Reading Ramblings – September 13, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 13 2015

Texts: Isaiah 5:4-10; Psalm 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29

Context: We continue in the season of Ordinary Time, where the Gospel and Old Testament lessons link up but the Epistle lesson is independent.

Isaiah 5:4-10 – You really should begin reading at the beginning of this chapter. When Jesus tells parables about vineyards, this is likely the text that leaps to mind in the minds of his hearers. The reading for today focuses on the judgment that follows the Lord’s careful preparation and tending of the vineyard. He has done everything that a conscientious owner would do in creating a vineyard, yet the vineyard has not produced the expected harvest. This is a metaphor that the Lord explains in vs. 3-4 and 7. What did the Lord expect? Justice and righteousness. What does He find? Bloodshed and the resulting outcry. God has spared no expense to provide his people all they need, yet they rebel and demand more, stealing from one another instead of living out the precepts of covenant community they vowed to at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 24. Verses 8-9 flesh out the details, how the rich buy up the land and force the poor out without any way to provide for themselves. The result is that the attempts of the rich to grow richer at the expense of the poor will backfire. The land they sought to make them rich will barely yield anything.

Psalm 116:1-9 – God has always expressed concern for the marginalized, those who are at a disadvantage in society. This psalm takes up the voice of the marginalized and downtrodden, praising God for delivering them from the dangers and traps set for them by others. This psalm functions as a good counterpoint to the Old Testament reading, providing the perspective of the poor that the rich in Isaiah have compromised with their tactics.

James 3:1-12 – We continue our reading of James, moving on to chapter 3 and continued exhortations and admonitions. He begins with a warning against taking up the mantle of teaching, because those who teach are subject to more stringent judgment than others. Those who presume to teach others the faith had best know what they are about! This leads into a warning about what we say and how we talk. A teacher is in a position of respect and authority – their words are watched carefully, listened to, parsed for wisdom and application. So the picture of a teacher who speaks carelessly is not a good one!

James fleshes out the importance of our speech – spoken of as the tongue, which is compared to other small (comparatively) items which control and direct much larger entities (boats, horses, etc.)

What we say matters a great deal, particularly in a digital age when what we say can be recorded and broadcast and replayed almost infinitely by people around the world. The damage that can be done with a careless word is truly frightening! For the Christian, we need to keep watch over what we say because we don’t want to have what we say contradict the Christian faith and life that we profess. AS such, as Christians grow in the faith there will come a time to examine such mundane issues as how we talk, since it is a difficult if not poor witness to the faith to profane with the same lips that we glorify God.

Mark 9:14-29 – All right. I’m stumped. I trust that this will make more sense as I continue to reflect upon these readings through the week, but right now it’s difficult to draw clear lines between the Gospel and the Old Testament as I expect to be able to. This reading picks up immediately following Jesus’ Transfiguration. This is the turning point in Mark’s Gospel account, as Jesus heads towards Jerusalem to complete his earthly ministry.

Both readings deal with a lack of faithfulness – the faithfulness to live as God commands in terms of our relationship with those less privileged, and the lack of faith in confronting an evil entity. Both deal with the exasperation of God in the face of such lack of faithfulness. The father in the Gospel lesson expresses doubt. Doubt that Jesus can do anything, or perhaps that He will do anything. Jesus’ disciples – the ones not on the Mount of Transfiguration – have already failed to cast out the demon. Jesus does not take offense at the father’s reservations but doesn’t hestitate to correct them, either. The father’s confession of faith is one of honest fear and uncertainty and hope. He acknowledges his inability to fully trust in Jesus power, while professing that Jesus himself has the power to help him overcome his doubts and fears and to trust.

Perhaps the end of the account in Mark makes sense in light of the vineyard parable in Isaiah. In each case, hope seems lost. The vineyard has been destroyed. The boy is dead or near dead (scholars debate this distinction)! What else can be done? But for the God who created both the vineyard and the boy, anything can happen, and much can be done. The boy is restored to health, freed from the demon. The vineyard can be restored and good fruit can be produced there. Both by the power and faithfulness of God.

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