During Pentecost Season 2022, 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 word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
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.)
Today’s reading is in “prose style” and contains two critical aspects of the theology of the Deuteronomists: (a) YHWH – like a potter — is in charge of everything and can “shape evil against” Israel (v.11) and “declare concerning a nation” (v. 7); and (b) that if a nation or an individual obeys YHWH’s commands and “turns from evil” (v.8), God will change the decision, and good outcomes will result. God was presented as not capricious but responsive to repentance. These themes are present in all the books written and edited by the Deuteronomists (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings).
Many scholars agree that the tone of this passage is “Post-Exilic” – that is, it was written to the community in Judea after the Exile as both an explanation of why the Exile occurred and as a warning against failing to worship YHWH fully going forward.
15 Moses said to all Israel the words which the LORD commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings, and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Deuteronomy is the fifth (and last) book of the Torah and is presented as Moses’ final speech to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. “Deuteronomy” comes from Greek words that mean “Second Law” and is structured as a “restatement” of the laws found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Parts of it were revised as late as 450 BCE, but the bulk of the book is generally dated to the reign of King Josiah of Judea (640-609 BCE).
It is also the first book of the didactic “Deuteronomic History” which consists of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. This “History” teaches that when the people and kings of Israel and Judea worshiped YHWH properly, they prospered, but when they worshiped false gods, other nations (the Assyrians in 722 BCE and Babylonians in 587) conquered them.
Today’s reading is a continuation of Chapter 29 and expresses a theme found in all the Deuteronomic books (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings): “if you do good, you will get good, but if you do bad, you will get bad.” Indeed, life outside the covenant will lead to death but observing the commandments will lead to prosperity and life.
Scholars agree that verses 1 to 10 in Chapter 30 (which precede today’s reading) are a later insertion between Chapter 29 and today’s reading as shown by the reference to the “book of the law” in verse 10. The Torah itself (as a unified book) did not exist until it was finalized and codified in the 5th Century BCE. Similarly, the word “again” shows that the text was directed at the returning exiles from Babylon in 500 BCE rather than the Israelites in the Wilderness in 1200 BCE.
Rather than seeing the Exile and the other conquests of Judea as the result of the greater economic and military might of foreign nations, these conquests were portrayed as the result of failing to obey the commandments of the LORD (v. 16) and being “led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them” (v.17).
Verses 16 and 17 start with “if” and reflect the Deuteronomists’ understanding that the Covenant with the LORD was conditional. Judea failed to live up to its part of the covenant, and this is why it suffered.
The Jewish Study Bible points out that “in the technical language of Near Eastern treaties ‘love the LORD and walk in his ways’ (v.16) means to act loyally and to honor the commitments of the treaty.”
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love — and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother– especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
The Letter to Philemon is the shortest of the letters attributed to Paul and is presented as his last letter in the Bible. (When Jerome translated Paul’s letters into Latin for the Vulgate, he arranged them from the longest to the shortest on the theory that the longer letters were more important.) Today’s reading contains all but three of the verses of the entire letter.
The letter was written from prison, but the site was not specified. Paul was sending the slave Onesimus (whose name means “helpful”) back to Philemon with the hope he will be “useful” (v.11) and with a request to free Onesimus as a “brother in the Lord” (v. 16). Paul noted that he himself converted Philemon (“owing me in your own self” v.19).
Depending on which verses the reader emphasizes, The New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests that Onesimus was the slave of Philemon (v.16) and either ran away from his master after causing him some financial loss (vv.15,18) or he was sent by his owner to serve Paul in prison (v.13).
There are also multiple interpretations of Paul’s vague requests to Philemon regarding Onesimus: (a) to receive him back and forgive his transgressions whatever they may have been (vv.17-18); (b) to send him back to Paul to take care of Paul’s needs in prison (vv.13-14); or (c) receive him back and free him (vv.16, 21). The final decision is left up to Philemon (v.14) but Paul was clearly leaning on Philemon to “do the right thing” (v.14).
25 Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
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 emphasized the costs of discipleship and the need for total devotion if one is to be a follower of Jesus. The language in verse 26 (“hate father and mother etc.”) is stronger than parallel sayings in Matthew 10:37 (“whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”) and in John 12:25 (“Those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”)
The need to “carry the cross and follow me” (v.27) is parallel to sayings in Mark 8:34 and Matt.10:38 and is understood as the need to be willing to risk death or endure other sufferings.
Verses 28 to 32 are practical admonitions and examples of recognizing in advance the cost of an endeavor. The conclusion in verse 33 is that one must give up all one’s possessions if one is to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ is a theme Luke repeats a number of times.