- Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 & Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
- Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
- Luke 12:32-40
First Reading: Isaiah
This week we continue with the RCL process of sampling various pre-exilic prophetic texts. Having had two weeks where we drew on Amos, followed by two weeks that used texts from Hosea, we now have the first of two weeks that offer passages from Isaiah.
Unlike his northern contemporaries, Amos and Hosea, Isaiah ben Amoz was a prophet active in the southern kingdom (Judah) during the latter part of the 8C BCE. The famous Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7 comes from a crisis when a coalition of anti-Assyrian states (including Israel and Syria) laid siege to Jerusalem in an effort to force the southern state to join their "coalition of the willing." This "Syro-Ephraimite Crisis" is usually dated 10 years or so before the destruction of Samaria (capital of Israel) in 722 BCE. The collapse of the coalition is also most likely related to the destruction of the 8C Aramaean city whose massive fortifictions have been found at level 5 of the Bethsaida excavations. It seems Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria destroyed that city in 732 while on his way to subdue the kingdom of Israel. Most likely the city (Tzer?) was at that time a key element in the Syrian border defences.
Like his northern contemporaries, Isaiah attacked the social injustices that were characteristic of life in Judah at the time. He also shared their criticism of the cult of Yahweh with its assumption that God's blessing could be assured by ritual and offerings.
These 8C prophets whose literary legacy we have inherited as part of the Jewish scriptures within the Christian Bible challenged the self-serving assumptions of the powerful elites in their own days. Their loyalty was neither to class not nation, but to the call of God on their lives. Pushed beyond their comfort zones, they helped create a new expression of religion that would eventually escape the limits of tribalism and personal security.
Second Reading: Letter to the Hebrews
This weekend the RCL cycle begins a series of 4 readings from Hebrews:
- Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
- Hebrews 11:29-12:2
- Hebrews 12:18-29
- Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
The anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews has often been included in the Pauline corpus, but is better considered as part of the General Epistles - along with James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & John and Jude.
The author of this letter was far more interested in Jewish ritual and esoteric speculation about angels and figures such as Melchizedek than Paul seems to have been.
For further resources on Hebrews, see the relevant page in the Early Christian Writings web site.
The first of the extracts chosen for the RCL offers a selection from a wider catalogue of exemplars of faith:
- Abel (vs. 4)
- Enoch (vs. 5)
- Noah (vs. 7)
- Abraham (vss. 8-13)
- Binding of Isaac (17-19)
- Isaac (vs. 20)
- Jacob (vs. 21)
- Joseph (vs. 22)
- Moses' parents (vs. 23)
- Moses (vss. 24-28)
- Israelites (vs. 29)
- Jericho's walls (vs. 30)
- Rahab (vs. 31)
- Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (vss. 32-38)
Gospel: Travel light on the kingdom way
This week's selection of verses from the Gospel according to Luke seems to be an almost random gathering of traditions. Zooming out some distance may allow us to map the shape of the forest, before we come back in close to study some of the trees by the path this week:
Taking Luke-Acts as a single work extending over two scrolls, we can see the major divisions:
- Luke 1:1-4—Prologue
- 1:5-2:52—Infancy & Childhood
- 9:51-19:28—Samaria to Jerusalem
- 19:29-23:56—In Jerusalem
- 24:1-51 & Acts 1:1-26—The Forty Days in Jerusalem
- 2:1-8:3—In Jerusalem
- 8:4-11:18—To Samaria
- 11:19-15:35—To the Gentiles
- 15:36-19:20—To Greece
- 19:21-28:31—To Rome
This week's Gospel fragment comes from the major unit (Luke 9:51-19:28) during which Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. This section contains a great diversity of material. It is also the section where Luke most deviates from his written sources (Mark and Q), as the table of Special Luke materials indicates.
This diverse material collected here in Luke -- much of it sayings attributed to Jesus -- can be understood as an extended reflection on the meaning of discipleship. As Jesus travels towards his destiny in Jerusalem, Luke explores some of the contours of discipleship in the lives of his readers many decades later.
As he does throughout the larger "Special Section" of his gospel, in this week's portion Luke has drawn together material from a mix of sources. In this case, his selections tend to develop themes of constant vigilance in anticipation of the Master's arrival. The seemingly extended period between Easter and parousia is not to be an excuse for loss of focus.
While Luke is relatively late in the Gospel tradition, he still writes well before the patristic theologians such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus who would re-schedule the parousia until after the demise of the Roman Empire following the end-time activities of the Antichrist—for more on that theme see Antichrist Myth. Luke has not quite come to terms with the failure of Jesus to return in glory. He still lives with that expectation, even if it is rather more muted than in Paul's writings from 50 or so years earlier.
While some Christians today continue to live on the edge of that ancient parousia expectation (witness the success of the Left Behind series), for most people our "date with destiny" lies in our mortality rather than the apocalyptic return of Jesus.
An "eyes-wide-open" approach to our own mortality seems a healthy element to include in our personal and communal spirituality.
- 451 Little Flock - v. 32
- 099 Treasure in Heaven - v. 33
- 160 Heart and Treasure - v. 34
- 188 The Unknown Time - vv. 35-38
- 012 Knowing the Danger - vv. 39-40
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor's Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.