Thoughts and Notes on Sunday's Readings (for Oct. 11)

This is the first of a new series that I hope to post (most) every week.

Each week I will look at one or two of the assigned texts from the Revised Common Lectionary and offer a few thoughts, questions, and observations (nothing elaborate or especially scholarly) that I hope may be of help to preachers or students of the Bible wanting to prepare for the coming Sunday's Liturgy.  The text based upon my handwritten notes, sketched out week to week over the last 3 years.  These notes will be most helpful when read alongside the Biblical text itself (I always had a Bible open in front of me when making these notes).

Most weeks I will also suggest a general prayer (known as a "collect") and a liturgical greeting to accompany the chosen text.

My quotations of Bible verses or phrases generally come from either the NRSV or the ESV translations.


Thoughts and Notes upon Sunday’s Bible Readings

For the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

Collect/Prayer options: UMBOW 308, UMBOW 462, UMBOW 335

Hebrews 4:
v.12 – the Word of God ‘pierces’ to the heart of things to ‘judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ making our spiritual condition known to us, as it is known to God, as in v.13: “before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”
Jesus speaks in Mark 10 of giving possessions to the poor – if our hearts are resentful against charity towards the poor, we will be made to render our account before him for a “hard heart” (as also in Mark 10:5), as will those who, owing to laziness or sloth, abuse the kindness and charity of others.   All will give an account.

Note – since v.11 speaks of avoiding disobedience so we can enter “God’s rest;” the living and active word, written in Scripture and Incarnate in Jesus, reveals where we disobey to help us avoid disobedience.

V.14-16 – Jesus is the greatest possible high priest because he has entered even into the heavenly temple, for the purification of all those who ‘hold fast to our confession.’  Because he has suffered and been tested as we have, we can approach his heavenly throne to seek ‘mercy and grace’ confident of finding a sympathetic hearing from Jesus.  Being without sin, he shares in complete and unhindered communion with God in the highest heavens; being a true man, he brings our human nature there with him, opening the way for his followers to be brought there also (compare John 14:3).

Mark 10:
v.17 – ‘As he was setting out on a journey…’  This man, it seems, delayed Jesus yet the Savior gave time and attention to the man all the same.  The journey is ultimately to Jerusalem, to the cross, which casts a shadow over this whole passage.
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  A question we all may sooner or later ask, especially when we are most cognizant of our mortality.  The emphasis on ‘doing’ enough may, in part, be precisely the idea Jesus wants to move them past, since by the end of the conversation the disciples are brought to see that ‘For mortals it is impossible, but…for God all things are possible.’ (v.27)

v.18 ‘No one is good but God alone’ invites the hearers to consider the fullness of Jesus’ identity as the one who is truly good (v.17), while reminding us to put no trust for eternal life in our own goodness.

v. 19 Jesus connects keeping the commandments with the way leading to life.  The man has done so in outward details so Jesus, the Living Word pierces deeper to the heart of the issue (as he did with divorce in verses 1-12).  So he says ‘sell your possessions, give to the poor, and follow me.’  
Following Jesus does not always mean giving away all wealth, since Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia were wealthy disciples (who used their resources for the Kingdom) and Zacchaeus is permitted to keep some of his wealth after he volunteers to give half his wealth to the poor and to make restitution for his fraud (which presumably would use up much of the other half but still not leaving him penniless); but following Jesus does always mean cutting out that which hinders us from giving ourselves over to Him.  The difference between this man and Zacchaeus was a difference of the heart: Zacchaeus was not going to let his great wealth get between him and Jesus (Luke 19) while the rich young ruler did.  The more things we have – be they advantages of wealth, class, education, intellect, or personal gifts, the more things we may be tempted look to as “our portion” besides the Lord (Ps. 119:57); thus Jesus says it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom (v. 23-25).  And we (in the US) are rich indeed.

Giving to the poor is a theme repeated in the stories of the Rich Young Man and Zacchaeus; see also the callousness of the rich man of Luke 16, who gave nothing to poor Lazarus, which is the reason for that man’s condemnation.  This giving (traditionally, “alms”) is an important discipline for followers of Jesus, that we might become ‘cheerful givers’ (2 Cor. 9:7), even as God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is generous with us.

A couple of interpretations of ‘eye of the needle’ are current (the tiny hole in a sewing needle or a small door in the city gates that required an animal to be unloaded of all its burdens/possessions and kneel or crouch down to pass through); the “sewing needle” is the likeliest reading. 

Note that Jesus’ answer to the man’s question is not so much an answer as an invitation to follow; not theoretical but threateningly practical.  Tom Wright has said it well, that 'This call echoes down through history and we are all judged by the answer we give.'

Note also that “inherit eternal life” (v. 17) and “enter the Kingdom” (v.24) and “be saved” (v. 26) are all used synonymously.  The rich man is the most prominent case of a person refusing a personal call to follow Jesus in the gospels.  So then we must ask, does wealth = “blessed’ as we often assume (as when we say “God has blessed my family/America/my business” etc.)?

Perhaps the rich man, so self-disciplined him keeping the commandments, had grown wealthy through similar disciplined efforts in his business and was loath to give his ‘hard earned’ money to un-working and un-deserving poor.  He expects to earn through his ‘doing’ the Kingdom and perhaps expects the poor to earn all that they gain, rather than simply be given it.  Yet God’s attitude toward us sinners and the attitude he calls forth from us is all grace.

This passage asks us ‘What is wealth for?’

Remember Wesley’s rule: Earn all you can, save (conserve) all you can, (so that you can) give all you can.

Jesus tells the disciples that “in this age” those who had left home and family (as many must do when they convert to Christ in anti-Christian cultures) will receive it back many times over, as they are welcomed into the new family of the Church, which shares its resources.  We must ask, ‘does my life, my handling of my resources, my engagement with the church, help to make that promise true?’

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