Monday, September 20, 2021

18 Pentecost 2021, Proper 21B Readings with Commentary

 The Collect of the Day

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:  Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

The Book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish woman and her uncle, Mordecai, who deliver the Jews living in the Persian Empire from genocide. King Ahasuerus chooses Esther as his queen, although she hides her Jewish identity on the advice of her uncle.  Mordecai becomes an enemy of Haman when he refuses to bow down to him. Haman tricks the king into ordering death to all the Jews in the kingdom who will not bow down to the king. When Haman plans the execution of her uncle, Esther is moved to reveal her identity and plead with the king for the life of her people.  In our reading today, the tables are turned against Haman; he is executed and the Jews saved.  The final verses establish a yearly feast known as Purim.

7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated. 9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Psalm 124 (Track 1)

Psalm 124 is one of the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) which were likely songs for pilgrims on their way to celebrate one of the major festivals in Jerusalem.  It is a song of thanksgiving for protection against enemies, using the images of a flood that does not drown and a snare that is broken and therefore useless.


1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
        let Israel now say;

2 If the Lord had not been our side, *
        when enemies rose up against us;

3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
        in their fierce anger toward us;

4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
        and the torrent gone over us;

5 Then would the raging waters *
        have gone right over us.

6 Blessed be the Lord! *
        he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
        the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
        the maker of heaven and earth.

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

In the wake of the people’s complaints about the food that is being provided for them, Moses himself complains to God about the burden of the people. God’s response to Moses’ histrionics is to give him help. Seventy elders will be given a share of his spirit.  This included two men who had not assembled at the Tent of Meeting but had remained in the camp. Their manifestation of the Spirit causes some controversy, but Moses declares that they are with them.  He is not overprotective of his office.  Would that all the Lord’s people were like him.

11:4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.” 16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalm 19:7-14 (Track 2)

Psalm 19 is a wisdom psalm in two parts. The first (1-6) praises the glory of God in creation. The second (7-14, today’s psalm) is a hymn in praise of the law.  The juxtaposition of creation and law is deliberate:  both have been provided for the well-being of humankind.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
        the testimony of the Lord is sure
        and gives wisdom to the innocents.

8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart: *
        the commandment of the Lord is clear
        and gives light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
        the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
        sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
        and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
        Cleanse me from my secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
     let them not get dominion over me; *
        then shall I be whole and sound,
        and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
    heart be acceptable in your sight, *
        O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

2nd Reading:  James 5:13-20

The end of the Letter of James describes some pastoral practices of this ancient community. Some of our own practices have roots in them.  Communal prayer by elders (presbyteroi) with the anointing of the sick with oil developed into the Sacrament of Unction, or the Anointing of the Sick.  Confession of Sin seems to have been tied up with this practice also, as it is in the rite for “Ministration to the Sick” in The Book of Common Prayer (pp. 453-461).

5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 9:38-50

Jesus, like Moses before him (see Numbers 11), does not want the disciples to be jealous of their authority.  “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  Jesus then goes on to use some difficult language trying to underscore the seriousness of treating “the little ones” rightly.  He is speaking in hyperbole and figuratively, yet he is speaking very seriously.  Who are “the little ones?” It is often assumed children, but more likely Jesus is referring to the average disciple and this is a special warning to those in leadership not to abuse their power.  Verses 44 and 46 are omitted in the New Revised Standard translation since they are not found in the best ancient sources for this Gospel (they simply repeat verse 48).

9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

17 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 20B) Readings with Commentary


Collect of the Day

Grant us, O Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 1st Reading (Track 1):  Proverbs 31:10-31

Proverbs ends with an acrostic poem—each line in the Hebrew text begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The poem parallels the poems praising Wisdom in chapters 1—9, although here the figure of Wisdom is transformed into an earthly wife.  It is, of course, a highly idealistic vision; no woman could meet all these expectations.  Nevertheless, the poem provides a sense of what it means to live in the way of Wisdom. 

31:10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Psalm 1 (Track 1)

The Book of Psalms begins with a poem from the wisdom tradition, which typically portrays a simple division between the way of the righteous/wise with the way of the unrighteous/sinners.  The former are under the protection of God, the latter like useless chaff that the wind blows away.

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
        nor lingered in the way of sinners,
        nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
        and they meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
    bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
        everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked; *
        they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
        nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
        but the way of the wicked is doomed.

1st Reading (Track 2): Jeremiah 11:18-20

These three verses begin a longer passage (through 12:6) in which the prophet laments his discovery that there is an assassination plot against him.  As the passage goes on, we learn that the plotters have been identified by Jeremiah as false prophets and/or priests.

 11:18 It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. 19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!” 20 But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Or this

1st Reading (Track 2): Wisdom 1:16—2:1, 12-22

The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of the Apocrypha, that collection of books that we do not consider Scripture but have set aside as edifying. Wisdom was probably written a century before Jesus’ birth.  Our reading this morning is part of a larger reflection on the reward of the just and the punishment of the wicked, states determined by reliance upon wisdom or the spurning of it.  The “ungodly” here believe death will save them from judgment and that the efforts of the righteous are futile.

1:16 The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company. 2:1 For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. 12 Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. 13 He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. 14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; 15 the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. 16 We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 19 Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. 20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” 21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, 22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.

Psalm 54 (Track 2)

Psalm 54 begins as a lament of one feeling threatened by enemies of some kind.  Like most psalms that begin in lament, it resolves into trust in the God of the covenant who is always faithful.

1 Save me, O God, by your Name; *
        in your might defend my cause.

2 Hear my prayer, O God; *
        give ear to the words of my mouth.

3 For the arrogant rise up against me,
    and the ruthless have sought my life, *
        those who have no regard for God.

4 Behold, God is my helper; *
        it is the Lord who sustains my life.

5 Render evil to those who spy on me; *
        in your faithfulness, destroy them.

6 I will offer you a freewill sacrifice *
        and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good.

7 For you have rescued me from every trouble, *
        and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

2nd Reading:  James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

The Letter of James is sometimes referred to as the book of Wisdom of the New Testament, akin to Proverbs in the Old Testament or the Book of Wisdom in the Apocrypha.  Here wisdom is exalted as the way that leads to justice, peace, and all virtue.  Opposed to wisdom are “cravings,” frustrated desires that lead to discord and even murder.  Wisdom is submission to God, but not as a slave to a master, for “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. 4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8a Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 9:30-37

Our Gospel reading today contains Jesus’ second prediction of his passion and death (the first was in last week’s reading).  As before, the disciples are stunned at the disclosure—they are uncomprehending.  They are comprehending of their social status, however, and argue about it with one another.  Jesus rebukes them by placing a child among them.  This is who to emulate.

9:30 Jesus and the disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

16 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 19B) Readings with Commentary

The Collect of the Day

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading (Track 1): Proverbs 1:20-33

With this reading, a new figure appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, that of Wisdom personified, who is female in gender. Here she appears in the public square, calling the “simple ones” to follow her way. Much of her speech is a warning to those who would ignore or scorn her. One way of thinking about the biblical understanding of wisdom is the capacity/necessity of discerning the mystery of God in the practicality of daily life.

1:20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. 21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. 24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, 25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, 27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, 30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. 32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; 33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Canticle (Track 1):  A Song in Praise of Wisdom (Wisdom 7:26—8:1)

The Book of Wisdom is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of ancient books related to the Hebrew Scriptures that we do not consider Scripture, but as edifying in reading. It features the figure of Wisdom, which is discussed above.

Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, *
        a flawless mirror of God’s activity,
        an image of divine goodness.

Though Wisdom is only one, *
        she can accomplish everything;

remaining self-contained, *
        she transforms all around her.

In every generation *
        Wisdom enlightens holy souls,

making them friends of God, *
        making them prophets.

For God loves nothing so much *
        as the person who lives with Wisdom.

She is more radiant than the sun, *
        and outshines every constellation.

She excels daylight by far, for day is eclipsed by night; *
        but evil does not overshadow Wisdom.

She spans the earth from pole to pole *
        and orders all things well.

Or this

Psalm 19 (Track 1)

Psalm 19 is a wisdom psalm in two parts. The first (1-6) praises the glory of God in creation. The second (7-14) is a hymn in praise of the law. The juxtaposition of creation and law is deliberate: both have been provided for the well-being of humankind.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
        and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2 One day tells its tale to another, *
        and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3 Although they have no words or language, *
        and their voices are not heard,

4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
        and their message to the ends of the world.

5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
        it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
        it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
    and runs about to the end of it again; *
        nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
        the testimony of the Lord is sure
        and gives wisdom to the innocents.

8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart: *
        the commandment of the Lord is clear
        and gives light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
        the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
        sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
        and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
        Cleanse me from my secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
    let them not get dominion over me; *
        then shall I be whole and sound,
        and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
    heart be acceptable in your sight, *
        O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

1st Reading (Track 2): Isaiah 50:4-9a

This short passage is often called the Third Servant Song (the first is 42:1-4, the second 49:1-6, and the fourth 52:13—53:12). These songs tell of a Servant who originally may have been the nation of Israel as it re-establishes itself after the return from Exile. Christians have often heard the story of Jesus in them and treat them as prophecy. In this song, the Servant brings good news to the weary, but is treated with disrespect and violence. The Servant’s trust in God, however, will not falter.

50:4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5 The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9a It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Psalm 116:1-8 (Track 2)

Psalm 116 is a thanksgiving for healing, begun (v. 3) with the strongest of emotions, speaking directly to God, demanding to be heard.

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of
    my supplication, *
        because he has inclined his ear to me whenever
        I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;
    the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
        I came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: *
        “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

4 Gracious is the Lord and righteous; *
        our God is full of compassion.

5 The Lord watches over the innocent; *
        I was brought very low, and he helped me.

6 Turn again to your rest, O my soul, *
        for the Lord has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death, *
        my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the Lord *
        in the land of the living.

2nd Reading: James 3:1-12

James is the only book of the New Testament that could be called wisdom literature. Much of it reads like the Book of Proverbs. Chapter 3 is an extended warning about the use of the tongue. The transition from verse 1 through verse 3 is a bit rough. 3:1 can stand on its own. Verse 2 may be an admission that verse 1 is idealistic. But the primary purpose of the passage is to warn those who would live together in community of the dangers of the tongue.

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Gospel Reading: Mark 8:27-38

In chapter 6 of Mark, we heard of people who encountered Jesus speculating about his identity (6:14-15). Now Jesus asks the direct question to his disciples. Mark’s version of this story is sparer than Matthew’s. Peter responds with a single word, “Messiah.” Jesus does not commend him for this response but continues to insist the disciples not tell others about him, as he has told them previously in Mark. Peter is stunned by Jesus’ declaration that he must die. It is not his vision of what “Messiah” means (and perhaps this is why Jesus does not want to go public with this revelation).

8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalms and 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. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer. The Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 Church Publishing Co. Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

15 Pentecost (Proper 18B) Readings with Commentary

 The 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18B)

 The Collect of the Day

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

1st Reading (Track 1):  Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

The Book of Proverbs is ascribed to King Solomon, but no doubt contains material from many ages up through the Exile.  It is a collection of wise sayings, witticisms, and poetic instructions on living well and justly.  Our passage today instructs how to maintain of a good reputation, exercising the virtue of generosity and just behavior.  Verse 2 should not be taken to mean that God makes some people rich and others poor.  Rather, it extols all people, whatever their station in life, as children of God.

22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. 2 The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. 8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. 9 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. 22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; 23 for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Psalm 125 (Track 1)

Psalm 125 is one of the “songs of ascent” (Psalms 120-134) which were likely the songs of pilgrims to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the major festivals.  Psalm 125 begins as a song of confidence and trust and ends with a prayer that the wicked will receive their due.  “Peace be upon Israel” at the psalm’s end may once have been a refrain for these pilgrim songs.

1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, *
        which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.

2 The hills stand about Jerusalem; *
        so does the Lord stand round about his people,
        from this time forth for evermore.

3 The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the
    land allotted to the just, *
        so that the just shall not put their hands to evil.

4 Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good *
        and to those who are true of heart.

5 As to those who turn aside to crooked ways,
    the Lord will lead them away with the evildoers; *
        but peace be upon Israel.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 35:4-7a

Our first reading is a vision of a restored Jerusalem/Israel. The opening verses of the chapter (not included today) describe the transformation of the desert, which continues in verse 6.  The healing of the blind, deaf, lame, and mute pair this passage with today’s Gospel reading.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7a the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Psalm 146 (Track 2)

The last five psalms are often referred to as the “Hallel” or “Hallelujah” psalms.  “Hallelujah” is a Hebrew word meaning “Praise the Lord.” (“Alleluia” is the latinized version of the word). Psalm 146 is a hymn of the trustworthiness of God, even for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, among the most vulnerable in Israel’s patriarchal society.

1 Hallelujah!
    Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
        I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
        I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
        for there is no help in them.

3 When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, *
        and in that day their thoughts perish.

4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
        whose help is in the Lord their God;

5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
        who keeps his promise for ever.

6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
        and food to those who hunger.

7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
        the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

8 The Lord loves the righteous;
    the Lord cares for the stranger; *
        he sustains the orphan and widow,
        but frustrates the way of the wicked.

9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
        your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

2nd Reading:  James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17

Two major themes of James are present in this passage:  The first is not showing favoritism, which violates the “royal law” of love of neighbor.  The second is that faith without action that flows from it is worth nothing.

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

[11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 7:24-37

Chapter seven of Mark contains several incidents in which Jesus re-defines right relationship with those labelled “unclean” under Jewish law.  Our passage today contains two stories, one of which happens in “unclean” territory, i.e., inhabited by Gentiles.  The first story is unique in that Jesus appears to expand his view of his mission, and, by extension, that of the God of Israel.  The exchange is shocking, but the woman becomes an example of persistent faith.  In the second story Jesus heals a deaf-mute, and the Aramaic word he uses is preserved, which literally means, “be released.”  Jesus’ desire to operate “under the radar” is becoming increasingly impossible as his acts of healing become known.

7:24 Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

14 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 17B) Readings with Commentary

The Collect of the Day

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things:  Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs) is a collection of love poems.  They are unique in the Bible because of their expression of human sexual desire.  They may have been included in the Hebrew Scriptures to emphasize the importance of the values of mutual love and fidelity.  Christian interpretation has used them as an allegory of the loving relationship between Christ and his people.  It is a fascinating fact that more commentaries have been written throughout the ages on this book than on any other.

2:8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

 Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10 (Track 1)

Psalm 45 is, in essence, a love song, probably written to be sung at a royal wedding.  The writer is a court poet, addressing the king and his court in luxurious and flattering language.


1 My heart is stirring with a noble song;
    let me recite what I have fashioned for the king; *
        my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.

2 You are the fairest of men; *
        grace flows from your lips,
        because God has blessed you for ever.

7 Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever, *
        a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom;
        you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

8 Therefore God, your God, has anointed you *
        with the oil of gladness above your fellows.

9 All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia, *
        and the music of strings from ivory palaces makes you glad.

10 King’s daughters stand among the ladies of the court; *
        on your right hand is the queen, adorned with the gold of Ophir.

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Deuteronomy is the account of the last words of Moses and consists in several long speeches given by him to the people.  The first ends in chapter 4. The first speech is an admonition to obey the law as a whole.  He has reminded the people of the past, of God’s saving actions and their constant rebellion.  At the end of the speech here he turns toward the future, promising that their obedience will be rewarded with possession of the land they have been promised.  But they must remember and tell.

4:1 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 6 You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” 7 For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? 9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.

Psalm 15 (Track 2)

Psalm 15 was probably used as an entrance liturgy by pilgrims into the Temple.  It is essentially a list of requirements for worshippers.  There are ten requirements listed in verses two through six.


1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
        Who may abide upon your holy hill?

2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
        who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;
    he does no evil to his friend; *
        he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

4 In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
        but he honors those who fear the Lord.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong, *
        and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
        nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

7 Whoever does these things *
        shall never be overthrown.

 2nd Reading:  James 1:17-27

We will spend the next five weeks reading the Letter of James (traditionally attributed to the brother of Jesus).  The letter is written out of the wisdom tradition of ancient Israel.  Jesus is mentioned only twice in the letter, although it is obvious that it is written to an organized Christian community.  One of the great themes of James is the right relationship between rich and poor, primarily the obligation the former has to the latter.  A related theme is the necessity of faith acted out.  Both themes are present in this passage.

1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. 19 You must understand this, my beloved:  let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

 Gospel Reading:  Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

After several weeks of John’s Gospel, we return to Mark for the rest of this church year.  In our reading today, the Pharisees confront Jesus because his disciples are not observing the tradition concerning cleansing before eating.  It’s important to understand that what is going on here has nothing to do with hygiene.  Ritual purity was an essential characteristic of the Judaism practiced by the Pharisees.  Jesus critiques this brand of religion, saying that it too often misses the heart of the matter.  What should be central is the condition of one’s heart and its orientation to the world.  The quote in verses 6-7 is from Isaiah 29:13, as it was translated into Greek.

 7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” 14 The he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:  15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:  fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.