Dring Pentecost Season 2022, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two “tracks” of readings from the Hebrew Bible. Congregations may choose either track.
The first track of readings follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. The second track of readings thematically pairs the reading from the Hebrew Bible with the Gospel reading.
The readings from the Epistles are the same in both tracks.
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE. The name “Isaiah” means “YHWH has saved” or “May YHWH save.”
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet 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 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
The Jewish Study Bible points out that one of major religious issues faced by First Isaiah was the extent to which Judea should attempt to confront its enemies by using military and diplomatic means and the extent it should rely on YHWH to protect them. Isaiah (unlike most of his contemporaries) preferred the latter option.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible observes that two themes dominate the book of Isaiah as it now exists: (1) that YHWH is behind all historical events and (2) the centrality of Jerusalem for Israel, both for kingship and for worship.
Today’s reading is part of First Isaiah. The first part is characterized as a “love song” (v.1) for the prophet’s “beloved” – identified in verse 7 as YHWH. In ancient poetry, a vineyard was often a symbol of someone who is beloved, and YHWH’s beloved was identified as “the house of Israel and the people of Judah” (v.7).
In the third verse, the voice shifted from that of the prophet to the voice of YHWH asking for persons to judge between YHWH and the vineyard (Judea).
Because the vineyard yielded wild grapes (v.4), YHWH stated that the vineyard would be trampled down and made a waste (vv.5-6). This occurred when the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel in 722 BCE and Babylonians conquered Judea in 597 BCE.
Like many other prophets, Isaiah criticized injustice in Israel and Judah. Using clever word plays in Hebrew, the author noted that where YHWH expected justice (“mispat”), there was bloodshed (“mishpah”). YHWH expected righteousness (“tsedaqah) but heard a cry (“tse’aqah”) (v.7).
23 Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” 26 How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back– those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27 They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. 29 Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
After the righteous and reforming King Josiah was killed in battle at Megiddo (from which we get the Greek word Armageddon) in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e., speaking for YHWH) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Jeremiah underwent substantial revisions between the time of Jeremiah (627 to 586 BCE) and the First Century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were different versions of the Book of Jeremiah. The Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Jeremiah is largely a prophet of doom and gloom, so much so that the English word “jeremiad” is defined as a long, mournful complaint or lamentation, a list of woes. In the Bible, the Book of Lamentations was placed after the Book of Jeremiah because of the (incorrect) view that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were mostly added later by writers whose theological outlook was closely aligned with the Deuteronomists. (In fact, Chapter 52 in Jeremiah is virtually word-for-word with 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 written by the Deuteronomists after the Exile.)
One of the consistent themes in Jeremiah was his ongoing battles with the “court” prophets who told the king what the king wanted to hear and who opposed Jeremiah at every turn.
Todays reading is in prose and asserts that because YHWH is omnipresent (v.23), YHWH was aware of the lies that some (false) prophets were speaking in YHWH’s name (v.25). In the Scriptures, dreams were sometimes seen as messages from God, but here Jeremiah accused the false prophets of claiming that dreams were a basis to “forget YHWH’s name” (v.27).
In describing YHWH’s word as a “hammer that breaks rock into pieces” (v.29), the prophet emphasized the great power of true prophesy.
Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. 36 Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented – 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Letter to the Hebrews was an anonymous sermon to both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers, urging them to maintain their Faith and Hope in the face of hardship. The letter developed a number of important images such as Jesus the Christ as the High Priest.
Although the Letter to the Hebrews is sometimes attributed to Paul, most scholars agree that it was written some time after Paul’s death in 63 CE, but before 100 CE. The letter introduced a number of important theological themes. The first four chapters explored the word of God spoken through the Son.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament described Hebrews as the only document in the Christian Scriptures that contained a sustained argument on the nature of Christ. It is also often perceived as the New Testament’s most anti-Jewish text because of its supersessionism.
In today’s reading, the author asserted that it was “faith” that enabled (or caused) a large number of notable events that were recounted in the Hebrew Bible (vv. 29-38).
Many of the references are clear, but some are not. Rahab (v.31) was a prostitute who hid Joshua’s spies from the King of Jericho before Joshua crossed the River Jordan. According to Josh. 2:8-12, Rahab gave a (Deuteronomic) speech to the spies about YHWH’s power. She also demanded that Joshua give her and her family safe passage – knowing that Joshua was going to destroy Jericho and kill all its inhabitants. She is mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Matt:1:5.
Judges 4-5 told of Barak, a fearful Jewish general who was unwilling to face the Canaanite army unless Deborah, the prophet, accompanied him. Because of the LORD’s help, he won the battle, but the Canaanite general, Sisera, escaped and hid in the tent of a Kenite woman, Jael. Jael induced him to sleep, and while asleep, drove a tent peg into his temple.
It is difficult to understand why Jephthah is included. As described in Judges 11-12, he was the leader of Israel’s forces against the Ammonites. He made a vow to YHWH that if he were successful, he would make a burnt offering of the first person to come out of his house upon his return. When he returned home, the first person he saw was his beloved daughter, and he sacrificed her to YHWH.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests that “resurrection” (v.35) refers to the raising of dead children by Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4, and that the reference to “better resurrection” refers to the belief that persons killed by Antiochus IV would be resurrected but that Antiochus IV would not. (2 Macc.7:14-15).
All the Christian Scriptures were written in Greek, and the Greek word for “faith” in the Letter is “pistis” – a word that has an active connotation and can fairly be understood as “faithfulness.” Faith is not presented in this letter (or in Paul’s genuine letters) as an intellectual assent to a series of propositions (as “Faith” is often understood today). Instead, as stated in the beginning of Chapter 11, Faith is action based on “the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).
The reading concluded with the supersessionist view that although the faithful persons in the Hebrew Bible were “commended” (v.39), they could not be made “perfect” (or complete) without Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2).
49 Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50
I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 40% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s reading is parallel to Matt. 10:34-36 in which Jesus said, “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.”
In this passage from Luke, the word “fire” is understood by some commentators as Jesus bringing judgment, but others understand “fire” as a symbol of purification. Earlier in Luke, Jesus’ baptism was described as “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16) and in Acts of the Apostles, the presence of the Holy Spirit was shown by “divided tongues, as of fire” (Acts 2:3).
Commentators understand Jesus’ “baptism” (v.50) to be a reference to his own death.
The language about dividing a household (v.53) echoed the prophet Micah 7:6 who described the society of Judea in the late 700’s BCE as “the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.”
But in Malachi 4:6, the prophet spoke of the Messiah as one who “will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.”
The second part of the reading is also in Matthew in which Jesus told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they are not able to “interpret the signs of the times” (Matt.16:3).