Lectionary Commentaries for September 8, 2019
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 14:25-33

Mitzi J. Smith

No one considers hate a fruit of the Spirit; rather, it is commonly viewed as the antithesis of love.

Yet Jesus turns to the large crowds following him and proclaims, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-26).

Waxing poetic, Jesus continues with this parallel line: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:27). This declaration comes on the heels of Jesus’ teaching when he was a dinner guest in the house of a leading Pharisee; he admonished the guests not to clamor for the VIP seats but to save them for other guests that the host may deem more worthy (14:1, 7-11). Further, the host himself should consider inviting the poor and disabled to the feast instead of his social peers and his wealthy neighbors (14:15-24).

In our text this week, Jesus tells the traveling crowds, which might be composed mostly of poor peasants and freed or enslaved women and men (or not?), that they must hate (miseo) their close family members and develop a hatred for life itself. This hatred is synonymous with or a metaphor for bearing the cross as Jesus’ disciple. If the crowds are poor, they are likely despised because of and blamed for their poverty. If they are wealthy, they might be reviled for building their wealth on the backs of enslaved peoples and the masses. And within their respective communities, they likely have been encouraged to distrust and despise each other, their peers and neighbors.

Women in general are the victims of misogyny in patriarchal societies, and enslaved women are susceptible to a similar and different kind of bodily, sexual abuse and violence. How are we to understand this requirement to hate in the context of the Lucan Jesus’ teaching that his disciples should love their enemies and treat those who hate them well (Luke 6:27-36)?

I propose that Jesus does not refer to a hate toward family members in the sense of an absence of love (Luke 14:26; see also 1:71; 6:22, 27). But Jesus is addressing the consequences and sometimes contradictions and challenges that occur when one chooses to follows God, as Jesus does. It is similar to the statement Jesus makes at 16:13: “No household slave/domestic servant (oiketes) can slave (douleuo) for two masters; for she will either hate (miseo) the one and love (agapao) the other, or be devoted to the one and despise (kataphroneo) the other. You cannot slave for (douleuo) God and wealth” (my translation). Both masters will demand absolute loyalty and submission, and will not tolerate neglect.

I do not believe God justifies enslavement or views God’s self as an enslaver. But following God can and sometimes does interfere with putting family above compassion for the most vulnerable in society and above the justice and love of God.

Jesus understands that there are consequences associated with following Jesus, with conducting one’s life in the way that Jesus does. Ironically, Simon of Cyrene was forced to bear weight of Jesus’ cross on his back while following behind Jesus as he made the torturous journey to the place of the Skull where Jesus was crucified (Luke 23:26, 33).

One must be willing:

  • to champion the cause of the poor and dis-eased;
  • to view one’s calling as more expansive than the confines of the Temple or church;
  • to sometimes buck traditions—and those who view those traditions as infallible;
  • to live a life of relative poverty, unwilling to take bribes and to amass wealth on the backs of the oppressed and unaware;
  • to struggle for the alleviation of poverty and a living wage for all at the expense of one’s own privilege; and
  • to expand one’s conception of “family” to include neighbors far and near.

Carrying the cross is a daily struggle and the commitment must be renewed every day when confronted with the temptation to lay it down (Luke 9:23-25). Perhaps what Jesus means by hating family is to refuse to live by narrow, exclusive ideas of family when it comes to meeting human needs and contributing to the wholeness of all human beings.

It is the Lucan Jesus that tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, expanding the boundaries of neighbor love that transcends religious affiliation, ethnicity, race, and other socially constructed categories (Luke 10:25-37). The one who loves mercy more than life (i.e., the risk-taker for justice) is the one who will extend mercy to the stranger/neighbor in need.

Compassion is not the absence of fear but the overwhelming, undeniable summons to engage in acts of love and justice. If one accepts a narrow view of family and values life more than the justice and love of God, one will not take risks for the most vulnerable in society; one will not privilege the justice and love of God above social position, wealth, celebrity, and applause.

Jesus asks the crowd to count the cost of following him just as they would count the cost for building a tower. The one who fails to count the cost, cannot complete the building project and will suffer ridicule for his incompetency and shortsightedness (Luke 14:29-30) Further, what king would go to battle with insufficient troops? What is the consequence of not counting the cost? Caught with his pants down, so to speak, the king must wave the white flag of surrender long before he reaches the battle line and submit to his enemies on their terms (14:32). These brief parables require that the traveling crowd use their common sense; they do not have to be builders by trade or kings to identify with the stories. The moral of the parables is that not one of them can be Jesus’ disciple without giving up all her or his possessions (14:33).

But builders cannot build and kings cannot defend their kingdoms without sufficient resources. So what is Jesus talking about?

Jesus started this teaching by asserting that his disciples must be willing to hate their family members and life itself, and he ends with telling the crowd that they must relinquish all their possessions. Perhaps Jesus is speaking to a relatively wealthy crowd here. He did just leave a dinner at which the guests were among the upper crust and not the poor or diseased. In the Acts of the Apostles, considered the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, the believing community is encouraged to sell property and contribute the proceeds to the community so that no one among them lives in poverty (Acts 2:45; 4:32). In Luke, Jesus is pleased when the chief tax collector Zacchaeus pledges to give half of his possessions to the poor and to make amends to anyone he has defrauded (Luke 19:1-10).

Jesus’ admonition that the traveling crowds relinquish their possessions (they are not a possession-less people, apparently, but perhaps wealthy) is a challenge to reject greed, hoarding, and overabundance for the sake of overabundance and in favor of sharing and the elimination of poverty and its effects (Luke 12:13-21, 33-34). We are a society that encourages greed over giving, hoarding over sharing, and overabundance as a marker of social status over the elimination of poverty. What humans have created, we can eliminate by daily recommitting ourselves to the God who loves compassion, mercy, and justice and hates poverty, greed, inequity, and injustice.

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Carolyn J. Sharp

The majestic speech of Deuteronomy nears its conclusion in this stirring exhortation.1

In the wilderness beyond the Jordan, the Israelites listen as their prophetic leader, Moses, describes the kind of people they have become: a people formed in the crucible of covenant, a people who are made and unmade by the grace and ferocity of their God. Under the banner of YHWH, Moses had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and guided them through the perils of the wilderness. They had been brought to the towering possibility of Sinai, and they had assented. Theirs would be a life lived in obedience, a faith practiced and witnessed through their devout adherence to the Law.

We listen with them now as Moses lays out in stark terms the choice that lies before his audience: obedience or death. Love God and live; serve other gods and perish! The entire Torah has been driving inexorably toward this choice, made most visible in the call of outsider Abraham and his subsequent near-sacrifice of the long-awaited Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19; see Hebrews 11:8-19). Blessings and extravagant abundance will belong to those who heed the voice of God; unspeakable calamity, terror, and affliction will be the lot of those who abandon the covenant.

In this liminal moment on the brink of the Promised Land and at this crucial point at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts believers to a renewed and fervent commitment to the God who alone is capable of saving us. Here, Deuteronomy employs powerfully hyperbolic language to dramatize the moment of decision that the book is placing before believers. Moses thunders, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” The people must understand what is at stake, and — as will be reiterated by Joshua when Moses dies — they must choose life, which is serving God.

This deeply moving text may serve as an antidote to a narrow-minded view all too common in Christian circles even today: that the Law is a legalistic trap that keeps believers ensnared in calcified ritualistic minutiae. Far from it! Moses is urging his people to commit, heart and soul and body, to a vibrant relationship with the God in whom they live and move and have their being.

The radical hope of Deuteronomy is that God’s redeemed people should never go back to Egypt. Egypt the actual country? Certainly we see antipathy to that age-old enemy throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Consider Jeremiah 44’s vicious invective against Judeans who fled to Egypt during the Babylonian invasion; consider, too, that many of the biblical prophetic books contain bitter oracles against Egypt. But Egypt as terrifying spiritual metaphor looms even larger. In the ancient Israelite imagination, Egypt represents captivity — not only the enslavement of Israelite bodies before the time of the Exodus, but spiritual enslavement in the form of the ever-present threats of idolatry and hopelessness that accompany this once-subjugated people into their future with God.

Living as a holy people involves risk. Wilderness times abound for communities surviving in actual diaspora, for believers contending with the looming threat of cultural displacement, and for those struggling with spiritual anguish or personal experience of the abandonment of God. Deuteronomy knows that believers may be tempted to choose familiar captivities to sin and cultural subjection (ah, those cucumbers and melons and figs! — see Numbers 11:5, 20:5) rather than the alarming freedom that we have in God.

Deuteronomy exhorts us not to yield to fear — not to “go back to Egypt” — but rather to fear only “this glorious and awesome Name, the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58). Deuteronomy’s rhetoric of blessing and curse means to catalyze repentance in the hearts of its hearers, so that they return to God and God’s loving restoration can be theirs. This is crystal clear from Deuteronomy 30:1-5, which affirms God’s compassion for those in diaspora who return to the LORD and live anew in obedience.

Deuteronomy teaches us that the stakes in choosing or not choosing God are dramatic. This is something the biblical writers knew well, for the final form of Deuteronomy emerged after the Babylonian onslaught, when terrible things had happened to Judah: the plundering and razing of the Temple, the despoliation of Jerusalem and slaughter of its citizens, and the deportation of Judean political and religious leaders to a life of exile in Babylon.

That Deuteronomy is reflecting on the exile of the sixth century B.C.E. may be seen in its proleptic gestures toward a time when all of the blessings and the curses will have already happened to the people (30:1). The abundance and peace Israel once knew have been withdrawn; maladies, ruin, and destruction have become their life. God is fully prepared to destroy this holy people — quite literally to take them back to Egypt — and this time, they will not have discernible worth even as slaves (28:68). A harsh warning indeed; Moses’ exhortation is relentless because it is intended to compel the believing community to throw itself once more upon the God who is all compassion (Hosea 11:8-9).

The brilliance of this lection lies in the way it weaves together past and present, formative ancient memory and the urgent present moment of decision. Preachers may want to consider the ancient story of liberation that we have in the Resurrection over against current cultural narratives of liberation. What can it mean to “hold fast to God” (Deuteronomy 30:20) in our diasporas today, as Christians who are in the world but not of it (John 15:19, 17:16; Romans 12:20)?

The magnificent words of Moses blend with the joyous strains of the Exsultet as Christians seek to understand what it means to “choose life” in Jesus Christ. Just as Moses cites Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 30:20) in order to ground Israel’s hope in the ancient promises of God, so, too, contemporary preachers may cite Deuteronomy to ground the Christian hope in the ancient struggles of God’s people. Their dread is our dread: God may yet hide God’s face from us. But their joy is ours too, and it is a transcendent and invincible joy: to serve the living God, and in that service to discover most deeply who we are.


Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 5, 2010.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 18:1-11

Tyler Mayfield

Prophets use these familial metaphors to speak about the relationship between God and God’s people.

Jeremiah 18 presents another relational one: God as Potter, Israel as Clay. God as the craftsman with a design plan, Israel as the malleable substance under review.

An unequal power relationship forms between potter and clay has the formless lump takes shape in the hands of the designer. The potter provides guidance and insight; the potter creates the plan; the potter applies pressure to the mold. The clay is rather passive and subject to the will of the potter.

What does Jeremiah intend to communicate through the use of this particular metaphor?


The potter at the wheel

In verses 1-4, God commands Jeremiah to visit the potter’s house and listen for the word of God. Jeremiah notices this craftsman working at the wheel to shape the clay. However, the emerging vessel does not take the correct form, so the potter reshapes in order to create another vessel.

Destruction is part of the creative process.

Usually a prophetic figure such a Jeremiah or Ezekiel performs this type of symbolic action himself. We can recall Jeremiah wearing a yoke or buying “worthless” land in Judah. These actions often involve a type of street theatres for all to see; then, interpretations of the unusual behavior are provided. In this passage, the prophet witnesses a symbolic action, which adds to the emphasis on Israel’s passivity.

The final phrase in verse 4 — “as seems good to him” — holds a key to the metaphor and the message of Jeremiah 18. The potter reshapes and reworks according to the potter’s plan and not what the clay perceives as good. The clay does not have a voice in the design process.

I may declare … but if … then I will change my mind

In verses 5-10, God’s word indeed comes to the prophet in the form of an interpretation of the potter’s actions. God invites the people to reflect on their place in God’s hand. The metaphor imagery gives way to a direct divine address to the house of Israel.

In order to demonstrate the two possibilities open to Israel, Jeremiah 18 uses formulaic language:

  • verses 7-8: “I may declare … that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation … turns from its evil, (then) I will change my mind about the disaster.”
  • verses.9-10: “I may declare … that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight … then I will change my mind about the good.”

The if-then formulation makes clear the contingent nature of God’s announcement of judgment and promise. The language of plucking up and planting harkens back to Jeremiah’s commission in Jeremiah 1. God is ready to destroy but if the people turn from their evil, God will change God’s mind about the destruction. God is also ready to build but if the people do evil, God will change God’s mind about the building. God’s actions are ultimately affected by the people’s willing to turn from evil.

An extraordinary characterization of God: God waits to see how Israel will decide to behave. God is open to changing directions, to rethinking possibilities, to relenting from devastation.

God, who has been working with clay since creation in Genesis 2, wishes to work Israel into a beautiful vessel. But God cannot also bring judgment if Israel does not change its ways.


Verse 11 brings the passage to a conclusion with a declaration and command to the people of Judah. God is shaping evil so Israel must turn. The potter is shaping the clay toward destruction. The master craftsman is planning to create an evil design. The people must turn and amend. They are warned that immediate attention to their behaviors is needed.

How does this story end?

Our passage (verses 1-11) leaves open the sure possibility for change on the part of the people. They are commanded to repent of their evil behaviors in order to avoid destruction. However, the very next verse in Jeremiah 18 makes clear that the people will not turn and obey. They unambiguously say, “we will follow our plans.” The people are determined to continue to disobey. They are unwilling to change. Their plans are too precious to them to forsake them.

Theologically it matters a great deal whether we end our reading after verse 11 or after verse 12. The selection as it was created by the lectionary wishes to leave open the possibility of repentance. All sorts of options are open as we conclude verse 11. Verse 12 demonstrates that one option is to close down the possibilities for the future by failing to change behavior.

What might we forsake in order to create a better future for ourselves?



Commentary on Psalm 1

Yolanda Norton

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm that serves as the preface to the psalter, sharing literary and theological relationship with the Torah.

Torah–the first five books of the Hebrew Bible—is traditionally translated as the “law” but may be more accurately read as “instruction” or “guidance.” Torah is God’s guidance for God’s creation about how best to live both individually and communally. So, it is fitting that the Psalms—this collection of praise begins with some guidance about the possibilities of life. The author offers two ways, mostly often understood as the “good way” and the “wicked way.”

The good way

Psalm 1 begins with happiness. But, this concept of happiness is commonly misunderstood in contemporary contexts. Our understandings of happiness are often warm, fuzzy, and without complication. In  contrast in Hebrew, happy is ‘ashre, which derives from the verb, ‘shr, meaning to go straight or to advance.1 Such an understanding of the emotion evoked by the psalmist suggests that following the instruction of God allows the individual to move forward, to develop, to grow in life.  The “good way” is not devoid of problems, anxieties, or heartache. However, this way in relationship with God, grants us the freedom to evolve as human beings.

Further, the author suggests that the imperative for God’s faithful is to “delight in the instruction…and meditate [on it] day and night.” Historically, Christians have read this command as God’s requirement for blind obedience and acquiescence to God’s word. However, here, rather than meditate, the Hebrew word, hgh2, can be translated as “to groan, utter, speak, or plot.”

The spiritual practice commonly outlined by Psalm 1 has commonly been read as a kind of silent, solitude practice of meditation. However, for this to be true of the author’s context it would presume that the author’s audience had someone else tending to their basic needs for survival. Such readings create a classism around the text and around God. Very few people in the ancient world, or today, have the luxury of sitting in solitude with Torah all day.

However, reading hgh as plotting, moaning, and speaking suggests that rather than passive reception of God’s word, our call is to act meaningfully and intentionally towards God’s guidance. In this context, our relationship with torah or instruction should be to read, question, discuss, engage the text in ways that impact our daily living. Meditation then becomes active participation in the world in ways that demonstrate God’s presence in the world.

The result of such nuanced reading of God’s instruction should be a reality where we are not so easily moved and not devoid of spiritual life. Here, the author describes fruit bearing trees with deep roots that have a constant water source. Ancient Israel was a largely agrarian society that understood prosperity in terms of agricultural production and weather.

Water is commonly understood as a biblical metaphor. In various texts (Psalm 32, 69, Lamentations 3) water is understood as a source of trouble visited upon human beings. In Exodus 14, water is a barrier to freedom that is removed by God for the Hebrews coming out Egypt before consuming God’s enemies—the army of pharaoh. In Proverbs (18, 20) water symbolizes depth and purpose for humanity. Here, water is a constant source of nourishment for the tree—which symbolizes humanity and life. It is important to note that the water never consumes or moves the tree, but instead establishes roots and bears fruit.

The wicked way

In contrast to the stability established in Psalm 1:1-3, here the compares the wicked to chaff. Chaff is the unusable material separated from wheat during the threshing process. Again, the author uses the agricultural context of ancient Israel to establish a metaphor. Threshing floors were spaces often on the periphery of a community where farmers would create a circular space in which to gather recently harvested grain. Here they would beat the grain against the ground with a winnowing fork and the light chaff would be carried away by the wind while the grain would call to the ground and remain on the threshing floor. Thus metaphorically, threshing floors often mark a point of transition for biblical characters who encounter them. They are spaces where they are separated from the chaff of their life.

In this text the author establishes the wicked as those who are without substance or weightiness. They are the people from whom the primary “good group” should be separated. The author’s language is somewhat ambiguous about who constitutes the wicked. Wickedness is not defined in direct correlation with goodness. Thus, we should be careful to define the wicked as those who have different theologies, opinions, or lifestyles as others.

Instead the wicked “will not stand in the judgement … nor … in the congregation of the righteous” (verse 5). We might connect the depiction of the wicked in verse 5 with the author’s description in verse 1 of those who “sit in the seat of scoffers.”  Unlike the righteous who are advancing, the wicked are stagnant. They are the ones with no opinion, no belief, nothing for which they are willing to live, grow, evolve, or fight. The wicked are those who live outside of community and/or accountability. Wickedness here may be equated to stagnation.


The psalms include a variety of forms to encapsulate the range of human experiences and emotions. The wisdom from which this body of work begins should not focus on establishing an invisible enemy so much as it reminds us of our capacity to be skeptics who scoff at the desire for meaning in life. The author offers an alternative path that propels us down a path of discovery alongside God.


  1. Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1907), 80.
  2. Brown-Driver-Briggs, 211.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philemon 1:1-21

Jennifer Vija Pietz

The letter to Philemon brings the institution of slavery into view, but does not explicitly condemn it.

The text has, in fact, been used at times to condone slavery, so that contemporary preachers might be hesitant to use it. While recognizing the challenges that Philemon presents, I believe that its exhortation to transformed relationships based on Christian love can positively inform preaching today.

Many details about the circumstances that occasioned Paul’s letter are unknown, but the following basic sketch can be drawn: Philemon became a Christian through Paul’s ministry (implied in verse 19b) and hosts a church in his home (verse 2). One of his slaves, Onesimus, apparently ran away, encountered an imprisoned Paul, and became a Christian through him (verse 10). Although Paul would benefit from Onesimus’s continued assistance during his captivity (verses 11, 13; likely including participation in his ministry), he chooses to send him back to his legal master (verse 12), accompanied by this letter. Through skillful rhetoric, Paul exhorts Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him back as a brother (verses 15-18), and then return him again to Paul (verses 13-14, 20-21).

It is striking that the opening section of this letter is full of positive language about Philemon’s love, faith, joy, encouragement, and refreshment of others, including Paul (verses 4-7). This is a snapshot of the fruit of a Christian life, and its themes are repeated throughout the letter (for example, verses 9, 12, 20).

The basis of Paul’s appeal to Philemon is, in fact, this same Christian love (verse 9), which he now calls Philemon to extend to the situation with Onesimus. It is a love that flows from the gospel and that has the power to transform lives and relationships, but that must be freely embraced to be fully effective.

We see this in the analogy of the family that Paul uses for the church. By leading Onesimus to Christ, Paul “beget” Onesimus as his child (verse 10) and developed such a deep love for him that he calls him his “own heart” (verse 12). Such love is to be the basis upon which Christians relate to each other, and it thereby has the power to transform existing relationships. This is evident in Paul’s exhortation to Philemon to receive his runaway slave back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (verse 16).

There is scholarly debate about whether or not Paul, in verses 13-16, 20-21, implicitly requests Philemon to manumit Onesimus, rather than only exhorting him to treat him with the same human dignity and love he would any other Christian while Onesimus continues to serve as a slave in his household. The text does not definitively resolve this ambiguity, but Paul’s call for Philemon to treat Onesimus as a beloved brother at the very least pushes back against the idea foundational to slavery that people are property.

Paul’s appeal also shows that the familial love and bond Philemon is to have with Onesimus will not occur naturally, as may be the case in a biological family, or be accomplished through compulsion (although the force of Paul’s rhetoric indicates his appeal is more than a casual suggestion). This new relationship must instead be intentionally fostered in the adoptive family of Christ that unites people despite the stratified statuses that society assigns to them.

Such love can require suspending one’s own rights and privileges for the good of another. Thus Paul, who is a spiritual father to Philemon’s household, suspends his authority to obligate Philemon to fulfill his requests. He instead exhorts him to act out of love (v. 9), which has greater capacity to be genuine when not coerced. The implication is that for Philemon to truly embrace Onesimus as a beloved brother, he must choose to do so. And if he is to do the “good deed” of sending him back to Paul (verse 14), he must voluntarily relinquish his legal right to keep Onesimus with him for the sake of Paul and his ministry. In this regard, Paul’s letter aims at transforming Philemon’s heart and mind as much as it advocates for a change in Onesimus’s future.

This idea that Christians are called to freely suspend their rights and privileges for the sake of loving others and extending the gospel could be variously developed in a sermon. We may be frustrated that Paul does not clearly call for the manumission of Philemon or the ending of slavery altogether, but we can build on his notion that God works through willing human agents to denounce and call for working to end the forms of slavery we encounter today, such as human trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable workers. A sermon might also call for consideration of how congregations can increasingly model inclusive love that defies the divisive status markers of society.

One might also attend to the fact that, although Onesimus has gained freedom in Christ by the time Paul writes the letter, he still remains dependent on a patron to advocate for him, so that his own perspective is not directly expressed. A sermon might explore what Philemon would say if he wrote his own letter, or responded to Paul’s request to have him back with him. Thoughtful preaching might also derive from studying the text with people in the congregation or community whose voices have not been properly acknowledged. In this regard, the sermon could be an expression of Philemon’s message: that Christian love is to transform the ways in which we see and relate to each other.