A Reading from the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31)
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord
is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
1 Happy are they who have not walked
in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season,
with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright
when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
A Reading from the Letter of James (3:13-4:3, 7-8a)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 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. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (9:30-37)
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 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.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
What in the world is Jesus talking about? “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.” For those of us who have heard these or similar words all our lives and who remember Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection every Sunday, their meaning seems obvious. But their meaning probably would not have been so obvious to his first disciples.
Granted, Mark consistently portrays Jesus’ followers as being rather obtuse. They never really seem to understand Jesus — or maybe sometimes they just choose not to understand. But, in their defense, there is a good explanation why they might not have known what he was talking about on this occasion: all through his ministry, he had been talking in parables, in images, in metaphors. At this point, they might just have been trying to figure out what this reference to “the Son of Man” meant, what it meant for that Son of Man to be “betrayed into human hands,” and what “he will rise again” meant. In this first scene of today’s gospel reading, they probably assumed that he was speaking metaphorically or symbolically again. I can appreciate that.
But today’s gospel reading provides us also with a second scene: one in which they seem to have intentionally misunderstood. Throughout Jesus’ time with them and especially in the passages that we heard last week and this week, Jesus clearly taught and showed his disciples that the way to live in the kingdom of God was the way of service, the way of self-emptying. It was and is the way of humbling ourselves, and of giving of ourselves for those in our society who are most in need. Jesus made that message perfectly clear; yet his disciples remained oblivious to that teaching.
It is an ironic portrait that Mark paints for us here. Jesus is explaining to them his future: that he will be betrayed and suffer and die and, shortly after, be raised. But instead of listening to him and learning from him, they don’t seem to be paying any attention at all to what he is saying. Instead, they are busy arguing among themselves about which one of them is the greatest. Mark’s telling of the story clearly illustrates for us a glaring contrast between Jesus’ approach to life and theirs.
Having failed to get his message across, Jesus then decides to get very specific. Instead of talking theoretically about receiving and caring for the lowest, for the most vulnerable, his shows them exactly what that means. In what one commentator has called “an enacted parable,” Jesus takes a small child in his arms and holds up that child as an example of those whom they must embrace and love and care for.
Now it is important to remember that Jesus’ culture was very different from our own. People of Jesus’ time did not idealize or pamper children. One Greek word that was used for “child” was sometimes used also for “slave.” Children were among the lowest of the low in priority. The practice of abandoning children, of leaving them to die in order to preserve whatever resources people had to provide for adults, was fairly common in the Roman Empire. Children were not contributing members of society, and so they were often considered to be expendable. They were among the most vulnerable. Yet it was to such a child that Jesus pointed in trying to explain to his disciples what living in the kingdom of God was all about.
As Christians, we, at least theoretically, care for those who are most in need, most vulnerable in our society. Yet the way that we allocate our time and our resources too often seems to declare our concern to be only theoretical. When times are tough, when we, as individuals or as a society, feel uncertain about our future, one of the first places that some people want to cut back is in help and in services to those who are most in need. That is an issue that is clearly a part of the various political campaigns going on in our community, state and nation this year. It needs to be something to which we, as Christians, pay close attention in making our decisions this November.
But how do we, as a church and as individuals, make sure that our concern for those in need in more than just theoretical? How do we reflect the love that Jesus showed in many hands-on, practical, specific ways in the stories told of him in the gospels?
Maybe we, too, need to be specific, just as Jesus was specific in taking that one child and looking to him or her as a child of God, made in God’s image and likeness, deserving to be embraced and loved and cared for. Maybe we, too, need to be involved in some form of direct, hands-on service to those in need.
Supporting programs and funding organizations that are adept at helping those in need is sometimes the most effective way for us to use our God-given “treasure” – to use a standard stewardship term. But an important way for us to use the other two great gifts entrusted to us by God, our time and talent, is to meet with and work with those in need directly, in a personal way.
That form of service is important for those we serve, making God’s love tangible for them as they encounter God’s presence and love through us. But that form of service is also important for us, because it changes us: it transforms us to be more and more like Jesus because we are then doing some of the same things that he did. We are acting the way that he acted. We are following his example.
In being a blessing to those we serve, we might find that we, too, are blessed. For, as Jesus said at the end of our gospel reading, those who, in Jesus’ name, receive and serve those who are most in need are serving and receiving Jesus himself. And those who receive and serve Jesus are receiving and serving the God who sent Jesus: the God who now sends us to those in need, in order that we might serve them in Jesus’ name.