Lesson: Isaiah 55:1-5
1 Thus says the LORD: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”
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.
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.
Today’s reading is from the last chapter of Second Isaiah and encouraged the Judeans in Exile to participate in the restoration that will occur after the Exile ends. The prophet promised a new covenant, and said the promise made to David of an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam. 7:11) would be extended to all Judeans (v.3).
The prophet also said that “nations” would run to the Judeans (v.5) because of YHWH. The words nations, peoples, foreigners and Gentiles are used y (depending on context) in translating the Hebrew word “goyim.”
Epistle: Romans 9:1-5
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) – about ten years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written – to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among other messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The “backstory” is that the Roman Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 CE. His successor, Nero (54-68 CE), allowed Jews (including Jewish Jesus Followers) to return to Rome, and this created tensions about leadership and worship within the Jesus Follower Community.
Paul was a Jew who became a Jesus Follower and saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism. To emphasize his own Jewishness to the Roman Jesus Follower community, Paul gave a deeply personal message in which he spoke of the Israelites as his own people (v.3), whose adoption by God preceded that of the Gentiles (v.4). He affirmed the continuing covenants between God and the Jews.
Paul used words that are translated as “the flesh” in a variety of ways. In this reading, “according to the flesh” (v. 3 and v.5) show that he (Paul) was a born a Jew and that the Messiah (the Christ) also was a Jew whom came from them “according to the flesh.”
In other contexts, Paul used “the flesh” to mean our human tendency towards self-centeredness and self-interest) that is grounded in sin (our personal egoism). Unfortunately, the terms “the flesh” and “sins of the flesh” often have been misunderstood as condemning the human body. Paul is clear that “sins of the flesh” is a much broader construct and includes mental activities such as idolatry, sorcery, envy, jealousy, enmity, and anger (Gal. 5:19-21).
Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.