The Revised Common Lectionary, first published in 1992, derives from The Common Lectionary of 1983, both based on the Ordo Lectionem Missae of 1969, a post-Vatican II ground-breaking revision of the Roman Lectionary. “The post-Vatican II Roman Lectionary represented a profound break with the past. Not only were the readings organized according to a plan whereby a richer fare of scripture was read in liturgical celebrations, in contrast to the medieval lectionary where the choice of readings was simply helter-skelter, but for the first time in history the Sunday lectionary covered a period of three years, each year being dedicated to a particular synoptic author–Matthew, Mark, or Luke. A fourth year was not dedicated to the gospel of John because readings from this gospel permeate the sacred seasons, especially the latter part of Lent and most of Easter.”
(from The Roman Lectionary and the Scriptures Read in Church, by Frank C. Quinn. National Catholic Reporter, Volume 31, no. 5 (November 18 1994), p. 6)
From Cornell University Bird Lab
If you were alive in 1970, 29% of breeding birds in the U.S. and Canada have disappeared within your lifetime. These data signal an urgent need to repair the very fabric of our ecosystems — and bring birds back.
Habitat loss and degradation are the biggest reasons for the rapid and staggering loss of birds across the continent. What are other leading causes of bird deaths because of humans? Every year, more than 2.6 billion birds are estimated to be killed by cats, and up to 1 billion birds are killed by window strikes in the U.S. and Canada alone. Collisions with vehicles and structures such as power lines and communications towers are additionally estimated to kill more than 300 million.
On October 31 in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther’s understanding of faith departed from the prevailing Catholic belief system in many ways: he believed that salvation is a gift God alone grants to sinners who passively affirm their faith in Christ, rather than something a sinner can actively obtain through the performance of good works; that the Eucharist is a sacrament that undergoes consubstantiation as opposed to transubstantiation; and that the church is an egalitarian “priesthood of all believers” and not hierarchically divided between laity and clergy. His translation of the Bible into German vernacular lessened the laity’s dependence on what he saw as a predatory ecclesiastical authority.
Though the terms “Bible” and “Old Testament” are commonly used by non-Jews to describe Judaism‘s scriptures, the appropriate term is “Tanach,” which is derived as an acronym from the Hebrew letters of its three components: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim.
TORAH Date of writing: Some Jewish tradition holds that the Torah was written before the beginning of the world, but the overwhelming majority believe the Torah is a product of the meeting between Moses and G-d at Mt. Sinai, estimated to have taken place during the thirteenth century BCE.
The Torah, or Jewish Written Law, consists of the five books attributed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These were given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism. The Torah is also known as the Chumash, Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses.
The term “Torah” can mean the entire corpus of Jewish law. This includes the Written and the Oral Law.
The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life. For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, ordains, “Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy” (Exodus 20:8). From the Sabbath’s inclusion in the Ten Commandments, it is clear that the Torah regards it as an important holiday. Yet when one looks for the specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing and harvesting. Would merely refraining from these few activities fulfill the biblical command to make the Sabbath holy? Indeed, the Sabbath rituals that are most commonly associated with holiness–lighting of candles, reciting the kiddush, and the reading of the weekly Torah portion–are found not in the Torah, but in the Oral Law.
For centuries Jewish rabbis resisted writing down the Oral Law, believing that oral tradition would be a better teacher than books. In traditional Jewish pharisaic/rabbinic thought, God reveals instructions for living through both the written scriptures and through a parallel process of orally transmitted traditions. Critics of this approach within Judaism include Sadducees and Karaites.The teachings of the Oral Law, which explain the gaps in the Written Law, were eventually written down to comprise the Mishnah.
MISHNA Date of writing: about 200 CE.
Why was the Mishna written? The Jewish community of Palestine suffered horrendous losses resulting from uprisings against Rome during the first century CE. Well over a million Jews were killed, and the leading institutions of learning for the Jews, along with thousands of rabbinical scholars and students, were devastated.
This decline in the number of knowledgeable Jews seems to have been a decisive factor in Rabbi Judah the Prince’s decision around the year 200 C.E. to record in writing the Oral Law. With the deaths of so many teachers in the failed revolts, Rabbi Judah apparently feared that the Oral Law would be forgotten unless it were written down.
THE TALMUD Date of writing: Rabbinic Judaism produced two Talmuds: the one known as the “Babylonian” is the most famous in the western world, and was completed around the fifth century CE; the other, known as the “Palestinian” or “Jerusalem” Talmud, was edited perhaps in the early fourth century CE.
Why was the Talmud written? During the centuries following Rabbi Judah’s editing of the Mishna, it was studied exhaustively by generation after generation of rabbis. Eventually, some of these rabbis wrote down their discussions and commentaries on the Mishna’s laws in a series of books known as the Talmud. The rabbis of Palestine edited their discussions of the Mishna about the year 400: Their work became known as the Palestinian Talmud (in Hebrew, Talmud Yerushalmi, which literally means “Jerusalem Talmud”).
More than a century later, some of the leading Babylonian rabbis compiled another editing of the discussions on the Mishna. By then, these deliberations had been going on some three hundred years. The Babylon edition was far more extensive than its Palestinian counterpart, so that the Babylonian Talmud (TalmudBavli) became the most authoritative compilation of the Oral Law. When people speak of studying “the Talmud,” they almost invariably mean the Bavli rather than the Yerushalmi.
1000 BCE The ancient city of Urusalim, meaning “Foundation of Shalem (God)” is conquered by David, King of Israel. The Hebrews occupy Jerusalem.
975-926 BCE David’s son Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem.
922 BCE Solomon dies, and the Hebrew tribes occupying the northern part of Palestine secede, leaving the kingdom of Israel divided into the northern and southern kingdoms–Israel to the north and Judah to the south.
850 BCE Philistines & Arabians sack Jerusalem.
786 BCE King Joash of Israel (the northern kingdom) conquers the city. The northern kingdom controls the city.
721 BCE Conquest of the tribes of the northern kingdom by Assyria. These tribes, the legendary Ten Lost Tribes of Israel disappear from history, leaving only the tribes of the southern kingdom.
612 BCE Assyria yields to Babylon
604 BCE Jerusalem is despoiled and her king is deported to Babylon.
587/86 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon totally destroys the city and the Temple, and Jews are taken into captivity.
538 BCE Persian King Cyrus II vanquishes the Babylonians and allows Jews to return to Jerusalem.
515 Temple is restored.
444 Nehemiah restores fortifications of Jerusalem.
333 BCE Alexander the Great of Greece overthrows the Persians and the Hellenistic/Roman period begins.
40 BCE Herod the Great begins his 40-year reign during which the city reaches her peak of greatness.
70 CE Jerusalem besieged and almost totally destroyed by the Roman Titus. The temple is reduced to rubbish.
130 CE The city is partially repopulated.
135 CE Roman emperor Hadrian plants a new city on top of the rubbish of Jerusalem and names it after his family and Roman gods: Aelia Capitolina. A sanctuary to Jupiter is erected on the Temple Mount and other Roman deities are honored throughout the city. Jews are prohibited from entering the city.
4th century CE Under the influence of Constantine, Christianity becomes the official religion of Rome and the city returns to her original name Jerusalem.
On the trip to Israel in February our guide Sam gave us a map of Israel. The Israeli-published map from Sam describes complicated borders with the Palestinians on the interior of the country, as well as, differences from the UN-generated map describing the border with Syria to the north.
Geographically, Israel’s politics are A-B, but mostly -C, described in color-coded areas on the map below:
Lilac colored areas are under Palestinian control, Area A; blue colored areas (harder to see here) have both Israeli and Palestinian authorities as described in the Legend (quoted below), Area B; the balance of the map is under Israeli control. The map’s Legend explains it like this:
Area A – Palestinian responsibility for civil affairs, internal security and public order.
Area B – Palestinian responsibility for civil affairs and public order of Palestinians. Israeli responsibility for security of Israelis.
Our road trip from the southern tip of the Dead Sea took us north and westward into Area A, the West Bank. (Bethlehem, just a few miles south of Jerusalem is located in Area A.) We knew we were approaching area A when rolls of barbed wire protecting the boundary and a sign at the military checkpoint announced “Area A Entry Forbidden to Israeli Citizens.”
We had no trouble dealing with the several armed soldiers at the checkpoint because our guide, who is an Israeli, had applied for and was granted entree into Area A; he being a professional guide had his “papers” with him. We tourists were granted entree without showing any papers, mostly because the soldiers easily identified us as a tourist group, they knew Sam as a trusted guide and their government is dependent on tourist dollars.
The West Bank is so named because it is the geographic area on the western side–the west bank–of the Jordan River, just across the river from the Kingdom of Jordan occupied by the Palestinians. The roads are controlled by the Israeli government. (You can see on the map above that the lilac areas do not include the main highways.) Within the West Bank (Palestinian) are many towns populating the desert hillsides that are called “settlements;” these settlements are Israeli. They occur in blue areas on the map, Area B. In the English dictionary “settlement” means simply a place where people establish a community. In the mid-East, the definition is generally understood as: “. . . illegal houses built on illegal land” (information from Sam).
The word Palestine derives from Philistia, the name given by the Greeks to the land of the Philistines, who in the 12th century BCE occupied a small pocket of land on the southern Mediterranean coast, between modern Tel Aviv and Gaza. (The Gaza strip is still Palestinian, the lilac-colored small area on the southern Mediterranean coast, Area A.¹)
Biblical history provides the first prediction about how the Israeli/Palestinian relationship would develop.Exodus 13.17 (NIV) reads:
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.
The Philistines of the Old Testament are best known to us in the story of Sampson and Delilah from Judges 13-16.
The Roman emperor Hadrian first called the region of the Holy Land Palestine in the early second century CE. After the Romans were conquered the region continued to be called Palestine, the word gaining its current form from the Arabic during the early Islamic period (600s CE).
The name had no official status until after World War I. After that war, the region identified as Israel on the map above was called “Palestine” and was one of the regions mandated to and occupied by Great Britain as an outcome of that war.The mandate included the territory east of the Jordan River now constituting the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan.²
Of course, the word “Israel” comes from Abraham’s grandson Jacob who was renamed “Israel” when he stopped in the desert to worship God before meeting his estranged brother Esau. Jacob had 12 sons whose descendants became the nation Israel and were rescued from Egyptian bondage by Moses. Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years reaching the Promised Land of Canaan; ironically, wandering in the desert of Paran, the southern third of modern-day Israel. When they finally arrived in Canaan, they conquered all the Canaanite cities, and the region became theirs — Israel. Some few centuries later, Israel was divided into two, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both were populated by descendants of Jacob. This was the political division for many centuries. When Jesus was born the area was Roman and the Bible refers to the area as Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
In post-war agreements in 1947, after massive immigration by the Jews fleeing Naziism during WWII, British occupying forces left the region, and Palestine was divided by the United Nations giving birth to the modern nation of Israel.²
Both the Old and New Testament tell us a lot about God — who He is and (even more about) who He isn’t. But if there’s not enough information through the written language, maybe we can look elsewhere to learn more.
Job, chapter 12, explains:
. . . But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?
To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; those he imprisons cannot be released. If he holds back the waters there is drought; if he lets them loose, they devastate the land. . . .
How can anyone appreciate salvation whose eye nature has not trained about eternity and God’s omnipotence?
How can anyone appreciate the strength and hope of God who doesn’t recognize His majesty in nature?
How can anyone follow Him into unknown territories of life who hasn’t recognized His pathway that lies, in nature, like an open book?
The endless phenomena of nature—the art and science derived from it—are God’s letters patent to His people, giving each one who would recognize Him a certain right to know and understand His majesty. Can anyone who doesn’t recognize God in nature’s phenomena possess the certain grace that He confers on those who do?
“After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, . . . ” Luke 19:28
On our trip to Israel in spring of 2019, Tra and I did get a chance to go to the Mt. of Olives, a hilly informal plot of land where ancient olive trees and stones are planted. But we looked out across the Kidron Valley (as seen below) and saw what Jesus may have seen.
From the Mount of Olives Jesus and his disciples saw the great city of Jerusalem, the City of David, Zion, the Eternal City. The picture below is the 2019 version of Jerusalem as seen from the Mt. of Olives. The gold dome¹ covers the Jewish Temple Mount, the cornerstone of the temple that was standing when Jesus and his disciples looked over the city.
What did Jesus feel when He saw the Eternal City that day?
He saw the ancient Jewish temple that King Herod the Great had re-built.² He knew about the central structure, the “Holy of Holies,” in which hung the veil that would be “rent asunder” the moment He died on the cross.
The Tower of David and the city walls built by Herod the Great, pictured here, 2019.
He saw Herod the Great’s magnificent renovations to the temple and the more magnificent palace dominating the city-scape. Herod was famous as Rome’s master builder. But for Jesus and his Jewish followers, this Herod was the same man responsible—just 33 years before—for the mass murder of all Jewish boys under 2-years old. It was Herod’s attempt to eliminate the baby who was Jesus, now a man who was viewing the city from the Mt. of Olives. How did Jesus and His disciples feel when they saw the palace of this mass-murderer in their Holy City?
Adjacent to the temple stood Antonia’s Fortress, another architectural masterpiece, Herod’s monument honoring the Roman leader Marc Antony. This fortress is where the governor’s of Rome would stay the following weekend–the weekend of Christ’s crucifixion–because it was from Antonia’s Fortress that they would have a clear and up-close view of Golgotha.
¹The gold dome, now famously called “The Dome of the Rock,” was built by a Moslem caliph in the 7th century C.E. For the Moslems, it commemorates the place from where Mohammed was lifted for his sacred Night Journey, a visit to Allah in heaven. No Jews or Christians are allowed in the “Dome of the Rock.”
²A model of the Temple, which would have stood where the Golden Dome is now seen. The image comes from the Oxford Biblical Studies on-line.
Today, the issue of abortion reclaims US political headlines, but with a different focus.
Sometimes attempts at abortions fail, and there is a dilemma as to what to do when this happens. What should happen in this difficult situation? It seems that Congress dealt with the issue in 2001 and again in 2015. Headlines indicate that a recent Senate bill addressing the issue has failed, but will re-emerge today, April 3, 2019. S.311
We pray on behalf of those people in our hospitals and clinics and in homes across the country who are personally involved. Psalm 139 is a wonderful celebratory prayer affirming the presence of God in each life. These infants were “fearfully and wonderfully made”, and God’s thoughts towards them and his presence with them has been since before “their bodies were woven together in their mother’s womb.”
Psalm 139: 7-18 (NIV)
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? . . .
. . . If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand–when I awake, I am still with you. . . .
A wonderful scripture from a sermon by Moses to the Israelites gives us much encouragement about our prayers for our nation:
Deuteronomy 4:7 “And what other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”
The account of the supernatural transformation of Christ is recorded in the synoptic gospels (Mark 9:2-8; Matt. 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). There is no mention of the event in the gospel of John, but there is a reference at 2 Pet. 1:18.
In the context of the the Bible, the mention of Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) standing with Jesus at his transfiguration and the cloud visible to the disciples as a symbol for the divine presence (Exod. 33:7-11) signify the relationship of this New Testament account to the ancient Jewish Old Testament account as told in Exodus 24:16.
To strengthen the connection of this New Testament event with the Old Testament, the three dwellings (or tents, booths) proposed by Peter to shade Jesus, Moses, and Elijah reference the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated annually by the Jews. During this week-long event, in order to remember the wilderness experience of their ancestors, the Jews lived in booths or tents like their ancestors were believed to have done in the wilderness (Lev. 23:42) and would do so again in the Messianic age.
Moses’s face once shone with the reflected glory of God (Exod. 34:29); on the mount, Jesus’s figure shone with its own glory, and his clothes were ‘dazzling white’. The human life of Jesus was not merely a revelation to the disciples but also a promise of what all believers are destined to enjoy–the ultimate religious union of the human person with God, meaning not that a human being might become a god, or part of a god, but that the divine image might be finally and fully manifested in a created being whose life had been redeemed with the righteousness of Christ.¹
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. II Corinthians 3:18