Bible Study

This page is available in: Español

Bible Study: Proper 23 (B) – 2012

October 14, 2012


Job 23:1-9, 16-17

As the story of Job unfolds, Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, have come to sit with Job in his suffering, and to convince him that his fate is deserved. They represent the voices of traditional theology and piety. They insist that the old explanations must hold true, evil deeds are always punished, good is always rewarded. In this matrix, Job should simply admit his fault and acknowledge that God is just. At this point in the text, Job is becoming tired of hearing the harangues of the three, and is now shifting to a sense of longing for God’s presence. Job feels remote from God, drowning in the brutality of God’s silence and inaccessibility. This is a dark night of the soul.

Dark nights are a reality of mature faith and spirituality. The author of Job courageously presents such an experience here in dramatic prose. The darkness of deep desolation oozes through the expressions of searching for God everywhere; finding God nowhere. The inclusion of such a searing and honest text in the biblical canon validates the experience of spiritual darkness for all generations, offering a hand in solidarity across the centuries between the author of Job’s own time and ours.

  • Which word or phrase from Job’s speech in today’s text resonate the most with you?
  • How does your own spiritual/faith experience mirror today’s reading from Job?

Psalm 22:1-15

This psalm of lament, so well know because Jesus’ quotes it, according to Mark’s Passion narrative, is cast in two parts. Our text today holds the first complaint, interspersed with words of hope, and fond remembrance of a former time of the Lord’s closeness. Like the reading from Job, this psalm speaks of darkness and longing for God’s presence. The tone is one of desperation; the psalmist has become pitifully poor in the sense that there is nowhere else to turn but God, and God cannot be found. The text illustrates that the Israelites were not above trying to shame or cajole God into acting. Desperate, dramatic pleas were not beyond the pale in attempts to evoke a compassionate response from the Lord.

Because the psalms were written to be sung in the Temple, lamenting God’s absence and publicly voicing feelings of desperation which accompany spiritual darkness had a place in the Israelite religious imagination. Might there be a place for such ritualized expression in our contemporary church? Most faithful believers pass through times of dryness, feeling nothing but longing, frustration, and an emptiness of soul. Are such people given sufficient pastoral support? We are encouraged, of course, to have a strong, warm personal relationship with God and we hear plenty of testimony from those who experience this. But this psalm, like the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, speak to the reality of those who suffer in the dark and wonder why God remains silent.

  • How might we be more pastorally supportive of those who experiencing times of spiritual darkness?

Hebrews 4:12-16

Our reading from Hebrews today covers a transition in the text– from a final statement about the power of God’s word to an exhortation that we should be confident in approaching God because Jesus, our brother, who sympathizes with us (verse 15), has passed through the heavens to be with God. The humanity of Jesus is underscored once again, but in the context of his exalted divinity. Most significantly, the author teaches that we have an advocate and an understanding ear in Jesus, although he is in a realm far removed from us. And we are invited to move forward toward him – an image which will become prominent in the remainder of the epistle. Hebrews has an engaging way of holding the paradox of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Using vivid imagery of Jesus ascending through the numerous heavens (a reflection of the Israelite belief of the time), he remains connected to us, in solidarity with us, attentive to our hopes and concerns, despite his role as heavenly high priest. The author also emphasizes Jesus’ role as the Son of God (verse 14). This implies special access that a child has to a parent, and invites one to ponder and imagine the mercy, compassion and patience that a child can draw from his/her parents, for one’s self and for others. These few verses lead us toward such an imagining, and a sense of confidence that God, through Jesus, invites us to share in the closeness that he, our brother, enjoys.

  • Is there a particular phrase or image from this passage that resonates with you?
  • How does this text nourish your image of Jesus as a brother?

Mark 10:17-31

Many of Jesus’ teachings speak of the paradoxical way to the kingdom of God –something must be lost in order for the kingdom to be gained. Here Jesus speaks of losing wealth and even family in order to gain. The wisdom of Jesus, and the paradox of Christian faith, is that one must make downward journey, not one of ascent. The wisdom of the world teaches the opposite – we will find happiness in the gain of wealth, power, notoriety, perfection (in work, in family, in social status, in looks, in one’s spouse/partner). But Jesus often speaks about losing, taking a different path that only leads to shedding things, embracing a spirit of poverty (which sometimes might mean actual financial poverty). It is hard to preach and model such ideas in our culture today; most people don’t want to hear it. But there comes a point in life, if one is fortunate, when we begin to see the truth in what Jesus is saying, that there is little wisdom and grace to be gained in success, especially as one enters midlife; that authentic transformation and growth comes from failure, from giving up, from letting go of expectations we set for ourselves, from letting go of control, and letting God’s wisdom lead the way. It is only then that Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel becomes good news, when we are willing to let God do something unexpected, make what seems impossible and paradoxical possible (cf v. 31).

  • Discuss Jesus’ call to a path of descent, of letting go, of giving up. What does this mean for the Christian of the twenty-first century?

This page is available in: Español

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sermons That Work podcast to hear this sermon and more on your favorite podcasting app! Recordings are released the Thursday before each liturgical date.

Receive Free Weekly Sermons That Work Resources!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Contact:
Christopher Sikkema

Editor

This page is available in: Español