Holy Week 2023

The Last Supper

The Last Supper (1592-1594), oil painting on canvas by Jacopo Tintoretto (1519-1594). Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy. (Click image to enlarge)

Lectionary readings for April 6, 2023 (Maundy Thursday)

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 [The first Passover]

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 [O Lord, I am your servant]

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 [This is my body that is for you]

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 [Jesus knew that his hour had come]

Lectionary readings for April 7, 2023 (Good Friday)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 [See, my servant shall prosper]

Psalm 22 [My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?]

Hebrews 10:16-25 [He who has promised is faithful]


Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 [He became the source of eternal salvation]

John 18:1-19:42 [“It is finished.”]

Lectionary readings for April 8, 2023 (The Great Vigil of Easter)

At The Liturgy of the Word

At least two of the following Lessons are read, of which one is always the Lesson from Exodus. After each Lesson, the Psalm or Canticle listed, or some other suitable psalm, canticle, or hymn, may be sung. A period of silence may be kept; and the Collects provided on pages 288-91, or some other suitable Collect, may be said. It is recommended that the first Collect on page 290 be used after the Lesson from Baruch or Proverbs. (pp 893, BCP)

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]

Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac]

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]

Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]

Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 [Learn wisdom and live]


Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Does not wisdom call]

Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]

Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]

Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people]

At The Eucharist

Romans 6:3-11 [Death no longer has dominion over him]

Psalm 114 [Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord]

Matthew 28:1-10 [His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow]

Lectionary readings for April 9, 2023 (Easter Sunday – Principal Service)

Jeremiah 31:1-6 [I have loved you with an everlasting love]

Acts 10:34-43 [God raised him on the third day]

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 [Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good]

Colossians 3:1-4 [You also will be revealed with him in glory]

John 20:1-18 [ “I have seen the Lord”]

Matthew 28:1-10 [He is not here; for he has been raised]

Lectionary readings for April 9, 2023 (Easter Sunday – Evening Service)

Isaiah 25:6-9 [Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces]

Psalm 114 [Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord]

1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 [A little yeast leavens the whole batch]

Luke 24:13-49 [He showed them his hands and his feet]

Palm / Passion Sunday A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for April 2, 2023 (Palm / Passion Sunday A)

Liturgy of the Palms A

Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11

We celebrate Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday together as Holy Week begins. In this lectionary year we hear the evangelist Matthew’s account of Jesus’s triumphal procession into Jerusalem.

Christ's entry into Jerusalem

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (1320), fresco by Pietro Lorenzetti (1280-1348). Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, Assisi, Italy. (Click image to enlarge)

In a variation that we only hear from Matthew, Jesus enters the city apparently riding two animals at once, reflecting the evangelist’s understanding of Zechariah’s prophecy that Israel’s shepherd-king would arrive “mounted on a donkey, and on a colt.” Jesus’s arrival in the city is exciting but tense: A large, noisy crowd surrounds Jesus in a city that Matthew describes as “in a turmoil.” Jesus has warned the disciples that he will be mocked, flogged and crucified. Soon he will anger the authorities again when he drives the money changers out of the temple, as the narrative hurtles toward his passion and death on the cross.

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

As we enter church on Palm Sunday waving palm fronds – recalling Jesus’ traditional entry into Jerusalem before a cheering crowd – we chant verses from Psalm 118 that portray another festive procession in honor of our Lord and God. In familiar words we celebrate “the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Liturgy of the Passion A

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

When Christians hear Isaiah’s verses about the “suffering servant,” our thoughts naturally turn to Jesus Christ, our messiah and king. After all, our Creeds declare that Jesus suffered for us. Our Gospels reveal a Jesus who taught us to turn our cheeks to those who strike us, knowing that a peaceful response to enemies is no cause for disgrace. During Holy Week, though, it’s important for us to understand that Isaiah was not writing to Christians in a distant future but to a Jewish audience in his own time, a people living in exile in Babylon. They were a suffering body of faithful servants, awaiting a Messiah to guide them home.

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16

Speaking in tones of lamentation, the Psalmist recites a litany of sorrow, distress, grief, sighing, misery, scorn, horror, dread and more. He suffers, his neighbors scheme; they plot his death. In the poet’s words, “I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot.” Yet amid all this misery, hope glows like the sun breaking through clouds: Trust in God, place our faith in God’s love, and wait to be saved.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Paul sets out these poetic verses from an early Christian hymn, an ancient confession in song that preceded the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed by centuries. In these worshipful words we understand that Christ was fully divine, yet embodied in Jesus he was fully human too. The Son of God willingly set aside his divinity – “emptying himself” – to bear the horrific pain of crucifixion as a vulnerable, frightened human. Jesus took on the full weight of all that suffering to show us the true exaltation of God’s love, calling us only to respond with love for God and our neighbor.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14- 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Sunday’s readings reach their conclusion in Matthew’s long narrative of Jesus’s passion and death. We listen through the long journey from the Last Supper to the crucifixion. There is much packed into these two chapters, from Judas’ betrayal through the institution of the Eucharist; Jesus suffering in the garden, his arrest and trial, his journey to the cross and his death and burial. That’s a lot to grapple with all at once, so let’s reflect on one passage: When Jesus told the apostles during the Last Supper that one of them would betray him, every one of them was afraid. Every one, no matter how much he loved Jesus, wondered if he might be the traitor. Each in turn asked, ‘Surely not I, Lord?” As are we, they are human, frail and weak. And Jesus, loving us still, takes up the cross.

(As an abbreviated alternative, this Gospel may be read in shorter form, including only verses 27:11-54. This portion tells the narrative from the arrest of Jesus to his death on the cross. It ends with a foreshadowing of the resurrection with the opening of the tombs, while a Roman centurion and his soldiers recognize that Jesus was truly God’s Son.)

Lent 5A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for March 26, 2023 (Lent 5A)

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Our readings change in tone this Sunday as we turn toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The metaphorical reflections on temptation, faith and sight that we have heard so far in Lent now move toward explicit ideas of victory over death through resurrection.

The Raising of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus, oil painting on canvas, transferred from wood (1517) by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547). National Gallery, London. (Click image to enlarge)

In our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel imagines a valley filled with dry bones: an eerie and alarming sight. In these poetic verses, God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy, and as he does so, the dry bones become connected, covered with skin, and then breathed to life as a vast multitude. Ezekiel’s prophetic vision reveals God’s promise to restore exiled Israel to its own land, the land that God had promised Moses and the people at Mount Sinai.

Psalm: Psalm 130

Psalm 130 may be most familiar for its use, under the Latin title “De Profundis” (“out of the depths”), as one of the Psalms that the Book of Common Prayer suggests for the burial of the dead. Its hopeful cadences remind us that even in times of grief, pain and despair, we wait in hope for God’s love and grace. Even in death we await the resurrection, as in night’s darkest hours we wait for morning light.

Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11

This passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans offers a brief glimpse of his continuing examination of the distinctions between flesh and spirit. All of us – even Jesus, as fully human – live embodied lives. But, Paul goes on, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus have given us a new reality: When we accept God’s spirit within us through Jesus, we gain the hope of life, peace and resurrection.

Gospel: John 11:1-45

Why didn’t Jesus hurry back home when he got word that his friend Lazarus was ill? When he finally arrives, his friends Mary and Martha – devastated by the death of Lazarus their brother – confront Jesus separately with the same words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus assures Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. … everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then, when Mary weeps, Jesus weeps with her. And then he goes to the tomb and raises Lazarus from the dead. The crowd looking on is amazed. But the verses that follow immediately after this passage reveal that the priests and temple authorities, fearful that Jesus’ bold acts will bring Roman retribution, decide that Jesus must die.

Lent 4A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for March 19, 2023 (Lent 4A)

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Through Sunday’s Lectionary readings we reflect on light and sight: What do we see, and how do we see it?

Healing the Man Born Blind

Healing the Man Born Blind (1605-1606), fresco for the Church of San Giacomo degli Spagnuoli, Rome, by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), later transferred to canvas. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. (Click image to enlarge)

In our first reading, we learn that God has rejected Saul as king of Israel. Now God sends a rather unwilling Samuel to take on the risky chore of finding a successor to Saul. God sends Samuel to Jesse the Bethlehemite, among whose eight sons God has chosen the next king. Samuel examines seven of the young men, one at a time, but doesn’t find God’s chosen one. Asking if there is any other, Samuel discovers David, Jesse’s youngest son, who had seemed such an unlikely choice that he had been sent to watch the sheep. But God saw the spirit in David that the others could not detect. David is to become king and will be next in the Messiah’s line.

Psalm: Psalm 23

Who doesn’t know and love the 23rd Psalm? It brings comfort in time of trouble and trial, reminding us that in our darkest hours and most threatening times, God walks with us, protects us and comforts us. Ancient tradition held that David himself wrote these verses. Most modern scholars doubt that. But kings and commoners alike can take joy from knowing that God’s rod and staff comfort us, and God’s goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

This short letter, probably written in Paul’s name a generation or more after his death, contains some problems for modern Christians who take it out of its historical and cultural context. It appears to sanction slavery, for example, and it firmly puts women in their place as “subject” to their husbands. Sunday’s short passage, however, offers a poetic view of light against darkness. Perhaps echoing John’s vision of Jesus as the light shining in the darkness, it points us toward the Gospel about the man born blind.

Gospel: John 9:1-41

For millennia many humans have held on to the troubling idea that blindness and other disabilities are God’s way of punishing a person’s sins or even the sins of their ancestors. In this Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that God does no such thing. In a long narrative we hear the intriguing details about how Jesus healed the man with a mixture of mud and saliva spread on his eyes and washed in a pool. Then Jesus disappears from the narrative, leaving us to listen in on a long and fruitless discussion among the Pharisees, the no-longer-blind man, and his family. Finally Jesus returns, and his words make clear that God works in the world through grace, not punishment, and that the miracle of healing cannot come from sin or evil.

Lent 3A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for March 12, 2023 (Lent 3A)

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7

This week’s readings focus our thoughts on water and thirst … and a bit of gratitude. We may thirst for righteousness, mercy and justice, but when we are thirsty and need water, this simple human need takes precedence.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well (1796), oil painting on canvas by Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807). Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. (Click image to enlarge)

Sunday’s readings take us from the thirsty Israelites in the desert to Jesus stopping for water and rest in a Samaritan town. In our first reading from Exodus, the Israelites are no longer hungry – in previous verses, they have just received miraculous manna – but they still have no water. Their constant thirst makes them so angry that they wish they were back in slavery in Egypt, where at least their basic needs of life were met. Moses is angry and outdone with them, but God provides a miracle to quench their thirst.

Psalm: Psalm 95

Psalm 95, which we also know as the Venite in Morning Prayer, begins with a surprisingly joyous tone for the penitential time of Lent. But its sounds of praise for God change key abruptly in Verse 8, when the Psalmist reminds us of the story we heard in the Exodus reading: The thirsty, angry people turned their hearts away from God and put God to the test. The Psalmist imagines that these actions drove God to “loathe” these ungrateful people and leave them lost 40 years in the desert.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11

The infant church in Rome has known suffering. Some of its members were forced into exile, and the entire congregation was at risk for its faith. But their suffering gives them the opportunity to learn endurance and build their character, Paul reminds them, by means of their hope in the love that God pours into their hearts through the Spirit. Even though the people are sinners, we hear, they are justified through faith and saved through Jesus’s death on the cross.

Gospel: John 4:5-42

Jesus, like the people in the desert, was tired and thirsty after a long journey. Returning from Jerusalem to Galilee (a journey that we hear about only in John’s Gospel), he decided to pass through the country of the Samaritans even though they were not on good terms with their Jewish neighbors. Jesus struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman, asking her for a drink. These actions surprised her, as Jewish men of the era weren’t likely to engage with Samaritans, much less Samaritan women. Then his conversation surprised her even more, as he promised her the unending “living water” of God’s spirit, foretold an end to the differences between their people, and declared himself the Messiah.

Lent 2A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for March 5, 2023 (Lent 2A)

First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a

We began Lent last week by pondering readings about temptation, sin, and repentance. This week our thoughts turn to faith: our deep conviction that God waits with us when we make decisions that shape our lives.

Christ and Nicodemus

Christ and Nicodemus (c.1850), watercolor by Aleksandr Andreevich Ivanov (1806-1858). The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. (Click image to enlarge)

In our first reading, we meet Abram, whom God will later rename Abraham. Even at the advanced age of 75, Abram’s faith gave him the strength to risk of following God’s call to uproot his family and begin the people’s long journey from his home in Ur (in present-day Iraq) toward the promised land. In response to Abram’s faith and trust, God will bless him and his family; and through him, God will bless all the families of the Earth.

Psalm: Psalm 121

When I served as a hospital chaplain, I kept a bookmark set on Psalm 121. Its verses, I found, brought comfort and peace to many as they faced whatever crisis had brought them for urgent care. We lift up our eyes to the hills seeking help, the Psalmist sings; and that help comes from God watching over us and protecting us. As Paul will observe in the second reading, God’s help is not meted out to reward us for our faith or for anything else we do. God watches over our going out and our coming in because that is who God is, and that is what God does.

Second Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Paul recalls the foundational story of Abraham in this passage from his pastoral letter to the church in Rome. His theological reflection seems consistent with Psalm 121: God’s promise of eternal life comes to us, as it came to Abraham, not in reward for anything that we have done to deserve it, but entirely through our faith by grace. Seeking in this letter to restore Rome’s Jewish Christians and pagan converts to unity, he reminds them that God’s promise depends on faith, not something due to us, but a gift. It was given to all the nations, not to Abraham’s descendants alone.

Gospel: John 3:1-17

Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to see Jesus in the dark of night, couldn’t figure how a grown person could creep back into the mother’s body to be “born again.” But Jesus saw no contradiction between being born of the flesh as an infant and being “born again,” or, as it can also be translated, “born from above,” not in the flesh but through faith and the Spirit. Then we hear the familiar words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Does this mean that only Christians can be saved? Jesus’s teaching surely rules that out. The next verse makes clear that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world and all its nations.

Lent 1A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 26, 2023 (Lent 1A)

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Sunday’s Lectionary readings open the Lenten season with scriptural views of temptation and sin.

The Temptation on the Mount

The Temptation on the Mount, (1308-1311). Tempera painting on wood by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1260–1318), the Frick Collection, New York City. (Click image to enlarge)

Our first reading picks up the creation legend just as Eve and Adam submit to temptation and eat the fruit that God had told them not to touch. God had warned them that eating the fruit would make them vulnerable to death. But even that was not enough to turn them away from the crafty serpent’s temptation, the promise that eating the forbidden fruit would give them Godlike knowledge of good and evil. Temptation was powerful; but so was the shame that followed when they realized they had broken their relationship with God.

Psalm: Psalm 32

Psalm 32 exalts the joy, relief and “glad cries of deliverance” that erupt from our souls when we accept God’s sure forgiveness. Indeed, God’s steadfast love surrounds all who trust enough to acknowledge our wrongdoing, the Psalmist sings. Joy comes when we confess our transgressions and accept God’s loving deliverance from the pain and guilt of being separated from God through sin.

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, which we will visit during much of Lent, Paul offers pastoral guidance to Gentile converts to Christianity and Jewish Christians returning from exile. Paul sketches a direct connection between the sin of Adam (curiously, he doesn’t mention Eve) and the divinity of Jesus Christ, the son of God. If Adam’s yielding to the temptation of the fruit brought death into the world, as Genesis tells us, then the incarnation of Jesus as fully human – one of us – restores justification and life for all through God’s gift of grace.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

At the beginning of Epiphany, we heard Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus, when the voice of God declared him God’s beloved Son. Now we turn the page to discover that the Spirit led Jesus directly from the Jordan into the wilderness … to be tempted by the devil! This may seem a very strange thing for the Holy Spirit to do, but the Spirit works in mysterious ways. The devil – in a role something like the Satan, the adversary who tested Job’s faith – tries to test Jesus, too. The tempter tries three times to persuade Jesus to perform miracles to help himself. But Jesus stands strong, and at the end of 40 days of fasting, without giving in to temptation, Jesus orders the devil away.

Last Epiphany A/Transfiguration

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 19, 2023 (Last Epiphany A/Transfiguration)

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18

The gradual revelation of Jesus as Messiah, which began last month with his baptism by John in the Jordan, draws to a close as Transfiguration Sunday concludes the season of Epiphany.

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration (1308-1311), tempera painting on wood altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255=1319). National Gallery of London. (Click image to enlarge)

Midway between Christmas and Easter, we will now turn toward the penitential path of Lent. Sunday’s readings show us the awe and fear of humans encountering the divine. Our first reading from Exodus describes Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from a fearsome God cloaked in clouds and fire. This scene is a surprising contrast with the verses that came just before, in which Moses, Aaron and the leaders of the people apparently dine and drink with a more accessible divine being.

Psalm: Psalm 2

Earthly kings may have wielded vast temporal power in biblical times, but even they must submit with fear and trembling to the mightiness of God, King of Kings. So sings the Psalmist in Psalm 2. Those who would seek to break away from God’s power and that of God’s anointed, the Messiah, will earn only divine derision and terrifying rage. God’s anointed, however, will be set on the holy hill of Zion – site of the temple. Then these verses of anger and divine threats turn to a note of promise: Happy are all who take refuge in God.

Alternative Psalm: Psalm 99

In verses that hark back to Moses and Aaron following God’s sign through the desert and receiving God’s law, this hymn of praise shows us an image of God as a powerful king, before whom the people tremble and even the earth shakes. But this is a fair God, who may have punished the people when they were evil, but who also answered their prayers and rewarded them. This is a forgiving and kind God who provides equity, justice and righteousness.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Here’s something to know about the New Testament’s Letters of Peter: The Apostle Peter didn’t write either of them, and this one was probably written 100 years or more after the Crucifixion, long after Peter’s death. Still, it opens a window into the second-century church, when believers were trying to understand why Jesus had not returned as soon as they had hoped and prayed. All that they have heard about Jesus is true, the letter insists. Speaking in the first person as Peter, it reminds them that Peter himself had been present at the Transfiguration. Trust in God, it urges, and wait for the dawn and the morning star.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” In almost identical words, we heard the voice of God coming from above to declare Jesus his beloved Son at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan at the beginning of Epiphany. Now we hear it again at the end of Epiphany in the Transfiguration. We see Jesus meeting Old Testament prophets on a mountaintop, glowing in dazzling light, revealed to the apostles Peter, James and John for the first time as both human and divine. The three, witnessing all this, are terrified to hear the voice of God, but Jesus reassures them with a loving touch and, for the first time, speaks of his coming resurrection.

Epiphany 6A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 12, 2023 (Epiphany 6A)

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Our Lectionary readings for recent Sundays have followed a consistent theme: In the Gospels we are hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Moses Shown the Promised Land

Moses Shown the Promised Land (1801), oil painting on panel by Benjamin West (1738-1820). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. (Click image to enlarge)

In our Hebrew Bible readings we have glimpsed the roots of Jesus’s wisdom in God’s firm commandments to be righteous, to care for the poor and the oppressed; the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our land. Our first reading shows Moses instructing the people at the end of their long journey in the desert, as they prepare to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. They hear the core of the covenant at Sinai: Follow God’s commandment to be righteous, and inherit the land. Defy God’s commandments, fail in that covenant, and – as the prophets will foretell – lose the land and die.

Alternate First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20

In this optional alternative for the first reading we hear a passage from Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), one of the books known as Apocrypha that were originally written Greek, not Hebrew, and that come at the end of editions of the Hebrew Bible that choose to include them. Consistent with the day’s other readings, it sums up God’s teaching in brisk, memorable advice: We are given free will. God does not force us to keep the commandments – we may choose either fire or water – but God, all-knowing and wise, does not wish us to sin.

Psalm: Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms, devotes its 176 verses to a consistent message: God’s decrees, God’s law and teaching given in the Torah, are wonderful, and following them brings joy. The ideas that the Psalmist expresses in these first eight verses of the Psalm will continue throughout. They echo the covenant between God and Moses at Mount Sinai: Those who follow God’s teaching and walk in God’s ways will be rewarded. The Psalmist calls on God’s help to stay steadfast in following this teaching, and begs in turn not to be forsaken.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

We continue working through the opening chapters of First Corinthians this week, listening in as Paul writes pastorally to a bickering church that has split into factions. In last Sunday’s portion Paul might have seemed to be praising the Corinthians for a spiritual maturity that enabled them to understand the ways of God that aren’t so clear to those less mature. But now Paul makes it clear that the Christians of Corinth have a long way to go. Their quarreling factions show that they aren’t ready for spiritual food, Paul warns, adding that we are all God’s servants. When we work together, God uses us to build and grow.

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37

In the Sermon on the Mount, which occupies three full chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we learn much about discipleship, the hard work of following Jesus toward the Kingdom of God. Last Sunday we heard Jesus assure the crowd that he did not come to change the Law and the Prophets (that is, the Hebrew Bible). But now he begins interpreting the Law – as rabbis do – in new and challenging ways. Considering the commandment, “Do not kill,” Jesus says to go beyond that. Not only must we do no harm but we must even respond to our enemies in peace. We are not merely bound to not commit adultery, but to treat women with respect. We must do more than simply avoiding false witness: We are called to be honest, be true, say exactly what we mean!

Epiphany 5A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 5, 2023 (Epiphany 5A)

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Two important ideas run through Sunday’s Lectionary readings: righteousness and light. “Righteous,” in biblical understanding, may not mean quite what we think it does in modern times.

Sermon on the Mountain

Sermon on the Mountain (1896), oil painting on canvas by Károly Ferenczy (1862-1917). Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest. (Click image to enlarge)

It speaks of God’s call to God’s people to practice justice, as Isaiah insists and as Jesus, too, asks of us; by going beyond mere fasting and ritual practice to stand against oppression, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked. Righteousness will heal our souls and light up our lives, as the light of Epiphany that shines in the deep winter darkness will illuminate the way of our God.

Psalm: Psalm 112:1-9, [10]

Sunday’s Psalm portion, titled “Blessings of the Righteous,” echoes Isaiah’s call: The righteousness of those who follow God and delight in God’s commandments will endure forever. Those who are gracious and merciful, who deal with others generously and act with justice, the Psalmist sings, will “rise in the darkness as a light for the upright.” By living justly, we become an example for others and show the way to God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

We continue our journey through the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, listening in as Paul offers pastoral guidance for the quarreling community. He turns their thoughts toward humility, reiterating the advice that – even if following the crucified Jesus may make us appear foolish to the world – in fact we share God’s secret wisdom. The Holy Spirit gives us new life through Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20

Sunday’s Gospel picks up in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, just after Jesus has given the crowd the Beatitudes, promising God’s kingdom to the poor, the hungry, the thirsty; those who mourn, the meek; the humble, and all who are persecuted and oppressed. Now the crowd hears that, as God’s people, they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. With that comes the responsibility to let the world see God through your good works. Jesus says he has not come to change God’s law that calls us to righteousness: Love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. But in fulfilling the law, Jesus will show us new ways. We will hear more about that next Sunday in the next verses of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus counts the ways: “You have heard that it was said … but I tell you …” That which was old becomes new again in Jesus.