Scripture Commentary for November 20, 2016

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PROPER 29 Nov. 20 – 26   FIRST READING Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6 The prophet disclaims false or delinquent priests and prophets.  In time, he says, God will send a descendant of David who will rule wisely and bring justice.  A historian probably would say Jeremiah is predicting the rise of a worldly king.  But Christians treasure this passage, for to them, he prophecies the coming of Christ. NO ALTERNATIVE READING SECOND READING Colossians 1: 11 – 20 In this passage, Paul reaches high for an understanding of Christ.  The Christ he envisions uses his glory and power to …

Scripture Commentary for November 13, 2016

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PROPER 28 Nov. 13 – 19   FIRST READING Isaiah 65: 17 – 25 The Lord has just told the people that those who have been faithful to him shall be happy, those who have not shall suffer.  Here he speaks of the new world he is preparing for the faithful.  He is not creating a new physical world, but transforming the old.  The disasters of infant illness and the weakness of old age will be reversed.  Especially interesting to me is the line about God’s hearing and answering their prayers before they are spoken.  God is no longer an …

Scripture Commentary for November 6, 2016

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PROPER 27 Nov. 6 – 12   FIRST READING Haggai 1: 15b – 2:9 Emperor Cyrus of Persia freed the Jews enslaved at Babylon and Chaldea in 538 BCE and permitted them to return to their home.  They found their lands in ruins.  Jerusalem and the Temple were rubble.  They decided not to try to revive the old duel kingdoms of Israel and Judah; instead they formed a new nation called Judea.  There was conflict between the rabbis and synagogues who held to a new word-oriented worship, and the conservatives who held to the cult sacrifices.  Though the conservatives wanted …

Scripture Commentary for October 30, 2016

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PROPER 26 Oct. 30 – Nov. 5   FIRST READING Habakkuk 1: 1 – 4, 2: 1 – 4 Habakkuk is a mysterious figure.  Nothing is known of him except his prophetic poem in the Bible.  Our reading is a small part of a set of questions Habakkuk puts to God and God’s response.  Habakkuk is audacious in questioning God about the injustice he sees everywhere and about the immediate enemy, the Chaldeans, a fierce tribal people who are helping the Babylonians in the sack of Israel.  God’s answer is to wait:  justice will eventually be done; just wait.  Such …

Scripture Commentary for October 23, 2016

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PROPER 25 Oct. 23 – 29   FIRST READING Joel 2: 23 – 32 Joel was probably reared in Judah, but moved to Jerusalem, where he may have been a Temple priest, probably in the second half of the fourth century BCE.  Judea, the Jewish state formed by those who returned from Exile, had in recent years experienced both a draught and a devastation by locusts, which God tells them he has sent to punish them.  But now he is sending abundant rain and withdrawing the locusts.  The people will prosper, and God will “pour out” his spirit upon them.  …

Scripture Commentary for October 16, 2016

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PROPER 24 Oct. 16 – 22   FIRST READING Jeremiah 31: 27 – 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 …

Scripture Commentary for October 9, 2016

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PROPER 23 Oct. 9 – 15   FIRST READING Jeremiah 29: 1, 4 – 7 This letter of Jeremiah to the exiled Jews in Babylon comes as a great surprise.  God wants them to settle in, he reports, to build houses, have kids, and pray for Babylon.  In short, become something like citizens.  The letter throws light upon the conditions of the Babylonian captivity.  It was already obvious that the Jews had been ghettoized.  Now we see that within their ghettos they had great freedom. Now we can better understand the enormous religious advancement that took place in captivity.  The …

Scripture Commentary for October 2, 2016

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PROPER 22 Oct. 2 – 8   FIRST READING Lamentations 1: 1 – 6 Our reading is from a collection of laments for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and their allies the Chaldeans.  For centuries it was believed that Jeremiah was the author, but modern Biblical scholarship (which began with Erasmus in the 15th century) has decided otherwise.  No author has been identified, and it is generally believed that there was more than one. As you listen, bear in mind that lamentations are prayers.  Prayers of lament ask nothing of God except to listen.  Neither do they accuse …

Scripture Commentary for September 25, 2016

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PROPER 21 Sept. 25 – Oct. 1   FIRST READING Jeremiah 32: 1 – 3a, 6 – 15 The Babylonians and Chaldeans are besieging Jerusalem.  The king has put Jeremiah in prison for daring to prophesy that Jerusalem will fall (which it did).  Yet in the middle of this crisis, God directs Jeremiah to buy some land being offered for sale by his cousin.  He does so in a transaction more detailed than any other business transaction in the Bible.  But Jeremiah is puzzled that God should tell him to make such an investment at a time when the city …

Scripture Commentary for September 18, 2016

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PROPER 20 Sept. 18 – 24   FIRST READING Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9:1 Judah is being overrun by the Babylonians and Chaldeans.  As a last refuge, the people have retreated to their fortresses, but to no avail.  What we hear today is Jeremiah’s lament for their loss.  The balm Jeremiah figuratively longs for is resin from the styrax tree found in the area of Gilead.   ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING Amos 8: 4 – 7 Amos, that interesting goat-herder and pruner of sycamore trees turned prophet, had plenty to say about corruption among the leaders of the kingdom of Israel, …