Insights with Seitz: Symphony of Scripture

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 3rd, 2021

November 18, 2020

There is a good deal of symphonic overlay in our lessons for this Sunday. This is due to the recycling of texts across our readings, as the Bible speaks from depth to depth, as it so often does! That is its genius. A book unlike any other book.

Jesus cites verses that appear in Genesis 1 (God made them male and female) and Genesis 2 (For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh). The OT reading for the day is taken from this same section in Genesis 2. The psalm chosen for the day is psalm 8, which is itself a reflection or meditation on the same opening texts from Genesis.
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet: 
Mastery over the works of your hands corresponds to Genesis 1 and 2 both: humankind is to have charge of the earth—be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish, birds, every living thing—and the naming of the animals which is related in our OT reading. 
8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea

Leaving the Letter of James, our Epistle reading for the next 7 Sundays, that is, right up to Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the lectionary year, are all selections drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews.

The portion for today from the first chapter of Hebrews quotes this same Psalm 8. But you will note that it makes some important alterations. The spatial qualifier ‘a little’ has in Greek become open to a temporal reading, instead of “a little lower than the angels” (or sons of God) “for a little while lower.” 

The effort to render ‘adam (man or mankind) of Psalm 8 into inclusive language (‘human beings’) has the consequence of setting up a clear even sharp contrast, otherwise left more open for Hebrews’ use: On this inclusive language generated version, the psalm promised that human beings would have dominion, but this did not transpire: “we do not see everything in subjection to them.” 

Older translations (man/son of man) left more space for interpretation. The “little while” of the son of man’s lowering could then refer to Jesus and the incarnation, and the subjugation to come a matter of providential inauguration by Christ in his descent, and now crowned with glory and honor. Jesus the descended one having tasted death for all mankind. In this he is our—mankind’s, Adam’s—pioneer and perfecter, therefore. 

And this, in a marvelous turn based upon Hebrews’ final verse use of Psalm 22, allows special notes to sound forth. Jesus the sufferer of Psalm 22’s “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” has walked a path that ends in his proclamation of God’s name in the congregation of those who are now brothers and sisters. “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters/In the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” The mankind given mastery because of his suffering and victory. “O Lord our governor, how great is your name in all the earth”: the final line of Psalm 8, is true after all, true because of the little while descent the son of man underwent for those of us little lower than the angles, promised mastery and given it by God in his son. 

The Gospel reading from Mark 10 picks up on different verses from the Genesis reading, those involving God’s forming of woman to be a fit partner for Adam, having paraded the formed-from-the-dust animals before him so that he might name them. Naming is not relational conversation, which the man desires, and for that there needs to be a species like unto himself and indeed derived from him. There is ish and ishah, man and woman, a partner fit for him, and he for her. It is to this text that Jesus turns because in the garden the ideal and the original intention are set out. Later commandments arise to deal with divorce, but they are the consequence of human hardness of heart and so signs more of that than of God’s designing. Jesus therefore cites the relevant verses from Genesis. 

The Pharisees are trying to test Jesus, Mark says, with this question about divorce being permissible or not. He gives his response from the same law to which they appeal and indicates the priority for interpretation. We hear no more from them, as Jesus again takes his own disciples aside for instruction.

We then have a brief snippet in which the theme of little children re-emerges. Just previously Jesus placed a little child in their midst to counter the disciples with rank concerns, and his reference to little ones at the end of chapter 9 referred to his true followers. Here we see yet another episode where the disciples are caught rebuking an action that Jesus himself encourages and welcomes and even here blesses.

The embrace of children is consistent with the force of Genesis 2: they shall become one flesh. Jesus embraces and blesses and lays his hands on the designs of God at creation, rejuvenated by the Son of God over the hardness of heart in Moses generation or here before his own eyes in the actions of the disciples. These are not salutary days for the misguided, in need of instruction, disciples.

Track One leaves Esther and moves to Job. The 42 chapter book is given four episodes to speak up, in the logic of Track One’s selections from OT books, during the Sundays of October. 
Our selection is taken from chapter 2, the second of two rounds of the Satan given permission to test Job. Job is introduced as the paradigm of righteousness. The prophet Ezekiel refers to him in the same way, alongside Noah. The author of the book locates its hero in primordial times, righteous like unto Noah. He is further renown, we are told, for his life and manner of prayer and daily offering on behalf of his family. Steadfastness is the character trait remembered in the fifth chapter of James. In what does the test consist? The answer is given in chapter one and the entire drama to unfold turns on it, though Job does not know, even as we are given the answer. Satan holds that no one will serve God for naught, for nothing but God’s own sake. God believes Job is such a man. But for Job to prove so, he must demonstrate his steadfast commitment to God through an ordeal in which he loses everything that might be said to cause his steadfastness, and be left alone with God. He does not curse God to his face as Satan promises, but begins a journey into hell on earth all the same, whose verdict we will not discover until he demonstrates his perseverance through it all.

It will take three rounds with so-called friends, but in the end he stands firm, and demonstrates the wisdom our psalm depicts for this day. Give judgment for me O Lord, for I have lived with integrity, and will not forfeit it through an ordeal like no other. 

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