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 8:4-20, 11:14-15  


8:4 All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, 7 and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

10 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16  He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day, you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

11:14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.


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 artfully wove together numerous sources. They 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 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 Books 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). Because the Book of Judges ended on such a low note in terms of YHWH worship, “the word of the LORD was rare in those days” (v.1), the Book of Samuel presented a return to worship of YHWH – although this return was viewed (in retrospect by the authors) as uneven.

The Jewish Study Bible points out that there are five chapters devoted to the foundation of the monarchy, which shows the importance attached to the subject. The attitude towards kingship is not uniform and is negative in some places and positive in others.

Today’s reading described the request by the elders to Samuel to appoint a king because they wanted to replace Samuel’s sons who were dishonest (v. 3). This account about having a king reflected two different retrospectives on whether having a king was good for Ancient Israel or not. On the one hand, a king was seen by some as unifying the tribes into a nation and helping them to overcome Israel’s enemies. On the other hand, having a king was seen by others (such as Samuel and YHWH) as a rejection of the reign of YHWH (a theocracy), and showed a distrust that YHWH would protect Israel from its enemies.

The litany of troubles that a king would bring (vv. 11-17) were a paraphrase of the abuses during Solomon’s reign as reported by the Deuteronomists in 1 Kings 4 and 5. Nevertheless, according to the story, the people insisted on having a king (vv.19-20).

In the chapters of 1 Samuel that are omitted from today’s reading, YHWH relented and told Samuel to set a king over the people of Israel. Samuel found Saul and anointed him the first king of Israel. (There are two stories about his selection that are woven together.)

The final two verses of today’s reading present a second tradition regarding Saul’s anointing as shown by the use of the word “renew” (v.14).


Genesis 3:8-15


8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”


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 1,650 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 by scholars 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.

Today’s reading is part of the Second Account of Creation that begins in Gen. 2:4. The Second Account is attributed to the “Jahwistic” Source and is generally dated to about 950 BCE. This Source presents God’s name as YHWH (translated as LORD or LORD God) and gives God many anthropomorphic qualities such as speaking with humans.

The reading today continues the story of the Disobedience Event. The man and the woman ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they realized they were naked (v.7). God then confronted them in the Garden.

The negative consequences of the disobedience by the man and the woman are all signs of the disorder that are at variance with the orderliness (“Shalom”) in God’s good creation. These signs of disorder include the humans’ sense of separation from YHWH (they hid themselves from the “presence” of the LORD God in v. 8), vulnerability (sense of their nakedness in v.10) and failing to accept responsibility for one’s actions (the man blamed the woman, and the woman blamed the serpent in verses 13 and 14). All of the “curses” in verses 14 to 20 are signs of this disorder.

The “curse” upon the serpent (v.15) likely had its roots in the archetypal fear and hostility most humans have toward snakes. Some Christians, however, interpret the enmity between the serpent and the woman as a prefiguring of the serpent’s relationship with Mary whose offspring (Jesus) would strike the head of the serpent. The oval-shaped “Miraculous Medal” worn by some Christians shows Mary standing on the body of a serpent.

Regarding snakes, The New Oxford Annotated Bible says: “Snakes were a symbol in the ancient world of wisdom, fertility, and immortality. Only later was the snake in this story seen by interpreters as the devil.”


2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1


13 Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.


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.

In today’s reading, Paul used dualistic language that would have been characteristic of Hellenistic thought to reflect the tension between present afflictions and inner renewal (vv.16-18). The “temporary” and the “eternal” are not presented as opposed but are seen as overlapping. Paul emphasized that we will also be raised (v.14) just as Jesus was raised and will be with God in an eternal “house” (5:1).

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that these passages show that “Paul is concerned with showing that present sufferings are not a valid criterion of apostleship because the true home of all believers is elsewhere.” 


Mark 3:20-35


20 The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


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 followed the appointing of the 12 apostles and Jesus’ return to “home” (v.19b). In the Synoptic Gospels, the family of Jesus was sometimes portrayed as being concerned for his safety and his sanity (v.21).

The term “Beelzebul” was derived from name of the Canaanite storm and fertility god, Baal, later demonized into the chief power of evil, or Satan. In interpreting the parable in verses 24 to 26, The NOAB says: “A kingdom was thought of as a household on a large scale, and both kingdom and household were metaphors for God’s and Satan’s power or control.”  The Jewish Annotated New Testament understands the parable as an analogy: ”One who has bound the strong man so that his property can be plundered is analogous to Jesus who plunders the demonic world by defeating Satan.”

In Mark’s Gospel, the primary opponents of Jesus were the scribes from Jerusalem, not the Pharisees (as in Matthew and Luke) or “the Jews” (meaning the Temple Authorities and the Pharisees) as in the Fourth Gospel.

In this Gospel and in Matthew’s Gospel, blasphemies against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven (v.29). The NOAB observes: “From the Markan viewpoint, attacks on Jesus during his mission can be forgiven, but not attacks against the Holy Spirit acting in his movement.” The JANT says: “Holiness in Israel was associated with God and the Temple, with angels, and occasionally with the whole nation or prophets. Here, the Holy Spirit appears to be associated with prophecy among the followers of Jesus, and it is not understood as part of the trinity; that doctrine was developed later…. In some Jewish apocalypses, the Holy Spirit was also the divine power that brought the new community into existence.”

The NJBC opines: “In the Markan context, the unforgivable sin is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ healings to the power of Satan. ‘Blasphemy’ here describes the irreverent behavior vis-à-vis the Holy Spirit – the failure to discern the Spirit’s presence in Jesus’ ministry.”

If we understand that God is Love, we might see the “Holy Spirit” as the “Force” behind all the manifestations of Love in the universe. “Blasphemy” against the Holy Spirit would be the intentional denial that (a) Love, Goodness and Compassion exist, (b) persons perform acts of love, goodness and compassion, and (c) there are forces, urgings and impulses that move persons towards acts of love, goodness and compassion.