During 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. Today’s track 2 has a choice of two readings.
The readings from the Epistles are the same in both tracks.
4 Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.
5 Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
6 They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?”
7 I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things But when you entered you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.
8 The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.
9 Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing.
11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD,
13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
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.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were 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.)
Today’s reading is in “poetry style” and consists of a “covenant lawsuit” brought by YHWH (“LORD” in all capital letters) against Jacob and “all the families of Israel” (v.4). Jacob and Israel are interchangeable names – Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” in Genesis 32 when he wrestled with a man/angel/God.
This first part of this reading was addressed to Northern Israel and is understood by The Jewish Study Bible as an attempt by Jeremiah to persuade Northern Israel (which had been conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE) to “accept the rule of King Josiah and the religious authority of the Jerusalem Temple, thereby reuniting all Israel as in the days of David and Solomon.” The JSB notes that verses 1 to 3 were a later addition to include Judea in the covenant lawsuit after the death of King Josiah in 609 BCE.
In the “lawsuit,” YHWH declared innocence in the relationship with Israel and said the people have been unfaithful without cause and ungrateful for all YHWH had done for them, including bringing them out of Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land (vv. 5-8). The priests knew the law but did not know God (v.8) and false prophets preached in the name of Baal. (Archeological evidence shows that Baal worship and YHWH worship coexisted in Israel until after the Exile (587-539 BCE).
The last part of the reading is an accusation against Israel and its children – the hearers of the prophesy (v.9) – for changing its gods (v.11) and forsaking the fountain of “living water” (v. 13) The image of “living water” was used in the conversation between Jesus of Nazareth with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:10.
12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
13 For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities and destroys them completely.
14 The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers and enthrones the lowly in their place.
15 The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place.
16 The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
17 He removes some of them and destroys them and erases the memory of them from the earth.
18 Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.
The Book of Sirach is not included in the Jewish version of the Hebrew Bible but is included in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Bible. Protestants place Sirach in a separate section of the Bible called the “Apocrypha” (which means “hidden books”).
The book is known by the name of its author, and its full title is “The Wisdom of Jesus [which is Greek for Yeshua or Joshua], son of Sirach.” In the Roman Catholic tradition, the book is known as “Ecclesiasticus” (“the Church’s book”).
It was written between 200 and 180 BCE, during a time when the Seleucids (from Syria) were ruling Judea and trying to impose Greek gods upon the Judeans. Ben Sira described himself as a “scribe” (a person of learning).
The Prologue to Sirach (written by Sirach’s grandson after 132 BCE) contains the first reference in Jewish Literature to “the Law, the Prophesies, and the rest of the books” – the division of the Hebrew Bible into three parts. The book primarily consists of “traditional” advice to young men in the Jewish community, consistent with the advice given to young men in the Book of Proverbs.
In today’s reading, Sirach stated that human pride and sin lead to retribution by the Lord – a view consistent with Deuteronomy’s over-all theme that if you do good, good things will happen, but if you do bad things (such as worship false gods), bad things will happen.
6 Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great;
7 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
In Christian Bibles, the Book of Proverbs is included in the “Wisdom Literature,” but in the Jewish Bible (the “TaNaK”), it is part of the “Writings.” The other two parts of the Jewish Bible are The Torah and The Prophets. The name “TaNaK” is an acronym for the first letters of the Hebrew words for each of these sections: the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketubim.
Although Proverbs claimed to be written by Solomon (965-930 BCE) (1:1), most scholars agree that these sayings were compiled over a lengthy period and put in their final form around 450 BCE. In fact, two Chapters of Proverbs (22:17 to 24:34) were copied almost word-for-word from Egyptian wisdom literature dating to about 1100 BCE.
Most of the sayings in Proverbs were presented as teachings from the elders and were aimed at young men to enable them to cope with life. They generally advised that moral living (diligence, sobriety, self-restraint, selecting a good wife, and honesty) will lead to a good life. Unlike most guidance in the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs was aimed at individuals, rather than to the nation.
The authors of Proverbs seemed to be convinced that everyone who attended to the wisdom of the past and employed powers of reason could know what to do and what to avoid. Wisdom is the virtue that encompasses all other virtues. In that sense, there is a tension between the ”teaching” of Proverbs and the Torah – which emphasized the revealed law.
The usual translation of a recurring theme in Proverbs is that “fear” of YHWH (translated as LORD – all capital letters in the NRSV) is the beginning of wisdom. Many scholars suggest, however, that “awe of YHWH” or “reverence for YHWH” better captures the sense of the authors of the Proverbs.
Proverbs acknowledged the limitations of human wisdom but also offered a clear view of divine reward and punishment: Wisdom (equated with righteousness) would bring success, but folly (or wickedness) would lead to destruction.
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
1 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The Letter to the Hebrews was an anonymous sermon addressed to both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers which urged them to maintain their Faith in the face of persecution.
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.
Today’s reading is from the final chapter of the Letter and was primarily an exhortation for moral uprightness by the Jesus Followers. The Greek word for “mutual love” (v.1) is philadelphia — described in The Jewish Annotated New Testament as most commonly used to describe the affection between siblings.
The mention of “entertaining angels” (v.2) was a reference to Abraham’s over-the-top hospitality to three strangers/angels/God at Mamre (Gen. 18). The reference to “he” in verse 5 is to YHWH and a promise made by YHWH to Joshua in Josh.1:5. The purported quote in verse 6 is a loose paraphrase of Psalm 118.6.
Reflecting an evolving Christology, the author affirmed that The Christ is the same today and forever (v.8), and through The Christ – as the unifying force of all reality — the community was able to offer sacrifices pleasing to God (v. 16).
Luke 14:1, 7-14
1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
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.
It is difficult to gauge Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees during his lifetime. In today’s reading, Jesus was dining (presumably by an invitation which he accepted) at the house of a leader of the Pharisees (v.1). By the time the Gospels According to Matthew, Luke and John were written, however, the relationship between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees was competitive and strained, and these three Gospels contain criticisms of the Pharisees not found in Mark. The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes: “Scholars correctly describe [Luke’s} Gospel’s presentation of Pharisees as puzzling, inconsistent and complex.”
In the verses before today’s reading, Jesus turned the tables on the “lawyers and Pharisees” by asking them if it was lawful to cure people on the sabbath. When they were silent, he cured a man who had dropsy.
The “parable” in today’s reading was an expansion of verses from Proverbs 25 (which will not likely be read in many churches.) The notion of being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” was based on Dan. 12:2 (“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt.” – the first clear Biblical reference to a resurrection, final judgment, and afterlife.) “Many” suggested not all will rise.