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Bible Study Guide for Sunday, September 19, 2021

September 14, 2021
  • Proverbs 31:10-31
  • Psalm 1
  • James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
  • Mark 9:30-37

I think I am not alone in my annoyance at unsolicited advice. This week's readings start out on the wrong foot for a contrarian. There's almost too many instructions in Proverbs and Psalms on how to bear good fruit in the world and set yourself apart, distinguishing oneself by good behavior. It smacks of Miss Manners, not God's beneficent cosmic splendor.

What message is being given here? When we solely focus on this exact point in scripture, these words can become a bludgeon, or too lofty to obtain at all. The "perfect wife" of Proverbs and the perfect believer of the psalm are impossibly productive and devoted, apparently incredibly dutiful and fruitful in all aspects of their lives. This becomes twisted into a convenient shorthand for evaluating people's relationship to God. "If she has a smile and she succeeds in the market, she's obviously a good Christian." Yet many of us know that the image of productivity can cover serious sins of the heart.

James's letter is a good starting point to broaden our scope on what it means to be faithful. Like us, early Christians struggled with "envy and selfish ambition". Self-centeredness and clashing egos drive arguments large and small, making the natural differences among humans grow into unbridgeable chasms. James reminds us to be like the Wisdom from above, "gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy [...] Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." Peace comes when we focus on God and His will.

Jesus' spells out exactly what God wants from His faithful people. In plain English (okay, Jesus didn't speak English), we are blessed when we put the care and well-being of the vulnerable ahead of our own needs. Jesus's disciples, bickering about self-importance, are totally distracted from the child in His arms. He draws a straight line connecting the vulnerable child, Himself, and God who sent Him. God's wish is for us to help our neighbors in need.

I think I am also not alone in finding deep meaning, joy, and connection in helping others. Jesus assures us that we will be bountifully blessed when we help of others in His name. Even the joy of helping is itself a gift from God! With this joy and refreshment, we are able to bear in ourselves the good fruits of faith.

I think this is what Proverbs and the psalm are pointing us towards. The nuts and bolts of working towards God's will have always been hard to understand in our daily lives, and I want some way to check ourselves. It's one thing to help our neighbor, and another thing to know I'm actually helping and doing the right thing. With the guiding suggestions of scripture, I can make better sense of when we do the right thing. Am I working with willing hands? Am I opening my hand to the poor? Am I looking well after my household? We are encouraged to look past skin-deep charm and beauty, and to offer our praise for people who help their children and neighbors and who respect God's will. Even I can admit that's good advice. - Betsy Noecker

  • What signs tell you that you're bearing good fruit in the world?
  • What role does joy play when you're discerning God's will?
  • How does Jesus remind you to focus outside of yourself?


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