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. In Track 2 today, congregations have a choice of a reading from Sirach or Jeremiah.

The reading from the Epistle is the same in both tracks.

Joel 2:23-32


23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.
24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.
26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.


Joel is one the “Minor Prophets” – the 12 prophets whose works are much shorter than those of the “Major Prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and are found in a single scroll.

Joel (whose name means “YHWH is God”) is located in the Bible between Hosea and Amos (two early prophets – in the 700’s BCE) because some of the themes in Joel are similar to those in Amos.

Joel’s prophesy, however, was much later and contained no direct reference to either the Assyrians or Babylonians. It is dated in the Persian Period (539 to 333 BCE) when the Persians ruled over Israel and Judea. Scholars think Joel was active from about 400 BCE to 350 BCE – a time of relative calm under the generally benevolent rule of the Persians.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible calls today’s reading an “Oracle of Salvation” in that God promised remission of the plague (vv.20, 25), the return of fertility (vv.21-24), the removal of shame, and the restoration of the covenantal blessing (vv.26-27).

The reference to a prior locust plague (v.25) can be understood literally and can also be seen as the invading Babylonian army that destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Both were understood as a call to repentance and resulted from YHWH’s judgment upon the people.

The Jewish New Year starts in the Autumn, and the “early” rain refers to Autumn rains and the “later” rain (v.23) comes in the Spring. Spring and Autumn are the two rainy seasons in Israel.

The entire community, even slaves, will share the immediacy and intimacy of the relationship with God (vv.28-29).

The final verses are apocalyptic in tone and describe Judah’s ultimate vindication. The “Day of the Lord” (vv.30-31) turned the agricultural images to cosmic images. Some of the descriptions of the Day of the Lord s (particularly the sun being turned to darkness) (v.31) were adopted by the authors of the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew, and Luke (the “Synoptic Gospels”) to describe the time that Jesus of Nazareth was on the Cross.

Sirach 35:12-17


12 Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford.
13 For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold.
14 Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it
15 and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him there is no partiality.
16 He will not show partiality to the poor; but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.
17 He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.


The Book of Sirach is not included in the Jewish version of the Hebrew Bible but is included in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Bible. Protestants place Sirach in a separate section of the Bible called the “Apocrypha” (which means “hidden books”).

The book is known by the name of its author, and its full title is “The Wisdom of Jesus [which is Greek for Yeshua or Joshua], son of Sirach.” In the Roman Catholic tradition, the book is known as “Ecclesiasticus” (“the Church’s book”).

It was written between 200 and 180 BCE, when the Seleucids (from Syria) ruled Judea and tried to impose Greek gods upon the Judeans. Ben Sira described himself as a “scribe” (a person of learning).

The Prologue to Sirach (written by Sirach’s grandson after 132 BCE) contains the first reference in Jewish Literature to “the Law, the Prophesies, and the rest of the books” – the division of the Hebrew Bible into three parts. Sirach primarily consists of “traditional” advice to young Jewish men, consistent with the advice given to young men in the Book of Proverbs.

Today’s reading is part of a chapter in which Sirach urged sincere and cheerful generosity to the Most High (i.e. at the Temple) advising that the Lord will repay sevenfold (v. 13) and will listen to the prayers of those who have been wronged (v. 16). The orphan and the widow (v.17) are
to be protected because of their powerlessness and the Most High will hear their supplications.

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22


7 Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O LORD, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you.
8 O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler turning aside for the night?
9 Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O LORD, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us!
10 Thus says the LORD concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the LORD does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.

19 Have you completely rejected Judah? Does your heart loathe Zion? Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We look for peace but find no good; for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, O LORD our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.


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 Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (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 Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.

Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were 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.)

Most of today’s reading is in “poetry style.” It follows a section (vv. 1-6) that described a severe drought that Judah suffered. Jeremiah understood this drought as demonstrating divine judgment against the nation. The Jewish Study Bible points out that because God was portrayed in the Bible as controlling the cosmos, YHWH could cause rain to fall so that the people could grow crops and raise cattle. A drought meant starvation for many.

The first part of today’s reading (vv.7-9) is in poetry style and was a lament that confessed Judea’s sins, bemoaned YHWH’s absence, and asked that YHWH not forsake the people (v.9).
In The Jewish Study Bible (but not the NRSV), the next verse is in prose form and its content is Deuteronomic: YHWH said God would punish the people because they “love to wander” (v.10).

The omitted verses (11-16) are in prose form, but the last verses in today’s reading are in poetry form. Jeremiah criticized the priests and prophets who “ply their trade” (v.18), presented the plight of the Judeans (v.19); acknowledged the people’s wickedness (v.20); appealed to YHWH’s reputation (v.21); and prayed that YHWH’s power would bring rain to the land (v.22).

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18


6 I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.


The Letters to Timothy and Titus are called “Pastoral Letters” because they concerned the internal life, governance and behavior of the early Christian churches and their members. Most scholars agree they were written in the early Second Century in Paul’s name by some of his followers (Paul died in 63 CE). Writing a document in someone else’s name was a common practice in the First and Second Centuries. By then, the Jesus Follower Community had become more institutionalized and concerns about “heresy” had arisen.

The Pastoral letters were written to Paul’s “co-workers” but have a broader audience. By the time they were written, Paul was regarded as an authoritative figure of the past.

Today’s reading is from the last chapter of the letter. “Paul” was portrayed as near death (“the time of my departure”) and stated (v.6) that his life was a sacrifice (a “libation”) and an athletic contest (“the good fight”)(v.7). The New Oxford Annotated Bible sees the “crown of righteousness” (v.8) as a symbol of positive judgment from the Lord at his Second Coming.

“Paul” asked forgiveness for those who opposed his message (v.16) and praised the Lord for the strength to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (v.17). The reference to being rescued from the “lion’s mouth” (v. 17) recalled Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:21).

Luke 18:9-14


9 Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


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 called the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and is found only in Luke. The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that the story often leads Christian readers to see the Pharisee as a symbol of all Pharisees as “hypocritical, sanctimonious, and legalistic.” This understanding is not only unfair to Pharisees in general, but can urge Christian readers to say, in effect, “thank God I am not like this Pharisee.” In doing this, the parable leads those readers to see themselves as better than someone else – to take the same position they condemn in the Pharisee.

Tax collectors were generally hated by the population because Rome employed them and they kept the excess funds that they were able to extort above the “quota” they were required to deliver to Rome. The JANT also points out the tax collector’s standing “far off” (v.13) was not a sign that he was ostracized or ritually impure – to even enter the Temple in the first place, one had to be ritually pure.

The thrust of the parable is that being “righteous” (v.9) (or in a right relationship with God and others) is not a matter of “good deeds” as recited by the Pharisee (vv.11-12). Instead, being “justified” (v.14) and restored to a right relationship with God requires that one be “humble.” Being humble is not a matter of having a falsely low view of oneself, but also means not being arrogant or having a falsely exalted view of oneself.

The JANT also notes that the Greek word (par) translated as “rather than” (v.14) can also be translated as “alongside” – which would mean that both the Pharisee and the tax collector were justified.