Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent 3C Readings & Commentaries

John the Baptist

The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally is called Gaudate Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Latin Mass introit on this Sunday:  Gaudate, “be joyful,” or “rejoice.” The color is lightened to rose, signaling that we are more than halfway to Christmas.  Some people call this “Stir Up Sunday” because of the first words of the Collect of the Day.

1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Zephaniah prophesied in the closing years of the seventh century bce. and was clearly influenced by Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem (“First Isaiah”).  These were good years for Israel under King Josiah (640-609 bce), who many regarded as the greatest king since David.  The prophets of this time, however, knew that prosperity was being built on the backs of the poor and that the collapse of the society was just a matter of time.  Zephaniah himself may have been an Ethiopian, the only Jewish prophet we know of African origin.  His writing consists of nine oracles. The first eight are full of judgment and coming destruction.  The ninth is our reading this morning, proclaiming that there is still hope for a righteous remnant.  Zephaniah celebrates God’s presence remaining with a renewed Israel.

3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

Canticle: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#9).  Isaiah 12:2-6 (usually referred to as “The First Song of Isaiah”) is a song of praise that concludes the first major section of the book of Isaiah.  It is a song of awaited redemption.  It continues the hopeful theme of Zephaniah and leads into Paul’s theme of joy in the next reading.

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you
is the Holy One of Israel.

2nd Reading Philippians 4:4-7
At the beginning of this chapter, Paul called the Philippians his joy and his crown (4:1).  Joy is a major theme of the letter, culminating in our passage this morning.  How to translate “The Lord is near” is anybody’s guess as there is no verb in the original Greek.  It probably ties to the next phrase, “Do not worry…”  That makes the sentiment something like, “The Lord is near so do not worry…”  The last sentence of the passage is, of course, the traditional blessing from Anglican/Episcopal liturgies.  Notice, however, the stronger word “guard” rather than the “keep” in our blessing.

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3:7-18
The first six lines below follow on the reading from last week and are parallel to the other Gospels’ account of John’s preaching.  What follows (“And the crowds asked him…”) is found only in Luke.  They describe a very practical following of John’s and then Jesus’ teaching.  This is what repentance looks like. It looks like compassion, honesty and justice.  John’s baptism was a ritual purification signifying repentance.  Christian baptism would develop into something deeper—initiation into the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and membership in Christ’s Body the Church.

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Canticle translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent 2C Readings & Commentaries

Our first reading today is part of a longer poem of consolation for Jerusalem and her captive children. Jerusalem in exile is to look to the east for her liberation. (It will come, ironically, with the Persians).

1st Reading: Baruch 5:1-9
Baruch was probably written sometime between 200 and 60 b.c.e., although its setting is during the exile in Babylon in the sixth century b.c.e.  Baruch was the name of the prophet Jeremiah’s trusted friend and secretary.  We occasionally read them liturgically as Scripture.  Our reading this morning is part of a longer poem of consolation for Jerusalem and her captive children. Jerusalem in exile is to look to the east for her liberation. (It will come, ironically, with the Persians).

5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. 2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; 3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. 4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” 5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. 7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. 8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. 9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

Or this

1st Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Malachi (the final book of the Hebrew Scriptures) was a prophet devoted to the restored Temple.  He is partially dealing with the crushed idealism of those who rebuilt the Temple (completed by 515 bce) and expected a new golden age to dawn for Judah (see Haggai 8:1-5, for example).  Malachi points out that the covenant must still be followed and the exercise of the priesthood be pure.  The messenger cited in this passage was the returned Elijah (4:5), although in the New Testament this passage is used to describe the ministry of John the Baptist.

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Canticle: The Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)
In place of a psalm we have a biblical canticle from the Book of Common Prayer (#16).  It is the song Zechariah sings at the circumcision and naming of his son John, his lips having been freed from the silence imposed on him since the announcement of the child’s conception by the archangel Gabriel (1:20).  The first part of the song praises God’s mighty works in history. The second half prophesizes about the child.  He will be a prophet.  He will prepare the way.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 1:3-11
These verses are a prayer of thanksgiving, a version of which Paul uses at the beginning of most of his letters.  Right off the bat he uses an important word in this letter: koinonia, which is translated “fellowship,” “partnership,” “sharing,” or “communion.”  Two mentions of “the day of Jesus Christ” make this an Advent reading.  They tell us that the promised day is never far from Paul’s thoughts.  All he does is a preparation for that day, and he urges his listeners to take on the same attitude and practice.

1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3:1-6
One characteristic of Luke’s Gospel is that he carefully sets it in the context of the world situation.  This is true especially at the beginning of his Gospel.  Here there is a long introduction to John’s appearance, running down the list of the powerful of the region.  John comes as a prophet and calls for reform of life, with immersion in water as a symbol.  Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5 to describe John’s ministry.

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Canticle translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Advent 1C Readings & Commentaries

Stand up and raise your heads! On this First Sunday of Advent we always read from one of the “apocalyptic” chapters of Matthew, Mark or Luke.  Apocalyptic writing is writing about the end times, the time of revelation, the time of justice, the consummation of the Kingdom of God. 

1st Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
“The days are surely coming…” signifies talk of a frequent topic of the Jewish prophets: the day of God’s judgment.  But here, Jeremiah (of all the prophets!) speaks a word of future hope:  “he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Christians have always seen this “righteous branch” which has “sprung up for David” as Jesus.

33:14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 25:1–9
Our psalm is an acrostic poem (each line beginning with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) that is a prayer for deliverance from enemies.  The psalmist recognizes that such deliverance depends on the gift of both wisdom and repentance.

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
   my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Paul has written to the Thessalonians based on a report he has received about them from Timothy.  Here he expresses his desire to visit them and bolster their faith.  This desire, as well as the faith of the Thessalonians, is in the context of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (both Paul and the Thessalonians would have believed that this was to be soon, although some Thessalonians were beginning to wonder—see 4:13—5:11).  Paul never talks about the coming of Jesus as a threat, but rather a time of revelation, the revelation of faith.

3:9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 21:25-36
On this First Sunday of Advent we always read from one of the “apocalyptic” chapters of Matthew, Mark or Luke.  Apocalyptic writing is writing about the end times, the time of revelation, the time of justice, the consummation of the Kingdom of God.  The threatening signs of the end are actually a patchwork of Old Testament sayings and phrases.  In one sense there is nothing new here that the prophets haven’t already said before.  In the face of a world in crisis, Jesus’ advice is to “stand up and raise your heads,” and pray for strength.  Fear is unnecessary.

21:25 Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 Then he told them a parable:  “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Last Sunday after Pentecost B Readings & Commentaries

We close our liturgical year with Pilate’s encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John.  Pilate questions Jesus as if he were a threat to the order of the Roman Empire.  Does this man claim to be a king?  Jesus never answers directly but talks about a kingdom not from this world. 

1st Reading (Track 1):  2 Samuel 23:1-7
The last words of King David before his death (at 1 Kings 2:10) are in the form of a psalm praising God for his faithfulness to David’s house.  It is significant that David claims that God speaks directly to and through him.  Among his descendants this claim will gradually disappear.

23:1 Now these are the last words of David:  The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:  2 The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. 3 The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, 4 is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. 5 Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? 6 But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; 7 to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

Psalm 132:1-13 [14-19] (Track 1)
Psalm 132 is a hymn celebrating God’s founding of the Davidic dynasty and the choice of Zion/Jerusalem as the center of Jewish life and government.  It may have been part of a liturgy, re-enacting the discovery of the ark of the covenant by David and the grand procession he made in bringing it to Jerusalem.

1     Lord, remember David, *
              and all the hardships she endured;
2     How we swore an oath to the Lord *
              and vowed a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
3     “I will not come under the roof of my house, *
              nor climb up into my bed;
4     I will not allow my eyes to sleep, *
              nor let my eyelids slumber;
5     Until I find a place for the Lord, *
              a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6     “The ark! We heard it was in Ephratah; *
              we found it in the fields of Jearim.
7     Let us go to God’s dwelling place; *
              let us fall upon our knees before his footstool.”
8     Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place, *
              you and the ark of your strength.
9     Let your priests be clothed with righteousness; *
              let your faithful people sing with joy.
10   For your servant David’s sake, *
              do not turn away the face of your Anointed.
11   The Lord has sworn an oath to David; *
              in truth, he will not break it:
12   “A son, the fruit of your body, *
              will I set upon your throne.
13   If your children keep my covenant
       and my testimonies that I shall teach them, *
              their children will sit upon your throne for evermore.”
[14 For the Lord has chosen Zion; *
              he has desired her for his habitation:
15   “This shall be my resting-place for ever; *
              here will I dwell for I delight in her.
16   I will surely bless her provisions, *
              and satisfy her poor with bread.
17   I will clothe her priests with salvation, *
              and her faithful people will rejoice and sing.
18   There will I make the horn of David flourish; *
              I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed.
19   As for his enemies, I will clothe them with shame; *
              but as for him, his crown will shine.”]

1st Reading (Track 2):  Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
The Book of Daniel was most likely written during the Maccabean revolt against the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV (167-164 b.c.e.).  This was a time of enormous stress for the Jewish community, a time ripe for apocalyptic writing like Daniel.  Our passage this morning is a portion of one of the visions of Daniel.  The parts missing envision a great and terrible judgment on “the beast,” which is clearly symbolic of the Greek empire.  The portion we do read clearly foretells that God will ultimately reign in justice.  The identity of “one like a human being” has long been debated. Christians have tended to identify him as Jesus.

7:9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

The Word of the Lord.             Thanks be to God.

Psalm 93 (Track 2)
Psalm 93 begins a section of the psalter devoted to the kingly rule of God in Israel.  Recall that it was God’s intention from the beginning to be Israel’s King. It was the people who demanded an earthly king “like the other nations.” In this psalm God’s rule is based upon God’s control over the powers of chaos, symbolized by the sea.

1     The Lord is King;
       he has put on splendid apparel; *
              the Lord has put on his apparel
              and girded himself with strength.
2     He has made the whole world so sure *
              that it cannot be moved;
3     Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
              you are from everlasting.
4     The waters have lifted up, O Lord,
       the waters have lifted up their voice; *
              the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
5     Mightier than the sound of many waters,
       mightier than the breakers of the sea, *
              mightier is the Lord who dwells on high.
6     Your testimonies are very sure, *
              and holiness adorns your house, O Lord,
              for ever and for evermore.

2nd Reading:  Revelation to John 1:4b-8
As in all apocalyptic writing, the Revelation to John was written during a time of great stress—most likely one of the waves of persecution of the early Christians by the Romans (“Babylon” throughout the book is clearly symbolic of Rome).  Our passage this morning is from the introduction to the book and begins with a prayer.  Jesus is at the center of the prayer, accompanied by three powerful images. To name Jesus as “ruler of the kings of the earth” is to tell the end of the story at its beginning.  That is the significance of Jesus being “Alpha and Omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet).  Jesus is in time but stands out of time.  If it sounds like Revelation begins as a letter it is because that is its basic form.

1:4b Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Gospel Reading:  John 18:33-37
We close our liturgical year with Pilate’s encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John.  Pilate questions Jesus as if he were a threat to the order of the Roman Empire.  Does this man claim to be a king?  Jesus never answers directly but talks about a kingdom not from this world.  It is a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of this world in that Jesus’ followers do not fight for him.  Theirs is a non-violent movement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about truth, something about which Pilate can only be cynical, as in verse 38 he asks, “What is truth?”

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The Scripture readings (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available by subscription.  Go to our website for more information.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Brief Introduction to the Gospel of Luke

A Short Introduction to Luke’s Gospel
The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins

The First Sunday of Advent begins a new church year, and that means a change in our Sunday morning readings.  This Advent we begin Year C, the year of Luke’s Gospel.

People often remark about the great difference between John’s Gospel and the other three (Matthew, Mark & Luke, the so-called “synoptic “Gospels), but Luke has a distinctiveness as well.  There is so much unique material in Luke, that Christianity would be very different without it.

Imagine Christianity without the birth stories of both John and Jesus, and the rich material about Jesus’ mother, Mary, in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel.  Imagine it also without the great parables of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37), the Prodigal Son, (15:11-32), the Dishonest Manager (16:1-13), and the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31).  Then there is the story of the two thieves crucified with Jesus and the post-Easter story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus (24:13-35).

Luke is also distinct in that it was not written to a community and its circumstances, as Matthew, Mark, and John all seem to be.  Luke writes to an individual, “Theophilus,” although the name, meaning “friend of God” may be a stand-in for the generic audience to which he writes.  If the latter is the case, Luke seems to be written to the community of Christians dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, and part of his agenda seems to be both helping those people find their place in the Empire, and as an apology for the Christian movement to the Empire itself.

Luke is also distinct because he writes a second volume, which we know as the Acts of the Apostles.

Five other characteristics to watch for in Luke:

   Luke is sometimes called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” because the Spirit shows up many times, especially in the first two chapters.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned more times in Luke’s Gospel than the other three Gospels combined.

   Women have a special place in Luke’s Gospel.  Both Elizabeth and Mary have major roles in the first two chapters, and then Luke has a habit of telling parallel parables, one with a male and one with a female character.  Luke is also the only Gospel writer to speak of the women who followed Jesus and who helped fund his mission (8:1-3).

   Luke believes that Jesus is the one who interprets the Scriptures for us, from the story of the young Jesus in the Temple (2:41-52) to his “inaugural sermon” (4:14-30) to the Road to Emmaus story.

     There is a universalism in Luke’s Gospel, certainly more so than the others.  Jesus is the savior of the whole world.  His emphasis is on the mercy of God, and he downplays the notion of Jesus’ death as a “sacrifice.”  Jesus is rather the defeater of death who continues his presence with us in the breaking of the bread.

     The message of Jesus is one that “turns the world upside down,” explicitly at Acts 17:6, but this fundamental characteristic can be found in such places as Mary’s Song (1:46-55), his version of the beatitudes (6:20-26), and many of the parables.  This aspect of the message of Jesus is sometimes called “The Great Reversal.”

Who was Luke?  He was not one of the twelve disciples, nor an “eyewitness.” He says he is writing an “orderly account” of what eyewitnesses have handed down (1:1-4).  He was a companion of St. Paul’s, testified to in the Acts of the Apostles (although he is not actually named), and mentioned by name by St. Paul in three of his letters: Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 1:24.  In the Colossian reference, Paul calls him “the beloved physician.”

There is longstanding debate as to whether Luke was a Gentile or a Jew.  Argument for the latter revolves around his concern that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish Scripture, although he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures far less than, say, Matthew.  Yet he writes in a kind of universalism that makes one believe he is a Greek.  Perhaps he was both, i.e., a “Hellenized Jew,” either a convert or a Jew raised in the diaspora.

The Eastern Church holds Luke to be the originator of the icon, although mention of this dates only from the 8th century.

Luke does seem to have known Mark’s Gospel and uses it as a source. He also has some content in common with Matthew (from an unknown source often referred to simply as “Q”).  Most scholars date the writing of the Gospel to the latter decades of the first century.

An Outline of Luke’s Gospel

        I.           Prologue (1:1-4)
      II.           Birth of John and Jesus (1:5—4:13)
     III.           Public Ministry of Jesus in Galilee (4:14—9:50)
     IV.           The Journey to Jerusalem (9:51—19:27)
      V.           Ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem (19:28—21:38)
     VI.           Jesus’ Passion & Death (22:1—23:56)
   VII.           Resurrection & Appearances (24:1-53)

The Gospel of Luke in the Lectionary

        I.           Advent & Christmas
a.       1st Sun: The “Little Apocalypse (21:25-31)
b.      2nd/3rd Sun: John the Baptist & Jesus (3:1-18)
c.       4th Sun: Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (1:39-56)
d.      Christmas Eve: Luke’s birth story (2:1-20)
e.      2nd Sun: Option of Jesus in the Temple (2:41-52)

      II.           Season after the Epiphany:
a.       1st Sun: Jesus’ Baptism (3:15-22)
b.      3rd to 8th Sun:  Jesus inaugural ministry (from Luke 4:14 to 6:49)
c.       Last Sun: Transfiguration story (9:28-36)

     III.           Lent, Holy Week & Easter
a.       1st Sun: Temptation of Jesus (4:1-3)
b.      2nd/3rd Sun: 13:1-9 & 31-35
c.       4th Sun: Prodigal Son (15:11-32)
d.      Palm/Passion Sunday:  19:28-40 & 22:14—23:56
e.      Easter Vigil or Day:  Luke 24:1-12
f.        Rest of Easter Year C from John’s Gospel. Note: We read Luke 24:13-35 on 3rd Sun Year A & 24:36-48 on 3rd Sun Year B.
g.       Ascension Day: 24:44-53

     IV.           Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)
a.       Passages from Luke 7:1—21:19 (chapter 7 may be left out if Easter is late)

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