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 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and offering incense to idols.
3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.
7 My people are bent on turning away from me To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.
11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.
After Solomon died in 928 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel split into two parts, the North (called Israel with 10 tribes) and the South (Judea with two tribes). Each Kingdom had its own king.
The reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel (788-747 BCE) was very prosperous, but a time of great inequality between rich and poor in which large landowners gained control of the lands of small farmers and mistreated the poor.
Hosea is one of the 12 “minor” prophets whose works are shorter than the three “major” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). He was a contemporary of Amos. His prophesying (speaking for YHWH) began towards the end of the reign of King Jeroboam II and continued until Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. He severely criticized the political, social, and religious life in the Northern Kingdom. He was the first of the prophets whose speeches were collected and edited as literary documents.
In today’s reading, Hosea shifted his metaphor of Israel from being an unfaithful wife to Israel as a special (but wayward) child of YHWH who rejected God’s call and made sacrifices to Baal (v.2). These are two of the most intimate metaphors for the relationship of Israel and YHWH.
In today’s reading, the author used a number of different names for Israel, particularly “Ephraim.” Ephraim (v.3) was one of Joseph’s sons and was the name of the largest of the 10 tribes that comprised Northern Israel. The prophet referred to the Exodus from Egypt (v.1) and emphasized the influence of YHWH in Israel’s beginnings (v.3).
Hosea noted (perhaps as a later addition to the text) that Assyria would be the “king” of Northern Israel (v.5), an event that occurred in 722 BCE when Assyria conquered Israel.
In the last half of today’s reading, Hosea (still speaking for the LORD – all capital letters in the NRSV) said that YHWH’s compassion overcame divine anger. He said that YHWH would not treat Israel as Admah and Zeboiim (v.8) were treated. According to Deuteronomy 29:23, these two cities destroyed when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
God’s change of heart and the decision not to obliterate Ephraim (v.9) was tied to the second part of the verse “For I am God and no mortal.” The lion’s roar (v.10) was not threatening but was a summons to its cubs.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
2:18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me – 19 and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Ecclesiastes was written by a person known in Hebrew as Qohelet (which means the “Gatherer” of Wisdom, or “Teacher” or “Preacher”). Because the book contains Persian and Aramaic “loan-words,” the book is generally dated to the middle of the time of Persian rule of Judea (539 to 333 BCE). (Loan-words are words borrowed from one language to another; for example, “rendezvous” is a loan-word in English from French.)
The Persian Period was one of great prosperity, in large measure because of the introduction of standard coinage in the Middle East. In this period, however, the individual was an insignificant part of a large Empire.
Ecclesiastes is included in the Writings (Ketubim) in the Hebrew Bible, but in the Wisdom Books in Christian Bibles. In Judaism today, it is read on Sukkot, the celebration of the fall harvest and the ending of the yearly Torah cycle.
In verse 12, Qohelet assumed the persona of Solomon, the traditionally wise king who reigned from 968 to 928 BCE, but the book was written much later.
The over-arching theme in Ecclesiastes is that everything is “vanity” (the Hebrew word, hebel, is also translated as “vapor” or “breath” and is used 38 times in the book). Our lives are transient and insignificant. “Vanity” described all that is ephemeral, insubstantial, enigmatic, or absurd. Qohelet asserted that the fruit of one’s toil and one’s wisdom and knowledge cannot be taken with us when we die. Death is inevitable for all.
The Jewish Study Bible notes that later commentators pointed out that “futility” applied to actions by humans for themselves alone but acts done on behalf of others in service to God can last and be worthwhile.
“Vanity of vanities” (v.2) was a way of expressing a superlative in Hebrew and means “utter vanity.” “Toil” (v.18) meant not only work, but the fruit of one’s work, and toil does not give you any advantages in the face of death.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 formed the basis for The Byrds song “There is a Season, Turn, Turn, Turn.”
The concluding themes of the book are to enjoy life while you can, for after death there is nothingness.
1 If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things– anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
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 letters.
In today’s reading, the author gave a series of ethical exhortations to the Colossians. These exhortations are derived from last week’s reading (“when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” 2:12). The sins were described as “earthly” (v.5) and the author described the pre-baptismal life as a catalogue of vices (v.8).
The author concluded with one of Paul’s most important theological insights – that the Christ (the Messiah) is the ultimate unifying principle and force for all reality. “The Christ is all and is in all” (v.11) so that there is no longer a dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “profane” just as there is no essential difference between a Gentile (a “Greek”) and Jew, slave and free and the like (v.11). According to The Jewish Annotated New Testament, a “barbarian” was a person who spoke no Greek and a “Scythian” was the epitome of an uncivilized person in Greek literature.
13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
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.
In the first part of today’s reading, Jesus refused to enter a dispute between two brothers about an inheritance. Although the rule in Deuteronomy 21.17 mandated that the oldest brother would receive an extra share (2/3 if there were only two brothers), The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that “postbiblical practice allowed parents freedom in bequests.”
Using this dispute as an introduction, the reading continues with what is often called “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” In characterizing the man as “rich” (v.16), Luke generally meant that the person did not use his wealth to support the poor.
The advice the rich man gave to his soul (“relax, eat, drink and be merry” in v.19) was a paraphrase of advice in Ecclesiastes 8:15.
The phrase translated as “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you” (v.20) literally was “Fool! In this night, your soul they demand from you.” The subject “they” may be a circumlocution for God, or angels, or the man’s possessions. The question about whose possessions they will be echoes themes in Ecclesiastes.