Lectionary Commentaries for November 10, 2019
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 20:27-38

Emerson Powery

Many contemporary theological debates offer little relevance for life on planet earth.

Some of these religious discussions conclude without deeper reflection on how the theological issue under consideration might actually apply to the reality of the contemporary world. What difference would it make to determine the nature of a legally bound marriage in the afterlife for those who say there is no resurrection?

In the patriarchal culture of the ancient world, it would strike few as odd that these men debate the ownership of this woman in the afterlife: “whose wife will the woman be”? Furthermore, it would strike few as odd that these Jewish men were deliberating the reproductive repercussions of this one woman, a (hypothetical) wife of seven different men. As in this case, even the absent children were considered in relationship to the male figures of the families: “all seven (men) died childless” (Luke 20:31); “raise up children for his brother” (verse 28). Sadly, but true in all patriarchal societies (ancient and modern), the female body often becomes the place of theological regulation. For this unnamed woman, Torah would determine her earthly relations but could not resolve her future life. And, as readers were tipped off in advance, the Sadducees had little concern for her future implications because of their theological assumptions.

The lectionary passage falls within a series of discussions in which various sectarian groups (all associated with the Jerusalem temple, presumably) inquire into Jesus’s activity and into his religious thinking. The chapter begins with a key question for the whole series of dialogues: “by what authority are you doing these things?” (Luke 20:3). Jesus answers the question only indirectly with the use of a parable (20:9-19), which appears to be a clear assault on the Jerusalem leaders who “wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour” (20:19). But they chose not do so because of Jesus’s popularity among the crowds. So, additional “spies” approach Jesus with a question that intimates Jerusalem’s relationship to the Roman Empire: should we “pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (20:22) It is not hard to imagine on which side these religious power brokers lay; those who support the status quo often heed the instructions of the empire. Finally, the Sadducees—attached to the various networks associated with the Jerusalem Temple—arrive with their own query.

Luke’s portrayal of the “Sadducees” is distinct from Matthew’s portrayal; the latter prefers a closer association between the two leading sectarian groups, Sadducees and Pharisees (see Matthew 3:7; 16:1, 6, 11, 12). In Matthew’s parallel to this story, it is the only time the Sadducees stand alone. Even here, Matthew’s Pharisees reply at the end with their own “test” (Matthew 22:34), implying their close relationship with the former group.

For Luke, however, the Sadducees stood alone throughout the narrative, as the agreement of the (pharisaic?) scribe makes clear at the end. (In Luke’s sequel, the tension between the Sadducees and the Pharisees will become more prominent and very useful to Paul, as he announces his own pharisaic leanings toward a belief in the general resurrection [Acts 23:6-8]). But if we end, as the lectionary selection does, at Luke 20:38, then we will miss out on a crucial element in the Lukan story: there are some Jerusalem leaders—the scribes—who approve of Jesus’s response on this theological core issue over against the Sadducees. Since most Jews would have believed in a general resurrection, the agreement is not surprising.

The question remains. What difference does this argument make for an embodied faith?

Key to this passage—and hopefully to the Sunday lesson—is the relationship between “God” and “life”: “for God is a God of the living.”

Herein lies the key to Jesus’s hermeneutical approach. Text matters (Notice the stark question in the mouth of Mark’s Jesus: “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” [Mark 12:24]). But not text alone. Human (legal) relationships—even those bound by Torah—have no bearing in the next life. What do God’s followers expect will happen from their interpretation of the text? Hopefully, something that will bring life, energy, meaning, and substance to the reality in which they find themselves. “God is a God of the living.”

When our theology fails to touch human bodies—when theology becomes disembodied—what difference does it make? When this occurs, commitment to nation states overrides fair treatment of individuals.

Jesus’s response that this woman—and all embodied individuals—are the “children of the resurrection” (and, so, lose ‘attachments’) is also striking. On the one hand, it seems to be a denigration of embodied faith, a statement that implies that human relationships do not matter. On the other hand, “children of the resurrection” ought to care about more than their own; this is not American-style “family values.” Resurrection’s children ought to be God’s children (Luke 20:36) and live as if their relationships can expand, becoming like the “angels”—God’s messengers and actors in the world—living in God’s service. It clearly challenges contemporary notions that ‘married’ life is the only true fulfillment of a meaningful life.

When one looks at the present life through the lens of the next life, the present world looks differently. Old beliefs may not apply. What theological ideas do we still have in place that displace and disregard the bodies of people?

If God is a “god of the living,” followers of Jesus ought to be about things that bring life, which seems to emphasize a call for embodied living recalling not just what happens when we die—“In the resurrection … whose wife will she be?”—but paying attention to present realities. For example, why have a theological system that forces women to remarry again and again so that they to give birth to protect their (first) husband’s name?

Of course, there are contemporary theological debates that take our attention, like the inclusive nature of our congregations toward people of various sexual orientations, wondering if the preached word can originate from within anyone other than those of the hetero-orientation. What theological beliefs do we still have in place that displace and disregard the bodies of people?

First Reading

Commentary on Job 19:23-27a

Brian C. Jones

The Old Testament text for this Sunday is perhaps most famous because of the exquisite soprano aria from Handel’s Messiah: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

The aria is part of the heart language of many Christians. But Job’s “redeemer” would have been a close relative, not Jesus or any other messiah. Better translation and historical analysis have refined our understanding of the original meaning of the text, which is a good thing, but better analysis has left preachers in a bind. Which meaning do they proclaim?

George MacDonald wrote, “Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about Him.” If so, Job may well be closer to God than anyone before or after him. Job is certainly not indifferent; he suffers neither patiently nor quietly. From Job chapter three until “the words of Job are ended” in the final verse of chapter 31, Job shakes his fist in the face of the Almighty and accuses God of injustice, of torturing him without cause, and of unrestrained violence. Some will consider Job’s rage over the top, but those who have walked Job’s road may well understand his passion.

What does Job want from God? He wants justice. He wants the world to make sense. He wants people—himself in particular—to get what they deserve, and he assumes that it is God’s responsibility to make this happen. Job is adamant that his suffering is undeserved, and the audience of the book knows that he is correct. This is important. Both the narrator and God have testified that Job is “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). Imposing the Christian doctrine of original sin on the book of Job distorts its meaning. Along with the writer of Psalm 17, Job can honestly say, “If you test me, you will find no wickedness in me” (Psalm 17:3-5).

Knowing that he is guiltless, Job concludes that his suffering proves that God, the supposed distributor of just deserts, has failed utterly (Job 9:22-24). More than that, Job accuses God of unleashing on him a mercilessness punishment of relentless intensity. God is vicious and sadistic: “he mocks at the calamity of the innocent” (9:22-23; 10:16-17; 16:11-14; 19:6-12).

The thing Job wants most is his day in court with God (Job 9:3, 16, 32; 13:3, 6, 13, 17,18; 23:1-7). He wants God to admit wrongdoing and vindicate him. But how does one drag the Almighty into court? And what will it be like for Job to stand before God and argue his case? He worries that a trial before God is doomed to failure. God is both the judge and the accused. How can Job prevail? What’s more, Job worries that God’s presence will overwhelm and silence him (9:3, 14-20, 32-35; 13:15, 20-22). Who wouldn’t stutter into silence before the eternal judge?

Job casts about for ways he might get a fair hearing before God. He considers first that he might descend into Sheol, the place of the dead, to wait until God’s anger abates. Perhaps then God will again think of him kindly, consider his case, and restore his rights (Job 14:14-17). But the hope of a return from Sheol is far-fetched. Like the Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading, Job believes that humans die never to rise again (7:9-10; 10:21-22; 14:7-12). Secondly, Job considers the possibility of a third party intervening on his behalf, perhaps an arbiter who will stand between him and God to mediate the dispute (9:32-35) or a witness in heaven who will vouch for his innocence (16:18-19). Who or what this witness and arbiter might be is unclear. Perhaps they are simply projections of desperate hope.

In the text for this Sunday, Job imagines two further ways he might eventually be vindicated. He accepts the likelihood that he will die unanswered by God. And if he dies, so too dies his case. His presumed guilt will be the final word. Therefore, he fervently wishes that his case against God be inscribed in a book. Better yet, his words could be engraved with an iron pen on a rock and the letters lined with lead to protect them from wear, an enduring, monumental testimony to his innocence.

Job’s next words (in Job 19:25-27) are notoriously difficult to translate, as the footnotes in the NRSV attest. David Clines’ translation is preferable to the NRSV: “But I know that my champion lives and that he will rise last to speak for me on earth, even after my skin has thus been stripped from me. Yet, to behold Eloah [God] while still in my flesh—that is my desire, to see him for myself, to see him with my own eyes, not as a stranger.”1 In these verses Job again considers vindication mediated by a third party, a “redeemer” or “champion” (Hebrew go’el) who will arise to defend him. Go’el is sometimes used of God, but on the earthly plain it refers to a person’s nearest kinsman whose role it is to protect the rights of the deceased and fulfill their obligations. Job has in mind the latter. After his death, Job expects that a kinsman redeemer will arise and stand “upon the Earth” to defend him. This contrasts with his earlier hope for a witness in heaven (16:18-19). Job has suffered on earth, and his vindication must be earthly as well. The repulsive aspects of his disease and his presumed guilt have alienated him from his earthly community (19:14-22), and so a satisfying vindication must be earthly and public.

But vindication after his death through a third party is not fully satisfying. The words “I know that my redeemer lives …” are not an expression of faith; they simply affirm what is common knowledge about the role of a kinsman redeemer. Job articulates this solution in order to reject it. A post-mortem, third-person vindication is not the personal hearing he fervently desires. “Yet, to behold Eloah while still in my flesh—that is my desire, to see him for myself, to see him with my own eyes.” Job wants his day in court with God while he still has flesh and eyes.

Strangely, wonderfully, God shows up and answers Job at the end of the book, and that is apparently enough. Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). And with that he withdraws his case. Rational answers, “the hearing of the ear,” fall short. But the presence of God manifest is answer enough, perhaps the only answer there is.


1 David Clines, Job, 1–20. WBC 17. (Word, Inc., 1989), 428. The commentaries by Norman Habel (1985), Samuel Balentine (2006), and Leong Seow (2013) also provide excellent discussions of the translation issues.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Kristin J. Wendland

Really. Tell this story of a people trying to rebuild their lives and determine where God is in the midst of it.

Recount this chronicle of two generations, one with memories of a glorious past and one with some hopes for a faithful future. Announce this news about God the same yesterday, today, and forever who is always doing a new thing.

A time of transition

The entire book of Haggai is only two chapters long and covers a span of several months in the year 520 BCE. The setting is Jerusalem, about nine years after King Cyrus of Persia announced that the peoples who had earlier been exiled by the Babylonians could return to their homelands. They could settle in, rebuild, and worship as they wished. Persia would retain ultimate control, but Judea would have some modicum of say in the everyday order.

So, exiled Judeans—though mostly their descendants—returned to Jerusalem and set about the difficult work of rebuilding a city. It was not a wholly peaceful time as the returnees had conflict with those who had remained among the rubble and who had moved in during the interim (for example, Ezra 4-6, 9; Nehemiah 4). One source of conflict was the building of the temple. In the first chapter of Haggai, some of the recently returned people suggest that the temple building was all moving too fast—they can’t afford it yet. Haggai, in a fiery oracle, reminds them that they have homes and are quickly accumulating wealth (Haggai 1:6). Surely they must have something for their God, too. The Temple must be built now, Haggai argues, because it represents their priorities and their allegiance to God who sustains them (Haggai 1:4).

In the pericope assigned for today, Haggai names the concern of some that the new temple was not good enough. There were a few in the community who remembered the former Temple, the one that Solomon had built and that had been destroyed in the 587 BCE siege of Jerusalem. In their minds, this newfangled one didn’t hold a candle to it (Haggai 2:2). In response to this concern, Haggai tells the people to be strong, to act, and to remember what God has previously done.

Remember the past because it points to the future

Haggai’s three-fold imperative to “take courage” (Haggai 2:4) may call to mind Joshua’s refrain to the people to “be strong and courageous” as he gathered the people of Israel to prepare for entrance into the land of Canaan (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18). In Haggai the call to take courage goes out to the political and religious leaders, as well as the people as a whole, as they are rebuilding within that same land.

In a clearer reference to the past, Haggai further reminds the uncertain people about the Exodus and settlement traditions. First, there is the clear naming of God’s great act of salvation in leading the people from slavery to freedom (Haggai 2:5). Secondly, the NRSV phrase, “the promise that I made you” in verse 5 does not quite capture the fullness of the Hebrew word karat, a word that literally means “to cut” but is also the technical language used in making covenants (compare Exodus 34:27; Deuteronomy 31:16; Isaiah 28:15; Zechariah 11:10). The covenant in question, of course, is the Sinai Covenant, made at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. The affirmation here is that the future is in line with this past covenant. Thirdly, the second half of verse five affirms that God was present with them at that time, perhaps an allusion to the fire and cloud that led the people from Egypt to Mount Sinai (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-24; 19:9, 16) but likely also a reference to the tabernacle, the movable tent sanctuary in which God’s glory resided during Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 40:34-38). This allusion to the tabernacle is particularly apt in the context of Haggai affirming that the temple currently being built is plenty good enough for God. It is as if Haggai is saying, “Remember the tent? God’s glory was able to reside there, too.” The people need not fear the future. Finally, the statement that God will shake heavens, earth, sea, land, and nations is reminiscent of other theophanies in which God shakes nations and lands in a display of power (for example Judges 5:4; 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 13:13; 29:6). God’s glory will fill this house too. In these two verses Haggai affirms that looking to the past has great value, as it affirms the mighty acts of God. At the same time, Haggai suggests that it is these past works that point the people toward a future in which God will continue to act.

This rhetorical device of using language and images from the past to convince a group of nostalgic people that God continues to be at work in ways that on the surface seem unrecognizable both affirms their memory past and challenges them to see God do such things again. The new temple—as much as a sign of God’s presence in their midst as a place to gather for cultic ritual—would be different than the old one, but God’s works would be the same merciful, salvific, and glorious works that God had been doing all along.

In the concerns and fears that Haggai addresses, one can hear the voices of the faithful from many different times and places who react to their own anxieties with memories of halcyon days. Deteriorating buildings with cost prohibitive upkeep, congregations and communities that look different than in years past, and a world that is changes faster than many can comprehend can lead many to look back to times that seem to have been better or easier or more glorious. Haggai’s prophecy calls us to look backward not with wistfulness for what is gone but with hope that God who has been faithful in the past will just as faithfully create a new future.


Commentary on Psalm 17:1-9

Yolanda Norton

In Psalm 17, the author finds himself in a dire situation.

Verses 1-9 are a plea from an innocent to be vindicated in a world that seeks the psalmist’s demise. In the midst of this plea for deliverance the author has a sensory experience.


The psalmist is meticulous in his depiction of the drama. He begins with a fervent plea for God not simply to hear his cry but, more importantly, to attend to his cries. The verb is qsb.  In the simple active form (Hebrew qal) it means, “to listen,” but in verse 1 we see a form of the verb that is the declarative (hiphil) which translates, “to attend.”

Such a distinction is reminiscent of the kind of womanist mother wit of my childhood. The elders would always say, “I know you hear me but are you listening to me?” Many grammarians—and the sages of communities—understand hearing to be sensory activation. Hearing, while an active verb, is a passive reality. If we have the bodily resources to hear, we don’t necessarily have control of that which we hear. In contrast, listening requires our attention, our engagement, and our thought processes. So, the psalmist urgently implores God to engage in his cries; to pay attention to the substance of his request and to take ownership of the outcome.

The author makes such a bold, deliberate request of God because of his initial articulation that this situation is a “just/righteous cause.” The psalmist maintains the integrity of his sensory plea by compelling God to “give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit” (Psalm 17:1).


In Psalm 17:2 the psalmist implores God to “let your eyes see the right.” In the most basic sense, this imperative begs God to justly adjudicate the situation in which the author finds himself. It is important that the author asks God to “hear a just cause” and not to hear a just person. We often misinterpret righteousness with perfection. The psalmist may not proclaim the all-encompassing purity or perfection in life, but instead may be able to own in this moment some innocence and righteousness.

As a bookend to this request the author petitions God to “guard me as the apple of the eye” in Psalm 17:8. This phrase may point back to Deuteronomy 32:10, where the author explains that God sustained Jacob in the wilderness and “guarded him as the apple of his eye.” It is interesting that at the beginning of the psalm the author proclaims innocence and righteousness, and then at the end he frames himself in the context of Jacob—the younger of two twin brothers who steals his brother’s birthright and then flees from his family to live with the Arameans in the desert.

While Jacob was far from perfect, and he had a less than righteous beginning, his journey was filled with loss, reconciliation, and a continued desire to struggle with God in difficult situations. As such, in this simple reference, the author may provide some balance to his earlier articulations that “my mouth does not transgress” and “my steps have held fast to your paths” (Psalm 17:3).


The psalmists final petition in this section of Psalm 17 is for protection. His supplication is for God to “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (17:8b). Wings, in the Hebrew Bible are a signification of refuge. In Ruth 2:12 Boaz’s prayer for Ruth is, “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Here, Boaz attempts to provide Ruth assurance that her faithfulness to Israel and to YHWH have secured her some harbor after the tumultuous period of lack that she has just experienced.

In Exodus 19:4 wings are God’s articulation of deliverance from pharaoh and Egypt as well as a reminder of God’s ability and willingness to shelter the Israelites in the wilderness. These words are couched in a narrative in which God not only reminds the people of God’s previous actions but also prepares Israel for the covenant that God is entering into with them. The wings are a sign of deliverance not only from empire but also from forces of nature—all of which God has dominion over.

In Isaiah there are six texts that mention wings as a sign of protection (Isaiah 6:2; 8:8; 10:14; 11:12; 18:1; 24:16). In Isaiah 6:2 there are six wings on the mythical seraphim, who are attending to the Lord—two that cover the face, two that cover the feet, and two that allow them to fly. The prophet, Ezekiel, has twenty-three references to wings. The prophets conjure wings in both natural and fantastic, supernatural contexts to signify God’s presence and provision in the midst of chaotic circumstances.

And so, in Psalm 17, the author understands God’s capacity to provide shelter to those who have seen trauma, been displaced by the overreach of humanity and empire, and serve as deliverance in seemingly insurmountable situations. The psalmist is in need of a similar manifestation of God’s presence in the midst of his circumstance, and thus understands to long and deep shadow of God’s wing to be solace.


This psalm gives us as readers the freedom to understand that we need not be perfect to proclaim our innocence to God. Here, we understand that we can embody righteousness in moments, and that our transgressions do not paint the whole picture of our story. And so, we have license to go to God with some boldness to request deliverance from a world that is often unyielding, particularly to those who are seeking refuge.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Edward Pillar

There will always be alarmists in the world and the church.

Those whose ears are alert and attuned for the latest bad news, or the most recent conspiracy theory; those who love to dwell on the bad news. These are they who are referred here in verse 2, who have spread this pessimistic news under the pretext to speaking for the Apostles. All this is a distraction from the truth and reality of what God has done, is doing, and will yet do.

The Writer here is at pains to beg his “brothers and sisters”—that wonderful familial relationship—not to pay too much attention to the alarmists. Yet, there is here some mention of someone who opposes God. A lesson from history worth bearing in mind is that no one really knows who the Writer had in mind; nor do we know whom the readers would have interpreted these as referring to. Maybe they just stand as a perpetual warning to us and every generation of believers; there will always be those who set themselves up and are even acclaimed by others with a sense of divinity—a clearly undeserved and utterly unwarranted notion—whose rule seeks to usurp the devotion rightly owed to God and to deceive and distract believers from the coming and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, there is a warning:

  • First, beware those in any form of power—whether government, or church—who lack humility.
  • Second, resist the values and ethos of those who claim ultimate power.
  • Third, their aim, and the aim of their followers is to deceive and mislead.
  • Fourth, the devotion of Christians is to be wholeheartedly focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ

Verse 4 paints the picture of an authority figure who seemingly despises all other authority except his own. This person—whoever it may seem to be, in any and every generation—is to be resisted. Their claims to power, morals, and ethics, are to be exposed.

The focus of the believer is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is made clear in verse 1 where the writer speaks of the ‘coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The names and titles given to Jesus here are particularly significant in this context.

First, Jesus—the incarnation of the Living God. The One who lived in Nazareth, ministered in Galilee and Judea, revealed the glorious love, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness of God. He loved to the very end, forgiving even as his executors nailed him to the cross. This is the way of Jesus and the calling of those who are his disciples.

Second, Lord—the Lord above all other lords. For the believer there is this singular confession—Jesus is Lord. God raised this Jesus from the dead, and exalted him to the highest place, giving him the name that is above every name. The disciple of Jesus accepts that Jesus alone is worthy of devotion. And moreover, the disciple of Jesus will test all other claims to lordship from authority figures, either in the government or the church, against the model of the Lord Jesus—love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, generosity.

Third, Christ—God’s chosen king. To speak of Jesus as Christ is to recognize that he is God’s anointed one—anointed to be king, just as David was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king. Whilst the title ‘Lord’ inevitably has a reach far beyond the church, subverting the claims of all other lords, the title Christ/king begins with the people of God, and then spreads each day with every act of service to this king out from the homes of believers, into the communities; acts of love, mercy and forgiveness.

The second passage within this lectionary reading highlights the place and position of those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and this is done with a high degree of thankfulness—“Thank God that in the midst of lies and deception, God’s love and mercy will prevail.”

First, believers live as reminders that God’s work is not yet complete (verse 13). Believers are “the first fruit for salvation”—note the “first fruit.” This clearly implies that there is yet more fruit to come. In this way, the believers live—often in a complex, confusing, and difficult context, as symbols of hope. “God has shown his mercy to us—God will surely show his hope to others.”

Second, the believers are reminded of the priority of proclaiming the good news (verse 14). It is worth bearing in mind that in the first century there was more than one version of ‘good news.’ There was the “good news” spread by the Roman Empire and was focused entirely upon the emperor and his exploits, stretching the now familiar notion of “fake news” to its limit (does this sound familiar?). However, the genuine and eternal good news concerns the Lord Jesus Christ. And what is the heart of this good news?

  • It is good news of the Father’s love (“beloved by the Lord”).
  • It is good news of the Father’s grace (“God chose you”).
  • It is good news of hope (“the first fruits”)
  • It is good news of salvation
  • It is good news of complete transformation into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ (“sanctification by the Spirit”).
  • It is good news of the trustworthy faithfulness of God (“that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”)