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 The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
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, and 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 oldest writings and presented YHWH (“LORD” in all capital letters) anthropomorphically in that the LORD had a conversation with Abram.
This chapter in Genesis began the “ancestral history of Israel” in which YHWH called Abram (whose name is the same root word as “Abba” or father) to go to a land that YHWH would show him. There, Abram would become a father of a great nation and (as a descendent of Shem) his “name” will be great (v.2). Similar promises of YHWH making another a “great name” were reported to be made to David (2 Sam. 7:9) and to Solomon (1 Kings 1:47). The promise to make Abram “a great nation” (v.2) created an immediate tension in that Sarai was presented as barren in 11:30.
The Jewish Study Bible observes that the LORD “singled out one Mesopotamian – in no way distinguished from his peers as yet.” It continues: “These extraordinary promises come like a bolt from the blue, an act of God’s grace alone; no indication has been given as to why or even whether Abraham merits them.” Later, they will be seen as merited after the fact by Abram’s obedience and his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac.
Unlike some other covenants in Genesis, these promise by the LORD were “conditional” in that they would not become effective unless Abram went to the land YHWH would show him.
In Verse 3 is the phrase “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – which Paul interpreted as a blessing on the Gentiles through Abraham. This phrase is also translated as “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” – or in other words, people will say “may we be like Abraham.”
The places where Abram went (Shechem in v.6 and Bethel in v. 8) appear in later stories – Shechem as the place where the Israelites took an oath to YHWH in Joshua 24 and Bethel as the place where Jacob settled in Genesis 35. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that Abram’s journey to Shechem in the center of the land and then to Bethel and to the Negev is duplicated in Jacob’s journeys in Genesis 33, 35 and 46 and in the general route of the conquest under Joshua.
Today’s reading is followed by a story of Abram’s passing Sarai off as his beautiful sister and her being “taken into Pharaoh’s house” (v.15).
Hosea 5:15 – 6:6
15 Thus says the LORD: “I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. In their distress they will beg my favor: 6:1 ‘Come, let us return to the LORD; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.’ 4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
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 was 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 was one of the 12 “minor” prophets whose works were 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 the Assyrians conquered Israel 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. The call for “steadfast love and not sacrifice” (v.6) is a persistent theme of the prophets, particularly Amos and Micah.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible interprets today’s reading as stating that YHWH punishes “not to annihilate but in order to inspire repentance.” It also notes that “two days … three days” (v.2) is “an idiomatic expression for a brief period of time.”
This reading is structured as a dialogue. Verse 15 was spoken by YJWH. Verses 6:1-3 were spoken by the people who half-heartedly urged repentance and assumed YHWH would forgive, and verses 4-6 are a response by YHWH with a fatherly – but exasperated – tone. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that Israel’s words of repentance are “insufficient” and that the repentance was spoken of in terms of fertility symbols such as rain. The unshakeable judgment of YHWH’s light (v.5) was contrasted with Israel’s inconstancy that is likened to the ephemeral dew (v.4)
13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
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.
Paul exhorted the Jesus Follower Community in Rome to follow the Commandments, particularly to love one another as neighbors.
In his epistles, Paul used a number of terms that need to be understood in context. “Righteousness” (vv.13 and 22) is one of them. “Righteousness” is understood generally as being in right relationships with God and others. It is sometimes translated as “justified.” A “just” person is also a “righteous” person, and “justified” is used the same way that a page of type is “justified” – all the margins are straight and in order.
Another term that needs explanation is “faith,” a word Paul used seven times in this reading alone. “Faith” for Paul was not used the way it is now typically used — as an intellectual assent to one or more propositions. The Greek word for “faith” (pistis) has an active aspect and should be understood as “faithfulness” – actively living into one’s beliefs through grace and trust in God in a steady way. Paul emphasized that “faith” is a matter of the heart — not the intellect — and that faithfulness leads to righteousness (v.13).
In today’s reading, Paul held up Abraham as an example of “righteousness” (being in right relation with God and man) who was blessed by God, not because of obedience to the Law (v.13) and prior to the requirement that he be circumcised (Gen. 17:10), but because of his faithfulness to YHWH. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says that Paul would have known that Abram’s faithfulness occurred prior to the giving of the Law at Sinai. It also points out that there was a tradition in 1st Century Judaism that Abraham knew the Law and obeyed it even before the Law was promulgated. This tradition was based on Sirach 44:20 (“Abraham kept the law of the Most High”).
In verse 16, Paul relied on Genesis 12:3 to assert that Abraham is the father of all – both Jews and Gentiles – and all inherit God’s promises as they share in the faithfulness of Abraham.
Paul argued that God can do what God has promised (v.21). Most particularly, Paul asserted (v.23) that just as Abraham’s faithfulness was “reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6), our faithfulness will be reckoned to us as righteousness by God who raised Jesus from the dead (v.24). That is, both Gentile and Jewish Jesus Followers share in the faithfulness of Abraham will be “justified” and in a state of righteousness with God and man just as Abraham was (v.25). The NJBC points out that Paul asserts that God is the actor in the “handing over” and who “raised [Jesus] for our justification” (v.25).
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”
10 And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.
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 began with the call of Matthew in Capernaum. In both Mark and Luke, this apostle is named Levi. Although The NJBC concludes that this tax collector named Matthew was not the author of the final Greek form of the Gospel According to Matthew, there may have been a tradition that one of the apostles was literate – as a tax collector would likely have been. The NJBC also regards as “psychologically implausible” an immediate obedience to the call (v.9) and suggests that Matthew must have possessed some prior knowledge of Jesus and his mission.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible describes the tax collection process as follows: “The Roman system, known as ‘tax farming,’ leased out the right to collect taxes (including customs fees) in a given area for a flat fee. The entrepreneur, usually a local aristocrat, who obtained this right would then try to collect more than the fee in order to profit by the arrangement, with obvious potential for abuse [citing Philo]. Actual collections were carried out by underlings, who would be under pressure to bring in as much as possible, and who were despised by the populace; most of the references to collect tax collectors are probably to this class.”
The NJBC describes “sinners” (v.10) as a technical term for members of despised trades thought susceptible of ritual uncleanness and other blemishes. The NJBC believes that the historical Jesus actually shared meals with sinners and that by doing so, he was “breaking with the model of the Pharisaic sage, not to destroy Judaism but to save its increasingly marginalized members.” The “commonsense” response to the Pharisees (v.12) recognized that a physician must often be exposed to contagious diseases (here analogized to legal impurities) to heal others.
Jesus continued to confront the Pharisees and in verse 13 paraphrased Hosea 6:6 (one of today’s readings). The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that in both Hosea and in Matthew, mercy takes precedence over sacrifices but sacrifices were not eliminated.
In the story of the resuscitation of the leader’s daughter, the words “of the synagogue” are not in the most authoritative texts of this Gospel and are likely taken from the longer version in Mark 5 where the leader of the synagogue was named Jairus. Similar miracles were attributed to Elijah (1 Kings 17:22) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32).
The hemorrhaging woman would have been deemed ritually unclean. The NAOB says that it is not clear the extent to which such a ritual impurity would have affected village life. The NJBC suggests that she would have been socially marginalized – a pariah in her community.
The JANT points out that the fringe of Jesus’ garment was the tsitzit – tassels on his prayer shawl which Jewish men (and perhaps women) were commanded to wear to remind them of the commandments.