Friday, October 23, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Sunday between 23 and 29th October
Sunday, 25 October 2009: The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost,
Proper 30, Year B

The First Reading : Job 42.1-6, 10-17
The conclusion of the Book of Job. The reading has two sections. Verses 1-6 are the end of the poem of Job; verses 10-17 are from the prose epilogue, which is in the same style as the opening chapters of the book. Verses 7-9, the Lord’s judgement on Job’s three friends, are omitted. In the end the Lord restores Job’s fortune twofold.
There are some questions about the text of these verses, for which a good commentary should be consulted. Note especially that in verses 2-4 Job quotes words of the Lord we heard in last week’s reading.
Job acknowledges that understanding the world and the divine plan is beyond him. Where before he had believed by hearing, now he has seen the Lord; [v. 5]as NOAB comments, this is “the contrast between belief through tradition and faith through prophetic vision.” Indeed, the philosophical problem of suffering is not solved in the Book of Job. Its end is not the vindication of Job but his acceptance by the Creator. Perhaps the ongoing relationship with the God is the only real answer there is.
It is interesting that in the restoration of Job there is no mention that his disease is healed, though surely we may assume that it was. Note also the unusal fact that the three daughters of Job are named: Jemimah (dove), Keziah (cassia), and Keren-happuch (horn of antimony —a black eye shadow). The commentary of Rashi says that “They were named according to their beauty: Jemimah: Bright and white as the sun (יום); Keziah: She had a fragrant and perfumed scent like the spice, cassia; Keren-happuch: Because of the horn in which they put stibium and lixivium, as it is stated (Jer. 4:30): ‘that you enlarge your eye with paint (בפוך).’” The daughters also receive an inheritance along with their brothers, which is not only a sign of Job’s immense wealth but also (as it has been suggested) an assurance that they woul make good marriages. NOAB suggests that the names have a flavour of folklore.
A church-goer might be forgiven for failing to recognize the great beauty and wisdom of the Book of Job from the brief snippets we hear in the Sunday lectionary. Perhaps this is good, as it points out the need to know the Bible better. This is also true of the selections from Hebrews we are reading, which leave out important parts of the thought (a further note on that comes below).
Psalm 34.1-8 (19-22)
An alphabetical acrostic, as are Psalms 9, 10 and 25. The traditional superscription, found in texts of the Bible, but not in the Liturgical Psalter, ascribe this Psalm to “David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away”. For this incident, see 1 Samuel 21.10-15, where Abimelech is called Achish the king of Gath.
Like Job, the psalmist has experienced evils and been saved by the Lord; therefore he calls on the people to praise the Lord with him.
Read today, this is an obvious meditation on the lection from Job. Note that the importance of faith by seeing is stressed: “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man that trusts in him.”
In liturgical use there is no particular reason not to use the whole psalm, though unless we are going to read or chant it slowly and carefully, there is no particular reason to do so.

The Epistle : Hebrews 7.23-28
In an earlier form of the lectionary (which will be found in most copies of the BAS: the change to the RCL was made in a later printing, check the title page to see which one you have) Hebrews 7.1-10 was read this Sunday; now the RCL gives us 7.23-28. The former practice had the advantage of explaining further the references to Melchizedek, King of Salem, in the reading the week before. Instead we have part of a much longer argument, and indeed a pronoun [“he” in verse 24] whose antecedent [“Jesus” in verse 22] has to be supplied. If anyone who reads the lessons in Church is following this I would remind them to review the directions in the third paragraph of page 266 of the BAS. This is one of the readings to which these directions most clearly apply!
The passage we read is a very important part of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and contains the great declaration that Christ’s offering was made “once for all when he offered up himself”, which is so well stressed in the Eucharistic Prayer of the BCP in saying that on the Cross Christ made “by his one oblation of himself once offered” the only true and complete sacrifice for the whole world.
Space is too short to give a useful list of readings on the question of what is meant by the Eucharistic sacrifice and how it relates to the once-for-all event of Calvary; Eric Mascall's Corpus Christi might be a good start.
The teaching of Hebrews about Christ’s perfect sacrifice does not stop here, but follows the analogy of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant to show that it includes not only his death but his ascension into the heavenly sanctuary: over the next few weeks we continue to read gobbets from this complex argument. Here again it is abundantly clear that the passages read in Church are not sufficient: in order to benefit from them a person needs to be familiar with the whole of the Epistle. If anything shows the necessity of regular Bible-reading, it is the passages chosen to be proclaimed in Church.
Now it would not take anyone very long to read through Hebrews (or Job, for that matter) with enough attention to make it possible to follow and understand the selection heard in Church. If we could be sure that enough of the congregation did this, it would be far easier to preach sermons that were profitable to them!
Canon Bright’s hymn, Once, only once, and once for all would be good to sing this Sunday; it is not in the new Common Praise.

The Holy Gospel according to St Mark, 10.46-52
This passage tells the story of the healing of the blind beggar Bartimaeus outside of Jericho: the parallel passages, Matthew 20:29-34 and Luke 18:35-43, differ in certain details, not the least of which are the number of the blind men and the fact that neither Matthew nor Luke call him by name. Scholars differ on the implications of this fact. See R. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006), p. 41.
This passage concludes a section of Mark’s Gospel. In coming to Jericho, Jesus and his disciples have come within twenty miles of Jerusalem: the next section is the entry into the holy city, and the prelude to Christ’s Passion. The section that ends with Bartimaeus also began with the healing of a blind beggar (8.22-26); it is concerned throughout with sight and faith. In it we hear the three prophecies of the Passion, each followed by an instance of the disciples’ inability to understand (or see) the meaning of Jesus ministry, even when they can confess that he is the Christ. One meaning of this section is that all are in need of Jesus’ healing before they can see the truth, whether their blindness was physical or spiritual.
In the interests of space, here are just a few comments.
“Bartimaeus … the son of Timaeus”. Bartimaeus itself means “son of Timaeus” in Aramaic. Is the writer displaying an ignorance, or giving a clumsy aid to non-Jewish readers? See Bauckham, p. 79.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Son of David was a messianic title in that it designated Jesus as heir of the promise made to David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalm 89:28-37). Before this only the disciples and demons have recognized Jesus’ true identity; they were always commanded to be silent. This is the first public declaration of Jesus as Messiah that goes without rebuke. This is perhaps another sign that we are on the brink of the final conflict.
Notice that when Jesus calls Bartimaeus to him he does it though others (it is not clear whether the disciples are meant or the crowd): “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’” The message is relayed to Bartimaeus as Christ’s call: “Take heart; rise, he is calling you”. Do we always realize that Christ’s normal way of calling folk is through us?
“Throwing off his mantle”. This shows Bartimaeus’ eagerness to answer the call of Jesus, and is reminiscent of the call of the first disciples, who left their nets and boats and all to follow Jesus. The similarity is closer that one might at first think, for it was the custom for beggars to receive alms in their mantles or cloaks which were spread on the ground for that purpose. So here, like the fishermen, Bartimaeus is throwing away a means of livelihood, a symbol of the old life. The final words of the passage, “and followed him on the way,” makes this more clear.
“The way” was used as a technical term for the Christian life by the earliest Christians (see Acts 9.2).
In a note in Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, he quotes an observation of G. Thiessen, that “Bartimaeus ‘is the only healed person the miracle story tells us became a “follower” in the narrower sense,’” and adds “In form, Mark’s story of Bartimaeus … resembles a story of the call of a disciple as much or perhaps more than the story of a healing miracle” (p 45, n. 25, and see references there). This point should be very helpful for our reading of this passage.
Although there are many more things I should say, I must turn from writing notes and buckle down to preparing a sermon, and so I will tale my leave of you.


Felicity Pickup said...

re "“Throwing off his mantle”."
Thanks. I wondered about that.

re "Canon Bright’s hymn, Once, only once, and once for all ... not in the new Common Praise."
Not in hymnbook anymore? Gasp!
Did hymnist take the opening line from Liddell (& Scott)'s English translation of hapax; or did the lexicographer(s) copy from the hymn?
(Too lazy to check publication dates of each). Anyone else know? Coincidence?)

William Craig said...

Lovely point, Felicity.
Of course the entry in LS is
once, once only, once for all.
The Lexicon was first publshed in 1843; in the 1938 Book of Common Praise Bright's hymn is dated 1866. So the lexicon might have influenced the hymn (suitably adapted to fit the metre, since "once, once only, once for all" wouldn't work.
As t the mantle, I should have noted that some commentators opine that Bartimaeus would already have had it spread on the ground when eh sprang up. Perhaps, though, he had not yet got down to a serious day's begging when the crowd went by.

Felicity Pickup said...

Thank you!