Lectionary Commentaries for September 22, 2019
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 16:1-13

Mitzi J. Smith

Luke 16:1-13 is a parable peculiar to Luke’s Gospel.

It is a parable that Jesus shares with his disciples and is preceded by another Lucan parable about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In both parables a subordinate, either a younger son or a slave manager (oikonomos), is said to have squandered (diaskopizo) possessions or resources that belong(ed) to the master or father (15:13b; 16:1b). In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder son, who would have received his father’s inheritance had he not given it to the younger son, compares himself to a slave. He worked for his father for nothing and never disobeyed him (or squandered resources).

But the elder son is not an enslaved man like the manager in our text, which I presume is based on Luke 16:13, the master language, and relationship in the parable. Fathers tend to forgive sons who complain and feel neglected and sons who leave home and squander property. Enslaved persons are expected to always act in the best interest of their masters, to turn a profit; otherwise, they can be accused of squandering the master’s property. I find it problematic that Jesus would use slave parables without critiquing the institution of slavery and its evils; Rome was a slave society. Perhaps, in this case, Jesus at least sides with the slave.

In our parable an unknown third-party accuses the slave manager of squandering the rich master’s resources. Because of the rumor, the master accuses the slave manager of dishonesty, of cooking the books, and demands that he give an account (logos) of the property (Luke 16:2). No external audit is done, which suggests that any account that the slave provides would not be considered credible, regardless.

By default, slaves were considered dishonest. In fact, they could not serve as witnesses in court except under torture; it was believed they would not give credible testimony unless tortured. Masters needed to trust their slave managers; an untrustworthy slave manager would be demoted to hard labor or field work, as the slave knew (Luke 16:3). But he was neither fit for manual labor nor wanted to become a beggar. It is possible that the slave master set aside a peculium (wages) for the slave’s services, but even so the master always controlled such commission or earnings. Enslaved persons often possessed useful skills when conquered and bought or were trained to perform duties profitable to slave masters.

We often regard some people as more trustworthy than others based on their social position in church and society. Often persons in positions of power, authority, and high social status get a pass when they mistreat or abuse others who have less or little power, authority, and social capital in our neighborhoods, churches, and larger society.

The disgraced and perhaps falsely accused slave devises a plan that might allow him to remain useful to other enslavers (Luke 16:4). The slave manager offers his master’s debtors a deal they cannot refuse; he reduces their debt in exchange for immediate payment (16:5-7). Many shrewd or dishonest businessmen—or masters—overcharge for good and services and pay laborers little or nothing to amass wealth. Money in hand is preferable to IOUs.

It is unclear how the slave manager decided by how much to reduce the debts. One was offered a 50 percent reduction on a hundred jugs of oil, and another only 20 percent off a hundred containers of wheat, but they were “dishonest” transactions that the master commends (Luke 16:6-8). The slave manager is not called dishonest until after he reduced the debts owed. Did he lie about the amount each debtor owed, pretending to reduce their debt? Newly freed slaves in the South were often treated fraudulently in this manner, and some poor people are defrauded similarly today.

Perhaps the slave manager decided to behave as he had been accused but to benefit the master. Slave masters do not mind dishonesty if it benefits them; they prefer dishonesty when it demonstrates loyalty to the master’s interests. Apparently, Jesus commends the slave manager and his method for getting dishonest wealth for his master as a model for “children of light” (Luke 16:8-9). Jesus seems to side with the slave manager, given the dilemma that slaves face and since the slave is not the owner of the dishonest wealth. Perhaps this is how we should read the verses that follow. Luke’s Jesus often sides with folks considered “sinners and tax collectors” (5:30-32; 7:34).

In verses 10-13, the slightest dishonesty, regardless of context, is troublesome for Jesus. Jesus’ disciples are expected to be faithful or trustworthy even with wealth or resources gotten dishonestly and that belong to others, even slave masters (Luke 16:11-12). Otherwise, disciples should not be surprised when true wealth evades them.

Slave parables like this one had been used to encourage submission and loyalty among enslaved Africans in the antebellum South. The twentieth-century African American theologian, mystic, teacher, preacher, and prolific author, Howard Thurman, whose grandmother was a former slave, lived in the Jim Crow south and wrote in his book Jesus and the Disinherited that disinherited African Americans should never be deceptive or else they will become the deception to practice.1 But as Cheryl Sanders argues in Empowerment Ethics for a Liberated People, enslaved Africans sometimes deceived slave owners to survive; they stole food to feed their families and themselves but condemned dishonesty generally, especially within the slave community.2 The oppressed and women are often held to a higher ethical standard than their oppressors. In the parable, the rich master who owns enslaved peoples and commends dishonesty for the sake of profits is not condemned (see also Luke 16:19-31; 18:18-27; 19:1-10). This is typical of slave parables; slavery and enslavers are never condemned, only enslaved people who fail to be good slaves (12:34-40, 41-48).

Finally, the Lucan Jesus asserts that a slave can only serve one master at a time or the slave will end up hating one (no absolute submission) and loving the other (absolute loyalty to the detriment of the other). It is problematic to compare loyalty to God with faithfulness to the enslaver/enslaved relationship because of the cruelty of enslavement and how it benefits only enslavers. It is less troubling that the Lucan Jesus creates a dichotomy between slaving (douleuo) for God and for wealth, given that wealth is generally built upon the backs of the enslaved, women, the poor, and the oppressed; that wealth for one usually presumes poverty for many. The larger the wealth gap in favor of a few, the more people are impoverished. We should choose to be more conscious and strategic in our daily transactions and speech so that we contribute less to the pursuit of wealth for ourselves and others, particularly in the service of greed and creation of poverty and at the expense of equality and the justice and love of God.


  1. Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon, 1996).

  2. Cheryl Sanders, Empowerment Ethics for a Liberated People: A Path to African American Social Transformation (Fortress, 1995).

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 8:4-7

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

This is the first of two weeks in which the Old Testament reading is from the prophet Amos.

It is worth spending a little time, then, talking about Amos in order to understand the context of these readings.

Amos prophesied in the 8th century BCE, probably around 760 BCE, during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel. Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah but prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim, Jacob, Samaria).

Amos was not a professional prophet nor was he part of the wealthy class. He was a farmer. “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15).

The time in which Amos prophesied was one of peace and prosperity in Israel. The empires of Assyria to the east and Egypt to the southwest were relatively weak and were not threatening smaller nations like Israel and Judah. Indeed, under Jeroboam II, Israel expanded its territory (see 2 Kings 14:25).

This prosperity, however, was built on the backs of the poor. Amos speaks often of the wealthy oppressing the poor: “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine” (Amos 5:11).

Amos, to use the old trope, does not comfort the afflicted so much as he afflicts the comfortable. He is the quintessential prophet described by Abraham Joshua Heschel in his classic book, The Prophets:

What manner of man is the prophet? A student of philosophy who turns…to the orations of the prophets may feel as if he were going from the realm of the sublime to an area of trivialities. Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and affairs of the market place … To us a single act of injustice—cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, catastrophe, a threat to the world.1

The prophet is hypersensitive to injustice, to evil, and does not ignore what to most of us might seem trivial, just the way the world works. The passage for this week illustrates this point. Amos announces God’s judgment on the wealthy who oppress the poor in the marketplace. He uses their own imagined words against them:

When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.

The wealthy, those who control the marketplace, have no real regard for religious observance. The weekly Sabbath, the day when everyone—including slaves—gets to rest, is simply an interruption in the ceaseless quest to make more money. Likewise the monthly celebration of the beginning of a new month. Once these inconvenient festivals are over, the merchants can get back to business as usual, making the ephah (a unit of measurement for grain) small and the shekel (a weight used to measure out silver or gold) heavy. In other words, they will sell less grain for more money than it’s actually worth. In fact, they will even mix chaff and grain that has fallen to the ground in amongst the good grain.

The biblical legal code warns against such practices. “You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:36; see also Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

Those who profess to follow the LORD, the God of Israel, are to reflect God’s own character, which is one of justice and of mercy for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner. Sabbath rest is for everyone; not just wealthy landowners or heads of household, but for the slave, the foreigner, the children, the poor (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Simply observing the day of Sabbath is not enough if the justice and mercy exemplified by the Sabbath does not shape everyday life—one’s behavior in the marketplace, on the street, and at the gate of the city.

Amos, then, is building on the tradition of Israelite law to chastise those who may observe the letter of the law (refraining from work on the Sabbath) but ignore the spirit of the law (justice and mercy for the oppressed). These wealthy Israelites have no real regard for the poor and the needy; they will sell them into slavery over a debt as paltry as the price of a pair of sandals. Human lives are to these people just another commodity to be bought and sold. To them, the judgment of the LORD is a word of warning: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

Having said all that, it is important to note one more thing about this passage. For all of his chastising of the wealthy, Amos does not condemn the practice of buying and selling itself; neither does the law of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Both Amos and the law assume that such commerce is necessary for daily life. What they condemn is dishonest commerce, and commerce that disregards human lives.

A sermon on this passage should be clear about this. Commerce in itself, business in itself, is not evil. Too often, sermons on money or business seem to imply otherwise. Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine, puts it this way:

How should people who call themselves Christians conduct their lives in the secular world? This is a good question and a very serious matter for people of any faith. Most pastors, priests, rabbis and imams who speak about faith and work make a terrible hash of it. Listening to them is like hearing a eunuch lecture on sex: He may have studied the topic but really knows little about the mechanics.2

Business in itself is not evil. In fact, it is necessary for daily life and it can be and should be one arena in which one’s faith is lived out. This passage from Amos gives us guidelines for how to live our faith in the marketplace—by dealing honestly, buying and selling for fair prices, and always being careful to protect those most vulnerable to exploitation. Dealing justly, generously, and honestly with others in our business life is one important way to reflect the character of the God of justice who speaks through the prophets.


  1. Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Prophets. Harper Perennial Classics ed. (New York: Perennial, 2001), 3-4.

  2. Rich Karlgaard, “Godly Work,” Forbes, April 13, 2007. At https://www.forbes.com/global/2007/0423/018.html#3b0de82d1a32

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 8:18—9:1

Alphonetta Wines

What do you do when you’ve lost it all? What do you do when all hope seems lost?

What do you do when the problems just keep coming, one after another? Some people might say, “Tie a knot and hold on.” Others would say, “When life give you lemons, add sugar and make lemonade.” Useless clichés, one and all. Such phrases, however well-meaning, speak to the discomfort of the person who utters them, but are meaningless to the person experiencing the pain, be it personal or communal.

Jeremiah, the prophet called “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” understood, perhaps, more than anyone. He understood that, for Israel, things would get worse before they got better.

Could that melancholic, some would say realistic, spirit be why God called him for such a time as this—a time when Israel lost it all. Loss of land, temple, and king was too much to bear. A time of building and planting would come later. For now, Jeremiah understood that this was a time for facing hard truth, the kind of truth that Jesus would later say will “set you free.” War had come. The land and the temple were in ruins. People were in exile. How might Jeremiah get people’s attention? How might he bring hope in such a tragic time? Given the extent of the destruction and devastation, only words of deep lament would do.

No stranger to personal pain, Jeremiah was commanded by God to live alone, bereft the blessings of wife and children or even participation in the social life of the community. in this passage he weeps for the city and for the nation he loves.

Like any good communicator, Jeremiah knows the importance of making a personal connection with his audience. Therefore, in 8:18a he begins with the personal as a way of connecting with the communal. Sorrowfully he writes:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
  my heart is sick.

Only the heartless wouldn’t identify or take pity on such a heartsick soul. The reader might readily think Jeremiah has suffered the loss of a loved one. Yet, Jeremiah’s weeping is not for himself. Instead, he weeps for the nation he loves. In 8:18b, he continues:

Hark, the cry of my poor people
  from far and wide in the land:

The book of Lamentations beginning with words from 1:1 might readily come to mind. The “lonely city … has no one to comfort her.” Like Job, like Jesus, like anyone who ever asks God the “Why” question and Jeremiah hears only silence. Amplified by the silence of God, the pain lingers and will not allow the reader to turn away. Now that he knows he has the reader’s attention, Jeremiah rhetorically asks:

Is the Lord not in Zion?
  Is her King not in her?

Since the power of rhetorical questions lies, not in the answer, but in the questions themselves, the shift that follows leaves the reader wondering, who’s talking, who’s weeping, is it Jeremiah? God? Or both? To make a sad situation even sadder, Jeremiah confronts and calls out those who are responsible—the nation itself:

“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
  with their foreign idols?”

Although people have a role in their own blessings, often they also have a role in their own problems. Accepting responsibility is part of the healing process. Jeremiah, who knows how to make it plain, wants Israel to know just what the nation has done to bring these problems on itself.

Though healing will come, it will be neither quick nor easy. Despite the long wait, through harvest, through summer, things have not gotten better, they’ve gotten worse. It seems that time has stood still.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
  and we are not saved.

The One might wonder about an implied question, “When, Lord, when? Will it ever end?” Both Jeremiah and God know, there are times when sin has to run its course. In Genesis 15:16, God explains to Abraham: “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Many harvests and many summers will pass before things change, that is before Cyrus permits the exiles to return. In times like these, it is enough to know that someone hears, sees, and understands what we are going through. Jeremiah/God, God/Jeremiah mourns with the people in hopes to ease the pain and in anguish exclaims:

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
  I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Yet, there are times when knowing someone understands your pain is not enough. Consequently, another rhetorical question hangs in the air as the writer pleads for an answer:

Is there no balm in Gilead?
  Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
  not been restored?

The situation is awful beyond imagining. There is nothing to do, but cry.

O that my head were a spring of water,
  and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
  for the slain of my poor people!

The prophet begins and continues in a lament that goes deeper with each word uttered. Israel’s ability to engage in this type of deep lament is one of many reasons its story has remained so powerful for generations.

Once might wish to turn away, but Jeremiah will not have it. This is a reality check if ever there were one. Oh, that we too, in our generation, in our nation, in our world would allow lament to heal our woundedness and release the giftedness1 that lies therein.


  1. Flora Slosson Wuellner, Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers: Finding Our Healing, Release, and Growth in Christ, (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1989), 120.


Commentary on Psalm 113

Kelly J. Murphy

If we open a commentary on the Psalms, we might learn that Psalm 113 is a “hymn of praise,” beginning (verse 1) and ending (verse 9) with the Hebrew imperative halelu yah: “Praise Yah(weh)!”

Like many of the hymns of praise found in the Psalter, the call to praise (verses 1-4) is followed by the reasons for praise (verses 5-9). As commentators regularly note, Psalm 113 paints a portrait of God who should be praised for both God’s transcendence and immanence. The psalmist asks, “Who could possibly compare to the Lord our God? God rules from on high; he has to come down to even see heaven and earth!” (CEB Psalm 113:5-6). In what follows, the psalmist then describes how this God is also a dynamic presence in this world: “God lifts up the poor from the dirt and raises up the needy from the garbage pile to seat them with leaders—with the leaders of his own people! God nests the once barren woman at home—now a joyful mother with children!” (Psalm 113:7-9).

The ancient Israelites, we might read, would likely have used such a psalm in communal worship. If we move forward from the world of ancient Israel, we find that Psalm 113 has continued to be used in communal worship. For example, our commentaries will tell us that in Judaism this psalm is the first of the six psalms (Psalms 113-118) comprising the Hallel, recited during many Jewish holidays. Together these psalms tell a story that expresses delight and gratitude for God’s past, present, and future acts in the history of Israel. As the presence of Psalm 113 in the Revised Common Lectionary attests, the psalm continues to be used in Christian communal worship, too. It is read both in the Season After Pentecost and during Easter, often in connection with the story of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and the story of Mary (Luke 1:39-57). In 1 Samuel 2:1-10, we read about a God who listens to Hannah’s prayer for a child, intervening to make a barren woman conceive. Here again, we see a concerned God, a God who acts in history.

In some contemporary printed Bibles, we might find a title added to Psalm 113 that is not found in ancient manuscripts: “God the Helper of the Needy” (see, for example, the HarperCollins Study Bible). The Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564 C.E.) likewise focused on Psalm 113 as evidence of a God who helps those in need, writing, “In this psalm the providence of God furnishes matter for praising him, because, though his excellency is far above the heavens, nevertheless, he deigns to cast his eyes upon the earth to take notice of mankind.”1 Calvin then continues, “And as not a few are disconcerted by the vicissitudes which they behold occurring in the world, the prophet takes occasion, from these sudden and unlooked for changes, to warn us to attend expressly to God’s providence, that we may entertain no doubt that all things are governed according to his will and pleasure.”2

Calvin thus draws our attention to a question that those who recite or sing this hymn of praise might find themselves asking: even as Psalm 113 honors a God who rules from on high but nevertheless is also active in our world, how do we make sense of the psalmist’s claims if we find ourselves “disconcerted by the vicissitudes” around us? What do we do when we look around and it seems as if God is nowhere active in the lives of the poor, the needy, the barren? How do we praise God for “lift[ing] up the poor from the dirt,” “rais[ing] up the needy from the garbage pile,” and making a once barren woman “a joyful mother with children” in a world that tells a different story? If we read or sing this psalm in the United States, we might remember that recent reports note some 40 million people live in poverty in our country alone. Or we might think of the images from our evening news that continue to show us children seeking asylum in the U.S., sitting locked in cages, without adequate food and water, often separated from their parents. We ourselves might know food insecurity, debt, or yearn for a child that does not come.

Psalm 113 can always provide hope that God did act in history and will continue to act in history, as the active verbs attest (“God rules … lifts up … raises up … nests …”). But if we nevertheless remain disturbed by the disconnect between the psalmist’s claims and the realities of the world around us, what do we do with this particular hymn?

Reading the psalm with the early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354 C.E.-430 C.E.) provides another possible way to employ it in our lives. In his reflection on Psalm 113:7, which exclaims that “God lifts up the poor from the dirt and raises up the needy from the garbage pile to seat them with leaders—with the leaders of his own people!”, Augustine warns readers, “Let not the heads of those exalted ones disdain to bow down under the Lord’s hand.”3 In other words, no matter how wealthy, respected, or high-ranking we might find ourselves, we must remain humble before God. After all, he continues, “Even though a faithful steward of his Lord’s wealth be given a place with the princes of God’s people, even though such a person be found worthy to sit among the twelve thrones and even to judge angels, nonetheless he or she is a needy person when raised from the earth, a pauper when exalted from the dungheap. Can you deny that they were lifted up from a dungheap, those who used to be enslaved to all sorts of desires and pleasures?”4 All humans, Augustine prompts us to remember, come from humble origins in comparison with the divine.

What lesson might we learn from reading with Augustine? If we are reading or singing Psalm 113 from a place of privilege, perhaps we can pause and reflect on how we might not always be in such a place. And, so, should the tables turn, and should we become someone in need of help, what would we want from those who were? Augustine provides one way we might engage this psalm outside of our liturgical lives and in our day-to-day lives. Hymns of praise do not absolve us from the work that we need to do alongside any divine activity present in our world. While the psalm does not explicitly command anything beyond praising God for God’s acts, perhaps we can, in the act of reciting a psalm that celebrates God’s work in the world, also remind ourselves of how we can do such work, too. Psalm 113 can prompt us to remember our own humble origins, to live with humility, and to serve other always, especially in moments when God’s presence in the world might be less explicitly manifest than we might want.


  1. Calvin, John. Commentary on the Psalms. Vol. 4. Trans. James Anderson (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1963), 295.
  2. Calvin, 295.
  3. Augustine. Expositions of the Psalms 99-120. Vol. 5. Trans. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003), 301.
  4. Augustine, 301-302.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Benjamin Fiore, S.J.

These verses near the beginning of what’s known as the Pastoral Epistles—that is, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus—specify some of the intentions that believers today should keep in mind regarding the community’s prayer, even if the verses that follow this passage are more explicit and prescriptive in reference to the proper mode of community worship.

The prayer is for everyone, expressing the Pastoral Epistles’ concern for universal salvation. It was a foundational understanding of the aim of Jesus’ preaching, death, and resurrection that Jesus wished all to be saved (Mark 10:45) and to know and follow Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 28:19-20). By recalling this goal of the Christian mission here in verse 4, 1 Timothy shakes the community out of whatever complacency it may have fallen into.

There is a great and noble task ahead of them and they are just at the starting point of embarking on the work of accomplishing it. A number of suitable persons in the community have stepped forward to take on the task of leadership, as evidenced by the list of qualifications by which to distinguish the most capable among them (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

From the outset of the letter, the whole community, as well as its leadership candidates, are reminded of the larger work of evangelization that they are to engage in. The effort of the letter to keep the community’s focus on the plan God has for all people serves to counterbalance the inward concern for their own virtuous life. Such a reminder is salutary for Christians of every age. While attending to ourselves and the integrity of our life of faith, we cannot let this effort eclipse the larger goal of bringing the message of Jesus to the world around us.

The pluralistic country that we live in mirrors that of the first-century Roman Empire of the Pastoral Epistles. As a result of migration (both chosen by those with economic means, and forced by war and slavery), the setting for this letter is a remarkably diverse populations in urban areas, which is precisely where Christianity finds its roots. Christians themselves were a minority in Roman times, and were but one ingredient in the ethnic and religious mix of the time. They also were diverse in terms of class in that household owners mixed with their day laborers and slaves in the community. Christians were aware of their precarious position as a small community of persons whose countercultural moral values (marital fidelity, sexual restraint), religious views (monotheistic in a pagan milieu), and political detachment (their “citizenship is in heaven” as described in Philippians 3:20) exposed them both to ridicule and even persecution (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Similarly today, Christians both in the U.S. and throughout the world find themselves at odds with prevailing social norms and government policies and actions. The low profile prized here might be applicable even today but might prove inadequate as a defense or an evangelical witness.

First Timothy also calls for prayer for public officials and rulers (see Romans 13:1-7). This suggests the precarious condition of the early Christian house churches vis-à-vis the local and imperial government. Tranquility, devotion, and dignity express the ideal religious and social life of the community and at the same time recommend the community as offering no disturbance to the public order.

On the contrary the community advances social and political values that the officials would find useful for their efforts at governance. The concern for good reputation is a common theme in the Pastoral Epistles among the qualifications for community officials as well in the obligations incumbent on members of the households (1 Timothy 3:2, 7). So too today the countercultural values require for its credibility that the community provide no occasion for dismissive criticism on the grounds of perceived hypocrisy.

Of course, the call for prayer is not just in view of these inward looking considerations but rather looks to the spiritual welfare of those of the majority population and its leaders. God’s opinion—and not society’s—is primary in verse 4, which sees the virtuous characteristics of the community members as fitting with God’s plan for universal salvation.

The fundamental belief in one God and in Jesus the one mediator who died as a ransom for humanity is the essential fact that all who believe must know and accept. Getting neighbors and even family members to believe this is an uphill struggle for the community of the Pastorals, just as it is today. The fundamental belief in Jesus as dying for our justification and then rising from the dead was a tough nut to swallow for the pagans who did not have a clear grasp of or even less an expectation of life after death (Acts 17:18-20, 32).

And even today, we cannot take for granted that those professing to be Christians accept these teachings as true much less those taken up by a worldview formed by scientism. Nonetheless, the Pastoral Epistles maintain that faith includes correct knowledge throughout these letters (see Titus 2:10) and is the revealed testimony of Jesus and those who follow him. In the first generations of Christianity, the community was working through the kerygmatic preaching and teaching as they came to know who Jesus was and what Jesus’ relationship was to God the Father, as well as how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection affected their own relationship with God and prospects for life now and forever.

In later times, such as ours, we have the challenge to keep up the struggle to understand these same realities in terms that make sense to us and to our neighbors today. It is important to go beneath the level of formulation to the level of interior understanding of what Jesus means for us and then to try to express this to others.

We find here a concise statement of Paul’s preaching. He realizes that he was appointed by God (the passive voice of the verb suggests this) to the task. He underlines the truth of this claim by juxtaposing his self-defense with the demonstration of his Gentile mission work. As he preaches the faith, he also transmits the fundamental truths of Christianity.