Lectionary Commentaries for October 27, 2019
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org

Alternate First Reading (Complementary)

Commentary on Sirach 35:12-17

Micah D. Kiel

When I was in graduate school, I heard a fellow student refer to “400 years of God’s silence” between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.

Such a statement testifies to the broad lack of awareness of the historical and theological importance of those books often referred to as the “apocryphal” or “deuterocanonical” books, most of which were written during this period.

For most of the history of the Church, the apocryphal books were deemed part of the canon, particularly in the west. Books such as Tobit, 1 Maccabees, and Sirach were quoted by early church figures and likely also influenced the New Testament. Historically, these books help us understand the various forms of Judaism in the second temple period and they are indispensable for our understanding of early Christianity.

At the same time, these books area important theologically. They contribute to our understanding of topics such as martyrdom (1 and 2 Maccabees); wisdom (Sirach); almsgiving (Tobit); and the afterlife (Wisdom of Solomon). Both internal and external reasons recommend these books to us. Whether or not our traditions allow them to rise to the level of “scripture,” we ought to study them and understand them.

The book of Sirach, or the Wisdom of Ben Sira, is a good test case for the importance of the apocryphal books. Jewish leaders, authors, and thinkers in the second temple period were scrutinizing their tradition, often asking hard questions. We see this in the book of Job, for example, which struggles with the problem of undeserved suffering, but also with the bigger problem of epistemology. In other words: how can we know what God does and why? Books like Job and Ecclesiastes seem epistemologically skeptical—much of God’s ways are beyond what humans can and should know. At the same time, apocalyptic traditions took a different turn to elaborate tours of the heavens, visions, and interpretations as a way of guaranteeing knowledge and understanding.

Sirach was written in Hebrew around 200 BCE, right in the heart of this second temple period. At a time when Hellenization had firmly gripped the ancient Mediterranean world and presented Judaism with an existential threat, Sirach interprets his traditions to show their profundity and practicality. The book engages Israel’s past and offers a theological formulation of how to live and how to think about God.

Sirach is in the tradition of Proverbs, offering proverbial wisdom from a teacher to a pupil. The author’s argument suggests that obedience to God’s law and to the sage’s teaching can guarantee security and God’s blessing. Despite new ideas emerging within Judaism of his day—including the apocalypticism seen in 1 Enoch, Daniel, and eventually the New Testament—the author of Sirach maintains a more traditional, on might say conservative, view about God and revelation.

Sirach reaffirms traditional wisdom traditions and the guarantee they provide about being able to explain how God acts: “An educated person knows many things, and one with much experience knows what he is talking about … I have seen many things in my travels and I understand more than I can express” (Sirach 34:9, 12). In other words, the sage has the experience and his wisdom can be trusted. Sirach consistently, like Proverbs, recommends “fear of the Lord.” “Fear of the Lord” means observance, both of the sage’s teaching and of the law. While Sirach is not overly concerned with the intricacies of how to keep the law and offer sacrifices like the priestly traditions in the Old Testament, keeping the law is a guarantor of God’s blessing. We find a succinct summary of these perspectives in Sirach 35:12-13: “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold.” In other words, there is a direct correlation between how one acts and how God will repay proper action.

As scholars have long pointed out, such formulations of a connection between act and consequence, as seen here in Sirach and in places such as Proverbs, have deep resonances with the book of Deuteronomy, which also espouses a close connection between act and consequence. While the human condition is replete with examples of righteous sufferers, we would be rash to jettison Sirach’s words too quickly. We should recall the importance of obedience in the sermon on the mountain (Matthew 5-7) and its connection with rewards (Matthew 5:20; 6:1; 7:11). Such ideas of act and consequence also resonate with the letter of James (e.g. 1:25).

No theological formulation works perfectly. Sirach attempts to harness past Jewish traditions and to formulate them in a way that is understandable, helpful, and can be integrated into how people were living their lives. His concerns are often practical and pastoral and his recommendations are based on a belief that God’s wisdom has been bred into the structure of the world. Wisdom can be sought, learned, and utilized to improve people’s lives.

Finally, as to the content in Sirach 35:12-17, we’ve already seen the typical retributive perspective here, that God will repay according to one’s actions. Sirach, like many parts of the wisdom literature, consistently recommends almsgiving. He goes so far as to say that almsgiving can “atone for sin” (3:30). Sirach does not, however, see the poor as a wronged group, as those who can stand as plaintiffs before God with a complaint like one might see in a prophetic text such as Amos. Those who are wronged, however, who have suffered an injustice, are right to make their supplication to God. Here the examples given are orphans and widows, whose prayers God will accept and answer. Even these, however, must act in a way that is “pleasing to the Lord” (35:20).

Finally, it is interesting to consider how this text from Sirach sits alongside the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18. While Sirach’s overall theological ideas might differ somewhat from Luke’s, they both share here a conviction that God is the ultimate judge and that something more than outward adherence is required of a person of faith. In Sirach, there is a directive to obedience, but those things sacrificed to God must be gained honestly. In Luke, God also judges the heart and not outward trappings.

Overall, Sirach is a fascinating book, filled with helpful aphorisms, reinterpreted traditions, all in the service of trying to help people live their lives. While the book is not without its problems (25:16-26), it is a worthy conversation partner in the ongoing attempts to discern what the Spirit is saying to our churches.


Commentary on Luke 18:9-14

Matt Skinner

This parable is deceptively simple, although its warning against contemptuousness and spiritual superiority can expose our brokenness in numerous ways.

At the same time, it encourages contrition and celebrates God’s extravagant mercy.

The parable also deals in characters and activities that are widely misunderstood and have nourished anti-Jewish tropes in Christian communities for centuries. Interpreters need to handle the text carefully, attentive to historical realities and alert to what mistaken assumptions one may have accumulated.


The Pharisees of the first century were not “legalists” who were trying to earn God’s favor. They were a Jewish movement that emphasized the importance of obedience to the law of Moses. Living in accordance with torah was a way of making God’s benefits visible and accessible in all aspects of life for all who were Jewish.

The Pharisees’ attention to things like rituals for cleansing one’s body or one’s cookware was part of a larger effort to encounter God’s holiness in everyday life. Pharisaic priorities aligned with the notion of Israel as a holy (“set apart”) nation, even while in the first century Jews lived in subjection to Roman rule and were dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world. Pharisees’ emphasis on interpreting the law and developing “oral torah” as practical guidelines for law observance helps explain why Jesus has so much interaction with Pharisees in the gospels. The similarities he shared with them led to dialogue, which made some Pharisees sympathetic to Jesus’ movement (Luke 13:33; 19:39; Acts 15:5; 23:6). The similarities also exacerbated the differences, as Jesus and the Pharisees participated in critical intra-Jewish debates about how exactly Jewish values should express themselves in a changing cultural landscape.

Although Luke is not as critical of Pharisees as Matthew and John are, still this gospel often speaks of Pharisees in caricatured ways, offering grotesque generalizations to score polemical points (e.g., cf. Luke 7:30; 11:37-44; 12:1; 16:14). Part of the reason for the polemics stems from the Christian church’s emergence within and then out of Jewish communities in the first century. It’s valuable to for interpreters to know the real history of Pharisees and where the gospels reflect it. It is also crucial to note that the term Pharisee sometimes functions in Luke as a cipher for villain. The Pharisee in the parable, for example, functions mostly as an embodiment of arrogance and contemptuous. The degree to which those qualities accurately characterized any or all ancient Pharisees is debatable, to say the least. To embrace Luke’s anti-Pharisee belligerence before letting the parable do its thing would be to miss the parable’s points entirely.

Be aware, finally, that Christian use of the word Pharisee as a synonym for hypocrite is inappropriate. It neglects the ways in which Jesus’ (and Paul’s) teachings arose from Pharisaical influences. It implies that the gospels’ combative depictions of Pharisees are historically precise and that Christian tradition warrants labeling anyone who does not embrace Jesus as “self-righteous” or somehow poisoned by a commitment to false forms of religion. It resurrects anti-Jewish tropes, especially by simplistically equating modern Jews with Jesus’ adversaries in the gospel narratives and ignoring the complexity of the connections and dissimilarities between Rabbinic Judaism and the ancient Pharisees.1

Tax collectors

The Roman Empire’s taxation system repeatedly offended many residents of first-century Galilee. It is difficult to determine how severe the taxation demands were on individuals and their families, but the tax-gathering system was notoriously corrupt. To collect taxes in places like neighborhoods, highways, markets, and docks, Roman officials enlisted members of the population to bid for contracts. Tax collectors could line their own pockets with whatever they could collect over and above their contractual obligations.

The gospels operate with an understanding that tax collectors were generally viewed as dishonest and greedy. The reasons are obvious. They were slimy opportunists and collaborators, willing to victimize their own neighbors while assisting the occupiers. They upheld Roman interests at the expense of the people of God. It would have been dangerous to oppose such men who appeared to have traded their social consciences and religious self-worth for financial gain.

Jesus’ willingness to associate with tax collectors compounds the scandal of his ministry in the eyes of others (Luke 5:27-32; 7:33-35; 15:1-2). Why would someone so interested in holiness and liberation spend his time in the company of mobsters? Why would he extend mercy to those who made a living off of denying mercy to others? Jesus deliberately reaches out to scoundrels. He does not cast off those who enrich themselves by enabling the empire.


When the tax collector leaves the temple “justified,” he goes home unburdened. Vindicated. In restored relationship with God. “Justification” is not a common theme in the Lukan writings, so a preacher should not do too much with the word and that dimension of the parable. But when Jesus says, “This man went down to his home justified” we should imagine his words taking his audience’s collective breath away. The tax collector is not the kind of person one might expect to be so easily restored. Beating his breast in sorrow, the man utters a simple request for mercy and confesses his sinfulness. But he does not promise to change. This traitor to his people does not pledge to find a new job or join the resistance.

It’s rather outrageous that God shows mercy so easily to such a villain. The grace on display here is as absurdly generous as what we see in the prodigal son’s return home (Luke 15) and the end-of-the-day payment of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20).

The Pharisee and his prayer are more complicated. His failure to ask for mercy is not necessarily a problem, for the focus of his prayer is thanksgiving. In fact, he too may depart the temple justified after he prays; the parable is ambiguous on this point.2

The Pharisee’s main problem is that his prayer regards the tax collector with such contempt. He assumes his corrupt neighbor has situated himself beyond God’s mercy when in truth he has not.

The contempt is the point

There is a lot going on in this little parable. There are differences between the Pharisee and the tax collector in terms of how they stand, what they pray for, and how they pray. But if a sermon makes this parable about how terrible the Pharisees were, the preacher has totally missed the point—or fallen victim to it. For the greatest difference between the two praying men lies here: one has written off the other, while the other can speak only of his own brokenness.

The parable sets a trap. Whenever we want to be critical of one of the characters or distinguish ourselves and our values clearly from one of them, the parable exposes the disdain we harbor. What is disdain? It is the manifestation of a belief that we know better than God who should receive mercy and how they should receive it.3

The passage contains many layers. If we imagine Jesus speaking the parable to an original audience, maybe we see them experiencing a surprise: the parable upends their expectations when they discover that a respectable religious person does not possess advantages before God over an obvious “sinner.” If we read the parable within Luke’s overall narrative, with its interest in vilifying ancient Pharisees and celebrating Jesus’ friendship with “sinners,” we need to recognize that the parable makes its point by using two caricatures: Luke tells an ancient audience composed of Christ-followers that “one of us” knows better than those arrogant and clueless others. Responsible interpreters today will avoid the mistake of thinking the parable is about those caricatures. Instead, it is a parable about the humble contrition God desires versus the arrogance that poisons a life of faith and service.

All kinds of people—whether publicans, Pharisees, pastors, parishioners, politicians, or perpetrators—are capable of either contrition or contempt. Those attitudes express themselves in how we view our neighbors and in the theologies we rely upon to guide our daily lives.

Don’t mistake the polemical caricatures for the parable’s more powerful message. Listen to Jesus’ story and ask: How shall we pray to a wildly merciful God? How shall we live, having learned of such boundless mercy?


  1. In spring 2019, when presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called out certain evangelical leaders as “Pharisees,” many Christians and Jews successfully urged him to stop. For discussion of some of the issues that make speaking about modern “Pharisees” problematic, see https://hartman.org.il/SHINews_View.asp?Article_Id=2447&Cat_Id=285&Cat_Type=SHINews.
  2. The words translated in the NRSV as “rather than the other” in Luke 18:4 can also mean “alongside the other” or “because of the other.” See Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 191-93.
  3. The verses that follow (Luke 18:15-17), in which Jesus insists that the reign of God belongs to little children, offer further support to viewing the parable as a criticism of contempt. Dismissive attitudes toward other people give rise to all sorts of theological errors.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Joel 2:23-32

Casey Thornburgh Sigmon

Why did God let this happen? This is the question that drives the Book of Joel.

Natural disaster and Ordinary Time

As I write this, the Midwest has endured a record setting streak of tornadoes and floods. Headlines daily alert us that earth is groaning under the burden of this invasive species called humans with headlines such as ‘We are in trouble’ now that global carbon emissions reached record setting highs in 2018.1 Panic is creeping into the hearts of even the most confident earthlings. Natural (and human-made) disasters disrupt our ordinary time and lead us to ask questions of God and God’s power. Why is God letting this happen? We need prophets like Joel in our time to address the cries of creation.

The specific plague in Joel’s context is the result of a violent invasion of locusts. It may be hard for us to envision just how devastating a locust plague was and is. Joel describes the invasion in the first chapter: an entire life and livelihood is laid waste by these creatures. The terrain appears to have been attacked by a scorching fire. Picture the aftermath of 2018 fires in Paradise, California.2 Or the devastation after a tornado tore through Linwood, Kansas this summer, turning mature trees into piles of toothpicks and flattening homes.3

Entire lives and livelihoods lost. Joel stands with his people in the wreckage before the promises described in our pericope can be imagined and proclaimed:

Be dismayed, you farmers,
wail, you vinedressers,
over the wheat and the barley;
for the crops of the field are ruined …
surely, joy withers away among the people” (Joel 1:11; 12b).

This is the reality for so many as a result of climate change and natural disaster. Before we move to the promise of restoration (our pericope for today), we, like Joel, must name the devastation and call for repentance.

Suggestion to the preacher: Pull the camera back

Consider wandering away from our passage to set the whole scene. I don’t see this as an issue when you encounter a minor prophet like Joel (and again next week in Habakkuk). These texts do not make their way into our lectionary often. And when Joel is referenced, it is often through the mouth of Peter and through the lens of Pentecost or through the lens of Ash Wednesday rather than preached in its’ own right into the suffering we endure in ordinary time. We also have placed human beings at the center of the reading, when Joel paints a picture of the deep and God-breathed connection of people to land and animals.

For example, before our passage begins, two other audiences are addressed and claimed in the promise of a better tomorrow: soil and animals.

Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!

Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield (Joel 1:21-22).

As we live in these uncertain times with signs of warning calling from the earth, perhaps we should shift this pericope, expand it beyond the anthropocentric, and place it back into context. For with Joel, joy results from creation’s harmony. Joy is a field that is green, a tree bearing fruit. Joy is animals of the field fed and full. And yes, people fed and people prophesying. But all things in relation, and all embedded in God’s creation.

“The day of the Lord”

The concept of “the day of the Lord” comes from prophets describing Yahweh’s judgment on Israel and Judah in the near future because of the people’s failure to follow Yahweh’s commandments. In this way, destruction is ultimately brought upon by ourselves. Theodicy is addressed and answered: we are suffering because we have been disobedient.

Again, the parallel to our current climate crisis is ripe for exploration, preachers. We have brought destruction on ourselves because we have failed to honor the soil, sky, and land as just stewards of God’s creation. Who will then gather the young and old and bid the congregation to purify themselves (2:16)? How can we rouse God on behalf of God’s land and people (2:18-19)?

Out of the trauma, Joel and other prophets dream of a better world. Prophets dream, with Yahweh, of a prosperous future for a traumatized people unable to see beyond the devastation. This world Joel imagines is one in which rain falls as it should, harvests are plentiful, human and bovine bellies are full and God’s spirit pours out on all people.

What world will you imagine for your congregation?


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/12/05/we-are-trouble-global-carbon-emissions-reached-new-record-high/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f9e580f14217
  2. https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/Camp-Fire-Paradise-in-recovery-six-months-later-13815152.php
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/29/large-extremely-dangerous-tornado-rips-through-kansas-causing-multiple-injuries-catastrophic-damages/?utm_term=.8f8fa29c512a 


Commentary on Psalm 84:1-7

Walter C. Bouzard

Considered as a whole, Psalm 84 fits into the category of the songs of Zion (Psalms 46, 48, 76, 87, 122).

In this psalm, the psalmist, enraptured by the promise of the Lord of hosts’ particular presence in the Jerusalem Temple, longs to enter the courts and there to join in song with those who live in God’s house.

While ancient Israel grew to understand that the LORD was present everywhere, Jerusalem and, especially, the Temple represented a unique intersection between the God’s abode in heaven and this world (see, for example, Psalm 132:13-16). Indeed, Jerusalem and the Zion continue to draw pious Jews as a particular locus for God’s presence. Jews utter prayers daily at the Western Wall, the retaining wall of Herod’s Second Temple expansion. Certainly, Muslims and Christians also regard the city and Zion as sacred, albeit for different reasons.

In verse 3, the psalmist rejoices that humble sparrows and swallows find sanctuary in the Temple precincts where their protected nests surround the altars of the divine King. It is likely that the poet has in mind real birds that populated the niches around the Temple. On the other hand, Israel’s neighbors long considered birds fleeing the sanctuary area as a symbol of both divine abandonment and disaster for their temple and city.1 Here the psalmist reverses that trope: the image of birds nesting securely connotes the utter security provided by the divine presence. Similarly, in Isaiah’s song about the glories of Zion’s restoration, doves join the throng returning to the restored and glorious Jerusalem and Zion (Isaiah 60:8).

As the birds find safe sanctuary, so also do the blessed/happy people (’asrey) who dwell in that sacred space (verse 4). There, forever, they sing the LORD’s praises. The verb for sing in this verse is hll (the root of hallelujah) and it signals worshipful shouts and singing. Although it is ridiculously anachronistic, the association with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus is inevitable.

Verses 5, 6, and 7 each present vexing translation problems. In verse 5, the NRSV supplies “to Zion,” while the JPS translation inserts “pilgrim highways.” Given the context, perhaps something like one or the other suggestion appeared in the original text. Isaiah 60:10 refers to the preparation of a highway in association with Jerusalem. On the other hand, Kraus assumes a copyist’s error and emends the text to read, “trust in their heart.” As he notes, the correction does have the advantage of making the second half of the verse cohere with the first: those who seek refuge also trust.2

Likewise, the “Valley of Baca” (‘meq habbaka’) in verse 6 remains enigmatic. No such place has been identified, albeit some scholars link it with the valley of Rephaim, mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:18-22 and with balsam trees (beka’im) associated with that site. The NJB therefore translates “the Valley of the Balsam.” The Septuagint, however, reads te koiladi tou klauthonos, the Valley of Weeping. Perhaps those translators had an original form of bkh (to weep) rather than the homophonic bk. Whatever the term’s precise referent, the expression intends to convey that pilgrims pass through a place of weeping or sorrow into the realm of blessing and abundant water. In an arid land, the association of water with blessing is a natural one. The scriptures frequently anticipate divinely provided water as pilgrims approach Jerusalem (Isaiah 35:6-7; 41:18-20; 43:19; 48:21; Psalm 107:35). The abundance of water, moreover, is part of the Royal Zion tradition: where God is, there the waters of paradise flow (e.g. Psalms 46:4; 65:9; Ezekiel 47; Revelation 21:1-2).

Verse 7 also presents difficulties. What might it mean to walk from “strength to strength?” The JPS solves the problem by revocalizing ?ayil (strength) to ?eyl (rampart): “They go from rampart to rampart.” The emendation is consistent with Psalm 48:12-14. There the psalmist urges worshippers to walk around Zion, to count its towers (48:12) and to consider its ramparts, so they might say to succeeding generations “this is our God, our God forever and ever” (verse 14). So too here, the psalmist anticipates that the God of gods will appear in Zion.

So, what shall we preach? Those of us whose profession it is to occupy the sanctuaries of holy places are often guilty of forgetting that our places of worship—whatever style, age, or condition they may be—are spaces set aside by believers in the hope that there they might encounter the God of gods. This text, however, is not an invitation artificially to excite sentiments about the worship space. Exhausted, hungry pilgrims—even the most pious among them—have no need to have their emotions manipulated.

Instead, the preacher might consider how it is that all who find a place in the pew have doubtless just come from his or her own Valley of Baca. Indeed, and as it is for the preacher herself, that shadowy valley is ever as close as tears and endlessly stimulated by a thousand little experiences of death we encounter at work, school, and even in our homes. We all approach our holy places hoping (even daring to anticipate!) that we too might join the celebration of God’s presence, removed from the Valley of Baca.

And we will, of course. God in Christ will be there for God has promised to be present in the proclaimed gospel, present in the loaf and the cup, present in the company of other pilgrims. God in Christ is present, reminding us that even dying sparrows fall no further than into his nail marked hands. Then—this more good news!—we will be among those who forever dwell in God’s house, ever singing Christ’s praises.


  1. Walter C. Bouzard, “Doves in the Window: Isaiah 60:8 in Light of Ancient Mesopotamian Lament Traditions,” in David and Zion. Biblical Studies in Honor of J.J.M. Roberts, ed. Bernard F. Batto and Kathryn L. Roberts (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2004), 311-13.
  2. Hans Joakim Kraus, Psalms 60 – 150, trans. by Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1989), 165-66.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Jennifer Vija Pietz

It is debated whether the apostle Paul himself wrote the Second Letter to Timothy near the end of his life, or a pseudonymous author wrote it after Paul’s death as a farewell discourse or hagiographic work.

Whichever position is adopted, the letter describes key aspects of Paul’s life and teaching consistently with what is found in the undisputed Pauline letters. It thus powerfully represents Paul, imprisoned and aware that his death is near, exhorting his spiritual son Timothy to follow his exemplary Christian life and teachings as Timothy continues to advance the gospel in adverse circumstances.

This passage presents Paul’s assessment of his life and mission as they draw to a close. He conveys confidence in the Lord and in his having faithfully completed his apostolic mission, even though he is facing death as a result of so doing.

The athletic analogies of verses 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (“fight” can refer to a race or other sporting competition) present Paul as a victor, complete with the wreath or “crown” given to champions. Such imagery often functioned in the Greco-Roman world as a metaphor for the moral life. It thereby indicates that Paul’s victory partly consists of having lived a Christ-like life with integrity until the very end, making him an appropriate example to Timothy.

The statement “I have kept the faith” in 2 Timothy 4:7 may also reflect this sentiment, but it can be understood in at least two additional ways as well. One is that Paul has preserved the sound teaching of the gospel (2 Timothy 1:13), passing it along to Timothy and others, while false teachings abound (2 Timothy 2:16-18; 3:8; 4:3-4). The other is that he has maintained faith in the Lord Jesus Christ throughout his ministry, even amidst his many sufferings and persecutions (2 Timothy 1:8, 12, 15; 2:8-10; 3:11; 4:10, 14, 16).

Indeed, much of Paul’s confidence in the Lord comes from his experiences of the Lord standing by him and strengthening him in persecution and abandonment. Even though the athletic analogies suggest that Paul has in part earned his awaiting “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8; see also 2:5) because of his faithful life and preaching of the gospel, 4:17-18 indicates that the Lord’s provision and righteousness make this life possible. The statement in verse 17 that God strengthened Paul to “fully” proclaim the gospel seems to affirm that he has completed his mission to the extent God has allowed him, rather than that he has actually preached to “all the Gentiles.”

Paul does not glorify suffering for its own sake. But throughout this letter, he asserts that it is an inevitable part of serving the Christ who suffered and gave his life in faithfulness to his mission. The assertion in 2 Timothy 4:6 that Paul is being poured out as a libation recalls the drink offerings that accompanied sacrifices in the Old Testament (for example, Numbers 15:5, 7). It thus portrays his approaching death as the result of a life given for the sake of furthering the good news of the Lord who gave his life as the ultimate sacrifice for humanity. And mention in 4:16 of Paul being deserted at his first defense (likely a legal hearing) recalls Jesus’s disciples abandoning him at his arrest (for example, Mark 14:50) and his sense of abandonment by God at his crucifixion (for example, Mark 15:34). Such allusions affirm that Paul’s sufferings have come from embracing a life like that of the Lord he proclaims.

Although Christ has rescued Paul from many dangers so that his ministry could continue, 2 Timothy 4:18a does not necessarily mean that he will save Paul from his present imprisonment or impending death. In the context of the whole letter, it implies that Christ will continue to help Paul persevere in faith through all evil in order to attain the eschatological goal of entering the fullness of Christ’s kingdom at his second coming, together with all the righteous (2 Timothy 4:8).

It is common for people who are at the end of their lives, or who are facing an ominous medical diagnosis, to have a sharpened perspective on the significance of life. This text from Second Timothy gives the audience such a valuable perspective from one who has faithfully completed his God-given calling.

It highlights how at the end of a Christian life, what matters is not material wealth or social status, but rather being able to share Paul’s confidence that one has lived a Christ-like life through whatever vocation God has given them. A sermon might thereby call for a reassessment of attitudes and priorities, or for reflection on how many cultural narratives and values conflict with Christian values and ultimate commitments.

The text can also be preached as a way to reframe understandings of, and responses to, suffering. Some Christians do not identify with Paul’s experiences of imprisonment or persecution for preaching that gospel. A sermon on this text could, however, raise awareness of the Christians around the world who do, and call people into solidary with them through prayer or other action. It could also clarify that not all Christians are called to suffer and die as martyrs like Paul, and that violence against innocent people should not generally be construed as sacred. By contrast, the text can call attention to suffering as an inevitable part of life, and encourage people to recognize God’s presence and strength in these times as they persevere through them.

Paul does affirm the significance of the present life in this letter—this is why he trains Timothy to continue the gospel ministry after he is gone. But he also understands that this life is not ultimate, so that Christians can face struggles, and even death, with confidence in the One “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).