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.
2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my LORD were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his LORD just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
The authors of the Book of Kings were also the authors of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Samuel. These books were given their final form around 550 BCE – long after the events they described. The authors used the stories in these books to demonstrate that it was the failures of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)
After Solomon’s death in 928 BCE, the nation divided in two. The Northern Kingdom consisted of 10 tribes and was called “Israel.” The Southern Kingdom had two tribes, Judah and Benjamin and was called “Judea.” For the most part, the Deuteronomists portrayed the Kings of the North as unfaithful to YHWH, and Ahab (873-852 BCE) was one of the worst offenders. His wife was the Baal-worshiping foreigner, Jezebel.
Consistent with the theological view that YHWH controlled all that occurs, the authors of Kings asserted, somewhat surprisingly, that YHWH gave victory to Naaman, a general of Aram (modern Syria) over Israel around 850 BCE (v. 1). This occurred presumably because King Ahab and his successors did not worship YHWH faithfully.
Elisha, the successor to Elijah, was in Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel at this time. The King of Aram heard from his wife (who learned from an Israeli slave girl) that Elisha was a prophet who could cure Naaman of his leprosy (which could have been any skin ailment). The King sent Naaman to Elisha and to the King of Israel along with staggeringly generous offerings (750 lbs. of silver and 150 lbs. of gold). Naaman also had a letter from the King of Aram to the King of Israel asking that Naaman be cured of his leprosy (v.5).
The King of Israel’s reaction emphasized that YHWH controlled life and death (v.7) and it also showed the foolishness of the Kings of Israel. The King refused the gifts and (in his anger and frustration) was about to tell Naaman to return to Aram. Elisha prevailed on the King of Israel to allow Naaman to come to see that he (Elisha) was a true prophet (speaker for God).
Elisha’s prescription did not involve divine guidance or prayer as Naaman expected (v.13). Instead, Elisha directed Naaman to wash seven times in the River Jordan. After initially refusing to do so, Naaman’s servants convinced him, and he went to the River Jordan and was healed (v.14).
In the verses that follow today’s reading, Naaman stated that YHWH’s power was not territorially limited to the lands of Israel and Judea – it extended to the whole world (v.15), an important theological message the Deuteronomists sought to convey. Naaman also took some soil from Israel so he could make offerings to YHWH (v.17).
The Jewish Study Bible points out: “One motif of the story is that people of higher status are dependent on people of lower status: Naaman on counsel from his wife reporting information from and Israelite slave girl (vv.2-3); the king of Aram on the king of Israel, and the latter on Elisha (vv.5-8); and Naaman on the advice of his own servants and Elisha (vv.13-15).”
10 Thus says the LORD: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her–
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.
12 For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.”
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.
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.
Today’s reading was set in the time after the return and presented Jerusalem as a nourishing mother for the returning Judeans (vv. 10-11). In verse 13, however, the metaphor changed so that YHWH was presented as the mother who will “comfort her son” (v.13) but will rage against his foes (v.14).
1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5 For all must carry their own loads.
6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
11 See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised — only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16 As for those who will follow this rule — peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Galatia was a large Roman province in what is now western Turkey. This letter was likely written by Paul in the late 40’s or early 50’s (CE), and deals in part with controversies between Jewish Jesus Followers and Gentile Jesus Followers regarding the continuing importance of Torah (Law) to Jesus Followers. In particular, did Gentiles have to be circumcised and follow the Kosher dietary law to become Jesus Followers? If not, what was the role of Torah for both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers?
These issues are also described in Chapter 15 of Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letter to the Romans (written in the early 60’s).
Galatians is a “transitional” letter in that – when compared to Paul’s last letter (Romans) — it shows an evolution in his views on the relationship between the Torah and the Gentile Jesus Followers.
These issues were also described in Chapter 15 of Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letter to the Romans (written in the early 60’s).
Today’s reading is the conclusion of this letter. Paul continued to emphasize that the Spirit enabled believers to live out the principle of love (the “law of Christ” in v.2), thus fulfilling the law without slavishly observing the law’s requirements. He noted that teachers deserved support from their students (v.6).
He affirmed the opposition of “the flesh” to the Spirit and emphasized that whether or not a person is circumcised is not important (vv. 12-15).
In the final words of today’s reading, Paul asked for peace and mercy upon the “Israel of God” (v.16) – words that are unique to this verse. Scholars understand these words as meaning the “true Israel,” that is, those who followed Paul’s understanding of the Gospel rather than those who followed the teachings of Paul’s opponents. The blessing was conditional – it was “for those who follow this rule” (v.16).
1 The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
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 is reminiscent of YHWH’s direction to Moses to appoint 70 elders to assist him (Ex. 24 and Num. 11). The instructions given by Jesus are very specific and have antecedents in the Hebrew Bible: take no purse, or bag or sandals, greet no one (lest you be delayed) (v.4) is the instruction given by Elisha to his servant; use a specific greeting (v.5), a greeting used by messengers sent by David (1 Sam. 25:6); and laborers deserve to be paid (v.7) echoes Deut. 24:15.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament suggests that shaking the dust off one’s feet “in protest” (v.11) was a statement that the disciples were not responsible for the fate of the inhospitable.
In the omitted verses (12-15), Jesus said that the towns that rejected his disciples would have a fate similar to Sodom and that the towns of Chorazin (about two miles north of Capernaum) and Bethsaida should have repented because of the deeds of power done in them (v.13). Jesus went on that the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon would have repented (v.13b).
The joyful return of the 70 was met with a statement about Satan’s falling from heaven like a flash of light (v.18). This image is based on Isaiah 14:12-14 in which YHWH overcame two Canaanite gods (whose names are translated as Morning Star and Dawn) and brought them down to Sheol. The New Oxford Annotated Bible provides this analysis: These gods “fall from heaven as a result of rebellion. In Christianity, the myth reemerges as the fall of Lucifer and his attendant angels (cf. Lk.10.18).”
The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that the Hebrew word for “Day Star” comes into Latin as “Lucifer” (lit. ’light bringer’)” and that by the First Century CE, the concept of Sheol had begun to morph into “hell” as a permanent place of damnation.