Lectionary Commentaries for July 15, 2018
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 6:14-29

Cláudio Carvalhaes

[Editor’s note: The author has read this text from the perspective of an immigrant, pairing the events of the gospel reading with the events of our time, imagining the gospel taking into account our own social situation.]

Mark 6:14-16

Those in government were told that immigrants are a danger to the land, that immigrants bring diseases, that they are rapists, robbers, and they are even animals. To them, the only thing these immigrants want is to take this land and to abuse the law. The present governor shared those fears, as others before him had done. They decided to deport them in massive numbers and also put a lot of them in private prisons so they could make profit.

The feeling of xenophobia ruled in all governors’ actions, convincing them to allocate a huge amount of money to the border, controlling that zone in brutal and complex ways. Fearing immigrants, they built a wall of hatred, hoping to behead the movement of immigrants that didn’t do what they imagined. The number of immigrants had grown by the thousands and continued to come. The governors of this empire didn’t realize that while an economy for just a few was in place, immigrants from the world would continue to move and in bigger numbers to places where the money is in order to find life and livelihood in whatever way they can.

Mark 6:17-22

These governors, past and present, had arrested, bound, and thrown so many immigrants into prison; they felt they were doing their rightful job. A previous governor didn’t talk about immigration but deported them by the thousands, showing no care for any individual immigrant’s life or situation. The present ruler couldn’t care less about their situation at home. He thought: “If these people are under regimes of violence, it is not the business of the empire.”

What bothered the governor and his administration, however, is that the immigrants kept coming and flooding the borders. The empire put more money into the border system with technology and highly militarized systems, along with private prisons and an even bigger wall. But nothing was working.

The people were demanding more drastic measures! While the present governor felt that he had no choice, he also felt glad he could show the might of his empire. It was very necessary to move on to this situation with harsher orders in order to shut down the waves of immigrants. The empire then decided to cut off the heads of families by separating children from their parents. They couldn’t think of anything better to eradicate this evil movement of immigrants coming without documents.

Some people called it sweeping cruelty, but the governor’s administration created an ideological smoke curtain saying that they didn’t create this policy. Instead, their policy is to follow proper procedures, persecuting those who break the law.

On the other hand, they knew that countless undocumented immigrants lived inside the empire; but these immigrants were needed as cheap labor to perform necessary work that the citizenry didn’t want to do. Besides, these undocumented immigrants were assigned tax numbers to pay their taxes and their money would never come back to them. While it was a great deal to keep undocumented people inside the empire, the governor felt a need to demonstrate that he was doing his job by inhibiting the influx of new immigrants. This policy, if not resulting in any immediate expected responses, appeased the bloody anger from the hearts of people who want them killed or to go through painful suffering. They are receiving what they wanted.

The suffering is unspeakable.

Connecting to present times

One such story from today’s headlines goes like this:

When he landed in Michigan in late May, all the weary little boy carried was a trash bag stuffed with dirty clothes from his days long trek across Mexico, and two small pieces of paper — one a stick-figure drawing of his family from Honduras, the other a sketch of his father, who had been arrested and led away after they arrived at the United States border in El Paso…

An American government escort handed over the 5-year-old child, identified on his travel documents as José, to the American woman whose family was entrusted with caring for him. He refused to take her hand. He did not cry. He was silent on the ride “home.” The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into “just moaning and moaning,” said Janice, his foster mother…

He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking the family pictures under his pillow …

Since his arrival in Michigan, family members said, a day has not gone by when the boy has failed to ask in Spanish, “When will I see my papa?” They tell him the truth. They do not know. No one knows … José’s father is in detention, and parent and child until this week had not spoken since they were taken into the custody of United States authorities. He refused to shed the clothes he had arrived in, an oversize yellow T-shirt, navy blue sweatpants and a gray fleece pullover likely given to him by the authorities who processed him in Texas.1

I, Cláudio, have a 6-year-old boy and I am an immigrant citizen, foreign and citizen at the same time. I could not read this biblical story of John the Baptist without thinking of stories like José and the loss of his father. To have José separated from his father is like having one’s head cut off. The story told in Mark 6 has no redemption. John the Baptist had his head cut off. That is how hundreds of families are now living, with their heads cut off, parents without children and children without parents.

If John announced the coming of Jesus Christ, these kids and parents announce the horrendous cruelty of the immigration policies of this country. On behalf of these families, we must stand up like John the Baptist, who told the governor of his day: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Just as Jesus came in the footsteps of John the Baptist, we must show up as Jesus Christ to these families.


  1. “‘It’s Horrendous’: The Heartache of a Migrant Boy Taken from His Father” New York Times, June 7, 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/us/children-immigration-borders-family-separation.html>. For another heart-wrenching story, see this Washington Post article from June 8, 2018: “A family was separated at the border, and this distraught father took his own life“ <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/a-family-was-separated-at-the-border-and-this-distraught-father-took-his-own-life/2018/06/08/24e40b70-6b5d-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html>

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 7:7-15

Elaine T. James

Prophets are unpopular, and Amos is no exception.

In this passage, we see a fragment of a conflict between Amos and the high priest Amaziah. The religious establishment is not happy with Amos’ message, and it wants him to disappear.

Context: inequality and injustice

Amos prophesies to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) during the long and expansive reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE). This was a time of prosperity for the North. Amos is concerned about the concentration of wealth among urban elites, and he repeatedly refers to their luxury goods as indicators of their moral decay. In one passage he openly mocks their luxuries:

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
And lounge on their couches,
And eat lambs from the flock,
And calves from the stall;
Who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
And like David improvise on instruments of music;
Who drink wine from bowl,
And anoint themselves with the finest oils,
But are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (Amos 6:4-6)

This material prosperity seems to have come at the expense of the poor, and points to a growing gap between the rural poor and wealthier landowners: “they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals — they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:7). Economic injustice — structural and systemic injustice that perpetuates social inequality — is his central concern.

God roars for justice

Readers of Amos often zero in on God’s anger, and rightly so. God’s deep concern for human injustice is expressed in Amos in language of judgment and threat: “The lion has roared; who will not fear? / The Lord God has spoken; / who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8) But God is not angry for the sake of being angry, and God’s anger is not in opposition to God’s love.

As theologian James Cone writes, “Most theological treatments of God’s love fail to place the proper emphasis on God’s wrath, suggesting that love is completely self-giving without any demand for obedience. Bonhoeffer called this ‘cheap grace.’”1 God’s love demands righteousness, and breaches of God’s call to justice and love cause God grief. As Amos is keen to show us, God is not indifferent to human suffering, oppression, and injustice. Cone goes on: “The wrath of God is the love of God in regard to the forces opposed to liberation of the oppressed.”2 God’s judgment, for Amos, is a manifestation of relationship with a living God, a God of passion who deeply cares.

Insiders and outsiders

Amos sees a vision of a “plumb line” beside a wall (Amos 7:7). The word usually translated “plumb line” is obscure in Hebrew, though its meaning is clear to Amos: it symbolizes the judgment of God for Israel’s failure to fulfill its moral obligations to God. So now Amos preaches, in public, that King Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will go into exile (Amos 7:9; 11; 17). He anticipates the assault of Assyria and the fall of the Northern Kingdom to this military power in 722 BCE.

Amaziah is outraged at this message: “O seer, go, flee away!” (Amos 7:12). As high priest, he is a religious authority who speaks on behalf of his temple as well as his King. Amaziah is this text is an insider, and has a vested interest in institutional stability. This makes Amos’ message intolerable — he tells Amos to go make his living as a professional prophet elsewhere.

But Amos insists that he is not a professional prophet. He claims to be an outsider: “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel,’” (Amos 7:14-15).

It might be easy for contemporary readers to identify with Amos. But the text calls for rigorous self-examination. Aren’t we, like Amaziah, honestly committed to causes we believe in? Aren’t we loathe to see them fail? When are we “insiders,” so much so that we cannot hear the voice that calls for change? Whose voices, sounding from “outside,” need urgently to be heard?

“Let justice roll down like waters”

Amos’ emphasis on systemic social injustice made him a favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr. In his letter from Birmingham jail (1963), King writes to well-intentioned white pastors who have urged King not to act too quickly, not to push his agenda for racial equality with urgency, and not to employ strategies of civil disobedience. King, in response, calls for extremism:

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’3

King’s letter echoes Amos’ encounter with Amaziah: a call for social revolution met with resistance by well-meaning religious authorities. For Amos, religious piety is rendered meaningless by a lack of justice (“I hate, I despise your festivals…” Amos 5:21-24). For worshipping communities today, this text is a searching call for self-reflection. When does our well-meaning comfort mask indifference? When does our lack of love and justice render our own piety meaningless? How do the institutions that benefit us build dams against the deep rivers of justice?


  1. James Cone, “God is Black,” Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, rev. and exp. ed. Edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 108.
  2. Emphasis added. Cone, “God is Black,” 109.
  3. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html. Accessed May 31 2018.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Samuel Giere

Since the pulp-patron saint of archaeologists, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr., appeared on the cinematic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1984), the ark of God has played a role in popular imagination beyond the pages of Scripture and the walls of any synagogue or church.1

I, for one, remember my squeamish wonder the first time I saw the climactic scene when Indy’s archrival, Belloq, befitted with high priestly regalia (see Exodus 28), opened the lid of the ark and unleashed the glory of the LORD, which quite literally melted Belloq and his Nazi benefactors, all those who would dare look upon the LORD.2

This week’s text provides a fine opportunity to the preacher to invite her/his hearers into the story of the ark of God, as David brings it to Jerusalem.  This text provides a dynamic portrait of God’s presence and power with the people of Israel and the danger and joy of being in God’s presence.

Textual Horizons

While King David plays a prominent role in today’s text, at the very center is the ark of God, “which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2b). The movement within this text is around the ark of God, which is nothing less than God’s throne —  God’s presence. 

A brief sketch of the ark’s history is in order before getting into the text at hand. 

Per the LORD’s instructions to Moses (Exodus 25:10-22), the Israelite artisan Bezalel crafted the ark (Exodus 37:1-9); and per the LORD’s instructions (Exodus 40:1-3), Moses placed the testimony3 in the ark and ark in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:16-21). The ark traveled with the people of Israel from Sinai into the Promised Land. Led by the ark of the LORD, the exiles crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:7-17). The ark also functioned as a talisman of sorts in the siege of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-14).

In the narrative of Israel, the ark then goes virtually unmentioned until the time of Samuel, whose call as a child servant in the temple in Shiloh came as he slept “where the ark of God was” (1 Samuel 3:3). The ark then takes center stage in 1 Samuel 4-6, where the ark is captured by the Philistines,4 subsequently causing so much pain and suffering among the Philistines that they give it back (1 Samuel  5:1–6:12). It first ends up in Beth-shemesh, where the townsfolk greeted the ark with rejoicing (1 Samuel 6:13b), though some looked into the ark, inciting the wrath of the LORD — seventy died.5 Not surprisingly the survivors commented, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? To whom shall he go so that we may be rid of him?” (1 Samuel 6:20). From Beth-shemesh, the ark is picked-up by the people of Kiriath-jearim (a.k.a. Baale-judah), where it remains until the point of today’s text.6

The ark is the locus of the LORD’s presence with the people,7 often quite specifically identified with the place between the cherubim upon the lid of the ark, the mercy seat. The formula employed in today’s text, “the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2b), is not unfamiliar to the larger biblical narrative (see 1 Samuel  4:4; 2 Kings 19:15, Psalm 80:1, 99:1, Isaiah 37.16). The ark serves as the LORD’s throne and place of self-revelation, such that Moses would hear the voice of the LORD coming “from between the two cherubim” (Numbers 7:89; see also Exodus 25:17-22, 30:6).

The ark, the locus of God’s presence, is not power neutral.  Rather, there is great power that often results in blessing and joy8 but can also result in death.  On the latter, consider Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, the seventy snoops of Beth-shemesh, and most innocent of all, Uzzah from today’s text (be sure to read the pericope’s donut hole, 2 Samuel 6.6-12a, which again buttresses the text’s main character — the ark of God).  The death of Uzzah is quite positively outrageous and confusing as he is simply trying to stabilize the ark, rattled by the movement of the oxen. Our outrage and confusion, however, pale to the holiness of the LORD and the LORD’s throne, the ark of God.

King David’s response is anger, unleashed in a tirade that curses even the memory of the spot where Uzzah died, calling it Perez-uzzah — “[the LORD’s] bursting out against Uzzah.”  So great was David’s anger (which often times is an external symptom of greater fear!) that it was three months before he gave the ark another run into Jerusalem.  And in the meantime it ought not to go unnoticed that the ark’s temporary host, the house of Obed-edom, was blessed by its presence.  The LORD’s holiness, as in the ark of the LORD, is wholly other, working and affecting the world beyond the bounds of our imagination. 

Preaching Horizons

David danced with joy leading the ark of God into Jerusalem.  It is interesting that on the first dance into town the king and “all the house of Israel” are accompanied by “lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals,” whereas during the second there is only a trumpet — perhaps a dampened mood following Uzzah’s death.  Nevertheless, the dance goes on.  Joy flows from and accompanies the movement of the ark, God’s presence into the city.  Michal’s ire (2 Samuel 6:20) at David’s foolish behavior — dancing au natural — is of no consequence, for the presence of the LORD, when all else is stripped away, evokes joy.


1 Commentary first published on this site on July 15, 2012.
2 Within the narrative framework of Leviticus, in the wake of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), the LORD tells Moses to tell Aaron: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come just at any time into the sanctuary inside the curtain before the mercy seat that is upon the ark, or he will die; for I appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat” (Leviticus 16:2).  Similarly, Exodus 19:21-24 and 1 Samuel 6.19 [RSV].  Recall that Indy and Marion Ravenwood do not look and therefore do not melt.
3 “Testimony” is a better English translation of ‘eduth than covenant, lest there be unnecessary confusion with brith. Testimony here is shorthand for the two tablets of the Decalogue.
4 1 Samuel  4:11. The capture of the ark by the Philistines culminates with the birth of Ichabod, which literally translates “in-glorious,” but which the text flushes-out further as “the glory [of the LORD] has departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21-22).  Such a departure of the ark and with it the glory of the LORD gets played out dramatically in Ezekiel 10:1-22, 11:22-25, with the return recorded in Ezekiel 43:1-12.
5 1 Samuel 6:19 – The NRSV is misleading here, unnecessarily following the LXX.  The RSV is preferable here: “And he slew some of the men of Bethshemesh, because they looked into the ark of the LORD; he slew seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had made a great slaughter among the people.”
6 Psalm 132, often thought to be a psalm used in ritual remembering/reenacting of the ark’s entry into Jerusalem — the story in today’s text — may well suggest that the location of the ark was forgotten in this interim period, in particular in Psalm 132:6.  Cf. Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard, 1973) 96.
7 Exceptions to this come when the Deuteronomist describes the ark without cherubim or mercy seat but as a mere receptacle for the tablets, e.g., Deuteronomy 10:1-4. Cf. Alexander Rofé, Introduction to the Composition of the Pentateuch (Sheffield: Sheffield, 1999) 50.
8 “Wherever the ark is, Jahweh is fully present … This presence was always regarded as bestowing blessing.  It is characteristic that the coming of the Ark to Israel let loose great outbursts of joy, even leading to corybantic behavior before it (cf. 1 Samuel  4:4ff, 6:13, 19; 2 Samuel 6:5, 14).” Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (D.M.G. Stalker, trans.; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962 & 1965) 1.237.


Commentary on Psalm 85:8-13

Beth L. Tanner

Reflecting on Psalm 85:8-13 without the first 13 verses is akin to a liturgy that omits the call and prayer of confession, moving instead straight to the assurance of pardon.1

The words are applicable alone, yet are designed as part of a whole. The psalm is a communal prayer for help and can be divided into three sections or stanzas, verses 1-3, 4-7, and 8-13. Verses 1-3 serve as a reminder of God’s forgiving acts in the past, followed by pleas by the people for God’s forgiveness in the present, ending with a section expressing hope for restored relationship between the people and God.

Verses 1-3 function as the call to confession reminding the people and God of God’s past saving acts. God’s active grace is clear in the verbs used “favor,” “return,” “lift,” and “cover.” These acts are God’s alone given to an undeserving people (verse 3). The people have angered God repeatedly and in response God has relented and turned back all anger.

We like to think of God as always loving and forgiving and that is the case. However, there are real consequences to our actions that hurt the humans we love and God. It is a sobering thought to think of God’s “fury” and “fierce anger” against us. It is easier to imagine God’s wrath poured on the heads of our enemies. The actions of the people in the past and the actions of the people at present have angered God and the only way back is for God to relent and forgive. Without God, there is no future for this people.

The second section, verses 4-7, is a cry to God for restoration now. The sinful acts of the people are not named specifically, allowing for use of this psalm in many times and places. Yet, the sins are clearly present as the people ask God if God will be angry forever (verse 5). The people clearly stand in need of God’s grace and ask if God will show God’s steadfast love (hesed) and give the people (again) salvation. Indeed, the whole section is bracketed by “salvation” calling on “the God of our salvation” in verse 4 and ending the stanza with “Give us your salvation” as its last imperative plea.

Many scholars see this psalm in light of the exile and this as a prayer for restoration after the exile was over. This is a possible context, but certainly not the only situation to which this prayer can apply. The pleas in this stanza are universal and, as we all know, from Genesis 3 forward, the story is a long one of sin and redemption. Over and over, the people found ways to turn from God either out of fear, lack of faith, greed, or in a search for other gods. These verses are then not about one event, but they reflect all of the times that God has restored “the fortunes” of Jacob. “Fortunes” (NRSV, NIV) is best understood not in terms of monetary gain, but as a restoration of the community to full communion with God. Tate suggests a meaning of “well-being” instead of “fortunes” (Psalms 51-100, 364).

A new voice enters at verse 8. The voice could be a prophet or a worship leader. Ultimately, it is not the person speaking the words that matter, but the message being delivered. The imperative form of the last section, give way here to the cohortative, meaning a wish for the future. The wish is a view of the world ordered by God’s kingdom. The last line of this verse is a source of debate and the NRSV reads the LXX here as “to those who turn to him with their hearts.” Most scholars, however, read the MT, “but do not let them return to stupidity (or “folly” NIV).”

A warning within a wish for the future is not uncommon (Psalm 95:8-10). The warning serves as a reminder that the people and God have been in this place before, and the people will probably put them there again. The response to God’s great forgiveness should be more than words, it involves a change in behavior. It involves remembering the warning.

The remainder of the psalm gives us a glimpse of God’s kingdom. The foundations of that kingdom hesed and faithfulness meet righteousness and shalom kiss. The vision is one of a long awaited reunion as God again sets the world right. It is a powerful way to declare an end to the impasse between God and the people. The images continue and this restoration involves the whole creation, reuniting heaven and earth (verse 11), and God will give what is “good,” also understood as what is beneficial, pleasant, and for the welfare of all. The land responds with its own gift of bounty in response to God. All of this is in preparation for God’s arrival in verse 13.

The image is of a world transformed by God’s forgiveness. What if for just one Sunday, we could see and believe the power of God’s forgiveness? Could we imagine the world as it should be when God sets it back in place? What if as we hear the words of assurance, the heavens open and we see the glory of God? Would we listen the warning and change our world?

Since I began participation in the weekly liturgy, the assurance of pardon has always been the most sacred to me. All worship rituals are weighty and important, but to speak God’s forgiveness to the people is a powerful priestly function. Like me, the ones who spoke these words in the temple were mere humans and the pronouncement was as much for them as it was for the people.

To announce God’s grace and restoration is to call a new beginning into the world. Psalm 85 celebrates God’s grace and offers all of us a glimpse of God’s kingdom.


1. Commentary first published on this site on July 15, 2012.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14

Scott Shauf

Ephesians 1:3-14 begins with the pronouncement of a blessing upon God in response to the abundant ways in which God has blessed us (verse 3).

In fact, this blessing provides the structure for the entirety of the passage. In the Greek text, all of verses 3-14 form a single sentence, with clause after clause describing the ways in which God has blessed us and the implications of these blessings for our lives. Almost all modern English translations break the passage up into multiple sentences in order to accommodate readers who would undoubtedly find such a long sentence cumbersome and difficult to follow. If you want to get a sense of how the original syntax actually worked, read the King James Version of the passage, which mirrors the Greek syntax. While I’m sure that most readers will be very thankful for the modern English translations, the latter do tend to obscure the unity of the passage under the theme of God’s blessings and blessedness.

The overall point of the passage is to lay out God’s sweeping plan for history and the place that the audience, which consisted primarily of Gentile Christians, occupies in God’s plan. God’s grand plan is fundamentally one of grace and salvation, and it is this recognition which is to result in the praise of God, the pronouncement of God’s blessedness. Such recognition and resulting praise should be the same for Christians today as it was for the Ephesians.

As a part of the presentation of the divine plan, Paul emphasizes God’s will and the audience’s elected status. Verse 4 says that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world”; verse 5 says that God “destined us for adoption as his children”; and verse 11 says that we have “been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.” Such language today often raises questions about human free will and the issue of whether God controls who believes and who doesn’t, but the point of the passage has little to do with such questions about the status of individuals.

The passage’s point, rather, is that the salvation of Gentile Christians through Christ has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning of creation. This is “the mystery of his [God’s] will” referred to in verse 9. In the first-century context, this was an important lesson for Gentile Christians, as the status of Jews as God’s sole people prior to the coming of Christ raised questions about God’s fairness to and love for all people. The passage assures the audience that they were part of God’s plan all along. The unity of Jews and Gentiles together in Christ is one of the major themes of Ephesians as a whole, laid out especially in Ephesians 2 and 3.

The passage also emphasizes that the status of the audience as God’s people is solely a matter of God’s grace, not a result of anything the audience did. We became adopted as God’s children because it was God’s will to destine us as such (verse 5), and our future inheritance exists for the same reason (verse 11). Our sins were forgiven by “the riches of his grace” (verse 7) that God “lavished on us” (verse 8).

Later in the letter, Paul emphasizes the hopelessness of Gentiles’ situation prior to Christ’s coming — “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12). Ephesians also famously asserts in 2:8 that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Christ’s coming changed everything for Gentiles, and it was solely God’s initiative! This emphasis on grace does not mean, however, that the present moral status or actions of Christians are irrelevant. Quite the contrary — part of our election involves being “holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4), and our new life in Christ was precisely “for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (2:10).

This blessed status of redeemed Gentiles before God is a key component of God’s entire plan in creation and history. Verse 10 states remarkably that God’s ultimate plan (“for the fullness of time”) is “to gather up all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth,” and the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s people is central in this regard — it is the “mystery of his will” that has been revealed in Christ (verse 9). The resulting transformation of the lives of Gentiles is expressed beautifully.

Not only are we said to have been destined for adoptions as God’s children and redeemed by his grace, but we are now those who “hope in Christ” and who “live for the praise of his glory” (verse 12). The last distinguishing mark of the redeemed Christian life mentioned in the passage is the Holy Spirit (verses 13-14), which is referred to as “the pledge of our inheritance.” Since the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our lives, its work in and through us is a foretaste of that time when, indeed, all things will be gathered up together in God.

The passage is thoroughly theological. Its lack of obvious practicality will likely make it a challenge for many congregations to grasp and presents a daunting task to the proclaimer. Perhaps the chief task for the proclaimer is thus to preach how the Christian life makes much more sense — can be lived much more fully — when viewed in the light of God’s overall plan and the wondrous status that God has bestowed on us. And in an age of rancor and divisive self-assertion, perhaps an emphasis on God’s grace will help achieve the Christian unity that is at the heart of the whole book of Ephesians.