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 This is what the LORD GOD showed me– a basket of summer fruit. 2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.
3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the LORD GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely, I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
9 On that day, says the LORD GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 The time is surely coming, says the LORD GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.
After Solomon died in 930 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel split into two parts, the North (called Israel with 10 tribes) and the South (called Judea with two tribes). Each of the Kingdoms had its own king.
The reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel (788-747 BCE) was very prosperous but was a time of great inequality between rich and poor in which large landowners gained control of the lands of small farmers.
Amos was a cattle herder and cared for fig trees in Judea, but he was called by YHWH to go north to prophesy (speak for the LORD) against the evils in Israel from about 760 to 750 BCE. Amos is one of the 12 “minor” prophets whose works are shorter than the three “major” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). He was the first (chronologically) of the prophets whose words left an indelible stamp on later thought in Israel about God. He used vivid language and called for justice and righteousness, social equality, and concern for the disadvantaged.
His writings included announcements that the “Day of the LORD” was imminent and urged that the special covenant with the LORD entailed special ethical responsibilities. Some of his presentations are indictments, some are exhortations, and others are visions.
In today’s reading, Amos criticized the unfair and fraudulent business practices of the wealthy and their impatience for the Holy Days to pass (v.5) so they could resume bilking the poor, enslaving them (v.6), and taking their lands.
An ephah (v.5) was about 35 pounds and making an “ephah small” would be to cheat the customer. “False balances” (v.5) are scales that weighted for the seller.
According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “buying the poor … and needy” likely refers to outright slavery as opposed to “selling the righteous” (2:6) into debt slavery.
The reading has some clever linguistic aspects. In verse 2, the basket of fruit symbolized the immanence of Israel’s end. The Hebrew words for “fruit” (qayits) and for “end” (qets) sound alike. Amos saw fruit but YHWH saw the end of Israel as an independent nation.
The reading described the “Day of the LORD” – a time of terror and mourning and darkness at noon (v. 9), a motif used by the authors of the Gospels in describing the Crucifixion (see Mark 15:33). A solar eclipse was a customary portent for divine punishment.
Amos said that YHWH would remember these misdeeds and punish the evildoers. In 722 BCE, only 40 years later, Assyria conquered Israel and scattered its wealthy class.
1 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 8 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”
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 the account of three “men” (identified as YHWH in verses 1 and 13) who came to Abraham’s tent at Mamre (whose oaks were regarded as oracles). The NOAB points out that the motif of secretly divine visitors is widespread in ancient folklore.
In this story, the relation between the three visitors and YHWH is not clear. The narrative speaks of them as a group (“They said”), but in verse 13, “the LORD said to Abraham.”
Abraham’s “hospitality” was overwhelming. Three measures of flour (v. 6) would have been the equivalent of about 150 pounds of flour and would have produced a large number of average-size loaves of bread. Slaughtering an entire calf (v.7) would have produced about 500 pounds of meat if the calf were between 6 and 12 months old. Quite a feast for three men!
One of the men predicted that Sarah (who was over 90 years old) would have a son in a year (v.10).
In the verses that follow today’s reading, Sarah’s laughed (v.12) when she heard what the man said. This laugh anticipated the name of her son, Isaac (which means “he laughs”).
15 Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Colossae was a town in what is now western Turkey. A Jesus Follower community was founded there by Paul’s associate, Epaphras (1:7). The letter is short (three chapters) and expressed concern about apocalyptic and mystical practices that were inconsistent with Paul’s understanding of being a Jesus Follower.
Scholars debate whether this letter was written by Paul or by his disciples in the decade after Paul’s death in 63 CE. It lacks many terms used in Paul’s authentic letters and its style is more liturgical than Paul’s other letters.
Today’s reading is highly theological and focuses on the Christ as the “image of God,” the “firstborn of all creation” (v.15), as existing before all things and that in which all things hold together (v.17). It is “High Christology” in the sense that on a spectrum from “the Christ is fully human” to “the Christ is fully divine,” the presentation is much closer to the latter than to the former. It presents a Christology that is higher than any other New Testament Book.
The Christ has a greater role in creation (v.16) than Wisdom has in Proverbs 8 and is not only the firstborn of all creation (v.15) but also the firstborn from the dead (v.18). Just as the LOGOS is the organizing principle in John 1:1, so too is the Christ (v.17).
The author referred to Gentiles as “estranged” from God (v.21) before receiving the good news. The word “estranged” appeared only in the “Deutero-Pauline” letters – the ones written by Paul’s disciples after Paul’s death.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that “faith” (or pistis) shifted from meaning faithfulness, trust, and trustworthiness (as in Paul’s authentic letters) to a “belief” in specific statements.
In verses 23 to 29, the author of Colossians self-identified as “Paul.” In the seven authentic letters written by Paul himself, it was very rare for Paul to use his own name, except in the greetings in the letters.
38 As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
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 last week’s Parable of the Good Samaritan. According to John 11, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (who is not mentioned in any gospel except John) lived in Bethany, a town east of Jerusalem. Because Martha welcomed Jesus into “her” home (v.1), she is presented as a householder, and therefore a person of means.
According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “this enigmatic account affirms the importance of listening to Jesus and at the same time the account shows Jesus’ openness to and acceptance of women among his followers.”