Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 19b / Ordinary 24b)

Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4–9 is one of the four Servant Songs found within Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40–55: the other passages are 42:1–4, 49:1–6, and 52:13–53:12—the later of which is famous for its christocentric interpretations).  When the term “Second Isaiah” is used it is meant to describe what appears to be a second different prophetic tradition that has been added on to “First Isaiah” beginning in chapter 40. “First Isaiah” prophesies before the exile whereas “Second Isaiah” prophesies during the exile.

The servant songs in second Isaiah are meant to help make sense of suffering (i.e. the suffering brought about by the exile).  In this week’s servant song Second Isaiah writes of his need to speak a word of relief to the weary even if such a word brings on punishment from oppressors.  Thus in Second Isaiah suffering sometimes happens as the result of standing up for what is right.  Second Isaiah encourages those who are suffering for standing up for the right by saying that the God of vindication is near, and therefore those who suffer are “not disgraced.”

Psalm 116:1-9

Our Psalm lection is a wonderful example of a Psalm of testimony—or a psalm that tells a very personal story of God’s goodness, deliverance, and providence in the Psalmist’s own life.  The Psalmist declares, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.” Such Psalms reinforce the idea that testimony is vital to the life of the faith community.  It is also a wonderful response to our Hebrew Bible lection in which the suffering servant gives testimony to those in pain of God’s coming vindication.

James 3:1-12

When we consider James’ warnings on the tongue we usually picture James focusing in on gossipers, slanderers, and liars.  But interestingly James begins his teachings on controlling the tongue by focusing on teachers: “Not many of you should become TEACHERS, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  The danger of a teachers’ speech lies in the perilous combination of teachers’ authority and the possibility of erroneous claims on truth. Few should become teachers, and those who do become teachers should watch what they say, because teachers will be held liable not solely for their own follies but also for the errors that their students assimilate and pass on.

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus and his disciples are out walking and Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples give Jesus the popular opinions; John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.  Jesus then makes the question more personal, “But who do you [collective you here] say that I am?”  Peter is the brave one that steps forward with an answer, “You are the Messiah.”  We have all at some point and in some way given a similar answer to this question.  And we have all at some point and in some way misunderstood “Messiah” as Peter does here.

Jesus is quick to offer instruction about the Messiah, “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.  He said all this quite openly.”  Peter resists this image of a suffering Messiah, as we all do.  Peter confronts Jesus with this resistance and Jesus humbles him with the harshest rebuke in all of scripture, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Poor Peter, poor us.  Jesus goes on to explain the unique nature of
discipleship.  Like Second Isaiah’s “servant” the life of a disciple is one of great suffering.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your thoughts, prayers, songs, and hearts for worship consider the strong desire to soften the radical call to discipleship.  Many who teach on discipleship will not guard their tongues and will teach erroneous claims about a life of health and wealth.  It is far easier to soft-pedal discipleship than it is to truly proclaim radical kingdom service. Thankfully we have the testimony of God’s prophets who proclaim God as the one who vindicates, and therefore we have faith in the true proclamation of the Kingdom, and we know we will not be disgraced.

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