Tuesday, October 12, 2021

October 24, 2021 - 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

       Biblical Words                       [739]

Job 42:1-6, 10-17;  Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22);  Hebrews 7:23-28;  Mark 10:46-52.  

Through trials and tests, God finds new ways to bring mercy and to lead faithful
people toward a greater city. 

Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 

The final reading from the “wisdom” traditions of the Hebrew scriptures is the conclusion to the Book of Job. 

In the first (poetic) section of this reading (verses 1-6) Job makes his submission to God, first with a declaration of God’s all-powerfulness:  “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”  Then, in a more elaborate form, Job repeats, in his own words, what he heard Yahweh say to him at the beginning of the “answer”:  “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” (verse 3, quoting 38:2, NRSV). 

Job’s answer to this is abject admission that he, Job, spoke of awesome things that he, poor mortal, did not understand. 

Job’s conclusion here, beginning in verse 5, may be understood to mean that he has now heard God (in God’s speeches) and now he “sees” the truth.  Carol Newsome translates this verse, “I have listened to you with my ears, and now my eye sees you” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV, p. 628).  There is apparently a comprehension of the vastness of things – and an awed acceptance of them. 

The rest of Job’s reply (verse 6) has caused much recent scholarly discussion of its correct interpretation and translation.  (Carol Newsome summarizes five interpretations, Ibid, pp. 628-29.)  Does Job say, “I despise myself and repent upon dust and ashes”; or does he say something like “I retract my words and repent of dust and ashes”?  On this latter reading he in fact retracts his repentance before God.  This latter interpretation is important to people who want Job to maintain his defiance to the bitter end, even if somewhat covertly and subtly. 

In general, the import of the whole passage suggests that Job fully submits and is not whispering something different under his breath.  However, as many scholars have pointed out, if the writer wanted to make unmistakably clear that Job was simply overwhelmed by God’s speeches, he could have said so in plain if poetic language.  Instead, we have real ambiguity. 

The ambiguity is there because the subject matter and the vision required it.  

(The part of our reading from the prose Epilogue, 42:10-17, omits the very problematic verses 7-9.  In those verses God condemns the “friends” and says that only Job spoke the truth.  This passage, accepted at face value by traditional interpreters, reduces the arguments of the book to complete confusion:  not only is the theory of rewards and punishments, which the friends defend, overthrown, but Yahweh’s lengthy and awesome “answer to Job” is reversed.  This late pious insertion is out of touch with what the rest of the book is really about.) 

In the prose Epilogue (42:10-17), Job has all his earlier losses restored, the goods doubled in quantity, the seven sons and three daughters replaced by new ones.  And as was fitting to the patriarchs of primordial times, Job lived one hundred and forty years and saw four generations of his descendants.  The happy ending is thus dutifully arranged. 

However, those who really sympathize with Job’s arguments and pleas in the long poetic Debate (chapters 3-27) have to find this entire ending (including Yahweh’s “answers”) utterly frustrating, and many scholars have made cases for the “angry” Job as truer than the “patient” Job.  (Among a vast collection, see David Penchansky, The Betrayal of God:  Ideological Conflict in Job, Westminster/John Knox, 1990.)

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22). 

Perhaps this alphabetic acrostic Psalm (each verse starting with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) is thought to be appropriate as a thanksgiving by the newly restored Job. 

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (the fourth letter daleth, in verse 4, NRSV). 

“This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble” (the seventh letter zayin, in verse 6). 

With his abundant goods and his wide family around – clearly the gifts of God to a righteous man – he says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good…” (the ninth letter teth, in verse 8). 

The spirit of the psalm is that the righteous one is summoned to endure through the hard times and move on toward the fullness of rewards.  “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all” (the twentieth letter resh,  in verse 19).  

And as if a quiet allusion to the sufferings of Jesus were also needed here, we hear in verse 20, God “keeps all his bones; not one of them will be broken,” a declaration applied to Jesus in the passion story of John (19:31-36). 

Hebrews 7:23-28.  

The reading from the Epistle presents the climax of the view of Jesus as the unique and divine high priest “after the order of Melchizedek.”  This divine priest is always accessible:  “He is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (verse 25, NRSV). 

Last week’s reading from Hebrews emphasized the humanity of the Anointed One.  This reading emphasizes his heavenly character, the effectiveness of his priestly activity “for all time,” and not just from day to day or year to year (as with human priesthoods).  Jesus’ priesthood is not limited by the lifetimes of human priests (verse 27), nor, we may understand, by the location of their activities at the temple in Jerusalem. 

This latter point raises one of the most important features of the argument in Hebrews:  all actual animal sacrifice is made obsolete.  

This writer clearly has never been deeply involved in the actual working temple in Jerusalem; he (or she) has not collected blood in basins at the alter, has not cut off hunks of cows or sheep to return to the offerors for their sacrificial banquet, has not had to oversee the removal of dung, skin, and scraps from the sacred area in the temple. 

This writer knows the sacrificial cult only from reading the Mosaic law in Greek.  She (Priscilla? Acts 18:26) or he has studied details of the Levitical legislation and found profound meanings for God’s new saving actions in it and in the Psalms, but she has never personally experienced a deep sense of holiness in the ritual killing of a domestic animal and the proper disposition of its blood and body parts. 

Like an increasing number of thoughtful and reverent people of Hellenistic times, she sees animal sacrifice as a proper observance for the ancestors, but no longer required, or even appropriate, for a true “approach” to God. 

This Letter, too, participates in the end of that age of religion (starting in the Neolithic period, about 10,000 BCE when animals were first domesticated) in which animal blood was a key bond between humans and God. 

Mark 10:46-52.  

The Gospel reading tells the colorful story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus.  The narrative gives a strong sense of the crowdedness of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem.  It is set in Jericho, or on the road out toward the steep ascent to the Holy City. 

Bartimaeus is apparently stationed at his usual post for begging on a busy stretch of the road, but a ways back from the actual path of traffic.  Thus when he learns from someone in the crowd that Jesus is passing, he shouts loudly to be heard.  Because of the crowd, Jesus doesn’t speak directly to the beggar, perhaps can’t even see him where he sits.  But Bartimaeus’ shouting gets through; something strikes Jesus’ attention so that he “stood still” (verse 49) and had them bring the blind man to him.  

Bartimaeus comes as one long in exile because of his blindness, but hoping and crying out for the mercy of God spoken of so long ago by the prophets (“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened...” Isaiah 35:5).  “Let me see again,” he asks, and his faith gives him sight. 

Healing blind Bartimaeus is the last event in the Gospel of Mark before Jesus enters Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosanna!  This entry is foreshadowed by Bartimaeus’ language about Jesus:  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (verse 47, NRSV).  He repeatedly calls Jesus Son of David. 

The ordinary patriotic meaning of “the Anointed One,” the Messiah, as a designation of Jesus, rises to a crescendo here.  Having given the poor man sight, Jesus goes to the City of David, where at first he will be acclaimed as the bringer of the Davidic kingdom, then will be betrayed and denied even by his own, before being tried and executed as “the King of the Jews.” 

Blind Bartimaeus – probably known or remembered by later Christians – was the last work of mercy before Jesus gave himself as the final “ransom for many” (10:45). 


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