During Pentecost Season 2020, 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 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation — I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
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 from First Isaiah and is an indictment of Israel (and particularly Judea) for religious infidelity. The first verse (inserted by a later editor) sets the time period as being from 735 BCE (the ending years of the reign of Uzziah – also known as Azariah) to the 14th year of the reign of Hezekiah (701 BCE – when the Assyrians conquered most of Judea and besieged Jerusalem). This was a time of the ascendancy of the Assyrian Empire which conquered Northern Israel in 722 BCE and threatened Judea during all this time.
The balance of the reading is a strong prophetic statement condemning worship divorced from social justice (vv. 10-17), a theme also found in Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah. Sodom and Gomorrah (v.10) were commonly used symbols for divine judgement on immorality. In Genesis, the evil done by those cities was not showing hospitality (a high value) by threatening to commit sexual violence upon visitors to Lot’s home (Gen.19:5).
The call for purification (v.16) was not a substitute for moral purification, but a sign of the purification of learning to do good and seek justice (v.17).
The verses then shifted from condemnation to a legal argument (v.18) in which YHWH offered forgiveness if Judea repented but said Judea would be “devoured by the sword” (v.20) if it did not repent. Except for a short period of Deuteronomic reform under King Josiah (640 to 609 BCE) Jerusalem did not repent, and it was conquered by the Babylonians – the successors to the Assyrians – in 597 BCE. The Exile began in 587 BCE.
1 The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Genesis is the first book of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah also called the Pentateuch (“five books”) in Greek. Genesis covers the period from Creation to the deaths of Jacob and his 11th son, Joseph, in about 1650 BCE, if the accounts are historical.
The Book of Genesis (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, and these sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
The first 11 Chapters of Genesis are called the “primeval history” which ends with the Tower of Babel story — an “etiology” (story of origins) relating to the scattering of humankind and the multiplicity of languages. The last chapter of the primeval history also traces Abram’s lineage back to Noah’s son, Shem (which means “name” in Hebrew and from which we get the word “Semites”).
Today’s reading is one of the versions of the covenant between YHWH and Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (v.5). The other versions of the covenant are in Gen.12:1-3 and Gen.17:1-27.
The reference to Eliezer of Damascus is understood by some commentators as indicating that Abram had adopted him because he did not expect to have a natural heir. It appears that Eliezer was the “servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all he had” (Gen. 24:2) whom Abraham later sent to Haran to find a wife for Isaac.
In speaking of Abram’s “belief in the LORD” (v.6), The Jewish Study Bible translates the word as “trusts” and affirms that belief (when used in the Tanakh) does not mean believing in spite of the evidence. Instead it means trusting profoundly in someone, here YHWH. The New Oxford Annotated Bible sees “righteousness” (tzedakah in Hebrew) as “being true to one’s social obligations and commitments” and that Abram believed that YHWH would be true to the promises made to him.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old– and Sarah herself was barren– because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
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 contains a sustained argument on the nature of Christ. It is often perceived as the New Testament’s most anti-Jewish text because of its supersessionism.
Today’s reading presented faith as insight into a sacred world of reality and spoke of faith as a concrete reality by using words such as “assurance” and “conviction.” An example of faith was Abraham’s obedience to leave his homeland and travel to Canaan (Genesis 12). His faith was rewarded by his being the father of numerous descendants. In some manuscripts of Hebrews, Sarah’s faith is paralleled to Abraham’s and she is also presented as a heroic person of faith.
The ”city” (v.10) is understood by commentators as the heavenly Jerusalem.
32 Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
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 follows the Parable of the Rich Fool (vv. 16-21) and lengthy advice (vv.22-32) to not worry about material possessions. Consistent with sayings in the other Synoptic Gospels and Acts, persons were urged to lay up “treasure in heaven” and were reminded that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v.34)
The focus of the reading then shifted to watchfulness, readiness, and faithfulness. Using imagery of a wedding banquet as a messianic event, the exhortation advised that the “master” (Kyrios in Greek – usually translated “LORD”) will serve those slaves whom he finds alert (v.37).
The motif of the master serving others is found in John’s account of the Last Supper in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:3-16). It is also in Mark 10:45 in stating that the Son of Man came “not to be served but to serve” and in Luke 22:27 in response to the controversy among some of the apostles about who is the greatest.