Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
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.
5 The LORD GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
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.
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;
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.
9a It is the LORD GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Israel’s history. Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and called for Jerusalem to repent in the 20 years before Jerusalem was under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55 and brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 and, for the most part, gave encouragement to Judeans who returned to Jerusalem (which had been largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile.
Today’s reading is part of Second Isaiah and is one of the “Suffering Servant” songs, the longest of which is Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12. The identity of the “Suffering Servant” is sometimes understood as the prophet Isaiah (as in today’s reading) but is more commonly is seen as Judea itself, whose suffering in the Exile (as the servant of YHWH) would lead to vindication by YHWH in the restoration to Jerusalem after 539 BCE.
The author of the Gospel According to Mark used many of the Suffering Servant themes to describe the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth and for the representation that “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Epistle: James 3:1-12
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. 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 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 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. 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! 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. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Although the authorship of this epistle is not known, it has traditionally been attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, who is presented in Acts of the Apostles as the leader of the Jesus Follower community in Jerusalem.
This James (sometimes called “James the Just”) is distinguished from “James the Great” (the apostle, brother of John, and son of Zebedee) and “James the Less” (apostle and son of Alphaeus).
The letter is seen by some scholars as the expansion of a sermon likely delivered by James prior to his martyrdom in 62 CE. The sermon was edited and expanded by someone skilled in Hellenistic rhetoric. It was addressed to Jewish Jesus Followers and emphasized the importance of good works. It mentions Jesus of Nazareth only twice in the letter.
This emphasis on works has been understood by some (including Luther) as being opposed to Paul’s position (particularly in Romans) that one is saved by Faith.
These positions are not opposed and can be reconciled by recognizing that salvation/wholeness (however defined and understood) is the byproduct of the combination of Faith/Trust that leads to good works and Faithfulness in doing good works.
Today’s reading emphasizes the responsibilities of those who teach (v.1) and discusses the importance of disciplined speech. Although the human tongue is small (v.5), our speech can have a significant influence on others and on ourselves. The author asserts that what we say will be pleasing to God if we avoid unwholesome speech.
Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
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?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.”
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. 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is usually dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
The scene of today’s reading is Caesarea Philippi, an area in the northernmost area of Israel. (In the next Chapter, Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, and although the mountain is not identified in the text, the largest mountain was Mount Hermon in the north of Israel.)
The response of the disciples that Jesus might be John the Baptist or Elijah (v.28) is not surprising and represented the notion that famous persons of the past might be reincarnated in others who resembled them.
Peter’s statement (v.29) that Jesus is the Messiah led Jesus to say that the Son of Man (“The Human Being”) would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes (v.31). From this point on in Mark’s Gospel, the Pharisees were no longer presented as being opposed to Jesus. This is a significant difference from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in which the Pharisees were seen as the primary opponents of Jesus – a reflection of the later date of those two Gospels.
The notion that the Messiah would suffer was not common in Jesus’ lifetime, but for the audience of Mark’s Gospel, the “future” suffering of the Son of Man (v.31) was already past and confirmed by history. Mark appropriated the Suffering Servant texts from Isaiah and used them (along with Psalm 22) to describe Jesus and his Passion.
In the second part of the reading, Jesus told not only the disciples but also the crowd (v.34) of the need to deny oneself and “take up their cross.” The footnote in the NOAB states: “The Romans used crucifixion as a gruesome means of terrorizing subject peoples by hanging rebels and agitators from crosses for several days until they suffocated to death.”
The statement in v.38 about the Son of Man coming with his holy angels was a reference to Daniel 7:13 (“I saw one like a human being [Son of Man] coming with the clouds of heaven, and he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.”)