During this Pentecost Season, there are two “Tracks” of Scriptures that are offered, and congregations may choose which Track they will follow. The first two readings presented are the readings from Tracks 1 and 2, respectively. The third and fourth readings are the same in both Tracks.


1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13  


34 Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.


The Book of Samuel is part of the “Deuteronomic History” that includes the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. These books are a “didactic history” that covered the period from just before the entry into the Promised Land (c.1220 BCE, if the account is historical) to the beginning of Babylonian Captivity (586 BCE). The books were written in the period from 640 BCE to 550 BCE and continued to be revised even after that.

The authors of the Deuteronomic Books artfully wove their stories from numerous sources. They then used the stories in these books to demonstrate that that God controls history and to assert that it was the failures of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judea (and, by extension, the people) to worship YHWH and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)

The Book of Samuel (to the extent it may be historical) covers from the end of the time of the Judges (c.1030 BCE) to the last years of the Reign of David (c. 965 BCE).

Today’s reading is about the selection of David to be Saul’s successor and the first anointing of David as king (there are three different anointing stories from different traditions). It follows a story that “explains” the “reason” YHWH rejected Saul as King.

In Chapter 15, Samuel (speaking for YHWH) told Saul to attack the Amalekites, a nomadic people who lived south of Judea and who had opposed the Israelites’ passage to the Promised Land (recounted in Exodus 17). YHWH directed Saul to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites and everything they owned. (The Jewish Study Bible points out that such a practice in the Ancient Near East was seen as a way of consecrating the fruits of victory to the deity.) Saul defeated the Amalekites but spared their king and the best of the livestock and brought them back to Gilgal.

YHWH told Samuel that he (YHWH) regretted making Saul the king because Saul had not obeyed him. Samuel confronted Saul, and Saul told Samuel that he spared the best of the animals to be able to make sacrifices to YHWH. Samuel responded that obedience is better than sacrifices (15:22), a theme also found in Amos, Isaiah and Micah. Although Saul pleaded to be forgiven, Samuel told Saul that YHWH would not forgive him, had rejected him, and would not change his mind (v.29). Samuel then hacked the king of the Amalekites to pieces and went to Ramah (v.34). According to this tradition, he never saw Saul again  – although there is a story from another tradition in which Saul encountered Samuel (19:24).

In today’s story, YHWH directed Samuel to find a new king from among Jesse’s sons in Bethlehem. Recognizing that this was an act of treason (Saul was still king), Samuel said Saul would kill him (v.2). YHWH told Samuel to pretend he was going to Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice – as a “cover” for his trip to Bethlehem. Because of Samuel’s power in Israel as prophet and kingmaker, the elders of the town were naturally worried by Samuel’s arrival (v.4).

The story of Samuel’s looking at each of Jesse’s sons from the oldest to the youngest was high drama. Some scholars suggest that in suggesting that YHWH was conveying messages to him, Samuel may have used Urim and Thummim (an early form of dice) to determine whether YHWH looked upon each son favorably.

David, the eighth son, was a shepherd and was described as handsome and “ruddy” (having reddish hair and complexion). Red hair would have been rare in the Middle East. The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out that “youngest” (v.11) can also mean “smallest” and contrasted David with Saul – who was tall (10:23).

From this point on in First Samuel, the stories (derived from multiple sources) recounted the unusual relationship between David and Saul until the death of Saul at the hands of the Philistines.


Ezekiel 17:22-24


22 Thus says the LORD God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.

24 All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree. I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it.


Ezekiel (whose name means “God strengthens”) is one of the three “Major” Prophets – so called because of the length of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who was among the first group of persons deported by the Babylonians when they captured Jerusalem in 597 BCE.

The Book of Ezekiel is in three parts: (1) Chapters 1 to 24 are prophesies of doom against Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE; (2) Chapters 25 to 32 are prophesies against foreign nations; and (3) Chapters 33 to 48 are prophesies of hope for the Judeans written during the Babylonian Exile (586-539 BCE).

Like other prophets, Ezekiel “prophesied” by speaking for YHWH (translated as LORD in capital letters). Prophesy in the Hebrew Bible was not about telling the future. A prophet was one who spoke for YHWH.

Two of Ezekiel’s most enduring theological developments were that (1) through repentance, sin could be forgiven, and Israel could live into a restored covenantal relationship with YHWH, and (2) the Jews had to accept personal responsibility for their own situation rather than blaming it on the sins of their predecessors.

In the first part of Chapter 17, Ezekiel presented an allegory on behalf of YHWH which told that Judea and its king (Zedekiah) would be defeated by the Babylonians and taken to Babylon because they did not keep their covenant with YHWH.

In today’s verses, Ezekiel continued to speak for YHWH who said he would take a sprig from a cedar tree (v.22) and plant it “on a high and lofty mountain” (which The NOAB says is Mount Zion) so that it would grow to a mighty cedar (v.23). This was a metaphor for the restored Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile and was also used by Isaiah (Ch.11) and Jeremiah (Ch.23) as a symbol of the Messiah that was to come. The JSB notes: “The cedar, the grandest of trees, will tower over all the other trees (nations), and all will see the power of God, who is responsible for the fall and rise of Judah.” 


2 Corinthians 5:6-17


6 We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord – 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!


Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.

Paul’s controversies with the Corinthians continued, and he wrote at least four letters to them. The Second Letter is a composite of fragments from these letters. In the Second Letter, Paul countered some Jewish Jesus Followers who were disagreeing with Paul and undermining his authority.

Today’s reading reflects the multiple components in this letter. In the first part of today’s reading, Paul spoke of his desire to be “at home with the Lord” (v.8) and noted that while we are alive (“at home in the body”), the body will remain a barrier to being with Christ more perfectly – it keeps one “away from the Lord” (v.6).

In the second part of today’s reading, Paul discussed his relationship with the Corinthians – a relationship that was sometimes painful for both Paul and the Corinthians (2:1-2). He expressed hope that he was well known to the Corinthians’ consciences (v.11) but declined from “commending ourselves” to them (v.12). Those who “boast in outward appearance” (v.12b) was likely a reference to those Jewish Jesus Followers who advocated circumcision for non-Jewish Jesus Followers.

Paul may also have been criticized by his opponents for lack of ecstatic experience (12:1). In response, he spoke of being “besides ourselves,” and said ecstatic experiences were “for God” (v.13). Acknowledging the prevalent Hellenistic rationality in Corinth, Paul stated that if he was in his “right mind,” it was for benefit of the Corinthians (v.13b). He noted that Christ’s love for us urges us on (v.14)

In the last part of today’s reading, Paul shifted his message to convey the idea that if they are “in Christ” they are a “new creation” (v.17). This is an eschatological reversal of the primordial fall – the old way of looking at reality from a merely human vantage point has passed.


Mark 4:26-34


26 Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.


The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.” 

Today’s reading presents two of the series of parables which are Chapter 4. The first one gave the understanding that the Kingdom of God will surely come to fruition just as seeds miraculously and inexplicably sprout, grow, and produce a harvest (vv.26-29).

The next parable compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, which produces invasive shrubs that grow only a few feet high. Mustard bushes grows rapidly and randomly – in the same way that kudzu does. Would a farmer plant a shrub in which birds will nest, given the fact that birds attack crops and eat them? For this reason, The Jewish Annotated New Testament sees this parable as satirical and humorous, and says it is contrasted with the imperial metaphor of the cedar tree in Ezek.17. The JANT notes: “The parable suggests that the kingdom arises from an inconspicuous beginning but grows miraculously.”

Scholars generally agree that parables were likely used by the historical Jesus. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary presents a classic definition of a parable as “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”

According to the gospel writers, sometimes the disciples understood the parables, but sometimes they asked for an explanation (as in the Parable of the Sower that preceded the parables in today’s reading). According to verse 34, Jesus explained the parables to the disciples in private.

In Mark 4:11, Jesus lamented that, just as YHWH told Isaiah would happen in Is. 6:9-10, he would speak and his listeners would hear, but they would not understand.

In all the gospels, it is ambiguous whether the Kingdom of God/Heaven is already present or lies in the future. Some scholars suggest that this is not an either/or proposition, but is instead a “both/and.”  The inbreaking of the Kingdom has begun and so it is “now,” but the fulness of the kingdom will not be realized until the eschaton (the end of the world as we know it now  — not the end of the world).