Lesson: Jeremiah 23:1-6
1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.
5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
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 prose style and attacked the kings and priests (the “shepherds”).
Consistent with the “do bad, get bad” theology of the Deuteronomists, YHWH (“LORD” in all capital letters) will “attend to” them for their “evil doings” (v.2). Consistent with the reading from Samuel for today, the writers held up the promise that YHWH would raise up for “David” (Judea) a righteous king who would enable Israel to live in safety and righteousness (v.5). For the Deuteronomists, YHWH controlled everything. YHWH caused the Exile, the end of the Exile through Cyrus of Persia in 539 BCE, the return of the Judeans to Jerusalem, and the relatively peaceful Persian Era (539 to 333 BCE).
If these “predictions” by the prophet were in fact made after the Exile, the writers had “20/20 hindsight” that the “remnant” (a “code word” for the Judeans who returned to Jerusalem after the Exile) would be “fruitful and multiply” – the command given by God to the humans in Gen. 1:28.
These prophesies by Jeremiah remained an important part of the 1st Century CE understanding (and expectation) of what the Messiah would be and do.
Epistle: Ephesians 2:11-22
11 Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they did not always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contained many terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gave new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter was intended to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations.
In today’s reading, the author spoke mostly to the Gentile (“uncircumcised”) Jesus Followers (v.11) and reminded them that through Jesus the Christ they were brought into the Covenants of promise that formerly were only for the Jews (v.13). The author said that by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, Jesus created a New Covenant open to both Jews and Gentiles. Gentile and Jewish Jesus Followers are now “one new humanity in place of the two” (v.15) and “members of the household of God” (v.19), a phrase used in welcoming newly Baptized persons into the Church (BCP p.308)
Historical note: The question “Does a Gentile have to become a Jew (be circumcised and follow Kosher dietary rules) as a prerequisite to becoming a Jesus Follower?” was supposedly “answered” in the negative at Jerusalem in 49 CE (recounted in Acts 15). Many scholars, however, see Acts 15 as a “compression” of events that continued well past 49 CE until Acts of the Apostles was written around 85 CE by the same person who wrote the Gospel According to Luke.
The notion that the Christ “abolished the law” (v.15) is a late development and not a position taken by Paul in his authentic letters. For example, in the Letter to the Romans his view is more nuanced, and he acknowledged that the Law was still binding on Jewish Jesus Followers, even if it was not fully binding on Gentiles.
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Today’s reading follows the story of the beheading of John the Baptizer and gives the author’s sense of the excitement that Jesus’ presence and healings caused. The reference to sheep and a shepherd (v.34) is a common one and echoes the metaphor used in the reading today from Jeremiah.
Gennesaret was a small town on the western (Jewish) side of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles south of Capernaum. (Sometimes the Sea of Galilee was referred to as the Lake of Gennesaret.)
The omitted verses today recount Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus’ telling the disciples to row north to Bethsaida, his walking on the water during the night, and calming the sea when he got into the boat. Notwithstanding these events, the disciples “did not understand … because their hearts were hardened (v.52).
Mark’s mention of the fringes on Jesus’ cloak is a reference to the blue threads (tzitzit) worn (even today) by devout Jewish men on the corners of their cloaks as directed by Num. 15:37-40. As with the woman with the hemorrhage, merely touching the fringes of Jesus’ cloak led to healing.