Commentary on Introduction to Narrative Lectionary Year 3
An overview of the Narrative Lectionary Year 3, fall.1
Some preachers and worship leaders who follow the Narrative Lectionary (NL) have found it useful to divide the year into smaller units. The following is one way of dividing the Old Testament lessons in the NL for Fall 2020. As always, there is more than one way of organizing the texts—the blocks of text offered here are not “official”—rather, this is just one way of thinking about the way the Old Testament story unfolds.
As the subhead suggests—“Promises, Promises”—the overall theme suggested here is the promises of God. The God who meets us in the Old Testament is a promising God. God makes promises and proves faithful to those promises. God’s fidelity to the divine promises may be the most important theological theme in the Old Testament. The God of Abraham and Sarah binds the divine self to creation and also to Israel. Even though individual Israelites and Israel as a people so often prove unfaithful to God, God remains steadfast, immovable and committed to the creation, to the nation, and to individual women and men.
As always in the Narrative Lectionary, the preacher will have some work to do each week to fill in the gaps of the story, to connect one text to the next.
Series I: God’s Promising Beginning
September 13 (Pentecost 15) through October 11 (Pentecost 19)
9/13 Creation and Fall—Gen 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8 (Luke 11:4)
If the Bible as a whole is a literary plot, it is about the problem of “sin” and God’s responses to that problem. A plot can be described as a literary problem to be addressed. The creation begins with wondrous promise—God creates the human, breathes the divine spirit of life into the human, and places the human in the garden to “till it and keep it.” Humanity has a place and a purpose to till (that is, to “serve” the creation—Hebrew ‘abad) and keep (that is, to “guard” or “watch over” the creation—Hebrew shamar). But the humans sin. They learn to know the difference between good and evil—but knowing what is good does not mean the humans have the ability to choose good rather than evil. Thus, in spite of the promising beginning, sin is the reality of life. The question then becomes, what is God going to do about it?
9/20 God’s Promise to Abraham—Gen 15:1-6 (Luke 3:8)
Original sin—a Christian term for the brokenness that distorts all of creation—is the cursed condition of creation to which God responds in the Bible. God’s response is not limited to one action. Although God considered wiping the slate clean (see the flood in Gen 6-9), God decided to stick with creation and fix sin another way. One way that God responded to the curse of sin was to bless one people in order that through that one people, all the nations of the earth might be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). Genesis 15 describes how God renews the divine promise to Abraham, who had remained childless into old age. Shockingly, Abraham believes God’s promise in spite of the unlikelihood of the promise being kept. And God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousness.
9/27 God Works through Joseph—Gen 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15-21 (Luke 6:35)
Sometimes God’s promises go to ground and hide. It might seem that God has turned away, that God has abandoned the chosen people to their own fate. It certainly seemed that way to Joseph—who was ambushed, stripped, enslaved, imprisoned, and forgotten. But God was with Joseph. Indeed, God met Joseph in his suffering and blessed him to be a blessing. Genesis says that although Joseph’s brothers intended evil through their actions, God worked through their evil deeds to keep the promise, to preserve the great and numerous people, and keep the mission of God alive. Note that Genesis ends with the promise of the numerous people kept, but Israel is not in the promised land. What will God do?
10/4 The Promise of Passover—Exod 12:1-13; 13:1-8 (Luke 22:14-20)
The preacher may need to remind the congregation that Exodus starts with the ominous news that a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph—who didn’t know how Joseph had blessed Egypt. And thus the king oppressed Israel. The preacher may want to rehearse the story of Moses’ call and the battle between God and Pharaoh to determine who would be lord of Israel. The text here talks about the promise of the last plague, the promise to free Israel from slavery. The text focuses on the Passover experience and the annual remembrance of this delivery in the Passover meal—the term “festival” is important. Israel was to celebrate the festival of Passover every year. The connection between the Passover and Christ’s last supper and sacrificial death is important—especially since October 2 is world communion Sunday.
10/11 Golden Calf—Exod 32:1-1-14 (Luke 23:34)
The story of the golden calf is one of the primary stories of Israel’s infidelity to God. No sooner had Israel been delivered, had the covenant renewed, and been given the gift of the Ten Commandments … than Israel grew weak in faith and betrayed God. Israel lost faith because its human leader Moses had disappeared. Israel wanted a tangible god that it could see—a god made of gold. So Aaron made a calf that was a false image of the true God—Aaron made the calf and declared, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” Note again the term festival. Rather than worship God in spirit and truth at the festival of Passover, the people chose to worship the Lord at their own “festival”—“the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.” The term “revel” may indicate sexual rites. God and Moses get into an argument about whose people Israel is. God suggested starting over and making Moses into a new Abraham: “of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses reminded God of the divine promise: “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel your servant, how you swore to them by your own self.” And God did remember the promise and forgave Israel.
Series II—The Unfolding Promises of God through the Prophets
Oct. 18 (Pentecost 20) through Nov. 22 (Christ the King)
Note: In this sub-series, all of the texts feature prophetic speaking. But the overall theme remains God’s promises and the fidelity of God to those promises. The mission of God requires the ongoing speaking and revelation of God’s word.
10/18 God Answer’s Hannah—1 Sam 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10 (Luke 1:46-55)
One of the most interesting things about the psalm Hannah sings in 1 Samuel 2 is that it isn’t an “individual song of thanksgiving” such as one might expect. Rather, it is a “national song of thanksgiving”—the sort of song one might sing after a national victory. One reason that this is significant is that God’s answer to Hannah’s prayer was a key moment not just for Hannah, but for Israel as a nation. The child born to Hannah—Samuel—would be the last of the judges and the prophet who ushered in the era of the monarchy. Hannah’s prayer was very simple: “look on the mystery of your servant, and remember me!” God’s unfolding plan for the nation of Israel began with God noticing the misery of one poor sufferer—and remembering the promise to Israel.
10/25 God’s Promise to David—2 Sam 7:1-17 (Luke 1:30-33)
Theme of God’s promises continues with one of the most important texts in the Old Testament—the covenantal promise with David. The text is built theologically around the threefold meaning of the Hebrew term bet, which can mean 1) a “house [for humans],” here David’s “palace”; 2) a “temple” (or “house for a god”), and 3) a “dynasty” (as in “the house of Windsor.”) David has already moved to Jerusalem and built himself a “house” or palace. He then thinks to build God a “house”—a temple. At first, Nathan blesses this idea, but God speaks to him and commands David to stop, instead God promises to build David a house—a dynasty. David’s son will be God’s son and will call God father. A son from David’s line will forever be king in Israel. From this promise eventually comes the Messiah—the perfect king, the son of David. One wonders if Jesus’ move to call God “Father” is based on this text and his own messianic self-understanding.
11/1 God’s Care for the Widow—1 Kgs 17:1-16 [17-24] (Luke 4:24-26)
Pent 22/All Saints
After David’s kingdom split into two, the northern country Israel experienced faithful leadership. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (who originally came from the land of Sidon) are examples. Under their leadership, Israel joined into the syncretistic worship of false gods such as Baal and Asherah. Evil practices such as child sacrifice also were known, see 1 Kings 16:31-34. God ordained the prophet Elijah to command a drought to announce God’s judgment and punishment. During the drought, Elijah himself also experienced the resulting loss of food and water. So God sent him, ironically, to a widow in Jezebel’s homeland of Sidon in order to be fed. The story of the widow receiving Elijah—sharing her last grain and oil with her guest and then experiencing a miracle of ongoing grain and oil—is a classic story of God’s abundant provision, of hospitality to the stranger, of learning to be a guest, and also of God showing up in the middle of suffering. Here, God’s promise is a promise first of judgment but then of welcome and provision. And it happens in Jezebel’s home country!
11/8 Jonah and God’s Mercy—Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10 [4:1-11] (Luke 18:13)
John Ylvisaker had a song, “That’s the Thing I Don’t Like about Jesus.” Jonah probably was humming that tune in the whale’s belly. Jonah isn’t about the whale, or even about Nineveh, so much as it is about Jonah and the Lord. After the Lord spares Nineveh from destruction, Jonah laments, “That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (4:2). What Jonah doesn’t like about the Lord is that the Lord forgives. By this point in Israel’s history, Israel was figuring out who God was. And Israel didn’t like it. But here is a question: Can we claim the radical grace and forgiveness of God without wanting it for all others? Even those who kill and oppress?
11/15 God Calls Isaiah—Isa 6:1-8 (Luke 5:8-10)
Isaiah 6 is often referred to either as the call of Isaiah or as Isaiah’s inaugural vision. Either way, it is seen as the start of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. The mission of God requires the ongoing calling of those who will speak God’s word, which functions as law and gospel in the lives of the faithful. Isaiah will speak both law and gospel, judgment and promise, condemnation and deliverance. God forgives Isaiah’s native sin (“your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out”) and commissions Isaiah and sends him out to speak for heaven.
11/22 God Promises a New Covenant—Jer 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; 31:31-34 (Luke 22:19-20)
Christ the King/Reign of Christ
The story of King Jehoiakim ripping off strips of the scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies and burning them one by one is paired here with the promise of the New Covenant. What a perfect story for Christ the King Sunday! Jehoiakim is typical of Israel and Judah’s unfaithful kings. He hears the words of judgment there and burns it. But Jeremiah redictates the scroll. And the scroll includes words of hope and promise. The promise of a new covenant, the eventual arrival of the Messiah (see the story of God’s promise to David on October 25). Jesus is Messiah, the one assured in the New Covenant, the faithful king and lord.
- Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 4, 2016.