered an annual sacrifice for his own and the
people's sins, Jesus offered himself on the cross, once for all, and
thereby removed the necessity of repeated sacrifices required under the
older system.  Jesus thus becomes both the eternal high priest and the
perfect sacrifice (vs.27).

Finally in vs.28, we have an even more obscure reference to "the word of
oath (which) appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever."  Oaths had
an important place in the life of the Jewish community.  They invoked the
deity to validate the reliability and permanence of particular
relationships, be it a legal, economic or personal relationship.  The most
common form of oaths in the OT can be found in several passage in 1 Samuel,
"As the Lord lives ...."  In other words, Yahweh was called to witness that
the relationship being sealed by the oath was valid.  In NT times, the
Essenes of Qumran  made prevalent use of oaths; but Jesus urged that they
be completely omitted (Matt.5:34; cf. Jas.5:12).  Paul, however, did use
oaths in Gal. 1:20, 2 Cor. 1:23 and Phil. 1:8.  It is probable that this
statement in Heb. 7:28 refers to God's validation of the Sonship of Jesus
Christ.  It was, after all, the story narrated in four gospels and the NT
letters which reveal and attest who Jesus is and what God did through him.
This is the central message of the Letter to the Hebrews too.


MARK 10:46-52   Mark's Gospel consists not only of "the Jesus Story," but
also a narrative which described the essence of faithful discipleship for
Mark's audience, whoever they may have been.  The healing of the blind man
in Jericho reiterated this point which Mark had been making throughout his
gospel and would bring to its fulfilment in the Passion narrative he was
about the begin. 

Bartimaeus of Jericho was the last person to respond to Jesus before he
began his final approach to Jerusalem and the cross.  Since the declaration
of his messiahship at Caesarea Philippi (8:29ff), Jesus had been making his
way slowly south from Galilee toward the holy city.  As he went, he
consistently taught his disciples about his pending death and resurrection
(8:31).  They neither understood him nor recognized the cost of following
him.  Indeed, the final mistake they made was to fight among themselves who
among them would have precedence in the messianic kingdom they believed he
was about to establish (10:32-45).  How could they have been so blind?

That, of course, was exactly what Mark had been saying.  The disciples had
been both blind and deaf.  Yet many of the miracles of healing Mark
reported had been to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf (7:31-
37; 8:22-26).  Jesus had also reiterated several times the cost of being
his disciple (8:34-38; 9:30-32; 10:17-22;42-45).  They just did not get it.
 
The story of Bartimaeus appears in Matthew and Luke in slightly different
detail.  Matthew has two blind men in his version of the incident.  Luke
has the same  essential information as Mark with some elaboration, but
omits the man's name.  He also includes an added note about the praise by
both the blind man and the crowd inspired by his regaining his sight.  Like
Mark, Luke also laid emphasis on the man's faith as the key to being
healed.

Faith in Jesus not only gave Bartimaeus back his sight, but a spiritual
healing enabling him to follow him "on the way."  This contrasts
dramatically with the spiritual blindness and disbelief of the disciples
even thought they had been with him all the way from Galilee.  In this
instance following Jesus "on the way" could mean going with him up to
Jerusalem and to the cross.  Or it could also be interpreted by Mark's
audience in later years as "the way of discipleship."  In Acts, the early
church is described as "the followers of the way."  Since this was the last
episode in Mark's narrative before he began telling of the death of Jesus,
we can presume that he fully intended both meanings. 
     
The discipleship of true faith is costly.  That remains as much so today as
it ever was.  Many hypotheses have been proposed to account for the decline
in church membership and participation, especially in the mainline
denominations in the North American context since the heyday of the post-
war boom of the 1950s and 60s.  Each person may have his or her own
favourite reason.  Could the underlying factor be the one which Mark
highlights in this final segment of his narrative before beginning the
climax to the story (8:22-10:52)?  The cost of discipleship is still as
great as ever; but fewer people are willing to undertake the self-sacrifice
involved.  Could it be that it isn't because they have not heard that
message, but because they have heard and realize full well how much it will
cost to follow Jesus in the way?
     
                         
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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