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Pentecost 17 Proper 20B September 19, 2021

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the ending of the book of Proverbs. Scholars tell us that this passage was written in the period following the Babylonian Exile, some twenty-six hundred years ago. Some scholars tell us that it is best to ignore this passage because it was written so long ago, in a time when women and children were thought of as chattel, property, objects to be owned.

As we look at this passage, it is quite contemporary. Neil Elliott notes that this woman, “runs a household (v. 15), conducts her own real estate transactions( v.16), works out  (v.17), makes charitable contributions (v. 20), holds her own in public discourse, (v. 26), maintains a healthy relationship with integrity (vv. 11, 29), and even gets the credit for her husband’s rising status (v. 26)! (Elliott, New Proclamation Year B, 2000, p. 72.)

Gene M. Tucker writes, “Above all, she is by no means limited to traditional roles within the family, for she has significant public and economic roles. She is a capable merchant (v. 14) and businesswoman (vv. 18-29, 24), both producing and selling goods. She invests in real estate and improves it (v. 16). In short, virtually the only significant role she does not fulfill in her society is to sit with the elders in the gate (v. 23). (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 414.)

The revised Common Lectionary was created in order to include in our readings passages about women and other marginalized people. Often these passages show us that progress toward seeing and respecting the dignity of every human being was being made, even in those long ago centuries.

Our reading from James is full of gems. We are called to act with “gentleness born of wisdom.” We are called to stay away from “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” James says these qualities are “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” We know that envy and ambition can lead to ruthless competition and conflict. James says they can even lead to murder.

But James tells us that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,” What a different world we live in when we have these qualities of peace, gentleness, willingness to talk and work with each other for the common good. James advises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The qualities James is calling us to live by are the values of God’s shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him. He is going to be betrayed and killed, and he is going to rise from the dead. They had no idea what he was taking about, and the text says that they were “afraid to ask him.” This may remind us of times when we’ve been in a class and were totally confused but were even more afraid of letting the teacher know how confused we actually were, so we just stayed silent.

They arrive in Capernaum and go into the house, and he asks them what they were arguing about while they were walking along. We discover that they were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. This gives us a clue that perhaps they were thinking of the messiah in one of the ways that was common in those days: as an earthly king who would gather an army and defeat the Roman Empire and bring in a new kingdom. It would make sense to wonder who would be sitting next to this earthly king when he was on his throne.

But there was another concept of who the messiah is, and that is the messiah as a servant.  Some call him the suffering servant as portrayed in Isaiah.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that if we want to follow him, we have to be the servants of all and last of all. We can’t be trying to figure out who is the greatest. We can’t be competing for power. We are called to be servants. We are called to walk the Way of Love.

And then he gently, lovingly picks up a little child and holds the little one in his arms. As we look in on this scene, we need to remember that in our Lord’s time, children, like women, were seen as chattel, possessions, something you owned. They were not highly valued.

And Jesus is saying that we need to welcome these little ones; we need to welcome the vulnerable ones who have no power, no wealth, no influence, no voice, those whom folks see as less than fully human. And he is saying that, if we welcome these people, we welcome Jesus and we also are welcoming God.

Thank you for all the ministries you are all doing which involve helping other people in so many ways, whether it is at the food shelf or in other ministries of servanthood. When we are helping others, showing love and care to others, we are  showing that love to our Lord. That is what he is telling us today. May our loving God bless you in all your ministries. Amen.

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