Proper 25B: See Life Begin Again

Mist and LightOLD TESTAMENT: Job 42: 1-6, 10-17

Read from the Book of Job

We come to the end of the Book of Job. Job has suffered. He has lost everything. He has questioned God and expected God to give him reasons for why all these horrible things have happened to him. But the actions of God are not centered in conventional responses to wickedness and righteousness. The universe is, instead, filled to the brim with mystery and surprise and wonder. God’s answer to Job is: “Think again, Job. Open your eyes wider to the whole of the cosmos. Redirect your attentions away from what you have done to what I am doing.” This is the turning point—Job now has received a new vision of God as YHWH, creator and sustainer as well as struggler with a complex and mysterious order. It is that new vision of YHWH to which Job responds here.

Walter Brueggemann has said that he sees Job “as a recognition of a world that is falling apart and in which the pain of such displacement is acute.” Yet the pain eventually leads to “an incredible leap beyond Israel’s known world.” (42:5) Job inhabited a rather myopic world of retribution and distributive justice, where people get what they deserve, where there is a just God to see that all get what they deserve. But then Job is invited out to a new world, a world not based upon simple, distributive justice. And Job sees now that he is not the center of the world—that his relationship with God is found in his interconnectedness to all of the cosmos—that he is but a part of the wisdom of God.

No one could tell me where my soul might be; I sought for God, but God eluded me. I sought my brother out and found all three—my soul, my God, and all humanity. (From Sometimes I Hurt: Reflections on The Book of Job, Mildred Tengbom, 200) Some would like the drama to end here. After all, hasn’t Job gotten the point? But if Job has become new, we must see him act out of his newness to discover if that newness is genuine. We need to see Job back in the world again.

And so the Lord restores Job’s life. Some of us struggle with this. It gives it a sense of some sort of fairy tale ending and we all know that that type of ending is seldom realistic. But think about it in the context of the larger vision to which Job and we as readers have been invited. God does not just put Job back together again. It is better. If we read it literally, it is better because Job is given more. But, again, step back and look at the larger picture. Perhaps it is a metaphor of what is to come. It says that Job’s days were blessed but it doesn’t say that others were not. Perhaps it is a vision of what the world can be when we allow ourselves to look at it through the lenses of God. It is a world of plenty in which all of Creation prospers. It is a world where we recognize family and our interconnectedness. It is a world where all receive the inheritance of the world. It is a world where we all die, old and full of days of a life to come. “And they all lived happily ever after…”

God has allowed Job to be the hero. God lets us struggle and win and when we lose our life, God gives it back to us. The point is that Job actually encountered God and his life changed. Catherine Marshall once said that “Those who have never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all.”

God remains Job’s God. There can no longer be any talk of “reward” here—we have dispensed with that way of thinking. God has blessed Job because God loves and wants to bless Job. There is no other reason. It is not for us to ask why. Restoration is a feature of life; restoration is what God can do and does. At the end, I don’t get answers. I get a deepened relationship with God. God doesn’t come with easy answers; God comes offering presence. THAT is the Wisdom of God.

The story of Job is the story of life—our story. It does not travel in a straight, easy-to-follow line. It is not level or soft or easy. It means much, much more than that. If someone tries to present it in some other way, they just don’t get it. Sometimes life is chaotic; sometimes it’s just hard; and sometimes, through no fault of our own, it’s downright unbearable. Answers are not what we need. That’s why I like Job. It DOESN’T give you answers; it teaches you how to journey through life. So, here are my top ten lessons from Job:


  1. Life happens ( but we are never alone).
  2. Some things just don’t make sense. (Perhaps we are reading them through a clouded lens, or even too MUCH correction—try wearing your contacts AND your glasses)
  3. We need to make sure that our images of God do not stand in the way of God’s presence in our lives or in the lives of those around us.
  4. God desires to be in relationship with us more than God desires for us to figure God out.
  5. Sometimes we need to just shut up and listen.
  6. Sometimes we need to just give up and let it be.
  7. Everything come from God.  God breathed life and it was so.
  8. The future is an enigma.  Our road is covered in mist.  There will be times when the journey seems perilous and filled with despair.  But when we fling ourselves into what seems an impossible abyss, it is then that we will finally meet God.
  9. God is God.  We are not.
  10. And then we will die old and full of days, and realize that life has only just begun.
  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does this say about God?
  3. Where do you find yourself in this story?
  4. What stands in the way of our seeing what Job finally saw?


NEW TESTAMENT: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Read from The Letter to the Hebrews

The central statement for this passage is the implication that Christ’s priesthood, as compared to the traditional Levitical priesthood, is permanent. For this reason, we can rely on it to be with us as we face life. Some of the statements could be construed as almost anti-Semitic, because the author almost seems to be presenting the new covenant as a replacement of the old. But you have to understand that when this was written, there was a sort of resurgence of the old Judaism and the author would have felt the need to counter some of their claims.

The author speaks of Christ’s priesthood as a different order—a permanent order that, unlike the Levites, did not have to continually purify itself over and over again. But for us, the concept of Christ as a permanent part of our lives, one who keeps speaking on our behalf, one is engaged with humanity and not just exercising authority over us. The main contrast focuses on the sacrifice that Christ enacted in relation to permanence and impermanence. Christ’s sacrifice is for all time, whereas the Levitical priests have to sacrifice over and over again in obedience to God, will die and must be replaced. But Christ offers forgiveness and the offering itself is permanent.

The point is that the world is God’s. The world is called to reflect the vision that God has for it. And yet, the world does not yet reflect that image. There is almost an underlying theme in Hebrews of wandering, of us as a wandering people. But God through Christ offers permanence, offers home. God has promised us faithfulness. That, too, echoes throughout Hebrews. The promise of Sabbath rest has not yet been completely fulfilled. And, yet, even we wanderers are part of it. We are pilgrims who have not yet arrived at home. But home is always there.

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does the idea of Jesus being engaged with humanity mean for you?
  3. What does this idea of Christ’s permanent priesthood mean for us?
  4. What stands in the way of us entering that permanence?
  5. What does the image of wandering and pilgrimage mean for you?

GOSPEL: Mark 10: 46-52

Read the Gospel Passage

First, we need to remember that blindness was much more prevalent in the world in which this passage was written than even today.  Much of it was caused by a sort of parasitic virus that could be easily spread (almost like pink-eye can be today.)  There was a strong belief among Judaism of that day that when the Messiah came, blindness would be cured.

In the passage for this week, the story of blind Bartimaeus is immediately preceded by the story of James and John who asked Jesus to chose the two of them to be seated at his right hand and left hand in glory. Jesus asked both James and John the IDENTICAL question he asked blind Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John were spiritually blind; and when their story was over, they were still spiritually blind. Bartemaeus was physically blind; but when his story was over, Bartimaeus could see.

You have to admire Bartimaeus.  He found out that Jesus was approaching and without any hesitation whatsoever, pled for mercy.  Well, of course, people dismissed him, wanting him to shut up.  So he got louder.  I admire his persistence.  Can you imagine what must have gone through his mind when Jesus called him forth?  And with vigor, he threw his cloak down.  Other translations use the world “mantle” (implying something more authoritative, more having to do with identity, that a mere “cloak”).  His answer to Jesus’ question was that he wanted to see AND he believed that Jesus could and would do it.  His faith made him well.

It’s a good metaphor for faith.  The story of faith begins in darkness and ends in light.  The name Bartimaeus means “son of honor”.  He was eager, he was needy, he was a little impetuous, he was hopeful, he was expectant…all those things that faith is.  He is willing to beg, to shout, to shout louder, to strip, to do whatever it takes to encounter Christ.  It’s a good lesson to us Christians who tend to act properly.  Bartimaeus was saying to Jesus, “Give me whatever it takes for me to see the way to follow you.”

And there is another level of this story.  This story ends a section of Jesus’ life in the Scriptures.  The first section could be named “Galilee”; the second “The Journey to Jerusalem”.  This story is the last story in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus is now ready to enter the last chapter:  “Jerusalem”.  He now will enter the town and face what is to come.  It sheds a whole new light on truly “seeing”.

Another aspect of this story is a metaphorical one.  We can take it literally and assume that Bartimaeus could not physically see.  But maybe it’s meant to be taken metaphorically.  What if Bartimaeus’ faith enabled him to see what Jesus was showing him, to follow Jesus on The Way, whether or not this involves physical healing? What if it is more a story of someone who, as opposed to Job having to have everything important to him taken away in order to see differently, openly and willingly shed his very identity, that which was of some significance to him in order to bare himself for Jesus to give him new vision?


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does this say about faith?
  3. What stands in our way of having this kind of faith?
  4. How would you answer Jesus question: “What do you want me to do for you?”



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise.  By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven.  Every moment reveals God to us.  Faith is our light in this life. (Jean Pierre de Caussade)

When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen:  There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly. (Patrick Overton)

Fidelity is the fine art of remaining faithful to a vision that must come but is, for whatever reason, delayed. (Joan Chittister, Becoming Fully Human, 90)



Healer of every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.


You who know our fears and sadness, grace us with your peace and gladness; Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts.


In the pain and joy beholding how your grace is still unfolding, give us all your vision, God of love.


You who know each thought and feeling, teach us all your way of healing; Spirit of compassion, fill each heart.   Amen

Marty Haugen, “Healer of Every Ill”, The Faith We Sing, # 2213


Proper 20B: Humble Wisdom

Humble Wisdom (Blog)OLD TESTAMENT: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Read the Old Testament Passage

We continue with readings from the Hebrew Wisdom Book of Proverbs. Of course, there is no doubt here that this passage draws from the patriarchal assumptions of the culture in which it was written. But notice, too, that it is not presenting a role of a wife as subordinate to her husband. This passage is neither egalitarian or inegalitarian. It doesn’t compare women and men but rather presents the roles as ones of mutual support in their own way. It doesn’t say that a woman’s value is derived from her husband. She is not a sub-standard version of the male as many traditions began in later centuries to assert. And her value doesn’t come from the fact that she can bear children. There is nothing mentioned about childbearing at all.

The NRSV translation really doesn’t do her justice, though. Rather than “capable”, the Hebrew connotes a “strong woman”, a “woman of worth”. She is a mysterious figure that somehow brings rewards to everyone who settles into her household. She IS Wisdom. The wife here is seen as the embodiment of wisdom. She helps her husband not because he holds power over her but because her character is trustworthy and her work is fruitful. She is in her own way a true partner. But the phrase, “Who can find…?” is significant. This woman inspires generations but no one can compare to her. Who is so trustworthy today and so competent that the Lord can delegate authority so freely and so confidently?

James Hopkins makes the case that perhaps the woman depicted here is not, as she may seem, a sort of “all good things” Wonder Woman but, rather, a composite character of who women are and what women can be. Perhaps it is a redemption of the role of woman in a very patriarchal society.

And to take it a step further, perhaps it speaks to all partnerships, to all relationships. What is Wisdom? How does Wisdom relate to others? Perhaps this composite is the mythological ideal of Wisdom and how to be Wisdom in the world. Wisdom participates in the needed work that is best accomplished together, work that expresses faith, hope, and love in ways that build others up and brings people together. The “capable wife” here is the ideal believer. I would offer the notion that perhaps it is not even gender-specific. Maybe it’s a metaphor of who we are all called to be—trustworthy, of strong character, and deep and abiding faith. The “capable wife” is meant to convey the full significance of the wise, well-run household, the household that is run within the wisdom of God. It is the household that is a powerful emblem to teach and guide future generations. And she calls us to follow in her ways. It is a portrayal of faithful living.

It is interesting that this is the last chapter of Proverbs. After all the “words of wisdom”, we have this. Keep in mind that Wisdom literature was put together with intentionality. It is not an accident. It is also an interesting thing to note that it is the woman who ushers Sabbath in, the woman who invites us to see wisdom, to see the world to come. When all work is brought to a standstill, the candles are lit. Just as creation began with the word, “Let there be light!” so does the celebration of creation begin with the kindling of lights. It is the woman who ushers in the joy and sets up the most exquisite symbol, light, to dominate the atmosphere of the home. And the world becomes a place of rest. An hour arrives like a guide, and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts. People assemble to welcome the wonder of the seventh day, which the Sabbath sends out is presence over the fields, into our homes, into our hearts. It is a moment of resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls. (From The Sabbath, Abraham Heschel, 66) But it must be ushered in by one who longs to be with God.


  • What is your response to this passage?
  • We have talked a lot about wisdom the last couple of weeks. Does this shed any new insights into wisdom for you?
  • What stands in the way of our being this ideal?
  • What would it mean for our society if we embraced this as the ideal, as the “ideal believer”? 

NEW TESTAMENT: James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

More wisdom…The wisdom of James continues with a challenge to the hearers not to embrace a polarizing and fractious stance towards people. Many people who most want to be known as wise are anything but peaceable. History and today’s world both abound with people who think they are right and are prepared to die or kill for their truth. On the other hand, James is not advocating that Christians become doormats. Clearly the writing itself shows that the author is assertive and prepared to challenge others.

The gentleness being advocated here is not abdication of responsibility. It is an attitude which comes from a different kind of purity consisting not in pure doctrine nor in pure anger, but in pure love. Wisdom is about purity and purity is about wholeness, singleness, oneness. That oneness is held together by being full of compassion and produces genuine goodness towards others. There is no phoney-ness. The word righteousness (which also means justice and goodness) rightly belongs here. Rightness or righteousness is about being in right relationship with God and with oneself – and so also with others. The point is that true wisdom does not talk about faith but, rather, lives a faithful life.

The passage depicts wisdom as coming from above. This wisdom is identified as God’s Word or God’s Spirit. This is a ways of speaking of how God comes to people. So, as it says at the end of the passage, humility means not pious pretending and not being self-deprecating. Humility is about being genuine and not finding you have the need to establish your sense of worth by making others smaller than yourself. When we are genuine, we are never far away from God, because that is God’s very nature: self-giving, choosing not to take up the whole space, giving space for others to be, evolve, and grow. It is not a denial of our desires, but a reshaping of them so that we desire and “thirst” for God.

The passage depicts our life as a movement between two opposing forces. Once again, keep in mind that this first century writer and the writer’s first century readers probably did not understand the term “devil” as we do. This was not probably intended to be an opposing entity in some sort of cosmic war with God over possession of our souls. Rather, the writer is contrasting two wisdoms—the wisdom of this world that is so easy for us to convince ourselves is what we need to do, the wisdom that calls us to work hard and make money, that calls us to take care of ourselves and our own first, the wisdom that calls us to show ourselves as right above all else and the wisdom that is God. The writer calls us to BE the wisdom of God. It is not about being right. It’s not even about being righteous the way we think of it. It’s about listening and opening yourself up to knowing a different way, a way that probably does conflict with most of the ways of this world. It’s about becoming Christ in this world, the very image of the Wisdom that created you. It’s about living a life that is tuned in and turned over to God, about drawing near to the God who draws near to us all.

    • How does this passage speak to you?
    • What does this passage say to you about wisdom?
    • How does this speak to our own society?
    • Why do we struggle with humility?
    • What would look different in our society if we got what humility actually is?

GOSPEL: Mark 9: 30-37

Read the Lectionary Gospel passage

In this passage, Jesus foretells his resurrection, chastises his disciples for arguing amongst them as to who was the greatest, and points to a child as a model for discipleship. Obviously, Jesus and his followers are not on the same page here. In spite of the fact that Jesus has already told them part of what was to come, they are all still absorbed in measuring their own greatness, in proving that they were the “best” in the eyes of Jesus.

And then Jesus turns and asks them what they were arguing about. They must be embarrassed, because their awkward silence is palpable, or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, “deafening.” We would probably feel similarly uncomfortable in their place: Harry B. Adams asks “how often we would be silent if Jesus were to confront us and ask us what we have been talking and fretting about.” Even more, we “would fall silent if we were asked to explain how what we are doing and saying accords with the way of life that Jesus sets before us.” Talk about a lesson in humility!

We humans have mostly attributed value to those who have power. At some levels that has been physical power. It is equally about having the power of wealth, political power, family system power. It is having a sense of one’s own importance on the basis that you can make others inferior, putting yourself up by putting others down. Such powerful people are engaging in the subordination and demeaning of others. It can also be that some people are powerful and have authority without such motives. They may simply be physically strong. They may have been placed in positions of responsibility. People then attribute greatness to such people – because of their power and authority.

But Jesus is challenging this whole idea. True greatness is not about either of these relations to power. True greatness is to be like Jesus, a truly powerful person, but who valued himself not because of power but because of his being and his doing the will of God, which meant lowliness, in his case including following the path to the cross.

The image of the child, in itself, throws the focus more on the lowliness. The child is vulnerable. But then the focus shifts from the child back again to caring, this time for the child. Caring for vulnerable human beings is part of what caring is about. To take on a child in this way is to take on Jesus and to take on Jesus in this way is to take on God. And once we remove our lenses that call us to look for greatness, then we will see the cross—and the Resurrection. Once we see those who we do not see, we will also see Christ.

It is interesting to note that abandonment of infants in this ancient world was a normal and acceptable practice. Sometimes it was because of a lack of finances or food. Sometimes it was seen as a sort of postnatal birth control. So the wailing child in the garbage, the child of lowliest status and uncertain parentage is seen here as the image of Christ. In a sermon on this passage, Joel Marcus says this:

A student came into my office at a time when I was busy writing. I reluctantly agreed to talk to him, trying not to let my impatience show. My fidgetiness increased when I noticed how long it was taking him to get to the point. Suddenly, however, something about the student got through to me. I realized that he bore an uncanny resemblance in appearance, manner and voice to one of the great leaders of our age. And it came to me in a flash — this guy could turn out to be the next______! And here’s the next ______sitting in my office, and I can’t even concentrate on what he is saying!

Well, I don’t know if that student will really turn out to be an incarnation of this person — but does it matter? “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me. Menachem Schneerson, the famous Lubavitcher rabbi from Brooklyn, used to stand every week for hours as thousands of people filed by to receive his blessing or his advice about matters great and small. Once someone asked him how he, who was in his 80s, could stand for so long without seeming to get tired. The rabbi replied, “When you’re counting diamonds you don’t get tired.”

The abandoned baby on the street, the stranger at the door, even our own husband or wife or child or friend, is a diamond, and in receiving and treasuring these diamonds we are receiving the “pearl of great price” that was once hidden on earth as a destitute child of uncertain parentage. ( Joel Marcus, “Counting Diamonds”, which appeared in The Christian Century, September 6, 2000, available at, accessed 16 September, 2009)

A story is told about a man who asked his rabbi why people couldn’t see the face of God.  What had happened that they could no longer reach high enough to see God?  The rabbi, a very old man, had experienced a lot in his life and was very wise. “My son,” he said, “that is not the way it is at all.  You cannot see the face of God because there are so few who can stoop that low.  How said that is, but it is the truth, Learn to bend, to bow, to kneel and stoop and you will be able to see God face-to-face.”  (From “The Challenge of Humility”, by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat)

    1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
    2. Who are those who are invisible to you?
    3. What do they say to you about Christ, about the Resurrection?

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. (Helen Keller)


Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself. (T. S. Eliot)


What makes humility so desirable is the marvelous thing it does to us; it creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God. (Monica Baldwin)



‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,  And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the valley of love and delight.                            

When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, ‘Til by turning, turning we come round right

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return, ‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn, And when we expect of others what we try to live each day, Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say,

‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be, ‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”, And when we hear what others really think and really feel, Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real. 

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,  ’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the valley of love and delight.

(Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848)