Pentecost 20C

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Oct. 23, 2022 (Pentecost 20C)

First Reading (Track One): Joel 2:23-32

Joel ranks as a very minor prophet, and we don’t hear from him often in the three-year Lectionary cycle. The book that bears his name is only three chapters long, and modern bible scholars aren’t even sure when he lived. We do know that “Joel” means “The Lord is God” in Hebrew; and the best hypothesis is that Joel prophesied after the return to Jerusalem from exile.

De Farizeeër en de tollenaar (The Pharisee and the publican, 1661)

De Farizeeër en de tollenaar (The Pharisee and the publican, 1661), oil painting on canvas by Barent Fabritius (1624-1673). The parable, originally painted for the Lutheran church in Leiden, The Netherlands, is presented in three scenes: In the middle the Pharisee kneels before the altar, on the left the proud Pharisee leaves the temple with a devil, on the right the tax collector leaves the temple with an angel. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. (Click image to enlarge.)

While his prophecy is brief, however, it offers meaning and comfort that lasts through the ages. Even when terrible things happen, says the prophet, God is with us. Feast will follow famine, for God loves us and will pour out God’s spirit on us. Trust in God, be glad and rejoice, and do not fear. Listen for variations on this theme of hope throughout Sunday’s readings.

First Reading (Track Two): Sirach 35:12-17

The first of two options for the Track Two first reading this week is taken from the book of Sirach. This short text, from the books known as Apocrypha at the end of the Hebrew Bible, is also known as The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, and it was renamed Ecclesiasticus in the time of the Emperor Constantine. Its text sums up God’s teaching (“Torah”) in the brisk, memorable style of biblical wisdom literature. Sunday’s verses envision God as judge over all: a judge who is impartial in dispensing justice. Even so, the prophet tells us, God, as judge, pays special attention to the needs of those who have been wronged, to widows and orphans, to the oppressed who come before the judge with complaints.

Alternate First Reading (Track Two): Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22

From Moses to Jonah, Job and beyond, the prophets are not afraid to argue with God. The idea of mere mortals pushing back against the Divine might seem strange or even disturbing, but it is a powerful way for a prophet to declare the importance of their argument. In Sunday’s alternate Track Two first reading we hear a message of hope that echoes through the day’s Lectionary readings. The Prophet Jeremiah acknowledges that the people have done wrong. But he mounts a powerful argument that the God who made permanent covenant with the people should bring them back home even though they wandered and sinned.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 65

Psalm 65 is well chosen for this time of autumn. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving for earth’s bounty, it echoes the Prophet Joel’s assurances that God will provide us life-giving rain and bountiful harvests even after times of trouble and sin. It also marshals beautiful images of nature and the harvest, painting a lovely word picture of God’s great bounty that is good to hold in our thoughts as Thanksgiving and the holiday seasons draw near.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 84:1-6

In poetic metaphors of birds finding safety in their nests, this short passage from Psalm 84 sings a hymn of trust and praise in a loving God who will protect the people and lead them home. God will watch over, favor and honor those who have trust. As God provides nests for the small birds, the Psalmist sings, so will God provide for all of us. Just as God provides pools of water that serve thirsty travelers, so will God hear all our prayers.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Although this lovely passage is written as Paul’s last testament, it is fair to note that this letter was actually written in Paul’s name by a later follower, years after Paul and Timothy had passed on. The letter evokes the thoughts of Paul for early Christians at a time when Roman persecution was relatively widespread. Through that lens we can get an idea of the young church’s intent to stand strong even when some supporters are deserting the cause. Proclaim the good news, the author of this letter urges the flock, and you can count on God’s strength and God’s protection.

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

This passage from Luke’s Gospel follows immediately after last Sunday’s narrative about the corrupt judge and the persistent widow who would not leave him alone until justice was served. It is good to read the two parables together to get a clear picture of what Luke is trying to tell us about Jesus and prayer. Like the powerful but corrupt judge who fails to prevail against the honest widow, the overly proud Pharisee fails to exalt himself, while the despised tax collector goes home justified because his prayer was humble and sincere.

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