Lectionary Commentaries for June 14, 2020
Second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 9:35—10:8 [9-23]

Colin Yuckman

The parallel pattern of behavior between Jesus and his apostles is nowhere more striking than in Matthew’s Gospel.1

In this passage the narration zooms in, first on Jesus himself (9:35-36), then on the disciples in general (9:37-38), then the twelve apostles by name and vocation (10:1-8). With the movement from Jesus’ own ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing (9:35) to that of his followers we might expect a thick line to be drawn between him and his “apostles” (the only occurrence of this word in Matthew). There is only one Jesus, after all, and even his closest followers are but a pale reflection.

Just look at the makeup of the twelve: the “first” apostle Peter will deny the Lord three times and the last apostle Judas will betray him to death, while two apostles in between held opposite positions on the Roman occupation (tax collector Matthew worked for them, while Simon the Cananaean or “zealot” worked against them). And yet the passage ends where it begins, but this time with these assorted apostles now entrusted with Jesus’ work of proclamation (10:7) and healing (10:8).

The litany of powers designating the apostles in 10:8 could double for Jesus’ own resume: “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Jesus not only sends them out with power to authenticate the kingdom’s nearness but to announce it by using the very same words as their teacher: “The kingdom of heaven has come near” (10:7; Jesus in 4:17; John in 3:2). In Matthew, Jesus’ followers include the original audience as well as us. We are expected to resemble him in word and deed. To be sent by Jesus is, in some sense, to be sent as Jesus.

Naturally, we may bristle at such a thought, ever sensitive to the dangers of savior-complexes and self-aggrandizement. Nevertheless, Matthew does not hold back from reminding us that master and apprentice, while clearly distinct in their roles, inevitably bear a resemblance to one another. In fact, a good teacher should be recognizable in her student as much as a master craftsman’s craft is evident in the work of an apprentice. As Jesus makes clear a bit later: “it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master” (10:25).

Sometimes lost in the comparisons and contrasts between the lists of apostles (see Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13) is the fact that the naming scenes occur in quite different settings. After receiving their apostolic commission in Mark’s Gospel, it says quite unremarkably that “Jesus went home” (3:20). Luke’s appointment of the apostles has a bit more detail. Jesus spends a whole night in prayer (6:12-13), yet immediately after they are named Jesus accompanies them down the mountain to begin his “sermon on the plain” (6:20-49). The actual sending of the “twelve” in Luke comes later (9:1-6; cf. 10:1-24). The anticipation with which we may have looked upon their prayerful selection goes unfulfilled, or it is at least postponed.

With Matthew, we encounter something altogether different. Jesus seems to be in the thick of fulfilling his Father’s mission—preaching, teaching, healing—when he inducts his disciples into the same vocation. While the narrator’s word about Jesus’ compassion for his sheep (9:36) reminds us of the foundation of Jesus’ mission, his commission introduces a different image: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (9:37-38). Paired with Jesus’ compassion is a sense of urgency. The time is ripe for their mission, so he summons them and gives them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness” (10:1).

The language is striking because it is a near mirror image of the words used to describe Jesus’ own practice in 9:35: “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching … and proclaiming … and curing every disease and every sickness.” At this moment the narrator introduces the twelve by name. In other words, the list of names does not stand alone as a mere registry of the twelve but as an introduction to an apostleship “charter.” In this way we recognize that part of Jesus’ own mission is to train followers to join the purposes for which his Father sent him. And the apostles’ very identity is born in the midst of this movement from Father to Son to world. If, at this moment, we remembered Jesus’ words in John, “as the father sent me, so I send you” (20:21), we would not be far afield.

The emphasis on identity in mission continues after the list: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” (10:5). Their mission is not one that they must work out on their own. Jesus gives specific instructions on where to go and whom to visit, on what to say and what to do. We are left with the distinct impression that the twelve are defined by their participation in the ongoing movement of the kingdom into the world.

If we were to represent “kingdom” and “world” in a Venn diagram, the apostles—and we by extension—have been selected and instructed to occupy the overlap. Something of the intensity of this overlap is depicted in Jesus’ extended instructions in 10:9-23. Like “sheep into the midst of wolves” (10:16) Jesus is sending them. Where the work of God meets the trajectory of the world resistance is greatest—they will be handed over to councils, flogged in synagogues (10:17), dragged before governors and kings (10:18), families will be divided (10:21), and stigmas borne because of Jesus’ name (10:22).

And yet, with a promise anticipating the very end of the gospel, Jesus reminds his followers “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say … for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (10:19-20). In the very midst of persecution those obedient to Jesus’ mission will be equipped and empowered with God’s own presence. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (28:20). To participate in the proclamation and healing characteristic of Jesus’ own mission is to get caught up in the very life of God’s Son given to the world.

If, with this passage, we see Jesus in the midst of training disciples for mission, by Gospel’s end the scene will have shifted. The instructions on how to be a disciple in mission will, with the backing of the Risen Lord, become instructions on how to make disciples in mission (Matthew 28:18-20).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 18, 2017.

First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 19:2-8a

Callie Plunket-Brewton

In Exodus 19, the children of Israel arrive at the beginning place, Mount Sinai.1

Their arrival marks the fulfillment of the promise God made to Moses at the burning bush: “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). The promise has come full circle, and, yet, the true journey is just beginning: the covenant relationship between Israel and God.

The first eighteen chapters of Exodus create the setting for the covenant. From the desperate situation of the Israelite slaves in Egypt to their miraculous rescue at the Sea and their terrible hardships in the wilderness, God has met their needs every step of the way. A point God makes in this reading: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (19:4). This is a point that will be driven home time and again throughout the Pentateuch. It is the basis for the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” (20:2). God has proven to be powerful and dedicated to the well-being of the children of Israel as they’ve journeyed to the foot of this holy mountain. The covenant made at Sinai is thus born and nurtured in a matrix of trust and steadfast love.

The content of the covenant unfolds in the chapters that follow. In 19:5-6, the specifics of the covenant are only alluded to: “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant” and “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” These statements make clear that the people will be required to adopt particular behaviors and to follow certain laws as part of the covenant relationship. The purpose of adopting these laws is nothing less than transformation. Look at Deuteronomy 28:15-16: “[T]oday the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” Obedience to the covenant promises to change the people from helpless slaves to “a people holy to the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 28:15 uses the image of the children of Israel as a “treasured people” and our reading from Exodus 19 calls on them to be a “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). In both cases, the language of being “treasured” (see also Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18-19; Psalm 135:4) indicates that God accords them a place of special honor among the nations and that the people are to guard their relationship with God above all.

“Relationship” is the key word here. The laws of the covenant establish a dynamic between the people and God that, as Terence Fretheim puts it, is “maximally responsive.”2 The relationship already exists. It was born in the promises made to their ancestors. God was true to those promises when the people cried out in slavery (Exodus 2:24-25). The covenant takes the relationship one step further in seeking to create a nation that is empowered to respond to God’s generous and faithful care. The laws of the covenant will set up a framework for the way the people are to conduct themselves with God and each other. The Decalogue in Exodus 20 is the simplest example of this point with its laws regulating both divine and human relationships. Within this frame, relationships with God and with each other have the opportunity to thrive and to flourish.

For some, using the language of law or covenant or obedience tends to bring up old conversations about “Law and Gospel.” Also, the promise “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples” might sound to some too similar to the promises of those who preach the Prosperity Gospel. Covenant texts do make bold promises based on adherence to the law. The promise, however, that abundant life grows when we are devoted to God and to each other is not preposterous but wise. It is also a wise recognition of human limitations to recognize that only the grace of God makes abundant covenantal life possible.

This reading from Exodus empowers a preacher to call people to Christian community by casting a vision of the life that is possible when we devote ourselves to the relationships we share with God and with each other. Such a devotion will involve immersing ourselves in the communal practices of the church. It will require us to examine the habits of our lives in order to discern which of these habits help and which ones hinder us as we seek to grow as a people dedicated to God and each other. Both of these disciplines will lead to nothing less than the deep fulfillment and healing that are characteristic of abundant life. It is to this vision of abundant life that the people of Israel respond enthusiastically in verse 8: “Everything that the Lord has spoken, we will do!”


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 18, 2017.
  2. Terence Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991), 203.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 18:1-15 [21:1-7]

Amanda Benckhuysen

“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

The question the messengers put to Sarah reverberates throughout Scripture. At each turning point in redemptive history, the people of God faced roadblocks and challenges that were seemingly impossible to overcome—slavery in Egypt, landlessness, the threat of enemy nations, exile in a foreign country, rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple after the exile, and the very birth of God’s son through a young maiden.

At each point, the message regarding the Lord is the same, “Is anything too wonderful?” or in the Common English Bible, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (verse 18). Watch, look, trust—for the Lord will do wonderful things among you.

In Genesis 18, the whole narrative hastens toward this point. Abraham sees three visitors approaching and convinces them to linger for a while over a meal. As far as Abraham knows, the visitors are simply strangers passing through the area. As was common in the ancient world, Abraham extends hospitality to them. Unlike today where hospitality is about scheduling dinner parties and entertaining guests when we have time, in the ancient near East, hospitality was part of the moral fabric of daily life, a practice by which travelers had their basic needs tended to in a time before the advent of restaurants and inns. It was also a way of sizing people up who wandered close to one’s dwelling to determine if they were friend or foe. In sharing a meal, potential threats could be turned into allies.

The three that show up in Abraham’s neck of the woods, however, are no ordinary guests. And while the reader is aware of this—being told at the beginning of the narrative that “The Lord appeared to Abraham”—it is not clear that Abraham knows the identity of his guests. Throughout, dramatic irony serves to heighten the reader’s anticipation and excitement for the disclosure that is to come. Note, for instance, that when the guests ask about Abraham’s wife, they refer to her by name (verse 9), as if they know her. And in verse 10, one of them reiterates the promise God gave to Abraham in the previous chapter, again suggesting some inside knowledge. Finally, in verse 13, the strangers reveal that they have mysteriously “overheard” Sarah laughing to herself from inside the tent, even though from where they are standing, this would be humanly impossible.

But it is not until verse 14 with the comment, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” that whatever suspicions Abraham may have had about the identity of his guests are fully confirmed. These guests don’t operate by the rules of the natural world. What is humanly impossible, given Sarah’s stage in life, is possible with God. “At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son (Genesis 18:14).” The long-awaited, promised son of the covenant would be born within the year. Sarah would be a mother. Abraham would have progeny. God’s plan to redeem the world through Abraham and his family would continue.

The occasion should elicit a response of delight, excitement, gratitude, and joy. But instead of rejoicing, the announcement is followed by a puzzling interaction between Sarah and the guests. Sarah laughs with incredulity. How could she, an old woman, have a child? When confronted, Sarah’s sense of embarrassment and shame gets the better of her and she denies laughing.

The conversation is awkward, not just for Sarah, but for readers. Why would the narrator bother to recount what looks like a moment of doubt or questioning? Why present Sarah so badly, especially when in Genesis 17, Abraham also laughed. Two possibilities come to mind.

First, Robert Alter has noted that annunciations in the Old Testament, announcements of the birth of a child, follow the pattern of a type-scene that includes initial barrenness, divine announcement, and the birth of a son. We see this pattern in the stories of Rebekah (Genesis 25:21-26), the wife of Manoah (Judges 13:2-24), and Hannah (1 Samuel 1). What stands out about this annunciation is that, while the other announcements are made to the women directly, this announcement is made to Abraham. Sarah is hiding in the tent, out of sight. But Sarah properly belongs in the scene, not just literarily but also theologically. God makes clear in Genesis 17 that the promised child would not come only from Abraham, but from Sarah as well. Sarah is a key player in God’s plan to raise up a nation through whom God would realize his redemptive purposes. The addition of this short, awkward scene at the end of this annunciation brings Sarah back into the story and provides the occasion to reiterate the announcement of the promised child to Sarah herself, highlighting her presence and key role as the bearer of the promised child.

Second, while Sarah’s incredulity and resulting embarrassment come across as a lack of faith, her posture in this narrative toward the announcement of the stranger is strikingly human. She had been waiting for 25 years for the promise of a child to be fulfilled. It had been 13 years of living with the assumption that Ishmael was that child. Sarah had long ago given up the hope of having a child on her own. Given all of this, Sarah’s response is quite reasonable, reflecting the incredulity and awe we all have in the face of God’s power and divine activity.

God had rocked her world, defying the laws of nature, upending everything she knew to be true. This was no small thing. That it took Sarah some time to process and even test what she had heard reflects a normal human reaction to the marvelous deeds of God. For just as Sarah laughs, we also laugh. We laugh with incredulity every time a child is born healthy. We laugh when someone battles and survives cancer. We laugh when an infertile couple announces they are pregnant. We laugh when crocuses poke up through the lawn. We laugh when we see movement toward reconciliation between two people that have a long history of hurt and hatred. We laugh whenever we see moments of redemption and healing that we know taste of such goodness and sweetness, they can only come from the hand of God. And in those moments, we might puzzle and wonder and question and doubt. Can such a thing really be? The answer in these moments is “yes.” For there is nothing too wonderful for God.


Commentary on Psalm 100

Joel LeMon

Psalm 100 tells us to shout it out.1

Many of us were brought up being told to do just the opposite: “Keep your voices down.” “Keep it under control.” “Don’t raise a ruckus.” Maybe you’ve told your kids—or the kids in your Sunday School class—the same thing.

Make a joyful noise

But when it comes to worshiping Yahweh, Psalm 100 claims that it’s very appropriate to turn up the volume. These five verses roar with praise, employing a series of imperative verbs: shout (verse 1), worship (verse 2), enter (verses 2, 4), praise (verse 4), bless (verse 4). Taken together, these commands compel the community to participate in a high liturgical activity, namely, singing in a grand procession into God’s temple.

Throughout Christian history, this psalm has been employed to summon the community together in robust praise. A famous example is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of “The Old One Hundredth Psalm Tune,” the processional hymn for the coronation service of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953. It’s a big, bold, and stunningly beautiful piece of music well worth a listen.2 

When the choir processes singing “All creatures that on earth do dwell,” one gets a sense of the type of ritual that Psalm 100 depicts. A cathedral full of voices along with organ, brass, and percussion have a palpable effect. As the procession moves forward, our emotions are carried along as well. The psalm and Vaughn Williams’s arrangement of it witness the power of sound and movement working together to glorify God. 

Know that the Lord is God

Amidst the summons to the procession, the psalm presents another imperative verbal phrase, “know that the Lord is God” (NRSV, verse 3). At first gloss, this command “to know” seems out of place. We typically understand “knowing” to be an internalized mental process rather than a specific action to which one can be summoned. Yet the Hebrew word “to know” (yd‘) actually suggests something more. This term is used in several contexts (Genesis 4:1 and 1 Kings 1:4) to describe an embodied mutual awareness that comes through sexual intercourse. To be clear, a sexual knowledge is probably not in view in this context. However, the larger usage of the verb “to know” in the Hebrew Bible suggests that the people’s knowledge of Yahweh’s identity is not merely intellectual assent. It is a deep and intimate awareness of God’s identity as revealed to a particular people. The community embodies this understanding of God through the ritual of the procession, through shouting, praising, and entering God’s holy places together.

The sheep of God’s pasture

This worship of God shapes the community’s identity. After the first volley of imperative verbs (verses 1-3a), the psalm pauses for reflection on the nature of the people who are praising God. Because God has formed them, they belong to God. No one outside the community can claim such authority. And no one within the community can claim that authority, since the community didn’t create itself (verse 3b).

The psalm describes God’s people as “the sheep of God’s pasture” (verse 3c). This particular metaphor draws upon royal ideology from the ancient Near East, wherein the king is depicted as shepherd. Those in his kingdom are his sheep. From Egypt to Mesopotamia, kings constantly styled themselves as shepherds.

Yet in this psalm, God appears as the divine monarch, the one who created the people and the one to whom the people owe their identity. When considering the way that the psalm reappropriates royal imagery for Yahweh, we realize the deep irony of the use of Psalm 100 in a coronation service. Psalm 100 orients the community toward the authority of God alone.

The pastoral imagery (verse 3) gives way to a description of the constructed space of the city (verse 4) along with a renewed summons to continue the procession: “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (verse 4). The ritual of praise moves through all places, from the fields to the metropolis with its complex architecture. All of these places are appropriate to worship Yahweh, for God is king everywhere.

Yahweh is good

The psalm ends with a simple justification for the repeated call to praise: Yahweh is good (verse 5).

The word tov, translated “good” here, has a wide semantic range in the Hebrew Bible. So we must explore the immediate context to clarify the sense of this word in this psalm. Yahweh’s goodness is seen through the longstanding relationship that Yahweh has with the people. The characteristics of God’s “steadfast love” (chesed) and “faithfulness” (’emunah, verse 5) appear frequently in tandem in the Psalms to describe God’s enduring commitment to God’s people (36:5; 40:10; 88:11; 89:1-2, 24, 33, 49; 92:2; 98:3). What makes Yahweh good is that Yahweh has been reliable for a long time. Thus we can continue to rely on Yahweh into the future. 

In a time where Christian communities are increasingly fractured and contentious, it is difficult to imagine a throng of faithful witnesses moving together as one in praise to God. It is precisely at this difficult time, however, when Old One Hundredth should come to our lips.

Whenever we sing this psalm, we join a vast community of praise throughout the course of history. As we bear witness to God’s goodness, we step into a procession that stretches across time and place. We celebrate God’s enduring commitment to the redemption of the world and reaffirm our common identity as God’s people. Our loud shouts of praise announce the coming of God’s kingdom.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 18, 2017.
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj9w7IUQ5AU

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 5:1-8

Elizabeth Shively

We often talk of hope as wishful thinking: “I hope it won’t rain”; “I hope I win the lottery”; “I hope my team wins the Super Bowl”—but Paul’s concept of hope in Romans is different.1

He introduces “hope” in the story of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4:18), and develops the concept in chapter 5. For Paul, hope isn’t wishful thinking, but absolute certainty about the future because it is grounded in God’s faithfulness to keep his promises. That is, what God will do for the believer in Christ is grounded on what God has done for the believer in Christ.

In Romans 5:1-8 Paul explains the benefits of his gospel (see 1:16-17) for those who are justified by faith and stand in a new relationship to God. Two verb phrases govern the passage and provide the substance of these benefits: We have peace with God (verse 1) and we boast in our hope (verse 2). Although the lectionary limits our passage’s scope to verses 1-8, the content suggests a wider field to verse 11. The verb “boast” acts like a set of bookends in verses 2, 3 and verse 11 to enclose the passage’s subject matter: the believer’s great hope. In verses 12-21, Paul shifts to the story of Adam and Christ.

We have peace with God

In Romans 5:1, Paul explains the first benefit: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This statement recalls the letter’s opening, where Paul greeted his audience, those whom he called to belong to Jesus Christ and to be holy with “grace and peace” (1:6-7). From one vantage point, the letter’s unfolding argument substantiates how it is that Paul can offer such a greeting.

After announcing his gospel in 1:16-17, Paul explains that rebellious humanity is under the power of sin so that no one knows the way of peace (3:17; see 1:18 up to that point). But now, apart from the law, God extends his grace as a gift through Christ’s redemption in order to justify all those who believe (3:24). Paul’s statement in 5:1, therefore, meaningfully calls his audience to appropriate his opening greeting of “grace and peace.”

We boast in our hope

Romans 5:1 also opens with an inference (“Therefore…”) from the preceding discussion about God’s gracious provision of righteousness by faith and not by works of the law (3:21-4:25). Throughout, Paul argues that God’s gracious act in Christ silences any who boast in their own actions, status, or privileges (2:17, 23; 3:27). Now he returns to the subject of boasting in Romans 5 as an act that requires crucial redirection. The rest of our passage develops the object of proper boasting as the second benefit of the gospel, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (5:2).

This language recalls Paul’s portrait of humanity: People exchange the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal creatures (1:22-23). As a result, humanity is out of sync with God, creation, and one another (1:18-32). All of humanity falls short of God’s glory (3:23), but now those who believe are justified through the redemption in Christ that God graciously provides (3:23-24) and may hope in sharing God’s glory (5:2).

Paul develops his statement in 5:2 by proposing that believers boast also in their suffering. In verses 3-5, he builds an argument in which the experience of believers is like a chemical chain reaction, one substance setting off a whole sequence of processes. We know that suffering produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope. Suffering is the catalyst in this process, and hope—the hope of sharing in God’s glory—is the terminal point.

This suffering-fueled-hope does not disappoint (or shame) us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 5). The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence functions as a guarantee or down payment of believers’ future hope (see also Romans 8:23, 26-27).

Finally, verses 6-11 ground (“for,” verse 6) Paul’s statement in verse 5 about believers’ confident hope. The proof of God’s love is that he sent his son to die for believers “at the right time,” while they were still weak, that is, when they “were neither righteous nor good, but ungodly sinners,” (verses 6, 8). They were like the ungodly who suppress the truth and exchange the glory of the immortal God for mortal beings (Romans 1:18), and like Abraham who learned from experience that God justifies the ungodly on the basis of faith alone (4:5). The rest of the paragraph (5:9-11) looks to the future through the lens of the past and present: if God has already justified and therefore reconciled those who were enemies, then believers can confidently hope in sharing God’s glory (see also 8:31-39).

For the first time in the letter, suffering and God’s love appear. Paul sets them together with God’s grace and the believer’s hope. He develops these themes in Romans 8, where he affirms that the Spirit bears witness, that believers are co-heirs with Christ of God’s glory, and that present sufferings “are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us” (verses 14-18). The Holy Spirit helps believers as they wait expectantly to participate in God’s glory and the redemption of all creation (verses 18-27).

God’s purpose for believers is that they be conformed to the image of Christ so that they might share in the glory that humanity rejected (1:23), of which they fell short (3:23), and for which believers now hope (5:2): “And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (8:30). Until this hope is realized, Paul affirms God’s love: “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 18, 2017.