Lectionary Commentaries for May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 14:23-29

Osvaldo Vena

These verses are part of the so-called Farewell Discourse which goes John 14:1-17:26, and during which Jesus promises his disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate (parakletos) to be with them for ever (14:16).

The Spirit of truth (14:17) will in many ways be an actualization of Jesus’ presence. Jesus will come back to the community (14:18) and the community will see him (14:19) but this will be a revelation that only the group of believers will receive (14:22). Whereas the historical Jesus was seen by everybody, the spiritual presence of Jesus will only be experienced by those who love him and obey his commandments (14:23).

Love is the answer

It starts as a response to one of the disciples’ question about how it is that Jesus will reveal himself to them but no to the world. The answer is love: it is love that unlocks the secret of Jesus’ presence in the post-resurrection era. This love needs to be understood as attachment to Jesus’ group or to the person of Jesus.1 This attachment will produce obedience to Jesus’ teachings (“my word”) and when this happens then God the Father will love the believers.

Who is coming?

The love of God is shown in the coming of the Father and Jesus to dwell with the believers. The expression “to make our home with them” (monen) harkens back to 14:2 where Jesus had promised the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in God’s house where there are many “dwelling places” (monai). Traditionally, 14:1-4 has been interpreted as a reference to Jesus’ second coming but the almost absolute lack of references to the parousia in the gospel of John makes it very unlikely. Charles H. Talbert has alerted us to the fact that in John the Father’s house is a reference to the Jerusalem temple (2:16). Since for the evangelist Jesus is the new temple (2:19, 21), “in my Father’s house” is an alternative way of saying “in me,” or “in the Father,” or “in us.” (17:21). 2

The coming together of the Father and Jesus to dwell with the believers (14:23) and the coming back of Jesus to the community (14:28) seem to refer, at least in this context, to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate promised in this very chapter. These two comings (erchomai) are framing another coming, this time the coming of the Advocate, whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name. Therefore, I think that it is safe to assume that both the coming and the sending refer to the same reality: the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the community. When the Spirit comes then Jesus comes also as empowering presence. There is no need to wait for another coming. For John that is the “second” coming!

The hermeneutics of the Spirit

The role of the Holy Spirit is carefully delineated in verse 26. As will be seen in John 16:12-15, the Spirit will be engaged in the work of remembering and theological reformulation. It will remind the community of the things Jesus taught them, and it will teach them new things, in fact, all things as they pertain to the future of the believers. It will guide the believers into all the truth (16:12).

Taking into account that in 14:6 Jesus told the disciples that he was the truth, here it seems as if Jesus needs the hermeneutical mediation of the Holy Spirit in order to become that truth. This is an important point, for it places the responsibility of contextualizing the truth to new situations on an inspired, Spirit-filled community. Jesus is not, cannot be the truth unless this truth is incarnated in people who make an effort to interpret what such affirmation means for their context.

Two different kinds of Peace

The peace that Jesus gives contrasts sharply with the world’s peace. Even though this affirmation has been spiritualized by conservative and fundamentalist readings of John it is pretty obvious that in its present context this text has in mind the first century world and its understanding of peace as that of the Pax Romana. Therefore, we have here a profound critique of the social and political order of the day.

Who does what?

Finally, there are many connections in this passage in terms of who does what. It can be outlined in the following way:

  • The Father sent Jesus and will come to dwell with the believers in the form of the Holy Spirit, sent to the community in Jesus’ name, thus proving God’s love for those who are attached to Jesus.
  • The Son comes with the Father to make their home with the believers, speaking the words given by the Father and giving true peace to the community. This is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit, who will teach the community all things and will remind them of everything Jesus had said to them.
  • In response to all this divine initiative, the community has to do only one thing: love Jesus, that is, to be attached to him and his group, for out of this love will spring the obedience, doing what the group values,3 which will unleash all of these blessings.
  • In the last analysis, everything ends with God, as it should, for Jesus says that “the Father is greater than I” (14:28). This is an appropriate reminder (the work of the Holy Spirit?) to all of us who try to make our Christian experience normative for the rest of humanity. Everything leads to God. And even though this may make some people uncomfortable, from the perspective of John’s Jesus, God is even greater than him!


  1. When love is understood in this way, then “there may or may not be affection, but it is the inward feeling of attachment, along with the outward behavior bound up with such attachment, that love entails.” Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998), 87.
  2. Charles H. Talbert, Reading John. A literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Co, 2005), 211.
  3. Malina and Rohrbaugh, 87.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 16:9-15

Jennifer T. Kaalund

Acts 16 offers a compelling portrait of ministry for our consideration.

This chapter begins with Paul choosing Timothy as his companion. This is a significant reminder that ministry is not a solo endeavor; it requires companionship. Paul’s concern for the believers is also noteworthy. At the end of Acts 15, Paul informs Barnabas of his intention to “return and visit believers in every city where they had proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (15:36). Paul desires to see the fruit of his labor and so the journey begins. As they travel, there are places where the Spirit forbids them from speaking the word and there are places where the church grew and its faith is strengthened. The trials and triumphs, joys and disappointments of ministry are reflected in the summary of these travels. I would imagine many ministers have had similar experiences. With the Spirit as their guide, they continue.

While traveling, Paul has a night vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come and help them. Paul is convinced that God is calling them to proclaim the good news to the people of Macedonia. As such, they stop in Philippi, a city the author describes as a leading city and a Roman colony. While in Philippi, on a sabbath day, they go to where they assume they will find a place of prayer — they go outside the gate by the river. Here they find women gathered.

It is by the riverside that Paul and company encounter Lydia and a group of women. They anticipate that they will find a place of prayer here and indeed they do. Lydia is described as a worshipper of God. The women who had assembled there listen to Paul and his companions. The text describes the scene thusly, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” Lydia and her household are baptized and she offers Paul a place to stay. An open heart results in open doors. Lydia tells Paul: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” She extends hospitality to Paul and his companions.

There is a lot that is left to our imaginations in this passage. What do they talk about? Who are these other women and what happens to them? What we do know is that Lydia’s open heart leads to her extending hospitality to Paul and those accompanying.

Although they meet in Philippi, Lydia is from Thyatira. Since she is living in Philippi, it seems that Lydia is away from a place she once called home, a place with which she is still affiliated. Perhaps this made her particularly attuned to the needs of the group of men travelling declaring the word of the Lord. Lydia is described by the work that she does; she is a dealer in purple cloth. As a business woman, she is both able and willing to support the ministry of Jesus Christ by providing shelter to ministers. She welcomes strangers in a place where she once was a stranger. Clearly, the growth of the church is a team effort, an effort that requires the extension of hospitality and generosity.

It is important to remember that this hospitality and generosity may be found in the expected places, coming from those who we do not anticipate will extend it. Paul sets sail looking for a man to share the good news with in Macedonia. Instead, he encounters a group of women.

While in Philippi, Paul goes back to the place of prayer and he is followed by an enslaved girl, performs an exorcism, and ends up before the magistrate for disturbing the peace. Paul and Silas are beaten and are put in prison. After the prison break, the jailor and his family come to believe and are baptized, they open their hearts to the message of Jesus Christ and then they open their home to Paul and Silas. They attend to Paul and Silas’ wounds and feeds them. In the morning the magistrate sends a message to Paul and Silas that they are free to go in peace. It is not likely that the news of the jailbreak has spread that quickly.

I wonder if Lydia and her family came to the rescue of her house guests? We cannot be sure. Acts 16 ends with Paul and Silas returning to Lydia’s home. It states: “After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.” Lydia serves as a bookend for Acts 16 and I would suggest that she is also a signifier. Lydia signifies the support that ministry needs in order to grow and thrive.

Ministry is often equated to those individual and things that are visible — the ministers, the sacraments, the choir and ushers. However, ministry is made possible by those who often are not seen and at times are not named. Despite our tendency to want to identify a hero or personality, this text reminds us that it takes a team for the ministry to be effective. All are co-laborers. Paul was not alone, he was there with Silas, Timothy, and likely whoever it is that is recounting the story. The church is strengthened, then and now, by those who demonstrate their faithfulness in both their words and deeds and by those who extend generous hospitality. The proclamation of the word opens the heart and open hearts result in open doors. Let us welcome all who would come.


Commentary on Psalm 67

Jerome Creach

Psalm 67 begins with a prayer for blessing that draws its words from the great priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 (verse 1).

In the Numbers passage God directs Aaron and his descents to bless the Israelites with the words, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The psalmist adapts the Aaronic blessing to introduce a prayer for divine favor. In its original context, the blessing was for Israel and the focus was on the priests’ role in speaking the blessing to the people. In Psalm 67, however, the purpose of the blessing is to reveal God’s greatness to the nations (verse 2) and lead the people of the earth to praise God (verse 3) to the “ends of the earth” (verse 7).

As Psalm 67 adapts the Aaronic blessing and expands its purpose, it echoes two great Old Testament theological traditions. The psalm recalls the promise God made to Abraham to bless him and, in turn, to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-4). While the election of Abraham cannot be reduced to its function of universal blessing, that is an unmistakable part of the promise.

Abraham and his descendants were not blessed to the exclusion of others. Rather, all families of the earth were to find their blessing in or through them. This plays out in the Genesis narrative as Abraham sojourns in Canaan. Those who welcome him and see God at work in him receive God’s blessing, and those who did not recognize it were cursed (Genesis 12:10-20; 14:17-24; 20). So Psalm 67 invites the nations to celebrate God’s work among the people of Abraham and to acknowledge God’s guidance of them as well (verse 4).  

Psalm 67 also speaks much like part of Isaiah often called “Second Isaiah” (Isaiah 40-55). The prophet declares God is sovereign over all nations and comes as close as any Old Testament author to saying no God exists but Israel’s God (Isaiah 40:1-5; 45:20-25; 49:2-26). In a similar tone, verses 4-5 call the nations to rejoice and praise God because of the way God judges and guides them all.1 God does not just bring equity to Israel, but to “the peoples” as well (verse 4).

The psalm ends with the declaration that God brought an abundant harvest for his people (verse 6). But the whole earth yielded abundantly, to the benefit of all. Therefore, the psalm ends by calling “the ends of the earth” to give praise. God is “our God” and has blessed God’s people (verse 6), but the psalm presents this blessing as occasion for all people to revere the Creator (verse 7).

Some scholars speculate this psalm was a liturgy that Israelites recited during a harvest festival (thus, some label it a song of thanksgiving).2 It is impossible to know if this was indeed the original role the psalm had in worship. The harvest theme appears only in verse 6 and the reference is part of a larger theme of God’s beneficial rule over the nations. Nevertheless, with this theme, Psalm 67 brings together the message of the two preceding psalms.

Like Psalm 66, Psalm 67 recognizes that God has control over and brings justice to the nations (verse 4; Psalm 66:7). Psalm 67 calls all “the peoples” to praise God (verses 3, 5), also like Psalm 66:1, 4, and 8. The final celebration of the earth’s bounty (verse 6) harks back to Psalm 65:9-13. Together, Psalms 65, 66, and 67 give a complete picture of God’s sovereign rule — over the earth, over God’s people, over the nations — and the benefits of that rule for all the earth and all people.

Read in the season of Easter, Psalm 67 has two primary messages for the church. First, the wish for God’s blessing (verse 1) and gratitude for God’s provisions relate to the experience of resurrection for Jesus’ followers.  Like the Israelites of old who thanked God for the earth’s bounty, so also Jesus’ disciples experienced the life-giving force of the Creator God when Jesus was raised from the dead. The wish for blessings, however, also acknowledges that there is a “not-yet” quality to this celebration. The jussive verb in verse 1 (“may God be gracious to us and bless us”) is a kind of petition. It recognizes a need for blessing that is not at present complete or experienced in full.

Second, the psalm anticipates the Gospel’s appeal to the Gentiles. God’s saving power began among the Israelites, but God’s work had an appeal to “the nations,” to those outside the covenant community. Thus, Psalm 67 pairs nicely with Acts 16:9-15 in which Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth in Thyatira, hears Paul’s preaching and commits herself to Christ. As the first Gentile convert in Europe, Lydia exemplifies how the Gospel took hold among “God fearers,” that is, Gentiles associated with the synagogue. Lydia was a prime example of how Israel experienced God’s blessings and “the ends of the earth” erupted in praise (Psalm 67:3, 5).

As the season of Easter moves toward Pentecost the universal themes of Old Testament texts become crucial, and Psalm 67 is one of the most beautiful expressions of those themes. The wish for “your way to be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations” (verse 2) is fulfilled in early Christian preaching. Gentile converts, in turn, give voice to the psalm’s call for “the ends of the earth” to worship the one true God (verse 7).


  1. James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), pp. 224-225.
  2. Frank Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: Psalms 51-100 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), pp. 150-153.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5

Ronald J. Allen

The Book of Revelation — and the Bible — reaches its climax with this passage.

John describes a vision of the holy city Jerusalem coming from heaven from God. A good many Christians today think of this vision as the city plan for heaven that shows where the walls, streets, buildings, river, and vegetation will be located. Such folk look forward to walking the streets of gold.

In quite a different nuance, John uses the image of the city in Revelation 21:10-22:5 as an image of the qualities of life that make up the new heaven and the new earth. John uses the descriptions of walls, streets, buildings, the river, and vegetation to symbolize the characteristics of life in the new Jerusalem.

In the background is the contrast between the community of God (here represented by a vibrant, secure, abundant city) and the population of the Roman Empire (represented by a city in Revelation 18 that is foul, immoral, and over which a funeral song is already being sung).

John implies that listeners have a choice. They can choose to live in the city Rome and suffer its fate. Or they can struggle in witness now in order to live in the city of God. In Revelation 21:10 John re-emphasizes that the new community is a gift that comes from God in heaven (see Revelation 21:2). It does not come from Caesar in Rome.

In Revelation 21:11-19 John sees high walls with gates open on each side. Walls are traditional symbols of community and security. Indeed, real security comes from authentic community in which all people feel mutually supported. Gates typically control entrance and exit, but these gates — four on a side — are always open. At the risk of anachronism, I might say this openness in community is a real way to security.

John indicates that the city is measured (Revelation 21:15). Measurement was a customary way of saying something is under control. The city is four-square. The city measures 12,000 stadia on a side (1,500 miles) (Revelation 21:16). The number 12,000 is another way of speaking of community. Compared to the sizes of cities in antiquity, the size of this one is almost beyond imagination: it is large enough to provide a safe place for everyone who has been faithful since the beginning of history. Rome was a large city, but the new Jerusalem dwarfs it.

The city is gold (Revelation 21:18). The gold signals the value the community: it is as valuable as the most precious metal in antiquity. But these walls are clear as glass. The gold is transformed and no longer has the power to tempt.

According to Revelation 21:22-24, the city has no temple. Indeed, the length, width, and the height of the city are equal (Revelation 21:16). The city itself bespeaks the Holy of Holies. God is immediately, fully present to shape community life.

The reference to the disappearance of the sun and moon is a double message (Revelation 21:23; 22:5). (1) The sun and moon represent the structures of the old creation. Since that creation will no longer be in operation, sun and moon are not needed. (2) The Romans often worshipped astral deities, but the impotence of those gods is now fully revealed.

The new Jerusalem contains only those things that build up community, such as the glory and honor of the nations, and the nations and rulers living in its ways. But that things that disrupt community have been destroyed (21:27; see 21:8).

Revelation 22:1-5 recollects an important theme in apocalyptic literature: the end time (the new world) will be like the beginning time (the world as God created it, before the ancestral couple ate the forbidden fruit and invoked the curse).

In the semi-arid character of the Mediterranean basin, water is important. The presence of “the river of the water of life” is a way of saying that the power that sustains life is unending and irrepressible (Revelation 21:1). That image recollects the water flowing out of the temple in Ezekiel, across the streets of the city, down to the Dead Sea. Along its route, vegetation flourishes. So it is also in community: people become generative and they flourish.

The tree of life — a symbol that God guarantees life — is on both sides of the river and bears twelves kinds of fruit, one each month. (Revelation 22:2). Provision is ceaseless. Fruit, of course, is a traditional Jewish symbol for qualities of life.

In those days, they made some medicines by grinding up leaves. The nations — typified by Rome — suffered from idolatry, injustice, and violence, and they collapsed, one after another. By contrast, the cities that take this medicine — that live according to the vision of this community — will be healed (Revelation 22:3).

Revelation 21:5 draws on a traditional apocalyptic notion that, after the apocalypse, the faithful will reign with God. However, John has earlier indicated the nature of this rule: the saints worship God in the pattern of Revelation 4:9-11 by laying their crowns before God. To reign with God, in this Book, is to serve God’s purposes.

John sees God bring the holy city into place as the climactic act of the coming of the new world. As I say in comments on the readings from Revelation in other Sundays after Easter, I do not share John’s belief that God has the kind of power to carry out such a reconstruction project by Godself. But I do believe God offers the world the possibility of creating such a world as we respond to God’s invitation can work together. As a practical approach, a preacher might encourage the congregation to imagine how they can be in solidarity with the community in the neighborhood to move towards more of the security, relationality, spiritual immediacy and abundance of the city of John’s vision.

In Bible studies that I lead in congregations, the question that comes up as much as any other is that of what happens beyond death. For example, “Will I be reunited with my wife and family?” Revelation 21:10-22:5 does not directly answer that question. But the preacher could use conversation among that question, this text, other texts, and doctrinal statements to help people consider what we can — and cannot — say with confidence about the possibility of life beyond death.