Lesson: Micah 5:2-5a
2 You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
5 and he shall be the one of peace.
Micah was among the earliest of the “Minor Prophets” – the 12 prophets whose works are much shorter than those of the “Major Prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and are found in a single scroll.
Micah was a prophet (one who spoke for YHWH) to Judea after Northern Israel (Samaria) had been conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE (an event to which Micah refers in 1:6). Most scholars therefore date Micah’s prophesies to the period from 720 to 700 BCE, a time when the Assyrians were threatening to conquer Judea.
This short Book is divided into three sections: oracles of judgment and condemnation against Jerusalem and its leaders for their corruption and pretensions (Ch. 1-3); oracles of hope in which Jerusalem would be restored to righteousness (right relationship with YHWH]) (Ch. 4-5); and a lawsuit by God, a judgment by God, and a lament that moved to hope (Ch. 6-7).
In today’s reading from Chapter 5, Micah offered a Messianic poem and said that a new David would come from Bethlehem of Ephrathah. (Ephrathah was the name of a clan in Judea, and a region that included Bethlehem.) The new David would feed his flock (v.4) and they would be secure in the peace that the new David would bring (v.5).
First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39) was a contemporary of Micah. He also spoke of an ideal king coming from the House of David (Is. 7:14).
Epistle: Hebrews 10:5-10
5 When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
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 sometime after Paul’s death in 63 CE, but before 100 CE. The letter introduced many important theological themes.
The author, in large part, interpreted the life, death, and heavenly role of Jesus as the Christ through the category of the “high priest’ who perfected the ancient sacrificial system of Judaism which had ended when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
The presentation of Jesus as high priest in the Letter to the Hebrews is unique in the Christian Scriptures and reflected the continuing process in early Christianity of developing images to describe who and what Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) as the Christ.
In First Century Greek, there was no punctuation or quotation marks, their addition is an interpretive act by the translators.
In the verses before today’s reading, the author of the Letter noted that in Judaism there is an annual reminder of one’s sins (on Yom Kippur). For this reason, these sacrifices were not “perfect” and he concluded that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (v.4).
With this as his predicate, the author then asserted that the Christ stated that God did not desire sacrifice and offerings (5a) and that God had “prepared a body” [Jesus of Nazareth] for me [the Christ] (5b).
According to the author, the Christ then said that “you” (YHWH) took no delight in burnt offerings and sin offerings (v.6), an idea also found in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and in Psalm 40.
The author continued “quoting” the Christ to say that he (the Christ) had come – as provided in a book maintained by God – to do God’s will (v.7).
The author of the Letter interpreted these “statements” by the Christ to mean that the Crucifixion of Jesus “abolishes the first [covenant]” (v.9) – the Mosaic Law Covenant involving animal and grain sacrifices – “in order to establish the second [covenant]” (v.9b).
The author concluded by saying that it was God’s will that we were sanctified once and for all (v.10) through the offering [the Crucifixion] of the body of Jesus the Christ.
Gospel: Luke 1:39-55
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
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 50% 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 the story of the Visitation. If Mary were of customary marrying age in First Century Israel, she would have been about 13 or 14 years old. Traditionally, the home of Elizabeth and Zachariah in the “hill country of Judea” (v.39) was in Ein Kerem, a town west of Jerusalem.
The distance to Ein Kerem from Nazareth (where the Annunciation to Mary took place – according to Luke) was about 70 miles (longer if the route avoided Samaria). This trip would have taken three or four days of walking in rugged terrain that had bands of robbers.
As shown by the statement by Elizabeth that the child in her womb “leaped” when she heard Mary’s greeting (v.41), Luke gave Mary a very high status. According to Luke, Elizabeth described Mary as “blessed among women” and “the mother of my Lord” (42-43).
Mary’s response (46-55) is called “The Magnificat” from the first word in Jerome’s Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Greek text. Mary’s response used language that was similar in content and tone to Hannah’s song when she learned she was pregnant with Samuel (1 Sam. 2:1-10).
Hannah’s song began: “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God.” For Hannah, YHWH would raise up the poor from the dust (v.8). Mary affirmed that the Lord has lifted up the lowly (v.52).
The promise to Abraham and his descendants (v.55) is found in Genesis, Micah and elsewhere that the land of Israel was given to Abraham and his descendants forever.