Revised Common Lectionary: Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Narrative Lectionary: Binding of Isaac, Genesis 21:1-3, 22:1-14 (John 1:29)
Continuing the theme of Wisdom Literature in the first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Proverbs closes with these verses about a Woman of Valor (the NRSV translates this as “A Capable Wife”). Rachel Held Evans explored this passage extensively in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and that contemporary Jewish understanding of this passage has been one of celebration. This passage praises women in this time period, lifting up their gifts and strengths, celebrating women who wisely run their household and make decisions for their family. A woman of honor is generous, kind, considers carefully before making decisions, and is praised by her family. A woman of honor doesn’t worry about worldly measures of success including worldly beauty and wealth, but instead, seeks the wisdom of God.
The first psalm is a song of wisdom, opening the book of Psalms. Those who follow God’s ways grow like trees near water, rooted in God’s wisdom and bearing fruit, never withering. Those who are wicked have no roots, blowing about like weeds in the wind. Wicked ways lead to dead ends, but God, like an arborist, watches over the righteous as they grow and bear fruit, rooted in the way of wisdom.
The prophet Jeremiah tells of how naïve he was when the religious leaders plotted against him, in 11:18-20. God showed him that the leaders of Israel and Judah were wicked, but Jeremiah didn’t know they would take their anger out on him for sharing God’s message. However, Jeremiah will remain faithful to God, because God judges with righteousness.
Psalm 54 is a prayer to God for deliverance from one’s enemies. There are those pursuing the psalmist who seek their life, and the psalmist prays for God’s vindication. Evil is repaid with evil, but God is faithful and upholds life. The psalmist knows that God will come through and offers a thanksgiving sacrifice, praising God, knowing God will bring help and rescue.
The Epistle reading continues in James with 3:12-4:3, 7-8a, writing about living in the ways of wisdom rather than worldly ways. Envy and selfish ambition lead to wickedness, but doing good works leads the faithful in righteousness, a “gentleness born of wisdom.” Wisdom leads to bearing good, spiritual fruit. The ways of the world lead to evil and corruption, especially desire and greed. When we submit our lives to God, we submerse our lives in God’s love, in God’s wisdom, and can resist the ways of this world. Evil will flee from us when we transform our lives to God’s ways. “Draw near to God, and [God] will draw near to you.”
Jesus again spoke of how he would be betrayed and killed and would rise again in Mark 9:30-37. However, the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant because they didn’t understand. Instead, they began arguing about who was the greatest. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, they were ashamed; however, Jesus knew what was on their minds. He taught them that whoever wanted to become first must serve all, becoming last, like a child. A child is full of wonder and curiosity. A child in Jesus’ day didn’t have many rights, and although children were needed to pass down property and inheritance, they weren’t considered of importance until they reached maturity. However, Jesus taught the disciples they must welcome others like he welcomed this child. Instead of worrying about who would be the greatest, they ought to be worried about who was left out, lost, and forgotten.
The Narrative Lectionary moves to the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 21:1-3, 22:1-14. God had promised Sarah and Abraham a son, and when he was born, he was named Laughter—a child born in their old age. However, God tested Abraham, requiring him to take Isaac, his only son, up the mountain as a sacrifice for God. The words of scripture tell us that because Abraham didn’t hold back even his only Son, God was pleased, and stopped Abraham, providing a ram instead. However, there is more to the story. In ancient Israel, there were other gods of other peoples that required child sacrifice. This story may have been used to teach how God would never require someone to sacrifice their children, that God is the one who rescues us from the ways of this world that require unspeakable sacrifices to gain divine or worldly favor. In Christian tradition, this story is sometimes seen as a precursor to Jesus’ sacrifice, that God does not require us to sacrifice because of Jesus, the sacrifice that ends all sacrifice. However, it’s important to recognize historic Jewish interpretation and cultural understandings of this story.
John 1:29 is John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. The Narrative Lectionary pairs this verse with the story of Isaac as part of historic Christian interpretation of the sacrifice of Isaac.
What is most important in our lives? Sometimes the things we think are important lead us astray. We work to make more money, with the intention of providing for our family and having enough. However, when do we determine we have enough? When do the desires and envy of the world pull us into consuming more and gaining more? Who might suffer because of our desires? What systems of the world are at play that produce more products at lower costs? What do we sacrifice in our own lives to gain more? God flips the world upside down. We aren’t called to sacrifice our families, our friends, the people we love for the sake of making more money. We aren’t even called to sacrifice our neighbors in need for the sake of having more. We aren’t called to sacrifice our health to gain the next promotion, the next worldly measure of success. Instead, when we root ourselves in God’s wisdom, and resist the ways of the world, we find God provides for us in a multitude of ways. It will still be a hard life, but the rewards are eternal.
Call to Worship
Hearts open, we enter this space
Recalling how much we are loved.
Minds open, we enter this space
Receiving God’s wisdom and insight.
Arms open, we enter this space
Ready to share God’s love in word and deed.
Lives open, we enter this space
Being transformed by God’s love, wisdom, and work.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Wise God our Savior, we confess that we often fail to seek Your wisdom and insight in our life. Instead, we follow what is trending online, the market, the desires of others that become our own. We seek to have and consume much more than we need. God of Wisdom, turn us back to Your ways, to become Your children, full of wonder and awe at You and the world You have made. Turn us back to Your ways so that we love our neighbors as ourselves, and in our mutual love and care, our lives are transformed. Turn us back, O God, so that we might recall we are made in Your image, with the power to co-create and build Your reign here on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from James 3:8a)
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” Know that whenever you turn back to God, God is right there with open arms. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Center yourself in God’s love, and no evil can tempt you away. Go forth and share the good news of God’s love with the world, for this is the wisdom of God. Amen.
Gracious and loving One, we praise You for Your wisdom and insight that has been passed down through the generations. We give You thanks for the sages of old, the prophets, the folk singers and storytellers, poets and historians who have kept Your words alive for us. We praise You for the scriptures that have been collected and compiled for us as the Bible. Grant us the knowledge to understand the historical, cultural, and other religious contexts of our scriptures, so that we might truly be wise in the application of Your Way to our lives. Remind us that the world we know has changed, that our lives have been changed, and that You are the One who makes all things new, even our understanding. You made all of creation out of goodness and love. Guide us with hearts open to Your goodness, mercy, and love in this world. Amen.