Lectionary Commentaries for June 2, 2019
Seventh Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 17:20-26

Barbara Lundblad

John 17 brings us to the end of Jesus’ farewell to his disciples.1

The timing is a bit confusing to listeners. We celebrated Easter in late April, but the last few weeks we’ve gone back before Easter to Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. We’ve been sitting at the Passover table, leaning close to hear Jesus’ final promises to his disciples. Chapter 17 is Jesus’ closing prayer. He looks up to heaven and prays first for himself. This is not the agonizing prayer in Gethsemane found in the other gospels. Jesus is not in agony nor is he confused. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Sometimes, Jesus seems to be praying for somebody else — he says “your Son” then “the Son” then “glorify me.” We hear a mixture of Jesus and the gospel writer mingled together in one prayer.

Then Jesus moves on to pray for those who are sitting at the table with him. Jesus is praying like a mother who has adopted these children. They belonged to God, but God gave them to Jesus to care for, to teach, to nurture. Soon Jesus will go away and he prays for these children with the love of a motherly heart.

I remember talking to a woman whose son was in our youth group. “Every time he goes out of the house, I say a prayer that he’ll be safe,” she told me. “You know, when there are more than two black boys walking down the street, people get suspicious. They attract attention from the police. It happens all the time,” she said. ”Even if they don’t do anything, they’re likely to get in trouble. So I keep praying until he comes back in the door.”

Jesus’ prayer doesn’t stop with those seated at the table. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” Jesus is praying also for you and for me. We are the ones who have come to believe because of the disciples’ words. Jesus’ prayer hangs in the space between earth and heaven, between time past and time present and time yet to come. Jesus is praying that we will remain faithful and trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Just when we think we’ve figured out what’s going on in John’s gospel, we are surprised at every turn. Jesus proclaims God’s love for the world, yet prays that these beloved children will be protected from the world. Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd whose sheep hear his voice — yet, just when we’re ready to shut the gate, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold — I must bring them also.” Just when we point to John’s gospel to confirm that God is our Father, we hear Jesus praying from a mother’s heart. Even in John’s fatherly gospel, we see a picture of Jesus who seems very much like a mother.

Perhaps we should have known from the first chapter of John. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This eternal, cosmic Word (with a capital W) translates the Greek word logos. Yet, everything that is said about the Word comes from Old Testament descriptions of Wisdom. Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of God. Wisdom, pitching a tent to dwell upon earth. Wisdom, beside God as co-creator from the beginning. Wisdom, the female figure translated in Greek as Sophia. Indeed, Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary on the Gospel of John, says that “there are parallels to Wisdom in almost every detail” found in the opening verses of the gospel.2 The reason John chose logos instead of sophia was because Jesus was male.

Can we be open to God’s surprises? Could it be that the Spirit that moved over the waters in creation became a mothering presence in the Gospel of John? Could it be that when we insist that God can only be called Father, the Spirit of truth whispers other names in our ears? Jesus, prayed for his beloved, adopted children on the last night of his life. He prayed that they would be one, even as Jesus and his motherly Father are one.

The life of faith is a journey filled with surprises. Many people think that Mother’s Day, which by early June is in the rearview mirror, is only about cards and flowers; yet we’re reminded that the original Mother’s Day proclamation urged an end to war: “We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs”3 (Julia Ward Howe). Just when we think we know all about Jesus the Good Shepherd, he’s out looking for sheep beyond our fold. Just when we think the Word — capital W — is an abstract philosophical word, we’re reminded that Jesus is Wisdom/Sophia in earthly flesh. Just when we argue that God can only be called “Father” we hear Jesus praying as a mother worried for her children. “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus said. You are my own and I will be with you forever.

This is the wondrous mystery revealed to Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. This well-educated Christian woman devoted her life to God through study and contemplation of scripture. She wrote a theological treatise entitled “Showings” and her words have now become a hymn that we might rightly sing today: “Mothering God, you gave me birth. Mothering Christ, you took my form. Mothering Spirit, nurturing One.” God is always more than we imagined. God is always closer than we had dared to dream.


Commentary adapted from the one first published on this site on May 8, 2016.

2 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I – XII (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966) 523

3 http://www.plough.com/en/topics/culture/holidays/mothers-day/the-original-mother-s-day-proclamation

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 16:16-34

Jennifer T. Kaalund

The book of Acts emphasizes the power and abilities of the leaders of the Jesus movement.

As a result of the numerous miracles performed through Paul and Peter, the church grows daily. Overcoming any obstacle that is presented, they go about proclaiming to the world that Jesus died and was raised so that all could come into relationship with the living God. This gospel that they preach is a way of salvation, but is this also a path to liberation? This text challenges us to consider — what does it mean to be free?

Spiritual chains

The story of Paul and Silas’ miraculous jailbreak may be a familiar narrative; however, I have not always read it in the context of the enslaved girl who had a spirit of divination, another form of bondage. She, in fact, is doubly oppressed — she is a possession of both her owner and of a spirit of divination. And yet her deliverance is not presented as many other miracles in the book of Acts. Most miracles in this book are performed so that many may come to believe. However, in this case it seems her deliverance comes about simply because she is being annoying.

The nameless enslaved girl follows Paul around declaring: “These men are slaves of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Despite how exasperating her antics may have been, her statement is true. Paul, himself, proclaimed to be a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). So why is Paul seemingly perturbed by this girl? Perhaps it is because she had followed them for many days. On this occasion, Paul turns and says to the spirit: “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Was Paul disturbed that they were being followed or was this girl’s declaration difficult for Paul to come to terms with? Isn’t she claiming that she and Paul were not that different at all? They were both enslaved people; they simply had different masters.

Although Paul’s actions free her from her possession, she remains an enslaved girl whose master is now angry because without her supernatural abilities she can no longer provide them with income. She is described as having “brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.” But what if we understand her announcement for what it was — simply a “voice crying out in the wilderness” declaring the way of the Lord? Though one could argue that Paul improved her spiritual condition, Paul clearly did not improve her physical condition. In fact, Paul leaves her in an even more precarious situation than she was in before she had encountered him.

Physical chains

While the no longer possessed girl is free from her demon, Paul and Silas’ freedom is taken away. The “master” of the enslaved girl accuses Paul and Silas of “disturbing the city” asserting: “they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” Paul and Silas are stripped of their clothing, beaten with rods and thrown into prison where the jailor was instructed to “keep them securely. Following these instructions, the jailor puts them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” Paul and Silas are now physically imprisoned.

They were bound physically, but not for long. They pray and worship and the jail doors are opened; their shackles are loosed. Not only are their chains loosed; all the prisoners are set free. The jailer, assuming there had been a prison break, contemplates taking his own life. This disturbing side note pulls the curtain back on the dangerous nature of life in the first century. Let’s not ignore the warning.

Why would a mistake on one’s job be seen as so horrific that s/he would invite death, rather than face the consequences or shame of admitting to a mistake? Is this kind of pressure self-imposed or a product of a hostile political environment? It is clear that the shadow of the empire looms large here; Rome is mentioned numerous times in Acts 16. Moreover, the cost of maintaining the Pax Romana (the peace of Rome) was terribly high. The cost was brutal military enforcement of law and order. It seems that jailor, too, needed salvation. As a society, we must be cautious of the ways in which the rhetoric of law and order can work in opposition to justice and peace.

When Paul informs the jailer that all the prisoners are still there and accounted for, the jailer and his household come to believe in Jesus and are saved. Following the established pattern of the text, the prison break miracle results in the growth in the Jesus movement. But before we rejoice in Paul and Silas’ freedom, we must remember there is a local girl who is still enslaved. What becomes of her? Does she remain in bondage to an angry owner?

The text leaves us with the questions, but not the answers. By highlighting these forms of bondage, I wish to suggest that these areas of our lives (emotional, spiritual, physical) are entangled. And perhaps more importantly, I would purport that the holy work of healing must be holistic, that is it must consider the entire person.

While prayer and worship can lead to the loosening of shackles that are physically visible, what happens when we remain bound in ways that are not readily apparent? What if the prison break story isn’t about Paul and Silas (although we do like a hero(s))? What if the prison break is teaching us that liberation is a communal act? Recall that everyone’s chains were broken, not a select few. As civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer declared: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our collective liberation requires that we first acknowledge our connectedness.

If freedom is the removal of a hindrance, making the path clear, then perhaps liberation is an extension of this condition and is the ability to live into that freedom. The impediments of social structures that are designed to limit and take away freedoms results in a world where the capacity for justice and peace are diminished. As a result, the people of God must work to make the path clear, to remove the obstacles, to remember the enslaved girl as clearly as we remember Paul and Silas. Ultimately, our liberation is connected to her freedom.


Commentary on Psalm 97

Jerome Creach

Psalm 97 appears in a grouping of psalms that have as their main subject the reign of God (Psalms 93, 95-99; see also Psalm 47).

Scholars often refer to these psalms as “enthronement psalms” because of they focus on God’s eternal kingship. The declaration, “the lord is king!” (verse 1) here sets Israel’s God above the gods of the nations and so vindicates those who worship the true God (verses 6-9). To say the lord is king is not a claim of monotheism per se, that is, the belief in one God. The psalm acknowledges other deities (verse 9), but exalts God as the true authority over the world. The psalm also portrays the other deities as powerless before the true God. They have no more power than the idols that represent them and, therefore, those who worship them are utterly foolish (verse 7).

The enthronement psalms have an important place in the Psalter. Namely, Book IV of the Psalter (Psalms 90-106) addresses the theological crisis created when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and deported many of its citizens in 587 B.C.E. That event raised questions about the legitimacy of God’s promises to God’s people and God’s choice of David and Jerusalem to mediate God’s reign. Psalms in the previous section of the Psalter (Psalms 73-89) painfully relate doubts about these core beliefs. But Psalm 97 along with the other enthronement psalms remind those who doubted God was still in control, that God was still “most high over all the earth” (verse 9; see Psalm 83:18).

The psalm has three parts. Verses 1-5 begin with the central claim of the psalm (“the lord is king!”) and then describe the majesty of God’s appearance and the display of God’s power. After the initial statement that God is king, verse 1 invites the created order (“the earth”) even to its margins (“the many coastlands”) to join in the celebration. Verses 2-5 take worshippers “imaginatively into the royal presence.”1 The language evokes common images of a warrior God who appears in the storm and in whose presence the earth trembles (verses 4-5). These images were common in the religious expressions of Canaan and Mesopotamia.

The second section of the psalm (verses 6-9) reports the response of the creation to God’s appearance. “The heavens” and “all the peoples” (verse 6) identify worshippers above and below the dome of the heavens (Gen. 1:6-10), thus stating that all creatures recognize God’s glory. Verse 7 suggests, however, that some do not recognize God’s kingship. God’s appearance implicitly shames them, those who worship the images of other gods. In contrast to the worshippers of images, the residents of Zion and Judah rejoice for they know God’s place above the creation (verses 8-9).

Verses 10-12 tell what the kingship of the lord means for the righteous. “Righteous” in the psalms refers to those who live humbly before God and seek God as their refuge (see Psalm 37:39-40).2 In Psalm 97 this label applies specifically to the people of Judah who have suffered at the hands of enemies and now await salvation. The description of them and the arrival of God’s deliverance is similar to passages in Isaiah that speak similarly of God’s devastated people (Isaiah 58:10; 60:1-3). Psalm 97:11, like Isaiah 60:1-3, speaks of the time of salvation as light that shines in the darkness for the righteous. Thus, the psalm ends with a call to the righteous to “rejoice” and “give thanks” (verse 12).

If the main subject of Psalm 97 is the lord’s reign, the word pair “righteousness and justice” define God’s kingship. Verse 2 proclaims that “righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.” That is, God’s kingdom does not rest on pure power, but on doing what is right. In this statement Psalm 97 reaffirms the core claim of Psalm 82 that justice is God’s central concern and with that God oversees the world. In Psalm 97, as in Psalm 82, justice involves the defense of those who are victims of abuse at the hands of the wicked (verse 10).

The second portion of the psalm states that God’s creatures recognize righteousness and justice as the core elements of God’s rule. The heavens “proclaim his righteousness” (verse 6) and Zion and Judah are glad because of God’s acts of justice (verse 8; “your judgments”). These qualities of God’s character and actions are the basis of worship and cause for thanksgiving (verse 12).

Both the content and contexts of Psalm 97 make it an ideal passage for the Easter season. The claim of God’s reign and of God rescuing the righteous from the hands of the wicked fit well into Easter’s celebration of God vindicating Jesus by raising him from the dead (Romans 1:4). The psalm’s assurance to the worshipping community that God’s justice would prevail is also like Jesus’ prayer John 17:20-27, another lectionary reading for the sixth Sunday of Easter. Jesus prays that his followers would see his glory as Psalm 97:6 declares that all people see the glory of God’s appearance.

At this late stage in the celebration of Easter the church is also focusing on God’s revelation to the Gentiles, as Acts 16:16-24 narrates. The universal nature of God’s reign and the invitations to the “coastlands” to celebrate God’s kingship in Psalm 97 make the psalm an appropriate passage to pair with Acts’ account of Paul and Silas offering the Gospel to the Philippian jailor.

Each of the lectionary readings also have in their background the problem of persistent evil and suffering and competing claims to control of the cosmos. Psalm 97 speaks to them with the belief that God will appear with righteousness and justice to bring the creation to completion (see especially Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21). On that day the righteous will rejoice. The confident message of the psalm is eschatological. It speaks of God’s reign in a world that seems under the control of evil. It speaks so confidently, however, for the same reason John wrote the words of Jesus so boldly: “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).


  1. James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 310.
  2. Jerome F. D. Creach, The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008).

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

Ronald J. Allen

The reading today appears to be a random collection of statements attached to the climactic vision of Revelation 21:9-22:5.

A closer look, however, reveals that they work together in a way similar to the closing sections of the evangelistic sermons commonplace in my youth in the 1950s and 1960s. A purpose of Revelation 22:8-22 is to compel the listener to choose to accept the vision of the Book of Revelation and to respond accordingly. For some hearers, this decision is reaffirmation. “I will continue to endure.” For others, the decision is to repent, to stop accommodating to the Empire, and to join the eschatological community as it awaits and witnesses to the cosmic transformation.

While the elements of the lection work together (per above), each section has its own nuances. A sermon could make homiletical sense of all three parts of the reading (verses 12-14, 16-17, 21-22). Or a sermon might focus on one element, incorporating the other motifs as needed. For example, the preacher might gather the sermon around the beatitude of Revelation 22:14. What does it mean for the congregation today to “wash our robes” to have “the right to the tree of life?”

Revelation 22:12 puts the listener on notice that the time to choose for or against the vision in Revelation is here: Jesus is returning soon. While John does not — like some contemporary Pre-millenialists — specify the date of the apocalypse, John has indicated throughout the Book that the deconstruction of the Roman Empire is already underway. The return of Jesus is imminent, if undated.

When Jesus says he will repay “according to everyone’s work,” the reference is not to works righteousness but to faithful or unfaithful behavior. John pushes listeners to respond to the question, “On the far side of the final judgment, would I rather live in the new Jerusalem or the lake of fire?”

John underlines the authority behind this statement by describing Jesus in the same language first used of God: Alpha and Omega. These designations indicate that the sovereign power of history is at work through the ministry of Jesus. The Empire lays claim to ultimacy but they are penultimate, and, therefore, must account for their idolatry and brutality.

To be blessed is to be aware of having a place in the movement towards the holy city (Revelation 22:14). Amid the struggles of the last days, a blessed person has the confidence of being embraced by the Realm. The “washed robes” is a figure for faithful witness: repenting, coming out of the Empire, and enduring. The references to having a right to the tree of life and to entering by the gate are figures for having a place in the new Jerusalem. A person is blessed who makes the choices that lead to struggle in the short run but that result in a place in the new city.

In Revelation 22:16a, the risen Jesus returns to the issue of authority, explaining that he sent the angel who revealed the Revelation for the churches. It is as if John says, “I did not make up the Book of Revelation. Jesus gave it to me through an angel. So, congregation: believe it.”

When Jesus identifies himself as root and descendent of David in Revelation 22:16b, the point is that the revelation of God through Jesus is not a new work but is an extension of God’s work through Israel. The apocalyptic apex towards which Jesus leads the cosmos is the fulfillment of the promises God made to the people Israel, represented by the promise to David.

Jesus is the bright, morning star. Preachers could use this image alone as the center of a sermon, provided they treat the image in its function in the Book of Revelation, and do not simply let their exegetically undisciplined imaginations take over. Jesus — not a Roman astral deity — is the morning star. This star signals that the threats of the night have ended. It confirms that the new day is beginning. It orients the community. Its appearance indicates that the time for fruitful activity is beginning. In short, the work of Christ revealed in the Book of Revelation is the morning star.

Revelation 22:17 is a briar patch for interpreters. Who is saying “Come” to whom? I think more scholars settle at this point than at others: the Spirit and the bride (the church), and others who may hear the Book of Revelation plead for Jesus to return, as if they say, “The situation of the world is desperate. Come quickly!” (Revelation 22:17ab)

Revelation 22:17cd invites people to continue in (or to become part of) the community on the way to the new heaven and the new earth. In the Book of Revelation, the thirsty are those who are thirsty for the Realm of God (Revelation 21:7). John sees the martyrs drinking from the springs of the water of life (Revelation 7:16-17). John has a special interest in these groups throughout the Book. In this climactic section, the prophet gives them a special invitation into the new Jerusalem. By doing so, the prophet implies an invitation to the non-repentant to join these groups on the way to the Realm

The letter closes with the assertion that Jesus himself guarantees that he is returning, soon. John responds with an expostulation that is almost liturgical: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” The church originally heard the Book of Revelation in worship. Hearing and reading the Book in other settings can re-invoke the sense of worship.

As we noted in connection the reading on the Second Sunday of Easter, Revelation 1:4-8, John frames the book as a Greek letter. Revelation 22:21 is in the form of the closing of a Greek letter. John expresses the hope that receiving and hearing the Book of Revelation will be an experience of grace for the congregation.

As I have lead Bible studies in congregations since 1974, I have found lay people (and clergy) to have less and less working knowledgeable about the Bible. A preacher could take advantage of the last passage in the Bible to overview the story of the Bible that culminates here. Of course, the sermon could only touch on key moments in the biblical drama. I wager the sermon would be the first time many people have heard a single telling of the biblical story, even in highlight form.