Bible Study

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Bible Study: Proper 20 (B) – 2012

September 23, 2012

Proverbs 31:10-31

This, to me, is a challenging passage. It is difficult to look beyond the immediate visceral reaction to the patriarchal assumptions about a woman’s life and worth being connected to her husband – thus the description of the “capable wife.” These assumptions would have been expected and accepted when Proverbs was written. And we know that passages such as these continue to be used to relegate women around the world to second-class status. As difficult as it may be, I urge you to look further, to read more deeply, because this passage says much about the woman’s independence, her strength, her skills, and her ability to execute life-giving choices for herself, her family, and the poor and needy. Although vulnerable in the society, she is clothed in strength and dignity and is recognized for speaking with wisdom and kindness. As I read this passage more deeply, I imaging the “capable wife” in conversation with the Lord she fears, letting God know that she making the best use of the gifts God has given her while holding society’s assumptions and expectations lightly, as she “laughs at the time to come” when God’s vision will be the reality for all.

  • Do you find it possible or valuable to dig deeper into those biblical passages that challenge your theology and worldview, perhaps especially with those passages that have been used to silence your voice? Are you able to focus on the wisdom or a vision of God’s kingdom that enables you to hold the challenging bits lightly?
  • Where in your life are you challenged to look beyond what you first see to what is underneath? Is it with a particular person or group of people? Is it with a particular theology, worldview, or political stance? Are you able to see anything positive with a deeper look?

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 tells us that those who depend on God will be fruitful. When we make God’s will the focus of our lives, that pivotal center from which we derive our strength and abilities, we will prosper. When we allow human will – “the counsel of the wicked” or “the way of sinners” or a “scornful” attitude – to become the source of our values and actions, we lose our ability to live righteously, to live in accordance with God’s will. We become estranged from God. This estrangement leads to the kind of deep unhappiness that can be characterized as despair or hopelessness. As Christians, we understand that God’s will, God’s desire for life-giving relationship with us, is transformative, leading to hopefulness and joy. With hopefulness and joy we are able to live into the unique gifts that God gives to each of us in ways that are fruitful and allow us to prosper God’s kingdom.

  • Where are the places in your life where you consider yourself less than fruitful? Are those places in which you find it more difficult to follow God’s will?
  • What would it take to let go of human will and desires and allow God’s will to become the focus of that part of your life?

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

James’ epistle continues the theme of dependence on God in all that we are and do. James extends the ideas of God’s will and wisdom beyond the individual to relationships in community. In much the same way that reliance on human will leads to estrangement from God and despair and hopelessness for the person, reliance on “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” wisdom leads to discord in the community. We are rendered unable to live peaceably with each other because we are focused on the ways in which we feel slighted or deprived. When we are focused in this way we cannot see all that God has given us and is doing in and through us. We no longer consider ourselves blessed to be created in God’s image, as each of us is, and crave those things that are not born of the pure love that is God’s love for God’s creation. We lose sight of ourselves as God’s own. We lose our ability to ask of God what is God’s will for us and become vulnerable to wickedness and sin. James tells us to submit ourselves to God, to be vulnerable to the full experience of God’s will in our lives, because in that vulnerability we will experience God’s grace and mercy.

  • If you think about the places of discord and conflict in your life, are those places in which you feel you have been slighted or deprived somehow? Are those places in which you feel vulnerable to another person?
  • Where are the places in your life in which it is easier to experience or recognize God’s grace and mercy? Would you say that in those places you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable to God?
  • Is there a place that you would like to be more vulnerable, to draw nearer to God so that you might know God’s presence more fully in your life?

Mark 9:30-37

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples what it is like to be vulnerable. Jesus talks about his willingness to be vulnerable to the wickedness of the humanity that will crucify him because of his willingness to be vulnerable to the pure love of God, to the full experience of God’s grace and mercy. The disciples are confused, they argue amongst themselves about who is greatest, completely missing the point of Jesus’ message. They want to be recognized as great in human terms when the real gift is to be recognized as one of God’s own on God’s terms. In an example that might be confusing to those of us who live in a society and culture in which children are loved and nurtured, Jesus holds up the example of a child as the epitome of righteous vulnerability. In Jesus’ time a child would have been barely noticed and certainly would not have been a priority recipient of the community’s resources, because a child had little or no economic value, and even less voice. Jesus is telling the disciples and us that God sees us fully in our vulnerability. When we acknowledge that about ourselves and each other, we experience God’s presence more deeply in our lives.

  • Where are the places in your life in which you struggle to be seen and heard and recognized? Are those places in which you might feel differently about yourself and the world if you focused on welcoming yourself as a child before God?
  • Where are the places in your life in which you are better able to be vulnerable before God and are aware of the presence of God’s grace and mercy? What is it about those places that makes that possible? Is there something happening there that you might replicate in the places of struggle?

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Christopher Sikkema


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This page is available in: Español