Lectionary Commentaries for October 24, 2021
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 10:46-52

Luis Menéndez-Antuña

The healing of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, belongs to the genre of healing miracles. Literary-wise, healing narratives follow a rhetorical and formulaic pattern whereby a presentation of the character’s predicament precedes Jesus’ actions and words, generally aimed at transforming a disabled body into an abled one. Such passages conclude with a brief remark about the nature of discipleship and a proclamation made by the healed character about Jesus’ power and divinity. Of course, every healing narrative also includes variations on such a formula, coloring a particular pericope with new insights into the characters of the healer and the healed. 

In this case, Jesus is leaving Jericho, and a group of people accompanies him (10:46). “Being on the road” serves as a literary motif to introduce Bartimaeus, a blind man who sits on the sideway. The description of such a character is straightforward: unable to see and begging for money, Bartimaeus represents the poorest among the poor. 

Although the narrative does not offer more details, the reader realizes that he is a liminal character: outside of the city, outside of the path, outside of the light, and outside of the economy, Bartimaeus, like many beneficiaries of Jesus’ healing, embodies the effects of social exclusion. We should also keep in mind that such a position most likely kept Bartimaeus from having a household. Although he is the “son of,” men in his situation would not be able to form a family, work to sustain himself and his dependents, or fulfill some obligations proper to civic and religious life. 

The narrative builds some tension using the crowd as an obstacle of communication between Jesus the healer and Bartimaeus the healed. Although the multitude charges the man to be quiet, such an injunction only causes the blind man to renew his proclamation of Jesus as the son of David (10:47-48). Bartimaeus, then, confesses his faith in Jesus before the healing. Jesus’ final words (10:52) function as an approval of the blind man’s confession.

Compared with a previous healing of a blind man (8:22-26), this scene shows remarkable differences (8:22-26). The blind man from Bethsaida, in a considerably shorter passage, is brought to Jesus. In this case, it is the multitude that intercedes on behalf of the blind man. The healing takes place in two stages: first, Jesus takes saliva from his mouth and puts it on the blind man’s eyes, provoking him to see as if in shadows. Immediately afterward, Jesus proceeds to touch him again, and this time the healing comes to complete success. The episode ends with Jesus sending the healed man back to his home and asking him not to go into town. 

The differences between both healings are essential: not only do they differ in who takes the initiative or the role of the crowd, but the first episode also has a haptic component (touching becomes an essential part of the healing), while in the second, the word becomes the medicine itself. Furthermore, in this passage, Jesus asks the beggar about his needs, while in the first one, there is no dialogue about the blind man’s wishes. There is no Christological confession in the first one, whereas Bartimaeus confesses Jesus as the son of David from the start. 

In the case of Bartimaeus, we encounter a seemingly insignificant detail that colors the theology of discipleship so prominent in Mark 10. In my commentary to the previous passage (Mark 10:17-31), I suggested that the wealthy man could not become a proper disciple considering Jesus’ commendation that he sold all his belongings. I also suggested that Jesus’ response also implied that the sale of all the belongings probably included slaves and that such action would benefit those on the lower scale of the social strata. Bartimaeus belongs precisely to this group. Subsequently, this passage provides a contrast to the failed discipleship encounter of Jesus and the wealthy man. Such contrast I see pictured in the narrative detail that informs us that Bartimaeus leaves behind the only valued item he owns: “and he, casting away his coat, got up quickly and abruptly jumped towards Jesus” (10:50) 

The cloak here is not only an aesthetic garment. For individuals living below poverty levels, the cloak is a piece that provides warmth in hostile weather conditions, a valuable piece that would allow them to sleep at night or to throw it in front of them to collect money. The garment is also a sign of status and power. 

Although the pericope portrays Bartimaeus as belonging to the lowest echelons of social strata, the garment represents the little power he owns. Jesus’ cloak plays a crucial role in the healing of the woman with the flow of blood (5:27-30). In another passage describing Jesus’ power to heal, Mark summarizes: “wherever he went, into small towns, or great towns, or into the country, they took those who were ill into the market-places, requesting him that they put their hands even on the edge of his robe: and all of those who did so were made well” (6:56). When Jesus walks in Jerusalem, the crowd lays down their cloaks as a welcoming sign (11:8). The partition of Jesus’ cloak in the final episode of the crucifixion culminates the process of torture he has been subjected to (15:24). The cloak plays different functions (source of power, divestment of power, humiliation, reverence, etc.). Still, they all share an understanding of the cloak as a sign of status. 

In a section of the gospel particularly invested in suggesting modes of discipleship, Bartimaeus appears as a radical disciple that cast away his only valuable belonging. The passage ends with a compelling description of Christian discipleship built on wordplay. Whereas the miracle starts with Bartimaeus “sitting on the side of the road” (10:46), it ends with the new disciple “walking, following Jesus on the road” (10:52). This interpretative move is crucial because it provides contemporary readers a focal point beyond the healing, allowing us to steer away from ableist interpretations (admittedly present in the text) that reinforce theologies that equate faith and healing. In other words, I suggest that contemporary interpretations should focus on the blind man’s disposition rather than on the blind man’s condition.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 31:7-9

Elaine T. James

This poem opens with a string of commands: “Sing aloud with gladness!” “Raise loud shouts!” “Proclaim, praise, and say!” The tone is marked with the urgency of joy. 

This should give us pause. The book of Jeremiah is one of the most devastating, despondent, deprecating books in the Bible. The reader is far more likely to encounter woe in Jeremiah than joy. This text, however, comes in a slim little collection sometimes referred to as “The Book of Consolations.” 

The “Book of Consolation” (Jeremiah 30:1–31:40) features oracles, a mix of poetry and prose, that speak of the restoration of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom). These particular verses appear to be written after the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BCE), and they offer hope for people living in exile.

The people are a “remnant,” (Hebrew sherit); they are fugitives or refugees. These are the people who remain of what once were the nations of Israel and Judah, now in exile, having been forced to migrate away from their ancestral lands. The poem draws us into the vivid immediacy of divine action:

       See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north;
       And gather them from the farthest parts of the earth (Jeremiah 31:8a-b).

What was scattered is being brought back. The parallelism of the two lines insists on divine action (bringing / gathering) and the reversal of the geography of displacement: The land of the north is a general way of referring to foreign territory in Mesopotamia. The “farthest parts of the earth” heightens the disparateness of dislocation. Elsewhere in the book their destination is identified as Zion (for example, Jeremiah 50:5), so the hope is a return to Jerusalem. 

The next lines describe the refugees:

     . . . among them, the blind and the lame,
    those with child and those in labor, together;
    A great company, they will return here (Jeremiah 31:8).

The Hebrew is condensed: the first two lines are only three words each, and they emphasize vulnerability. These are people with disabilities. Vision and mobility are highlighted, emblems of disabilities that would affect travel. They are people who are vulnerable: women and children. Among women and children, they are those pregnant and in labor, closest to the perils of childbearing and infancy. Together, these are community members with bodily conditions that require social supports, and for whom a long journey by foot would otherwise not be possible. 

This band of people with disabilities and vulnerabilities are “a great company (qahal).” Not a threatening military force, not a band of elites, this “company” is comprised of those whose bodies by virtue of sex, status, and features were judged as non-normative. These bodies would have been excluded from the “company” (qahal) of cultic worship or some forms of priestly service (see, for example, 2 Samuel 5:8b; Leviticus 21:17–23; Deuteronomy 23:2). This is a band of the marginal, who are made great by the gathering of divine action.

The reversals continue in the next lines, which in Hebrew are only two words each: 

         With weeping they shall come,
         and with consolations I will lead them back (Jeremiah 31:9a).

Tears imply a visible, bodily vulnerability that can be a manifestation of emotional fragility (interior state) as well as the rituals of mourning (public act). In this case, the emotional fragility that can result from the trauma of political displacement is in the foreground. The turning back of tears is conventional poetic language (see Psalm 30:5; 126:5–6; Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4). Here, though, it is not clear whether weeping will cease; the marks of trauma can persist even through divine compassion and guidance.  

The tenderness and advocacy of God is a prominent theme of the last two couplets:

     I will let them walk by brooks of water,
     in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
     for I have become a father to Israel,
     and Ephraim is my firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9b-c).

The social supports needed to provide access for people with disabilities are provided here by God, who will assure a path with water for thirsty travelers and one that is level, on which they will not “stumble.” God provides accommodations for the community. To do so is the outgrowth of care for Israel: “for I have become a father to Israel.”

The metaphor of the divine parent is not altogether common in the texts of the Hebrew Bible, but it is important to Jeremiah and seems to draw on the poetic imagery of Deuteronomy, where God is imagined in the space of a single poem as an eagle, a rock who bears a child, and a “father, who created you” (Deuteronomy 32:11, 18, 6; see also the formula of royal adoption in 2 Samuel 7:14). In this text in Jeremiah, the ultimate sense of divine comfort and hope for the future comes from the nurturing presence of the deity, imagined as the head of an extended kin group, as a father would be in ancient Israel.

The remnant of Israel here is figured as a group all equally vulnerable—they are refugees without the confidence of political security or stable leadership, they are metaphorically and perhaps literally people with disabilities, they are some of them women and others perhaps metaphorically feminized by their military captors. But there is hope in the communal care willingly given to a pregnant woman. The child in the womb or at the breast is the hope of the future for a community in distress. 

The poem draws out these kinship metaphors, fluidly imagining the people as a (male) firstborn, as a woman in labor, as one whose cry for joy is also a plea for God’s help. God listens to the cry and has already both heard and answered it, as an attentive parent or lover might, moved to action by affective ties of attachment.

Alternate First Reading

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

Henry T.C. Sun

It is often remarked that the epilogue to the book of Job is anti-climactic, even antithetical to the central message of the book. To a certain extent, that is true. In part, it can be explained by recognizing that Job 42:10-17 is the ending to the older, traditional narrative that included 1:1 – 2:10 and 42:10b-17.1 Job 42:1-6 is then a separate unit that brings the poetic conversation to a close.  

The book’s compositional history, then, explains some of the tension that is evident between 42:1-6 and 42:10-17.

Poetic conclusion (42:1-6)

There are two main issues in this textual unit.

The first is the apparent repetition of material from the God speeches in verses 3a, “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” (compare Job 38:2) and 4, “I will question you, and you declare to me” (compare Job 33:31 and 38:3; 40:7). It is an open question whether Job is quoting the God speeches2 or whether these are copyist errors that have crept into the text.3

The second issue is the syntax and language of verse 6, the climax of the poetic conclusion and thus its most important part.

Syntactically, the first verb of the verse (emas) has no object, which explains why translations supply different objects for it. The most common object is “myself,” but the New American Bible inserts ‘what I have said,’ which is implied in the translations that use the verb ‘recant’ for emas (for example, the NASB and the NJPS).

Disagreement also exists as to whether the prepositional phrase ‘al ‘aphar we’epher stands alone or is related to the verb which precedes it (wenihamti). Hence, the NJPS translation separates the prepositional phrase from the two verbs that precede it (“Therefore, I recant and relent, Being but dust and ashes”) while the NRSV attaches it to its immediately preceding verb (“therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”).4

Linguistically, the older understanding of emas as “I despise (myself)” may be inaccurate. Recent studies are suggesting that the more accurate translation is “I recant” (from my prior allegation against God).5

All this means that the interpretation of the poetic conclusion is quite uncertain. My best guess is that Job, being unable to answer God’s questions in chapters 38-41, is recanting or withdrawing his accusation about God’s injustice and is changing his mind (i.e. repenting) of his prior understanding of the human condition (i.e. dust and ashes).6  His speech in verses 2-5 would then function as a statement of faith in which Job confesses God’s sovereign power (verse 2), concedes his own lack of understanding by which to judge God (verse 3b), and cherishes his direct experience of God above what he had known from tradition (verse 5).

Prose conclusion

The prose conclusion returns to the narrative style that we saw in chapters 1 and 2.  The problem is that it seems to undercut what we’ve just read in verses 1-6 by “restoring” (shab) Job to his former state of wealth, indeed doubling it (wayyoseph… lemishneh).  In the OT, “doubling” something can be the legal remedy for theft (Exodus 22:4, 7, 9 [MT verses 3, 6, 8]; see also Genesis 43:12-13), and in prophetic oracles of salvation, there is mention of a double portion following divine judgment (Isaiah 61:7; Zechariah 9:12).

This doubling of Job’s former state of wealth and blessedness is explicit in verses 12 (compare Job 1:3, though absent any mention of servants in Job 42) and 16 (compare Psalm 90:10).

In that context, it’s a little odd that verse 13 mentions “seven sons and three daughters,” which equals but doesn’t double Job 1:2.7  While the daughters are not doubled, they are praised as the most beautiful in the land, given highly suggestive names (see the Catholic Study Bible on Job 42:14). They are also given an inheritance, which in turn reflects on Job’s enormous wealth (see the NJB on Job 42:15).

So what can we make of this happy ending to the book of Job?

First, the fact that God did restore the fortunes of Job does not entail the ideology that God had to restore the fortunes of Job.  That would simply be another instance of the mechanical doctrine of retribution. But the fact that God did not have to restore the fortunes of Job does not entail that God could not do so.  

In this sense then, the restoration of Job’s fortunes is an example of God’s free and gracious choice. When my adult son runs an errand for me, I can pay him for his time, but I don’t have to. But even though I don’t have to pay him, I can choose to do so. That’s the kind of thing that is going on here.

Second, it is important to note that the logic of the narrative requires the passing of time for the restoration to be complete. While Job’s wealth, family, and health were taken away in an instant, it is also important to note that the addition of ten children would take time, perhaps as many as ten or more years. We misread the prose conclusion of Job if we see it as the immediate restoration of Job’s prior situation.

Finally, the logic of the prose conclusion also puts theological conversation into a larger life context. As interesting, frustrating, or exhilarating as theological conversation may be, life is still to be lived. David J. A. Clines puts it this way:  

“Even the fundamental questions about God and the universe the author seems to be saying, however pressing, however distressing, have their own context, in a world where human life goes on regardless—eating, drinking, begetting, dying. There is more to life than justice—more perhaps even than theology in general—however insatiable the human spirit may be for answers, however oppressed it may be by injustice.8

May we and our congregations live our own lives of faithful obedience even when we are confounded by the reading of Scripture or the problems of our theology or even a dissatisfaction with the ways of the world in which we live.


  1. The references to the three friends in 2:11-13 and 42:7-10a were no doubt added when the poetic dialogues in chapters 3ff were incorporated into the older narrative.
  2.  For example, David J. A. Clines, “Job 38-42” (WBC 18B; Grand Rapids:  Zondervan [2011]), p 1214-16.
  3. For example, Edouard Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job (Nashville:  Nelson, 1984) pp 645-46.
  4. Commentators often see a link with Genesis 18:27 when Abraham identifies himself with the words “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes (‘aphar wa’epher)”; see, for example, TDOT 8:54 and TDOT 11:263.
  5. For the older understanding, reflected in most translations, see BDB 549. For the verb m’s meaning “to reject what one has previously said,” see HALOT 2:540.
  6. W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3807, (accessed 8 April 2020).
  7. It is routinely noted by commentators that the Hebrew spelling of the word “seven” (shibanah) is unusual, and could be interpreted as an archaic dual ending; see, for example, Dhorme, Job, pp 651-52, and Robert Gordis, The Book of Job (New York:  Jewish Theological Seminary of America [1978]), p 498.
  8. Clines, “Job 38-42,” 1242.


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

Madison N. Pierce

The reading for this week from Hebrews 7:23–28 provides a summary of a rather important discussion from the author of Hebrews. Prior to this selected text, the author goes to great lengths to explain how Jesus can serve as a high priest. Jesus was descended from the line of Judah (Hebrews 7:16), but according to Torah (the Jewish law), to be a priest you had to be from the line of Levi. Further, to be a high priest, you had to be a son of Aaron and be the one selected (Leviticus 21:10).

But this is not to say that no one outside that lineage had ever served as a priest. In fact, at this point in history, many non-Levitical priests had been installed. The Jewish temple had been co-opted by political leaders, and the sanctity of that space had been compromised. The people of God hoped that proper worship might be restored, but they might wonder: how could that happen with yet another priest who wasn’t a Levite?

We do not know for sure what concern the author of Hebrews is addressing among his audience, but he clearly desires to establish the biblical warrant for the high priesthood of Jesus in the central section of Hebrews (4:11–10:25). To do this he uses references to Melchizedek, a priest-king mentioned in Greek versions of Psalm 110:4 as well as Genesis 14.

While Melchizedek deserves additional attention, the reading in the lectionary does not feature this mysterious character. Instead, it highlights the end of the author’s discussion of Jesus’ high priesthood, where he contrasts Jesus with the Levitical priests.

There were many Levitical priests because each one would die and leave an ongoing need (Hebrews 7:23). Their work never ceased. How could it? Their offerings took place daily, weekly, and yearly, and those offerings weren’t retroactive. In other words, new sin required new offerings.

Jesus, conversely, is a perpetual priest (7:24). He lives forever. He needs no succession plan and no descendants. He is a one-person priesthood. Further, since he remains alive, he is always able to intercede on our behalf (7:25). Intercession here probably refers primarily to his prayers on our behalf to God, but these prayers are accompanied by the offering of his own blood on the altar.

Hebrews 7:25 offers an important reminder that the work of Jesus is ongoing. Interpreters frequently point to passages in Hebrews that refer to Jesus sitting down at the Father’s right hand in order to illustrate that the work of Jesus is finished (often citing John 19:30 as further confirmation); however, there is a difference between the offering of Jesus being effective “once-for-all,” and the work of Jesus being completed. He is sitting and waiting (10:12–13), but as he waits, he is interceding on our behalf.

The author then goes on to describe the character of this priest. He is “holy, blameless, and undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (7:26). Each description shows why he is a “fitting” priest. The Law assumes that priests will become ritually impure and that they will sin (see, for example, Leviticus 16:6). Jesus has no need to make an offering on his own behalf (7:27) since he is “undefiled” (7:26).

Even though he has no need to offer a sacrifice on his own behalf—because a sacrifice would be of no benefit to him personally—he still chooses to make one. Like the other priests, he dedicates his life (unto death) to serve his brothers and sisters.

This offering is once-for-all.

Throughout Hebrews, the author goes to great lengths to show how the offering of Jesus corresponds to or parallels offerings from the first covenant. Many acknowledge the parallels with the rituals on the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur), but the author of Hebrews also alludes to other types of offerings, from the daily offerings (the tamid; for example, Numbers 28:3) to the Red Heifer ritual (Numbers 19:1–13).

It also is important to note that comparing Jesus to these offerings is not the author’s way of diminishing the practices of the Jewish people—quite the opposite! The author of Hebrews is drawing upon the beauty and complexity of the Jewish sacrificial system to illustrate the comprehensive nature of the work of Jesus on their behalf. Can you fathom an offering that cleanses all of your sins (individual and corporate), praises God for his generosity and goodness, and unites you in fellowship with other believers? In the Levitical system, these things were accomplished by multiple offerings, made by the priest on behalf of the worshipper. The person making the offering would not shed blood, but that person would pay the cost of what was offered—whether that was grain or a dove or a bull.

But Jesus makes his once-for-all offering by paying all its costs, both physical and metaphorical. As priest, he makes an offering that he himself supplies.

The final verse in this section is also a final point of contrast. Throughout Hebrews 7, the author has drawn a contrast between the Law and the Oath. The Law established the Levitical priesthood; the Oath established the priesthood of Jesus. In Hebrews 6:13–20, the author teaches his audience about oaths: they endure. Another point of contrast established throughout this chapter hinges on the author’s concept of “perfection.” Perfection was not possible through the Levitical law (7:11)—in fact, it made nothing perfect (7:19). But the author of Hebrews says that Jesus is “made perfect” (5:9).

This raises the question: In what way is Jesus not perfect?

In no way. To say that Jesus is “made perfect” is not to say that he is at any point “imperfect.” Our typical use of this term (“perfect”) does not align with how the author is using it. When he refers to Jesus being “perfected,” he most likely refers to Jesus obtaining resurrection life.1 After the Incarnation, the human Christ no longer can die. Further, he perfects those who approach the altar (10:1; see also 9:9). They too are offered this enduring life.

And so, Hebrews 7:23–28 presents to us a perfect priest who lives forever serving as a priest in a perpetual covenant.


  1. David M. Moffitt, Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews, NovTSup 141 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 194–208.