Reading Ramblings – September 20, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20, 2015

Texts: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:10; Mark 9:30-37

Context: We spend our lives justifying ourselves and seeking the approval and praise of others. Today’s readings call us to recognize our place in God’s hands and to rest in that identity, regardless of what life brings us.

Jeremiah 11:18-20 – In the midst of the Lord’s anger with his people’s disobedience, there breaks suddenly into the text a vision and insight. The Lord reveals to Jeremiah the response that the Lord’s words that Jeremiah elicit in Jeremiah’s hearers. They are not receiving God’s righteous rebuke. They are not turning from their rebellious and evil ways. Instead, they are planning to kill Jeremiah and silence him forever (v.18). This takes Jeremiah by surprise. He is ministering to his own people, in the town or region of Anathoth in the region of the tribe of Benjamin. He is not prophesying to foreigners but to his own people, and this is how they respond. He is shocked and troubled – to be cast out by your own people was a serious issue, and certainly their plans to murder him were the highest form of casting out possible! But Jeremiah remains steadfast in his faith and trust in God (v.20). Rather than panic in fear he prays that the Lord would punish those who are secretly planning to break the command of God against murder. Whether Jeremiah lives or dies is up to God, he says. He trusts that his Lord will vindicate his name and the truth of the very difficult message he brings.

Not surprisingly, Christians would one day hear in these words foreshadowings of Jesus’ betrayal and murder by his own people, and the vindication He received from his heavenly Father – not in the destruction of his accusers, but rather in his resurrection from the dead.

Psalm 54 – A fitting psalm for the dark deeds revealed in the reading from Jeremiah 11. The psalmist begins with a general prayer for help, that God would listen to his prayer and vindicate his name (vs.1-2). In verse 3 the problem is disclosed – the psalmist’s life is in danger. People who have set aside the will of God (perhaps because they are strangers/non-Israelites?) are intent on the psalmist’s destruction. Like Jeremiah, the psalmist expresses firm trust in the Lord (vs.4-5). He recognizes that God alone holds his life in his hands, and therefore his enemies can’t do anything to him apart from God allowing it. As such, the psalmist prays that God would spare him and punish his enemies instead, so that their intended evil falls upon themselves rather than him. The psalm ends with praise to God – praise not predicated on the outcome of the prayer and the situation but rather on the nature of God as good, and his prior work in the psalmist’s life. The last section of the last verse could be read either as a remembrance of past deliverances, or maybe an anticipation of how the Lord will deliver him in this current situation.

James 3:13-4:10 – James transitions his warnings from the dangers and harms caused by our words (tongue) to the issue of Godly wisdom that avoids jealousy and selfish ambition (vs.13-15). Such motivations lead only to bad things (v.16), while wisdom guided by God bears good fruit (vs.17-18), chiefly peace with other people. But why would we have disagreements with one another? Why would we not naturally expect to have peace with others – particularly as fellow Christians? Because we fail to guard against jealousy, ambition, and envy. These motivations even among Christians prevent peace, and even foil their prayers, for the Lord knows that their prayers are offered out of the wrong motivations, and therefore are not according to his will (4:1-3). We cannot allow the lures of the world in material objects and fame or fortune motivate us. To do so is to set our hearts on our own desires rather than obeying our Lord and Savior. James warns against such motivations and exhorts us to obedience and humility. This is the path to righteousness and peace.

Mark 9:30-37 – As with Jeremiah, Jesus knows the plans that are being laid for his betrayal and execution. Unlike Jeremiah, Jesus knows that they will succeed in their plans. This is foreknown to God the Father who reveals it to his Son. Vindication will not be the result of escaping their snare, but rather of stepping directly into it. Perhaps Jesus’ disciples should have recalled Jeremiah’s words, but they seem not to, instead demonstrating confusion and corresponding shame or fear to ask for more details.

In an unexpected tie-in with the Epistle lesson from James, perhaps, Jesus’ disciples are preoccupied and unable to understand Jesus because they are wondering about their own fame. Obviously they suspect Jesus to be a truly powerful rabbi, and assume that as his initial disciples they will gain renown through him. Or perhaps they were arguing about which one of them Jesus liked best. In any event, Jesus knows their conversation, launching into a teaching on the nature of humilty and glory in the kingdom of heaven.

Glory in the kingdom of heaven does not consist in putting oneself above others, but rather one’s willingness to put others ahead of himself. This is exactly what Jesus will do in offering himself to the snare of his accusers in Jerusalem, as He just predicted. He will offer himself as the suffering servant for all mankind, and therefore will receive the highest glory. His disciples are likewise to expect lives filled not with honor and glory and luxury, but rather with the duty and privilege of serving others in sharing the Gospel. What Jesus knows that they do not is that in fixing their eyes on serving others by sharing the Gospel, they themselves will be caught up and martyred. They too, will share in the glory of their master, as their names continue to be taught and their words studied now 2000 years later, and into all eternity!

His disciples would not understand all of this – either in terms of Jesus’ role or their own. So he takes a small child as an object lesson. A child today is often the source of a lot of fuss, but in the first century a child was either underfoot or expected to be of some usefulness as soon as they were old enough. The disciples might anticipate sharing the Gospel with kings and princes someday, but they should be willing to occupy themselves with someone as unimportant as a child. That child is not unimportant to God. That child is not unimportant to Jesus – Jesus will die for that child! So the disciples are not to discriminate against others based on their worldly status or value. In doing so, they will receive the Holy Spirit, who is the Holy Spirit of both God the Father and God the Son.

We spend our lives justifying ourselves, promoting ourselves, seeking the goodwill or commendation or approval or the laud of those around us. We envy celebrities and other personalities that parade before us enjoying the finest things in life because of their rank or status or skills or pedigree. We are not to be obsessed with these things, however. They are fleeting, and as James points out, such envy or ambition is divisive within the Church. Such envy and pride will naturally seek out some and reject others as being unworthy or unnecessary. Jesus rejects noone, offers himself fully and completely for both the greatest and the least. Nobody is forgotten or overlooked. Nobody claims more than their fair share simply for being famous or rich or influential. Such attributes have no place or meaning in the Kingdom of God, where all are equal before their creator, and will enjoy perfect peace with one another.


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