Scripture Commentary for Palm Sunday (Year B)

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PALM SUNDAY FIRST READING Isaiah 50: 4-9a Our reading is one of several passages in Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-54) about the “Suffering Servant.”  Because he attempts to teach God’s word, the Servant is turned upon, cast out, beaten, spit upon (especially Chapter 53).  When one looks at the context of these passages, he can have no doubt that their slavery at Babylon and preserved the religion.  However, most Christians over the centuries, taking the entire OT as prophetic of Christ, have seen the Servant as representing Jesus.  There is justification for such an interpretation in 53: 12:  “…he poured out …

Scripture Commentary for March 18th (Year B)

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FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT FIRST LESSON Jeremiah 31: 31-34 I find this passage of such critical importance to my religion that I keep a permanent bookmark here in my Bible.  At the return of the Jews from Babylonian slavery, Jeremiah announces an individualism that would have been inconceivable to earlier generations.  No longer will children be made to suffer for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers, “but all shall die for their own sins” (31: 30).  God transforms the very nature of covenants, for he establishes a new covenant with every individual, one that frees her/him from dependence upon …

Scripture Commentary for March 11th (Year B)

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FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT FIRST READING Numbers 21: 4-9   When I was a hospital medic in World War II, I wore on my sleeve the medical symbol, a snake sort of corkscrewing around a pole representing the healing staff of Mercury, a symbol that brought together the two roots of Western culture, the Jews and the Greeks.  Six hundred years after Moses at the Jerusalem Temple, there was a bronze snake on a pole, thought to be the very one fashioned by Moses.   King Hezekiah, the great reformer, broke it into pieces because it was being worshipped (2 Kings …

Scripture Commentary for March 4th (Year B)

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THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT   FIRST LESSON Exodus 20: 1-17   Our reading consists of the first version of the Ten Commandments00repeated with minor changes in Deuteronomy 5: 6-12.  The first four commandments are religious, number 5 a family rule, and numbers 6-10 social rules. The first commandment:  there hasn’t been much need of the first commandment in the West in the last five or six hundred years. The second has given a lot of trouble.  On the authority of this commandment, Puritan types in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries pulled down and destroyed masses of religious paintings and sculpture, …

Scripture Commentary for February 25th (Year B)

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SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT FIRST READING Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16 In the Abram/Abraham story that precedes our reading, God has once blessed Abram, twice promised to make him the father of nations, and three times promised to give him the land of Canaan.  At one point he puts Abram in a trance from which he sees God performing an ancient ritual of loyalty, a burning torch representing his presence (15: 7-17).  These repetitions are in part explained by the fact that the accounts were written by three authors.  Our reading consists of two short passages lifted out of the most …

Scripture Commentary for February 18th (Year B)

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FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT   FIRST READING Genesis 9: 8-17   God proclaims an unconditional covenant with Noah and his descendants, that is, no requirement is laid on mankind:  God will never again send such a flood.  The bow in the sky at the time of rain is for God to see to remind him of his promise.  We take the bow in the clouds to be a rainbow, but the Hebrew word for bow never means an arc; it means a weapon.  God formerly used the bow to cast lightening against the earth (see Psalms 7, 18; Habakkuk 3: …

Scripture Commentary for February 4th (Year B)

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FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY FIRST READING Isaiah 40: 21 – 31 Our reading is from the first chapter of “Second Isaiah,” the poet who sang of the return of the Babylonian exiles to Jerusalem and their new nation, Judea.  The first twenty verses are joyful, but our reading picks up at the point when God, as Isaiah represents him, speaks to skeptics and doubters.  He begins by pointing out his astounding creations and his vigilant providence.  But lest we think of God as a sort of engineer, Isaiah reminds us of his mystery: “his understanding is unsearchable.”  And well might …

Scripture Commentary for January 28th (Year B)

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FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY FIRST READING Deuteronomy 18: 15-20   Deuteronomy is the last book of the Pentateuch, a Christian term meaning “five scrolls.”  Jews call these books the Torah, a word we translate as “law.”  Because the laws in these books were promulgated by God and provide all the guidance man needs, the Torah was for Jews the most sacred part of Scripture.  “Deuteronomy” means “second law.”  Chapters 12-26, tell of Moses’s giving a second set of laws.  Actually, there is much repetition of laws already given in the earlier books.  In this passage, Moses is speaking to …

Scripture Commentary January 21st (Year B)

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THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY FIRST READING First Samuel  3: 1-20   Our reading is from the central book of the “Deuteronomic History,” which includes Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, and First and Second Kings.  The standards of history for these writers was loose compared to those of modern historians.  They used court documents and legal records, but the facts gleaned from documents were mixed indiscriminately with legends and traditions.  The narrative, written somewhere between 600-500 BCE, includes many parts that are much more ancient.   Our reading is about the commissioning of the boy Samuel to be God’s …

Scripture Commentary for January 14th (Year B)

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  SECOND READING First Corinthians 6: 12-20   Paul’s major doctrine was that one is saved by faith, not by good works or good behavior, yet he sternly scolds the Corinthians for their sexual misbehavior.  Corinth was notoriously licentious, and Paul was confronted with Christian converts whose behavior was wicked according to his Jewish standards.  Yes, they might be saved by faith, but in the meantime their behavior was unacceptable.  I would have to undertake a long study to be certain, but I think Paul never threatens his people with damnation.  He says, rather, that their behavior is inappropriate and …