Tag Archives: Daily Office Lectionary

Coming Attractions: Daily Office Readings 5 Epiphany (Year 2)

The readings are listed in the Book of Common Prayer p.947, and appear on various websites including Forward Movement, Mission St Clare.

Genesis. The action revolves around another pair of brothers, Esau and Jacob (recall Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac!). Jacob, grasping from birth, distrustful (compare God’s generous promise and Jacob’s lawyerly response [28:13-15, 20-22]), and encountering a kindred soul in…Laban. Esau: Moberly provides the most interesting entry point into the cycle of stories I’ve encountered: “For those of us who feel ‘unfavored’ in terms of what we were born with, who wish we were other than what we are, learning to live well with what we are can be one of life’s greatest challenges.… The only questions that are fruitful are not of a backward-looking and rationalizing nature, but rather of a forward-looking and practical nature: ‘What can I/we/you/they do about this? What can I/we/you/they yet hope for?” (The God of the Old Testament) And it takes some time for Esau to sort this out.

Hebrews. This week we reach the end of this remarkable book, which throughout maintains a creative tension between celebrating God’s new and definitive act in Jesus which is simultaneously in the most profound continuity with this God’s prior acts. The long list of the Old Testament faithful (Heb 11): the author’s ground for confidence that “make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will” (v.21) is not whistling in the dark.

John. There are multiple ways we might come at these stories of conflict; here are two. (1) Abraham comes up repeatedly in chapter 8. Since we’ve just finished reading the Abraham stories, how might a closer reading of these stories checked Jesus’ audience’s confident “Abraham is our father”? (What happens if we read 8:1-11 together with the patriarchs’ habit of passing their wives off as their sisters [Gen 12:10ff; 20:1ff; 26:6ff?)

(2) There’s an old story from the early days of the evangelization of Northern Europe. A tribe agreed to baptism, but only on the condition that their sword arms stayed dry. Even among those who “believed” in Jesus (8:31) there were topics Jesus could address, topics that were verboten. We could do worse than use that as a mirror.

Reading the Fine Print

We celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the temple today as recorded in Luke 2:22-39. The “righteous and devout” Simeon plays a major role and his prayer (“The Song of Simeon”) enriches our prayers at the end of the day. Less used are his following words to Jesus’ mother: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The Song serves to end one story (Simeon’s, each of our days), the words to introduce another. Or, we might say, the words serve as the fine print or warning label for the Song.

The Song sounds straightforward; the words warn that it’s anything but. In the Daily Office readings this comes through most clearly in Jesus’ words, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” a truth that—as the argument immediately following shows—destabilizes his followers’ assumptions and identities.

“A sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simeon gets it right, as does Annie Dillard: “It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return” (Teaching a stone to talk).

Wondering about Mark 12:18-34

More wondering occasioned by our parish’s Mark study…

The challenge re paying taxes the Pharisees and Herodians put to Jesus sizzles and perfectly fits the scene Mark’s painted (12:13-17). In contrast, the Sadducees’ question (12:18-27) and the interchange with the scribe (12:28-34) seem anticlimactic. What might be going on?

We know little about the Sadducees, so, guesswork! Not believing in the resurrection, they think that it takes a special kind of stupid for Jesus to set himself on a collision course with the authorities. They express this, indirectly, with the question they pose out of indolent curiosity. But for Jesus and the Markan readers, an existential question: if no resurrection, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Jesus, answering directly, pulls out all the stops.

The interchange with the scribe. Matthew and Luke see the anticlimax problem, make the scribe an adversary (Mt 22:34-40), with Luke placing the story at an earlier point to segue to the Good Samaritan parable (Lk 10:25-28). Perhaps Mark is using the story to circle back to the challenge Jesus left unanswered (“By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 11:28) to give a partial answer: what do the Jews owe to God? Jesus is doing “these things” to love God and neighbor. And, looking ahead, the interchange invites the reader to contemplate the actions of the protagonists in Mark 14-15: who is loving God and neighbor (or not) and what does that love look like?

There’s a possible corollary to this in the scribe’s response (“and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’– this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” 12:33). Readers properly wonder what theological frames Mark might be offering to understand the Passion, and OT sacrifice is often suggested as a or the frame. Are the scribe’s words a nudge to understand the Passion first in terms of love?

Wondering about the Mark 4 Parables

Wondering occasioned by our parish’s Mark study…

As far as I can see, the parables aren’t announcing any sort of change in what God’s reign is like. All four look like possible ways of understanding segments of the history reflected in the OT—with the spectacular harvest as eschatological a reality in the one Testament as in the other. Where’s the secret/mystery?

What is “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11)?

And looking again at some commentaries, I doubt that there’s any single answer to this question.

A preliminary answer: Human response matters; nevertheless, the word will bear satisfying and surprising fruit. 

Clarifications: (1) Human response matters, not simply to the particular humans involved (“Will I be in or out?”), but to the overall success of the project. See the Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1-7.)

(2) “Nevertheless” not because God is the Author and the story can end however the author wants, but because God is more creative, persistent, committed (e.g., Isa 42:14-17).

(3) This mystery does not represent a change in divine strategy, so these parables are an appropriate lens for rereading the OT.

Corollaries: (1) The Mark 4 parables are a counterpoint to celebrations of the power of the divine word (Isa 55:8-11Wis 18:14-16, etc.). The celebrations are true enough; also true: the word is vulnerable.
Divine/human agency. I’m intrigued by the ways Mark explores this question, e.g., unbelief as limiting Jesus’ options (6:5-6 in Nazareth), unbelief not necessarily ending the conversation (9:24 the epileptic boy’s father). Isaiah 56-66 seems to keep the two in tension, with some texts highlighting divine agency, e.g., 63:1-6, others, human, e.g., 56:1-2. Divine agency seems to receive more emphasis. From what little I’ve read of Orthodox writers, their notion of divine/human synergy looks promising.

(2) The Mark 4 parables reject readings of the OT that expect a Borg-like divine entrance to set things right (“Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.”), readings that even the disciples were slow to give up (FireNow?)

As an imaginative portrayal, I like Lewis’ The Great Divorce. It’s been too long since I read it, but if I recall correctly Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker has some important observations re how artistic integrity limits the author’s freedom vis à vis the characters.

On a more personal level, st least three days in any given week I wonder if the value God apparently places on human freedom isn’t too costly for God and humanity. I can only conclude that God sees more value, takes more joy, in this creation in its present state, than I do. In any case, the litmus test for any serious hymnal revision is whether it includes Billie Holiday’s “Crazy he calls me” (“The difficult I’ll do right now / The impossible will take a little while”) as a portrait of God the Lover.

(3) Divine omnipotence does not override divine priorities. Human freedom seems to be one such priority. Ironically, some (most?) of the ringing celebrations of omnipotence, e.g., Isa 40:12-26, are prompted by the divine collision with human freedom, e.g., Isa 40:27. If God is omnipotent, God is also often flummoxed (Isa 5:4Mk 6:6a).

Puzzles: (1) The growing seed and mustard seed parables seem to imply some sort of cumulative progress, a progress not obvious in the histories of Israel and the Church. (Recall the Preacher!) On the other hand, real progress in specific areas (slavery, status of women).

(2) Is the “must” in Mk 8:31 related significantly to these issues of the power/vulnerability of the word (Corollary 1) and the divine priority of human freedom (Corollary 3)?

(3) Also re that “must:” how does the servant’s obedience (Isa 52:13-53:12) relate to the joyful celebrations surrounding it (52:7-1054:1-17). Perhaps “Isaiah” is saying as much as he/she knows.

Re the Daily Office Readings September 30 Anno Domini 2020

Photo by elCarito

The Lessons: Hosea 4:11-19; Acts 21:15-26; Luke 5:27-39

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”

Perhaps these are simply parables in the spirit of Ecclesiastes 3:1 (“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”); both fasting and feasting have their place. But once uttered, they’re, well, ominous. Jesus and the Pharisees, Paul and the Jerusalem leaders: studies in pouring new wine into old wineskins? “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Perhaps it’s like that poor camel and the needle’s eye: “”For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Or perhaps the tearing of the cloth/wineskins turns out to redemptive? “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:19b-20).

And then just when the parables might be coming into focus, that last bit: “And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’” So it’s not a matter of old=bad, new=good. And even the tension between old and new may not be the last word.  Perhaps relevant: the brief interchange (unique to Matthew) at the end of a long series of parables: “’Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes’. And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’” (Matt. 13:51-52).

Re the Daily Office Readings September 29 Anno Domini 2020

Holy Michael & All Angels


The Lessons: Job 38:1-7; Hebrews 1:1-14

2020 does focus the question of how to celebrate this feast. The temptation is to head directly to Ps 91:11-13 (“For he will command his angels concerning you…”), despite its role in Jesus’ temptation. And if we don’t highlight their protection? Here’s one of Mary Calvert’s prayers (from Pocket Celtic Prayers):

May the saints and angels be with me
From the top of my head
To the soles of my feet.

In the company of your saints
I would live this day;
As they lived their lives for you
So may I live this day.

With them to you I bring
My morning praise;
Heavenly chorus I would echo
In my morning praise.

Where they for ever dwell
There would I be;
In heaven to live with you
There may I be.

Or this from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

Re the Daily Office Readings September 28 Anno Domini 2020

Photo by Ariana Prestes

The Lessons: Hosea 2:14-23; Acts 20:17-38; Luke 5:1-11

Hosea and Luke resonate together nicely. The presenting issue in Hosea’s oracle was Israel’s misunderstanding/misuse of the Lord’s gifts of fertility. The Lord’s endgame: a restoration of abundant fertility (“On that day I will answer, says the LORD, / I will answer the heavens / and they shall answer the earth; / and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil…”). So Jesus shows up at the lake, and “speak tenderly” turns out to include “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Fertility. I do wonder what happened to all those fish. Perhaps Elijah’s calling of Elisha provided the template: “So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’ He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant” (1 Ki. 19:19-21).

Acts. Luke Johnson notices the multiple ways in which Paul’s speech follows the conventions of the Farewell Discourse, the point of which, broadly, is exhortation. More animals: not oxen (Elijah & Elisha), not fish (Jesus & Simon), but sheep and wolves. There’s a strong sense of menace (Paul, after all, recapitulating Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem). So: “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock” (Paul channeling Michael Conrad’s Sgt. Phil Esterhaus).

Re the Daily Office Readings September 27 Anno Domini 2020

Photo by Luo Lei

The Lessons: Hosea 2:2-14; James 3:1-13; Matt. 13:44-52

“Catch it if you can. The present is an invisible electron; its lightning path traced faintly on a blackened screen is fleet, and fleeing, and gone” (from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).

James speaks of the “gentleness born of wisdom;” our combination of readings perhaps highlights a related expression of wisdom: paying attention, not getting distracted.

“She did not know / that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, / and who lavished upon her silver / and gold that they used for Baal.” Hosea’s 8th century Israel is a case study in not paying attention, but perhaps not as extreme as that, say, of our stock markets, whose traders imagine that their wealth comes from their cunning and Baal, rather than from God’s generous earth. And then, as now, multiple forms of folly ensue.

Paying attention, not getting distracted particularly by that little organ so close to the brains in which we take so much pride: “placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” [Election year addendum on Not Getting Distracted: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).]

Paying attention: Jesus’ parables highlight the payoff: the encountered treasure, the encountered pearl. And here’s where the dangers start: “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Lk. 8:14). “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Lk. 10:41-42).

“Catch it if you can.”

Re the Daily Office Readings September 26 Anno Domini 2020

From Orthodox Church in America

The Lessons: Hosea 1:1–2:1; Acts 20:1-16; Luke 4:38-44

The Lectionary begins our ten-day stint with Hosea today (for overviews, here and here). Abraham Heschel: “God is conceived, not as the self-detached Ruler, but as the sensitive Consort to Whom deception comes and Who nevertheless goes on pleading for loyalty, uttering a longing for reunion, a passionate desire for reconciliation.”

One’s eyes can glaze reading texts like that from Acts today. Luke Johnson’s observation helps: “More significant by far than any single stage of the journey is the way in which Luke has so obviously structured it to mirror the great journey of the prophet Jesus to his death and triumph in Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-19:44).” I wonder: while Paul specifically is important for the story Luke wants to tell (how the Gospel advances from Jerusalem to Rome), is Luke also using Paul as a model for every believer, someone in whom Jesus’ Spirit continues to work?

As commentators notice, Luke in this Gospel text both follows Mark and reorders his sequence (we encounter the calling of the disciples in our next Luke reading). Is the point to give Jesus’ call of Peter some context? Meanwhile, “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God:” executing the previously-read mandate from Isaiah, healing and exorcising. O Jesus, we could use more of that here, today.

Re the Daily Office Readings September 25 Anno Domini 2020

Painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Lessons: Judith 13:1-20; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37

When the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah we’re told that one night “the angel of the Lord” struck down 185,000 Assyrians in the camp—and the Assyrians departed. Today’s text records a similar outcome—at the cost of one Assyrian life. I wonder: has something shifted in the culture and/or theological sensibility?

(By the way, the Book of Judith continues for three more chapters. Judith’s thanksgiving song is particularly worth attention, e.g., “Her sandal ravished his eyes, / her beauty captivated his mind, / and the sword severed his neck!”)

Every year Episcopal parishes complete the Parochial Report—many numbers—“to assist the Church in planning for mission.” Why isn’t one of the numbers requested the number of times merchants in the city have rioted in response to the parish’s missional activities?

The demon gets it right: Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” Not that it does the demon any good—he’s still sent packing, and an unnamed man—his former residence—is a little freer. Holiness and freedom: that’s a very old association: Moses encounters holy ground—and gets sent to bring Israel out of Egypt. Here’s another missional project for us—that also will not be (directly) registered in the Parochial Report—make more visible in our city the link between holiness and human freedom.