During Pentecost Season 2023, 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 God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
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 called “J” (Yahwistic), “E” (Elohistic), “D” (Deuteronomic) and “P” (Priestly). 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”).
In the prior chapter, Abraham sent away his firstborn son, Ishmael, at Sarah’s insistence. In today’s account, the reader was told (v.1) that God tested Abraham by telling him to offer “your only son whom you love” (v.2) as a burnt offering. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that “only son” is inaccurate since Abraham had another son, Ishmael, and says that the LXX correctly interpreted the Hebrew word as “favored.”
Just as Abraham was asked by God in Chapter 12 to “go from your country,” in today’s reading, he responded promptly and “rose early in the morning” (v.3) to go to the place God would show him. The Jewish Study Bible says: “There is no good English equivalent for the Hebrew ‘hineni’ translated in this verse [vv.1 and 7] as Here I am. The term indicates readiness, alertness, attentiveness, receptivity, and responsiveness to instructions.”
Although the Akedah — the Binding of Isaac (as the story is known in Jewish tradition) — has been understood by some as a condemnation of child sacrifice, most scholars observe that there was no general practice of child sacrifice in Ancient Israel, particularly because of the large number of verses in the Bible that condemn the practice as Canaanite idol worship.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible says: “The story does not presuppose a general practice of sacrifice of the firstborn but does suggest that such a practice could be performed under extraordinary circumstances (see 2 Kings 3:27).” The NJBC observes: “Infant sacrifice was widely practiced in Canaan and in Phoenician colonies of North Africa. It was even practiced in Israel as the OT polemic against it shows (2 Kgs 16:3; Mic 6:7) in critical times as a means of averting divine wrath. Israel recognized that the firstborn belonged to Yahweh (Exodus 13:11-16; 34:19-20) but ‘redeemed’ firstborn human beings by an alternative sacrifice.”
The JSB observes: “The context of the Akedah is sacrificial. A sacrifice is not an execution, and in a sacrificial context the unblemished condition of the one offered does not detract from, but rather commends, the act.”
The NAOB notes that Abraham’s promise “we will come back to you” (v.5) may “suggest a faith that God will work out an alternative sacrifice (see v. 8)” but The JSB observes that “Abraham may be concealing the truth from his servants (lest they prevent him from carrying out God’s will), from Isaac (lest he flee) and from himself (lest the frank acknowledgement of his real intention cause his resolve to break).”
It is difficult to know how old Isaac was in the story. He was old enough to carry the wood for the burnt offering (v.6) and to ask about the lamb for the sacrifice (v.7). Some Jewish commentators see Isaac as an adult and a willing participant in his own sacrifice – a prototype of the Jewish martyr. Some Christian interpreters see Isaac as a “type” anticipating Jesus’ carrying of the cross.
Regarding the phrase “fear of God” (v.12), The JSB notes: “In the Tanakh, the ‘fear of God’ denotes an active obedience to the divine will. God is now able to call the last trial of Abraham off because Abraham has demonstrated that this obedience is uppermost for him, surpassing even his paternal love for Isaac.”
The NAOB points out that “like other characters in Genesis (e.g. Jacob in 28.19 and 32.2, 30), Abraham named the place in response to his encounter with God” but “the name The LORD will provide is not attested elsewhere as a place name.” In this reading, the name of God from verse 1 to 13 is Elohim but in verses 14-16 it is YHWH, indicating that the stories came from two sources.
The location of Moriah is not known, but 2 Chronicles 3:1 (written around 450 BCE) identified it as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a tradition that continues to today.
Based on Surah 37 of the Qur’an, Muslims believe that the son whom Abraham was asked to sacrifice was Ishmael.
5 The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD; 6 and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD fulfill the words that you have prophesied and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles. 7 But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8 The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.”
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 Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
The Babylonians deported most of the Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and took most of the treasures from the Temple. In 586, the Babylonians deported a larger number (the beginning of the Babylonian Exile) and destroyed the Temple. 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 Ancient Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Jeremiah is largely a prophet of doom and gloom, and the English word “jeremiad” means a long, mournful complaint or lamentation, a list of woes.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were likely 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 is set in the period from 597 to 594 BCE. The NJBC sees this chapter as biographical and suggests it may have been written by Baruch, the secretary to Jeremiah.
A false prophet, Hananiah, prophesied that the treasures from the Temple that were taken as spoils by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, would be returned soon (v.3) and that King Jehoiachin would return – even though Judah had not repented and Babylon was as strong as ever.
In today’s verses, Jeremiah said he hoped Hananiah’s prophesies would come true (v.6) but suggested they would not (vv.8-9). In the verses that follow today’s reading, Hananiah broke the wooden yoke that had been placed on Jeremiah (v.12) to symbolically show the liberation of Judea. After a short time, YHWH told Jeremiah to tell Hananiah that an iron yoke would be placed upon Judea (v.13). Jeremiah told Hananiah that he did not have a commission from God, asserted that the Babylonians would continue to enslave the Judeans, and told Hananiah that he would die within a year (v.16) – which (according to the account) is what happened (v.17).
12 Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) (about 10 years before the earliest Gospel (Mark) was written) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among many messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The “backstory” is that in 49 CE, Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, including Jewish Jesus Followers. The next Emperor was Nero who reigned from 54 to 68 CE. Nero reversed his predecessor’s decree and allowed Jews to return to Rome. This return caused tensions within the Jesus Follower Community in which Gentiles had become prominent.
Paul died in 63 or 64 CE. Accordingly, the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70) was in full operation all during Paul’s life. As a Jew who was also a Jesus Follower, Paul saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism and continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah/the Christ. The term “Christian” had not been invented in his lifetime.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament observes that the Letter to the Romans is written as a diatribe, a rhetorical technique using questions and answers and changes in voice to represent different points of view. The use of this technique makes it difficult to distinguish whether we are encountering Paul’s views directly or those of others as presented by Paul.
Today’s reading continued Paul’s discussion of the effects of Baptism (which joins us in the death of Christ Jesus and unites us with him in overcoming death through resurrection).
In speaking of “sin” rather than “sins” (v.12), Paul was referring to the human propensity to assert one’s own ego and power rather than living as “instruments of righteousness” (v.13) – living in right relationships with God and others. The word “instruments” is literally “weapons” and The NAOB suggests that “through martial imagery Paul calls Christians not to surrender themselves as sins prisoners of war.”
The JANT understands the phrase “not under the law” as meaning “not circumcised” and this would mean that this section was addressed to Gentile Jesus Followers. When Paul referred to the law and grace (vv.14-15), he also expressed the view that mere obedience to rules will not bring about human wholeness or salvation or righteousness or Eternal Life (v.22), terms which Paul uses interchangeably. The NAOB interprets Paul’s words this way: “If grace provided immunity from the law’s verdict, then we might well ‘continue in sin.’”
40 Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and 42 whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’ genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Because it was written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are stories and sayings found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
Today’s reading is the conclusion of a series of instructions given by Jesus to his disciples. The NAOB sees today’s verses as saying that “mutual support and provision is a hallmark of the communities gathered around Jesus.” A prophet (one who speaks for God) is “equivalent to God who sent him (Ex.16.8; 1 Sam 8.7).”
The NJBC states that this principle was based on a “legal principle governing a Jewish emissary that a man’s agent is like himself.” Similar statements that Jesus’ disciples can speak for him are found in Luke 10:16, John 13:20 and Mark 9:37.