Lectionary Commentaries for June 21, 2020
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 10:24-39

Stanley Saunders

Fear. Is there any more pervasive or powerful motivating force in human experience?1

From the moment we are born, we learn to fear the world around us, certainly to fear the stranger, sometimes to fear even those who are closest to us. Political leaders have long recognized the power of fear in ensuring our conformity to the structures this world, even when doing so does not serve our best interests. Fear is the driving force behind vast segments of our economy, as well as, increasingly, our political priorities.

Jesus recognizes that fear will also cause the failure of discipleship. Jesus’ disciples courageously leave the security of their homes and families to follow him as they proclaim the advent of God’s reign, but they, too, will know and ultimately bow before the power of fear. Faithful proclamation and practice of the gospel inevitably puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. So, as Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he is starkly realistic about the threats they will face, at the same time he builds the case for why they should not let this fear master them or hinder their witness.

Jesus’ mission discourse is a “get-out-the-volunteers” campaign like no other. On the one hand, the disciples are granted remarkable powers to heal, exorcise demons, cleanse lepers, even to raise the dead. But he also denies them money, pay, extra clothes, a staff for protection, even sandals. They are to undertake their mission in complete vulnerability and dependence on God (10:8-11), even knowing that they go as “sheep in the midst of wolves,” face arrests and beatings, opposition even from family members, and hatred and persecution (10:16-23).

Why does Jesus highlight the horrors that await the disciples? Naming aloud the suffering to be endured and its causes is the first step in freeing them from the tenacious grip of fear. In the latter half of the discourse, where our focus lies, Jesus continues to describe worst case scenarios, wound together with statements of reassurance and repeated calls to resist fear. The most important element of reassurance lies in the integral relationship that is affirmed between the disciples and Jesus, and through him, God.  

“Do not fear” is the dominant, recurrent message in 10:24-31 (cf. 10:26, 28, 31). But first Jesus offers a warning: whatever fate awaits teachers or masters also awaits their disciples and slaves (10:24-25). If Israel’s elites call Jesus “the prince of demons” (cf. 9:34, 12:24), the disciples should be ready for a similar response. “So have no fear of them” (10:26).

The claim that whatever is covered up will be uncovered and secrets made known arises from the disclosive power of the gospel, in which the disciples participate through the means of their mission. Their simplicity, vulnerability, and dependence on God demonstrate the reality of God’s presence and character in the face the world’s claims to possess real power. Even though doing so will bring suffering, the gospel must now be proclaimed “in the light and from the housetops” (10:27), for the gospel proclaimed and lived is the most powerful tool at the disciples’ disposal against the powers of this world.

The threat of death may be the most powerful form of fear. Jesus’ next expression of reassurance addresses this fear directly, yet with irony (10:28-31). The right to kill is one of the chief props in the façade of human political power. Jesus admits that humans exercise this power, but notes that they have power only to kill the body, not the whole person. God alone can destroy both soul and body (10:28); God alone, therefore, is the one we should fear.

This claim represents God’s power as surpassing, but similar in kind to that of human rulers. Jesus then reassures the disciples that God is not, in fact, like the powers. God knows and cares even for the sparrows that are sold “two for a penny.” God knows even the hairs on our heads better than we do (10:29-31, cf. 6:25-33). The threat of violence and death are real concerns for the disciples, but no longer the determining force in their lives, for the one who has ultimate power over our whole being exercises that power with mercy and love.

The sayings in 10:32-39 again encourage disciples to remain firm in their commitment to Jesus and their mission, even when that mission generates inevitable conflicts, even within their families. The saying in 10:34 is crucial: although Jesus has called his disciples to be peacemakers (5:9), his mission does not bring peace, but a sword, so long as the powers resist God’s rule and will. The very act of peacemaking, as Jesus’ ministry demonstrates, generates violence, for healing, restoration, and the conquest of death threaten the foundations of all human assertions of power in defiance of God.

Finally, the call to discipleship renders secondary all other claims upon one’s identity and allegiance, even to father or mother, or son or daughter (10:37, cf. 8:21-22, 12:46-50). To “take up the cross” (10:38-39) aligns the disciples’ mission and fate with that of Jesus, that is, with the humiliation, suffering, shame, opposition, and death that Jesus persistently speaks about here.

Taking up the cross implies identification with the marginal people (slaves and rebels) who were subject to Roman crucifixion, because they did not align themselves with or submit themselves to Rome’s authority. But Jesus promises that those who “lose their life” for him will in fact “find it,” while those who “find their lives” in the world will lose them (10:39).

The answers to fear, then, include clear-eyed recognition of the façades of human power, even those rooted in the threat of death, awareness of the conflict and division the gospel inevitably produces, and especially the deep awareness and conviction that God is present in the world, in mercy and compassion.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 22, 2014.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 20:7-13

Charles L. Aaron, Jr.

If three people say something affirming to us in a day, but one person chews us out, the chewing out will stick with us.

An unjustified chewing out hurts more deeply, but even when we can see our shortcomings, a chewing out raises our hackles. We will fume, and feel the hurt; we will use whatever strategies we have developed to cope with a verbal attack. We eventually will move on from the chewing out, but some pain will linger, and the moving on will not come easily.

In Jeremiah 20, God stands on the receiving end of a chewing out. The prophet does not hold back his anger or his accusations. The prophet does not express his emotion in what a mental health professional might consider an appropriate way. He does not claim his feelings as his own. He does not start off by saying, “God, I feel angry at you right now.” Jeremiah begins with a second-person accusation. “You have enticed me, and I was enticed.” The word “enticed” carries multiple connotations. In Deuteronomy 11:16, it refers to the seduction of idolatry. It occurs in the idea of both a woman seducing a man (Job 31:9) and man seducing a woman (Exodus 22:16). 

We think of situations where a person drops guard and becomes vulnerable. That fits with Jeremiah’s admission that he was enticed. Jeremiah makes the accusation that God found a vulnerability in the prophet and exploited it. Jeremiah points the finger at God. The reader might see an irrational dimension to Jeremiah’s charge. An enticement, a seduction, a con job usually has some purpose. Jeremiah does not say what he thinks God’s purpose in enticing him might have been. What did the prophet think God wanted out of him, that God would seduce him? The other image in this part of the passage implies an adversarial relationship. God has “prevailed” as in a fight (see the same term in Jacob wrestling with the “man” in Genesis 32:25). Jeremiah seems simply to lash out, giving full vent to his pain and frustration.

Jeremiah describes the problems obeying God has caused him. He has become an object of ridicule. The first part of the chapter relates the punishment of Pashhur for Jeremiah. Beyond that, Jeremiah expresses his frustration that the people do not listen to his message. The predicted defeats and divine punishments have not happened. The people think he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

A transition begins in verse 9. The prophet wants to walk away, but cannot. He describes the claim of God’s call on him with a powerful image, that has become a well-known phrase. Jeremiah does not have a “fire in the belly,” but a fire all the way down in his bones (for a similar image, see Psalm 39:3). Jeremiah’s precise experience eludes the reader. Does he become convinced of the truth of the message? Does he realize the divine claim on him? In any case, his compulsion to preach the message given to him outweighs the trouble it has caused him. He cannot extinguish or even contain the passion within him.

Whatever has happened within the heart of the prophet, he now sees his situation differently. The verbal assaults from even his friends have continued. Nevertheless, he considers God an ally in the battle instead of seeing a battle on two fronts, with God as one combatant. The reader may wince at the vindictiveness of Jeremiah’s new attitude. He does not seem to want God to open the eyes and ears of his opponents, but to punish them. The prophet may have found new courage and conviction for preaching his message, but he has not found any Lincolnesque charity or lack of malice. He has made progress, but he has not vanquished his anger. He has directed it toward another target.

What should we do with verse 13? It doesn’t seem to fit. The language of the verse, with the rather generic term “the needy” suggests that an editor found it elsewhere and placed it here. The difference in tone also supports this idea. In any case, either Jeremiah himself or an editor thought the verse fit. That the chapter goes immediately to verse 14, with its continued complaint and lamentation reminds the reader that newfound confidence in God can seem fleeting. We don’t always come to an epiphany and stay there. We want to identify with Jeremiah’s new conviction, but we certainly identify that we can start in lamentation, find new trust in God and then plunge back into lamentation.

Certainly, preachers themselves have stood in the prophet’s shoes. Whether the cause derives from a behind-the-back-gossip trail to rejection of a woman’s voice from the pulpit, to unchristian attitudes among church members, the preacher has felt the prophet’s anguish, even if preachers might not use the language of enticement.

Of course, the preacher must proclaim a word to the church. Have not the members of the congregation experienced frustration in church work? Have they not felt as though church work accomplishes nothing? Has any church leader escaped from criticism? Haven’t most church officers experienced the temptation to resign over the hard work with little appreciation? Have not church members felt anguish over the suffering of the world and the seeming helplessness of the church? Haven’t church leaders had to soothe the sting of betrayal?

Jeremiah can enable the preacher to speak to the feelings of frustration, exhaustion, hurt, and exasperation, even anger that come from lay ministry. The preacher can speak to the things that create new commitment when we feel discouraged. The preacher can lead the congregation to claim God’s solidarity with them in their mission to the world, even if the world sometimes spits in their face.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 21:8-21

Amanda Benckhuysen

For some time now, I have wondered why the editors of Genesis give Hagar and Ishmael so much press among the stories of Abraham and Sarah.

After all, this seemingly insignificant Egyptian maid servant is barely a footnote in redemption history. You could easily tell the story of Abraham and Sarah without mentioning Hagar or by alluding to her in passing reference. Furthermore, her presence doesn’t exactly make Abraham and Sarah look good. She’s a bit of an embarrassment—the foreign slave girl, who Abraham impregnated and who gave birth to his first-born son. In fact, from Sarah’s perspective, Hagar and later Ishmael are clearly a problem to be dealt with, managed, and eventually discarded. She and her son are in the way. Hagar and Ishmael must go.

Older translations fault Ishmael for the breakdown in relationship, depicting Ishmael as mocking Isaac. According to this scenario, Sarah is safe-guarding Isaac because she recognizes that he is the one through whom God would fulfill his covenant promises. Sharing her concern for Isaac, God affirms Sarah’s demand that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away.

But the word metsacheq (a word which shares the same root as the name Isaac) has a range of meanings, one of which is simply “to laugh.” It could very well be that in Genesis 21:9, Ishmael was laughing with joy, celebrating the life of his half-brother with all those gathered. After all, the text doesn’t suggest that Sarah saw anything nefarious … just that she had a sudden urge to protect Isaac’s inheritance. It could be that with Isaac having survived infancy, it was no longer necessary to keep Ishmael around as a back-up plan, and that now, he was just in the way. As the oldest son, Ishmael would have been entitled to a double-portion of the inheritance and certainly would have occupied pride of place among Abraham’s sons. As such, Sarah’s focus seems to be on safeguarding Isaac’s power and privilege, not necessarily his well-being or safety.

But what are God’s motivations, then? Why does God affirm Sarah’s request to send Hagar and Ishmael away if her motivations are less than noble? The text does not tell us. However, based on God’s attention and care for Hagar in Genesis 16 and Hagar and Ishmael in verses 15-21 of this chapter, it seems clear that God isn’t simply trying to dispose of them, get them out of the way. In their distress, God heard their cries and provided the means for their survival. Thus, even though Ishmael isn’t the child who would carry forward God’s covenant promises, God has a plan for Hagar and for Ishmael. They would also become a great nation, much like Isaac. And God would be with them (verse 21). By God’s grace and intervention, Hagar and Ishmael would survive, even thrive and flourish.

According to some ancient near Eastern conventions, Abraham either had to claim the son born to his slave girl as his own, or give him his freedom. It seems likely that this is what is going on here. Abraham wants to claim Ishmael as his son (verse 12). But God has other plans for Hagar and Ishmael, using the situation as an opportunity to give them their freedom. In Genesis 16, Hagar fled from the home of Abraham and Sarah, young, pregnant, alone. But the wilderness is not a kind place for a single woman, much less, a woman with child. Hagar’s survival was at risk. So God sent her home, knowing that Sarah would continue to treat her harshly. Now, however, Ishmael is grown, likely between the ages of 17-19. He is a young man, no longer dependent on his mother for basic provisions but old enough to contribute to the care of both of them. The time is right and ripe for Hagar and Ishmael to strike out on their own.

So back to the question of why include these stories among the narratives of Abraham and Sarah. What do they contribute to our understanding of God and God’s mission in the world? The main theme of the ancestral narratives in Genesis is the fulfillment of the promises God makes to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12 for progeny, land, and blessing. But we would be mistaken if we believed that God only had eyes on those who were selected to be God’s chosen people. Scattered throughout the stories of God’s elect are the stories of Lot, Hagar and Ishmael, and Esau, those who have not been chosen. Yet in each case, God is very present in their lives. In fact, of Esau, Jacob declares, “seeing your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10). God is not only present to Esau, but Esau, as the non-chosen, reflects the love and presence of God to his chosen brother Jacob.

These stories, then, serve as an important corrective to notions of chosenness and election among the people of God. Our chosenness as people of faith does not mean that we have a corner on God. It does not mean that God’s love and care is limited to us. What is striking about Isaac and Ishmael is that God makes the same promise to them both. They would each become a great nation. They would both experience God’s presence and blessing.

The difference between Isaac and Ishmael, then, is not so much chosenness, but calling. Isaac and his progeny were called to the task of being the means through which God would bless the nations. They were to model what a faithful relationship with God looks like, what it means to live out God’s will for his creation. They were to show and tell God’s love for the whole world, and ultimately, to participate in God’s redemptive work by being the people through whom the Messiah of the world would come.

These narratives are in Genesis to remind us of this. God loves the Hagars and Ishmaels of our world. God hears their cries, sees their suffering, and brings about their redemption. This is the gospel story. And the invitation for those of us who are God’s people is to attend to, bless, and embody God’s love and care to those outside of the community of Christian faith, particularly to those who are the most vulnerable. Just as God loves the Hagars and Ishmaels of our world, so should we.


Commentary on Psalm 69:7-10, [11-15], 16-18

Paul K.-K. Cho

In Psalm 69, a servant of God (69:17) suffers for no fault of his own, but rather for his devotion to God (69:9).1

He is an innocent sufferer, even a righteous sufferer, and the servant claims that he suffers “for God” (69:7). For these reasons, Psalm 69 is a profound meditation on suffering comparable to the great Isaianic passages about the “servant of YHVH,” especially Isaiah 52:13 — 53:12, and that devastating book called Job. Suffering, in our psalm, is not the consequence of sin but of piety, and it is suffering that benefits God.

The reality of suffering

Psalm 69 readily admits the reality of suffering and that suffering is an undesirable experience for the righteous. The psalm does not glorify suffering as an opportunity either for education or for demonstrating the virtue of patience, even if suffering can be those things. The psalmist simply decries his suffering and petitions God for a swift deliverance:

I am in distress — make haste to answer me. (69:17b, NRSV)

In short, the psalmist does not glorify suffering but complains effusively, honestly, to God. Complaint, then, is presented as a righteousness and faithful expression of hope in God.

The cause of the suffering in the psalm also deserves note. The psalmist, from among the wide palette of painful experiences, lifts up the suffering caused by the human tongue. The psalm mentions enemies (69:4, 18), they do not approach with bow and arrow but with words – a very human approach and arguably humanity’s most potent weapon. Thus, the psalmist complains of insults, gossip, and the mocking song and describes them in the powerful, if typical, language of chaos waters:

I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
And the flood sweeps over me. (69:2)

The suffering caused by human words is palpable to the body, as the rush of words suffocate the psalmist. That is why the prayer for deliverance found in the psalm is no less urgent than the prayers of psalms in which military threat is in view. Suffering caused by human words — typically of family and neighbors (69:8) — is every bit as real as that caused by the arrow and the fang. Words, even when they are false, can kill.

Innocent suffering

Also important is the observation that the psalm admits of innocent suffering. More than that, it describes the suffering of a pious, even righteous, person. The psalmist suffers, not for some uncharacteristic peccadillo — for “looking upon a virgin” or ignoring the complaint of a slave against him” (Job 31) — but because of his “zeal for [God’s] house” and for earnest fasts (69:9, 10). Was the enthusiastic piety of the psalmist an affront to the easy religiosity of his contemporaries? Whatever the perceived offense, from the perspective of the psalmist, he suffers because of righteousness. His is innocent suffering.

It is important, in this light, to note that suffering is not, within the world of the Bible, necessarily a sign of sin. This lesson, of course, is at the heart of the Book of Job. Job’s three friends, no doubt learned and respected men not unlike Job himself, interpret Job’s suffering as the fitting consequence of sin and, out of genuine concern (which admittedly turns acerbic), advise Job to agree with God’s judgment (i.e., the plain meaning of the suffering) and repent. Repentance, they propose, will cause God to turn away from his righteous anger and restore Job to blessedness.

Our psalmist entertains no such possibility. Far from repentant, he stands certain in his righteousness before God (69:5) and looks, not to repentance as the path toward restoration, but to lament and complaint. The psalmist does not obfuscate the reality of his suffering, which includes verbal bullying and social ostracism (69:8) — experiences not uncommon among youths and adults, then and now. Rather, he openly laments and complains that God, to whom he has directed his prayers, has been too slow in responding:

Do not hide your face from your servant…

Draw near to me, redeem me… (69:17a, 18a)

The psalm, then, presents lament and complaint as fitting responses of the righteous to suffering, especially when the suffering is innocent. Does the Bible claim that punishment follows sin? No doubt. But it also admits that the innocent suffer. And the prescribed response, in such cases, is lament (the full acknowledgment that suffering is evil) and complaint to God, who appears too distant and all too silent in the midst of suffering. Lament and complaint are prayer based on the hope that the Holy One can be moved.

Vicarious suffering

The Bible refuses to believe that human suffering is without meaning. And the commitment to an understanding of suffering as meaningful becomes an acute theological problem especially with innocent suffering. This is the case in our psalm, as it is in Isaiah 53. And the psalmist makes perhaps an outrageous claim for his innocent suffering: he suffers “for God” (69:7).

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
That shame has covered my face…

The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (69:7, 9b)

Psalm 69:9b identifies those who disparage the psalmist as the very persons who disparage God. The unstated claim is the identification of the psalmist with God.

The psalmist makes perhaps a grander claim in 69:7. The force of the Hebrew phrase translated “for your sake” is unclear, but possibly is an interpretation that includes a dimension of benefit. The phrase might indicate that the psalmist’s suffering benefits God; that is, the psalmist may be saying that he suffers in the place of God, for God: the insults directed to God falls instead on the psalmist so that God is spared the affront.

The suffering of which the psalm admits, then, is more than innocent suffering. It is more than even righteous suffering. It is vicarious suffering that is not only effect — caused by the psalmist’s piety — but also cause, whose effect is a benefit, in some mysterious way, to God. In short, the psalmist, in his suffering, honors God — glorifies God.

Salvation from suffering

Given the special character of the psalmist’s suffering, it is no surprise that the petition for salvation takes on elevated meaning. The psalmist argues that his deliverance from suffering signifies an affirmation of all who hope in and seek God (69:6). Why? Because the psalmist, in his suffering and salvation, stands before God and his fellow human beings as an icon of all the servants of God. The suffering servant has become the representative of all God’s servants.

Is it any wonder, then, that New Testament authors saw Christ in the light of this psalm?


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 25, 2017.


Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 6:1b-11

Israel Kamudzandu

The letter to Romans is a Pauline manual for Christians who wrestle with the human condition being vulnerable to the pressures of this world.1

By appealing to Abraham and positing him as a model of ways through which God justifies human beings, Paul continues to move the discussion from Abraham to all human beings and helps them to see their condition of being separated from God because of sin.

Thus, Romans 6:1b-11 is about the purpose, function, and goal of the sacrament of baptism, in relation to all human beings who are held under the grip of sin and the reign of death. Through baptism, humanity can make the transition from sin into grace via the sacrament of baptism, which Paul eloquently describes in Romans 5:6-16, Romans 6, and Philippians 3:10-16. 

The Church, its leaders, and followers must continue to rekindle their faith by meditating and possibly studying Paul’s sacramental teaching and his views on eschatology. Both sin and death belong to the realm of justification, a theological theme that humbles humanity when it comes to issues of being in a right relationship with the Creator. As such, we ask these fundamental questions: What does baptism do? When does baptism start and when does it end? Is baptism a necessary sacrament in the life of humanity?

Theologically, Paul’s view on baptism is that it is a journey or a process and its effects are not only for a moment but for an entire life. Believers must understand that the baptism Paul is talking about in Romans 6 does not just wash away the stains of sin, but rather, it is a participation in the death of Jesus Christ and an anticipation of his resurrection.

The result of this participation and anticipation are that one has to believe in and embody a resurrection life. Christian life is basically a life of resurrection and that is what makes Christian faith unique from other religions. Secondly, baptism does not erase sin, rather it puts it in check. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, baptism builds a wall around a believer and sets boundaries on what to practice and what not. With time, a believer walks into grace and life become new a Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

The past tense of the verbs in Romans 6 are worth noting, especially the one that says, “We were buried.” Here, the baptized person is given an assurance of the death of the former life and that sin no longer has power over his/her life. In any case, the phrase “we will certainly be united with him is resurrection like his,” is futuristic and that may mean that the future is open and that full salvation is reserved for the future.

One can experience salvation in the now moment, but the full view of salvation is a mystery and will be revealed to us in God’s time. The theological point to be noted is that the follower of Christ is reconciled with God and is in the furnace of being saved. The reconciled person in Paul’s theological view is the one who will “walk in the newness of life.” Salvation in Paul’s proclamation of the Gospels is that it is embodied in the real life of a believer. However, suffering, temptation, and tribulation are not excluded simply because one is in Christ. Rather, suffering is in many ways a process through which God’s salvation can be manifested and realized.

Having emphasized the theological legitimacy of baptism and its intended results, Paul drives home his main point of what we can refer to as a “decisive-cut off point,” where by the death of Christ was a once and for all event (Romans 6:10) and that he will not die again. Thus, sin and death are no longer things that should worry Christian believers.

Those who identify themselves with Jesus Christ in his atonement through baptism can no longer tolerate and even cooperate with sin. Their life is now grounded, shaped, directed, and formed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the motivating center of their everyday living is now directed towards Jesus Christ. Everything a believer does is determined by Jesus Christ on whom and through whom sin has been defeated forever.

This is the hardest part of being a Christian, not just in North America but also in the Global South. Christians must always remind themselves that our old self, our culture, our rights, our private spaces, and the desires of our flesh were crucified with Jesus Christ. Our daily living must demonstrate our newfound and grace-filled status in Christ.

Theological and spiritual implications are that we must offer ourselves to God, to the world, and to one another in ways that are evident of the death of Jesus Christ. Simply put, one must live a righteous life (Romans 6:13c). Sin has no place in the life of a believer, and one must not be mastered by sin. At a much deeper level of faith, Paul is advocating for a new life and what we have become in baptism will not allow us to go back to being the old self. Going back will be equivalent to persecuting the living body of Jesus Christ.

It should be reasonably clear that those who have lived under colonial oppression such as Africans have a better understanding of Paul’s message of liberation. Sin is like a foreign domination in that it dehumanizes and reduces one to a victim position and some people die as victims because no one is there to rescue them from sin. Paul’s message is that humanity can be freed from sin and all it takes is the initiative of a few. The point of the passage is that every believer is in union with Christ and that Christ dwells in him or her. In other words, Christ’s faith becomes a believer’s faith by virtue of being in Christ, just as one partakes of his righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

The principle point to be remembered is that for Paul, faith involves an understanding that new life “with Christ” is an assurance of salvation or pledge of hope to those who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This assurance is lived out in discipleship, that is, a life dedicated to God. Preachers and Sunday school teachers may want to consider having a series of studies of theological themes around baptism, sin, death, resurrection, embodiment, and discipleship for these topics are part of Paul’s argument in Romans 6:1-23.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 22, 2014