Year B — Proper 24 (the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for October 21, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Be careful what you pray for. 

Job spends the better part of 37 chapters (assisted by his “friends,” no doubt) bellyaching before God and demanding to speak face-to-face with the Almighty. Then, his request is granted.

Kind of puts a feller in his place, if you know what I mean.

The questions that God asks Job are a masterful exposition of God’s nature, character, abilities — of God’s “God-ness,” if you will. 

Like any good courtroom exposition, by the time God has finished deposing the witness (Job, in this case) there is very little doubt left in the minds of the jury. God really is God, so I think I’ll just hush now and go on back to the business of being mortal.

To quote Bill Cosby in another biblical context (his awesome monologue between God and Noah): “You and me, Lord — right?”

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

This psalm text forms the basis of one of my favorite hymns, “O, Worship the King.” I prefer to sing it with voices and organ, but Chris Tomlin has brought it to a new generation in his contemporary version (you can check it here.)

The psalm is a powerful complement to the Job reading — the opening sentences are a masterpiece of understatement: “Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great.”

Isaiah 53:4-12

The Song of the Servant depicts the other side of greatness — one who is willing to suffer the greatest sorrow imaginable in order to “make many righteous.” (v.11)

Christians most often read this passage with Jesus in mind. It is indeed fitting to do so. The passage serves as a guide and as inspiration for all who would suffer righteously, as well. God’s presence with us allows us to see light and find satisfaction beyond the injustice and pain of suffering. May we live as our Savior has lived, with no deceit in our mouths.

Psalm 91:9-16

Lynn Anderson made a hit song out of it: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.” (Of course, you can hear her here!)

One might be tempted to think that God’s promise of refuge would mean that all our troubles will go away. Not so fast, my friend!

God is awfully good to have around when trouble comes, no doubt; but notice that the text says, “I will be with them in trouble….” The troubles do still come, but God is right there in the midst of the trouble with us. 

God is a dwelling place (a shelter, a safe space) when the skubala is hitting the fan, so to speak!

Hebrews 5:1-10

No one should ever presume to take the honor of service to God on for themselves; the Hebrew priests didn’t do it, and neither did Jesus, the Great High Priest.

God calls, we answer. That call may involve all sorts of trouble, pain, and suffering — but the glory is God’s. 

Mark 10:35-45

Now, in Mark’s version of this tale, James and John come asking for themselves about the best seats in the house when Jesus comes into his glory. (Matthew says it was their momma what came and asked this for them — see Matthew 20:20-21)

Either way, the main question Jesus has for the boys is, “Do you think you really can follow me? Do you think you can handle the truth?”

Following Christ in his glory is something we all would like to get in on — entering into his suffering is another matter entirely. 

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Father Ed was pastor of a small Catholic Church at the beach. One Good Friday morning, he removed the purple Lenten banners from the three wooden crosses in the churchyard and carefully draped the crosses with long black shrouds. Early that same afternoon, the priest received a phone call from the local Chamber of Commerce. A tense and angry voice said,

“Look Preacher, we’ve been getting some complaints about those black crosses out in your churchyard. Now inside the church, who cares? But out front, where everybody can see them, they’re offensive. The retired people here don’t like them–they’re depressing! And the tourists don’t like them either. People come down here to get happy and have a good time, not to get depressed. It will be bad for business!”

The cross was, and still is, offensive, depressing and bad for business.

All three of our scripture lessons make reference to the offense of the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus offered as a sacrifice to Gad and a ransom for our souls.

In Isaiah 53, we read of the person whom the scholars called “The Suffering Servant” Though it is doubtful that the prophet Isaiah clearly foresaw a person like Jesus fulfilling this role far into the future, it is clear that Jewish religious thinking had made a connection between one or a few suffering and dying to spare and free the many. And it is no surprise that the early Christians, all Jews and all familiar with the Prophetic writings, immediately recognized in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering One the life and death of Jesus.

Immediately before our Gospel reading, Mark shows Jesus clearly explaining to the disciples what is going to happen to him. Listen:  “The son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” And almost as soon as these words were out of his mouth, James and John ask him,  “Can we be the #1 and #2 power people in a Jesus administration?” Obviously, they didn’t get what he was talking about.

So Jesus tries again. The talk about cup and baptism refer to the cup of God’s wrath and the baptism of death. Jesus refers to the cup again in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prays that the cup might pass over him. They still don’t get it, so Jesus just shakes his head and says, “You will suffer and die, but honors are up to God, not me.”

Hebrews 5:7-9 point again to the cross:  “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all….”

Jesus was not suicidal, not a “willing martyr,” happily going to his death with visions of grandeur in his mind. He was not deluded. He was very much aware of what this meant and he struggled over it, crying out, as the text says: “to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard. . . “

This cuts to the very heart of the issue. Jesus knew that his path led to death. Jesus knew that God could save him from this fate. And Jesus was not ashamed to let his fears and feelings be known. What agony! “You could save me if you would! But you won’t! Why won’t you? Why won’t you? My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?”

“He was heard . . .” the text says, and yet he died. And yet he died.

When I was about 12 or 13, I was in the Boy Scouts. My Daddy was one of the Dads who helped out. One night we were playing around in the parking lot and I fell while racing some other boys. I hit squarely on my forehead in the gravel, and a piece of gravel got lodged under the skin against my skull. You can still see the scar.

Our Scoutmaster was also the local doctor and his clinic was across the road, so he and Daddy took me in there to tend to my wound. I was scared and hurting as I shivered on the cold examining table. He was a good doctor, but he had a lousy bedside manner, more appropriate for crusty farmers than little boys.

He washed his hands and then made some instruments ready, all the while chatting with Daddy.  Suddenly he turned toward me with a needle the size of a baseball bat, or so it seemed to me. I never did like needles. I looked at Daddy and started crying and yelling
“DADDY, DADDY, DADDY don’t let him hurt me. Please, Daddy, please!”!

The doctor threw a huge leg over me to hold me down and put his left arm across my chest and swabbed my wound with alcohol, then approached me with that needle. I continued to cry and beg Daddy to make him stop. And just as the needle entered my forehead, I saw my daddy’s hands, clutching my jacket. The knuckles had turned white. I looked up at his face and saw a tear in the corner of his eye; the only time I ever saw him cry. “DADDY, DADDY, DADDY!” I was heard, Oh yes, I was heard. And I was denied.”

“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation . . .”  That is the great mystery of our faith: that where we are; in the midst of sin and suffering, decay and death; Christ has been, fully completely, totally.

Whatever is the worst that you have been through; no matter how scared, lonely, lost and forsaken you have been; Jesus has been there! Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Jesus has been there! Have you ever wondered how you were going to make it one more day? Jesus has been there!

And the promise of the Gospel is that where Jesus is now, we are going. The Gospel is that God brought Jesus through to the other side of the Cross. The Gospel is God can and will carry you through as well.

God calls us to follow Him. It is not an easy way, it is not a painless path, it is not smooth sailing. Jesus’ way is the Way of the Cross. But the joyous paradox and mystery of the Gospel is – the way of the cross leads home.

For all of us, from the greatest to the least, from the oldest to the youngest, from the power brokers to the powerless, from the first to the last; all roads lead to, and through and beyond the Cross to Christ.

“Who was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment which made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

Amen and amen.

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