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.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

13 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 16B) Readings with Commentary

 The Collect of the Day

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; 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): 1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43

Once he became king, Solomon set about building the Temple in Jerusalem. Chapters 6 and 7 describe the building of the Temple and the details of its furnishings.  Chapter 8 is the Temple’s dedication, led by Solomon.  The first step is to bring the Ark from the tent in which it had been housed to its new dwelling place.  Solomon then prays the dedicatory prayer, which takes up 8:22-66.  He begins by remembering the covenant sworn to his father David, and then acknowledges that a house built by human hands cannot contain God. Nevertheless, he asks God to hear the prayers of his people made from this place, and then, in an extraordinary gesture, asks the prayer of foreigners to be heard as well.

[8:1 Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.]

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David. 27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. 41 Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

Psalm 84 (Track 1)

Psalm 84 celebrates the presence of God in the Temple, a presence which guarantees divine protection, including in the person of the king.  It may have been a song used by pilgrims to the Temple for one of the great festivals.


1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
        My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of the LORD;
        my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

2 The sparrow has found her a house
    and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
        by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
        they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
        whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
        for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height, *
        and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
        hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God; *
        and look upon the face of your Anointed.

9 For one day in your courts is better than thousand in my own room, *
        and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
        than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
        he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
        from those who walk with integrity.

12 O Lord of hosts, *
        happy are they who put their trust in you!

1st Reading (Track 2):  Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Israel is finally in possession of the promised land after forty years in the wilderness.  Moses has been unable to come with them; Joshua has been their leader through the frequently bloody takeover.  His work done, and now near death, Joshua assembles the people at Shechem (a major political and religious center for Israel prior to Jerusalem) to lay before them the choice they have to make.  “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  In verse 29 of this chapter, Joshua dies and the bones of Joseph, carried from Egypt are finally buried. Israel has arrived, but the question of their choice clearly still hangs in the air. 

24:1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2a And Joshua said to all the people, 14 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Psalm 34:15-22 (Track 2)

This psalm of thanksgiving, portions of which we have read for the last two weeks, concludes with a promise that God is favorably disposed to the righteous, and the wicked can expect a life that ends in disaster.  The psalm does not assume that the righteous live trouble-free lives, but their distress will not go unheeded.

15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, *
        and his ears are open to his cry.

16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, *
        to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.

17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them *
        and delivers them from all their troubles.

18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted *
        and will save those whose spirits are crushed.

19 Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
        but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.

20 He will keep sake all his bones; *
        not one of them shall be broken.

21 Evil shall slay the wicked, *
        and those who hate the righteous will be punished.

22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
        and none will be punished who trust in him.

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 6:10-20

The writer of Ephesians exhorts us to a serious following of Christ.  In this passage near the end of his letter, he uses imagery that following Christ is akin to waging war.  This war is not, however, with other human beings. It is with “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces.”  This is apocalyptic imagery familiar to the writer and his recipients of the struggle between good and evil.  The military imagery may be difficult for some of us, and yet it is important to note what the armor and weapons are turned into:  truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God. 

6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 

Gospel Reading:  John 6:56-69

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell (v. 51): “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” He then goes on to speak of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It is no wonder that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”  The Church hears these words in the context of the Eucharist, and they make sense to us.  They would not have made sense to his original hearers.  For the Gospel writer, however, they are crucial:  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  This is what he is convinced we must believe.

6:56 Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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 8, 2021

12 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 15B) Readings with Commentary


The Collect of the Day

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life:  Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

1st Reading (Track 1):  1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

King David is dead, and he has chosen Solomon, his son with Bathsheba, to be his successor, although Solomon must fight several of his elder brothers to keep the crown (the story is told in the remainder of chapter two).  First, Solomon, encountering God in a dream, asks for wisdom and receives it, although verse 14 adds a conditional “if,” which foreshadows things to come.

2:10 David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. 3:3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

Psalm 111 (Track 1)

Psalm 111 praises God for the faithful deeds he has done in bringing Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land and blessing them with a covenant.  The last verse makes this psalm an appropriate response to our first reading.


1 Hallelujah!
    I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
        in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
        they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
        and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
        the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
        he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
        in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
        all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
        because they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;
    he commanded his covenant for ever; *
        holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
        those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
        his praise endures for ever.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Proverbs 9:1-6

The figure of Lady Wisdom is important to the ancient Hebrew literature called “Wisdom.”  She is understanding and righteousness personified.  Here she invites all in need of wisdom (“the simple”) to a festal banquet, a metaphor for learning and following her ways.  In the history of Christian interpretation this text has been thought to foreshadow the Eucharist.  Indeed, it is the Old Testament reading on Maundy Thursday in the Eastern Church.

9:1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4 “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Psalm 34:9-14 (Track 2)

Overall, Psalm 34 is a song of thanksgiving.  The “fear” of God is a much misunderstood concept in the Bible, particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There are three elements to this rich term:  awe and reverence, the turning from evil, and the choice of obedience to the ways of God.  This passage very much echoes the words of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs.


9 Fear the Lord, you that are his saints *
        for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
        but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

11 Come, children, and listen to me; *
        I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

12 Who among you loves life *
        and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

13 Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
        and your lips from lying words.

14 Turn from evil and do good; *
        seek peace and pursue it.

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 5:15-20

The writer to the Ephesians also exhorts his hearers to wisdom, in this case, the ability to recognize good from evil.  The writer knows the context for encouraging this wisdom:  the worshipping community.  Note the paradox: “the days are evil” but “give thanks at all times.”  Such realism and hope are a necessary point/counter-point in the Christian life.

5:15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading:  John 6:51-58

Jesus has caused grumbling with his talk about being bread that comes down from heaven.  Now he takes the image a step further. This bread is his flesh. This causes an open dispute to break out.  The crowd thinks he is being ridiculous.  But he presses on, carrying the metaphor to its breaking point.  “The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

6:51 Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

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.

Monday, August 2, 2021

11 Pentecost 2021 (Proper 14B) Readings with Commentary

 The Collect of the Day

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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):  2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Chapters 13-18 of 2 Samuel report on internal strife within the family of King David.  Chapters 13 & 14 tell of David’s eldest son Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar.  Tamar’s full-brother Absalom takes his revenge by killing his brother.  Absalom flees and lives in exile for three years, after which David’s general, Joab, attempts a reconciliation between king and son. Absalom returns to Jerusalem but David refuses to see him. Chapters 15-17 tell of Absalom’s revolt against his father and for a time he rules in Jerusalem.  Eventually a battle ensues.  David strictly instructs that his son not be killed, and the story continues below.

18:5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. 6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword. 9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. 31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” 33  The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Psalm 130 (Track 1)

Psalm 130 is a psalm of lament. The writer cries out to God from the depths of distress, begging God to hear the cry and provide relief.

1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice; *
        let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
        O Lord, who could stand?

3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
        therefore you shall be feared.

4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
        in his word is my hope.

5 My soul waits for the Lord,
    more than watchmen for the morning, *
        more than watchmen for the morning.

6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
        for with the Lord there is mercy;

7 With him there is plenteous redemption, *
        and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

 2nd Reading:  Ephesians 4:25—5:2

As we continue reading through Ephesians, the writer describes what it means to live a Christian life.  All this flows from Baptism (“with which you were marked with a seal”).  Just as in Baptism we died and rose in imitation of Christ, so our lives ought to be a constant imitation of his life of love.  The final verse is one of the options in The Book of Common Prayer for the offertory sentence at the Eucharist (p. 343 & p. 376).

4:25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Gospel Reading:  John 6:35, 41-51

As we continue our read through John 6, we get to the heart of the matter:  “I am the bread of life” and then “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  John’s Gospel lacks the story of the bread and cup at the last supper, but, given these words from Jesus, John’s community clearly knows the Eucharist.  Yet his words are troubling for many because he seems to be crossing a line, the line of divinity.  This is precisely the line John wants his readers to cross, the belief that this man is “the Word made flesh.”

6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalms) 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.  Commentaries are copyright © 2021, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.