Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost Study

22ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   10-24-2021

FIRST READING:   Jeremiah 31:7-9

Chapters 30-31 of Jeremiah have traditionally been called “the book of consolation”. In the midst of many oracles of judgment, these chapters are primarily prophecies of hope.

The prophet, living in Judah, speaks a word of hope and promise, not only to the southern kingdom of Judah about its homecoming from exile in Babylon, but also to the northern kingdom of “Israel” or “Ephraim” and its restoration more than a century after its own exile in Assyria! In each kingdom, south and north, the audience may be multiple: (1) there are those who remained, in Israel long ago and in Judah more recently, who were left behind as children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, extended families, and neighboring tribes were taken from them; (2) there are those now in exile, the people of Israel and Judah, who were deported from their homeland against their will, now only connected in memory and in tradition, they and their descendants scattered to the corners of the earth. Only God knows where they have been taken. Only God can bring them back home. And God will do it!

Scattering was described in Jeremiah 6:22, and now gathering is promised, God’s great reversal of the situation. It’s time to rejoice, it’s time to praise God! The people will be returned by the might of God, and not even through some army of God. There will be few or no limitations on who is gathered – “from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together.” Vulnerabilities and disabilities will not exclude people from God’s gathered NEW community. Please note that such persons would not have been as warmly welcomed, as easily included, in that “old time religion” that was practiced before the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom each fell. God is creating something far more inclusive.

 It seems like a long journey by such persons on foot would not be very possible, but God will make a way. God will give the strength to travel, God will provide fresh water to sustain, God will create a straight and smooth path to travel, and God will hover over them like a divine “helicopter” parent.

Ruthless power brought destruction and death, captivity brought humiliation, exile brought sorrow. But freedom will bring triumph and life!

How is the idea of inclusive community reflected in this text? In your congregation? 

When have you experienced God’s restoration in your life? 

Do you think the “weeping” in verse 9 describes tears of sorrow or tears of joy? Could it be both? But then read a few verses below today’s reading, Jeremiah 31:15-19. If you wonder about Rachel and her children, read Genesis 29:18, 30 and Genesis 46:19-20. Jeremiah depicts “Rachel weeping” over her children, her descendants. But Matthew 2:16-18 offers a deeper meaning.

 

PSALM READING:   Psalm 126

This psalm celebrates restoration with an agricultural flavor: seeds of sorrow becoming sheaves of joy.

Here the believing community is remembering with joy and gratitude that God, in the year 538BC – the year when King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and set the exiles free – had “restored the fortunes of Zion”. No matter that the actual event was many years back… the unlimited joy that was experienced then has never been forgotten.

Verses 4-6 suggest that there are still problems to be faced… God’s people are still in some trouble. But good memories and sustaining hope continue.

Can you celebrate an “anniversary” of a time when God did something so marvelous in your life that you thought you were dreaming? Can you remember when seeds of sorrow might have become a harvest of joy? 

 

SECOND READING:   Hebrews 7:23-28

Hebrews seems to be a written sermon addressed to Jewish-Christians who have known and shared the faith together for some time in deeds of love and through times of hardship and great persecution [See 10:32-34]… but now they are tired, discouraged, perhaps challenged once more, and wondering whether it is worth holding on to Christ any longer. The author of Hebrews wants to encourage these struggling Christians – and US! – to keep on holding on, to persevere, to “trust the process” (borrowing a recent phrase attached to the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team).

In today’s reading the author continues to highlight what is unique and superior in Jesus. The author points out that human priests, from the tribe of Levi in Jewish tradition, had some limitations: they needed to make sacrifices day after day after day, they were required to also offer sacrifice for their own sinfulness, and they only served until their death. In contrast, Jesus is God’s Son, the holy, sinless, resurrected high priest. He sacrificed for our sins “once for all” when he offered himself. Death did not terminate his priestly service, but through his death and his resurrection he still intercedes for our sins.

What difference does Jesus’ “once for all” (all people? all time?) sacrifice make to you in terms of your security with God? Your self-image? Your desire to follow Christ?

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 10:46-52

This is the last healing story in the Gospel of Mark. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar of Jericho, persists in crying out to Jesus, somehow recognizing his identity and honoring him, Bartimaeus is the first person to call him “Son of David”, a descendant of treasured Jewish royalty and the promise of precious Jewish prophecy. He asked Jesus for healing. How does his request, a need he expresses, compare to last Sunday’s Gospel reading (verses 35-45) when brothers James and John request a want for power, prestige, and privilege? Why do you think the results are different? 

The cloak Bartimaeus threw aside in verse 50 perhaps represents the only thing of value that he possesses; it is his home and his protection against the cold, the sun, the rain, the dogs, and the crowd. Yet he easily drops it when Jesus comes calling. Do you remember the rich man in 10:17-23 who left Jesus with sadness because he was unwilling to let go of his great wealth? Do you think Bartimaeus even looked back at his cloak after  he was healed? 

Some Biblical scholars have identified Mark 8:31 – 10:52 as his “discipleship section”. It is probably no accident that two blind men set the boundaries for this section. You might read Mark 8:22-26 and compare it to today’s reading. It seems like physically “blind” persons are making progress in Mark: the first man, at Bethsaida, was brought to Jesus, then was touched twice before he was healed… this week’s blind man takes more initiative, is healed just by Jesus’ words, and jumps up to follow.

Did Bartimaeus – who confesses that Jesus is the Son of David and follows him the seventeen miles from Jericho to Jerusalem where Jesus is about to suffer and die – actually “see” and “follow” better than the disciples who have been with him longer? In the Gospel of Mark the disciples go from dumb to dumber as you read from beginning to end. They start out not really understanding and they end up understanding even less.

In answer to Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?”, what are you seeking… what do you need or what do you want?  

As you think of Bartimaeus, healed and traveling, what does it mean for you to “follow Jesus on the way” in your life? 

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