Chapter 13, the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, contains some final exhortations to the life of faith.
1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 2:4-13
In chapter two of Jeremiah, the prophet delivers God’s indictment of Israel. The chapter reads like a divorce suit. Israel has abandoned its relationship with its God, unlike all other peoples from east to west. The people have forgotten the story that brought them to the promised land and sustained them there. As the story is forgotten, their right relationship with the land and with the God of their land fails. The institutions who were charged with the keeping of the story—priests, judges, rulers, prophets—have all failed. The consequence is that the keeping of a just society is lost, and with community lost, the land will be lost. It is a waste of the love and the life given to Israel as a gift.
2:4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5 Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6 They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” 7 I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8 The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. 9 Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. 10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. 11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (Track 1)
The ending portion of Psalm 81 (10-16) rehearses the same rejection of relationship with the Lord as the Jeremiah reading above. Yet three times God calls Israel “my people” and a pathway is given out of the broken relationship: listen again and walk in my ways. God has not utterly rejected Israel. God’s tenderness towards “my people” remains—more than water from the rock, God would give them honey.
1 Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
11 And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.
12 So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.
13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.
16 But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.
1st Reading (Track 2): Sirach 10:12-18
Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of books that Roman Catholics consider to be part of the Old Testament, Protestants do not, and Anglicans set off in a separate section calling them “edifying,” but containing nothing essential for salvation. Sirach is largely a collection of wisdom sayings. Here the principle subject is pride. It was partly based on this passage that medieval lists of the seven deadly, or “mortal” sins always had pride as number one.
10:12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. 13 For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely. 14 The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. 15 The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place. 16 The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth. 17 He removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth. 18 Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.
1st Reading (Track 2): Proverbs 25:6-7
Proverbs is a collection of teaching and wise sayings for the purpose of “gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewedness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young” (Proverbs 1:3-4). Humility is one of the basic components of this wisdom teaching.
25:6 Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; 7 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Psalm 112 (Track 2)
Psalm 112 is an acrostic poem, like several other psalms. In this regard it is paired with Psalm 111. Together, each subsequent line of these two psalms begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This psalm is a wisdom psalm, comparing, as most wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible does, the contrasting fate of the righteous and the wicked. If there is a predominant theme it is generosity.
Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
5 It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.
6 For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.
8 Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.
9 They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.
10 The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away;
the desires of the wicked will perish.
2nd Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Chapter 13, the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, contains some final exhortations to the life of faith, all that grow out of what the writer has been teaching from the beginning of the letter. The primary importance of love among the members of the community repeats what was said in 6:10 and 10:24 & 32. The most significant practice of love is hospitality, not to the known, but to the unknown. This love is also radical enough that it results in solidarity with those in prison or under torture. The marriage bond is the symbol of this love and the love of money its greatest obstacle. The quotation in verse 5 is Deut. 31:6 and in verse 6, Psalm 56:11. In Hebrews, the sacrifice of praise (and thanksgiving) has replaced the sacrifice of blood. This phrase is an important one to the Anglican tradition, appearing twenty times in our Prayer Book.
13:1 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus’ commending humility in seeking places at the table comes from Proverbs 25:6-7. It also has a parallel in the sayings of a late 1st century Rabbi, Simeon ben Azzai. For Jesus, however, it is not only about appropriate behavior in the present. It tells us something about the future and the resurrection of the righteous (or just). This humility (and its accompanying hospitality) is not only the right thing to do, it is who God is and what the kingdom of God is like.
14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
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 © 2019 Epiphany ESources, 67. E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information. And like us on Facebook!