The Season after Pentecost: Proper 17, Year B

or91Piety and Worship

  • Song of Solomon 2:8-13
  • Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
  • James 1:17-27
  • Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

This Sunday begins a four-week, semi-continuous reading of James. In today’s portion, this letter speaks of God’s person and gifts as being pure, encouraging followers of Christ to keep themselves pure, unstained by the world. We are to be “doers of the word, not only hearers.”

In Jesus’s time, the Pharisees were also focused on purity. They had a problem with Jesus in how he did “not” following the purity laws of cleanliness; in this case Jesus and his disciples ate without washing their hands!

Peter Lockhart, on his blog “A different heresy” writes:

Now to understand this a little better we need to know that this is not about hygiene this is about religious purity. What is at stake is how the law and the Old Testament is interpreted and understood. If I were to make a contemporary comparison I believe it is not too unlike debates concerning how worship is conducted or about who is appropriate to exercise leadership in the church.

The rules of the Scribes and Pharisees were legalism to the nth degree – trying to make sure people stayed holy. Now Mark appears to ridicule the practices of the Jews when he goes onto mention other ritual washing of pots and cups and so on and so forth. In a sense Mark is challenging what could be a kind of Old Testament fundamentalist stance.

We face many areas of “fundamentalism” in our culture today. The world we live in, while remaining the same in the whole scheme of creation over the millennia, seems to be rapidly changing – technologically, socially, and culturally. But what needs to remain the same no matter what is occurring around us is our faith and relationship with God. Our holiness and righteousness are gifts from God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. James writes, ‘every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.’  Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 16, Year B


Holy Space

  • 1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
  • Psalm 84
  • Ephesians 6:10-20
  • John 6:56-69

Today’s Old Testament readings gives us a sense of the joy and awe of worship in holy space dedicated to the Lord. In the passage from 1 Kings, David’s dream to build a temple becomes a reality. David had brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem when he conquered that city (1 Samuel 6:1-5); but it was to be left to David’s successor, Solomon, to build a temple to house the Ark (1 Kings 8:12-13).

“Against he backdrop of non-Israelite religions whose temples housed images of the gods and were thought to be the residences of those gods, ancient Israel affirms that Yahweh does not live in Solomon’s temple. Rather, Solomon prays that the ancient promise be fulfilled – that the Lord will choose to allow (God’s) name to dwell in the temple. Thus the temple is a place where that name can be called in prayer, and the Lord will hear the prayer.” John H. Hayes in Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year B: A Comprehensive commentary of the Lectionary (Trinity Press International, 1993). Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 15, Year B

The Logos

  • 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
  • Psalm 111
  • Ephesians 5:15-20
  • John 6:51-58

Jesus draws a contrast between the “bread that came down from heaven” and the bread, or manna, of the Exodus. Those who ate that bread died. God had preserved the community by providing manna; but the goal of pilgrimage was finally attained by the generation that followed. In contrast, this true Bread from heaven is life for every individual who partakes of it – a life that endures for eternity.

Jesus describes the central significance of the Eucharist – he is truly the bread of heaven, and whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood shall receive eternal life. The writer of the Gospel of John sees Jesus as the incarnation of God’s Wisdom, who came to humanity in the flesh of Jesus to reveal God’s Word by living it fully among people:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:1, 14a

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 14, Year B

For the Life of the World 

  • 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
  • Psalm 130
  • Ephesians 4:25-5:2
  • John 6:35, 41-51

Today’s Gospel continues from the previous two weeks. The people had eaten a dinner that Jesus miraculously provided; perhaps now they will receive breakfast, too! Jesus redirects their focus from their physical needs to their spiritual hunger. He urges them to work for the heavenly food, spiritual nourishment that could sustain their life with God.

In verse 35 we hear the first of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements (8:12, 10:7, 11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1). Jesus defines himself in each of these statements using the formula (“I am”) that is strictly forbidden by the Jews. God had revealed the divine nature as I AM (Exodus 3:14) and Jesus’ appropriation of those words is no coincidental reference to his divine origin. Each “I am” statement reveals more fully Jesus’ identity and mission.

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 13, Year B

Jesus is the bread of heaven

  • 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
  • Psalm 51:1-3
  • Ephesians 4:1-16
  • John 6:24-35

Following the feeding of the five thousand (last week’s Gospel – John 6:1-15), we hear a lengthy section in which Jesus explains the true significance of that miracle. The Lectionary follows these teachings over the next four Sundays.

The crowd that follows Jesus still seems to think of him as a potential nationalist leader like Moses, who will lead them in the struggle for liberation. Jesus is very aware that their motives are misdirected and that they have misinterpreted the dramatic sign of God’s power and compassion in the feeding miracle. Jesus skillfully uses their emphasis on the provision of food to make his own point that material bread is a perishable commodity. Even the manna of Moses in the wilderness would not keep beyond a day.

In the Eucharist we are given the bread “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33 Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 12, Year B

 Food for mind and body

  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15
  • Psalm 14
  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • John 6:1-21

Jesus’ compassion for the people leads him to respond with food for mind and body. Today’s Gospel reading of the feeding of the five thousand expresses the significance of the Holy Eucharist.  In this account from John, Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee, where the crowds continue to follow him because of his healing of the sick. As with other miracles reported by John, Jesus takes the initiative. Upon seeing the large crowd coming to them, Jesus asks Philip how they are to feed all these people. Philip thinks of the impossibility. Andrew notes a boy who has a little, but certainly not enough when there is so much need.

The report on the miracle of the bread and the fish is about what happened to somebody who gave all he had. It is, of course, a story about Jesus multiplying all that bread and fish. But whose bread did he multiply? Whose fish did he divide? It all started with the real hero of that story: one small boy. I think that Jesus praised that small boy who had given all he had . . . When you are asked for something you think you are unable to give, thing of that small boy of this story, and think of the twelve baskets full of food given to him because he gave all he had. Joseph P. Donders (The Jesus Community: Reflections on the Gospel for the B-Cycle, Orbis Books, 1981)

Jesus takes the child’s loaves and fish and shows the unbelieving disciples that he can satisfy the needs of an enormous multitude from an inconsequential source. No matter how meager these resources appear to human understanding, they prove to be more than enough when Jesus takes charge of them.

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 11, Year B

Jesus’ compassion

  • 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
  • Psalm 89:20-37
  • Ephesians 2:11-22
  • Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Jesus knows that a tough schedule leads to burnout, so he seeks a time and place where the disciples, after their training mission, can relax and rest (6:30-32). However, when they arrive at their retreat site, they find more work to do. Without rankle or resentment, Jesus teaches and ministers to the people’s needs, spiritual and physical.

The portion of scripture that we don’t hear in today’s gospel reading (6:35-52) is Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5,000. (We hear John’s account of this next Sunday.) Even though Jesus is in need of a period of withdrawal, he realized the need of those who followed him was greater than his own. They were hungry for the truth he could impart, and were as confused as a sheep that have no shepherd (v. 34a). In his compassion, Jesus again began to teach them.

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 10, Year B

Death of a Prophet

  • 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
  • Psalm 24
  • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • Mark 6:14-29

When the disciples began to spread the word of Jesus, the authorities took notice. Herod, terrorized by his guilty conscience, believed that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead. In those days it was believed that the spirit of those who had died a violent death worked through others. He was sure Jesus had come to plague him for executing the prophet in order to save face with his friends and to appease the vengeance of his bitter wife. Herod knew that John was a “righteous and holy man.” He wanted to protect the Baptist, but when his image as a powerful king was called into question, he abandoned his concerns for the Baptist’s welfare to protect his own reputation.

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 9, Year B

Sent Out For God

  • 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
  • Psalm 48
  • 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
  • Mark 6:1-13

Beginning in Chapter 6, Mark’s story of Jesus moves out beyond the familiar territory near the Sea of Galilee. Skepticism abounds in Jesus’ hometown. Why? Perhaps because his teachings cut through old understandings. “He taught them as one having authority” (1:22); that is, he comes with a radical, new message that departed from the teaching that the people expect from the synagogue. Jesus’ message always offends those who prefer old religious ways and refuse to risk by welcoming the new way of God’s kingdom (Luke 5:39).

Jesus’ neighbors had a certain expectation of his potential – he would follow in his father’s (Joseph) footsteps as a carpenter. What had been happening in this town in which Jesus grew up these past 30 years? Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 8, Year B

God’s Power to Heal

  • 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
  • Psalm 130
  • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
  • Mark 5:21-43

Today we have two remarkable stories of healings by Jesus, one story told within the other. In both cases, the individuals involved have come to Jesus out of their desperate need along with faith in his power to help them.

Jesus has just returned from the country of the Gerasenes and is teaching a crowd in Capernaum. Jairus, described as one of the leaders in the synagogue, comes to him and falls at his feet in a gesture of respect. He tells Jesus that his daughter is at the point of death. In verse 23 we hear of his faith in knowing that if Jesus only lays hands on her, she will be made well. So Jesus heads out, with the large crowd following him.

Within the crowd is a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. She finds her way to Jesus, and reaching from behind, touches his cloak, believing that a simple touch will relieve her of her disease. Immediately she is healed, but Jesus feels his power leave him at the same moment and stops to ask, “Who has touched me?” Imagine the scene – would you come forward and admit this? In fear and trembling, she steps forward; instead of reprimanding her, Jesus commends her faith and tells her to go in peace. Continue reading

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