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.

Genesis 21:8-21


8 The child grew and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.


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 Stories 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”).

The verses before today’s reading tell of the conception of Isaac by the 90+ year old Sarah and his birth when Abraham was 100 (v.5). Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, gave birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, 14 years before Isaac’s birth when Abraham was 86 (16:16). Hagar was presented as a person who spoke directly with YHWH (16:10-12) and named God as “El-roi” – God who sees (16:13).

Today’s account is another etiology – a story of the origins of the non-Jewish Semitic peoples who claim their ancestral fatherhood of Abraham through Ishmael. In the story, God said, “I will make a great nation of him” to Abraham (v.13) and to Hagar (v.18).

Sarah became upset because Ishmael was “playing with her son Isaac” (v.9). Literally, the words are “”making him laugh” but other translations are Ishmael was “toying with” or “laughing at” Isaac. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary and the NRSV translator’s notes observe that the words “with her son Isaac” are not in the Masoretic Text even though they are in the LXX and the Vulgate. This was likely a copying error. The Jewish Study Bible’s
JPS translation does not include the words. The JSB suggests that “playing” is another pun on Isaac’s name and that Ishmael was “Isaacing” or “taking Isaac’s place.”

The JSB also states that the expulsion of Hagar in Chapter 16 is an account attributed to “J” but the account in today’s reading is attributed to “E.” The name YHWH never appears in this reading. For example, God (not YHWH) urged Abraham to acquiesce to Sarah’s demand that he cast out the slave woman, Hagar, and her son (v.10).

Although the passage referred to Ishmael as a “boy” (v.12) and as a “child” (v.16), the chronology of the over-all story indicates that the events occurred after Isaac had been weaned (v.8), so this meant that three years had passed since Isaac’s birth. The NJBC says that three years was the age for weaning and showed that Isaac would survive in an age of high infant mortality.

Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born (16:16) and was 100 when Isaac was born (21:5), so Ishmael would have been at least 16 or 17 years old when he and Hagar were expelled. Notwithstanding this, the account said that Hagar placed the food and water (and the child Ishmael) over her shoulder (v.14). The JSB accounts for this discrepancy based on “source criticism” and notes that although the story in today’s reading comes from “E,” the chronology comes from “P.”

When Hagar and Ishmael ran out of water and food (v.15), God heard Hagar’s lament (“Ishmael” means “God hears”) and protected both Hagar and Ishmael.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible sees a parallel between the endangerment of Ishmael’s life in this story and the near sacrifice of Isaac in Chapter 22. In both stories, Abraham rose early in the morning to fulfill God’s commands (21.14 and 22:3); the child was delivered from danger when an angel of God/the LORD intervened (21:17 and 22:11); and Hagar and Abraham found ways to save the sons (21:19 and 22:13).

Based on the Qur’an, Mohammed (who was from what is now Saudi Arabia) traced his hereditary roots to Abraham through Ishmael. Muslims trace their religious roots to Abraham.

Jeremiah 20:7-13


7 O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
10 For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”
11 But the L0RD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore, my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.
12 O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
13 Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.


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 the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported most of the Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the beginning of the Babylonian Exile). 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 “poetry style” and is the fifth (of six) of Jeremiah’s laments. In it, he claimed that YHWH exerted such irresistible power over him (v.7) that he could not help but proclaim the unpopular message that unless the king and people reformed, Babylon would overcome them and place them in captivity. The JSB points out that the word “entice” (vv. 7 and 12) is used in other contexts in the Hebrew Scriptures to denote the seduction of a woman by a man (Judg.14:15 and 16:5) or of a man by a woman (Hos. 2:16).

Notwithstanding his lament and the plotting of his enemies (v.10), Jeremiah expressed confidence in the LORD’s God’s protection for those who rely on YHWH (v.13).

Romans 6:1b-11


1b Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.


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 much of 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 the reader is encountering Paul’s views directly or those of others as presented by Paul.

Today’s reading begins with a “leading question” which Paul used as a rhetorical vehicle to present his views. The NAOB suggests that the underpinning of the question was the notion (which Paul rejects) that grace is “simply a matter of being relieved of the punishment for trespasses.” For Paul, grace is much more this, and led to his discussion of the effects of Baptism. The NJBC says “the baptismal rite symbolically represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The convert descends into the baptismal bath, is covered with its waters, and emerges to a new life.”

Paul asserted that in our Baptism we are united with Christ Jesus in his death, and we will be united with the Christ in resurrection (v. 5). He urged that we consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v.11). For Paul, “sin” (as contrasted with “sins”) can be understood as our human propensity to put ourselves and our egos in first place rather than (as Jesus did) having the good of others as our primary focus. The NJBC says “For Christ was raised from the dead not merely to publicize his good news or to confirm his messianic character, but to introduce human beings into a new mode of life and give them a new principle of vital activity, the Spirit.”

Paul was clear that Christ was raised (vv.4 and 9) — the “actor” was God and Jesus the Christ was acted upon. It is not clear, however, when Paul thought our “resurrection” would occur. In one verse, Paul suggested that Baptism allows us to “walk in newness of life” (v.4). In verse 5, he suggested that we “will” be united with Jesus the Christ “in a resurrection like his.” In verses 10 and 11, he seems to suggest that our resurrection is now because we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The JANT understands “once and for all” in this way: “though the death was a past event, it is operative (in a way not specified) on behalf of everyone now.”

Matthew 10:24-39


24 Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”


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 was 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 continues to present Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. His statements about slaves/servants not being above their masters (v.24) is echoed in the Fourth Gospel in 13:16 and 15:20. In commenting on the verse that the disciple is not above his teacher (v.24a), The NJBC observes that “disciple” means learner or student. The NJBC continues: “In the background stands the Jewish school relationship of that time but precisely that [relationship] poses a danger. In the normal school relationship, once the disciple has learned what the master has to teach, he moves on to another master or becomes a teacher himself. This is what the gnostics did — make Jesus only one among many teachers. It was to block the possibility of twisting Jesus’ original simple statement (as it still can be found in Luke 6:40 – “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”) in a gnostic direction that Matthew reshaped it to include the words ‘nor a slave above his lord.’ This means that for the believer Jesus is not only a teacher but also an abiding lord.”

In verse 25, the “they” who call the master of the house Beelzebul (the original name of the Canaanite god, Baal) were the Pharisees (9:34). The JANT notes that the name means “lord of lofty abode,” but when changed to Beelzebub in 2 Kings 1:2, it means “lord of the flies” which The NAOB suggests was intended to express the Deuteronomists’ scorn for this deity.

The teachings found in vv. 26-34 are “Q” material and are found in Luke 12:2-9. The NAOB understands verse 27 (“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light”) as a “denial of any secret or esoteric teaching.” The NJBC understands the phrase “destroy both soul and body” (v.28) as presupposing a Hellenistic view that the soul is intrinsically immortal. Verses 34-39 have parallels in Luke and are largely derived from Micah 7:6.