March 2021 Commentaries

 

The Annunciation of Our Lord (25 March)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 7: 10-14

 

King Ahaz of Judah, the subject of today’s lesson, was the son of the righteous King Jotham. King Ahaz, who started to rule around 740 B.C., unfortunately, did not follow in his father’s footsteps: not only did he follow the idolatress worship of the kings of Israel, but he also sacrificed his son by burning him alive. When God allowed the kings of Syria and Israel to attack him, he and his people began to be fearful. It was at this point that God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him that God would fight for him and defeat these two armies—another example of God reaching out to this ungodly king in order to encourage him to repent. To reassure him even more, God asks King Ahaz to ask for a signanything he wanted—that God should do to convince him that God would indeed defeat the armies of Israel and Syria. Amazingly, King Ahaz refuses! It is then that God says that He will provide a sign—a sign for all people: a virgin will conceive and bear a son who will deliver all people from their slave master—sin, thereby bringing freedom that had not been experienced even during the days of Kings David and Solomon. Furthermore, the name of this son would be Immanuel, meaning God with us!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 10: 4-10

 

In chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews, the author has explained how Christ offered his blood on the altar in heaven to redeem the souls of all mankind, provided that the individual accepts Christ’s sacrifice. As we begin chapter 10, the author indicates that all of the sacrifices (the blood of bulls and goats) required by The Law did not actually take away sins. In fact, these sacrifices and offerings were not even desired by God but were instead merely a picture of the sacrifice that had to be made by Jesus. Consequently, a body for that sacrifice was prepared for Jesus. Why a sacrifice? Because Hebrews 9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood, no sins can be forgiven. Thus Jesus came into the world specifically to do God the Father’s will, as written in the Book, or Bible (here called a scroll) long before the Creation (see Ephesians chapter one). When Jesus made that sacrifice of himself, he in effect did away with the first covenant, as represented by the Law, and replaced it with a second covenant, as represented by faith, in which an individual is forgiven and declared sinless when he or she accepts Christ’s sacrifice, which sacrifices needed to be made only once, since that one sacrifice covered all sins of all time.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 26-38

 

Today’s lesson presents an interesting contrast between the announcement of the angel Gabriel to the priest Zechariah of the forthcoming birth to him of John the Baptist and the announcement of Gabriel to Mary of the forthcoming birth to her of Jesus. Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, is now in her sixth month of pregnancy when Gabriel appears unannounced to Mary. Remember that Mary is engaged to Joseph, which in God’s eyes meant that they were married but had not yet consummated the marriage by living with each other. So when the angel announces that she will be the mother of the Messiah (“the Son of the Most High”), Mary of course is wondering how this is to happen; what is she supposed to do? The angel explains that the Holy Spirit will implant in her the fertilized egg which would represent the Son of God, or the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Then he tells her that her relative Elizabeth, considered barren, was now in her 6th month of pregnancy, noting that with God, nothing is impossible. And what is Mary’s response? So be it!

You may think that this is no big deal. But Mary is fully aware that if she shows up pregnant, and Joseph is not the father, then it would be considered that she had committed adultery (remember that in God’s eyes she is already married to Joseph), which is punishable by stoning to death. So by agreeing to God’s announcement, she could be getting a death sentence. If you had been Mary, would you have readily agreed, or would you have asked for more time to think about it? 

 

Good Friday (Friday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 13—53: 12


Isaiah, as we will recall, was God’s messenger to Judah, the Southern Kingdom for about 40 years, starting around 740 B.C. His messages called for repentance, punishment for the lack of repentance, and restoration for those who repented. In today’s reading, however, we have a prophecy of the crucified Jesus. In particular, we see that Jesus will

—be lifted up,
—have a marred appearance, beyond human semblance, and

—sprinkle many nations

—presumably with his shed blood which makes them holy.

Then Isaiah compares the young Jesus to the bloody figure hanging on the cross, with no beauty or majesty, or even form. Furthermore, he is grieved and sorrowful over the crowd below him who have despised and rejected him. Why? Isaiah then tells us:

—he was pierced for our transgressions
—he was crushed for our iniquities
—he was chastised in order to bring us real peace, and —his wounds bring us healing.

Although it was we who as sheep lost our way, it was Jesus who suffered the punishment for our straying. And even though he was totally innocent of all the charges against him, he did not vigorously defend himself; instead, he remained silent. He then was killed for the sins of the people and buried in a borrowed tomb. But then Isaiah notes what Jesus accomplished: by Jesus bearing the sins of the many, the many will be declared righteous. Therefore his reward will be great.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 4: 14 -16; 5: 7-9


The author of Hebrews is undertaking to show just what Jesus is now doing for us. For example, he is our great high priest, interceding on our behalf before God the Father. But this is not just any ol’ high priest, who does not understand our weaknesses. No, this is one who has been tempted in every way that we are being tempted but without sinning. So when we come to Jesus, we can receive mercy for our failures, and grace in our times of need. After all, when Jesus walked this earth, he too offered prayers to God the Father during his trials and tribulations, and as a true human son, learned obedience through his suffering. Thus he became the source of eternal salvation to all who serve and believe in him.

 

Gospel Lesson: John 18: 1 - 19: 42

 

St. John records for us the events in the life of Jesus over the last 24-hour period of his human life on earth:

—He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,
—Jesus is
betrayed as Judas leads a mob into the garden to arrest him, —Jesus ensures that the remaining disciples are not also arrested,

—Jesus heals the servant’s ear that had been cut off by Peter,
—Jesus is brought before Annas, the father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high

priest,
—Peter follows Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, and there

denies three times that he knows Jesus,
—Jesus is questioned, and is
assaulted when they don’t like his answers, —Jesus is brought to Pilate in the hope that he will kill Jesus on the behalf of the Jews,

—Pilate sees through the Jews’ scheme but is forced to condemn Jesus

in order to prevent a riot, an event that would be disastrous for his

career,
—Jesus is
mocked and then whipped to within an inch of his life by the

Roman soldiers,
—Pilate has Jesus
crucified outside of the city, between two robbers,

—Pilate gets back at the Jews by posting the reason for Jesus’

crucifixion: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,
—The soldiers
cast lots for Jesus’ clothes,
—Jesus sees his
mother as well as St. John standing beneath the cross;

and in order to ensure that she is taken care of (since her first-born

son is being killed), he appoints John to take care of her,
—Having completed all tasks given him by God the Father, Jesus
gives up his spirit, and

—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus retrieve Jesus’ body from Pilate,

and bury it in a new, nearby tomb, since the Jewish day of rest

was fast approaching, when no work was allowed.

 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 19: 17-30


Pilate has just ordered Jesus to be crucified. However, he is still smarting from the fact that the Jews forced him to condemn Jesus by organizing a riotous crowd. So when he posts the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion, he writes, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” We then see the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, followed by Jesus seeing his mother as well as St. John standing beneath the cross. Jesus recognizes that, as her first-born son, he will no longer be able to take care of his widowed mother, so he assigns St. John to do that for him. As the hours' pass, Jesus recognizes that he has completed all the tasks given him by his Father for the salvation of all mankind, so he gives up his spirit. 

 

St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord (19 March)

 

Old Testament Lesson: 2 Samuel 7: 4-16

 

Let’s, first of all, set the stage for this lesson:
King Saul has died during a battle with the Philistines,
—David has become king of Judah, while Saul’s son
Ishbosheth has become king of Israel (the Northern Kingdom),

—7.5 years later, upon the assassination of Ishbosheth by some of his subjects, David is chosen king of all Israel,

—David defeats the Philistines,
—David captures Jerusalem, makes it his capital, and brings the
Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and

—with the help of King Hiram of Tyre, builds for himself a magnificent palace of cedar.

King David now finds himself sitting on his throne, pondering all that God has done for him. He decides to show his appreciation to and love for God by building a temple for Him. But when he passes his intent by God’s representative, the prophet Nathan, God instructs Nathan to tell David that he has it backward. God is going to demonstrate his love for David and all mankind by building a house for David. And not only a house, but an eternal kingdom. And this eternal kingdom will be ruled by a descendant of David. Furthermore, that descendant will be God’s Son, and God will never stop loving him. Thus the House of David will remain in God’s presence forever, and David’s throne will be established forever.

Thus Nathan prophecies that the Messiah will come from the line of David.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 4: 13-18

 

St. Paul here takes up the task of explaining who are descendants of Abraham and therefore entitled to be his heirs. He starts out by noting that the promise of the Promised Land, made by God to Abraham, was not based on something that Abraham had earned by doing some work for God or by the keeping of the law; rather, it was a gift that God made to Abraham by grace. Thus the true

descendants of Abraham are those who have the faith of Abraham—by believing God that he sent his son Jesus to die in our place. Again, since the promise of being an heir of all of the promises made to Abraham is based on faith in God, Abraham can indeed be the father of many nations—people of every tribe and race. Note that that faith is demonstrated by obedience to God, and by grace, God declares us descendants of Abraham.

Most folks do not appreciate the faith that Abraham demonstrated. God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Yet his wife Sarah was barren, and the years went by but still no heir. But Abraham refused to be swayed by the circumstances; he still hoped for what God promised, believing that God would honor his promise.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23

 

Politics! It’s everywhere: in our government, in our business, in our academic institutions, even in our churches. But who would have thought that politics would determine where Jesus lived during his lifetime? You see, King Herod was very paranoid. He was so fearful that he would be displaced as king by someone, that he killed anyone who he thought might be an adversary. He even killed his own relatives. So when he hears from the wise men that they are looking for the king of the Jews, he is determined to nip this apparent competitor in the bud immediately. So he sends out his soldiers to kill all infants in Bethlehem that fall within the time period mentioned by the wise men.

Fortunately, God is already privy to his plan and sends an angel to warn Joseph in a dream of the immediate danger to Jesus. Joseph responds with the alacrity of one who believes God and flees to Egypt with Mary and Jesus that very night. A few years later, after King Herod’s death, an angel again appears to Joseph to let him know that it is now safe to return to the land of Israel. But since King Herod’s son is now the king in Judea, Joseph wisely leaves Judea (after being warned in a dream) and heads north, to the district of Galilee, setting up residence in Nazareth—all predicted by God centuries earlier! (Isaiah 9:1-4) 

 

Third Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 20: 1-17

 

Picture this: The Children of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, have escaped from Egypt, watched God destroy Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, and traveled to the foot of Mt. Sinai. There God proposed to the Children of Israel that if they would make Him their God, then He would make them His special people, His kingdom of priests, and His holy nation. (Notice the conditional clause!) The Children of Israel accepted the proposal, and as our reading begins today, we find the Children of Israel assembled at the foot of the mountain where they are to hear from the voice of God Himself the terms of the agreement. Then God descends upon Mt. Sinai in a fire, enveloping the mountain top in thick smoke, all accompanied by thunder, lightning, trembling of the mountain, and a trumpet blast that keeps getting louder and louder. Then they hear the voice of God:

—I am the only god that you may have.
—You are
not allowed to make any object that will serve as a focus of worship. (As a warning, God states that He will remember the sins of the fathers when considering the sins of the descendants, even to the 3rd and 4th generation of those who hate God, but showing mercy and love to everyone who loves and obeys God.)

—You will hallow God’s name by not using it in vain chatter.
—You shall remember the six days of God’s
creation followed by a day of rest by doing the same, not requiring any kind of work from man or animal on that day of rest.

—Honor God by honoring one’s father and mother; as an encouragement to do so, God promises long life to those who do.

—Do not murder someone.
—Do not have
affairs with anyone.
—Do not steal from someone by
lies, deceit, or manipulation.
—Do not lie to or about anyone.
—Do not lust after the persons or property that God has allowed someone else to enjoy.

From the standpoint of a Jewish wedding, these were the terms of the marriage agreement.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

 

As St. Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth, he deals first of all with how the gospel may be perceived. To those who are satisfied with their own interpretation of life and the world, the gospel is so much foolishness. But to those who humbly acknowledge their need for someone to rescue them from their miserable nature and acts, the gospel becomes the very power of God to rescue them. As a consequence, and ultimately, the wisdom of the earthly wise men will be shown to be the most extreme foolishness, and what these earthly wise men regarded as God’s utter foolishness God will have shown to be the greatest of wisdom.

In other words, the well-educated, wealthy, noble, elite, and powerful people of this world who consider themselves self-made and reject God’s perspective will discover that even the uneducated, weak, poor, and deplorable of this world who have accepted God’s grace will have the life, eternally, that the former thought they had.

 

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 21: 4-9

 

It has been over 39 years since God led the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
They are now located just west of Edom,
south-west of the bottom of the Dead Sea. They need to move to the east-southeast side of the Dead Sea in order to enter the Promised Land at its most strategic site. Standing in the way is Edom, the land allotted by God to the descendants of Esau, who refuse to let them pass through their territory. The only option is to head south, down to the Red Sea (not too far from where they crossed the Red Sea 39 years ago), and then head north-northeast to scoot around Edom and get to the Plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.

But just as the horse starts picking up speed when he sees the barn, so too the Children of Israel start getting impatient. Their outlet, as usual, is to complain to Moses that he and God have led them out of Egypt to let them die in the desert. And despite God having provided food and water for them every day of their journey (that includes at least 2.5 million people, in addition to their flocks and herds), they state that they loathe this worthless food (i.e., the manna, the bread from heaven). From its description, the closest thing that we might have to manna is either Danish or maybe Hawaiian bread. Don’t you love both? But would you love either if you had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the last 39 years? Do you understand where the Children of Israel were coming from? Would you have done better?

But the point was that they received this and water for free all during this time by God’s grace, and by complaining to Moses and God about it, they were showing their serious ingratitude for God’s provision. God punishes the Children of Israel for this sin by sending venomous snakes among them, as a result of which many die. The Children of Israel then appeal to Moses to pray to God for them, which he does. God, in His mercy and compassion, instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that whoever is bitten may look at the snake, believing God’s promise, and live rather than die.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 2: 1-10

 

In his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, St. Paul compares them from what they were before they believed to what they are in Christ Jesus now, due only to the grace, given to them by God in Christ Jesus. What were they (and we) like before they believed?

Dead in trespasses and sins.
—They followed
Satan.
—They were governed by the passions and desires of
their body and mind.

—They were wrathful, angry, vindictive.

What caused them (and us) to change at the time that they believed?

—God’s great mercy and His love for them, even when they were an abomination in His sight, made them alive in Christ and raised them with Christ from the dead.

—It was by God’s grace, and His grace alone, that they (and we) were saved through the faith that God worked in them (and us).

Why did God do this?
—He created us in Christ Jesus so that we could walk daily in the
good works that God prepared for us to do before the creation of the world.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 3: 14-21

 

Jesus has been having a discussion with Nicodemus, a member of the prestigious ruling council, about how to be saved. He had told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. When this didn’t seem to ring a bell, Jesus explained that people had to experience a spiritual birth, performed by the Holy Spirit.
Still no bell. So then Jesus resorted to recalling some well-known Jewish history, that of the Children of Israel being saved after being bitten by a venomous snake, by looking at a
bronze snake mounted on a pole. Similarly, Jesus states, He is going to be lifted up on a pole (i.e., a cross), so that whoever looks at Him in faith (i.e, believing) will be saved (i.e., have eternal life). Then Jesus emphasizes that God did not send Him into the world to judge and condemn the world, but rather to save the world through the means of faith. Note that those who are not saved, are not saved because of their choice: they refuse to believe in Jesus, the Son of God. Why? God’s light (i.e., Jesus and his righteousness— John 1:5-6 and 9-12) came into the world with the invitation to them of eternal life for free. But those who refuse to believe prefer to continue in their evil deeds, and consequently hate Jesus and anyone who believes in Jesus, because their evilness is exposed by the believers’ righteousness, in comparison. But those who do righteous deeds want those deeds to be known, so that God may receive the glory He deserves. 

 

 

Fifth Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

 

Jeremiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, toward the end of its life before it went into Babylonian Captivity. For over forty years, he decried the breaking of God’s covenant with the Children of Israel, inscribed on the two tablets of stone at Mt. Sinai, where God considered Himself their husband and they His wife. The apostasy of the Children of Israel, characterized by idol worship, was then rightly considered spiritual adultery.

In today’s reading, God states that a time is coming when He will institute a new covenant with those who believe Him, unlike the covenant that He had made with the Children of Israel. In this new covenant, God will not write His laws on two tablets of stone, but instead on the hearts of His Children. The consequence of this: His Children will know Him, and He will forgive their iniquities and no longer remember their sins. And that is the covenant that we have today with God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 5: 1-10

 

The writer of Hebrews, in today’s reading, distinguishes between the priest in the days of the Children of Israel from the Priest that Jesus is. First of all, he notes that the Old Testament priest was chosen by God from the tribe of Levi and a descendant of Aaron, the first priest. The job of the priest was to intercede to God for the people, who had to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The priest, however, could not be arrogant but rather humble, since he himself was sinful and had to offer gifts and sacrifices for himself first.

In contrast, although Jesus is also called by God to be a priest, it is not after the Old Testament covenant. First of all, Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, hence does not qualify to be a priest under the Old Testament covenant. Instead, Jesus is called to be a priest under the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:1-4), a mysterious figure who was described as the priest of Salem and to whom Abraham offered tithes (Gen. 14:17-20). In addition, since Jesus is

sinless, He did not have to offer gifts and sacrifices for Himself. But He did intercede for the people through prayers and supplications and eventually offered Himself as a sacrifice for the people. And even though He is God’s Son, he nevertheless as a human being had to learn obedience through suffering, just as every human being needs to do.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: (32-34) 35-45

 

Continuing the ministry of Jesus from three weeks ago, as recorded by St. Mark, we find in today’s reading some insight into the thinking of those first disciples. These were disciples, not of some itinerant preacher but of the Messiah Himself! So there was plenty of opportunities for pride and arrogance to creep in. In today’s reading, this is shown by James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, asking Jesus to put the two in the most prominent positions to Him in heaven, one seated on His right and the other on His left. Jesus’ response? “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus notes that those positions are reserved for those for whom they were prepared by God the Father, and the requirements demand a sacrificial giving of oneself on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

The response of the two disciples? Oh sure, we’re good with that. Jesus observes that they will indeed sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom but then points out that it is not He who makes that decision of who sits next to Him in the Kingdom. Of course, the rest of the disciples are incensed that James and John were making an early pitch for the most prominent seats in heaven. Jesus then lays things out for all of them. Honor in the Kingdom of Heaven is not dependent on who is the greatest, but who is the most humble, servant. One does not strive to get but to give. 

 

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 25: 6-9

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the period that the Northern Kingdom reached its demise. Judah was not doing much better, since its king at the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry was King Ahaz, as evil as King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom some 130 years earlier. In today’s reading, God is reaching out to a rebellious nation, promising that if they will return to Him, then He will prepare for all people on “this mountain,” believed to be a referral to heaven, a feast of the finest of foods and wines. In addition, he will remove the veil over all nations that has kept them from appreciating the true God. Furthermore, God will remove sorrow and death as well as the reproach from others of God’s children. When that happens, people will rejoice and be glad in the God and Lord for whom they have waited to save them.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11

 

As St. Paul finishes his first letter to the church in Corinth, he emphasizes the basics of the gospel that they are to retain if they wish to be saved:

—Jesus died for our sins in accordance with Old Testament prophecies.

—He was buried and raised from the dead, again in accordance with Old Testament prophecies.

—Witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection include Peter, then the remaining apostles, then more than 500 believers, then James (Jesus’ brother), and then St. Paul himself.

St. Paul acknowledges that he does not deserve to be called an apostle, since it was he who was such a dedicated persecutor of the early church. But it was by God’s grace that he became an apostle, and by God’s grace that he was able to preach the gospel to so many Gentiles despite his many trials.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 16: 1-8

 

As we continue St. Mark’s recording of Jesus’ ministry on earth, we find several women assembling early at the tomb on the first day of the week (i.e., the day after the Sabbath) to anoint Jesus’ body. Their first question, as they traveled to the tomb, was who would roll away the large stone for them that blocked the entrance to the tomb. But when they arrived, they discovered that the stone had already been rolled away. Entering the tomb, they were alarmed by a young man in a white robe, sitting there. He told them that Jesus, whom they were seeking, was risen and would meet them in Galilee. Then he told them to tell Peter and the other disciples this good news.

If you had been one of the women, would you have been able to wrap your mind around this turn of events? 

 

 

Palm Sunday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Zechariah 9: 9-12

 

Zechariah was God’s messenger to the people of Judah who had returned from Babylonian Captivity 20 years earlier. Although the returning captives looked forward to the glory of Israel of much earlier days as they went about the tasks of rebuilding both the city of Jerusalem and also the temple, they did not expect the fierce opposition from their new neighbors, nor the lack of compassion exhibited to them by certain of the returning captives. As a result, there was much discouragement among the people. To these people God sent Zechariah, to remind the people of God’s love and of His knowledge of their predicament, and to promise to them at the right time a glorious king.

In today’s reading, we see God through Zechariah telling the people to rejoice, because a righteous king is coming to them, bringing them salvation. How would they recognize this king? He would be humble, and he would be riding on the foal of a donkey. Furthermore, his message would be one of peace and of the freeing of prisoners. Probably not realized by Zechariah’s listeners was that these promises of God included salvation from sin, freeing from the bondage to sin, and eternal peace with God. On the other hand, their expectation of a victorious earthly king should have been muted by the fact this king was not riding the horse of military might, but the donkey of humility.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 2: 5-11

In his letter to the Philippian church, St. Paul takes a moment to explain what true humility really is. He does this by taking the example of Jesus who, although God, did not appear in the likeness of God but in the likeness of a human being. Furthermore, as a human being, He always conducted Himself in the manner of the lowest of servants, even to the extent of allowing Himself to experience death in the most degrading and inhumane manner then known. Because of this extreme of servanthood, God the Father elevated Jesus to the highest position in heaven beside Himself, a position to be respected and acknowledged by every created being, that Jesus is the only Lord!

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 14:1 - 15:47

 

As we continue to read St. Mark’s account of the ministry of Jesus, we find today’s lesson centered around Jesus’ last hours of life as a lowly human being. After succeeding in getting false witnesses to condemn Jesus, the Jewish leaders now take Jesus to Pilate in order to convince him to put Jesus to death for them. In the course of Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus, Jesus admits that He truly is the King of the Jews. But nobody can bring any evidence that Jesus is the leader of an insurrection against the Romans. So the Jewish leaders devise another scheme to get what they want. They stir up the common people to demand that Pilate release the insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas, and crucify Jesus instead. (The release of a Jewish prisoner became a custom of the Romans in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover to reduce local friction), The people, not appreciating the significance of what they were conned into doing, become a blindly obedient mob led by the Jewish leaders. And the scheme works.

The torture and crucifixion of Jesus then follows. The only comment one can make is that the abuse that was involved appears to be the bar to which certain people in this world today still try to reach as they use, abuse, and torture their fellow man. The demons of hell are still around.

The crucifixion is notable for the many prophecies that were fulfilled, and the gracious and compassionate conduct that Jesus exhibited to his fellow man despite his agony. Notable is one of the last statements of Jesus, asking His Father why He has forsaken Him, thus indicating that Jesus had somehow suffered the eternal separation from God that we should have received in eternal death. In any case, the centurion in charge of the crucifixion was so impressed by what he saw and heard that he acknowledged that Jesus certainly must have been the Son of God.

Since this was a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, there was insufficient time left in the day to anoint the body for burial. There was only time to place the body in a tomb before sunset.

 

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Alternate Gospel Reading #1: Mark 15: 1-47

 

It is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Jesus has been betrayed by Judas and brought before the Jewish Council which concludes that Jesus is worthy of death. As our reading begins for today, we find Jesus delivered to Pilate for trial. This presents a thorny problem for Pilate since the Romans require him to deliver justice while making sure that the natives are happy and do not riot. This Pilate accomplishes this by ordering Jesus to be crucified while releasing the murderer Barabbas to the people. After Jesus undergoes torture at the hands of the Roman soldiers, he is led off to be crucified. Recognize that the person to be crucified was supposed to carry the crossbar of the cross to the place of crucifixion. But because of the torture already endured by Jesus in this case, he was too weak. So the soldiers forced a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the crossbar for Jesus. Then Jesus was crucified, with his crime being “King of the Jews.” As time elapsed, Jesus was subjected to mocking from not only the two prisoners crucified with him but also from the religious leaders. Then, after six hours on the cross, Jesus indicates that he has experienced the second death for us by crying out to his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” And when Jesus breathes his last, the veil of the temple, separating the Holy Place where the priests worked from the Holy of Holies where God Himself dwelt, was ripped apart by God himself, indicating that those who accept the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for them now have direct access to God the Father. The manner of Jesus’ death was so extraordinary that even the Centurion in charge of the crucifixions could exclaim that truly Jesus was the Son of God.

In the meantime, the women who had been supporting Jesus in his ministry watched not only this whole process but also where Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Council but also a believer in Jesus who had asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, had buried Jesus so that they could properly anoint the body after the Sabbath day was past.

 

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Alternate Gospel Reading #2: John 12: 20-43

 

Jesus has had a very eventful series of weeks, marked by the raising of Lazarus from the dead with the subsequent decision by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus because they feared for their jobs with the Romans; the anointing of Jesus by Mary, the sister of Lazarus; and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Some Greeks (in other words, Gentiles) who had come for the Passover wanted to see Jesus, causing Jesus to exclaim that, like a seed when planted dies to become something greater and more fruitful, so his death would result in a fruitful life for many others. Similarly, Jesus notes, whoever wants to serve him must be willing to lose his life, because by losing his life he will receive greater life.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, the Father responds by speaking from heaven. Jesus explains that this indicates that the hour is at hand when the current ruler of the world will be deposed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. This prompts the crowd to start quibbling with Jesus, saying that Christ lives forever, so how can Jesus say that Christ must die on a cross? Frustrated by their response and their refusal to believe him, Jesus warns that he, as the light of the world (John 1: 5-6, 9-12), would soon no longer be with them, bringing to remembrance the words of the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied that these people would not believe what was revealed to them and that they could not believe because they had hardened their hearts, like Pharaoh.

Interestingly, John makes a comment about the hypocrisy of some of the authorities who, although they believed in Jesus nevertheless would not admit to it because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue, meaning that the accolades of man were more important to them than the accolades of God. 

 

 

Alternate readings for

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14

 

The ninth plague, of thick darkness, has ended, and God has warned Egypt of the last plague to come. But first, he must arrange to save His people from that plague, the death of the first-born of both humans or animals. He then proceeds to give Moses instructions on how this is to be done. First of all, a one-year-old lamb or goat without blemish must be chosen. The families that eat the animal must be of such size that all the roasted meat must be consumed that evening. The blood from the killing of the animal must be splashed on the doorposts and mantle of the doorway of the house. The meal must be accompanied by bitter herbs and unleavened (made without yeast—hence flat) bread. And the entire family must be dressed for travel, ready to move out at a moment’s notice. Thus as God and the destroying angel passed through the houses, any home with the blood on the doorposts will be passed over, thus sparing any first-born there.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-32

 

St. Paul is giving the Corinthian Christians instruction on how to conduct their worship services in a way pleasing to God. In our reading for this evening, he gives instruction regarding the celebration of the Lord’s supper, noting that Jesus identified the bread as his body given for them, and the wine as his blood shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. And this meal is meant to help Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

But then St. Paul points out that this is not just an ordinary meal. It requires the participant to examine him/herself, recognizing and acknowledging his/her sins, and truly repenting of his/her behavior. In other words, we are to judge ourselves so that God does not have to judge us. Then St. Paul points out that a number of the Corinthian Christians are weak, sick, or dead because they had not discerned the significance of this covenant meal.

Something for us to think about.

 

 

Gospel Lesson: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

 

It is Maundy Thursday evening (as we know it). To Jesus and the disciples, it is their last Passover celebration together, because Jesus knows that his suffering begins that night. Just prior to the meal, Jesus gets a basin of water, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the disciples' feet. What’s this all about? Well, back in those days, there were no paved pathways, and people wore sandals. So whenever people entered a home, it was traditional for the very lowest servant to wash the peoples’ feet. Since this was a borrowed facility, and there were no servants to wash the disciples' feet, Jesus took up the chore. Peter apparently was the only one to grasp some of the significance of what was happening. If anything, one of the disciples should have washed the feet, and Peter recognized that he was one of those disciples. Hence he objected when Jesus was about to wash his feet. After an exchange of words, Peter submits. But then Jesus explains the significance of what he did. He held the highest rank, so to speak, of those in the room, yet he assumed the duties of the person lowest in rank. Thus this was an example of how God credits things: Those who are willing to be the lowest servant will be among the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, on this earth, pride has no place in the life of a Christian, only love and service.

Later that evening, Jesus announces that now he will be glorified by his Father, just as the Father will be glorified by the work of the Christ soon to be completed. Then he reminds them that, what he told the Jews earlier—that they would not go where he was going, so also now the disciples could not go where he was going—indicating that the unbelieving Jews would not go to heaven but the believing disciples could not follow Jesus to heaven now as he completes the ultimate sacrifice (see Hebrews 9 for what happened in heaven). But then Jesus gives his disciples an old but new commandment: they are to love each other with godly love, so much so that all people would immediately know that they were his disciples by the obvious love that they had for one another. 

 

 

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 24: 3-11

 

This evening’s fascinating lesson begins with the conclusion of what constitutes a marriage ceremony, a marriage between God and the Children of Israel. Although the agreement includes the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, recorded in Exodus 20:1-23:33, it can be summarized in the words of Ex. 19:5-6: Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, (then) you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

When Moses conveyed this proposal of God’s to the Children of Israel by the reading of the Book of the Covenant, their response was, “We’re in!” And so the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice mentioned here sealed the marriage agreement between God and the Children of Israel. And thereafter, God referred to himself as their husband, and to the Children of Israel as his wife (Isaiah 54: 5; Jeremiah 3: 8, 14; Ezekiel 16: 8; Hosea 2: 2, 16). But now, God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of the Children of Israel to come part-way up Mt. Sinai to enjoy presumably a wedding dinner with God himself. And they not only see God but also the pavement under his feet! This is an amazing event since God had made it clear that if anyone saw his face, they were dead (Ex. 33:20).

Can you imagine sitting down with God for a meal? If not, why are you here tonight?

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17

 

Earlier in this first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul had a discussion about the eating of meat that had previously been part of a sacrifice to an idol and warned that if a new Christian saw a more mature Christian eating meat in an idol’s temple, that might be the cause for the new Christian to lose his faith. But then he lays it on the line for those who do go to an idol temple to get meat: you are walking into a temptation that you would do better to avoid.

In our reading for this evening, St. Paul clarifies the difference between eating in an idol temple (dedicated to a demon) and sharing the Lord’s supper with the saints: the wine (the cup of blessing) is a participation in the blood of Christ. And the bread is a participation in the body of Christ. The many who believe are one body in Christ, who is the bread of life.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 14: 12-26

 

As Passover day begins, Jesus has two of his disciples go into Jerusalem, to the home of a certain but undesignated man, to prepare the Passover meal. The directions that Jesus gives are specific, allowing the disciples to find the place and prepare the Passover meal. While eating, Jesus remarks that one of the twelve apostles is going to betray him. He then identifies the betrayer as one who is dipping bread into the dish with him. Then Jesus warns the betrayer out loud that this deed will lead to the satisfying of Bible prophecy about the Messiah, but that it would have been better for that man never to have been born.

Subsequently, Judas leaves. Then Jesus institutes what is now known as the Last Supper, or the Lord’s Supper, where he identifies the bread as his body, and the wine as his blood, establishing a new covenant with his believers. 

 

 

 

 

February 2021 Commentaries

 

Ash Wednesday (Wednesday after Transfiguration Sunday)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Joel 2: 12-19

 

Joel was one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the reign of King Joash. (You may recall that he was rescued from the murderous Queen Athaliah, an Israelite who planned to eliminate King David’s line. Joash was made king when he was age seven and remained righteous as long as the priest Jehoiada lived.) Joel is writing to the people of Judah who are suffering under a plague of locusts that is devastating the land. And after the locusts, Joel warns, will come the Day of the Lord with even greater judgment.

As this evening’s reading begins, God is advising the people of Judah to return to Him, not just going through the motions of repentance, but returning to God with fasting, weeping, and mourning, figuratively tearing their hearts rather than their clothes. God reminds the people that he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting over the punishment he had planned when the people do repent. So Joel tells the people of Judah to consecrate a fast, and assemble the entire congregation—from elders to nursing infants—to repent and cry out to God for mercy.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5: 20b - 6:10

 

Toward the end of his second missionary trip to Asia Minor, Paul found himself in Corinth, where he initially discussed the Scriptures with the Jews in their synagogue. But because the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue to share the Good News with the Gentiles, staying with a man named Titius Justus. His next-door neighbor was Crispus, the synagogue leader, who believed in the Lord, with his entire family. After the Lord gave St. Paul encouragement one night in a vision, St. Paul stayed in Corinth for over a year and a half before he left to make an initial visit to Ephesus before returning to Antioch.

The church in Corinth had many growing pains, requiring St. Paul to write two letters to the Corinthians. In today’s reading, St. Paul urges his readers to be reconciled to God because God had caused to be placed on Jesus their sins so that Jesus’ righteousness might be placed on them. Then St. Paul pleads with his readers/listeners not to ignore the message being delivered to them, because right now, God was reaching out to them in order to save them now. St. Paul is so serious about their salvation that he lists all the things that he endures in order for that message of salvation to come to them.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

Jesus is in the midst of his Sermon on the Mount. As we begin the reading for this evening, Jesus is addressing Christian hypocrisy, that is to say, doing “righteous” things in a way that everybody can see that you are doing them, thus earning others’ praises, honor, and recognition. Instead, Jesus says, if you want God to give you credit for doing “righteous” things, then all of these things must be done without others seeing or knowing that you are doing them.

Then Jesus addresses who or what your god really is. If you are trying to get lots of money so that you can enjoy material wealth and financial security, or if you are looking to get power and control, then those are your gods. Instead, Jesus recommends that you lay up your treasures in heaven. How does one do that? By devoting your life to loving and serving one another. 

 

 

St. Matthias, Apostle (24 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 66: 1-2

 

In Old Testament times, Jerusalem was known as “The City of Our God.” Well, that was true for a while, but slowly, with ups and downs, the kings of Judah led the people of Judah into apostasy. God sent Isaiah to the Southern Kingdom, hoping that they would repent of their rebellion against God. But the people of Jerusalem and Judah refused to hear Isaiah, pointing to the temple and saying that God is in their midst; they have him boxed in. And besides, he wouldn't let anything bad happen to his temple, the place where he dwelled.

But in today’s reading, God makes very clear that he is not boxed in by a temple. He points out that heaven is his throne, and all of the earth is merely his footstool. Then he asks the people of Judah a question: who can build a place for him that would contain him, implying that they have no materials to use that God himself hasn’t already made. Then God lays out the bottom line: if someone wants God’s attention, they can demonstrate certain attitudes toward God: humility, contriteness, and trembling upon hearing God’s word.

 

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Second Lesson: Acts 1: 15-26

 

Just before our reading begins today, we find the apostles returning to Jerusalem from Mt. Olivet, from which they had just witnessed the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. They return to an upper room where they continually engage in prayer with a number of the women disciples as well as Jesus’ mother and brothers. As the reading for today begins, it is a few days later that they gather with all of the disciples, 120 in total, during which Peter is inspired to replace Judas—the apostle who betrayed Jesus and then when feeling guilty about it, went out and hanged himself, which probably means impaling himself on a sword.

In any case, Peter lays out the criteria for selecting a replacement for Judas. And of the two possible candidates presented, one was chosen by lot—the method used throughout the Old Testament period. That one was Matthias. The New Testament period now uses a very different method, with criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3 as well as Titus 1.

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 25-30

 

Jesus has just finished dealing with the discouraged, imprisoned John the Baptist when he turns and faces the cities in which his ministry had been concentrated so far, the cities of Galilee. Feeling frustration himself, Jesus warns that at the Judgment, they would fare worse than the cities of Tyre and Sidon (centers of Baal and Asherah worship) or even Sodom, because, had these cities seen the miracles, wonders, and signs that God had wrought through Jesus, they would have repented. In contrast, the inhabitants of Galilee saw but still refused to repent.

But then, in today’s reading, Jesus praises God for his hiding the significance of Jesus and his ministry from the wise and understanding (i.e., the Jews who considered themselves to be God’s exclusive and superior people) and instead of revealing his salvation to children (i.e., those of humble heart and simple faith). Jesus then extends that wonderful invitation to all who are heavily burdened in their souls by their sin, because He will relieve them of their burden by forgiving their sins and giving them rest. 

 

St. Simeon’s Day, or, The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord (2 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 1: 21-28

 

The background for our reading for today begins with the story of Elkanah [ el -ka-nah], of the tribe of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), at about 140 years before Solomon becomes king. Elkanah was married to two wives. The one, Peninnah [pa-nee-nah] was very fertile and provided Elkanah with many sons and daughters. But God had caused the other wife, Hannah [Ha-nah] to be infertile. As a consequence, Hannah suffered endlessly from the ridicule and shame showered upon her by Peninnah. This happened particularly when Elkanah took his family to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving—where the sacrifice was allowed to be eaten by Elkanah and his family—because Peninnah and her children were given the bulk of the sacrifice to eat, whereas Hannah received only a small portion.

In one of these instances, Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray and promised God that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God to serve God for as long as he lived. Eli the priest saw her praying, and after an exchange of words, Eli asked God to grant her request. Sure enough, after they returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel (God hears).

As our reading begins today, Hannah tells Elkanah that she will not be going along on the trips to Shiloh until she has weaned Samuel (which was anywhere from 3-5 years in those days). Finally, when Samuel is weaned, Hannah goes to Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to turn Samuel over to Eli to serve God for the rest of his life. Eli must have been quite surprised to learn that Samuel was a result of the prayers of Hannah and himself!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 14-18


In this section of Hebrews, the author is describing why Jesus had to take on flesh and blood like other human beings: by his death as a sinless human, he would destroy the power over death held by Satan up to that time. This would result in humans being freed from the slavery to sin that resulted in the fear of dying (i.e., by Jesus dying in our place, Jesus’ death satisfied God’s requirement for the punishment of sin). Upon his death, Jesus, as a faithful high priest, offered his blood in the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11-15), thus securing forgiveness of sins to those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. Two interesting consequences arising out of this: (1) Because Jesus was a human just like us, he can understand our problems and be merciful to us; and (2) since Jesus also experienced temptations during his sufferings—but without sinning, he can help us when we are tempted.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-32 (33-40)

 

From the time of the first Passover, God had announced to the Jews that every firstborn son (Exodus 13:13-16; Numbers 3:11-13; Numbers 8:17-18) would be his and that they would have to buy back their firstborn son from Him by the offering of the appropriate sacrifice. This coincided with the sacrifice to cleanse the woman after giving birth to a son, which happened 40 days after giving birth. The requirements for the sacrifice were a one-year-old lamb and a pigeon or mourning dove. An exception was made for the poor, who were allowed to offer two mourning doves or two pigeons (Leviticus 12:1-8).

In a fascinating series of events, just as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are entering the temple courtyard to satisfy God’s requirements, at the exact same time, the Holy Spirit moves a devout man by the name of Simeon, whom God had told that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, into the temple courtyard. When Simeon realizes by the Holy Spirit that he is looking at the promised Messiah, he breaks into praise to God, noting in particular that the Messiah is to be the salvation of all peoples and of all nations. This song of praise is now known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which we often sing after each communion service

Simeon then remarks that Jesus’ presence will cause a separation to occur in the Children of Israel: those that reject him will be condemned by God, and those who believe in him will be saved. Then Simeon turns to Mary and notes that a (figurative) sword will pierce her heart, undoubtedly referring to the crucifixion of her firstborn that she will witness.

But Simeon has barely left when an elderly woman, Anna, a prophetess, approaches them and declares that Jesus is the one who will redeem Israel. Thus both Simeon and Anna confirm to Mary the words of the angel Gabriel, that Jesus will save his people from their sins (“Jesus” means “he saves”). 

 

Second Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

 

Abram was 75-years old when God called him out of his idolatress family in Haran to go to a land somewhere where He would make him a father of a great nation. Later, God promised Abram a son for an heir. After waiting for almost 10 years, Sarai decided that God needed help in keeping His promise, and so she offered her maid Hagar as a means of producing a son for Abram. God’s characterization of that son, Ishmael, was that he and his brothers would always be at war with each other. Something to keep in mind when you decide that you know better than God.

Anyway, today’s reading finds God meeting with Abram again, changing his name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah, because God was now expanding His promise to Abraham to make him a father of many nations and many kings. Then God tells Abraham that He is establishing His covenant as an everlasting covenant to him and his offspring. On what was this covenant based? It is faith! How do we know this? If we look at Galatians chapter 3, St. Paul tells us that the word “offspring” in the above text is singular, referring to Jesus. Then St. Paul explains further that if we are Christ’s, we are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise that God made to Abraham.

St. Paul explains further that “in Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Gal. 3:14. So we become Children of God and descendants of Abraham by faith in the work of Jesus Christ. Finally, in Romans chapter 2, St. Paul makes it clear that a descendant of Abraham, according to God’s reckoning, is not one according to the flesh (genetics) but according to faith.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 5: 1-11

 

In this reading, St. Paul lists some of the basics of faith in Christ Jesus.

—We are justified (declared righteous) by faith in Jesus, by which

we subsequently receive peace with God.
—As a consequence of being a Christian in today’s world, we will

experience suffering. But rejoice! This suffering produces

endurance, which produces character, which produces hope,

which hope allows God’s love to be poured into our hearts. —We need to remember that God sent Jesus to die for us, not when we were already righteous, but when we were an abomination

in God’s sight. That is a clear indication of how much God

loves us!
—Now that we are
reconciled to God through Jesus, how much more does God love us!

Bottom Line: No matter what our circumstances in life, we need to remember that God really loves us greatly. We just need to believe in God, i.e., trust, obey,

and endure.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 27-38

Today’s reading finds Jesus having a chit-chat with his disciples, in particular wondering who people thought Jesus was. As we learned a few Sunday’s ago, King Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Other folks thought Jesus was Elijah returned to earth (Malachi 4:5), or some other prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). But when Jesus asked His disciples whom they thought Jesus was, Peter was quick to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Again, Jesus forbids them to reveal that, knowing that the people, in general, anticipated that the Messiah would lead the Jews into primacy over all other nations, rather than be the redeemer from sin. But when Jesus explained to them that this involved his suffering and death, but after three days be raised from the dead, Peter objected—since he too had not fully appreciated that Jesus was a spiritual, not an earthly, savior. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter slows him down for the time being.

As a consequence, Jesus called the crowd to Him to explain that to receive the blessings of God, they would have to give up their expectations of self-aggrandizement and success in order to serve God. The choice was clear: either choose earthly reward and pleasure and lose one’s life eternally or give up the rewards of this world and serve God in humility in order to get the reward of God in eternal life.

God still offers us the same choice. How willing are you to give up your personal desires in order to serve the living God? 

 

Third Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 20: 1-17

 

Picture this: The Children of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, have escaped from Egypt, watched God destroy Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, and traveled to the foot of Mt. Sinai. There God proposed to the Children of Israel that if they would make Him their God, then He would make them His special people, His kingdom of priests, and His holy nation. (Notice the conditional clause!) The Children of Israel accepted the proposal, and as our reading begins today, we find the Children of Israel assembled at the foot of the mountain where they are to hear from the voice of God Himself the terms of the agreement. Then God descends upon Mt. Sinai in a fire, enveloping the mountain top in thick smoke, all accompanied by thunder, lightning, trembling of the mountain, and a trumpet blast that keeps getting louder and louder. Then they hear the voice of God:

—I am the only god that you may have.
—You are
not allowed to make any object that will serve as a focus of worship. (As a warning, God states that He will remember the sins of the fathers when considering the sins of the descendants, even to the 3rd and 4th generation of those who hate God, but showing mercy and love to everyone who loves and obeys God.)

—You will hallow God’s name by not using it in vain chatter.
—You shall remember the six days of God’s
creation followed by a day of rest by doing the same, not requiring any kind of work from man or animal on that day of rest.

—Honor God by honoring one’s father and mother; as an encouragement to do so, God promises long life to those who do.

—Do not murder someone.
—Do not have
affairs with anyone.
—Do not steal from someone by
lies, deceit, or manipulation.
—Do not lie to or about anyone.
—Do not lust after the persons or property that God has allowed someone else to enjoy.

From the standpoint of a Jewish wedding, these were the terms of the marriage agreement.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

 

As St. Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth, he deals first of all with how the gospel may be perceived. To those who are satisfied with their own interpretation of life and the world, the gospel is so much foolishness. But to those who humbly acknowledge their need for someone to rescue them from their miserable nature and acts, the gospel becomes the very power of God to rescue them. As a consequence, and ultimately, the wisdom of the earthly wise men will be shown to be the most extreme foolishness, and what these earthly wise men regarded as God’s utter foolishness God will have shown to be the greatest of wisdom.

In other words, the well-educated, wealthy, noble, elite, and powerful people of this world who consider themselves self-made and reject God’s perspective will discover that even the uneducated, weak, poor, and deplorables of this world who have accepted God’s grace will have the life, eternally, that the former thought they had.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 2: 13-22 (23-25)

 

First of all, some context: Jesus has just been baptized by John the Baptist after being identified by John as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus has called a few disciples to follow him. And He has turned water into incredibly good wine at a marriage celebration in Cana. Now it is Passover time and, in accordance with God’s requirement that every adult male Jew present himself at the place God designated to celebrate the seven-day feast of unleavened bread (Deuteronomy 16:16-17), Jesus appears in Jerusalem. But when he gets to the temple, he finds the courtyard filled, not with worshippers, but with the wealthy, powerful, and manipulative merchants and money changers, making obscene amounts of money off of the poor worshippers by charging exorbitant prices for the animals needed for the sacrifice (supply and demand, you know), and exacting exorbitant fees for the exchange of worldly money into the coinage used in the temple. (Nothing changes, does it?)

Infuriated, Jesus drove the whole lot out of the temple courtyard so that worshippers could come to pray and sacrifice in honor of the celebration.

When the Jews and religious leaders asked by what authority Jesus did this cleansing, Jesus replied that if they destroyed this temple, He would raise it up in three days. The Jews pretended astonishment by misinterpreting his statement, the Jews claiming that Jesus would rebuild Herod’s temple in three days. In fact, the Jews knew exactly what Jesus was talking about (his body, that would be raised on the third day after his crucifixion), because three years later, after Jesus was crucified and buried, they referred to this statement of Jesus’ when they asked Pilate to put a guard around Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:62-64). 

 

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40: 21-31

 

Isaiah, God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom around the time of the demise of the Northern Kingdom (around 720 B.C.), asks the people of the Southern Kingdom a number of questions dealing with their knowledge and understanding of who God really is. The bottom line is that their God is the creator of all things, knows all of his creatures by name, is in control of all events that take place, and knows and understands everything.

Under these circumstances, Isaiah asks of the people of the Southern Kingdom, why do you accuse God of not knowing anything about your problems, that God is ignoring you? Isaiah then notes that God is there to strengthen the weak, provided that they wait for Him to do it in His time. Consequently, the weak will be lifted up as on the wings of an eagle, and they will not become weary when they run, or faint when they walk.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-27

 

Perhaps remembering that at one time he was the prime persecutor of the Church, St. Paul describes why he is driven to preach the gospel and win to Christ as many people as possible. And in order to appeal to any and every type of person, he puts himself in whomever’s shoes he is preaching, in order to identify with them and they with him, all for the sake of sharing the gospel effectively. Then St. Paul compares his mission to that of a race: he is intent on winning that race, so he disciplines his body in order to strengthen it spiritually, maintaining self-control in all things, especially in fulfilling the mission that God has given him, in effect so that his words and actions do not reflect negatively on the preaching of the gospel.

Remembering that what we say and what we do is a message preached to the world about who we really are as Christians, are we really exercising the self-control that would reflect positively on the gospel?

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 29-39

 

Continuing our story from last week, where Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, during the course of which the listeners realized that He spoke with authority (that is to say, He knew what He was talking about), and during which he cast out a demon from one of the listeners. Jesus’ fame as a consequence spread rapidly because those who wanted to serve God would be hindered by a demon focusing them instead on a perpetual sin.

As our story begins today, we find Jesus leaving the synagogue to go to the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, where Jesus finds her sick with a fever. Jesus immediately dealt with the situation by raising her from her bed, whereupon the fever left her and she was able to be a hostess. Somehow the news of what Jesus had been doing resulted in the residents of Capernaum bringing to Jesus all their sick and those oppressed by demons. Jesus’ compassion kicks in, and he heals “many” (i.e., an untold number) of their illnesses and demon oppression. Again, as we heard last week, Jesus did not let the demons speak through their hosts because (1) they knew that He was the Messiah, and (2) Jesus did not need demons to testify of who He really was.

Such a healing ministry is exhausting, and so we find Jesus heading off to a desolate place early the next morning to regain His strength for His mission through prayer with His Father. As a consequence, He is ready to go on to the next towns to preach and to free more of their demonic drives. 

 

Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

 

Today’s reading catches us up on the event that took place just before last week’s story about Naaman, the Commander of the Syrian Army. Now we are looking at the departure of Elijah, with Elisha succeeding him as God’s prophet to the Northern Kingdom, or Israel.

The story begins with Elijah traveling first from Gilgal to Bethel, then to Jericho, and then across the Jordan River. Each time, Elijah tells Elisha, his protege, to stay where they are while he goes on. But Elisha refuses, sticking close to Elijah because he knows that today is the day that Elijah will depart. But why the circuit? Apparently, Elijah had established discipleship schools in each of those places, training others to be prophets like he. And again apparently all of the disciples also knew that this was Elijah’s day of departure, presumably because the Lord had revealed it to them.

But after they had crossed to the east side of the Jordan River, Elijah asks Elisha to make a last request: what could Elijah still do for him? Elisha’s response can only mean one thing, that he is really on fire for the Lord, as he asks for a double portion of the Spirit that filled Elijah. That, of course, was something that only God could do, but Elijah tells Elisha that if he sees him depart, then that double portion has been granted to him. Not too many minutes later, Elisha sees a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses scoop Elijah up and head up to Heaven.

So did Elisha really get that double portion? You will have to read the lives of the two prophets in First and Second Kings to compare the number of each type of miracle that God performed through them.

 

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Alternate Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 34:29-35

 

It has been an interesting period of time for Moses. He had been meeting with God on the top of Mt. Sinai, at which time God gave to Moses and the Children of Israel the agreement between them and God that established them as God’s chosen people, that agreement being the Ten Commandments. Note that this was a conditional agreement: if the Children of Israel were faithful in obeying the Ten Commandments, then God would be their God and they would be his people. Then God provided clarification as to how they were to love God and love their neighbor (do you remember those two greatest commandments?), which included laws dealing with slaves, restitution, social relationships, keeping of the Sabbath and the annual festivals, and the collection of monies for the upkeep of the Sanctuary, which God then described in detail (including the construction of the ark and the tabernacle with all its furnishings). But this took place over a forty-day period, and the natives at the foot of the mountain were getting restless. So they had Aaron the priest make a golden calf, which they worshipped as the god that brought them out of Egypt, with partying more characteristic of the heathen than of the godly. Just at that time, Moses comes down with the two tablets of stone, each tablet containing the agreement (one copy for each party to the agreement). When Moses sees what is going on, he recognizes that the agreement that the Children of Israel had just made with God had already been broken, which Moses demonstrates by breaking the two tablets of stone.

When Moses returns to the top of Mt. Sinai to intercede for the Children of Israel, God commands him to make two tablets of stone overnight like the originals made by God himself (where did Moses get the technology to do that?), on which God wrote the Ten Commandments again. So when Moses comes down to the people, his face reflects the glory of God to which he had been exposed for the next set of 40 days and nights, with such intensity that all the people were petrified. Consequently, Moses puts a veil over his face whenever he was not talking with God, so that the people would not be afraid.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 3: 12-13 (14-18) and 4: 1-6

 

As St. Paul is discussing the preaching of the gospel and how people respond to that preaching, he is reminded of that incident at Mt. Sinai as Moses would meet with God on top of the mountain, then descend the mountain to pass God’s words to the Children of Israel encamped at the foot of the mountain.

Big problem: Because Moses had been in the presence of God for 40 days and 40 nights, his face would glow with the residual brightness that had emanated from God with Moses in His presence. This apparently was as frightening to the Children of Israel as the voice of God speaking to them from the mountain top. To assuage their fears, Moses put a veil over his face to obscure the residual of God’s brightness from the Children of Israel. This veil still obscures the Jew’s minds to the significance of the Old Testament and can be removed only when they return to Jesus.

So then St. Paul comes back to his topic, stating emphatically that when he preaches the gospel, he is not hiding or obscuring anything. Rather, if it is obscured or misunderstood, it is obscured or misunderstood by those whose minds have been veiled by the god of this world, or Satan, who doesn’t want unbelievers to see the truth and let the light of Jesus Christ shine into the darkness of their lives. How can this happen? Those who are unwilling to accept Jesus as God Incarnate, God’s Son, have made their choice.

And when the good news of Jesus Christ is shared today, the same is still true: people still make their choices, depending on whether they want to continue to live in their lifestyle or accept the lifestyle to which God has called them.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 2-9

 

A lot has happened since the events of last Sunday’s reading. To name just a few recent events, Jesus has reprised the feeding of the 5,000 by now feeding 4,000 men (plus women and children, of course), following which Jesus warns of the leaven of the Pharisees (indicating that they were concerned with material things when they should have been concerned with spiritual things), the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida, and Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection to His disciples. Approximately a week later, Jesus invites His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) to accompany Him on a hike up a mountain. When they reach the top, the three disciples are overwhelmed by Jesus suddenly becoming brilliantly white and then seeing Moses and Elijah (how did the disciples know they were Moses and Elijah?) discussing with Jesus the imminent end of His ministry on earth. Peter, of course, can always find something to say, no matter how meaningless it is, so he offers to build three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as if they are going to be on that mountain top for an extended period of time. That thought is erased when suddenly a cloud enveloped them and a voice comes out of the cloud, saying that Jesus is His beloved Son and that they should listen to Him. When the disciples come to their senses, only Jesus is left with them. But why did Jesus tell the three disciples not to say anything about what they have just seen and heard until after He is risen from the dead? Because the common people would regard Him as their military leader (son of David) to conquer their earthly enemies, impairing Jesus’ ministry to conquer their spiritual enemies. 

 

Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

 

Today’s reading catches us up on the event that took place just before last week’s story about Naaman, the Commander of the Syrian Army. Now we are looking at the departure of Elijah, with Elisha succeeding him as God’s prophet to the Northern Kingdom, or Israel.

The story begins with Elijah traveling first from Gilgal to Bethel, then to Jericho, and then across the Jordan River. Each time, Elijah tells Elisha, his protege, to stay where they are while he goes on. But Elisha refuses, sticking close to Elijah because he knows that today is the day that Elijah will depart. But why the circuit? Apparently, Elijah had established discipleship schools in each of those places, training others to be prophets like he. And again apparently all of the disciples also knew that this was Elijah’s day of departure, presumably because the Lord had revealed it to them.

But after they had crossed to the east side of the Jordan River, Elijah asks Elisha to make a last request: what could Elijah still do for him? Elisha’s response can only mean one thing, that he is really on fire for the Lord, as he asks for a double portion of the Spirit that filled Elijah. That, of course, was something that only God could do, but Elijah tells Elisha that if he sees him depart, then that double portion has been granted to him. Not too many minutes later, Elisha sees a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses scoop Elijah up and head up to Heaven.

So did Elisha really get that double portion? You will have to read the lives of the two prophets in First and Second Kings to compare the number of each type of miracle that God performed through them.

 

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Alternate Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 34:29-35

 

It has been an interesting period of time for Moses. He had been meeting with God on the top of Mt. Sinai, at which time God gave to Moses and the Children of Israel the agreement between them and God that established them as God’s chosen people, that agreement being the Ten Commandments. Note that this was a conditional agreement: if the Children of Israel were faithful in obeying the Ten Commandments, then God would be their God and they would be his people. Then God provided clarification as to how they were to love God and love their neighbor (do you remember those two greatest commandments?), which included laws dealing with slaves, restitution, social relationships, keeping of the Sabbath and the annual festivals, and the collection of monies for the upkeep of the Sanctuary, which God then described in detail (including construction of the ark and the tabernacle with all its furnishings). But this took place over a forty-day period, and the natives at the foot of the mountain were getting restless. So they had Aaron the priest make a golden calf, which they worshipped as the god that brought them out of Egypt, with partying more characteristic of the heathen than of the godly. Just at that time, Moses comes down with the two tablets of stone, each tablet containing the agreement (one copy for each party to the agreement). When Moses sees what is going on, he recognizes that the agreement that the Children of Israel had just made with God had already been broken, which Moses demonstrates by breaking the two tablets of stone.

When Moses returns to the top of Mt. Sinai to intercede for the Children of Israel, God commands him to make two tablets of stone overnight like the originals made by God himself (where did Moses get the technology to do that?), on which God wrote the Ten Commandments again. So when Moses comes down to the people, his face reflects the glory of God to which he had been exposed for the next set of 40 days and nights, with such intensity that all the people were petrified. Consequently, Moses puts a veil over his face whenever he was not talking with God, so that the people would not be afraid.

————————————————————————————————————

Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 3: 12-13 (14-18) and 4: 1-6

 

As St. Paul is discussing the preaching of the gospel and how people respond to that preaching, he is reminded of that incident at Mt. Sinai as Moses would meet with God on top of the mountain, then descend the mountain to pass God’s words to the Children of Israel encamped at the foot of the mountain.

Big problem: Because Moses had been in the presence of God for 40 days and 40 nights, his face would glow with the residual brightness that had emanated from God with Moses in His presence. This apparently was as frightening to the Children of Israel as the voice of God speaking to them from the mountain top. To assuage their fears, Moses put a veil over his face to obscure the residual of God’s brightness from the Children of Israel. This veil still obscures the Jew’s minds to the significance of the Old Testament and can be removed only when they return to Jesus.

So then St. Paul comes back to his topic, stating emphatically that when he preaches the gospel, he is not hiding or obscuring anything. Rather, if it is obscured or misunderstood, it is obscured or misunderstood by those whose minds have been veiled by the god of this world, or Satan, who doesn’t want unbelievers to see the truth and let the light of Jesus Christ shine into the darkness of their lives. How can this happen? Those who are unwilling to accept Jesus as God Incarnate, God’s Son, have made their choice.

And when the good news of Jesus Christ is shared today, the same is still true: people still make their choices, depending on whether they want to continue to live in their lifestyle or accept the lifestyle to which God has called them.

 

————————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 2-9

 

A lot has happened since the events of last Sunday’s reading. To name just a few recent events, Jesus has reprised the feeding of the 5,000 by now feeding 4,000 men (plus women and children, of course), following which Jesus warns of the leaven of the Pharisees (indicating that they were concerned with material things when they should have been concerned with spiritual things), the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida, and Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection to His disciples. Approximately a week later, Jesus invites His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) to accompany Him on a hike up a mountain. When they reach the top, the three disciples are overwhelmed by Jesus suddenly becoming brilliantly white and then seeing Moses and Elijah (how did the disciples know they were Moses and Elijah?) discussing with Jesus the imminent end of His ministry on earth. Peter, of course, can always find something to say, no matter how meaningless it is, so he offers to build three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as if they are going to be on that mountain top for an extended period of time. That thought is erased when suddenly a cloud enveloped them and a voice comes out of the cloud, saying that Jesus is His beloved Son and that they should listen to Him. When the disciples come to their senses, only Jesus is left with them. But why did Jesus tell the three disciples not to say anything about what they have just seen and heard until after He is risen from the dead? Because the common people would regard Him as their military leader (son of David) to conquer their earthly enemies, impairing Jesus’ ministry to conquer their spiritual enemies. 

 

 

First Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 22: 1-18

 

This is perhaps one of the most fascinating stories in the Old Testament: why would God ask Abraham to take his only son Issac to Mt. Moriah (where Solomon’s temple eventually would be situated) and sacrifice him there? And why did Abraham obey God? Why was he willing to kill his only son? We get a hint of what is at play when Issac asks his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice, and Abraham responds that God will provide the sacrifice. And why would Issac, probably a teenager at this time, allow Abraham to tie him up so as to sacrifice him? Any guesses?

The explanation is found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, where it is stated that Abraham remembered the promise that God had made to him, that Abraham would have offspring through his son Issac (Gen. 21:12). Abraham, therefore, figured that even if he sacrificed his son, God would raise him from the dead in order to keep His promise to Him. Or in advance of that, God would provide a substitutionary sacrifice. The key to the story is that both Abraham and Issac believed in God; they trusted and obeyed God. That is why Abraham could say to his servants that he and the boy would go a little further to worship and then come back to them; Abraham was convinced that whatever happened, he would still have his son alive at the end. And that is one of the reasons why God refers to Abraham’s faith as the basis for his righteousness (Gen. 15:6). And through a substitution provided by God, Abraham did get his son back alive, a picture of the future Jesus, God’s only Son, being substituted as the lamb for us so that we might have life. Faith is trusting and obeying God!

 

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Epistle Lesson: James 1: 12-18

 

St. James provides a fruitful description of what it means to hold fast to God’s promises in the face of trials of all sorts. First of all, he distinguishes between tempting and testing. Satan tempts us to do evil, but God tests us to see whether we will obey Him when placed in certain circumstances or to see whether we have learned a particular lesson. Thus Satan becomes a tool of God in order to find out where our heart really lies. When, in tempting circumstances, we are lured in by our own desires and wanting to be in control, we end up sinning. But when, in those tempting circumstances, we remain steadfast in obedience to God, God will eventually reward us with the crown of life.

St. James’s last comment is instructive in that we may think that our choices to satisfy our desires are most rewarding, but St. James says that we have deceived ourselves. It is trusting and obeying God that results in our receiving God’s good and perfect gifts.

The big question for each of us to ponder: what gifts and blessings from God have we forfeited because we are determined to do things our way?

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 9-15

 

Today’s reading reprises some of our earlier readings in the first chapter of Mark. But our perspective today is a bit different. After we learn that Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, we see that this does not result in a period of celebration. Instead, the Holy Spirit directs Jesus to go into the wilderness by himself for 40 days, all the while being tempted by Satan. Elsewhere in other gospels, we read of just three of these temptations. But the author of Hebrews indicates that this was just the beginning, that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but without sinning (Hebrews 4:15). It must have been a grueling 40 days, so much so that angels had to minister to Him.

But after these 40 days are over, and Jesus learns that John the Baptist’s ministry has been terminated, He heads into Galilee to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has arrived in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and that people now needed to truly repent and believe the good news of spiritual redemption through the promised Messiah.