John B. Cobb, Jr.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2015
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Reading 2: 
Psalm 51:1-13
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 5:5-10
Reading 4: 
John 12:20-33
Alt Reading 1: 
Psalm 119:9-16
By John Cobb

The passage from Jeremiah brings us back explicitly to the sequence of covenants that play such a large role in biblical thinking. We began with the covenant God made with Noah and with all living things never again to flood the whole earth. Indeed, God’s promise went beyond this: the natural cycles needed for agriculture would henceforth be reliable. This assurance is given, not so much despite God’s recognition of human sinfulness, but because God recognizes and accepts that reality and promises never again to respond with just punishment.

Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 15, 2015
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Numbers 21:4-9
Reading 2: 
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Reading 3: 
Ephesians 2:1-10
Reading 4: 
John 3:14-21
By John Cobb

Today’s readings begin with a strange story in Numbers. Anyone trying to build a coherent picture of Moses encounters a particular difficulty. Last Sunday we read in Exodus a strong prohibition against making any graven images. Today we read in Numbers that when the people were dying from snake bites, Moses made an image of a snake and raised it on a pole. When people were bitten by snakes, they could be cured by looking at this image.

Third Sunday in Lent

March 8, 2015
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Exodus 20:1-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 19
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Reading 4: 
John 2:13-22
By John Cobb

Today’s lectionary readings include the Ten Commandments. Their importance in history can hardly be exaggerated. In this series of lectionary readings, however, it is clear that we are invited to focus on the Mosaic Covenant. In the first Lenten Sunday, we read of the covenant with Noah after the flood. In the second, we learned of the covenant with Abraham. Today we learn of the covenant out of which many Jews today still primarily shape their lives.

Second Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2015
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Reading 2: 
Psalm 22:22-30
Reading 3: 
Romans 4:13-25
Reading 4: 
Mark 8:31-38
By John Cobb

The Abrahamic covenant is featured in today’s readings. In Genesis we have the original story. In Paul we find his wrestling with this story for our sake. The issue is whether we who are not Jews can claim the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants. If we detach it from these mythological trappings, the issue is whether Gentile followers of the Jew, Jesus, can have an equal place in the new communities with Jewish followers.

First Sunday in Lent

February 22, 2015
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Genesis 9:8-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 25:1-9
Reading 3: 
1 Peter 3:18-22
Reading 4: 
Mark 1:9-15
By John Cobb

This is the first Sunday in Lent. We think of Lent as a time for self-examination and penitence for our sins. Some form of fasting is common. It is difficult to connect any of the passages assigned for today with these themes.

The Last Sunday after Epiphany/Transfiguration

March 2, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Exodus 24:12-18
Reading 2: 
Psalm 2
Reading 3: 
2 Peter 1:16-21
Reading 4: 
Matthew 17:1-9
Alt Reading 1: 
Psalm 99
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

We have been immersed in the past few weeks in Jesus’ message. This focused on the Commonwealth of God that through his work was beginning to appear, and on the radical character of the life it called into being. We have seen that his message both continued the prophetic tradition of Israel and also transformed it. Christians understand that Jesus announced and enacted the fulfillment of that tradition.

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

February 23, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Reading 2: 
Psalm 119:33-40
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Reading 4: 
Matthew 5:38-48
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

This Sunday’s readings provide a basis for deep reflection about the difference between Judaism and Christianity. For Jews the Torah is central. It may be paired with the prophets because to a large extent its teachings implement the prophetic call for justice. Today’s reading from Leviticus is a beautiful example. It spells out quite specifically how to implement justice. It is clear that employers then and now are tempted to take advantage of the powerlessness of those who work for them by delaying payment of wages.

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

February 16, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Reading 2: 
Psalm 119:1-8
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Reading 4: 
Matthew 5:21-37
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount comes from the heart of Jesus’ message, from what distinguishes Jesus from the previous members of the prophetic tradition in which he stood. That is exactly the way the message is formulated. “It has been said” and “I say.” Last week we saw that for Jesus this was not setting aside the law and the prophets but fulfilling them. It was not reducing the heavy demands of the law but intensifying them.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

February 9, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
Reading 2: 
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)
Reading 4: 
Matthew 5:13-20
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Today’s scriptures for the most part deal with righteousness. What is true righteousness? The passage from the Sermon on the Mount is the most puzzling. It is clear from many passages, including other passages in Matthew, that Jesus put meeting human needs above literal obedience to some of the laws about the Sabbath.

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

February 2, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Micah 6:1-8
Reading 2: 
Psalm 15
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Reading 4: 
Matthew 5:1-12
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Beginning with Jesus’ call immediately after his baptism we have been asking how he understood his mission in order to throw light on what we who want to follow him are now called to be and do. Since what we call the Old Testament was Jesus’ Scripture, we can assume that his understanding of his mission was largely formed by it. We can also assume that it was the prophetic message in that scripture that chiefly guided him. The Micah passage is a classical expression of the message we have been reading in Isaiah.

Third Sunday after Epiphany

January 26, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 9:1-4
Reading 2: 
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Reading 4: 
Matthew 4:12-23
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

We have been seeking in the passages assigned from Isaiah and the Psalms clues to how Jesus may have understood his mission. The Isaiah passage for today is one that Christians have been accustomed to using to announce the coming of Jesus. It could have been influential with Jesus own thinking, but that seems less plausible. It is written as if the event had occurred. Presumably the writer was excited about the birth of a descendant of David expected to rule. He prophesied that this new king would bring freedom and peace to Israel.

Second Sunday after Epiphany

January 19, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 49:1-7
Reading 2: 
Psalm 40:1-11
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Reading 4: 
John 1:29-42
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Last Sunday we talked about the mission of Jesus. We found especially in the Isaiah passage, an understanding of what the expected one was to do that fit Jesus quite well. We treated it from that point of view.

Baptism of Christ/First Sunday after Epiphany

January 12, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 42:1-9
Reading 2: 
Psalm 29
Reading 3: 
Acts 10:34-43
Reading 4: 
Matthew 3:13-17
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Today the church celebrates the calling of Jesus to his ministry. This took place in conjunction with his baptism by John. But the gospels are at some pains to assert that it was not the baptism into John’s community that was important but rather the intensely personal vision and audition that came after Jesus returned to the shore. According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus saw God’s Spirit descending on him and a voice proclaimed that he was the “Son of God,” the one in whom God was “well pleased.” Just what this meant he was to do was not immediately clear.

Proper 29/Christ the King (Reign of Christ)

November 25, 2001
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Reading 2: 
Psalm 46
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Jeremiah’s prophesies are not apocalyptic. Hence process theologians can take them much more straightforwardly. Jeremiah is hoping that a descendant of David will assume the throne of Israel and create a nation to which the widely dispersed Jews can return. He pronounced this vision of a hopeful future at a very low period of Israel’s condition. All of its leaders had been carried into exile or had fled to Egypt. Israel and Judah as nations had ceased to exist.

Proper 28

November 18, 2001
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Malachi 4:1-2a
Reading 2: 
Psalm 98
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Psalm 98 expresses a quite different mood – one of joyful triumph. It seems at first that the triumph is God’s and that we can celebrate quite unequivocally with the Psalmist. Surely as Christians we hope for God’s victory in the world! But as the Psalm continues, it becomes clear that God’s victory is identified with the victory of Israel.

Proper 27

November 11, 2001
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Job 19:23-27a
Reading 2: 
Psalm 17:1-9
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

This Psalm expresses sentiments that are much closer to the American people these days. Placed on the lips of David, it asks God to recognize his virtue and give him the protection he deserves. It partakes of the self-righteousness against which I wrote in the commentary for last week.

Proper 26

November 4, 2001
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 1:10-18
Reading 2: 
Psalm 32:1-7
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

I studied the lectionary options with the question in mind of their appropriateness to the present mood of our nation. I have chosen the alternative selection from the first Testament for interpretation and discussion.

Proper 25

October 28, 2007
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Joel 2:23-32
Reading 2: 
Psalm 65
Reading 3: 
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Reading 4: 
Luke 18:9-14
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

The two passages from the Christian Old Testament raise the question of the relation of God and the natural world. The psalm celebrates the wonder of the normal cycles of weather as they bring forth harvests and provide food for animals. Joel sees the hand of God in the terrible destruction worked by locusts and also in being saved from this destruction.

Proper 24

October 21, 2007
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Reading 2: 
Psalm 119:97-104
Reading 3: 
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Reading 4: 
Luke 18:1-8
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

Jews and Christians are particularly fortunate in their scriptures. This is not simply because of the magnificent passages that these contain, including some of what is in the lectionary for today. It is because the deeply human character of the writing is so manifest. Furthermore, the authors make no pretense of divine authority for what they write. Some do, no doubt, claim the authority of great figures from the past, such as Moses, David, or Paul for writings that are not factually theirs.

Proper 23

October 14, 2007
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Reading 2: 
Psalm 66:1-12
Reading 3: 
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Reading 4: 
Luke 17:11-19
By John B. Cobb, Jr.

One problem faced by serious believers in every generation is how to relate to the social and cultural context in which we find ourselves. Sometimes our inclination is to separate ourselves from it; sometimes, to attack it; sometimes, to adapt to it; and sometimes, to embrace it. The issue goes back a long way. Sometimes we feel like Pilgrims passing through an alien world; sometimes like settlers who transform the world into what they want; sometimes like part of the dominant culture or, at least, of what we judge best in it.

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