Lectionary Commentaries for October 28, 2018
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 10:46-52

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

The tale of blind Bartimaeus is a bit uncanny in Mark’s Gospel — because nothing goes wrong.

Was Mark feeling quite well the day he jotted down this one? Had he eaten something funny, like maybe one of the poisons mentioned in Mark 16?

Much of the time the Gospel of Mark feels like a gauntlet thrown down. His Jesus, off to a great start, has already blown his reputation by Mark 2 and convinced people that he is either crazy or demonic by Mark 3. Despite mastering nature, demons, disease, and death, Jesus is momentarily defeated by the “unbelief” he encounters in Mark 6. To say nothing of the shocking denouement of the crucifixion story and a seriously ambiguous encounter at the empty tomb.

It’s much as if Mark is daring you to infer correctly who Jesus is, supplying evidence without drawing the conclusion for you — as in the parallelism between “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1) and “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), or the not entirely straightforward rebuttal “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” in Mark 10:18, or the centurion’s confession: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Are you really going to trust a centurion on this one?

Simmering beneath the surface of Mark’s incredible (which means, unbelievable) story lies a commentary on the nature of faith. It comes a little clearer in the Greek, since English suffers from the bifurcated terminology of “faith” and “believe/belief.” In Greek, every instance of faith/believe/belief contains the — pist root, as seen below. (This list omits the instances in the later ending of Mark, which positively bristles with — pist terms: whoever wrote it, if it wasn’t Mark, at least grasped the theological importance of the theme in the rest of the Gospel.)

– 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe (pisteuete) in the gospel.”
– 2:5 And when Jesus saw their faith (pistin), he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
– 4:40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith (pistin)?”
– 5:34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith (pistis) has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
– 5:36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe (pisteue).”
– 6:6 And he marveled because of their unbelief (apistian).
– 9:19 And he answered them, “O faithless (apistos) generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
– 9:23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes (pisteuonti).”
– 9:24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe (pisteuo); help my unbelief (apistia)!”
– 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (pisteuonton) in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea…”
– 10:52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith (pistis) has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
– 11:22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith (pistin) in God…”
– 11:23 “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes (pisteue) that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”
– 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe (pisteuete) that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
– 11:31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe (episteusate) him?’”
– 13:21 “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe (pisteuete) it.”
– 15:32 “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe (pisteusomen).” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Of course, note the final instance of –pist here: a sarcastic taunt on the part of the powers-that-be regarding their own potentiality for faith. But today in the tale of blind Bartimaeus we get a happier account of faith, so let’s enjoy it while we can.

What stands out about Bartimaeus is that he calls on Jesus by name, appending that impressive title “Son of David,” without ever having met him. In fact, he not only calls out; he creates a ruckus. Onlookers try to shush him. Undeterred, he demands mercy. The rich young man wanted eternal life, James and John wanted glory, but this guy, blind and parked on the roadside, wants only mercy. He doesn’t even specify the nature of the mercy until Jesus puts the question to him plainly. When Jesus responds with “Call him,” the crowd quickly changes its tune to say “Take heart, he is calling you,” and Bartimaeus tosses his cloak aside in his eagerness. He may be blind, but he isn’t lame: “he sprang up.” On receiving his sight he learns “your faith has made you well,” a statement applied only to one other person in the Gospel, the woman with the issue of blood. She too was distinguished by her adamant insistence on contact with Jesus when he passed by in the midst of the crowd. Restored to sight, Bartimaeus doesn’t “go your way,” as Jesus instructed, but “followed him on the way,” a new disciple.

As always in Mark, the placement of a story and its contrasts contribute to the meaning. He’s the second blind man to be healed, but the first time was the slightly embarrassing “trees walking” episode. What happens between the first and the second healing of sight is Jesus’ three prophecies of his crucifixion. At first the hearer/reader, like the first blind man, gets only a garbled, blurry view of Jesus — but after the news of the cross, with Bartimaeus, things come at last into crisp focus.

Bartimaeus’s story is also wedged between the Zebedee boys’ massive miscalculation on the nature of glory and Jesus’ apparently glorious entry into Jerusalem. Between these two manifestations of glory is a manifestation of mercy, sought and bestowed. Those who have ears to hear know which one to prefer.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 31:7-9

Michael L. Ruffin

Jeremiah 31:7-9 is found within the part of the book interpreters call “The Book of Consolation” (30:1–31:40) because in it God promises restoration and renewal to the people after the Babylonian exile.

The section’s introduction establishes its theme: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it” (30:2-3).

That these promises are made to both “Israel and Judah” means that they apply to the whole people of God. Many scholars think that the Book of Consolation contains words of promise that Jeremiah made before the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 587 concerning the northern kingdom, which fell to the Assyrians in 722/21 BCE. If that is the case, then the text we now have reflects a reworking of those traditions to include Judah by Jeremiah and/or later editors.

So while our verses present promises to the northern kingdom of Israel (also referred to as Jacob or Ephraim), the overall context makes them part of the promises to the southern kingdom of Judah as well (see Jeremiah 30:2-4; 31:23-34). The closing verses of the book of Jeremiah (52:31-34; see 2 Kings 25:27-30) show that its final editing took place after 560 BCE, when the exiles had been in Babylon for three decades, and so was done in light of the experience of Jerusalem’s destruction and the resulting crisis.

Great rejoicing (verse 7)

The verses leading up to our passage set the stage for the rejoicing encouraged in Jeremiah 31:7. Because God is committed to Israel (verses 2-3), God will restore the people to the land (verses 4a, 5). This restoration will bring about much celebration (verse 4b). Some of that celebration will take place in Jerusalem (“Zion,” verse 6). If, as seems likely, Jeremiah initially issued these words before the Babylonians conquered Judah, he means the restored people of Israel will again worship in the still-standing temple in Jerusalem. But in the canonical form of the book, the summons to worship in Jerusalem implicitly promises the restoration of Judah and the reconstruction of the temple.

The word “save” is imperative in the Masoretic Text and thus implores the Lord to save Israel. The verb is past tense in the Septuagint (“the Lord has saved”) and so looks back on what God has already done.1 This offers an opportunity to make a preaching point based on a grammatical question: it’s one thing to celebrate God’s saving acts of the past, but how well do we celebrate God’s saving acts of the future? How can and should we celebrate what we look forward to God doing, even though we can’t know when God will do it?

Great reversal (verse 8)

The reason for rejoicing is restated: God will bring God’s people home. “The land of the north” would be Assyria from Israel’s perspective and Babylon from Judah’s point of view. But God will bring God’s people home “from the farthest parts of the earth,” so from anywhere they happen to be. So here is one aspect of the great reversal: whereas the people once went into exile to the north, they will now return home from the north. The exile journey will be replaced by the homeward journey. It is important to note that the people will not come home on their own; the Lord will bring them. The return home is divinely accomplished deliverance.

We see the second aspect of the great reversal in the naming of those who will be included. We have seen that God promises to bring both Israel and Judah home, which is a way of saying all of God’s people. In Jeremiah 31:7, the ones who will be saved from exile are called “the remnant of Israel,” which narrows down who constitutes “all of God’s people.” Perhaps “remnant” means “survivors,” after all, many didn’t survive to go into exile and many died in exile. On the other hand, the “remnant” often refers to those who have remained faithful to God, so perhaps we should incorporate that element into our thinking about those whom God will deliver.

We should certainly pay close attention to those specifically named as belonging to the “great company” that will come home: “the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor.” These are ones who might be expected to be left behind when a long and arduous journey is to be undertaken because they must be cared for and would be expected to slow down a caravan. Instead their inclusion is highlighted. Those who are vulnerable and who require the community’s compassionate care will be the honored guests on the journey home.

Great renewal (verse 9)

The return from exile will not only reverse the journey into exile. It will also be a new exodus. As such, it will be a renewal of the nation’s life that was established in the exodus from Egypt. God says, “I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble …” This sounds like a shepherd leading sheep to safety.2 The language also implies an easier journey than that of the original exodus that took forty years, followed a circuitous path, and featured crises revolving around a lack of water. In this journey home, God will lead the people straight home along a way that has abundant water.3

While it is a righteous remnant that will make the journey home, we should remember that Israel and Judah’s exiles constituted judgment for their lack of faithfulness to God. The first exodus followed a 400-year sojourn in Egypt — an exile of sorts — that was not judgment for Israel’s sin. But the people’s lack of faithfulness led to the journey of forty years.

This great renewal will take place because of God’s great commitment to God’s people. So it is with all great renewals among God’s people.


  1. Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 430.
  2. Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 284.
  3. J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 570.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17

W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.

In the opening chapters of the book of Job, a dialogue takes place within the Divine Council, a dialogue between God and the hassatan about Job.

The hassatan queries “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Or put differently, would Job fear God if he had nothing? The hassatan answers his own question in Job 1:11 and 2:5, declaring that if God were to strip Job of all that he had, then Job would assuredly curse God to his face. The reader arrives at Job 42 with the original question of the hassatan still in the air. God has appeared to Job in the whirlwind and offered a dizzying array of cosmological and meteorological references to which Job offers his response in chapter 42. Will Job curse God to his face?

Even as the meaning of the speeches of God appeared somewhat opaque at first, so it is also with responses of Job. What is certain, however, is that the hassatan is incorrect. When afforded the opportunity, Job does not curse God. Embedded within his brief reply are two quotes from the earlier speeches of God (verse 3a, 38:2; verse 4a, 38:3; and 40:7b) around which he makes several confessions. These are not confessions of sin or transgressions but an acknowledgement that indeed his worldview has been reoriented (see comments on Job 38:1-7, 34-41). He thought he fully understood how the world, and by extension God, operated, but having received instruction from the Creator (chapters 38-41), he now knows otherwise.

Central to this new orientation is his comment in verse 5. Job admits that he had heard of God before, but now he has seen God. Although no one is supposed to see God and live (Exodus 33:20), the Old Testament reports significant moments in Israel’s history when a person or persons has seen God (Genesis 16;13; Isaiah 6:11). In each instance, those who see God come away with “insight,” a new way of seeing the world. For Job, God’s coming in the whirlwind and his lengthy speeches could not be construed as a “verbal beat down,” as some might suggest, but instead as a wondrous moment of new insight. Job reminds us that while we can learn much about God from what we “hear,” seeing happens when God comes near and our lives are reoriented.

The clearest evidence of this change in Job’s perspective appears in verse 6, but that verse is not without its challenges both in translation and interpretation. Both the New International Version (NIV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translate the verse as “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Rendered as such, the final confession sounds like something a person would read in one of the penitential psalms. These translations appear to suggest that Job is repenting of some sin, but such an understanding would certainly undercut one of the central themes of the book, that is that Job has not sinned.

There is another, and in my mind, preferable way to render and understand the verse. In Job 42:6a, the verb can mean to “reject” or “retract.” The verb appears repeatedly throughout Job with that meaning in view (for example Job 31:3). Although the NIV and NRSV insert the word “myself” in their translations, there is actually no explicit object of the verb in the Hebrew. Rather than rejecting “myself,” it seems more likely that Job is referencing his words or thoughts: “I reject my words.”

Job rejects his earlier words because he has come to a new understanding, as becomes clear in 42:6b. Although, the NIV and NRSV translate the verb na?am as “repent,” a word that typically connotes repenting from some sin or transgression, the verb na?am can also refer to a changing of one’s mind as clearly evident in Amos 7:3, 6. Job is not repenting of sin but changing his mind, and in particular, he changes his mind concerning (?al) the human condition (dust and ashes). The mechanistic worldview cannot explain the human condition or God’s way in the world.

Following Job’s confession, he is restored twofold (Job 42:10). For example, the livestock mentioned in verse 12 is double that of his original holdings in the prologue and we are told that Job lives 140 years, double that of the expected life span (compare with Psalm 90:10). The restoration of Job has long puzzled interpreters and rightly so. Although the speeches in the book of Job challenge the doctrine of retribution, the epilogue seems to advocate for that view, that is Job was restored because he did the “right” thing.

The ending may, however, suggest a different reading. In Job 1:9, the hassatan asked, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Job’s response in 42:1-6 seems to answer in the affirmative; he fears God without any assurance of a subsequent blessing. Understood this way, the restoration of Job reflects God’s faithfulness to those who fear him. Job does not fear God to receive a reward, but in fearing God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God.


Commentary on Psalm 126

Matthew Stith

Psalm 126 is among the relatively small number of psalms for which historical context is both fairly certain and highly useful for interpretation.1

The psalm’s opening line refers to a time “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,” and verses 1-3 describe the people’s memory and experience of that time. Virtually all interpreters see here a reference to the return of Judahite exiles from Babylonia and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem during the latter half of the 6th century BCE, which is celebrated in the psalm as an occasion of joy so intense as to be dreamlike, and as an instance of God’s restorative power so impressive that even the surrounding nations took note of it.

This restoration of the people on a grand scale is the essential background of the psalm. All that the people have to say here is conditioned by their memory of this most stunning turn from a life of suffering and exile under the just punishment of God to a life of rejoicing in Zion under God’s favor. It is because the people remember that God has acted in this way in the past that they can pray, in verse 4, for a similar restoration in their own current situation. Translators differ on whether to construe verses 5-6 as a continuation of the people’s petition in verse 4 or as a statement anticipating the restoration for which they pray, but in either case, it is clear that the recollection of the dramatic events of the return from exile lend confidence to the people’s prayer.

The course to take in exposition of Psalm 126 will depend upon the interpreter’s assessment of the congregation’s particular situation:

  • If the congregation is undergoing significant difficulties, it may be helpful to rehearse the historical context of the psalm, and to emphasize that it is a confident prayer for help, founded on the evidence and memory of God’s restorative power in times of great crisis. Similar occasions of God’s intervention can be adduced, from Scripture and possibly from the life and history of the particular congregation, to encourage the people in prayer and in hope.
  • In less-distressed congregational contexts, the interpreter might draw upon the psalm’s status as one of the “Songs of Ascent,” generally understood to be a collection of psalms sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem to observe major religious festivals in the Second Temple period. This context reminds the reader that prayers for God’s restoration are not only to be offered in times of crisis, but should be a part of the routine prayer life of God’s people, as the need for restoration and renewal is hardly limited to times of visible and flagrant suffering. Regular attention to this sort of prayer is important because even in the best of times, life needs regular doses of God’s renewing power, and because the best of times are, by definition, temporary.

It is also worth noting that the petition and following verses (4-6) do not seem to envision or even request the sort of world-shaking, nation-realigning intervention that brought about the joyful return of verses 1-3. Instead, the people’s anticipated experience of the restorative power of God is described as being like the flow of seasonal waterways in the arid Negev after the winter rains, or like the growth and harvesting of crops after the sowing of seed into a barren field—something that takes time, but can be confidently expected as a regular feature of life. Exploration of other such regular or even mundane instances of God’s renewal in the lives of the congregation and its members might yield additional grounds for both joy and thanksgiving in the present and confidence for the future.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Oct. 25, 2015.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 7:23-28

Jennifer T. Kaalund

Many scholars attest that Hebrews is a homily, an eloquent sermon.

Knowing the genre of the text is important for helping us to determine the intent of the author. This knowledge can perhaps lead to a better understanding of the text, as well. After all, reading a sermon is not the same as reading a newspaper or magazine article or a blog post. First, the rhetorical maneuvers of an orator are not always easy to discern in the written word. And yet, we can attempt to read the text with an ear attentive to a way that an audience may have received it.

Homilies are written primarily for two reasons: 1) to encourage the faithful or 2) to influence others to embrace the faith. In both cases, effective homilies are persuasive. For the writer of Hebrews, this “word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22) exhibits these qualities. So why would a sermon that is urging suffering believers to keep the faith emphasize the role of Jesus as a priest?

In order to persuade the audience to remain faithful, Hebrew’s author highlights unique attributes of Jesus. In fact, it is only here in the New Testament that we find an explicit reference to the priesthood of Jesus. And in these verses, Jesus’ priesthood is distinguished from every other. Not only is Jesus described as holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (characteristics that are reiterated throughout the text), his priesthood is also defined as being permanent, unchangeable. This office is certified by God, Godself. What is clear is that Jesus is a priest like no other. There are two aspects about the distinctiveness of this priesthood worth exploring in more detail: its permanency and its efficacy.

Jesus: priest extraordinaire

That Jesus holds his priesthood permanently is significant. We overwhelmingly support term limits. There are not many offices where we want someone to maintain their position indefinitely. Kings and emperors, prime ministers and presidents all perish. Their reigns eventually end when they die. The changing of the guard is important because when the people who hold these roles change, the role itself changes.

An office is subject to the individual who holds it. A rare exception to term limits in the United States is found in the Supreme Court. The rationale for such an appointment is to ensure consistency in the interpretation of law, working with an assumption that judges are impartial. And yet even in this case, death prevents them from holding the office into perpetuity. Jesus, however, is unhindered by death and therefore is an eternal presence. Because Jesus continues as a priest forever, the audience and by extension, you and I, can be assured of an eternal advocate.

Of all of the roles that Jesus plays in the New Testament, it is his priesthood that perhaps more than any other elucidates and clarifies our relationship to God. Historically, the role of a priest, simply put, was to bring offerings and offer sacrifices. As a priest, Jesus makes intercession on our behalf, in fact the writer describes him as “always living for the purpose of pleading for them” — the ones who come through him to God — (Hebrews 7:25). This is why we pray in the name of Jesus, so that Jesus pleads our case.

Jesus did not simply bring a traditional offering, he becomes the ultimate sacrifice, offering his very life. As an appointed Son, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect. It is perfect because it is effective. All of these priestly duties, offerings and sacrifices, are conducted in order to make it possible for us, the believer, to draw close to God, to approach the unapproachable. To know Jesus as a priest is to acknowledge him as a constant mediator, a bridge, our way over and out and through difficult circumstances and into the presence of a loving God.

Jesus: our eternal wingman

How often have we come into the presence of someone, a mere mortal, who seems unapproachable? Their status or position, their posture or their attitude can all lead us to believe that this is a person whom we are not worthy to get close to. Queen Elizabeth, Oprah, Beyoncé, Bono, (insert your favorite celebrity or dignitary here) could all elicit such a response. We may feel intimidated, unworthy, in awe of their gifts and talents. Piercing the boundary of bodyguards and protectors enables some level of proximity, but that alone does not ensure a personal connection.

Now, let’s imagine that a friend grabs you by the hand, walks you up to the person and introduces you. Moreover, what if your friend insists that you are someone that this person needs to know? This is essentially how the writer of Hebrews wants the audience to think of Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of the faith. The one who pierced the veil of the Holy of Holies holds our hands and introduces us to the living God.

Having made the introduction, it is no wonder that the author of Hebrews exclaims that we should approach the throne of grace boldly! (Hebrews 4:16) And yet, Jesus is so much more than our wingman. Jesus lives for the very purpose of pleading for us — not only did he create the opportunity for us to approach God (unlocking the door) he also maintains the possibility for us to come to God (keeping the door open).

Jesus as a priest expands our vision of who he is and what he did and perhaps more importantly what he continues to do. His role as priest reveals to us that we are in constant need of a savior. We are in constant need of God’s grace and mercy and as such Jesus is making intercession on our behalf, reminding us that this grace as mercy is available to us. This is good news to those who are suffering, then and now! Jesus is ever-present to broker the relationship between humanity and God. Just as there is no limit to Jesus’ priesthood; there is no limit to the grace and mercy that God extends to those who approach God.