Lectionary Commentaries for April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 20:19-31

Frank L. Crouch

The season of Easter is above all a season of life: resurrection life, eternal life, or, as the end of this passage says, just plain “life” — “that through believing you may have life in his name” (verse 31).1

Of course, the “life” spoken of here is not actually “just plain” life, but is a distinctive kind of life, a distinction that is obscured in English but apparent in Greek. In John, and throughout the New Testament, the English word “life” translates three different Greek words: psyche, bios, and zoe. When John (and the rest of the New Testament) speaks, on the one hand, of psyche or bios, these words refer to what one possesses simply by virtue of being a living creature. This is the life possessed from birth to death by animals and by humans, whether they be good or bad, righteous or wicked, founders of charities or perpetrators of genocide. 

On the other hand, “life” as used at the end of this passage, is spoken of with the word zoe. This is eternal life (literally “life of the age”), life given to those who believe; life given to those who are born of God; life that, in John, transforms us from merely existing to living in the abundance and eternity of God.  This life was present from the beginning and lies at the core of creation (“in him was life (zoe), and the life (zoe) was the light of all people” (1:4)). This life connects the deepest purposes of God with the ultimate purpose of John’s gospel: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah … and that believing you may have life (zoe) in his name.” This zoe does not replace psyche; we are still the same creatures we were before.  It does, however, bring us into the fullness of grace; so that we are, also, not still, the same creatures we were before–at least potentially not the same.

In this passage, we find the disciples demonstrating more psyche than zoe, hunkered down behind locked doors, fearful of what might happen to them at the hands of those who killed Jesus (verse 19). The risen Christ steps into the room, into the midst of their fears with the first of a three-fold “Peace be with you.” This is the peace that comes when our worst fears are not realized; the relief that against all odds, death has not won; the profound realization that out of the blood, the nails, the thorns, the beating, and the cross has come this life, this zoe of God, right into their midst.

When Christ shows them his hands and side, they rejoice with the euphoria, the adrenaline rush that follows the miraculous — the crucified one is the risen one (verse 20). Jesus then speaks a second “Peace be with you” (verse 21), maybe this time a “not so fast” kind of peace, a kind of peace that lasts beyond the initial rush, that abides even when one remembers the cost and the challenges that still lie ahead.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Sobering words, even when they see the living Christ, since they have also just been shown his wounds. Christ’s victory will be theirs as well, but in order to get there, they will need the kind of peace that abides even when — in the midst of their own blood, thorns, and cross — victory seems a dim and distant possibility.

The third “Peace be with you” follows a famous interlude with the disciples and Thomas, who was absent during the previous appearance (verses 24-25). As many have noted, although he is famous as “Doubting” Thomas, he asks for no more than what the rest of them, including Mary Magdalene, have already received. As we will see, Thomas’ words do not seem particularly troubling to Jesus, but one might imagine the existence of significant tension between Thomas and the other disciples in the room. After all, Thomas has in so many words called them liars to their face. “I won’t believe you until I see for myself.” However, despite what might have transpired during the rather awkward week that followed the first appearance (verse 26a), they are still together.

Jesus again appears among them, and before anyone says anything, says again, “Peace be with you,” perhaps this time the peace of reconciliation–“peace be among you,” the peace that follows when one forgives (a task given to the disciples at Jesus’ previous appearance, verses. 22-23). This is the gospel that most emphasizes oneness and unity among the disciples (17:11-23), a oneness that shows the world that this message of life is true (17:21,23). So, this third peace, within the community, might be the most significant of all.

At any rate, Jesus does not admonish Thomas and, in fact, invites him to satisfy his doubt by seeing for himself (verses 27).  Even if he were to be considered a doubter (as the traditional interpretation understands him), he is welcomed into the peace of Christ before he can either apologize or defend himself. Congregations and communities of faith often do not do well with dissidents and direct challenges in their midst. Christ calls them and us to live into his peace as a way of reaching our own peace with each other. (See also Matthew. 28:16-17, where even those who doubted when Jesus appeared to them on the Galilean mountain were sent to fulfill the great commission.) Christ seems less concerned than we often are about adherence to one interpretation of his life and resurrection. He sends Thomas, doubters, and all of us to continue his work.

Thomas’ response stands as the highest affirmation of Christ by any person in the gospel, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28). What the narrator proclaimed in the prologue (“and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (1:1)), this non-doubting Thomas speaks from his own lips. His words exceed even the stated purpose of the gospel, which the narrator provides immediately following, that these things are written to lead us to believe “merely” that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Whether we have the faith of Thomas or the faith described at the end of this passage, the goal is that we find our life, our zoe, within the life of the crucified and risen Christ, who sends us out as his Father also sent him.


1. Commentary first published on this site on April 11, 2010.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 5:27-32

Brian Peterson

The religious leaders in this text should not have been too surprised.

These followers of Jesus had already been arrested back at the beginning of Acts 4 for teaching in the temple about Jesus and his resurrection. The leaders had already heard Peter and John, speaking for all the disciples, say that they could not stop speaking about such things (4:19-20). Not surprisingly the disciples continued to preach and teach in the temple, and not surprisingly the High Priest had them arrested again (5:17-18).

An angel had released them from their cell, and sent them back to the temple once again to preach Jesus (ok, it probably WAS surprising for the leaders to find out that they couldn’t keep these guys in jail). One more time, in 5:26, they have the disciples arrested and brought before the ruling council. The repetition is starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day,” and it brings us to our pericope.

The leaders’ accusation against the disciples is also not surprising. They seem bothered by several things. Their authority hasn’t been obeyed. They did not get their way simply by virtue of their status, their social/religious position, and their vociferous demands. Some politicians (and some pastors!) that we could probably name likewise seem to expect that their every declaration will bring unquestioning conformity. Perhaps we even find ourselves, much to our chagrin, playing that same role with spouse, or children, or co-workers, or even with God. The leaders seem bothered that this situation is getting more and more out of hand.

The message about Jesus, which they had hoped to stop first with a Roman cross and then with repeated orders and jail cells, now seems to be filling Jerusalem. It has gone viral, and we know how difficult it can be to pull such things back into manageable limits. The leaders have lost their ability to control and manage, and they are sounding a bit desperate. We might even know what that’s like, when Jesus seems to be set loose in our lives, and he starts calling and sending us to unmanageable ministry.

But perhaps what bothers the leaders most is revealed in their closing line, accusing the disciples of trying to pin Jesus’ death on them (see Luke 11:50-51 for a similar expression out of the mouth of Jesus). Of course, and with all due caution about abusing this text in anti-Jewish ways (notice that Peter, despite their deep and even violent disagreement with one another, still refers to “the God of OUR ancestors” in verse 30), they did in fact play a major role in orchestrating the death of Jesus (Luke 22:1-6).

The early preaching in Acts has made that clear with stark honesty: “I know you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (3:17); or, more directly in our text, “ … Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree” (5:30). The leaders think that the disciples are aiming for vengeance, either human or divine, directed against them. In their fear and self-defense, it seems as though the leaders would have had the disciples killed (5:33), if it had not been for Gamaliel’s inspired advice in 5:34-39.

However, God’s purpose in overturning their murderous actions by raising Jesus from the dead and by thwarting their violent moves against the disciples is not to condemn and destroy, but instead to grant the gift of repentance and forgiveness (verse 31). The gracious surprise of this text is that the result of Jesus’ resurrection, even in the face of continuing posturing and self-protective threat, is not vengeance but mercy. On the other hand, this should not be surprising at all for attentive readers of Luke and Acts.  Mercy has been the Easter message from the beginning.

It may be sadly surprising when the church in our context lives and proclaims this Easter message clearly. All too often, the gospel gets deformed into a message promising God’s wrath on “those people,” whoever they might be who threaten our own position, authority, or sense of (false) security. But by the time we get to the Acts 5, we should have a good idea about what God intends for the world, even for enemies, through the resurrection of Jesus.

The gospel certainly does challenge and demolish powers of oppression, but it is always a word and an act of mercy. This text, from beginning to end, is the unsurprisingly constant story of human fear and self-protection even if it costs others everything, and the surprisingly even more constant story of God’s mercy. What Peter is preaching to the council is not vengeance, but the gospel.

Discipleship is lived in the midst of the clash between the Kingdom’s version of the world as God will have it, and the version of the world pursued by the other powers that we encounter in daily life. In this context we hear Peter’s ringing declaration that the church will obey God rather than any human authority (verse 29). That claim has sustained the faithful witness of the church in countless settings where political and military powers demanded other allegiance. Yet the church always wrestles with how to serve its neighbors without becoming a tool of the powers of this world (whether political, social, economic, or religious).

When we stand up to such powers in what we claim is faithful opposition, how do we know that we aren’t simply projecting our own desires, prejudices, and politics onto God, when in fact we are simply serving ourselves? Perhaps Peter’s reference in verse 30 to God raising Jesus is key here. What God promises and accomplishes is life rather than death, freedom rather than confinement, repentance and forgiveness rather than murder and revenge. That is the Kingdom to which the church is still called to bear witness in words and in actions.


Commentary on Psalm 150

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 150 is the last of the five “Hallelujah (praise the LORD)” psalms that close the book of Psalms (Psalms 146-150).

It, like the four psalms that precede it, begins and ends with “Praise the Lord,” but in Psalm 150 the word “praise” occurs thirteen times, forming a resounding doxological close to the Psalter. The first two verses of the psalm describe the God to whom the worshipers are called to offer praise; verses 3-5 describe the method by which the worshipers are to offer praise; and the final verse of the psalm includes all of creation in the praise of God.

The temple in Jerusalem was viewed by the Israelites as the dwelling place of God (or the name of God) on earth. In verse 1, the singers of Psalm 150 refer to the temple as “the sanctuary,” literally “holy place.” While the basic meaning of “holy – qadosh” is “be set apart,” in the act of worship, the sacred, that which is set apart, and the mundane, that which is the daily ordinary, meet and commune, and for a holy time the boundaries between the two are transcended. Verse 2 offers the reasons for this meeting of the two in praise — God’s mighty deeds and exceeding greatness.

Verses 3-5 detail the method by which the worshipers are to offer praise to God. Music and dancing were an integral part of worship in the ancient Near East. In Exodus 15, for example, after the Israelites safely crossed the Red Sea, Miriam “took a tambourine in her hand” and all the women followed, “with tambourines and with dancing.” In 2 Samuel 6:14, we read that when the ark of the covenant was being brought into Jerusalem, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.” According to 1 Chronicles 25:4-6, David appointed temple musicians like the sons and daughters of Heman, who were “under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God.”

While in Psalms 146-149, the worshipers announce their intent to sing and make music to God (see Psalms 146:2; 147:1, 7; 149:1, 3), Psalm 150 depicts the realization of the that intent, with details of the types of instruments to be used in worship — trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe, clanging cymbals. Richard Clifford describes the array as “a full symphony” in which “every instrument of the orchestra joins the human voice in giving praise.” Verse 6’s call to “everything that breathes” to praise the Lord echoes the proclamation by the singer of Psalm 145:21 that “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever,” and provides an envelope structure around the final doxological words of the Psalter.

The book of Psalms begins with the wisdom words of Psalm 1, calling on the faithful to delight in and meditate on the Torah and with Psalm 2’s admonishment to acknowledge God’s role in providing a ruler for the people. The book then chronicles humanity’s joy and sorrow, wonder and skepticism, gratitude and anger either directed to or about the God we worship. Each word of the psalms is part and parcel of the fabric that makes up the saga of this journey through life.

We find words of awe and wonder in Psalm 8:3-4:

When I look at your heavens, the works of your fingers…
What are human beings that you are mindful of them?

Words of utter despair in Psalm 22:1, 6:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…
I am worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

Words of longing for God in Psalm 42:1:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Words accusing God in Psalm 74:1:

O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?

and words of confident trust in Psalm 97:11:

Light dawns for the righteous
and joy for the upright in heart.

The multitudes of human emotions expressed in the psalms reflect the ebb and flow of human life. We move often, in our daily lives, our daily walks, from feelings of hope to ones of despair, from questioning to assurance, from awe to doubt. The book of Psalms echoes that ebb and flow. We do not find in the book a tidy grouping of psalms of despair followed by psalms of hope followed by psalms of awe and wonder. Rather it is a seemingly “messy mix” of psalm types, reflecting, I maintain, the human condition — a psalm of hope gives way to one of despair, one of awe to one of doubt.

Only after the whole range of expressions of the human condition have been articulated, heard, and pondered upon may the psalm singers offer the final hallelujah praises to God, culminating in Psalm 150’s emotive cry to “let all that has breath praise the LORD.” In the gospel reading for this second Sunday after Easter, after the resurrection, Jesus suddenly appears and stands among the disciples. Imagine their rejoicing when they realized who he was. And also imagine the feelings of hope and despair, joy and sorrow, questioning and assurance, wonder and doubt they experienced during their journeys as Jesus’ disciples. Their joy and wonder at the sight of the risen Jesus came at the culmination of the life they shared with Jesus, with all of its ebbs and flows.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 1:4-8

Ronald J. Allen

Although the Book of Revelation is the climax of the Bible, the lectionary assigns very few readings from it.

This neglect is particularly regrettable in the early twenty-first century when many Christians assume that Premillennialism — represented by The Late Great Planet Earth and the “Left Behind” series — is the only way to understand apocalyptic theology in general and the Book of Revelation in particular. The lections from the Book of Revelation on the Sundays after Easter give the preacher a sustained opportunity to help the congregation explore alternative interpretations of the last book of the Bible in particular and apocalypticism more broadly. I turn first to brief background on the Book of Revelation and then consider the reading for today, Revelation 1:4-8.

John was a prophet who may have had a prophetic circuit among the congregations in the Jesus movement named in Revelation 1:11 in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). John claimed to receive the Book of Revelation as a vision. The prophet believed that God was moving present history — the old age– towards its final phase that would include the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the final and full coming of the new heaven and the new earth.

John was imprisoned on Patmos for “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Civil authorities likely perceived him as a threat to the pax Romana because he refused to accede to the attitudes and actions of the Roman Empire. John likely refused to participate in worship at an imperial shrine where people swore allegiance to Caesar.

For a long time, many scholars thought the Empire was persecuting the congregations to whom John wrote so that John encouraged the communities to remain faithful during persecution. However, there is no evidence of wide-spread persecution at the time John wrote (roughly 92-95 CE). A good bit of scholarship now thinks that John believed that many followers of Jesus were accommodating too much to Rome. They went along with the idolatry, injustice, and violence of the empire. Some may have participated in the imperial cult and in other activities related to the Empire.

John wrote with two purposes. One is to encourage the faithful to remain faithful, that is, to endure (hypomone). The other is to urge those who were accommodating to repent, to come out of the Empire, and to become a part of the movement towards the new Jerusalem. They, too, would then need to endure. Difficult days were ahead as the faithful would live through the violent collapse of the Empire. John anticipates persecution to increase in the near future.

The stakes are high. Those who witness faithfully will dwell in the new heaven and the new earth. Those who continue to compromise with Rome will join Satan and the beast in the lake of fire.

Revelation 1:4-7 is set up like the beginning of a letter typical of the period, indicating the writer (John), the addressees (the seven congregations), a greeting, and a thanksgiving. In many Greek letters these pieces provide little more than basic data. But John infuses them with theological content that establishes the authority of the Book of Revelation and that previews the message of the book.

Whereas the usual Greek letter begins with “Greeting” (chairein), John, like other letter writers in the Jesus movement, transforms this “Hello” to a word of grace (charis) and peace in the hope that the letter will mediate grace and peace to the recipients.

The designation for God in 1:4 and 1:8 as one “who is and who was and who is to come” points not only to God coming again into history but also to the difference between God and the gods of whom the Romans said they were, are, and shall be. The “shall be” indicates that the Roman gods aim to maintain the social order as it is. The notion of “is to come” reveals that God is coming into history to complete reconstruction of the world.

John opens the door to a three-point sermon that summarizes the Christology of the Book of Revelation by describing Jesus as the “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the [rulers] of the earth” (Revelation 1:5a). To witness is to point to the cosmic transformation already underway. The resurrection means that the power exhibited through the witness is still at work. Consequently, all other rulers — including those of the Roman Empire — will be accountable to Jesus for the degree to which they rule in ways consistent with the values and practices of the Realm.

John opens the door to another three-point sermon on the work of Christ in Revelation 1:5b-6. Jesus loves us. In the Bible, love is an act of the will for the good of the community, in this case, destroying the Empire and bringing the Realm. This act will free the world from domination by Satan (the dragon) through the beast (the Empire). Jesus makes the church a community of priests whose common life, like that of Israel, represents God’s purposes in the world.

According to Revelation 1:7, the return of Jesus at the apocalypse will be a public, history-shaping event. In the Book of Revelation, the word “earth” usually has a negative connotation. The “tribes of the earth” is, hence, a description of those who have aligned themselves with Rome and have resisted the possibilities. They will wail with sorrow as they realize that condemnation is upon them.

In Revelation 1:8, God uses the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega, to indicate that God is absolutely sovereign, in control of history from beginning to endll. The congregation can count on the message of the Book of Revelation because it comes from God. This is good news and sobering news. The Book is a road sign pointing to the both the promise of the new Jerusalem and the danger of the lake of fire.

Scholars often date the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west as 476 CE. However, empires continued and are present today. The preacher might help the congregation consider the degree to which it witnesses faithfully for the new heaven and new earth amid the transnational capitalist empire of the early twenty-first century, or is complicit in empire attitudes and actions, and needs to repent and “come out.” If there latter, the preacher might take a clue from the passage for the tone of the sermon so that the sermon itself can become an instrument offering grace and pointing the way to peace.