Lectionary Preview study materials: 21 March 2021, fifth Sunday in lent
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Psalm: Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.
6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
13 Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
9 How shall a young man cleanse his way? *
By keeping to your words.
10 With my whole heart I seek you; *
let me not stray from your commandments.
11 I treasure your promise in my heart, *
that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord; *
instruct me in your statutes.
13 With my lips will I recite *
all the judgments of your mouth.
14 I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees *
than in all manner of riches.
15 I will meditate on your commandments *
and give attention to your ways.
16 My delight is in your statutes; *
I will not forget your word.
Epistle: Hebrews 5:5-10
5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
6as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel: John 12:20-33
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. 27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Bible Study: Lent 5 (B) – March 21, 2021
March 21, 2021
This powerful passage speaks of God’s promise of reconciliation and hope to the people of Israel. The Babylonian army had conquered Jerusalem, razed the Temple, and sent Jeremiah and many others into exile in Babylon. Many exiles believed that this traumatic defeat was God’s punishment for their idolatry and their injustice towards one another. They knew they had turned away from God, and they believed God responded in kind, by turning away from them.
But Jeremiah here tells them that this is not the end of the story: even now, God is making the first move to restore their relationship. God promises to make a new and even better covenant with them—to forge an even more honest, open, and intimate connection with God’s people. The people have sinned, yes; but God’s forgiveness flows from an even deeper generosity, from the depth of God’s longing to know and be known by God’s people. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” God does not want outward signs of obedience or fear, but the love of hearts that are both just and genuine.
- All of us have turned away from God in one way or another. Be honest: when you think about repentance, do you imagine yourself having to earn back God’s love? Or do you imagine God as eager to make the first move, to forgive?
- Have there been moments when you did right by someone, not out of duty or guilt, but out of authentic desire? What made that possible? How might you bring that possibility into other spheres of your life?
This beautiful psalm contains some of the Bible’s profound words of humility and penitence. Holding nothing back, the psalmist confesses to being “a sinner from my mother’s womb,” yet also confesses faith that “you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.” God will speak to the part of our souls that thrills to the truth—that pulses deep beneath our pride, our wild will to go it alone.
The psalm is a plea for God to help us “want what we want to want.” That phrase from the philosopher Harry Frankfurt captures the reality that our desires often conflict or crowd each other out. The whole psalm is a cry to be brought again into the embrace of the parent who can calm and reorient us, upon whose presence we depend for nourishment, instruction, and care. “Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.”
- Can you name an impulse or desire that conflicts with “what you want to want?” What would it cost you to let go of that desire today?
- When do you find yourself trying to “go it alone”—to go without the help God is always offering? Where do you want to loosen your grip and let God shoulder some of the burden?
Melchizedek has the whiff of mystery about him. He appears for only a fleeting moment in Genesis 14; he blesses Abram and gives him bread and wine when Abram passes through his city on a mission to rescue his brother Lot. This was before Abram was Abraham – before God had called him and blessed him, promising to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. And it was before Melchizedek’s city, Salem, got a new name, too: Jerusalem.
In this complicated passage, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes Jesus as the heir to this tradition of blessing and sharing bread and wine more ancient even than Abraham. It is a way of naming Jesus as one who brings us back to the deepest roots of the Israelite tradition in acts of sacred hospitality, and in solidarity with the most vulnerable. By describing Jesus as similar to this mysterious priest-king, the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus used his power as God’s Son not to dominate or exclude, but to welcome, nourish, and bless.
- Can you think of someone who you met only in passing who nonetheless made an impact on you, who blessed you? Have you met a Melchizedek?
- Is there a small way you can channel your gratitude to them by being a blessing to someone passing through your life right now? What are some of the gifts you have to offer others?
This passage comes just after Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem, which we remember each year on Palm Sunday. In other words, we are beginning the most tragic chapter of Jesus’ life and ministry: his journey to the Cross. When Jesus speaks about a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies to bear much fruit, he is obviously speaking about his own impending death; that death will bring forth an explosion of life-giving grace, a life beyond death. But Jesus is also announcing that this paradoxical connection between death and life is at the heart of discipleship. He tells the Greek-speaking Jews who have come to see him—and he tells us today—that if we insist on holding tight to our lives as they are, everything we want to control and contain will eventually be taken away from us. But if we’re willing to let our lives crack open like a seed planted in the earth, we will witness an abundant outpouring of life: in us and given through us.
It is part of the mystery of life that we only enjoy that abundance by continually giving it away. Like Melchizedek, like Abraham and Sarah, we are blessed to be a blessing: to plant our lives like seeds in the earth and to share the fruits.
- Is there a part of your life, or a relationship, where you’re holding on tight to “the way things have always been” amid change? What if that change isn’t so much a loss as a breaking open so that God might grow something new—in you, and in the world?
- As we move into the season of spring, there are seeds stirring in the earth. Is there a part of your heart that has been lying still this winter, waiting for this moment to break open into shoots and blossoms? Is there a ministry in your community that could help that part of you grow, where you could share the beauty of God’s work in you with others?
Carl Adair is a postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Long Island and a student at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Meg, a radio producer and reporter. Before seminary, Carl worked in the restaurant industry and as a teacher’s aide with students with disabilities; he also earned a Ph.D. in English Literature and taught college English in two New Jersey state prisons. He is the seminarian intern at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, Queens, N.Y.