This figure in the Book of Wisdom shows close affinities with the righteous man of the psalms who is vindicated by God and with the suffering servant of Second Isaiah. In fact, Wisdom 2:13, not used in this excerpt, actually calls the righteous sufferer God’s pais (“son,” though it could mean “servant”).
The passage pictures the true Israelite, the tenor of whose life is a standing protest against the lawlessness of the ungodly (probably the apostate Jews of Alexandria), who are irritated by the silent protest of his life and conspire to kill him.
Because of the parallels between this picture and Christ’s passion (though see also Plato’s Republic, which says something similar with Socrates in view), this passage has come to be regarded as a prediction of the passion. (In the Book of Common Prayer it is one of the lessons appointed for Morning Prayer on Good Friday.)
It is perhaps a pity that the excerpt here stops short of the proclamation of God’s vindication of his righteous servant (Wis 2:22). It was obviously chosen to go with Mark’s second prediction of the passion, which occurs in today’s Gospel reading. That prediction speaks of vindication as well as suffering.
Psalm 54, which is appointed for Good Friday in the Book of Common Prayer, serves as a fitting response to the passage from the Book of Wisdom. The righteous person cries out to God for help against enemies and expresses confidence in divine vindication. For the Christian the Psalm speaks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and of every Christian from the grip of spiritual enemies.
If we follow the division of the Letter of James according to the twelve patriarchs (see the twenty-second Sunday), we should make a rather different division here, treating James 3:13-18 as a single exhortation revolving around the distinction between earthly and heavenly wisdom (Leah corresponding to earthly wisdom, and Rachel to heavenly wisdom), and James 4:1-12 as an exhortation on false and true warfare (Gad).
So the first paragraph of today’s reading will belong to the seventh exhortation, and the second paragraph to the eighth. But the two exhortations are linked by James 3:18: those who follow heavenly wisdom will sow in a spirit of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
These words pave the way for the exhortation on the wrong warfare (the ensuing part about the true warfare comes in James 3:7: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you”), but unfortunately it is not included here.
The structure of this pericope is as remarkable as that of last Sunday’s Gospel. First we have a prediction of the passion (the second of three in Mark), followed by an exhortation to live out the cross in Christian life.
Here this exhortation is expressed in terms of servanthood and humility. It is, of course, the evangelist himself, not historical reminiscence, that is responsible for the ordering of the material.
Mark is again polemicizing against the false teachers of his time, who understood Christ as a divine miracle-worker and themselves as his successors.
Against this false Christology and false concept of ministry the evangelist sets the ideal of the suffering servant, of service and humility exemplified in the cross.