Fourth Sunday of Advent

The last Sunday of Advent makes a transition from anticipation of God’s restoration to confidence that this restoration is actually under way. The first reading, from the book of Isaiah, presents the birth of an unnamed child as a sign that God will redeem Israel. While the prophecy is cast within its own historical period, later readers of Matthew’s Gospel found in it a picture of God’s deliverance that validated their own experience of Jesus. Although Psalm 80 is set in circumstances of national defeat, its tone of confidence suitably underscores Advent’s theme of patient expectation. Paul’s greeting to communities of believers identifies Jesus as son of David and sees in Jesus’ resurrection his appointment as the Son of God.

The First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-16
A Sign of Deliverance

In the first of today’s readings, the nation of Judah and its king, Ahaz, face a profound threat from two kings to their north, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel. In the midst of the political crisis, Ahaz refuses to receive Isaiah’s word, perhaps in fear of its implications. Isaiah nevertheless declares that word, a sign of deliverance from the immediate threat. The promise is set within the span of time marked by a pregnancy and the newborn’s weaning. The fulfillment of that promised deliverance will confirm for the king and people what the child’s name declares, that “God is with us.” The Gospel according to Matthew, which serves as today’s Gospel reading, invokes the promise to suggest that Jesus’ birth accords with God’s faithful pattern of deliverance.

The Lord spoke again to Ahaz: “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God, be it as deep as Sheol or stretching high above.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, so that I do not test the Lord.” 

So Isaiah said, “Listen, then, House of David: Is it not enough for you to exasperate people, that you exasperate my God, too? Therefore, my Lord indeed will give you a sign. Here—this young woman is pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name him, ‘Immanuel.’ He will eat soft cheese and honey, even know how to reject evil and choose good; before the lad knows how to reject evil and choose good, the land that you loathe because of its two kings will be abandoned.”

The Psalm
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
A Lament over the Destruction of the Kingdom of Israel

The psalmist bemoans the Israelites’ loss of sovereignty over their land, with special reference to the Northern Kingdom (including the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh), which was conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE. In the Psalms, the one at God’s right hand (see, e.g., Psalm 80:17; Psalm 110:1) is the Israelite king. Here the king is the Davidic messiah, whom God has assigned to restore Israelite sovereignty. In some Christian interpretations, verses such as those of Psalm 80:17 have been understood to refer to Jesus, whose use of “son of man” to refer to himself can resonate with a literal reading of the Hebrew idiom in the verse: “…on the son of man you made strong for yourself.” Routinely in biblical Hebrew and early Judaism, however, the term “son of man” means, simply, “a person.” Thus, as a psalm of Israel, this psalm pleads specifically for the renewal of the Kingdom of Israel.

  • To the conductor, according to “lilies,” a testimony of Asaph, an accompanied psalm.
  • 1. Shepherd of Israel—listen!—
    leading Joseph like a flock,
    astride the cherubim,
  •      unveil your splendor,
  • 2.          before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
  •      Awaken your might,
    and come as deliverance for us!
  • 3. God, restore us;
    shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!
  • 4. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, for how long will you remain angry at your people’s prayer?
  • 5. You have fed them the bread of weeping,
    and made them drink a full measure of tears.
  • 6. You have made us an object of reproach to our neighbors,
    and our enemies snicker to themselves.
  • 7. God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
    shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!

 

  • 17. Let your hand be on the one at your right hand,
    on the one you made strong for yourself.
  • 18. We shall not turn away from you;
    give us life so we might call upon your name.
  • 19. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
    shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!

The Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
God’s Victory Proclamation of the Anointed Lord Jesus

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a lengthy and unusual salutation. Having not yet visited Rome, he introduces himself and asserts his authority as a called Apostle. This assertion establishes his right to address the Roman believers and to communicate God’s victory proclamation—the gospel concerning Jesus. This salutation includes an early creedal confession, which originated in a Jesus-believing Jewish community. Paul emphasizes the scriptural grounding of Jesus’ identity, as one descended from David and announced by the prophets. He then adapts the creed with his own additions in order to articulate his particular view of God’s proclamation concerning Jesus as the appointed Son of God, which is itself an echo of the combined sonship and kingship language found in the Psalms, e.g., in Psalm 2. Paul extends grace and peace to the believers from both Jesus the Anointed and God, whom he calls “father,” invoking the father’s particular role within the Roman household.

Paul, called Apostle, a servant of Jesus the Anointed, having been set apart for God’s victory proclamation, which God announced beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures concerning God’s Son, who was:
          born David’s descendant according to the flesh,
          appointed Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness—
                    through resurrection of the dead.
          This is the Anointed Jesus, our Lord,
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to accomplish faithful obedience on behalf of God’s name among all the nations; among those you too are called to belong to Jesus the Anointed. 

To all of God’s beloved who are in Rome, called and holy: Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Anointed Lord Jesus. 

The Gospel
Matthew 1:18-25
The Birth of Jesus

In recounting Jesus’ birth, the Gospel according to  Matthew characteristically refers to texts from Israel’s Bible. The Gospel, thereby, describes the birth in accord with expectations about God’s faithful deliverance that the prophet Isaiah has portrayed. Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted in this reading from the Greek version rather than the Hebrew, used the birth of a child to a young woman to assure Israel in perilous times that “God is with us.” As the Gospel applies the prophecy to Mary’s pregnancy, it assures Matthew’s community again that “God is with us.” An angel also directs Joseph to name the child “Jesus,” which means that God “shall save.”

The Anointed Jesus’ birth happened in this way: when his mother, Mary, was promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant by divine action. Her husband, Joseph, who was decent and did not wish to disgrace her, considered releasing her from the marriage privately. But as he pondered what to do, look: the Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a dream, and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, because what is conceived in her is from divine action. She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, since he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened in order to accord with what was said by the Lord through the prophet who said, “Look: the young woman will become pregnant and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel (which is, translated, ‘God is with us’).” Joseph was raised from sleep and did as the Lord’s messenger directed him: he took his wife and did not know her until she bore a son. And he named him “Jesus.”

Third Sunday of Advent

Among all the seasons of the liturgical year of the church, Advent is the most focused on the future, when God’s vindication of the people of God will come to fruition. This theme, emerging from Israelite expectations of divine restoration, animates Isaiah 35:1-10. That passage is set in the Babylonian Exile but looks forward to a divine rescue of the people of Israel, celebrated by a definitive change of natural as well as social conditions. Although God’s gracious action is to culminate in the future, divine mercy is already evident in God’s help of those who are oppressed (Psalm 146:5-10) and those who rely humbly on divine support (Luke 1:46b-55). Their faith looks forward to its consummation, however, in a final, future judgment (James 5:7-10); Matthew 11:2-7 portrays John the Baptist as the classic New Testament bearer of this perspective.

The First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-10
The Joy of Return and Restoration

This reading from the book of Isaiah celebrates with vivid imagery the transformation of a forbidding wasteland into a royal road for the people of Israel to return from exile in Babylon. Earth and its elements, animal life and its savagery, fear and paralysis, foolishness and confusion—all of these evaporate together with the grief and groaning of the people. As God opens the way for return and restoration, all creation is renewed and joins in Israel’s jubilation.

  • 1. The wilderness and desert will rejoice;
    the wasteland will celebrate and blossom like a crocus.
  • 2. It will indeed blossom and celebrate, with a most celebratory shout.
    The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the honor of Carmel and Sharon;
    they will see the glory of the Lord and the honor of our God.
  • 3. Strengthen the weak hands; steady the staggering knees.
  • 4. Say to the trembling-hearted, “Be strong! Fear not!
    Here is your God—
    .           vindication draws near, God’s fulfillment—
    God draws near to save you.”
  • 5.        Thus blind eyes will be made clear and deaf ears will be made to hear.
  • 6.        Thus the lame like a ram will bound and the tongue of the mute will resound.
               Indeed, water will erupt in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
  • 7.        Parched earth will become a pool and thirsty ground, springs;
    .         the haunt of jackals, an oasis; and grassland, a stand of reeds.
  • 8. There will be a high road there, that is, a way;
    it will be called the Way of the Holy One.
    Nothing that defiles will pass along it; it is God’s.
    Treading it, even fools will not go astray.
  • 9. No lion will be there and beasts will not intrude on it.
    Nothing will be found there, but the redeemed will march along.
  • 10. Those the Lord has rescued will return;
    they will come to Zion with a shout, crowned with perpetual joy.
  •         Exultation and joy will arrive, as grief and groaning fly away.

The Psalm
Psalm 146:5-10
God Protects the Righteous and Needy

God, who created the world, continues to support all in that world who need and deserve divine help: the oppressed as well as the hungry, orphans, and widows. These are classes of people who, lacking a human support network, have a special claim upon God for protection. The psalm’s conclusion reflects the hope that the good brought about by God’s reign will be eternal.

  • 5. Joyous is one whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is the Lord, their God—
  • 6.         creator of heaven and earth,
           the sea, and all that is in them;
    who stays forever reliable:
  • 7.                     doing justice for the oppressed,
  •                         giving bread to the hungry—the Lord frees the imprisoned!
  • 8. The Lord gives sight to the blind;
    the Lord straightens up those who are bent over;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
  • 9. The Lord protects outsiders;
    orphans and widows the Lord supports,
    but contorts the path of the wicked.
  • 10. The Lord will rule forever,
    your God, Zion, through every generation.
  •         Hallelujah!

or Luke 1:46b-55
Mary’s Song

Luke’s Gospel attributes this hymn, the “Magnificat,” to Jesus’ mother, Mary, at the time of her meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist). Its title derives from the Latin equivalent of the verb “exalt” in the first line. Anticipating the significance of her child’s birth and her own role, Mary articulates the themes of God’s exaltation of the lowly and rejection of human arrogance. These themes echo those of Hannah’s song, which she sang to celebrate bringing the prophet Samuel into the world (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Thus, the Magnificat appears in the New Testament as a continuation of the psalms and prophecy of the Scriptures of Israel.

  • Mary said:
  • 46b. “My soul exalts the Lord,
  • 47.         and my spirit exults in God my savior, 
  • 48. since God esteemed me, God’s servant, in humble condition.
    So that, look: from this moment all generations will consider me favored,
  • 49. because the One who is powerful has done great things for me.
  •         Indeed, God’s name is holy,
  • 50. and God’s mercy is for generations and generations
    among those who fear God,
  • 51. who has acted with a mighty arm:
    scattering the arrogant in their hearts’ purpose,
  • 52. taking down the powerful from thrones,
    and exalting the humble;
  • 53. who has filled up the hungry with good
    and dispatched the rich away empty.
  • 54. God supported Israel as a child, keeping mercy in mind,
  • 55.          just as God spoke to our ancestors,
    . to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed forever.”

The Second Reading
James 5:7-10
A Call for Unity and Patience while Waiting on the Lord’s Arrival

The letter of James offers a view of an early community of Jews who believed in Jesus as God’s Anointed (Messiah). These Jews experienced the social tensions and divisions in Jerusalem in the decades prior to the First Jewish War with Rome. They remained committed simultaneously to the covenanting God of Israel, the Jerusalem Temple, and faith in Jesus. Through various struggles and suffering, their vibrant expectation of Jesus’ return provided them with the strength and patience to maintain their unity in faith.

Be patient, beloved friends, until the Lord’s arrival for judgment. Notice how the farmer waits to receive the best fruit from the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rain. You also, be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s arrival has drawn near. Friends, do not complain against one another, so that you may not be judged. Even now, the judge is already standing at the door. Friends, imitate the example of the patient suffering of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The Gospel
Matthew 11:2-11
John the Immerser and Jesus

John the Immerser plays a key role in the readings of Advent, as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. But John’s question to Jesus from prison (where he had been sent by Herod Antipas) makes it clear that John does not fully understand Jesus’ identity. Jesus answers the question by alluding to a series of passages aggregated from the book of Isaiah. He then provides an assessment of John’s significance, adapting a quote from Malachi 3:1. John is a prophet, even more than a prophet. He is the “messenger” who will prepare God’s way, and yet Jesus still sees him as being a person more of this world (that is, “woman-born”) than of the kingdom of heaven that is to come. In that new realm, even the least gifted will have greater insight than John has now.

From prison John heard the deeds of the Anointed, and through his students he sent a message to Jesus. He said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:
           Blind people see again and the lame walk,
           people with skin disease are purified and the deaf hear,
           the dead are raised and the poor are given news of victory.
           And whoever does not take offense at me is favored.”
While they were going back Jesus started to speak about John to the crowds:
           “What did you go out into the wilderness expecting to see? A reed shaken by wind? Then
           what did you go out to see? A man attired in luxurious clothes? Look: those in royal
           palaces wear luxurious clothes! So why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to
           you, and more than a prophet. This is he concerning whom it is written, ‘Look: I dispatch
           my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to
           you, there has not been raised among woman-born anyone greater than John the
           Immerser! But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is!”

Second Sunday of Advent

Advent’s emphasis on the finality of the judgment Jesus will bring at the end of time is paired with the idea that his role was deeply embedded in the Scriptures of Israel. Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10) relates to the “root of Jesse,” the father of King David, who is linked directly to Jesus in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16). As “David’s son” (a designation applied to Jesus in the Gospels), Jesus takes on the royal dignity and prerogatives of judgment assigned to kings in the Hebrew Bible. The use of Psalm 72 within the Lectionary endorses this royal identity. At the same time, Paul insists in Romans that Jesus’ coming as the anointed descendant of David extends his rule beyond Israel to gentiles on the basis of his mercy (Romans 15:4-13). Through the prophecy of John the Baptist, Matthew takes the perspective of the end of all time, presenting Jesus as the sole arbiter of what God will preserve and what God will destroy.

The First Reading
Isaiah 11:1-10
A Vision of a Renewed Davidic Monarchy

Isaiah looks forward to the renewed monarchy of Israel, ruled by a descendant of David (that is, a shoot from Jesse, David’s father). The vision is idyllic, as the prophet envisages a completely peaceable kingdom under an ideal ruler. In this realm even wild beasts live in harmony with one another and with human beings.

  • 1. Then a shoot will emerge from Jesse’s stock; a sprout from his roots will blossom.
  • 2. The spirit of the Lord will settle on him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
  • 3. He will breathe it in through fear of the Lord,
    so that he shall not render judgment by what appears before his eyes, nor convict on the basis
    of what falls on his ears,
  • 4. but he will judge poor people by means of what is right and render a verdict on behalf of
    common folk through fairness.
    He will thump the ground with the rod of his mouth and destroy evil by the breath of his lips.
  • 5. Righteousness will gird his hips; faithfulness will be his weapons-belt.
  • 6.  A wolf will dwell with a lamb and a leopard will take its rest alongside a goat;
    calf and lion will grow fat together, and a small child will lead them.
  • 7. Cow and bear will become friendly, so that their offspring rest together.
    A lion will eat hay like cattle [8] and an infant will play over the nest of a cobra;
    a toddler will stretch out its hand over the opening of a viper’s den.
  • 9. Neither evil nor destruction will be done on all my sacred mountain,
    for the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.
  • 10. In that day, nations will seek out Jesse’s root,
    standing as a national symbol,
    and his capital will be glorious.

The Psalm
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
A Prayer for the Righteous Monarch

The psalmist prays for God’s help in teaching the dynastic king to rule justly, in particular so that he will judge fairly the cases of the poor and powerless. The image in verse 7 of the blossoming of the righteous reflects the lectionary context of this reading, immediately following Isaiah 11, the first verse of which refers to the blossoming of Jesse’s roots. The final verses of this reading, 18-19, are separate from the rest of Psalm 72. Their statement of God’s power and glory provides an overall conclusion to the collection of poems that comprise Psalms 42-72.

  • Of Solomon.
  • 1. God, to the monarch dispense your justice,
    and to the monarchy, your righteousness.
  • 2. May the monarch judge your people in righteousness,
    and the powerless in justice.
  • 3. May the mountains bear peace for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
  • 4. May the monarch bring justice to the powerless among the people,
    deliverance to the poor,
    and crush any bully.
  • 5. May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
    and then before the moon, for generations on end.
  • 6. May the monarch be like rain falling upon a fresh-cut field,
    like showers irrigating the land.
  • 7. In these days, may the righteous blossom,
    and peace, in abundance until the moon is no more.

 

  • 18. Blessed is the Lord, God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wonders.
  • 19. And blessed be his glorious name forever.
    May the whole earth be filled with God’s glory.
    Amen and Amen.

The Second Reading
Romans 15:4-13
God’s Faithfulness to Israel through the Inclusion of the Gentiles

The Apostle Paul exhorts those believers gathering in various Roman houses to accept one another based on the example of Jesus’ acceptance of them. Through a collection of Hebrew Scriptures, Paul argues that God receives gentiles alongside Israel, God’s people. These verses repeatedly demonstrate the inclusion of the gentiles with Israel (Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10). Further, the Isaiah citation situates the Anointed Jesus within Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the arrival and reign of the root of Jesse.

For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, so that through both the continuing support and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. And so, may the God of this continuing support and encouragement give to you the same respect for one another as is in keeping with the Anointed Jesus, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. 

Therefore, accept one another just as the Anointed also accepted you for the glory of God. For I assert that the Anointed came as a servant to the circumcised on behalf of God’s truthfulness in order to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, and on behalf of mercy in order that the gentiles might glorify God. As it is written,

    •                 “On account of this, I will proclaim you among the gentiles,
        and to your name I will sing praise.”
    • And again it says,
      “Gentiles, rejoice with God’s peoples!”
    • And again,
      “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
      and let all the peoples praise God!”
    • And again Isaiah says,
      “The root of Jesse will come,
      the one who rises to rule the gentiles.
      In God, the gentiles will hope.”

And so, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in this hope by the power of the holy Spirit.

The Gospel
Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist’s Prophecy of Jesus

The Gospels present John the Baptist as Jesus’ precursor, whom Matthew identifies with the voice prophesied in Isaiah as preparing God’s way (Isaiah 40:3). John’s dress and location, as well as his call to repentance, are reminiscent of the portrayal of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1-2). In the setting of Matthew’s community, John’s preaching is pointed vehemently against the Pharisees and the priestly group known as Zadokites, despite the legitimately high regard for them within Judaism. By the time the Gospel was written, they and the teachers of the Matthean church were irreconcilably opposed to one another. When John the Baptist in this Gospel proclaims Jesus’ coming, the point is not simply that Jesus will come in John’s time, but that at the end of time Jesus will exercise final judgment.

In those days John the immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has approached.” He is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet: “Voice of one calling in the wilderness—‘Prepare the Lord’s way, make God’s paths straight.’” John wore clothing from camel’s hair with a skin strap around his hips, and his diet was locusts and field-honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the surroundings of the Jordan went out to him; while declaring their sins they were immersed by him in the river Jordan. Yet when he saw many of the Pharisees and Zadokites coming for immersion, he said to them, “Nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? So, produce fruit worthy of repentance! Do not presume to say among yourselves, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Because I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham! The axe is already put to the root of the trees, so every tree not producing good fruit is chopped down and thrown into fire. I indeed immerse you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is stronger than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will immerse you in holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand, and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his grain into the storehouse. Yet the useless husks he will incinerate with unquenchable fire.”

 

First Sunday of Advent

Advent begins the liturgical year of the church. The season’s focus is on the future; the Latin term adventus refers to what is coming from the unknown that always lies ahead in human experience. The First Sunday’s readings epitomize this focus by reaching their climax in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Here the condition of humanity at the time of Noah’s Flood is compared to its present condition, which awaits judgment by Jesus as the Son of Man. Paul’s charge to the Romans reminds his readers that the light that comes to illuminate all things at the end of time is present already as an imperative of ethical transformation. Special consideration is accorded the Scriptures of Israel during Advent, because they articulate promises which Jesus and the New Testament insist are in the process of being realized. Isaiah, in a classic passage of prophecy, envisions universal peace and a gathering of all nations at Mount Zion. The celebration of Jerusalem in Psalm 122 within this cycle of readings conveys a sense of a glorious past as prelude to the final glory of the future.

The First Reading
Isaiah 2:1-5
A Promise of Justice and Peace

Isaiah’s vision is set at the end of a critical period of time, “after these days.” Following chapter 1 with its strong assertion of God’s judgment against injustice, it offers assurance of God’s ultimate reign. The vision shows humanity gathering at the Temple in Jerusalem, in the region of Judah, to learn God’s ways as the revealed guide for their conduct. It promises that divine justice, rendered by God among all peoples, will abolish war and even the weapons of war.

  • 1. The promise that Isaiah ben Amotz saw with regard to Judah and Jerusalem—
  • 2. It shall be after these days:
    • The mountain of the Lord’s Temple shall be established first among the mountains,
      exalted above the hills.
    • All the nations shall stream to it.
  • 3. And many peoples will go and say:
    • “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain,
      to the Temple of the God of Jacob.
    • God will instruct us from God’s own ways,
      so that we will walk in those paths.”
    • For instruction stems from Zion,
      the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
  • 4. The Lord shall sit as judge among the nations,
    • —-  —-rendering justice for many peoples.
    • They will pound their swords into plow-blades
      and their spears into pruning shears.
    • Nation will not raise the sword against nation;
      they will no longer even give war a thought.
  • 5. House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the Lord’s light!

The Psalm
Psalm 122
A Pilgrim’s Ode to Jerusalem

Expressing great joy at having reached Jerusalem, a pilgrim praises the city as a spiritual center (the location of God’s Temple) and national home (the seat of the throne of David). The psalm dates from after the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE), which had seen the Temple destroyed and Jerusalem devastated. It reflects the deep and continuing Jewish connection to God’s chosen city, especially the joy brought by Jerusalem’s having been rebuilt and restored to splendor.

  • A Song of Ascents, of David.
  • 1. I rejoiced when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the Temple of the Lord!”
  • 2. Our feet were standing within your gates, Jerusalem:
    • 3. Jerusalem, built up, as a city united all together;
    • 4. the city to which the tribes went up as pilgrims—
      the tribes of Yah!—
    • a witness for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
  • 5. For there sat the thrones of judgment,
    the thrones of the House of David.
  • 6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
    May those who love you, Jerusalem, find well-being.
  • 7. May there be peace on your ramparts,
    well-being in your royal halls.
  • 8. For the sake of my family and friends,
    I do pray for your peace.
  • 9. For the sake of the Temple of the Lord, our God,
    I seek your welfare.

The Second Reading
Romans 13:11-14
Admonition to Moral Alertness in Anticipation of the Lord’s Arrival

After citing hymnic material known in the Roman house churches, the Apostle Paul offers moral instruction that builds upon the hymn’s outlook on final salvation and judgment. Paul challenges his listeners to live according to the new age that has dawned with the heightened expectation that their salvation is soon to arrive.

Know the significance of this time—
          “The hour has already come for you to wake from sleep:
            Even now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
            The night is about over, the day draws near.
            So then, let us put aside the works of darkness,
            and wrap ourselves in the weapons of light.”
As in the daytime, let us conduct ourselves properly, not in partying and drunkenness, not in immoralities and indecency, not in bitter conflict and jealousy. Instead, wrap yourself in the Anointed Lord Jesus and do not encourage the flesh’s inclination to lust.

The Gospel
Matthew 24:36-44
The Unexpected Coming of the Son of Man

Advent readings point to the future as the time when God’s reign will at last be fulfilled. Still, these readings insist that God does not operate according to any schedule that people can know. Matthew’s presentation of this teaching expands on this point by comparing the present to the condition of humanity just prior to Noah’s Flood. Because people cannot know God’s timetable, one must live as though judgment is imminent, attending to God’s works and ways in the present. The passage closes with a call for such preparation.

“Concerning that day and hour,” [Jesus said to his committed students], “no one knows, neither the messengers of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Exactly as the days of Noah were, so will be the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment. As in those days before the flood people simply went about eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark, and they were oblivious till the flood came and took everyone—so the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment will be. Then there will be two in the field: one taken away and one left. Two grinding at the mill: one taken away and one left. Be alert, then, because you do not know on which day your Lord comes! But this you do know: a householder who had known the nightwatch in which the thief was coming would have stayed alert and would not have permitted the home to be broken into! For this reason, prepare yourselves: the Son of Man comes at an hour you cannot discern.”

Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday

Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, opens Holy Week. Psalms used on the occasion correspond to singing in the Jerusalem Temple, especially at the time of the pilgrimage festival called Sukkoth in Hebrew (often rendered “Tabernacles” or “Booths” in English; Leviticus 23:33-43, Numbers 29:12, Deuteronomy 16:13-15). Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to his death and the crowd’s use of palms in greeting him. That entry, rather than the feast involved, becomes the focus of interest.

The Gospel readings for the Liturgy of the Palms, Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16, both represent the shift of interest to Jesus. The final statement in the portion from Mark’s Gospel, with its assertion that Jesus “glared” at the economic activities in the Temple, signals the tension between Jesus and the priestly authorities of his time. The psalm of thanksgiving for today—Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29—comes from a collection of psalms particularly associated with celebration in the Temple and maintains an interest in worship there. Throughout the readings of Holy Week, the church explores the resonance between the ancient worship of Israel as given by God in the Torah and the experience of Jesus in his final days.

The name Passion Sunday comes from the leading theme of Holy Week. The narrative of Jesus’ suffering and death is appropriate for the day. The word Pascha, the Aramaic term for Passover, is preserved in the Greek Gospels and came to be used to describe the season of Easter, which is called the Paschal celebration to this day. Today’s corresponding readings from the book of Isaiah, the book of Psalms, and Paul’s letter to the Philippians highlight the support God offers those in peril, especially in response to their loyalty to God. Isaiah speaks in terms of prophetic vocation, and Psalm 31 refers to periods of distress as a time to trust in God. The second reading for today, Philippians 2:5-11, is Paul’s mature statement of how Jesus’ suffering servanthood is key to his glory. The account in Mark’s Gospel—which provides today’s final Gospel readings—is the earliest written version of the Passion in the New Testament. It stresses Jesus’ isolation, even from his closest followers, as he faced crucifixion. Peter—meaning “Rock,” a nickname that Jesus gave to a disciple called Simon—becomes representative of the problem of loyalty in the midst of suffering.

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Psalm
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Thanksgiving for the Victory Brought About by God

This psalm of victory perhaps originally celebrated the Israelites’ return from the Babylonian Exile. Though it does not in its Israelite context reflect an ideology of resurrection or eternal life, the psalmist’s declaration that “God did not hand me over to death” anticipates the central theme of the Easter season. Verse 19 uses a two-letter (in Hebrew), shortened, poetic form of the four-letter name of God usually translated “Lord.” This usage is familiar from the declaration of praise, Hallelu-Yah. The “horns of the altar” (verse 27) refer to horn-like projections at each corner of the Jerusalem Temple’s sacrificial altar. The book of Exodus requires this feature in the altar’s construction (Exodus 27:2).

  • 1. Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good:
    God’s steadfast love is eternal!
  • 2. Let Israel speak out:
    God’s steadfast love is eternal!

 

  • 19. Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I shall enter them giving thanks to Yah.
  • 20. This is the Lord’s gate;
    only the righteous shall enter it.
  • 21. I thank you, for you have answered me;
    you have become my victory.
  • 22. The rock the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!
  • 23. This is from the Lord;
    it is extraordinary in our eyes.
  • 24. This is the day the Lord brought about;
    let us rejoice and celebrate on it.
  • 25. Please, Lord, rescue us!
    Please, Lord, cause us to prosper!
  • 26. May all who enter be blessed in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you all from the house of the Lord.
  • 27. The Lord is God and gives us light;
    tie up the festival offering with cords;
    bring it to the horns of the altar!
  • 28. You are my God, and I shall thank you;
    my God, and I shall exalt you.
  • 29. Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good:
    God’s steadfast love is eternal!

The Gospel
Mark 11:1-11
Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem

This passage from the Gospel according to Mark, the earliest of the four Gospel accounts to be written, presents Jesus riding on a colt. Jesus intentionally directs the action, so that he appears like the future king of Israel predicted in the book of Zechariah, who also enters Jerusalem in all humility riding on a colt (Zechariah 9:9).


And when they approached to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, toward the Mount of Olives, he dispatched two of his committed students and said to them, “Go from here into the village right in front of you; at once proceed into it. You will find a colt bound, on which no one of men has yet sat. Untie and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘What is this you are doing?’ say: ‘Its owner has need, and at once he is going to dispatch it again here.’” And they went away and found a colt bound by the gate outside on the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there were saying to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They spoke to them exactly as Jesus had said, and they permitted them. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their own garments on it, and he sat upon it. And many spread their own garments in the roadway, but others cut rushes from the fields, and those leading ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosannah! Blessed—the one who comes in the Lord’s name. Blessed—the coming kingdom of our father, David. Hosannah in the highest!” And they entered into Jerusalem, into the Sacred Space, and he glared around at everything; it being already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

or John 12:12-16
Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem

This reading from the Gospel according to John reflects on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to his death at the time of Sukkoth or “Tabernacles.” While echoing the resonance between the ancient worship of Israel and the experience of Jesus, this reading displays a shift of interest from the feast associated with Sukkoth to the entry itself.


On the next day, the large crowd that had come to the feast after hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem took branches from palm trees and then went out to meet with him and were shouting out, “Hosannah! Blessed—the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.” So, Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it has been written in the Scriptures of Israel: “Do not fear, daughter of Zion. Behold! Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His committed followers did not at first understand these things, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and were done to him.

The Liturgy of the Passion

The First Reading
Isaiah 50:4-9a
God, Our Source of Strength

In this reading, Isaiah speaks of the vindication of God’s servant, whom Isaiah generally equates with the people of Israel and, here, with himself. Isaiah speaks of his prophetic vocation and states that God saved him as a result of his righteousness and willingness to accept the humiliation others imposed on him. The reading is placed here to evoke exactly such an image of Jesus, humiliated but soon to be vindicated.

  • 4. The Lord, God, granted me the tongue of those who are learned,
    so that I know how to awaken the weary with a word.
    Each morning God awakens my ear to listen as do those who are learned.
  • 5. The Lord, God, unsealed my ear,
    and I did not rebel;
    I did not turn aside.
  • 6. I offered my back to those who wished to strike me,
    my cheek to those who wished to pull out my beard.
    My face I did not hide from insults and spit.
  • 7. But the Lord, God, will help me;
    therefore, I have not been humiliated;
    therefore, I have made my face like flint,
    knowing that I shall not be shamed.
  • 8. Close by is the One who declares me righteous.
    Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand together!
    Who has a case against me?
    Let him confront me!
  • 9a. The Lord, God, will help me.
    Who can declare me guilty?

The Psalm
Psalm 31:9-16
A Plea for God’s Protection

Psalm 31 speaks of God’s support for those in peril, a message of central importance in the history of the people of Israel. That God will save one who is forgotten and “like one who is dead” is recalled on Palm Sunday specifically to foreshadow Jesus’ experience of crucifixion and then victory over death.

  • 9. Show me compassion, Lord: I am in distress!
    My eye is wasted from grief,
    my inner being as much as my body.
  • 10. For my life has been completely spent in grief,
    my years in sighing.
    I have become feeble because of my iniquity;
    my bones have wasted away.
  • 11. Because of all my adversaries, I have become an object of reproach—
    to my neighbors, exceedingly so—
    and a dread to those who know me.
    Those who see me outside flee from me.
  • 12. I have been utterly forgotten, like one who is dead;
    I am like a broken vessel—
  • 13. for I have heard the whispering of the many, terror all around!
    As they gather against me, they plot to take my life.
  • 14. But I place my trust in you, Lord.
    I say, “You are my God!”
  • 15. My days are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from those who pursue me!
  • 16. Let your countenance shine upon your servant!
    Rescue me in your steadfast love!

The Second Reading
Philippians 2:5-11
Having the Mind of Christ

Paul’s letter to the Philippians presents Jesus’ suffering servanthood as key to his glory.


Have this thinking be among you, which was also in the Anointed Jesus, who, since he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, by being in the likeness of men. And then, being found in outward appearance as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is greater than every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow in heaven and upon the earth and under the earth, and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus the Anointed is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The Gospel
Mark 14:1-15:47
The Passion of Jesus

The Gospel according to Mark places the events of Jesus’ Passion in the season of Passover. Key rituals of Mark’s community appear in the narrative, including anointing and the common meal we now call the Eucharist. The name means “Thanksgiving” in Greek, and Jesus gives thanks before the meal in a way that grounds the name as well as the ritual itself in his actions. He also anticipates the actions of others, including Judas’ collaboration with the authorities and Peter’s denial. Even Jesus’ opponents act “so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49). As they do so, the narrative reveals Jesus’ identity as the Anointed (that is, the Messiah), as a true prophet, and as God’s son.


The Pascha—Passover Offering—and Unleavened Bread were still two days off. The high priests and the scribes were seeking how by stealth they might seize and kill him. But they were saying, “Not during the feast, otherwise there will then be a riot of the people!” He was in Bethany in the home of Simon the leprous, leaning back, and there came a woman who had an alabaster jar of genuine, expensive nard ointment. Smashing the alabaster jar, she poured it over his head. But some were angry among themselves: “Why has this waste of the ointment happened? This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor!” And they were reproaching her. Yet Jesus said, “Leave her: why are you making problems for her? She has done a fine deed with me—because you always have the poor among you, and whenever you want, you can always do them good, but you do not always have me. She acted with what she had; she undertook to anoint my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the message is announced in the whole world, what she did will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

And Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went away to the high priests, so that he could deliver him over to them. They rejoiced when they heard and promised to give him money. And he sought how he could deliver him over opportunely.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they were sacrificing the Pascha, his committed students said to him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare, so that you can eat the Pascha?” And he dispatched two of his students and said to them, “Go from here into the city, and a man will meet you hauling an earthen vessel of water. Follow him. And wherever he enters, say to the housemaster: The teacher says, ‘Where is the lodging where I eat the Pascha with my students?’ He himself will show you a big upper chamber, set up and ready: there prepare for us.” And the students went away and came into the city and found just what he had said to them, and they prepared the Pascha.

And when it became evening, he arrived with the Twelve. And as they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Amen I say to you, that one from you, who eats with me, will deliver me over.” They began to grieve and to say to him, one by one, “Not I!” Yet he said to them, “One of the Twelve, who dips with me in this bowl. Because this human being departs, exactly as was written about him. But misery for that man through whom this human being is delivered over. Better for him if that man had not been born.”

They were eating and he took bread and blessed, broke, and gave to them and said, “Take—this is my body.” He took a cup, offered thanks, and gave to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out on behalf of many. Amen I say to you, I shall no longer drink from the yield of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” They sang praise and went out into the Mount of Olives, and Jesus said to them, “You shall all falter, because it is written: ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’[1] After I am raised, however, I shall lead ahead of you into Galilee.” But Rock—Peter—told him, “Even if all falter—nevertheless not I.” And Jesus said to him, “Amen I say to you: You today, in this night before a cock sounds twice, will deny me three times.” But he was saying all the more: “Even if it is necessary for me to die with you, I will not deny you.” They all were saying likewise.

They came to a tract whose name was Gethsemane, and he said to his students, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took along Rock and James and John with him, and he began to be bewildered and distressed. He said to them, “My soul is mournful unto death: remain here and be alert.” He went before a little and fell upon the ground and was praying that, if it were possible, the hour might pass on from him. And he was saying, “Abba, Father: All things are possible for you. Carry this cup on, away from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want.” And he came and found them sleeping and said to Rock, “Simon, are you sleeping? You were not capable of being alert one hour? Be alert and pray, so that you do not walk into a test beyond your limit. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He again went away and prayed. Having said the same thing, he again came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were weighed down; they did not know what to reply to him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Sleep for the time that is left and repose: it is enough. The hour has come. See: This human being is delivered over into the hands of sinners. Be raised, we go. See: The one who delivers me over has approached.”

And at once while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived—and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the high priests and the scribes and the elders. Yet the one delivering him over had given a signal to them, saying, “The one whom I will kiss is he: seize him and lead him away securely.” He came at once and came forward to him, said, “Rabbi!” and kissed his lips. But they put hands on him and seized him. Yet one of those standing there drew a sword, hit the slave of the High Priest, and took off an ear.

Jesus reacted, and said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to apprehend me as a thug? I was with you daily in the Sacred Space teaching, and you did not seize me. But this happened so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” Everybody left him and fled. And a youth was following with him, a linen flung around his naked body, and they seized him, but leaving the linen behind, he fled naked.

And they led Jesus away to the High Priest, and all the high priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Rock—Peter—from a distance followed him, right inside, to the courtyard of the High Priest, and he was sitting together with the assistants and warming himself by the light. But the high priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus, to put him to death, but they were not finding it—because many witnessed falsely against him, and the testimonies were not consistent. Some arose and witnessed falsely against him, saying, “We have heard him saying: ‘I will demolish this Temple made with hands and during three days build another, not made with hands.’” And even so their evidence was not consistent. The High Priest arose in their midst and interrogated Jesus, saying, “You do not answer—nothing? These people are accusing you!” But he kept silence and did not respond at all. The High Priest again interrogated him and said to him, “Are you the Anointed, the Son of the Blessed One?” But Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the one known as the human being sitting to the right of the power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” The High Priest ripped through his garments and said, “What need have we still of witnesses? You have heard the cursing! How does it appear to you?” But they all condemned him as deserving death.

Some began to spit at him and to strike around his face and to assault him and say to him, “Prophesy!” And the assistants took him into custody with beatings. Rock was down in the courtyard, and there came to him one of the serving girls of the High Priest. She saw Rock warming himself, glared at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied, saying, “I neither know him nor recognize what you are saying!” And he went out, outside into the forecourt. And the serving girl who saw him said to those standing by, “He is from them.” But he again denied. And after a little the bystanders were again saying to Rock, “Truly you are from them, for you are also a Galilean.” Yet he began to swear under oath: “I don’t know this man you are talking about.” And at once a cock sounded a second time. And Rock remembered the assertion Jesus made to him: “Before a cock sounds twice you will deny me three times.” He withdrew and wept.

At once, early, the high priests with the elders and scribes and all the council took action, bound Jesus, and bore him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate interrogated him: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Replying to him, he said, “You say.” And the high priests accused him a lot. But Pilate again was interrogating him: “You do not answer—nothing? Look how much they accuse you!” But Jesus no longer replied at all. In consequence, Pilate marveled.

Now at a feast, he customarily discharged to them one prisoner, whom they requested. There was one called Barabbas, bound with the rioters, such who had committed murder during the riot. The crowd went up and began to ask for what he usually did for them. Yet Pilate replied to them,  “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”—because he knew that they had delivered him over out of envy. But the high priests had stirred up the crowd so that he would instead release Barabbas to them. Still, Pilate again replied and was saying to them, “What then shall I do with the one you call the King of the Jews?” But they again shouted, “Crucify him!” Yet Pilate was saying to them, “Why? Because he has done bad?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Pilate wished to give the crowd their due and he discharged Barabbas to them, and, having had Jesus whipped, delivered him over so that he would be crucified.

The soldiers led him away inside the courtyard (that is, the praetorium) and summoned together the whole cohort. And they robed him in purple and put on him a thorn-crown they wove and began to salute him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they beat his head with a reed and spat on him and, kneeling, they feigned homage to him. And when they had ridiculed him, they stripped him of the purple and clothed him with his own garments and led him out so that they could crucify him.

They commandeered a passerby coming from a field—Simon, the Cyrenian (the father of Alexander and Rufus)—so that he would pick up his cross. And they bore him to the place Golgotha, which is translated “Skull’s Place.” And they were trying to give him myrrhed wine, which he did not accept. They crucified him and divided up his garments, casting lots upon them—who would get what. It was the third hour, and they crucified him. And there was a written inscription of his charge: “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two thugs, one on his right and one on his left.

Those who walked by cursed him, shaking their heads and saying, “So much for the one demolishing the Temple and building it in three days! Save yourself by descending from the cross!” Similarly, the high priests derided him among themselves and with the scribes; they were saying, “He saved others, can’t he save himself? The Anointed, the King of Israel, should come down now from the cross, so that we will see and believe!” Even those crucified with him reviled him.

It was the sixth hour and it became dark upon the whole earth until the ninth hour. And during the ninth hour Jesus bellowed in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemma sabakhthani,” which is translated: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders heard and were saying, “See: He is calling Elijah.” Someone ran and filled a sponge with vinegar, put it on a reed, and was about to make him drink. Others said, “Leave him: let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Jesus gave a huge cry and took his last breath, and the curtain of the Temple was split in two from top to bottom. The centurion standing by before him saw how he breathed his last and said, “Truly this man was God’s son.”

Yet there were also women observing from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James the less and also of Joses; and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him and provided for him. Many other women had gone up with him into Jerusalem.

It already became evening, and, since it was a day of preparation (that is, before Sabbath), Joseph from Arimathea—a reputable councilor who was also expecting the kingdom of God—came and dared to go into Pilate. He requested the body of Jesus. But Pilate was surprised that he had already died and, summoning the centurion, interrogated him: “Has he been dead for long?” Having learned from the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph. Joseph purchased linen, took him down, wrapped him in the linen, and placed him in a tomb that was carved from rock and rolled a stone across the door of the memorial, while Mary Magdalene and Mary of Joses observed where he was placed.

or Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]
The Crucifixion of Jesus

In the Gospel according to Mark’s description, the story of the Roman crucifixion of “the King of the Jews” ironically ends with the centurion on the scene confessing Jesus to be “God’s son,” confirming the Gospel’s proclamation. A member of the aristocratic council that condemned Jesus arranges for the dignity of his burial, which the female disciples from Galilee, including Mary Magdalene, witness.


At once, early, the high priests with the elders and scribes and all the council took action, bound Jesus, and bore him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate interrogated him: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Replying to him, he said, “You say.” And the high priests accused him a lot. But Pilate again was interrogating him: “You do not answer—nothing? Look how much they accuse you!” But Jesus no longer replied at all. In consequence, Pilate marveled.

Now at a feast, he customarily discharged to them one prisoner, whom they requested. There was one called Barabbas, bound with the rioters, such who had committed murder during the riot. The crowd went up and began to ask for what he usually did for them. Yet Pilate replied to them,  “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”—because he knew that they had delivered him over out of envy. But the high priests had stirred up the crowd so that he would instead release Barabbas to them. Still, Pilate again replied and was saying to them, “What then shall I do with the one you call the King of the Jews?” But they again shouted, “Crucify him!” Yet Pilate was saying to them, “Why? Because he has done bad?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Pilate wished to give the crowd their due and he discharged Barabbas to them, and, having had Jesus whipped, delivered him over so that he would be crucified.

The soldiers led him away inside the courtyard (that is, the praetorium) and summoned together the whole cohort. And they robed him in purple and put on him a thorn-crown they wove and began to salute him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they beat his head with a reed and spat on him and, kneeling, they feigned homage to him. And when they had ridiculed him, they stripped him of the purple and clothed him with his own garments and led him out so that they could crucify him.

They commandeered a passerby coming from a field—Simon, the Cyrenian (the father of Alexander and Rufus)—so that he would pick up his cross. And they bore him to the place Golgotha, which is translated “Skull’s Place.” And they were trying to give him myrrhed wine, which he did not accept. They crucified him and divided up his garments, casting lots upon them—who would get what. It was the third hour, and they crucified him. And there was a written inscription of his charge: “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two thugs, one on his right and one on his left.

Those who walked by cursed him, shaking their heads and saying, “So much for the one demolishing the Temple and building it in three days! Save yourself by descending from the cross!” Similarly, the high priests derided him among themselves and with the scribes; they were saying, “He saved others, can’t he save himself? The Anointed, the King of Israel, should come down now from the cross, so that we will see and believe!” Even those crucified with him reviled him.

It was the sixth hour and it became dark upon the whole earth until the ninth hour. And during the ninth hour Jesus bellowed in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemma sabakhthani,” which is translated: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders heard and were saying, “See: He is calling Elijah.” Someone ran and filled a sponge with vinegar, put it on a reed, and was about to make him drink. Others said, “Leave him: let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Jesus gave a huge cry and took his last breath, and the curtain of the Temple was split in two from top to bottom. The centurion standing by before him saw how he breathed his last and said, “Truly this man was God’s son.”

[Yet there were also women observing from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James the less and also of Joses; and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him and provided for him. Many other women had gone up with him into Jerusalem.

It already became evening, and, since it was a day of preparation (that is, before Sabbath), Joseph from Arimathea—a reputable councilor who was also expecting the kingdom of God—came and dared to go into Pilate. He requested the body of Jesus. But Pilate was surprised that he had already died and, summoning the centurion, interrogated him: “Has he been dead for long?” Having learned from the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph. Joseph purchased linen, took him down, wrapped him in the linen, and placed him in a tomb that was carved from rock and rolled a stone across the door of the memorial, while Mary Magdalene and Mary of Joses observed where he was placed.]


Footnotes

  1. Zechariah 13:7.

Annunciation of the Lord

This feast day takes its name from the Latin word for “announcement,” and refers to when, in the Gospel according to Luke, Mary received the news of Jesus’ birth from the angel Gabriel. In the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, the word commonly translated as “angel” in fact refers to a “messenger” of God, whose purpose is to relate God’s will. Indeed, the name Gabriel itself means “God is my strength” in Hebrew. The readings that culminate in today’s Gospel portion all relate to how God’s might is manifested in birth and marital relations, as well as when people seek to do God’s will.

The First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-14
A Sign of Deliverance

In the first of today’s readings, the nation of Judah and its king, Ahaz, face a profound threat from two kings to their north, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel. In the midst of this political crisis, Ahaz refuses to receive Isaiah’s word, perhaps in fear of its implications. Isaiah nevertheless declares that worda sign of deliverance from the immediate threat. The promise is set within the span of time marked by a pregnancy and the newborn’s weaning. The fulfillment of that promised deliverance will confirm for the king and people what the child’s name declares, that “God is with us.”


The Lord spoke again to Ahaz: “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God, be it as deep as Sheol or stretching high above.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, so that I do not test the Lord.”

So Isaiah said, “Listen, then, House of David: Is it not enough for you to exasperate people, that you exasperate my God, too? Therefore, my Lord indeed will give you a sign. Here—this young woman is pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name him, ‘Immanuel.’”

The Psalm
Psalm 45
A Poem for a Royal Wedding

Psalm 45 extols an unnamed Israelite king and the princess who is about to become his bride. The king is just and powerful; his bride, beautiful and adorned in gold. The reference in verse 6 to the king as God’s anointed is one foundation for the Christian understanding that the king depicted here is Jesus. This interpretation, however, ignores many of the psalm’s other details. The psalm’s distinctive first verse deserves note. Uniquely among the psalms, the author here refers to his own poetic impulse and skill (verse 1).

  • For the director, according to “Lilies,” of the sons of Korah, a poem of discernment, a song of
  • love.
  • 1. My heart is stirred by a good thing.
    I recite my verses to a king.
    My tongue is the pen of a skilled scribe.
  • 2. You are the most beautiful among men.
    Grace is poured out on your lips.
    Therefore, God blesses you always.
  • 3. Strap your sword onto your thigh, mighty one!—
    your splendor and majesty!
  • 4. In your majesty, find success!
    Ride in the cause of truth and righteous humility.
    May your right hand make you skilled in awesome deeds!
  • 5. Your arrows are sharp—
    nations will fall under you!—
    into the heart of the king’s enemies.
  • 6. Your throne—wondrous king!—forever and ever.
    A scepter of fairness is the scepter of your reign.
  • 7. You love justice and hate evil.
    Therefore, wondrous king, your God anointed you
    with oil of gladness, over your companions.
  • 8. Myrrh, aloes, and cassia-cinnamon infuse all your garments.
    From ivory palaces, stringed instruments give you joy.
  • 9. Daughters of kings are among your prized women.
    The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.
  • 10. Listen, daughter! Look! Turn your ear!
    Forget your people and your father’s house.
  • 11.        The king craves your beauty.
    Since he is your lord,
    bow to him.
  • 12. With a gift, daughter of Tyre, the richest of people will seek your favor.
  • 13. All-glorious, a king’s daughter is within, her raiment of embroidered gold.
  • 14.        In many-colored cloth she is led to the king.
    Maidens, her attendants, after her are brought to you.
  • 15.        They are led in happiness and joy.
    They enter a royal palace.
  • 16. Your sons will take the place of your ancestors.
    You will appoint them princes throughout the land.
  • 17. I will commemorate your name in every generation.
    Therefore, nations will praise you forever and ever.

or Psalm 40:5-10
Proclaiming God’s Greatness

The psalmist declares the need publicly to extol God’s wonders and mighty deeds that rescue God’s followers from harm. Such public proclamation follows God’s instruction (verse 8) and pleases God even more than animal sacrifice (verse 6). The portion of the psalm in this reading reflects on God’s past actions in redeeming the psalmist from danger. In the verses that follow, which are excluded here, the psalmist sets out the hope that God similarly will offer protection from threats and dangers that the psalmist currently faces.

  • 5. Many deeds have you yourself done, Lord, my God—
    your wonderous plans for us!
    None compare to you.
  •      Were I to open my mouth and speak these things,
    they would be more than can be told!
  • 6. Sacrifice and offerings you do not desire—
    you have opened my ears.
    A burnt- or sin-offering you do not demand.
  • 7. Then I said, “Here! I have come!
    In a book-scroll, it is written for me:
  • 8.                    To do your will, my God, is my desire.
  •                         Your instruction is at my core.”
  • 9. I reported tidings of righteousness in a vast congregation.
    I will not restrain my lips,
    you know, Lord.
  • 10. Your righteousness I did not hide within my heart.
    Your faithfulness and redeeming power I have told.
  •        I have not concealed your steadfast love and fidelity
    for a vast congregation.

The Second Reading
Hebrews 10:4-10
Jesus as the Fulfillment of Animal Sacrifice

The Epistle to the Hebrews argues in detail that the literal requirements of sacrifice set out in the Scriptures of Israel were intended for this world, not the world to come that Jesus opens up. Even as sacrifices serve effectively to atone for sin in the earthly Temple, they also set the pattern for the offering of Jesus’ body to remove sin entirely for the time that is to come. The word order of Psalm 40, today’s alternate psalm reading, adjusted by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews so as to apply to Jesus, provides scriptural support for the argument.

It is simply impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to remove sin. That is why, when Jesus comes into the world, he says:
Sacrifice and offerings you do not desire; yet you provided me a body. You take no
pleasure in burnt-offerings or sin-offerings. Then I said, “Here! I have come! In a
book-scroll, it is written for me: To do your will, God.”
First he states that God does not want or take pleasure in sacrifices, oblations, burnt-offerings, and sin-offerings, although these things are offered according to the Law. Then he asserts, “Here, I have come…to do your will.” He rejects the first in order to establish the second, with the intent that we be sanctified by the offering of the body of Anointed Jesus once for all time.

The Gospel
Luke 1:26-38
Gabriel’s Announcement to Mary

Gabriel’s visit to Mary focuses attention on Jesus’ identity as God’s son and David’s heir from his birth. Gabriel announces that because holy Spirit will be involved in the conception of the child, the resultant birth is holy. In this section of Luke’s Gospel, as in Jewish tradition, holy Spirit refers to God’s self-disclosure to favored individuals. It is not the same as the later conception of the third component of the Trinity. Similarly, Luke here presents Jesus as son of God in the holiness of his birth, not as divine in trinitarian terms.

In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist], the messenger Gabriel was sent from God to a Galilean town named Nazareth, to go to a maiden contracted in marriage to a man whose name was Joseph, from David’s line, and the name of the maiden was Mary. Gabriel went to her and said, “Greetings, God-favored: The Lord is with you!” But she was shaken through at the word, puzzled at what sort of address this could be. The messenger said to her, “Do not fear, Mary, because you have found grace with God. Look: You will conceive in the womb and give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called Most High’s son, and the Lord God will give him his father David’s throne, to reign over Jacob’s house forever; of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the messenger, “How will this be, since I am not intimate with a husband?” The messenger replied and said to her, “Over you holy Spirit will come, and Most High’s power will overshadow you: that which is produced as holy will be called God’s son. And look: Elizabeth is your relative—she also has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who is called barren! Not a single thing God says will be impossible.” Mary said, “Here is the Lord’s servant; may it happen to me according to what you say!” And the messenger went away from her.

 

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Many followers of Jesus read the promise of Jeremiah 31:31—which speaks of a “new covenant” with the people, Israel—as involving fresh opportunities for forgiveness (Psalm 51) and connection to God (Psalm 119), a priesthood based on the example of Jesus (the Epistle to the Hebrews), and the extension of God’s grace to all the peoples of the earth (the Gospel according to John). The Lectionary explores these themes on the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

The First Reading
Jeremiah 31:31-34
A New Covenant

The prophet Jeremiah announces God’s persistent commitment to the people, Israel with a promise to move beyond prior betrayals and establish covenantal intimacy once again with those whom God had brought out of Egypt.


Look! A time is coming, says the Lord, when I will carve out with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah a new covenant. It will not be like the covenant I carved out with their ancestors—that day when I took them by the hand to bring them out from the land of Egypt, my covenant that they demolished, though I had made myself their master, says the Lord. Rather, this is the covenant that I will carve out with the House of Israel after that time, says the Lord: I will set my instruction within them and I will write it on their heart; I will be their God and they will be my people. A person will no longer continue teaching a neighbor or a relative: “Know the Lord!” Rather, they will all know me, from the smallest of them to the greatest, says the Lord. Indeed, I will pardon their guilt and to their sin I will no longer give a thought.

The Psalm
Psalm 51:1-12
A Prayer for Forgiveness

Thematically appropriate to the Lenten season of penitence, Psalm 51 is also the psalm reading for Ash Wednesday. It presents King David’s plea for divine forgiveness. Central here is not just David’s desire to be cleansed of past wrong-doings, but also his hope for God’s help so that he might stop sinning and only teach and follow God’s ways. As presented here in The Revised Common Lectionary, the psalm ends with a request for God’s protection. In the psalm’s full form, its final verses—which are excluded here—pray that God rebuild the city of Jerusalem, allowing expiatory sacrifices again to be offered on the Temple’s altar.

  • To the conductor, a song of David, when Nathan the Prophet came to him after he had relations
  • with Bathsheba.
  • 1. Have mercy on me, God, as suits your steadfast love;
    according to the greatness of your mercy, wipe away my sins!
  • 2. Cleanse me thoroughly of my guilt;
    purify me of my sin!—
  • 3. for I admit my transgressions;
    my sin is ever before me.
  • 4. Against you, only you, I have sinned;
    I did what is evil in your eyes,
    so that your sentence is justified,
    and your judgment warranted.
  • 5. Indeed, I was birthed guilty;
    my mother conceived me sinful.
  • 6. Yet you desire the truth about that which is concealed.
    Regarding that which is hidden, give me insight!
  • 7. Sprinkle me with a hyssop stem to purify me;
    cleanse me whiter than snow!
  • 8. Make me hear sounds of joy and gladness;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice!
  • 9. Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all of my guilt!
  • 10. Fashion for me a pure heart, God;
    renew in me a steadfast spirit.
  • 11. Do not banish me from your presence;
    do not take from me the spirit of your holiness.
  • 12. Let me again enjoy your protection,
    and may a willing spirit sustain me.

or Psalm 119:9-16
The Joy of Observing the Law

Psalm 119 is an alphabetical acrostic comprising 176 verses. Beginning with the Hebrew letter aleph and continuing through the Hebrew alphabet, the psalmist presents consecutive sets of eight verses that begin with the same Hebrew letter. Verses 9-16, found here, all begin with the letter beth, which in all instances except verse 12 is the Hebrew preposition meaning “with,” “in,” or “by.” Even within the semantic limitations imposed by the acrostic form, the psalmist presents a cogent message. Observance of God’s law is the foundation of a life of righteousness and joy.

  • 9. By what means does a youth follow a righteous path?
    By observing your words.
  • 10. With all my heart I seek you—
    do not allow me to stray from your commandments.
  • 11. In my heart I store up your words,
    so that I never sin against you.
  • 12. Blessed are you, Lord—
    teach me your statutes!
  • 13. With my lips, I recount all the ordinances that come from your mouth.
  • 14. By following your precepts, I became joyful, as over any treasure.
  • 15. I meditate on your decrees and observe your paths.
  • 16. In your statutes I take delight;
    I will not forget your words.

The Second Reading
Hebrews 5:5-10
The Priesthood of Jesus

The Epistle to the Hebrews presents Jesus as fulfilling the role the Scriptures of Israel assign to the High Priest. In this passage, he is compared to Melchizedek, the priest who blessed Abraham in Genesis 14:18-20. The offering Jesus makes in his death, which involves suffering, however, contrasts with Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine.

In being made High Priest, the Anointed did not glorify himself; God did that for him when he said: “You are my Son; today I have become your parent.” God also said elsewhere, “You are a priest forever, following the example of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh he offered both prayers and entreaties, with a loud shout and tears, to the one who was able to rescue him from death, and he was heard as a result of this devotion. Although a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and being perfected he became for all who are obedient to him the basis of eternal rescue, designated by God a High Priest following the example of Melchizedek.

The Gospel
John 12:20-33
Jesus and the Greeks

Early Christianity, although it originated within Judaism, emerged as a religion within the Greco-Roman world that was for the most part non-Jewish and Greek-speaking. In this passage from John’s Gospel, people from the Greek majority-to-be appear, approaching two of Jesus’ disciples who spoke Greek, but they do not contact Jesus himself. When the disciples speak to Jesus about whether or not he is willing to meet with these non-Jews, Jesus explains that, for events to unfold in a way that includes them, his Passion must first reach its end.

Among those who went up [to Jerusalem] to worship during the feast there were Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and spoke to Andrew; Andrew and Philip together went and spoke to Jesus. But Jesus replied, “The hour has come for this human being to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains an isolated kernel. But if it does die, it produces much wheat. Whoever loves life, loses it, and whoever hates life in this world will protect it forever. Anyone who serves me shall follow me, and where I am, there also my servant shall be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. Now I am shaken to the core, and what should I say—‘Father, rescue me from this hour’? After all, I came to this hour for this. Father, glorify your name!” Then a sound came from heaven: “I have glorified, and again shall glorify!” Some of the crowd there heard and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus replied and said, “This sound has not come for me, but for you! The judgment of this world is now: now the ruler of this world will be overthrown! When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw everyone in to myself.” He said this, signalling by what death he was going to die. 

Fourth Sunday in Lent

The season of Lent considers not only the reasons for human sinfulness but also how God deals with this perennial problem. One of the most perplexing features of sin is how persistently people fall into the same patterns of destructive behavior—even with a knowledge of sin’s immediate consequences. In all the readings appointed for Fourth Sunday, God nonetheless extends grace in response to the diverse manifestations of sin they describe.

The First Reading
Numbers 21:4-9
The Bronze Serpent in the Wilderness

When the Israelites complained about their long journey through the wilderness toward the promised land, God grew angry. In response to the people’s repentance and Moses’ prayer, God provided relief, renewing the sustenance and protection that the people needed. The bronze snake that God told Moses to lift up above Israel as a remedy for its burning rebellion would, in the eyes of John the gospeler, anticipate the way that Christ would be lifted up as a remedy for the burning rebellion of all people.

From Mount Hor the Israelites traveled the Reed Sea route to skirt the land of Edom, but the people’s temper grew short along the way. The people spoke out against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this wilderness? There really is no food and no water, and we are sick of this miserable bread.” So God sent venomous snakes among the people and they bit the people, so that a great number of Israelites died.

Then the people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord to remove these snakes from us.” So Moses prayed on behalf of the people. God said to Moses, “Make a figure of the venomous snake and put it on a pole. Whoever has been bitten and looks at it will live.” Moses made a bronze snake and put it on the pole. Afterward, whenever a snake bit a person and the person turned toward the bronze snake, that person would live.

The Psalm
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Give Thanks for God’s Steadfast Love!

God’s greatness is manifest in the experience of those in need. The reversal of their fortune bespeaks God’s steadfast love. God redeems from distress those who have been subject to devastating external forces (verses 1-3) and even those whose own foolish and rebellious behavior led them to death’s door (verses 17-19). For this constant love, God merits our thanks.

  • 1. Thank the Lord, who is good;
    God’s steadfast love never ends.
  • 2. Let those the Lord redeemed speak!—
    those God redeemed from distress.
  • 3. God gathered them from foreign lands—
    from the east, the west, the north, and from the sea.

 

  • 17. By their rebellious way and their sins, fools afflicted themselves.
  • 18. They loathed all food;
    they reached the gates of death.
  • 19. They screamed to the Lord out of their distress;
    from their anguish, God redeemed them.
  • 20. God issued the word and healed them;
    God rescued them from death’s pit.
  • 21. Let them thank the Lord for steadfast love,
    for God’s extraordinary acts for all humanity.
  • 22. Let them sacrifice offerings of thanks,
    and, in joy, recount God’s deeds.

The Second Reading
Ephesians 2:1-10
The Place Established in Heaven

Paul, in Galatians 4:1-9, followed the apostolic preaching of his time in declaring baptism as the moment when a person left behind the compulsion to follow elemental desires and turned to a life guided by Spirit. This passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians extends that thought to portray the life of faith as a whole as a transition away from the selfish world of flesh and towards a secure fellowship with Christ in heaven.


You were dead: in your transgressions and sins, you followed the standards of this world, the rule of mundane power—the spirit now working among the children of disobedience. We all once trafficked in the desires of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and of demons. With the rest of humanity we were by nature offspring of wrath.

Nonetheless, God—rich in compassion—loved us with overflowing love. We were dead in our transgressions; God made us alive in the Anointed One. By grace you have been rescued, and God raised you with Jesus, the Anointed, and established your place in heaven in order to show for ages to come the abundant richness of divine grace generously poured out to us in Jesus, the Anointed. Again: by grace you have been rescued through faith. This does not come from us, but is God’s gift; this does not come from what we do, so no one can boast. We are God’s work, created in Jesus, the Anointed for doing good in ways that God has prepared so that we will follow them.

The Gospel
John 3:14-21
God’s Love in Sending the Son

This reading, which is unique to John’s Gospel, moves from a very specific comparison, between the Hebrew Bible and the pattern of Jesus’ death and redemption, into a comprehensive and universal declaration. Delivered as a quotation from Jesus’ teaching, the passage first compares the Crucifixion to Moses—directed by God—lifting up a snake made of bronze for the Israelites to see. Everyone who looked at the bronze snake was saved from the snake bites that they had suffered (Numbers 21:6-9). This is God’s method, who loves the entire world by giving his Son to die. All who have faith in that death, and in the deeds of light that Jesus did, have passed from darkness and judgment to vindication in the light of God.


“In exactly the way Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must this human being be lifted up, so everyone who has faith in him has eternal life. In this way God loved the world, so much that he gave his unique Son: everyone who has faith in him is not lost, but has eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but to rescue the world through him. Whoever has faith in him is not judged; whoever does not have faith has already been judged, since that one does not have faith in the name of the unique Son of God. This is the verdict: light came into the world, and people loved the dark rather than the light because their deeds were malicious. Everyone acting maliciously hates the light and does not come toward the light lest their deeds be exposed. But everyone really ‘doing’ the truth comes toward the light for their deeds to be revealed—because they are accomplished by God.”

Third Sunday in Lent

The lifestyle that God shows his people promotes their thriving in liberation from slavery, as the opening of the Ten Commandments in today’s first reading emphasizes. Psalm 19 celebrates the truth of God’s instruction as embodied even in nature, while Paul insists in the reading from the First Epistle to the Corinthians that even sophisticated human knowledge is sometimes very different from the wisdom that God conveys in Christ. The Gospel reading of the day portrays Jesus defending the Temple in opposition to those who would exploit it for their own advantage.  

The First Reading
Exodus 20:1-17
The Commandments

After the Exodus, God led the Israelites through the wilderness to Mount Sinai. The Book of Exodus presents God’s revelation there as “the Book of the Covenant.” It opens with God’s reminder of the mighty act of the Exodus and a description of how Israel shall begin to live as God’s own people.


God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the state of slavery. You shall not have any other gods in place of me. You shall not make yourself a statue or any form of what is in heaven above or on the earth below, nor of what is in the water under the earth. You shall neither bow to them nor worship them, for I am the Lord, your God—a God demanding loyalty: bringing the guilt of ancestors to bear on the second, third, and fourth generations of those who hate me, while renewing loyalty to thousands, to those who love me and hold to my commandments. You shall not take up the name of the Lord your God for no good reason.

Remember the Day of Rest, to dedicate it to God. Six days you shall work and do all your business. The seventh day is a rest for the Lord your God: you shall not do any business—you or your son or your daughter, your male or female servant or your livestock or the temporary residents in your city. Since in six days God fashioned the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and settled back on the seventh day, God blessed the Day of Rest and set it apart.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will stretch out on the land the Lord your God gives you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not betray your marriage.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony about your neighbor.

You shall not yearn for your neighbor’s house.

You shall not yearn for your neighbor’s wife or male or female servant or ox or donkey
or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Psalm
Psalm 19
God’s Instruction Is Truth

Psalm 19’s three sections are tightly connected. The natural world proclaims God’s greatness (verses 1-6). This greatness is represented in God’s precepts, which define how people must live so as to bring joy and wholeness to their lives (verses 7-11). With this truth in mind, the psalmist prays for God’s compassion, hoping that God will discount inadvertent sin and keep the petitioner from all transgression.

  • To the director, a psalm of David.
  • 1. The skies tell God’s glory;
    the firmament declares God’s handiwork.
  • 2. Day to day pours forth speech;
    night to night declares knowledge.
  • 3. There is no perceptible speech and no distinguishable words;
    their voice is not audibly heard.
  • 4. But their measure goes out across the entire world,
    and their words to the ends of the earth.
    In them God set up a tent for the sun—
  • 5.          like a bridegroom who leaves his dressing chamber,
    joyous as a champion running a course.
  • 6. Its starting point is the edge of the skies,
    and its rounds take it to the other side.
    Nothing is veiled from its heat.
  • 7. The instruction of the Lord is flawless,
    restoring the soul.
  •      The testimony of the Lord is trustworthy,
    giving wisdom to the simple.
  • 8. The precepts of the Lord are upright,
    gladdening the heart.
  •      The commandment of the Lord is perfect,
    giving light to the eyes.
  • 9. Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    established evermore.
  •      The judgments of the Lord are truth,
    entirely just—
  • 10. more desirable than gold,
    than much fine gold;
  •        and sweeter than honey,
    than what flows from the honeycomb.
  • 11. Certainly, whoever worships you is guided by them;
    observing them brings much return.
  • 12. But inadvertent errors—can we discern them?
    Of such hidden errors, hold me guiltless!
  • 13. Please, from willful error, shield the one who worships you.
    May such errors not dominate me!
  •      Thus I will be blameless
    and innocent of great transgression.
  • 14. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be desirable to you, Lord, my 
  • rock and my redeemer.

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Christ as the Wisdom of God

Attacks by local philosophers in Corinth who mocked the new faith proved especially disturbing to the Apostle Paul. Paul responded to them with a blistering comparison between their pretentious claims and God’s wisdom. He understood Christ’s cross as the true reflection of God’s wisdom, although his opponents dismissed this preaching as foolishness. The opponents included both “Greeks,” or non-Jews, and Jewshere referring to the people of Israel and not only Judeans.


For those whose lives are being lost, the idea of the cross is foolishness; but for those who are being rescued, it is God’s power. After all, it is written: “I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and invalidate the intellectuals’ understanding.” Where is today’s sage, where is today’s judge, where is today’s advocate? God has made the wisdom of this world foolish! Since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God by means of its own wisdom, God decided, by means of the foolishness of what we preach, to rescue those who have faith. While Jews want signs and Greeks seek wisdom, we preach the crucified Anointed One—a snare for Jews and foolishness for gentiles; but for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the Anointed is God’s power and God’s wisdom.

The Gospel
John 2:13-22
Jesus Clears the Temple

John’s Gospel, unlike the first three Gospels, relates Jesus’ action in the Temple near the beginning of its narrative. By telling the story early on and not in connection with the Crucifixion, John uses it to characterize Jesus and his teachings as a replacement for the Temple and an alternative to all forms of worship practice that the gospel writer viewed as commercially exploitative.


The Passover of the Judeans was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple precinct he found sellers of cattle, sheep, and pigeons, as well as comfortably seated convertors of coins. From cords he made a whip and drove them all out of the Temple precinct, together with the sheep and cattle, and swept away the coins of the money-changers, overturning the tables. He said to the pigeon-sellers, “Take all this away: do not make my Father’s house a marketplace.” His students recalled that it is written: “Indignation for your house will consume me.” The Judeans objected and said to him, “What sign are you showing us by doing this?” Jesus replied and said, “Take this Temple down, and in three days I will raise it.” Then the Judeans said, “This Temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you can raise it in three days?” Yet he spoke of the temple of his body. When he was raised from the dead, his students remembered that he said this and had faith in the Scripture and in the word that Jesus spoke.

Second Sunday in Lent

Everything about the Lenten journey to the cross focuses on God’s power and promise, which the Resurrection will show to be greater than any human design; they are the only things worthy of our faith. The author of Genesis and the Apostle Paul both saw the faith embodied in Abraham and Sarah. The psalmist in Psalm 22 knew that generations of the needy would testify to God’s blessing, and Jesus in Mark’s Gospel challenges his disciples to trust that blessing. In the alternate Gospel reading for today from the Gospel according to Mark, we witness God’s validation of Jesus as heir to Israel’s faith, servant of those in need, and teacher of those who would follow him.

The First Reading
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
God’s Covenant Promising an Abundant Future

God appears to Abram with the name El Shaddai, echoing the sense of God as the power of storm and nature. Abram learns of the covenant by which he and his wife, Sarai, will be blessed with a son. The covenant will continue between God and many generations of Abram and Sarai’s descendants, making them the ancestors of many nations and peoples. The covenant’s fulfillment, embodied in multitudes of people and in royal figures, finds expression in their new names.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai; conduct your life in my presence and with integrity. I am setting out my covenant between myself and you; I will make very much of you.” Then Abram collapsed face down, and God spoke with him: “Listen! Here is my covenant with you: you will be a father of many nations. You will not be called Abram anymore; your name will be Abraham, since I am making you a father of many nations. I will assure your power to multiply abundantly, so that you become nations, and kings will come from you. I establish my covenant as an ever-present covenant between myself and you, along with your descendants after you throughout their generations—to be God for you and for your descendants after you.”

Then God said to Abraham, “Sarai, your wife, will not be called Sarai, but her name will be Sarah. I will bless her, even giving you a son by her. I will bless her so that she becomes nations, and kings of peoples will come from her.” 

The Psalm
Psalm 22:23-31
Praise God’s Power and Loving Compassion

God’s righteous rule merits our praise. Today’s psalm moves from God’s care for individuals, whose affliction God does not ignore (verse 24), to the congregation of Israel, in which God’s praise is heard (verse 25), to the farthest reaches of the earth (verse 27), and to all nations (verses 28-31). Recognizing God as eternal Lord of all nations, Psalm 22 expands upon the theme of the eternal covenant made with Abraham, described in today’s first reading (Genesis 17).

  • 23. Praise God, those who revere the Lord!
    Glorify God, all descendants of Jacob!
    Stand in awe of God, all seed of Israel!
  • 24. For God did not despise, God did not detest the affliction of the lowly.
    Nor did God turn away from them.
    God listened when the afflicted cried out.
  • 25. On your behalf is my praise in the great congregation.
    My vows I will fulfill in the presence of those who revere the Lord.
  • 26. The needy shall eat and be satisfied.
    Those who seek the Lord will praise God.
    May your hearts live forever!
  • 27. Let all the farthest reaches of the earth recognize and turn to the Lord.
    Let all the families of the nations bow down before God.
  • 28. For sovereignty belongs to the Lord,
    who rules the nations.
  • 29. All the strong of the earth ate and bowed down.
    Before God shall kneel all who go down to dust,
    who are mortal.
  • 30. Their descendants shall worship God.
    The Lord shall be proclaimed to future generations.
  • 31. They will come and declare his righteousness to a people yet to be born,
    for God has acted.

The Second Reading
Romans 4:13-25
Abraham, Our Father

In the writings of the Apostle Paul, Abraham appears as the father of all peoples, as well as of Israel. Abraham “had faith in the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6) centuries before Moses received the law at Mount Sinai. For that reason, Paul argues in this passage from the Epistle to the Romans, as he does elsewhere, that Abraham stands for the principle of faith for the world’s “many nations,” not only among those who keep the law.

The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they will inherit the world, was not on the basis of law, but on the basis of righteousness that comes from faith, since if heirs are marked out by law, faith is voided and the promise is overturned. Law utilizes wrath, and where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this reason, heirs are marked out by faith, so that grace confirms the promise to all descendants—not only to those who are marked out by law, but also to those who are marked out by Abraham’s faith. He, after all, is the father of us all, as it is written: “I have appointed you father of many nations,” in that he “had faith in God,” who brings alive the dead and calls what is from what is not. He had faith, piling hope upon hope, that he could become father of many nations, according to the assertion: “So will be your descendants.” One hundred years old, he did not consider his dying body, nor Sarah’s deadened womb, with any weakness of faith. He did not dismiss the promise of God with faithlessness, but was empowered in faith as he gave glory to God, convinced God would act as promised. Therefore, “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The phrase “it was credited to him” was written not only about him, but also about us, to whom righteousness is about to be credited, because we have faith in God, who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus, who was delivered over for our trespasses and was raised to set us right.

The Gospel
Mark 8:31-38
Losing One’s Life to Gain One’s Life

In this reading, the suffering that awaits Jesus is also a model for the experience of his followers. Jesus requires self-denial of himself and of his followers as well. For that reason, he uses the Aramaic phrase “son of man” (bar nasha), which means “a human being,” designating both the speaker and all people who are or can be in the speaker’s position. The usage plays a role in the Gospels’ theme of the connection between the pattern of Jesus’ life and that of his followers.

Jesus began to teach his students: “This human being must suffer much, be condemned by the elders and high priests and scribes, be killed—and finally after three days arise.” He spoke this word frankly; Rock—Peter—took him aside and began to scold him, but he turned away, saw his students, and scolded Rock. He said, “Get behind me, Satan, because you do not think God’s way, but people’s.”

He summoned the crowd with his students and said to them: “If anyone wants to come after me, deny yourself and take your cross and follow me! Because whoever wishes to save life itself, will lose it; but whoever will lose life for me and for the message, will save it. For what is the profit for a person to gain the whole world but forfeit life? What will a person give in exchange for life? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, this human being will be ashamed of also, when he comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.”

or Mark 9:2-9
The Transfiguration

In this scene, three of Jesus’ students are given a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity. His physical appearance changes to represent his special association with God. The presence of Moses and Elijah puts him in the company of those who, according to the Judaic teaching of the time, lived on with God in heaven. Although he is compared to them, a voice from heaven insists that Jesus alone is God’s Son and that he should be heard.

After six days Jesus took along Rock—Peter—and James and John and brought them up to a high mountain privately, alone. He was transmuted before them, and his clothing became gleaming, very white, as a launderer on the earth is not able to whiten. Elijah with Moses appeared to them, speaking together with Jesus. Rock reacted and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is fine for us to be here, and we should build three lodges: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Rock did not know how he should react, because they were terrified. And there came a cloud overshadowing them, and a sound from the cloud: “This is my Son, the beloved—hear him.” Suddenly, looking around, the three no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus, alone. They descended from the mountain, and he ordered them strictly not to relate to anyone what they had seen, except when this human being had arisen from the dead.