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advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauWhat follows are the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — December 15, 2019.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

The alternate reading is designated with a blue heading.

This particular Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday because of the traditional Introit, which calls on God’s people to rejoice. Gaudete is Latin for ‘rejoice’. This is when the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit; traditionally, the priest wore rose coloured vestments on this day.

This is the first line of the original Latin Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

This is the English translation:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Many centuries ago, Advent began on St Martin’s Day, November 11. It was a time of fasting and penitence until Christmas. Gaudete Sunday represented a brief reprieve of a lengthy Advent of self-denial.

Read more about this day below:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

The readings reflect the joy in anticipation of our Lord among us.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Whilst Isaiah prophesies of God’s deliverance of His people upon whom He passed a terrible judgement, he also foretells the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that there is more of Christ and the Church in this chapter ‘than one would have expected’ to see in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 35:1-10

35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus

35:2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

35:8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Psalm

This Psalm excels in its praise of God our Father. Consider everything highlighted.

Psalm 146:5-10

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Alternate reading – Psalm substitute

The Magnificat — Mary’s prayer (said during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother) — can be read in place of the Psalm.

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Epistle

As did the other Apostles, James encouraged the early Christians to be patient, even during persecution. Patience is one of the most difficult of Christian virtues to practise. Yet, we must persevere in it.

James 5:7-10

5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

5:10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel

During his imprisonment, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew Henry explains the various reasons why John did this. It could have been as an encouraging confirmation for himself or it could have been to remove any doubt among his followers that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, humble though He was. Jesus then spoke to the crowd about John.

Matthew 11:2-11

11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples

11:3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:

11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

11:6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?

11:8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

11:9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

11:10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

I hope that some clergy will discuss this rather complex Gospel reading in its context of the day. The Jews expected a temporal Messiah, a king greater than David. If some of John’s disciples believed that, then it was only right that he would want to dispel that error. Similarly, Jesus also confirmed that John the Baptist was preparing the way among the people for His own ministry and commended him for his work in His name.

What follows are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 30, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

The Lectionary readings move from the wisdom of Solomon — Proverbs — to the Book of Esther, which chronicles divine deliverance to Queen Esther’s people through a set of occasionally humorous circumstances. These are events which the Jewish people celebrate on the feast of Purim. In this passage, Esther petitions for the liberation of her subjects.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther.

7:2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.”

7:3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me — that is my petition — and the lives of my people — that is my request.

7:4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”

7:5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?”

7:6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

7:9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.”

7:10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far,

9:21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year,

9:22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Psalm

The Psalm reflects the gratitude for deliverance, thanks to divine providence.

Psalm 124

124:1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say —

124:2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,

124:3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;

124:4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;

124:5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.

124:6 Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

124:7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

First reading

This reading from the Book of Numbers describes the prophesying that two of the 70 elders did in the desert when the Israelites were complaining. When Joshua complains to Moses about the two elders, Eldad and Medad, Moses responds that he wished more would prophesy.

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

11:4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat!

11:5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic;

11:6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

11:10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased.

11:11 So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?

11:12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?

11:13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’

11:14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.

11:15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once–if I have found favor in your sight–and do not let me see my misery.”

11:16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

Psalm

The Psalm writer petitions the Lord to keep him close and to direct him away from faults and insolence, for the ways and laws of the Lord are perfect. Verse 14 will be familiar to many. The clergy at my former Episcopal church recited it before giving their Sunday sermons.

Psalm 19:7-14

19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;

19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Epistle

Readings continue from James. His converts are being persecuted continuously. James urges them to maintain their faith, via prayer and praise. Note that he does not say to protest the powers that be, but to focus on living a godly life.

James 5:13-20

5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.

5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.

5:15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.

5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

5:17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

5:18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

5:19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,

5:20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Here Jesus cautions against sin. He also speaks of salt; verse 50 is particularly noteworthy. Also note other familiar verses: 40 and 42.

Mark 9:38-50

9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

9:40 Whoever is not against us is for us.

9:41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

9:42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,

9:48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

9:50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

We are not meant to amputate ourselves, however, the message here is to turn away from sin. Our bodies are mortal and will one day perish. Jesus’s point is that the soul lives on in the life to come. Therefore, we are meant to pursue Christlike living in order to gain eternal life with Him.

My faithful reader, underground pewster of Not Another Episcopal Church Blog, called to my attention what the Revised Common Lectionary left out of last week’s readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

He posted about the omitted verses from James’s Epistle on his own site and commented here on that particular Sunday (emphases mine):

If “Wisdom is the overarching theme of this week’s readings…” then why does the lectionary cut out James’ words of wisdom in James 4 verses 4-6? I posted this today,

Missing are three important verses of warning,

4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God* (He) yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

Typically, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) cuts out language that warns us of God’s potential to regard us in a negative light. The impression the RCL editors create is that we can do no wrong, that God is never angry with us, and that we do not have to fear the Lord.

But,

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – Proverbs 9:10.

Imagine the lack of wisdom in a generation that is not taught the fear of the Lord.

Imagine the doom facing a generation that embraces friendship with the world over fear of the Lord.

‘Adulterers’ can be read in two ways: a) marital adultery and b) adultery as a synonym for sin of any kind, as ‘adultery’ in this context appears elsewhere in Scripture. Verse 5 provides support for option b):

5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God* (He) yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?

Here is Jesus (Matthew 16:4):

4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

However, the greater lesson here is, as underground pewster says, that, by their omissions, the Lectionary editors are leading people to believe that God is okay with whatever we do. That is false. God hates sin, full stop.

One cannot help but ask if the Lectionary compilers are wolves, because they are committing sins of omission. The missing verses can lead souls to perdition.

Try to make a point of looking up the missing verses whenever you see ellipses ‘…’ in the Sunday readings listed in your church leaflets. Those, too, are essential verses.

What follows are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are three sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second and third selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

Two out of the three first readings continue with the wisdom of Solomon — Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom (Catholic Bible).

First reading

This reading from Proverbs will be very familiar. Solomon lays out the qualities of a godly wife. Even then, it was permissible for a married woman to work for a living. Verse 19 probably also gave rise to the once-used term for a wife: the ‘distaff half’.

Proverbs 31:10-31

31:10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

31:11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

31:12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.

31:13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.

31:14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.

31:15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls.

31:16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

31:17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.

31:18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.

31:19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.

31:20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.

31:21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.

31:22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.

31:23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.

31:24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.

31:25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.

31:28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:

31:29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31:31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Psalm

The Psalm reinforces the characteristics of the reading from Proverbs. Those who delight in the Lord will never perish.

Psalm 1

1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

First reading

Solomon warns evildoers against summoning death in opposition to God’s faithful people.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22

1:16 But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.

2:1 For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.

2:12 “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.

2:13 He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.

2:14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;

2:15 the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.

2:16 We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.

2:17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;

2:18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.

2:19 Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.

2:20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

2:21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them,

2:22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.

First reading — third choice

Here Jeremiah speaks of his ignorance of evil schemes against him until God revealed the truth. Another well known expression is in verse 19: ‘a lamb led to the slaughter’.

Jeremiah 11:18-20

11:18 It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds.

11:19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

11:20 But you, O LORD of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Psalm

The Psalm reflects the theme of the preceding readings: God is our help and our strength in times of trouble. ‘Selah’ means to pay attention to the message given.

Psalm 54

54:1 Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.

54:2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.

54:3 For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah

54:4 But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.

54:5 He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.

54:6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.

54:7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

Epistle

Readings from the letter of James continue. He exhorts his flock to approach life in a holy way and rebukes them for their sins. Here again we see another commonly used expression: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask’ in James 4:2.

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

3:14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.

3:15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.

3:16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.

3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?

4:2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.

4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Gospel

Readings from Mark’s Gospel continue. Jesus told His disciples He would die and rise again on the third day. The disciples did not understand His words. They were afraid to ask Him what He meant. Then they proceeded to argue about who among them was the greatest. Jesus used the little child in their midst as an example, because, in that era, children were largely ignored by adults until they reached the age of reason.

Mark 9:30-37

9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;

9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

9:33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Wisdom is the overarching theme of this week’s readings. May we heed the wisdom of the triune God instead of the world’s falsehoods.

What follows are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 16, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from Proverbs continue. Here, Solomon focusses on the importance of wisdom in the Lord.

Proverbs 1:20-33

1:20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.

1:21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

1:22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

1:23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.

1:24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,

1:25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,

1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,

1:27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.

1:28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.

1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,

1:30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,

1:31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.

1:32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;

1:33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Psalm

The Psalm is also about wisdom in following the Lord’s precepts and finding joy in faith. Verse 14 will be very familiar to churchgoers. At the former Episcopal church I attended in the US, the minister recited it every Sunday before his sermons.

Psalm 19

19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

19:4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

19:5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

19:6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;

19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

First reading

The alternative first reading is also about wisdom and faith. Believers know that God protects His people.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

50:4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.

50:5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.

50:6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

50:7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

50:8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

50:9a It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Psalm

The Psalm is about God’s enduring mercy and compassion to those who suffer.

Psalm 116:1-9

116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.

116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.

116:4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!”

116:5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.

116:6 The LORD protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.

116:7 Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

116:8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.

116:9 I walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

Epistle

This passage from James is classic. As important as the Gospel reading is, if I were giving a sermon, I would choose this instead. It really hits at the heart of human — sinful — nature … It’s all about the tongue!

John MacArthur referred to the first verse below in discussing the edifying nature of St Paul’s ministry (see my last ‘Forbidden Bible Verses’ on Acts 20:17-27).

James 3:1-12

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

3:2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.

3:4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

3:6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.

3:7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,

3:8 but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.

3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?

3:12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Gospel

Readings from Mark’s Gospel continue. Here Jesus lays out difficult truths to the disciples (resulting in a sharp rebuke to Peter), and, afterwards, to the crowd.

Mark 8:27-38

8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Think about the reading from James and Mark 8:38. How will those who are ashamed of Christ express themselves? In their speech.

The tongue is often an evil thing.

What follows are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

The first selection of readings now goes to the Book of Proverbs, which Solomon wrote in his God-given wisdom. Matthew Henry has excellent observations on each verse.

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

22:2 The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.

22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.

22:9 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

22:22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate;

22:23 for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Psalm

The Psalm complements the reading from Proverbs.

Psalm 125

125:1 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

125:2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore.

125:3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, so that the righteous might not stretch out their hands to do wrong.

125:4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.

125:5 But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers. Peace be upon Israel!

First reading

Isaiah’s audience would have understood the following verses as a positive prophecy for Hezekiah’s kingdom. However, on a deeper level, the prophet speaks of the coming Messiah. The vengeance in verse 4 is against the wicked, not the believers who find refreshment and renewal through Christ Jesus. This ties in well with the Gospel reading.

Isaiah 35:4-7a

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7a the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Psalm

The Psalm further reflects the joy that the passage from Isaiah foretells. Verse 3 is a personal favourite of mine.

Psalm 146

146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

146:4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Readings continue from the letters of James. Here James warns against viewing people of means more favourably than the poor, encouraging charity towards those who have little. Love your neighbour as yourself. Also, ‘works’ at the end means ‘exhibiting fruits of faith’. ‘Works’ was why Luther had such a problem with James being in the New Testament canon; people turn ‘works’ into legalism.

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

2:2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,

2:3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”

2:4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?

2:6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?

2:7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

2:8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

2:9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

2:11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.

2:13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?

2:15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,

2:16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Gospel

Readings from Mark’s Gospel continue. Here Jesus miraculously answers a plea from a Gentile woman about her daughter’s demon. The exchange about crumbs and the table refer to Jesus’s coming to redeem the Jews first, then the Gentiles. Afterwards, He mercifully heals a deaf man. This ties in nicely with the verses from Isaiah above.

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,

7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”

7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.

7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

This is a straightforward selection of readings, rich in meditations for the week ahead. Let’s hope a decent sermon or two is preached on Sunday.

What follows are the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from 1 Kings ended with Solomon’s construction of the magnificent temple in accordance with God’s will, and this Sunday’s reading is from the Song of Solomon, one of many sets of songs that the wise king authored. Although some Song of Solomon passages are rightly used at weddings, the greater inference for Bible scholars past and present is the love that Christ — the Bridegroom — has for His Bride, the Church. In this passage, the Church expresses her love for Christ. It is a time of rejoicing.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

2:8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.

2:9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.

2:10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;

2:11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

2:12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

2:13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Psalm

The Psalm further reflects the joy that the faithful have in the Lord.

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

45:1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

45:2 You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.

45:6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;

45:7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

45:8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;

45:9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

First reading

This passage from Deuteronomy concerns God’s commandments. Note in particular the second verse.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

4:1 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.

4:2 You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.

4:6 You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!”

4:7 For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

4:8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

4:9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children–

Psalm

The Psalm focusses on obedience to God’s precepts and love for one’s neighbour.

Psalm 15

15:1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

15:2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;

15:3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

15:4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

15:5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Epistle

Readings have now concluded from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. The next set of Epistle readings comes from James. His instructions here are to love God and one’s neighbour, a continuation of those from Deuteronomy and Psalm 15.

James 1:17-27

1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;

1:20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;

1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.

1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.

1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Gospel

Gospel readings return to Mark from John. When challenged by the Pharisees on ceremonial law, Jesus says that what defiles a man comes from within him.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,

7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

7:4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

7:7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,

7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

There is much sermon material to be mined here, especially from the Gospel reading.

Today’s post continues with the story of Jairus’s daughter in the Gospel of St Mark. Last week’s entry can be found here.

As this passage has been excluded from the Lectionary for public worship, it forms part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 5:35-43

35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them,  “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

—————————————————————

Last week’s post related how Jairus asked Jesus to accompany him to his home, where his daughter lay dying. Along the way, Jesus encountered the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She reached out to touch the hem of His garment and was healed.

John MacArthur reminds us that what we read in the New Testament took longer to transpire than the short accounts given. Recall that the woman told Jesus her story, which MacArthur surmises took a couple of hours.

Imagine Jairus’s anxiety in the meantime. What thoughts must have been running through his mind whilst he attempted to be gracious and patient, yet fearing the worst.  Yet, by God’s grace, he approached Jesus through faith.

The fear of death grips us all. Some fear for their own lives. Others fear for the deaths of their loved ones. MacArthur says (emphases mine):

The Bible accurately says that all the human race is in slavery to the fear of death, Hebrews 2:15. Romans 6 says that the whole human race is in slavery to sin and the consequence of being a slave to sin is being a slave to the fear of death. Death, of course, is the ultimate fear that impregnates all other fears with its threatening and final reality. That is why Job 18:14 calls death the kind of terrors.

In Psalm 55 verses 4 and 5 we read, “My heart is in anguish within me. Horror has overwhelmed me. Fear and trembling come upon me.” Why? “The terrors of death have fallen upon me.” Everybody in the human race understands the fear, the terror of death. Which raises the question of all questions, “Can anyone…has anyone conquered death and can I enter in to that experience of triumph?” That is the compelling question. Has anyone conquered death and in so doing have they made it possible for me to triumph over death?

Many years ago there was a Canadian scientist by the name of G.B. Hardy who in his search for the true religion said, “I only have two questions. Has death been conquered? And has it been conquered for me?” And in his search, he ended up the only place anybody in that search will end up and that is with Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and by His resurrection provides resurrection for all who put their trust in Him. He said that is the only question that anyone should ask with regard to the selection of a religion. Has anyone conquered death? And can that triumph be applied to me? He checked and he said, “All religious leaders in the world have occupied tombs. Only Jesus’ tomb is empty.”

Certainly in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus claimed to have power over death. The gospel of John … begins by telling us that everything that was made was made by Him. That is to say He created everything that lives. It also says, “In Him was life.” He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He said, “I am come to give life and to give it more abundantly.” He said, “Whoever believes in Me shall never die.” He said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” And in that one statement in John 14:19 He answered the two questions, “I live and you can live as well.” Conquering death is the great question.

This is where we are as today’s passage begins.

However, before delving further, let’s look at the other two Synoptic Gospels — Matthew and Luke — for their treatment of this story. All three Synoptic Gospels tie together the main events of Jesus’s life and ministry.

Highlighted below are the differences in the accounts.

Here is Matthew 9:23-26:

23And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26And the report of this went through all that district.

Note the differences between Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospels in Jairus’s appeal to Jesus (Mark 5:23, Matthew 9:18). Mark’s account says Jairus tells Him that his daughter is ‘at the point of death’ whereas Matthew’s quote says that she has just died.

Here is Luke 8:49-56:

49While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.

Note that Mark and Luke report that Jesus instructed the parents not to talk of the healing, for possible reasons discussed below. Matthew said that everyone in Jairus’s vicinity heard about the healing.  Matthew leaves out that Jesus told the parents to give the girl something to eat. Luke adds to the words ‘only believe’ the promise ‘and she will be well’.

Back to Mark 5:35, where one of Jairus’s people came to announce the girl’s death. Therefore, there was no reason to disturb Jesus any further. The word the person from Jairus’s household uses in referring to Jesus is ‘Teacher’. He was known primarily as such, not as a healer or miracle worker.

In verse 36, Jesus overhears this and tells Jairus to not be afraid but instead have faith — ‘only believe’.  Jesus then tells the crowd, His disciples and most of his Apostles to remain behind (verse 37). He asks Peter and the two brothers John and James — the Boanerges — to accompany Him to Jairus’s house.

They are the three Apostles whom Jesus has selected as confidants.  They, in turn, will tell the other nine what they have learned during these private sorties. MacArthur explains:

Obviously He couldn’t take the crowd. He couldn’t even take the Twelve into the house, that would be too much … This is the first time in the ministry of our Lord that He isolates these three, this is the first time. And get used to it, right? The inner circle, Peter, James and John, they were three of the first four Apostles that He called. James and John were brothers and Peter and Andrew were brothers. Peter becomes the leader. James and John, the other two intimates, and Andrew is a sometime inclusion in the inner circle. This is the first occasion where He separates them out.

Eventually, they arrive at Jairus’s house, where a Jewish funeral of the day for the 12-year old girl was taking place (verse 38). Some of these traditions are still in place: wailing and rending of garments, although, from what I understand, today’s wailing is more subdued. The Jews at that time also played mournful music on their most common instrument, the flute. Imagine several amateur flautists getting together and playing simultaneously. Some might have been neighbours or friends. They probably weren’t playing in tune or in tempo. Oh dear, what a cacophony.

Jesus asks about the ‘commotion’ (verse 39), saying that the young girl is only ‘sleeping’. This is no doubt one reason for saying that the dead are asleep. Unfortunately, the mourners laugh at Him (verse 40). Imagine mourning one minute and mocking someone the next. How valid is their sorrow? It seems quite shallow and quite typical of the opposition with which our Lord and Saviour met in his public ministry.

Jesus dismisses all except for the girl’s parents and His three Apostles. The six were alone with the cherished daughter assumed to have left this mortal coil. As He did with the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years, he treats this 12-year old gently and mercifully. He takes her hand and instructs her in near familial terms — talitha cumi (verse 41).

MacArthur unpacks Jesus’s actions for us indirectly comparing our temporal life to our eternal life:

In that moment, Jesus redefined death as a temporary condition. That’s why He uses the metaphor or the analogy of sleep. Sleep is a temporary disconnect, isn’t it? You’re insensitive to the environment around you when you’re asleep, you don’t hear the conversations, you don’t participate socially. You’re asleep. But it’s a temporary situation. And Jesus is saying for this girl, this is just asleep, it’s temporary. This is not permanent ...

This concept of death as sleep is picked up by the Apostles, isn’t it?, in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul loves to refer to believers dying as being asleep, like he refers in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 … God will raise us, we who know the Lord Jesus Christ when we die, the body sleeps. The soul, immediately in the presence of the Lord. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” That’s the…that’s the soul. But the body sleeps until the glorious resurrection at the return of Christ. And so you can refer to the death of a Christian as a release of the soul into the presence of the Lord, but the body sleeps until the day of resurrection. And so death, in a sense for a Christian, becomes described as sleep because it’s temporary…

Hence the expression ‘asleep in Christ’.

Now to the expression talitha cumi. Matthew Henry says:

Talitha, cumi; Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise. Dr. Lightfoot saith, It was customary with the Jews, when they gave physic to one that was sick, to say, Arise from thy disease; meaning, We wish thou mayest arise: but to one that was dead, Christ said, Arise from the dead; meaning, I command that thou arise; nay, there is more in it-the dead have not power to arise, therefore power goes along with this word, to make it effectual.

MacArthur adds a softer interpretation:

Here again this very personal touch, this very tender sensitivity. “And He said to her,” and by the way, only Mark gives us the original Aramaic. Jesus’ daily language was Aramaic, that was the language they spoke in Israel, the New Testament being written in Greek, the other writers give us the Greek translation. “Little girl, arise.” Mark gives us the very words of Jesus in Aramaic, “Talitha kum,” which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you get up.”

Talitha means a youth or a lamb. It’s as if He said, “Little lamb.” We use those kind of endearing terms, don’t we? We say to a little baby, “You little lamb you,” when we dote over them, don’t we? We don’t say that after they’re about three or so. We use other animals to describe them. But when they’re little, “Little Lamb” works really well … this one was still a lamb in the eyes of Jesus and she was twelve … And she was a lamb to that family. That was … a term of endearment. “Kum, get up, little lamb I say to you, get up.”

Instantly — ‘immediately’ — the girl gets up and begins walking (verse 42). She amazes her parents and the Apostles. Jesus had restored this girl to life.

The healing — restoration to life — concludes with Jesus instructing her parents to give her something to eat (verse 43). This signifies that she has no recuperation time; she is well and she is hungry. We know that a healthy appetite is a sign that all is well with us and our loved ones. And so it was when Jesus healed Jairus’s daughter. What a happy day that must have been.

However, Jesus stipulates that no one should reveal the healing. Well, one can imagine that they were all too eager to tell their neighbours and townspeople, as Matthew records.

You might wonder why Jesus said such a thing. MacArthur explains:

when He healed somebody it was immediate and it was permanent. And immediately there was complete astonishment on the part of the parents and everybody else who was in the room, including the three Apostles, Peter, James and John. The verb existemi literally means to stand outside oneself or to be beside one’s self with bewilderment. In other words, you have no logical explanation for what you have just seen. The same word is used in chapter 3 verse 21, and translated, “out of his senses.” It’s also used in 2 Corinthians 5:13, beside ourselves. I mean, this is just inexplicable. This just doesn’t happen. Common response, by the way, to the demonstration of divine power by our Lord.

The strength of the faith of Peter, James and John was certainly increased, wouldn’t you think? And so if it strengthened their faith, why not spread it around? Our Lord gives this explicit statement, “Do not do that.” But He doesn’t tell us why. In fact, as many times as it’s recorded that He said that in the gospels, we’re never told why He said that…never.

But let me make some suggestions to you. Number one, He could have said it to avoid a stampede on the house, to give the family time to feed the girl and to celebrate and rejoice and give Him more time to instruct and teach. If they went right out of the house, as you might be prone to do, and spread this everywhere, there would be a kind of a sensational response and curiosity would drive the crowd to the house and debilitate Jesus from doing what He wanted to do and rob away that precious time for the family and that reunion. Is that possibly behind the statement that you need to get her something to eat? That’s the first thing you need to do is take care of her before you draw a crowd? Was that in His mind?

It is also possible that Jesus said this because He knew the crowds had these messianic expectations, right? Now the Jews were looking for a Messiah, they wanted the Messiah who would come just to demonstrate massive divine power and use that power to overthrow Rome and use that power to provide everything they needed and everything that had been promised to them in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Jesus was believed to be that Messiah and if it ran rampant and it got carried away, the crowds could get very aggressive and try to force Him into a role that was never His intended role. Read John 6:15 where it says, “After He fed them all, they tried to force Him to be a king.” Was He trying to keep the flame of messianic expectation low and not throw gas on it by a report of a resurrection?

Or thirdly, was it perhaps that He was motivated not to escalate the fear and the hatred of the scribes and Pharisees who were His enemies. If the crowd got excited, then Jesus becomes a bigger threat than they escalate their animosity and they have to do something to stop that threat and in premature action against Him, they might come after Him to kill Him. That had already been tried, right? Up in Nazareth in His own hometown they tried to throw Him off a cliff.

So Jesus had His reasons for keeping such dramatic healings — resurrections, if you will — quiet.

Henry’s observations help tie the various elements of this story together:

1. That the child was extremely well beloved, for the relations and neighbours wept and wailed greatly. It is very afflictive when that which is come forth like a flower is so soon cut down, and withereth before it is grown up; when that grieves us, of which we said, This same shall comfort us.

2. That it was evident beyond dispute, that the child was really and truly dead.

3. That Christ put those out as unworthy to be witnesses of the miracle, who were noisy in their sorrow, and were so ignorant in the things of God, as not to understand him when he spoke of death as a sleep, or so scornful, as to ridicule him for it.

4. That he took the parents of the child to be witnesses of the miracle, because in it he had an eye to their faith, and designed it for their comfort, who were the true, for they were the silent mourners.

5. That Christ raised the child to life by a word of power, which is recorded here, and recorded in Syriac [a dialect of Middle Aramaic], the language in which Christ spoke, for the greater certainty of the thing; Talitha, cumi; Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise.

6. That the damsel, as soon as life returned, arose, and walked, v. 42. Spiritual life will appear by our rising from the bed of sloth and carelessness, and our walking in a religious conversation, our walking up and down in Christ’s name and strength; even from those that are of the age of twelve years, it may be expected that they should walk as those whom Christ has raised to life, otherwise than in the native vanity of their minds.

7. That all who saw it, and heard of it, admired the miracle, and him that wrought it

8. That Christ endeavoured to conceal it; He charged them straitly, that no man should know it. It was sufficiently known to a competent number, but he would not have it as yet proclaimed any further; because his own resurrection was to be the great instance of his power over death, and therefore the divulging of other instances must be reserved till that great proof was given: let one part of the evidence be kept private, till the other part, on which the main stress lies, be made ready.

9. That Christ took care something should be given her to eat. By this it appeared that she was raised not only to life, but to a good state of health, that she had an appetite to her meat; even the new-born babes in Christ’s house desire the sincere milk, 1 Pt. 2:1, 2. And it is observable, that, as Christ, when at first he had made man, presently provided food for him, and food out of the earth of which he was made (Gen. 1:29), so now when he had given a new life, he took care that something should be given to eat; for is he has given life, he may be trusted to give livelihood, because the life is more than meat, Mt. 6:25. Where Christ hath given spiritual life, he will provide food for the support and nourishment of it unto life eternal, for he will never forsake, or be wanting to, the work of his own hands.

The raising of Jairus’s daughter is one of Christ’s great creative miracles. It holds lessons for us today in terms of our unwavering faith and His infinite mercy.

Next time: Mark 6:14-20

For some reason, the first four verses of John 16 have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary. Because they have, I’m including them in my ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses series.  (Please note that I use the word ‘forbidden’ in a tongue-in-cheek way.  They’re not banned verses, just ignored and excluded verses for public worship.  Yet, they are essential to our full understanding of the Bible.)

(For this post, my thanks go to Lleweton of the eponymous blog, who cited the following verses in a comment he made here last week.  If you enjoy reading about the England you always dreamt of, do visit his site.  As he used to be an newspaper editor, he has a marvellous way with words.)

Today’s reading is from the King James Version.  Commentary is by the 17th century Calvinist minister and Bible scholar Matthew Henry.

John 16:1-4

1These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.

 2They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.

 4But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.

————————————————————————————-

In John 15 Jesus explained to His disciples the fruits of faith and the challenges that God brings us in order to increase them.  This is a recurring teaching throughout the New Testament.  We saw it last week in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, where Paul encourages these model Christians to lead a life which is even more pleasing to God.

In the latter part of John 15, Jesus prepares the Apostles for the imminent persecution and hatred directed against them.  He continues with this line of thought in the first few verses of John 16. This would be Jesus’s final talk with the Apostles prior to the Crucifixion. Later in the chapter, He explains that He will send the Holy Spirit to guide them in His absence, but before that, He would see them very soon (after His Resurrection). He would also ensure that whatever happened to them, they would find the peace that only an abiding faith in Him can bring.

We might find it strange that Jesus uses the word ‘offended’ in verse 1.  Yet, the Apostles do not realise that He will be crucified very soon.  It will come as a shock to them.  They might not know quite what to think or how to react.  Therefore, Jesus is — as we might say today — setting their expectations.  Just as Peter ended up denying Christ without even realising it until he had done so three times, this is a similar situation.  In order to save face, the Apostles might have denied Christ had He not given them some idea as to the gravity of imminent events.

Matthew Henry observes that many people find the Cross offensive.  Over three centuries after he wrote those words, we can see it as is true today as it was then as it was even earlier at the time of the Crucifixion.  And Satan likes to use shocking situations to his own benefit, to get us to deny the Truth, to deny Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

In verse 2, Jesus warns the Apostles that the Jews will expel them from the synagogues for having believed in Him and for evangelising.  Those who have been forced out of churches when they have proclaimed the truth of Scripture appreciate and feel deeply the heartache of separation from a congregation, people they have known for many years and from whom they are suddenly cut off.

Even worse, Jesus prepares them for martyrdom.  Then — as now — those who put Christians to death believe they are doing God’s work.  We read of this happening in the developed world almost daily.

In verse 3, Jesus explains that those who kill them do not know Him or God the Father. Instead, they do the Devil’s work. This remains true today. How many Christians die at the hands of unbelievers, those of another faith or none?  Many are victims of torture, brutal murders — indescribably horrible means.  Let us remember the persecuted in our prayers.  They endure much.  Those of us in the West are getting only a small idea of what our brothers and sisters in other countries go through day after day, never knowing if they will get home at night.  They might be arrested or abducted.  The worry for them and their families must be indescribable.

In verse 4, Jesus asks them to remember His warnings.  In case they are persecuted — and some Apostles would die as martyrs — they would at least be mentally prepared.  Matthew Henry says that knowing what to expect, in some ways, lessens the ordeal somewhat:

Note, When suffering times come it will be of use to us to remember what Christ has told us of sufferings. (1.) That our belief of Christ’s foresight and faithfulness may be confirmed; and, (2.) That the trouble may be the less grievous, for we were told of it before, and we took up our profession in expectation of it, so that it ought not to be a surprise to us, nor looked upon as a wrong to us. As Christ in his sufferings, so his followers in theirs, should have an eye to the fulfilling of the scripture.

In the second sentence of verse 4, Jesus explains that He didn’t want to tell them these things earlier because He was with them.  That means not only did he bear the attacks of Scribes, Pharisees and others against Him but they were not yet ready to bear these assaults on their own.  They were still children feeding on milk.  Soon, however, they would be ready for spiritual meat and carry out their upcoming evangelism with zeal, as we read in the Book of Acts — a stunning and moving record of what happens to some of the Apostles after Jesus ascends into Heaven.

In closing, let us find out what might have happened to some of the Twelve Apostles:

St Peter died in Rome.  He was crucified — at his request, this was done upside down.  Peter asked this because he did not feel worthy enough to die the way Christ did.  Today, we still refer to a cross of St Peter, or Petrine Cross, which is one depicted or placed upside down.  (Please note that this is not the same as an upside down crucifix, which is part of satanic rituals.)

Sts Philip and Bartholomew may have been crucified upside down, although we do not know for certain.  One early account records that St Philip continued preaching from the cross.

Similarly, although we know that St James was martyred, probably beheaded, although the legend surrounding Spain and Compostella, in particular, clouds this somewhat.

St Andrew was crucified, and tradition had it that he requested an X-shaped cross as he did not feel worthy to die the same way Christ did.  We can still see the Cross of St Andrew on national flags today, one of which is the Scottish saltire.

Finally, although he was not one of the original Twelve, St Paul was probably beheaded during the reign of Emperor Nero.  Beheading was a death sentence often used for Roman citizens, as Paul was.

UPDATE (May 4, 2012): I first posted this in Forbidden Bible Verses.  Two years on, I have discovered that it is indeed included in the Lectionary used in public worship. My apologies, especially to compilers and editors of the Lectionary!

However, this passage is so instructive that it remains fresh, even in the 21st century.  So, I have given it a new title and let the rest stand as is.

Today’s reading is from the New International Reader’s Version.  You may also wish to read the King James Version which makes the point much more forcefully.

James 4:1-6

Obey God

1 Why do you fight and argue among yourselves? Isn’t it because of your sinful longings? They fight inside you.

2 You want something, but you can’t get it. You kill and want what others have. But you can’t have what you want. You argue and fight. You don’t have what you want, because you don’t ask God. 3 When you do ask for something, you don’t receive it. Why? Because you ask for the wrong reason. You want to spend your money on your sinful pleasures.

4 You are not faithful to God. Don’t you know that to be a friend of the world is to hate God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Don’t you know what Scripture says? The spirit that God caused to live in us wants us to belong only to God. Don’t you think Scripture has a reason for saying that? 6 God continues to give us more grace. That’s why Scripture says,
“God opposes those who are proud.
But he gives grace to those who are not.” —(Proverbs 3:34)

——————————————-

This chapter is a letter to Jews who have recently converted to Christianity.  They have provoked unnecessary conflicts with the Romans and amongst themselves.  Why?  The apostle says it is because of the urge to sin (verse 1), not for the glory of God.

James reproves the Jewish Christians telling them that there are reasons why their prayers go unanswered.  Imagine him saying, ‘Have you ever thought about that? You quarrel, you’re eager to fight.  In short, you pray to satisfy your earthly appetites.  You’re not asking God for good things.  You pray to satisfy yourselves.’  Today, what do we pray for?  A promotion, social approval, a new possession?  Haven’t we prayed for these at some time in our lives?  Have we received them?  Possibly not.  What would those answered prayers bring us but earthly satisfaction?  Where is God in that equation?  Far, far away from our immediate longings of ambition, pride or lust.

The apostle reminds his audience that their actions betray God (verse 4).  You can love the world and its temptations or you can love God.  But you can’t do both. In the King James Version, the words ‘adulterers’ and ‘adulteresses’ are used. James’s audience betray the bond they have professed to God every time they ask for something from Him.  They are not asking for a way of spreading the Gospel or giving glory to Him. They are asking for self-serving or material improvement in their lives. In a way, they are committing adultery by preferring the world to Him. In verse 5, James says that God wants us to live for Him alone, not for our own desires (verse 5). He asks the people, ‘Why do you think Scripture mandates that?’ When we live for God and in God, He grants us more and more of His grace (verse 6).

James offers further support of his plea for goodness in citing the verse from Proverbs.  God will actively oppose the proud and the boastful, but He will exalt the humble and infuse them with His everlasting grace.  We are here on this earth to obey His will and to glorify Him, not our sinful urges.  If that’s difficult to grasp, God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to endure death on the Cross to pay for our sins — the sins of every man, woman and child. Jesus’s death and Resurrection have saved us from the fires of Hell. And we can’t look to God and express our unending gratitude?  Time for a rethink.

You can read more in Matthew Henry’s commentary and from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Revd Larry Wilson.

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