Lectionary Commentaries for August 25, 2019
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 13:10-17

Ira Brent Driggers

This little story gets straight to the heart of Jesus’ mission in Luke.

Recall that when the Lukan Jesus first announced his mission — also in a synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16) — he described it in terms of human liberation and flourishing: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). There is hardly an episode in Luke that does not point back to this messianic manifesto.

In this week’s reading, the motif of liberation reverberates with particular force. Jesus insists that the bent-over woman be “set free” (apoluo, verse 12) and “released” (luo, verse 16) from her “bond” (desmos, verse 16). Moreover, when he debates the synagogue leader about Sabbath law, Jesus draws directly from Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the version of the commandment that connects Sabbath rest to Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.

In Jesus’ view, since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting — not inhibiting — the present-day liberation of Israelites. Moreover, given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath (verse 15), it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath (verse 16).

In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment. Rather he aims to follow it faithfully. Jesus enters what was, at that time, an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum (see also Luke 6:1-11; 14:1-6).

But this is more than a debate about scriptural interpretation. It is, more fundamentally, an instance of God’s kingdom breaking into the present world. Careful readers will notice that the episode does not really end with verse 17. Jesus continues to explain his actions: “He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like?”” (Luke 13:18).

It is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree for sheltering birds, or like yeast that leavens bread for provision and fellowship (Luke 13:19-20). Notice the similarities to the bent-over woman: something seemingly small and insignificant becomes, with God’s loving and transforming power, a vessel to further God’s kingdom. “When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (verse 13).

I emphasize “seemingly small and insignificant” as a way to highlight Jesus’ distinctive messianic vision. Jesus sees and cherishes what others might overlook. We do not have to denigrate Jesus’ culture in imagining the woman’s social invisibility, or at least her perceived insignificance. For eighteen years she has been “quite unable to stand up straight” (verse 11), meaning she has been unable to look people in the eyes. Her vision has been limited to the ground in front of her. Likewise, the community’s perspective on her has been limited to her bent-over back and the top of her head.

Yet Jesus recognizes the mustard seed. Jesus sees the woman and calls her forward. He does not take her into a side room for a private healing. He engages her and heals her in front of everyone, which then allows her — for the first time in eighteen years? — to praise God face-to-face with other worshipers (the same verb for “straighten” [anakupto] in verse 11 is later used to describe believers welcoming Jesus at the Parousia [Luke 21:28]). And with the woman’s restoration comes the restoration of the community. Her neighbors now see her more fully. By straightening the woman to see them, Jesus grants them a fuller vision of the woman, so that, in the end, “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing” (verse 17).

None of this is to say that the woman’s bent-over condition had compromised the validity of her worship, much less her personhood. Indeed, preachers must be careful not to appropriate the woman’s healing in a way that questions, however indirectly, the sacred worth of people who are differently-abled.

Luke and the other evangelists emphasize Jesus’ power to heal physical brokenness because they are convinced that God created everything and called it “good” (Genesis 1:1-31), meaning Jesus’ messianic mission is not some gnostic deliverance of the spirit out of the body but a healing of the entire person. In the case of the bent-over woman, Luke goes so far as to call her condition a form of Satanic bondage (verse 16), which is an ancient apocalyptic way of saying her condition violates God’s will for her life (and is not her own fault!). To be clear, she is not demon-possessed. But, according to the Lukan Jesus, she is tragically broken.

The pastoral conundrum is this: while being differently-abled is sometimes experienced as brokenness, it may also be experienced as something to be honored and celebrated. A pastorally responsible appropriation of this story will honor the spectrum of differently-abled experience. It will thus translate the woman’s brokenness in a way that does not reduce differently-abled people to “the broken.” It will define Jesus’ healing mission as broadly as possible, so as to foster identification with the bent-over woman and the experience of Jesus’ powerful healing, but also to foster a sense of communal vision and recognition of neglected daughters and sons of Abraham.  

Finally, it will be crucial to highlight the extent to which Jesus’ healing mission never waits for an allegedly more appropriate day. If the bent-over woman must (edei, verse 17; NRSV “ought”) be straightened on the Sabbath, then there is no time at which human healing cannot and should not occur. The kingdom of God does not accommodate our sense of propriety and polite timing, even when it comes to our most well-intended theological convictions. It is God’s will to heal human creatures. Now. The slightest delay to that healing indicates resistance to Jesus’ kingdom mission.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 58:9b-14

Brennan Breed

Isaiah 56-66 addresses the community returning from the Babylonian exile to the dysfunctional and disappointing Persian-ruled territory of Yehud (Judah) in the years following 539 BCE.

Jerusalem remained mostly a pile of rubble until the time of Nehemiah (circa 445 BCE), a hundred years after the return. Stark social, economic, and religious divisions characterized the hardscrabble community surrounding the still-ruined capital. The soaring promises of Isaiah 40-55 (see 54:9-17), directed to the exilic community on the cusp of return to the land, have met with the difficult realities of rebuilding a shattered society.

Among the many problems in Yehud were widespread economic predation and enslavement of the vulnerable by the wealthy elite (see Nehemiah 5:1-7), a deep-seated fear of foreigners and cultural change that fueled an obsession with ethnic and linguistic purity (see also Nehemiah 13:23-29), and conflicts over religious observances such as the Sabbath (see 13:15-22). The priestly elite at the temple embezzled tithes set aside to feed Levites (13:10-14), and the religious and political elite stole considerable funds given by Emperor Cyrus intended for the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple, using them to sustain a lavish lifestyle (see Haggai 1:1-4).

Meanwhile, the elites blamed foreign meddling for the delay in rebuilding the temple, even though those “foreigners” were devoted worshippers of YHWH who had lived in Israel for generations and were eager to help (Ezra 4:1-5). Those who had returned from the Babylonian exile considered themselves the only true Jews, whereas the agriculturalist “people of the land” were an impure group reminiscent of the Canaanites (Ezra 10:1-44). While the return to the land of Judah had seemed like an amazing opportunity to renew life in the land, it quickly returned to the old corrupt, hierarchical order.

In Isaiah 56-66 (often called “Third Isaiah”), an anonymous prophet steeped in the tradition of Isaiah of Jerusalem offers a series of sharp rebukes to proponents of cultural, ethnic, and economic exclusion and generates an alternative vision of the beloved community. Third Isaiah opens with divine exhortations to pursue justice and righteousness (Isaiah 56:1; see 5:7), to infuse spirituality and religious observance with community-minded ethics (56:2; see also 5:18-19), and to include within the community of YHWH both foreigners and persons whose sex or gender does not fit the binary categories of male and female (56:3-8; see also 2:2-4). This anonymous prophet also references the ancient law of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) in a call to liberate all those oppressed and begin the work of rebuilding a new, just society (Isaiah 61:1-4).

The concerns of Isaiah 56-66 respond to the specific problems of Yehud in the early Persian period (circa 530-450 BCE). The anonymous prophet of Isaiah 56-66 would have conflicted with the nationalistic, hierarchical, and ethnocentric messages of the elite.

Isaiah 58 is a series of linked oracles that challenge the social sins of Yehud. Though the people are attentive to religious matters (58:1-2), they expect that their acts of public contrition will yield predictable material benefits from YHWH. As a result, they become frustrated when YHWH appears unimpressed with their elaborate rituals (verse 3). God responds by pointing out that fasting is meaningless if it is accompanied by economic and social oppression (verses 4-5). Yet God asserts that the enactment of radical political, economic, and social liberation for all people would reap tremendous material and spiritual blessings, and God would dwell in the midst of the community (58:6-9a). The prophet does not seem to reject ritual in general, but merely the instrumental use of rituals to manipulate God, as if with a bribe (see Micah 6:1-8). Likewise, the prophet addresses the religious practice of Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13-14), which was intended to provide rest to the vulnerable (Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Mark 2:27) but has been used for people’s “own interests” and their “own affairs” (see Amos 8:4-6).

In verses 9b-14, the prophet presents a series of conditional (if-then) statements that map out how the people of Yehud might recover their spiritual and communal wholeness — for the two are inextricably linked. Feeding the hungry and tending to the needs of those oppressed is a non-negotiable starting point for communal healing (see Isaiah 61:1-4; Matthew 25:31-46). In verse 9b, the prophet demands that the people “remove the yoke,” which refers to the common ancient Near Eastern symbol for economic and political burdens imposed by overlords (see 14:25; Jeremiah 28).

One striking example of pointing fingers and speaking evil in the service of oppression (Isaiah 58:9b) can be found in 1 Kings 21, in which the elite conspire to defraud an innocent commoner of his prime piece of land. The elites of Israel often find it frustrating that YHWH has divided the agricultural land equally so that all people may have access to life-sustaining economic productivity in perpetuity (see Leviticus 25:13; Joshua 13:7). They continually seek to impose “the yoke” and so enrich themselves (Micah 2:1-2) — yet this is precisely why God toppled the Pharaonic power structure and freed the Hebrew slaves (Leviticus 26:13), and why God toppled the Judahite power structure in 587 BCE (Jeremiah 7:1-15). God wants the pious elite of Yehud to take note and break the yoke themselves this time (Isaiah 58:6, 9).

If they do break the yoke, God promises communal healing and blessing that will feel like bright sunshine breaking through gloom (verse 10) and cool water quenching brutal thirst (verse 11). The prophet here describes the measurable, provable cause-and-effect relationship that exists between communal liberation and communal healing. So long as some members of the community are oppressed, everyone is living in an unhealthy and soul-harming environment –even the elite. As the Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus wrote, famously quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Communal transformation creates the potential for true blessing for all to emerge. The prophet envisions this communal renewal as a physical reconstruction of the ancient city of Jerusalem, which will be built as a place that the people together might truly “live in” (Isaiah 58:12). Perhaps it is no coincidence that, as he is in the midst of his rebuilding project, Nehemiah discovers the need to liberate his neighbors who have fallen prey to rapacious economic practices of the elite (Nehemiah 5).

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus inaugurates his own ministry with a reading from Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:16-21). Jesus faced a situation quite similar to the anonymous prophet of Isaiah 56-66: a foreign power structure imposed a yoke of hierarchical economic and social exploitation that leveraged the cravenness of certain local religious and political elites who were callous enough to sell out their own people. Extreme inequality and socio-political alienation are often conjoined forces, and today is no exception. The vulnerable are crying out for help (Exodus 22:21-23), even in the midst of the wealthiest and most powerful society that has ever existed — and a particularly religious one, as well. Perhaps we need prophets who are bold enough to envision a world of communal renewal that births spiritual and social blessing that knows no bounds (Isaiah 58:11; 2:1-4; Genesis 12:1-3).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

“Don’t judge me.” The first time I heard that phrase from my (then) 8-year-old daughter, I was a bit taken aback.

Where had she learned it? Not from me or my husband. Probably one of the Disney Channel shows of which she’s so fond, or perhaps one of her classmates in school.

 “Don’t judge me.” It’s a harmless enough phrase, usually. People say it as they take a second piece of cake or binge-watch a favorite show on Netflix. Don’t judge my little lapse in discipline or my small indulgence of a bad habit.

But the phrase is problematic if used as a general rule of life. A life lived simply for the pursuit of pleasure has nothing honorable or admirable about it. In fact, such a life becomes increasingly vacuous and morally stunted (see the countless examples of celebrities whose petty conflicts and rivalries are fodder for entertainment magazines).

God calls Jeremiah to a life greater than that, a life of purpose and meaning: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah’s life was about something bigger than himself, something bigger than his own desires; it was about God’s work, and God claimed him even before he was born, according to the text.

While we are not Jeremiah, the prophet’s call story can serve to illuminate our own vocations, our own calls to discipleship. This is a fruitful line of interpretation for a sermon on this text. God, who knows Jeremiah before he is born, calls him to a life lived for the sake of God’s mission in the world. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his discussion of this passage:

We are known before we know … We enter a world we didn’t create. We grow into a life already provided for us. We arrive in a complex of relationships with other wills and destinies that are already in full operation before we are introduced. If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by another. And this other is God.[1]

And what does this story entail for Jeremiah? Living during a time of political and religious upheaval, Jeremiah is called to speak an uncomfortable word, a dangerous word, a word that will call people to account. Jeremiah is given the vocation “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Judgment and mercy are the two sides of Jeremiah’s message, though the book called by his name seems to indicate that judgment is much more prominent in his preaching than mercy (as might be expected from the four verbs of destruction — “pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow” — compared to the two verbs of restoration — “build and plant”).

Jeremiah tries to get out of it. “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” He cannot see beyond the horizon of his own self-limitations. It is a common reaction from those called to be prophets — they feel inadequate and ill-prepared.

God’s response to Jeremiah’s protest is two-fold: 1) I am with you; and 2) I will give you the words to speak. “‘Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.’”

Jeremiah is called to a task bigger than himself, but the good news is that it is not his task alone to complete. It is God’s mission, and God will provide him the words to speak. Even more to the point, God will be with him in the midst of the struggle.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any less of a struggle. Jeremiah’s message did not endear him to his people. He was put into stocks, thrown into a pit, mocked and derided. Many people called for his execution on charges of treason. He was deeply unpopular. When he passed by in the marketplace, people pointed at him and laughed.

That is why, many years into his ministry, Jeremiah tried to quit. He handed in his notice: “I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ but within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). This passage is a useful one to explore along with the one assigned for this week, as it describes where God’s initial call leads Jeremiah.

And this is where God’s call leads: In spite of the trouble he encounters, Jeremiah can’t quit. The call of God is so strong upon his life that to deny it is to be consumed by fire from the inside. No matter the cost, he must speak the word that God gives him to speak.

In this lament, Jeremiah speaks of a fearful part of life with God, a part we’d rather not think about — the fact that God’s call on our lives may cost us everything that we hold dear. Jesus speaks of the same uncomfortable truth: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But even at this low point, years into his ministry, Jeremiah realizes the truth of the promise God gave to him right at the beginning of that ministry. God will not abandon him; he is not alone. After Jeremiah calls God out for coercing him into this job, after Jeremiah laments bitterly to this God who will not let him off the hook, he says this: “The Lord is with me like a mighty warrior” (Jeremiah 20:11). God is with him. The God who will not let him off the hook is also the God who will not let him go.

Jeremiah’s call and his subsequent ministry illustrate the risk of discipleship. But they also testify to the joy of such discipleship. Jeremiah’s witness, and that of the saints through the ages, teaches us this: The life that we find when we give up our lives to follow God’s call, is, after all is said and done, the life most worth living. To become the people that God calls us to be, to become disciples of Jesus Christ, is to become really and truly human at last.

We see that witness in Jeremiah’s call and in his ministry, an example of what it means to live a life of purpose and meaning in a world where too many people settle for so much less.


  1. Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best (Second edition, InterVarsity Press, 2009), 39.


Commentary on Psalm 103:1-8

Vanessa Lovelace

Verse one of Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” has inspired musical arrangements for generations.

Psalm 103 is an individual song or hymn of praise. Specifically, the object of the praise is the Lord and the individual rather than the community adjures her or himself to praise the Lord. Support of this classification includes the use of the imperative singular form of the Hebrew verb barak, “bless” four times by the psalmist in verses 1-2 and 20-22.

The imperative form evokes intense feelings of immediacy and importance. It is a command to do or say something. Another characteristic of the song of praise is a description of the reasons why the Lord should be praised. One doesn’t need a reason to praise the Lord, but the psalmist nonetheless includes such justifications as the Lord’s majesty, steadfast love, mercy, and justice, on one hand, and rescue, deliverance, and healing on the other hand.

Psalm 103 has the superscription “Of David.” This psalm is one among 73 psalms attributed to David in the Old Testament hymn book. There is a tradition of ascribing the authorship of most psalms to David. However, most scholars agree that the superscriptions are later redactions. This view should not be regarded as dismissive of David’s role in the composition of the psaltery. Rather, it is more helpful to consider the importance for the ancient community of associating David and the monarchy with the divine-human relationship expressed in the psalms.

Still, the presence of the feminine voice in Psalm 103 should not be disregarded either. Despite the use of masculine pronouns by many commentators to refer to the psalmist, perhaps due to the Davidic attribution, Hebrew nouns and verbs are gendered, and the psalmist speaks in the feminine voice when exhorting oneself to barak the Lord.

I will bless the Lord with my whole being

The closely related Hebrew noun berek for “kneel” suggests that to bless the Lord involves kneeling before or lying prostrate before the Lord. It is not then enough in Psalm 103:1 for the song writer to just bless the Lord but to also do so with his or her soul. The Hebrew noun nephesh translated in English as “soul” also means “life,” “being,” or “inmost being.” The psalmist expresses the same sentiment in different words in the next line: “all that is within me.” We are offered a glimpse into the mindset of the psalmist who understands that to bless the Lord is to utter a full-throated, bodily response in recollection of the Lord’s benefits (Psalm 103:2).

Speaking in the second person the psalmist reckons all of the benefits that God has bestowed on him or her in verses 3-5. God forgives your sins (Psalm 103:3). There is a semantic range of meanings for the term of “sin” in the Hebrew Bible lexicon. The Hebrew noun for “sin” in verse three is ’aon, which means “guilt,” “iniquity,” “a mistake,” or “unjust” act.

The psalmist can be confident that God does not cause her or him to suffer the guilt or consequences of their iniquities because God forgives. God heals your diseases. God is the divine healer who makes the psalmist whole. God redeems your life (Psalm 103:4). To redeem (ga’al) is a legal term in Hebrew, which refers to one person buying back another person or possession from the bondage of debt. Here it is God who has rescued the psalmist from the snare of the Pit or trap, an expression meaning to rescue from the grave. Not only has God saved the psalmist from life threatening illness and injury, but God also bestows good things upon the psalmist. God crowns you with steadfast love (hesed) and mercy (Psalm 103:4). Both terms have the covenantal relationship between God and Israel in the background. Finally, God satisfies you. The psalmist is supplied with a lifetime of good things, which in turn rejuvenate the psalmist as in his or her youth (Psalm 103:5).

God is on the side of the oppressed

The hymn shifts in verse 6 from the individual to the communal in singing of the Lord’s righteousness (“vindication”) and justice on behalf of those who are oppressed. James H. Cone, regarded as the father of Black liberation theology, wrote God of the Oppressed to grapple with the socio-historical situation of blacks in the U.S. and the response found within the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fundamental to Cone’s theological construct was that God was on the side of the poor and oppressed. For Cone and the psalmist, the oppressed are the politically or socially downtrodden.

In Psalm 103:6 the inference is that the oppressed are the people of Israel, who God sided with. As evidence, the psalmist points to God’s self-revelation to Moses through God’s salvific acts towards the people of Israel in the wilderness (Psalm 103:7). It was to Moses in Exodus 34:6 that God showed an abundance of restraint after the golden calf incident, declaring that the Lord is a God who is “merciful and gracious,” “slow to anger,” and “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” The psalmist finds that these words bear repeating in verse 8, although faithfulness is omitted here. The Lord’s steadfast love (hesed) for Israel is mentioned for the second time in this passage (see also Psalm 103:11), underscoring its significance for the relationship between God and Israel. In the context of the Babylonian exile, Psalm 103 offers hope that despite Israel’s iniquities, God’s loyalty to the covenant is expressed as God’s forgiveness.

Just as important as it is to bless God, we should also not forget the psalmist’s message that since God is quick to forget our iniquities, we should be swift to recount the benefits that God has bestowed on us. In the words of gospel singer and songwriter Andre Crouch, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. He has done great things. Bless his holy name.”

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 12:18-29

Timothy L. Adkins-Jones

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

This aphorism generally derived from philosopher George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”1 gives a rather pessimistic take on history and the legacy of those that have gone before.

In many ways the author of Hebrews has been using a more nuanced understanding of the idea of legacy and history to great rhetorical effect in all of this book but particularly in Hebrews 11 and 12. Chapter 11 is the much beloved Faith Hall of Fame, where the author goes through and lists a myriad of sheroes and heroes from Israel’s history that the readers are intended to emulate in their own lives. These figures from their past lived “by faith” the writer says repeatedly and rhythmically, with the implication that we are to live by faith as well, doing the impossible with faith as our motivation and strength. However, in this section of chapter 12, history is meant to serve as a different kind of motivation. The argument shifts tonally so that history is now listed as something to learn from and not repeat.

Today’s lectionary passage begins with an allusion to the fear inducing interaction between the children of Israel and God on Mt. Sinai. The scene that is depicted is literally a dark one, one that strikes me as being a bit of an embellished telling of what took place at Sinai back in Exodus.

While this seeming exaggeration serves the argument of the writer, it is important not to confuse this colorful depiction of Sinai as some kind of judgement or even degradation of what happened. Mt. Sinai, though apparently a treacherous and dangerous mountain, was a place where God’s people received God’s word even if through fear. It was a holy place even though it was a difficult place. Moses, the great liberator and leader of the people had to admit that he was exceedingly afraid and trembling before God but he was still able to be before God. The author argues though that now we do not need to be afraid of receiving God’s word, or at least not fearful in the same manner as Moses. Our revelation is not coming from a dark and dangerous mountain, but from Mount Zion, a place that is — comparatively speaking at least — peaceful and inviting. I’d caution suggesting that this new arrangement is necessarily better. Mt. Zion is different from Mt. Sinai, or just “that mountain” as it is explicitly named in the text; but I’m not sure that author wants us to believe that it is better.

Fear versus faith

When the author makes the turn to talk about the comparative benefits of Mt. Zion, preachers might do well also to name the benefits of “that mountain” so that there is a fair comparison. It is worth noting, that there is something beneficial to the witness of that mountain. Darkness, fire, tempest, trumpets, and loud words are not pleasant, but they are tangible. And as much as the author wants us to see the benefits of the peace of Mt. Zion, it seems that we must pay attention to the difficulty of hearing from the more subtle message of Mt. Zion.

Though not present in this passage, that rhythmic refrain from Hebrews 11 seems to remain; it is by faith that we are able to hear from Zion, and by faith will we be able to hear the better things of Jesus’ blood (verse 24).

It may be ultimately more desirable but I’m not sure it is easier to hear from Mt. Zion. Maybe sermons should emphasize the difference in the contexts of “that mountain” and Mt. Zion, instead of naming Mt. Zion as better. Maybe the author isn’t claiming that Mt. Zion is better than that mountain at all, but that it is different; and I wonder how our preaching opens up if we focus less on the benefits of Mt. Zion versus “that mountain” and instead on the difference of the contexts, and how these different contexts call for a different kind of preparation to receive God’s word, “by faith.”

Shaking dirt off the kingdom

After contrasting the differences between our current context of Mt. Zion and ‘that mountain’ in the first part of this passage, that latter half of this passage calls us back to a relationship of fear and trembling. Though Jesus serves as the mediator of the New Covenant, the author does not want to diminish our need to respect God’s grandeur and magnificence. God’s voice was grand enough to shake the earth before but now that voice is going to shake even the heavens. There is a sense that God’s revelation is inevitable, that all will be shaken but that it is imperative for us to cling to that which cannot be shaken, God’s Kingdom. Preachers might help our congregations name unshakable aspects of God’s Kingdom that we can anchor ourselves to in light of all the shaking that happens from God’s call and also the shaking that happens in life.

Reading this passage helps me envision God as housecleaner, shaking the dirt and dust from within God’s community such that only that which is important remains. In addition to finding places for us to anchor amid the shaking, could we also be called to follow God’s example? Maybe our preaching might help us imagine how we can join in with God’s act of shaking in our world, to knock the dust off of our witness. Our reverential response to God’s shaking and consuming presence is to shake ourselves in preparation.


  1. George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. (Scribner’s, 1905), 284.