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.

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67


34 The servant said to Laban, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels, and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’

42 “I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43 I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” 61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65 and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.


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”).

Today’s reading is part of the longest chapter in Genesis and is the conclusion of the story of how Abraham’s servant – not named in Chapter 24 but thought to be Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2) – obtained a wife for Isaac by going back to Haran, the land from which Abraham came.

Because of the emphasis on Isaac’s not taking a wife from the Canaanites (v.37), the story is attributed by scholars to the Deuteronomic writers (650 to 550 BCE). Intermarriage with Canaanites is strictly forbidden in Deut. 7:1-4.

In the verses before today’s reading, Abraham’s servant did what everyone looking for a wife does – he went to a well where women draw water (v.11). (Jacob and Moses also met their wives this way.) There, the servant encountered Rebekah, who was Isaac’s first cousin, once removed. (Her father, Bethuel, was Isaac’s first cousin.) Rebekah was described as very beautiful and a virgin (v.16). In response to the servant’s request, she gave him water to drink and watered his camels (v.20). The servant gave her gold jewelry, and she told him that he and his animals could come to her home (v.25). Rebekah then told her mother’s household all that had occurred (v.28).

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, met with Eliezer (vv. 31-49) who recounted to him his conversation with Rebekah in which she answered Eliezer’s questions satisfactorily (v.46). Laban and Bethuel gave her to Eliezer to be Isaac’s wife (v.51) and Eliezer brought her to Isaac (v.66).

In future readings, Rebekah will give birth to the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob.

Scholars have noted that, although camels may have been domesticated in Saudi Arabia as early as 2,500 BCE, they were not domesticated in Israel until about 1,000 BCE – long after the events in today’s reading were said to occur.

Computing the approximate dates of the events in today’s reading requires “backward” counting because there is no evidence outside the Bible for the historicity of these events. There are sources outside the Bible for the building of the store cities of Pithom and Rameses in the reign of Rameses II (1,279 -1,213 BCE) around 1,250 BCE. If the Exodus was historical, it would have occurred around 1,225 BCE. According to Ex. 12:40, the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years after the death of Joseph (which would mean Joseph died around 1,655 BCE). Abraham was Joseph’s great-grandfather. The patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had great longevity, so there were about 220 years between the events described in today’s reading and the death of Joseph at age 110 (Gen. 50:26). Isaac was 60 (25:26) when Jacob was born and he died when he was 180 (35:28). Jacob lived to 147 (47:28). Accordingly, the events in today’s reading (if they are historical) might have occurred around 1,900 to 1,875 BCE.

Zechariah 9:9-12


9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.


Zechariah is the longest and most obscure of the “Minor” Prophets (so called because their books are much shorter than the three “Major Prophets” – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). The Book has 14 chapters, and Chapters 9 to 14 are referred to as “Second Zechariah” or “An Oracle” – the superscription at the beginning of Chapter 9. First Zechariah is dated to about 525 to 500 BCE and Second Zechariah is dated to about 400 to 300 BCE.

Today’s reading is one of the many (sometimes contradictory) descriptions of the anticipated Messiah found in the Hebrew Bible. The image presented here is a king who brings peace and rides on a donkey (v.9) rather than on a war-horse. The king’s dominion is not only over Israel, but is from sea to sea, from “the River” (the Euphrates in northern Syria) to the ends of the earth (v.10).

The Hebrew Bible contains many parallelisms, and the description of the king “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v.9) was intended to describe one animal. The Gospel of Matthew (unlike Mark and Luke) treated the phrase as describing two animals (Matt.21.5).

This peace-bringing king cuts off the instruments of war from “Ephraim” which was pre-Exilic Northern Israel, named for its most powerful tribe, and the war-horse of Jerusalem (v.10), the capital of Judea.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the voice shifted from the third person to the first person in verses 11 and 12. This represents the idea that God will accomplish what is promised in these verses. The phrase “blood of my covenant with you” (v.11) referred to the covenant at Sinai that was sealed by a blood rite (Ex. 24:6-8).

Romans 7:15-25a


15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 19 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ 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 sometimes 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 is part of Paul’s extended discussion of the law, sin, the flesh, and the Spirit. As a First Century Jew, Paul was recognized that Jewish Jesus Followers were still bound by the Law, but that Gentile Jesus Followers were not bound by the requirement of circumcision or the Jewish dietary laws.

As to the effects and purposes of the Law, Paul seemed ambivalent. He saw the Jewish Law as “spiritual” (v.14), but as a Jesus Follower, he recognized that mere obedience to the Law would not lead to wholeness/salvation. Sometimes he used “law” to mean a principal or norm (“I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” v.21), and at other times it meant the Torah.

Without the Spirit, Paul asserted, even outward obedience to the Law could be a manifestation of “the flesh” (our human tendency towards self-centeredness and self-interest) that is grounded in sin (our personal egoism). Paul said it is through the Spirit that we can be rescued from “this body of death” (v.24).

In the early part of this chapter, Paul analogized the binding effects of the law to the convention of marriage. That is, if a person’s spouse dies, that person is no longer bound by the laws of that marriage. The Jewish Annotated New Testament says: “The convention since Adam of being slaves to sin no longer binds the Gentiles since Christ has died. They are now bound to a new life in Christ.”

The JANT continues: “The language [in this chapter] is very difficult to follow: the same terms are used with different referents and connotations….Paul’s point seems to be that these Gentiles who have turned to God in Christ are not bound to the limitations of their previous identity in Adam, in sin leading to death. They are not under Torah because they are not Israelites but they are nevertheless now free from the law of sin to live a Torah-based life, i.e. to live according to God’s standards.”

In some ways, although the Revised Common Lectionary does not include it, the last part of the concluding verse in today’s reading serves as a useful summary: “So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (v.25b).

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


16 Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


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 follows a section in which Jesus praised John the Baptist as “no one who has arisen greater than he” (v.11) and Matthew specifically compared JTB to Elijah (v.14) whose return was to be a sign of the coming of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5).

The criticism of “this generation” (v.16) is followed by a reproach of the cities in which Jesus did “deeds of power” (v.20) but they did not repent (vv.20-24).

Regarding vv.25-27, The New Oxford Annotated Bible comments, “The nature of true wisdom is an important question in Matthew. Powerful and influential people form the opposition in Matthew’s Gospel. Ironically, it is the younger students without influence, training and power who have heard and understood the message.”

The JANT points out that the image of the “yoke” (v.29) was commonly a reference to study of the Torah (Sir. 51:26). The NJBC interprets “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (v.30) to mean: “In comparison with the halaka of the Pharisees, Jesus’ teaching is quantitatively easier because shorter and centered on the essential. But in view of the exceeding righteousness demanded in [Matt.] 5:20, [“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”], it is qualitatively more difficult because the demands of love of God and neighbor are inexhaustible.”