Lectionary Commentaries for September 29, 2019
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 16:19-31

Mitzi J. Smith

This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is one in a series of lengthy parables Jesus shared with a large traveling crowd.

These crowds included Jesus’ disciples, tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees, lawyers, and scribes (Luke 14:25; 15:1,3,8,11; 16:1, 14). The parables primarily concern well-off or rich men. They are about the father who throws a lavish feast for his younger son when he returns home penniless after having squandered the inheritance given him (15:11-32); the owner of a hundred sheep who recovers the one that strayed from the flock (15:3-7); the rich man who accuses his slave manager of squandering his property (16:1-13); and a rich man who has no compassion for a poor man named Lazarus (16:19-31), which is our Gospel text for this week.

Luke’s Jesus offers significant advice for men with wealth and social position: they should not take the VIP seats at feasts (Luke 14:7); they should invite the poor, dis-eased, and marginalized to their lavish feasts rather than their elite friends and family and folks who can return the invitation (14:21-24); consider selling all their possessions and redistribute the proceeds to the poor (18:18-25); be commended for giving half their possessions to the poor and making restitution to those they defrauded (19:1-10); and he shames the rich who contribute gifts to the Temple from their wealth, while a poor widow gives her; she sacrificed (too) much and they gifted relatively little (21:1-4). Unlike most politicians today who focus on the so-called “middle class” as if the poor matter less/little, Jesus is concerned with the poor, sick, and marginalized. As wealth becomes concentrated with the top one to two percent of a population, masses live in poverty. Jesus attempts to raise the consciousness of the rich about poverty, compassion, and social inequality.

In our parable the rich man is anonymous; he wears purple attire made of fine linen, which is the color of royalty and is of high social status. He eats as lavishly as he dresses, as do other elites and rich people (Luke 16:19; see also 15:22-23). As he feasts and wears expensive clothing in his gated house, a poor hungry man languishes at the base of the rich man’s gate. His name is Lazarus. Naming him humanizes him. Perhaps leaving the rich man nameless signifies how love of wealth over love of people dehumanizes and desensitizes people to others’ suffering so that ‘subordinates’ are treated with indifference, hatred, and cruelty.

Nevertheless, Lazarus hopes to eat at least the crumbs and leftovers from the rich man’s feasts. A society desensitized to suffering and hunger would rather have pets than hungry human beings eat the leftovers. Not that pets shouldn’t eat either. Only the dogs show mercy on Lazarus, licking his sore-covered body. Perhaps, Lazarus hoped each day would be different. Perhaps, the base of the gate surrounding the rich man’s house was the safest place for a poor man without shelter to sleep and beg.

I remember visiting the White House for the first time in the early 1980s. A friend who lived in D.C. drove me there at night. I could not appreciate the splendor of the White House because of the many people wrapped in dirty blankets who lay sleeping at the base of the iron gates; the contradiction and contrast was depressing and heartbreaking. The White House, home of the president of the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world, responds to poor people by ignoring them or rendering them invisible.

Blocks from the White House resided some of the poorest residents of the city, and they were primarily African Americans whose ancestors built the White House. In his award-winning book Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram Kendi argues that biased and racist practices and policies preceded racist ideologies.1 A few years later, policies and laws were enacted that prohibited people from sleeping on the ground around the White House gates and even on warming grates near or in the Metro subway stations. Our society and churches value the comfort of the elites and powerful more than people whom God’s Spirit and the Scriptures say deserve our compassion and help. More recently feeding the poor and immigrants has been criminalized in some states.

Eventually both the rich man and Lazarus die, as all do, regardless of social position (Luke 16:22). Our social status and poverty/wealth do not accompany us. Lazarus likely died because of his poverty and the dis-ease that poverty causes. Many health problems are associated with poverty, and the poor are disproportionately subjected to diverse forms of violence. In fact, the violence to which the poor are subjected interferes with the ability to improve their lives.2 But death is not speechless here. The angels transport the poor man away to be with Abraham, but the rich man ends up in hot Hades (the underworld) where Lazarus with Abraham commune in plain view (16:22-24).

The (formerly rich) man shouts to Abraham with a familiarity and sense of subordination. Referring to him as ‘Father Abraham,’ he asks that Abraham demonstrate mercy by sending Lazarus to cool his tongue by dipping his finger in water and placing it in his mouth to alleviate his agony (Luke 16:25). In death as in life, the man treats Lazarus as if he is a slave/subordinate whose purpose is to serve him. If Abraham is father, the man is child (16:26). Abraham reminds him that in life he received good things, and Lazarus received evil things, but now the reversed is true (see also 1:46-55). Lazarus is comforted; the man is in agony. Poor people are not evil, but poverty and disease are evils that can be alleviated. “Blessed are the poor” (6:20). God does not create poverty; human beings do. What humans create, humans can fix, if they so desire.

An insurmountable chasm separates the once rich man from those who would help him (Luke 16:27). If he cannot be helped maybe, he begs, Father Abraham can send “him” to warn his five brothers so they do not also end up in Hades (16:28). The rich man still appears not to know Lazarus’ name. Abraham responds that his five brothers have access to the same prophetic oracles and Mosaic teachings that he had: perform justice for orphans and widows, love strangers by providing food and clothing; do justice and love kindness (Deuteronomy 10:19; Micah 6:8). Just as he did not heed the Scriptures, neither will his brothers even if someone returns from the dead to warn them (16:29-30). We have the teachings of the resurrected Jesus, and yet we too fail to love our neighbors, in very tangible, just, and merciful ways; we build fences, gates and walls and then justify them (6:7-36; 10:36-37).


  1. Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books, 2016).

  2. Gary A. Haugen, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press, 2014).

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

“Income inequality” is a phrase we are hearing in this year leading up to the 2020 American presidential election.

And for good reason—many studies show that in the United States, the rich get richer while wage growth stagnates for middle class families. And the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. Just one striking example: In 1965, CEOs made about 20 times more in income than the average production worker in their companies. In 2016, that gap had risen to 271 times more income.1

The inequality is even greater from a global perspective. In 2018, less than one percent of the world’s population owned 45 percent of the world’s wealth.2 This gap between rich and poor is especially apparent in the developing world. One photographer, Johnny Miller, illustrates the vast divide between the wealthy and the poor by taking aerial photographs of cities, primarily in developing countries. In city after city, luxury homes and golf courses are bordered by protective walls that separate them from squalid slums of corrugated tin or wooden huts.3

Such scenes would not be unfamiliar to the prophet Amos. He passes judgment against the luxurious lives of the wealthy upper class in Israel: “I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the LORD” (3:15).

Archaeology has shed some light on the setting that Amos describes. Excavations at Samaria (the capital of Israel) unearthed a large collection of carved ivories from the 8th century BCE, the time of Amos (cf. the “beds of ivory” in 6:4). Excavations at Tirzah (an earlier capital of Israel) found striking differences between the 10th century BCE and the 8th century. In the earlier time period, the houses of the town were of similar size to each other. By the 8th century BCE, there was a section of large houses, while the majority of the city had smaller, more cramped homes.

If we take Amos as our guide, it seems that while Israel’s upper class enjoyed many luxuries, they did so at the expense of the poor, who were in danger of being sold into slavery if they fell into debt (2:6).

And so, Amos chastises the rich, those who—like the rich man in the parable from Luke—ignore the plight of the poor: “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.” The judgment of God that he pronounces is on the rich people of the northern (Mount Samaria) and southern (Zion) kingdoms alike, those who “lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs … but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph” (6:1, 4-6).

It is not completely clear what Amos means by “the ruin of Joseph.” “Joseph,” of course, is a name for the northern kingdom of Israel. Some scholars date this phrase to later in the 8th century, when Assyria threatened Israel. Given the context of the passage, though, it seems likely that “the ruin of Joseph” refers to the unjust economic conditions about which Amos was concerned, the “reign of violence” under which the majority of Israelites lived as they struggled to survive (6:3).

This economic system was not what biblical law envisioned. The Jubilee legislation in Lev 25, for instance, mandated a system whereby no one could accumulate too much wealth and where every family had land to support themselves. Even if they had to sell their land because of illness or drought, they got it back in the Jubilee year.

But 8th century Israel did not embody that vision of economic justice, and so Amos’s judgment is harsh. Those who enjoy luxuries while ignoring the poor will not only be considered “the notables of the first of the nations” (6:1); they will also be “the first to go into exile” (6:7). It is worth noting that Assyria conquered Israel and took its people, especially its nobility, into exile some 40 years after Amos prophesied.

Amos’s judgment is harsh, but Abraham Heschel puts the prophet’s words into proper perspective:

The prophet’s words are outbursts of violent emotions. His rebuke is harsh and relentless. But if such deep sensitivity to evil is to be called hysterical, what name should be given to the abysmal indifference to evil which the prophet bewails?

They drink wine in bowls,
And anoint themselves with the finest oils,
But they are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
(Amos 6:6)4

Amos decries complacency. He chastises those who consider such economic inequality just “the way things are,” those who have the time and wealth to be idle while people around them struggle to make ends meet.

God’s judgment in the book of Amos arises out of Israel’s status as God’s chosen people. God wants them to live as those who are chosen, and with that election comes special responsibility:

Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities (Amos 3:1-2).

A sermon on this text should not shy away from the topic of economic injustice. All of the texts for this week speak in blunt terms about the dangers of wealth. And our current economic system (especially our global system) bears enough resemblance to Amos’s that the words of judgment are fitting.

But the sermon should also note the basis for this judgment. To be God’s people (in either synagogue or church) is to be held to a high standard. We follow a God of justice, a God who has special concern for the poor and the oppressed. Part of our calling as people of God is to live out in our daily lives the character of the God we follow.

For the wealthy among us (and if we are Americans, we are among the world’s wealthy), the judgment Amos pronounces is not only for the sake of our brothers and sisters in need; it is also for our sake, so that we may learn to see clearly and discern rightly even in the midst of distractions that would keep us from following Christ. The judgment is also for our sake, so that we, in the words of our Epistle lesson for today, “may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:19).

God is concerned about our neighbor. God is also concerned about us, that the wealth with which we are entrusted does not become reason for complacency or spiritual torpor. These words of judgment are intended to lead us to “the life that really is life”—life for ourselves, for our planet, and for our brothers and sisters in need.


  1. Carmen Reinicke, “US Income Inequality Continues to Grow,” CNBC.com, July 19, 2018. At https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/19/income-inequality-continues-to-grow-in-the-united-states.html

  2. “Global Wealth Report 2018,” Credit Suisse Research Institute (Zurich: 2018), 20.

  3. Johnny Miller, “Unequal Scenes” at https://unequalscenes.com/projects. See also Annabel Fenwick Elliot, “Life ON the Poverty Line,” Daily Mail, March 11, 2017. At https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-4302236/Slums-stacked-mansions-skyscrapers.html

  4. Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Prophets. Harper Perennial classics ed. (New York: Perennial, 2001), 5.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Anathea Portier-Young

A jailed preacher. A signed contract. Words buried in dirt.

Locking up the prophet does not prevent him from receiving and enacting God’s words of transformation, promise, and new creation. But he does not do it alone.

The heading (Jeremiah 32:1) pairs efficacious divine word with two regnal dates, one the penultimate year of Judah’s last Davidic king, the other long into the reign of the Babylonian monarch whose military achievements will spell death and destruction for Jerusalem.

The dual dating shows up the weakness of Judah’s monarchy and locates the scene at the cusp of two eras, between a tenuous freedom and captivity. Yet within the (arguably loose) timeline of the book of Jeremiah, this scene is dislocated. As we move forward in the book, we will move backward again in time, before the reign of Zedekiah to his predecessor Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36), then gradually forward to a period earlier in Zedekiah’s reign (Jeremiah 37—39:1). Narratively, we come to this cusp, this almost-ending, then back away from it before we come up to it again, and finally cross the threshold into exile. The investment in hope and future this passage narrates and elicits will help equip the audience to face the realities of destruction and slaughter that is yet to unfold.

The narrator places in parallel the siege of Jerusalem and the incarceration of the prophet (verses 2-3a). This parallel highlights the surprising agency of prophet and people alike in circumstances designed to curtail their freedom and limit their power.

An unimaginative king interrogates the prophet he has tried to lock down (verses 3b-5). Jeremiah’s response and the boundaries of the lectionary passage take the focus off the king, who will end his own days as a captive in Babylon, and focus instead on an unexpected future for the land of Judah and its people. This future will not be imagined out of nothing. It will be imagined out of the refuse pile of lost property, human relationships gone sour, and a devastated land.

The word of the LORD begins its work in this passage by preparing Jeremiah for the visit of his cousin Hanamel. Hanamel will instruct Jeremiah to purchase a field in Anathoth that Hanamel has been forced to sell, risking the loss of their family’s inheritance and stake in the land (Jeremiah 32:7). As next of kin to Hanamel, Jeremiah has the right and responsibility of go’el, “redeemer” or protector, a role anticipated in the legislation of Leviticus (Leviticus 25:24-25). There, the right of redemption is grounded in the claim that the land is God’s, and therefore inalienable. Jeremiah narrates to the king that Hanamel came to him just as the word had foretold, confirming the word for him (Jeremiah 32:8). Jeremiah’s emphasis on the veracity of the word suggests that Hanamel’s visit—and request—was surprising even to him.

Indeed, the reader of Jeremiah has never before heard of this Hanamel. But the reader has heard about the people of Anathoth: they have been trying to kill Jeremiah because of his prophecies (Jeremiah 11:21), and God has declared doom on them (11:23). We do not know if Hanamel was among those who sought Jeremiah’s life, but we know that for Jeremiah Anathoth is a place of danger and rejection. It is also Jeremiah’s home (1:1; 29:27). The cousin who comes to him in prison presses Jeremiah to buy a field that links past to future, betrayal to belonging.

The command to “buy” occurs in three passages in the book of Jeremiah. In the first instance, God commands Jeremiah to “buy” a linen cloth, wear it on his body (Jeremiah 13:1), then hide it in a cleft of rock (13:4). When Jeremiah retrieves it, it has rotted (13:7). God informs Jeremiah that the pride of Judah and Jerusalem will be ruined like the cloth was ruined (13:8-11). In the second instance, God commands Jeremiah to “buy” an earthen jar (19:1) and go to the valley of Hinnom, to the Potsherd gate (19:2), and break it in the sight of onlookers (19:10), while declaring “so will [the Lord] break this people and this city” (19:11). Each of these prophetic actions functioned symbolically to presage the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem and highlight the rupture between God and God’s people.

The third occurrence is Hanamel’s command to Jeremiah to “buy” the field at Anathoth (32:7, 8, 25). This pointed repetition suggests a close relationship between the three prophetic actions. The third marks a reversal of the ruin and rupture portended by the first two. Buying and burying will now preserve, not destroy (32:14). The vessel will endure and will not be broken.

As Jeremiah narrates the actions he took to redeem the field, notice the prominent role of witnesses, who also sign the deed (verse 12), and of Baruch, whom Jeremiah charges to bury the deed and its copy in an earthen jar (verse 14). Hanamel, Baruch, the signatories, and “all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard” (verse 12) witness and participate in the future’s unfolding.  

Jeremiah’s act of redemption affirms his ties to a place and people that had rejected him. His charge to Baruch contains an oracle that widens the scope from the field of Hanamel to the future social and economic flourishing of “this land” (Jeremiah 32:15; see 32:44). Jeremiah’s redemption of the field thus anticipates and inaugurates God’s will for the land as a whole and the people who will live in it.

Circumscribing the prophet or preacher, cutting off resources, and even incarcerating bearers of truth will not stop the word of the Lord from wreaking change.

Preaching is as much about praxis as about word. Prophets and preachers can’t be afraid to wade into economic and social realities.

The limits of what Jeremiah alone can do are real. The prophetic drama is interactive. Witnesses, participants, and partners share responsibility for proclaiming and bringing the word to fruition.


Commentary on Psalm 146

Amy Erickson

The audacious and sometimes artful fantasy series Game of Thrones ended in May and provoked the outrage of many of its devoted fans.

Whether it failed to deliver on George R. R. Martin’s vision or betrayed one of its best-loved characters, the show stayed true to a theme encapsulated in Psalm 146:3: “Do not put your trust in princes.” More specifically, do not trust would-be messiahs who promise to use their royal might to bring justice to the oppressed.

Psalm 146 is commonly dated to the Persian period. This matters because the Persian Empire developed a rhetoric that promoted its universal, imperial rule as a force of cosmic order that the many peoples of the Empire should joyfully accept. Recent scholarship on Book 5 of the Psalter (Psalms 107-150) has appreciated that embedded in this material is a critique of this kind of Persian propaganda (see, for example, W. Dennis Tucker Jr.’s Constructing and Deconstructing Power in Psalms 107-150). Amid the praise of YHWH, “there is a secondary claim meant to discredit the power associated with other nations and peoples.”1

Significantly for Christians who, historically, have been seduced by imperial and national expressions of power, Psalm 146—and the fifth book of the Psalter—provides a critical lens through which to view the princes and mortals who make grand promises of “help.”

The psalm begins with four iterations of praise. First, the psalmist calls the people to praise YHWH; that outward call is then directed to the psalmist’s own being (traditionally translated “soul,” verse 1). This is followed by a two-fold promise to praise, in which the psalmist promises to praise and sing praises to YHWH, literally, with their life (beh?ayyay) and all their life long (verse 2). Through the psalmist’s invitation and testimony, the Israelites assembled in the temple are roused to join in a lifelong and life-consuming act of praise.

Verses 3-4 warns against trusting in human rulers, for in them, there is no “salvation” or “deliverance” (tesu‘ah). This human ruler will return to the earth just as all humans will (Genesis 2:19; Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:19) and “on that day, all his plans will perish.” But the leader’s ambitious plans to save the Empire are fleeting not only in the sense that they will not last. “His plans” also reflect human finitude in that they arise out of a desire to accumulate power and control, to extend the dominion of the Empire. The psalm is making a shrewd political statement; it is an implicit but scathing critique of powerful leaders who assure their subjects that their “plans” have been designed to save them (but not, of course, to advance their own interests!).

The psalmist is not content only to critique, however; in verse 5 she offers a clear and compelling alternative. Those who whose help and hope is in YHWH are “happy.” The language of “happy are those” will, of course, play a key role in the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; see also Luke 6:2-22). But the language of “happy are those” is also well attested in the Psalter. Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked (Psalm 1:1); who take refuge in YHWH (Psalm 34:8); who do not turn to the proud (Psalm 40:4); who consider the poor (Psalm 41:1); who observe justice (Psalm 106:3); who fear YHWH, who greatly delight in his commandments (Psalm 112:1); who keep his [YHWH’s] decrees who him with their whole heart (Psalm 119:2).

Here, the “happy” are those whose look to YHWH for help rather than to princes. In contrast to human rulers, YHWH is not only powerful (he made heaven and earth and the sea and all the things in them), his plans are not ephemeral (he keeps faith forever, verse 6), and he is actually and truly committed to bringing justice to the oppressed and to feeding the hungry (verse 7).

What follows is a litany of things YHWH always or habitually does (the verbs in verses 7-9 are all participles). YHWH is praised here as an intensely active god, tirelessly working on the ground, “executing justice,” “giving food,” “setting free” (verse 7), “opening (blind) eyes,” “lifting up,” “loving” (verse 8), “watching over,” and “upholding” (verse 9). Further, the objects of YHWH’s affections and attention are “the oppressed,” “the hungry,” “the prisoners” (verse 7), “the blind,” “those who are bowed down,” “the righteous” (verse 8), “the stranger,” and “the orphan and the widow” (verse 9).

Rather abruptly, the litany concludes with a “but” (verse 9). The penultimate poetic line assures the people that YHWH is not only a compassionate healer and savior but also a judge: “He will bring the way of the wicked to ruin.” Who were the wicked? The ruling classes of the Persian Empire? The Israelite elite who collaborated with the Persians?

Though the historical context helps us narrow the field of our speculations, we can’t really know. One thing that makes the Psalms so enduring is their open-ended language, which can be specified and localized to suit any given situation. This is a potentially risky moment for the preacher. For an Israelite living under the thumb of the Persian Empire, the imperial oppressor could be identified as “the wicked.” But who does that language implicate in the context of your congregation?

In my admittedly limited experience, mainline Protestants tend to get very uncomfortable with the language of the wicked (“so judgmental,” they say), while Protestants who have a more conservative social agenda feel a little too comfortable with it (“we know who the wicked are!” they say). But if the psalmist is talking about Empire here, then socio-economically and racially privileged churches of all stripes either have good reason to be nervous—or should be more nervous—because the question “Who are the wicked?” demands self-reflection. Mainline American churches are likely colluding with Empire in ways they might not want to think about. Thus, the courageous preacher might ask: With whom are we more aligned? With YHWH and the poor? Or with “the wicked” forces of Empire?

The psalm concludes with what was surely a subversive claim during the era of Persian rule. Despite the fact that the Persian emperor controlled the vastest empire yet known, the psalmist claims that it is YHWH who reigns and will reign forever (verse 10).

The Persian rulers talk of their “plans” and congratulate themselves for having brought cosmic order to the empire. But, the psalmist insists, YHWH is perpetually creating order on the ground, saving, healing, and redeeming those who suffer. While Empire is busy generating propaganda designed to convince its subjects that they are happy, YHWH is busy attending to the oppressed.

In our political age, when reading the news is a genuinely stressful activity, and when that stress leads us to place our hope in charismatic leaders who promise to save us (even though we know better), Psalm 146 offers a grounded orientation: don’t trust in the plans of politicians and world leaders. Instead, live your life in joyful accordance with what YHWH is doing right now.


  1. W. Dennis Tucker Jr., Constructing and Deconstructing Power in Psalms 107-150 (SBL Press, 2014), 188.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Karl Jacobson

It is often noted that this passage from 1 Timothy contains one of the most misquoted lines in all of scripture, which is almost as often noted as it is misquoted.

The line we may often hear goes like this, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” which is sometimes reduced further to, “Money is the root of all evil.” Neither of which is, it seems, quite what Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy. This line comes in the midst of a broader exhortation Paul is making.

What Paul is urging Timothy to is contentment, and growth godliness, in contrast to the things which may stand in the ways of both—be it a love of controversy, “disputes about words,” and wrangling, all of which come just before our reading begins in verse 6. The point here isn’t that money in itself is only and always evil, or that the having of wealth produces only sin. Rather, Paul is urging contentment with what is God-given, and cautioning that if one loves wealth and gain, one can find oneself in danger.

The NRSV translation (among others) gets at this by emphasizing two “indefinites” in what Paul actually says. The NRSV of 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil … ” Those little words “a” and “kinds” are important, because they shift what is expressed away from absolutes. The difference between “the” root and “a” root is wider than a country mile; there are other roots for evil out there, make no mistake. And, more, that money is a root of all “kinds” of evil makes it clear that evil isn’t to be taken as capital “E” evil; there are evils that abound from loving money. One of the dangers, it seems to me, of absolutes is that they blind us to so many nuances and subtleties—which then limit our application and proclamation of the text. That is why it is important to make note of the common misquotation or misapplication of this line.

In terms of the overall biblical tradition there is an added difficulty here, and one that may still speak very powerfully in many of our contexts. Quite frequently the Bible understands—or urges an understanding of—wealth as a blessing from God. That blessing is then meant to be used by us for the benefit not only of ourselves and our loved ones (or the institutions we value) but of others as well. If our wealth is a blessing from God, a good gift to us, it may also be or become a temptation to us. This could take any number of forms, from simple greed, to the joy of effecting change through controlled or conditional generosity, or even coercion and control of decision-making processes by controlling the bottom line. People not only vote with their wallets but may, when tempted, exert undue or unsavory influence through them. If we have courage, and the need arises, that will certainly preach.

There is another part of this passage that is striking as well, and that is the twining of the phrase “the good confession,” as made first by Jesus Christ, and then by Timothy. “Confession,” homologeo, has to do with two things: first, it may be a confession of faith, like the description “I believe in … ”. Second, this confession is an exhortation to faith, like the prescriptive, “Believe this … ” or “Do not doubt but believe” (to coin a phrase). Homologeo occurs just a few times in the New Testament. Here, of course, and tacitly in the description here in 1 Timothy in the story of Jesus before Pilate, and again in Hebrews 3:1, where Jesus is called, “the high priest of our confession.” Here in Timothy, that good confessions is, as I have said, first made by Jesus and then echoed by Timothy. In Hebrews, the good confession is both the confession of Jesus the high priest—he is the one who makes it for us—and at the same time the confession we, in turn, make about Jesus our high priest. There is both a subjective and an objective sense to our good confession. Most striking is the use of homologeo in 2 Corinthians 9:13, as it parallels 1 Timothy’s pairing of the good confession, and the warning about the love of money.

2 Corinthians 9:13 says this, “Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the Gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing.”

The pairing of confession with generosity is the culmination of two chapters of reflection on generosity in giving and sharing. It is useful to quote from 2 Corinthians 9 at greater length to illustrate this:

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us (2 Corinthians 9:6-11).

The connections here are clear:

  • God provides every blessing, in order that we might share from them.
  • Seed for sowing and bread for food, arises multitudinously, from the one who scatters broadly.
  • To be enriched in generosity is to be able to generously enrich.

And all of this is “gain in godliness” and “contentment” Paul describes.

In a sense what all of the “good confession” language does is point to the generous, giving life that is the result of Gospel—the result of what God in Christ Jesus has done for us, and the resulting action which the Gospel engenders. And this good confession becomes the rallying cry for the “good fight” of the faith, to which Timothy, and all of God’s people, are called.