Lectionary Commentaries for June 10, 2018
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 3:20-35

Matt Skinner

Jesus generates a lot of worry in this passage. But I suppose he always has.

Because it’s only Mark 3, and because we’re considering this text during the bliss of early June, we might fail to appreciate the weight of worry in the pronouncements people express concerning Jesus. Yet, if we want to understand Jesus’ purpose and the offense he causes, we had better linger with these verses for a while and consider their place within the overall Gospel narrative. The rest of our journey through Mark during Year B will be more focused as a result.

The cast of characters

First, the crowd arrives. They keep doing this, swarming Jesus at almost every turn (Mark 1:33, 37, 45; Mark 2:2, 13, 15; Mark 3:7-10). The reign (traditionally, “kingdom”) of God that he enacts with words and actions seems to be magnetic. In this scene the crowd does not speak, and they express no worries, but their actions suggest they want more of Jesus.

Second, “his family” (hoi par’ autou) arrives, intending to seize Jesus. Now the worrying begins. Those who might know him best, those who might have the most to lose if his ministry provokes the people who possess the power to end it — they want to take him away. Mark says that those family members think he is “beside himself” (existemi); they have determined that Jesus is not in his right mind.1 It seems they have no other way of interpreting what he has been saying and doing since he went to see John and undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They have drawn their conclusions.

Third, the scribes from Jerusalem previously arrived, eager to offer their explanation of Jesus and his power. Mark narrates their visit as a sort of flashback (Mark 3:22-30) tucked within the story about Jesus and his family. The intercalation of the two scenes allows them to interpret one another, emphasizing the theological errors being made by two groups who should know better and accentuating the dangerous implications of the declarations that Jesus will make.

The pronouncements

Those scribes were theological heavyweights. They represent the authority and theological wisdom of the temple establishment — the same establishment whose leaders will ensure that Pilate crushes Jesus at the end of the book. We should understand those scribes’ credentials as impeccable. Their pronouncement, that Jesus is a satanic agent and not a divine one, recognizes power at work in him. He is no charlatan or illusionist. But they decide the power is perverse. They offer the most damning assessment they can.

The Jerusalem scribes’ pronouncement offers a plain illustration of what Jesus means when he mentions, later in the scene, the very specific instance of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those scribes have dismissed the possibility of God’s restoration, for they write it off as a satanic deception. They show themselves devoid of hope and openly contemptuous of God’s work. Around them, people are being set free from their demons. People are experiencing wholeness and life. People’s dignity is acknowledged. Jesus promises that sins and “whatever blasphemies” may occur will prove no obstacle to people’s renewal (Mark 3:28)! And yet the scribes scoff and denounce all of this as false or dangerous. How can people — religious elites, even! — who have grown so cynical and scornful of real, lived blessings ever be able to experience deliverance from their own spite and nastiness, to say nothing of freedom from the pains they have endured?2 The extraordinary kind of blasphemy of which Jesus speaks (and which he distinguishes from other, forgivable blasphemies) is an “eternal sin” only because it reveals an entirely calcified mind; such people have seen the works of God up close in Jesus himself and yet repudiated the transformative power of God’s grace.

Once the three groups — crowd, family, and scribes — have found themselves brought together in the same narrative space, so to speak, in these interwoven scenes, Jesus speaks. He has a few declarations of his own.

Jesus spends little time refuting the scribes’ assessment. He indicates the absurdity of their reasoning, for he says that satanic power never shows an interest in loosening the screws that hold oppression and indignity firmly in place. We also read implied pronouncements from Jesus about the state of the world. The reign (“kingdom”) he associates with Satan is a formidable, coordinated power. It enforces a fearful hegemony. It retains that dominance because it is ruthlessly unyielding. Jesus’ comments suggest that the scribes appear to grasp all of this very well, since their accusation ironically exposes them as having succumbed to that kingdom’s inflexible logic.

Yet Jesus considers himself even more powerful than satanic imperial dominion. In a short and violent parable about a home invasion he characterizes himself as the one able to overwhelm Satan’s reign by “tying up the strong man” and plundering the things the “man” has taken as his own. The parable may be taken as Jesus’ mission statement in Mark, urging us to interpret the rest of the narrative guided by this image. The whole Gospel is a story about the reign of God coming to displace another reign, and that other one will not relinquish its power without a fight.

Mark is, therefore, a story of redemption from a “house” of oppression that manifests itself on many levels of human existence. There is no escaping this Gospel’s accent on conflict and clashing powers. As I have explained elsewhere about Mark, God’s activity through Christ entails incursion and deliverance — but also mercy.

Finally, the focus returns to Jesus’ family, the ones who have come to spirit him away from the crushing crowds, the consequences of the dangerous criticisms he levels against the religious leaders, and his dangerous visions of a battle he fights for the sake of the world.

Not only does Jesus resist the intervention of his mother, brothers, and sisters; he renounces their claim on him. They remain “outside” while Jesus embraces those encircled “around him” in the crowded house.

In short, Jesus redraws the lines of family and belonging, saying that those who do God’s will are siblings and mother to him (see also Mark 10:28-30). (According to Mark 8:38 and Mark 14:36, Jesus already has a “Father.”) In that culture, in which responsibility, identity, stability, and opportunity were so bound up with kinship structures, Jesus’ pronouncement of a new family might elicit gasps.3 But it also can bring great joy to some, especially those followers who find themselves estranged from their own families of origin.

The story so far

In Mark 3, people have started to conspire against Jesus (3:6). For his part, Jesus has organized his associates and granted them authority to contribute to his efforts (3:13-19). Now, in this passage, he declares the imminent end of a satanic reign, mocks the big-league scribes and describes them as utterly resistant to God, and tells his nervous family that he does not belong to them but to his collaborators. Religious authorities and his own relatives lack imagination; based on how they view things, “demonic” and “insane” are categories that promise protection. Those labels represent last-gasp attempts to hold onto faulty worldviews. Yet the labels do not stick.

Scribes and relatives cannot figure him out, and so they attempt to quarantine him. He seems rather willing to write them off for the sake of achieving something great.

Only three chapters into the narrative, and a lot of people are understandably worried. In many ways, we still should be.

Many things remain to be seen as Mark 3 ends, including how all of this will play out and whether Jesus himself is a leader worth following or whether he will just institute new tyrannies to replace the old ones. Jesus has certainly promised good news, but he keeps insisting that we must not mistake that for comfortable news. What’s certain here is this: the reign of God Jesus keeps talking about is certainly not going to be about maintaining business as usual.


  1. The Greek of Mark 3:21 reads, “for they were saying” and not “for people were saying” (as in the New Revised Standard Version). Jesus’ family is the clear antecedent of “they.”
  2. The verb commonly translated “forgiven” (aphiemi, as in Mark 3:28) operates out of a sense of “released” or “freed.” Whatever we understand “forgiveness” to entail — in any context — has to involve more than simply eluding punishment or escaping responsibility for a misdeed. Jesus’ comments about blasphemy appear to be describing a person who has utterly surrendered to a disdainful existence that has renounced all openness to God.
  3. While this passage depicts Jesus as essentially replacing his old family with a new one, other passages in this Gospel offer good reason to avoid simplistic conclusions that Mark regards Jesus as anti-family. Jesus reconfigures but does not entirely reject aspects of familial structures. See the helpful study by E. Elizabeth Johnson: “‘Who Is My Mother?’: Family Values in the Gospel of Mark,” in Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (ed. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia L. Rigby, Westminster John Knox, 2002), 32-46.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 3:8-15

Vanessa Lovelace

At first glance the lectionary readings for the third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B appear disparate in their foci.

Upon closer examination, the story of God’s confrontation with the man and woman in Genesis 3 shares with the other readings a theme of choice: the choice between listening to God or listening to other voices.

Genesis 3:8 resumes the episode of the man and woman after having eaten of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden, in direct violation of God’s command.1 Subsequently, their eyes were opened to their state of nakedness and they clothed themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:1-7). Now the couple hears the sound of God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. The Hebrew word for “breeze” is the same for “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” The breeze here suggests a cool, comfortable gentle wind — a welcome reprieve from the typically hot, arid climate of the southern Levant, or Transjordan.

The reader is immediately struck by the image of a deity with human characteristics. The Hebrew word translated in English as “sound,” also means “noise,” “voice,” “thunder,” and even “message” or “proclamation.” The reader might not have been surprised by the notion of the sound of God.

Portrayals of God appearing in theophanic form as a reverberating sound of thunder causing mountains and trees to quake is a common one in the Old Testament. However, conjuring the sound of dry leaves or twigs crushing under the deity’s feet as God walks through the garden may take a little more imagination. Yet, one of the arguments for the use of different sources to compose the Torah/Pentateuch is the characteristic anthropomorphic view of the deity (for example God walks and talks to humans) in the creation account in Genesis 2, in contrast to the more distant, majestic vision of God in Genesis 1.

The anthropomorphic characterization of the deity out walking suggests that God may have been seeking out the communion of the humans. However, the man and woman hide themselves among the trees in the garden when they hear God approaching (Genesis 3:8b). One may envision paradise when they think of the garden of Eden. Eden for me calls to mind the stunningly beautiful botanical gardens at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois. In fact, the Hebrew term gan for “garden” was translated from the Hebrew to Greek as paradeisos, “paradise.”2 This image is likely why commentators often refer to Genesis 3 as paradise lost.

Naked and afraid
The suspense builds when God calls out to the man inquiring of his whereabouts. “Where are you?” God asks (Genesis 3:9). On one level, the anthropomorphic terms used to describe God’s encounter with the humans suggests a level of intimacy that Christians often do not typically associate God.

Although Christians frequently use language that describes Jesus in familiar terms — the hymn “In the Garden” comes to mind — where the hymnodist writes that “[Jesus] walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own,” God is more often spoken of in grander terms as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. On another level, some scholars regard this scene in more confrontational terms, comparing the inquiry to a subsequent episode where God asks Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” (Genesis 4:9 New Revised Standard Version). The implication in Genesis 3:9, as in the story of Cain and Abel, is that the man is on trial and must give an account of his actions.

The man answers that he heard the sound of God, a reference back to verse 8, except there, both the man and woman heard the sound of God. Now, the man replies in a string of first-person singular verbs: “I heard,” “I was afraid,” “I was naked,” “I hid” (verse 10). God, who is often portrayed metaphorically as a judge, is more like a prosecuting attorney examining here the witness: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11), implying that God already knows the source of the man’s new-found awareness.

The man does not respond directly to God’s questions. Yet, he infers that he knows that he is naked because he ate of the fruit from the tree, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for his deed. Rather, he indirectly blames God, by implying that if God had not given the woman to him as a companion, he would not have eaten of the fruit that she gave him (verse 12). God does not inquire any further of the man but instead interrogates the woman for her complicity in the act. She in turn blames the serpent for having deceived her into eating the fruit (verse 13).

Up to this point the serpent had gone unnoticed, but God resumes the role of judge to pronounce judgment on the snake. God curses the serpent, the only animal to be so judged, to crawl upon its belly and eat dust (Genesis 3:14). Furthermore, God announces that the offspring of the serpent and the woman would be adversaries striking one another (verse 15). Of the three protagonists, only the serpent is cursed.

The woman’s decision to listen to the serpent has dire consequences for the couple. Yet, contrary to later interpretations, the woman is not responsible for the origin of sin in the world (compare to Sirach 25:24) or the “fall” of humankind. In fact, neither the words “sin” nor “fall” appear in the narrative. Nevertheless, God’s interrogative, “Who told you that you were naked?” is a cautionary reminder to take heed to who’s voice you choose to listen to.


  1. The man and woman are commonly referred to as Adam and Eve. However, the man first refers to the woman as “Eve,” (mother of all living) in Genesis 3:20. The Hebrew word adam, translated “man,” is first used as a proper male name “Adam” in Genesis 4:25.
  2. Dexter Callender, “Eden,” n.p. [cited 5 May 2018]. Online: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/places/main-articles/eden

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20; [11:14-15]

Alphonetta Wines

God called Abraham to start a new community. Years later, God called Moses to free that community from enslavement.

These new beginnings were initiated simply with a vision for greatness and an encounter with a bush that did not burn, respectively. In his conversations with Abraham and Moses God neither mentioned nor hinted of the dangers that lay ahead. However, this new stage in Israel’s communal life, the movement from theocracy to monarchy, begins with a stern warning from God. God made it plain. Leadership by anyone other than God, was a bad idea.

Simcha Shalom Brooks suggests that new leadership was needed to address problems created by territorial expansion and population growth.1 “The Judahite community recognized the need for a new leader because Samuel was too old and his sons were too corrupt to inherit his office (1 Samuel 8:4-5).”2

Even so, installing a monarchy would be asking for trouble. Kingship, no matter how much Israel wanted it, no matter how attractive it might seem, was a bad idea. The validity of God’s warning would be played out again and again as Israel unwittingly moved toward embracing monarchy and left theocracy behind.

Israel was supposed to be unique because God would be its leader. Granted, the Israelites were wise enough to realize that Samuel’s sons did not qualify. They knew that something had to change. Yet, just as years earlier when an entire generation died in the wilderness because it could not imagine a life of freedom, this generation was unable to envision a nation led by God.

Samuel could have, but did not, remind the people of what happened in Egypt. With Joseph in power, when Jacob and his family migrated to Egypt they were given the best of everything. Once Joseph died, the best became a downward spiral to enslavement, an institution wherein Pharaoh owned and controlled everything — money, livestock, land, taxes, and people — an institution ironically initiated by Joseph during the years of famine.

Perhaps in hopes of avoiding a similar fate for a new generation, this time God made it plain. The king would take sons and put them to war. The king would take daughters and put them to work. (This happened in our own nation in WWII when young men went to war. In their absence women went to work). Furthermore, the king would gather resources, share them with his inner circle, and keep some for himself. Taxes would be taken and people put to work. Plus, even more frightening, there was the possibility that the king might abuse his power. The life and well-being of the nation was at stake. So many things could go wrong. The monarchy was a bad idea.

Bad idea or not, the people insisted and God relented. God (and later the people) chose Saul, whose only qualifications were that he was tall and handsome. As noted in 1 Samuel 9:2, Saul was “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.”

Nothing but height and good looks. The reader knows what Saul, Samuel, and the people do not know. These qualifications may get him approved by God and anointed by Samuel, but they will neither make him an effective ruler nor keep him in the exalted position. 

Ultimately, tragically, Saul will fail at a job he neither sought nor wanted. How could he know that being sent by his father to find the family’s lost donkeys would end with him being privately anointed king by Samuel. Stunned, Saul objects, “I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?” (1 Samuel 9:21).

As with Moses, God disregards Saul’s objection. Thinking that this would be sufficient, God equips Saul with a new heart (1 Samuel 10:9). This new heart even placed him among the prophets (1 Samuel 10:11, 12). Yet, even with a new heart something was still amiss. When the time came for the community to affirm his anointing, Saul could not be found. He was hiding among the equipment (1 Samuel 10:22).

Despite his God-given potential and early victories, Saul’s story ends tragically. An ill-fated sacrifice made in an attempt to inspire his troops pleased neither God nor Samuel. It was the beginning of his end (1 Samuel 13:1-15). Saul lost his connection to his family, his God, and the prophet who anointed him.

His son Jonathan, preferring David over himself, like his father Saul and much to his father’s displeasure, did not want to be king. His daughter, Michal, was in love with David. She even saved David’s life when she got word that her father Saul was determined to kill David. Desperately seeking God, Saul secured the services of a medium, a practice he himself had outlawed. Wounded in battle, he would commit suicide rather than have an enemy kill him. Many years later, Israel’s kingship would spiral downward until there was defeat by, exile in, and return from Babylon as well as loss to Rome years later in 70 CE. The monarchy was, indeed, a bad idea.

God’s words of warning are as relevant today as they were in biblical times. Leadership is not to be taken lightly, nor handled frivolously. Leadership is, ultimately, a matter of the heart. Although other leadership qualifications may be needed, the heart remains a constant in any circumstance. As will be seen in the life of David, good leadership is, indeed, a matter of the heart — a heart tuned to God and the good of all.


  1. Simcha Shalom Brooks. Saul and the Monarchy: A New Look. (Burlington, VT:Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005), 38-40.
  2. Alphonetta Wines, “Thinking the Unthinkable: God as Enemy — An Image of God in the Book of Job and Other Books of the Hebrew Bible” (PhD diss., Texas Christian University, 2011), 58.


Commentary on Psalm 130

Mark Throntveit

Psalm 130, best known by its Latin incipit De Profundis, “Out of the Depths,” has inspired church musicians for centuries, usually in the context of a Requiem Mass.1

One need only mention Johan Sebastian Bach’s magnificent cantata Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131) inspired by Luther’s 1523 paraphrase, Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, for corroboration.  A cursory check, however, reveals that no fewer than thirty-six other works by major composers such as Mozart, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Schoenberg could also be cited. 

Psalm 130 has obviously played a major role in the Catholic and evangelical piety of the Western Church. But what accounts for this popularity? One reason may be its association with a sub-group of the Psalter known since the days of Augustine (354–439 CE) as the Penitential Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). These psalms often express deep sorrow for sin and ask God for help and forgiveness. Psalm 130 encourages fervent prayer to God (verse 1) the source of forgiveness to those who wait for the Lord (verses 4-6).

Our psalm is also part of a collection of psalms known as the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120–134). Though this is the clearest example of a collection in the Psalter, due to their common superscription “a song of (Psalm 121: “for”) ascents,” and the only one that includes the constitutive psalms in a self-contained unit, the function of the collection as a whole continues to baffle interpreters. Not that proposals are in short supply! These range from a prayer book for devotional use on pilgrimages to the three prescribed annual festivals, to liturgical usage at specific Jewish festivals such as Booths, and the Mishnah’s suggestion of assigning one of the fifteen psalms to each of the fifteen steps in the Jerusalem temple (Ezekiel 40:26, 31) where the Levites supposedly sang their praises.

Then again, perhaps the “steps” refer to a poetic trope found often in these psalms, the staircase, terraced, or step-like repetition of words from previous verses (in our psalm “my soul waits” appears in verses 5 and 6; “I hope/O Israel hope” appears in verses 5 and 7; “those who watch for the morning” appears in verse 6b; and “redeem” appears in verses 7 and 8; the trope also appears in Psalm 121–123; 126–127; 129–130; 133). Others, noticing that in addition to “ascent,” or “step” ma’alah can also refer to the exiles’ journey back from captivity in Babylon (Ezra 2:1; 7:9), have drawn plausible connections to the exiles returning to Jerusalem.

The genre of Psalm 130 is also a question mark. The basic problem is that no one genre is clearly represented. Usually, one distinguishes between the very similar individual lament and the song of thanksgiving by verb “tense.” The lament employs verbal forms that indicate a description of present distress and a prayer for relief. The song of thanksgiving, however, relates the same event(s) with verbal forms that recall the distress as a past event followed by a report of answered prayer. But the 1st person common singular perfect verbs in verses 1 and 5 (“cry” and “wait”) are ambiguous in Hebrew. If they are translated as present tense in English, as in the New Revised Standard Version, we have a lament. If they are construed as past tense in English, as in the KJV, we have a song of thanksgiving.

Further complicating matters, important aspects of both genres are missing. Unusually for a lament, the psalm fails to actually ask for anything besides God’s attention; and it is just as strange in a song of thanksgiving not to relate the divinely answered prayer, since that is what is being acknowledged and testified to in the community. Nevertheless, the most common designation, individual lament, is probably best, and is represented in verses 1-2 if they are read as a present tense prayer or petition for help, and one takes seriously the Qina (3+2, or lament) meter that punctuates the psalm.

Apart from these matters, however, the structure of the psalm is fairly straightforward falling into four two-line sections: An Appeal for Yahweh’s Attention (1-2); Trust in Yahweh’s Desire to Forgive (3-4); Hopeful Expectation (5-6); and Address to the Community (7-8). Following the initial appeal in verses 1-2, a concentric pattern stitches the psalm together and argues for the originality of verses 7-8 against those who would omit them: 

A “Iniquities” (3) 
  B “For (“But,” NRSV) with you” (4)
    C “my soul waits” (5)
    C’ “my soul waits” (6)
  B’ “For with the Lord” (7)
A’ “Iniquities” (8).

At its simplest level the psalm begins with a poignant, though very general, appeal to be heard by the Lord (verses 1-2). Elsewhere in the Psalms, “depths,” the most memorable aspect of Psalm 130, only appears in another lament, Psalm 69:2, 14. The metaphorical nature of this term allows it to convey a great deal of emotion while at the same time remaining non-specific enough that contemporary sufferers can appropriate this classic address to God for themselves. The psalm then moves to a poetic affirmation of God’s readiness to forgive couched in the form of a rhetorical question (verse 3).

It is usually best to take rhetorical questions in Hebrew as expressions of absolute confidence.2 The theological basis for such confidence is proclaimed in verse 4 along with the divine motivation, “that you (Yahweh) may be revered.” This confidence in God stirs the psalmist to express his eager anticipation of God’s response (verse 5-6). Finally, moved by his own sense of forgiveness, the psalmist encourages the community (and us!) to bring that which is troubling them to the Lord in the certain hope that they will find a gracious, loving God, intent on their redemption (verses 7-8).


1 Commentary first published on this site on June 12, 2012.

2 Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautsch, trans. A. E. Cowley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922), 150e.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:13—5:1

Lois Malcolm

Paul depicts the life of faith in the Messiah in the starkest of terms.

It involves dying in order to live. We are always “carrying in the body the death of Jesus” — allowing all that is false within to die — so that Jesus’ life might be made visible in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10).

And it involves a life defined by dying. As we live, we are always “being given up to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:11). As we share in Jesus’ sufferings — in his non-violent resistance to the powers that crucified him — Jesus’ life is made visible in the exigencies of our mortal existence. Throughout, as death happens in us, life is manifest for others (2 Corinthians 4:12).

But how does this paradoxical “dying to live” and “living by dying” actually take place in our everyday lives? Why is it life-giving for others? And what sustains us in the midst of all this death?

Trusting and speaking

In 5:13, Paul quotes a Hallel psalm. Read during Passover, Hallel psalms depict righteous sufferers who rely solely on God’s mercy and righteousness, even while they cry out in their affliction (see Psalms 113-118). Paul says that we too have the same “Spirit of faith” recorded in Scripture: “I kept my faith, even when I said, ‘I was greatly afflicted’” (Psalm 116:10). We too can trust in the God who enables us to speak (and thereby have agency) even when in a deplorable state (2 Corinthians 4:13).

What grounds our faith or trust is knowing that “the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Such knowing, however, is not based on what we perceive with our senses or deduce through logic. Rather, it emerges precisely as we place our confidence not in ourselves — or any other finite person or power for that matter — but in the one who raises the dead and brings life out of nothing (see also 2 Corinthians 1:9).

And it does not just have to do with an afterlife. It has to do with relying on God now amid whatever may be happening to ustrusting that the one who has rescued us in the past will continue to rescue us (see also 2 Corinthians 1:10).

Moreover, this hope is not just a personal hope. The one who raised the Lord Jesus not only raises us but will bring us together with others into his presence (2 Corinthians 4:14). As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians, “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in the Messiah” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Indeed, being raised from the dead in the Messiah is not about having our souls (our psyches) live on in perpetuity. Our “living souls” (psuchen zosan), which are focused on securing their own survival (often at others’ expense), also die in the first Adam. When raised in the “life-giving Spirit” (pneuma zopoioun) of the last Adam, they are transformed in his overflowing life, freely for others (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Faith, then, is not just about believing a doctrine (say, about the resurrection) that guarantees our ego’s immortal existence. It does not even have to do with transcendent experiences or out of body states, whether in this life or the next. Even these can just be about securing our egos (see also 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). And it definitely does not justify our judging others or transgressing their boundaries to get them to submit to us or to some finite idea or opinion we might hold, even if it is about the gospel, Jesus, or the Spirit (see also 2 Corinthians 11:1-21).

Rather, faith has to do with grace — God’s gift freely given for all — which always shifts our focus from self-interest to the interests of others. As this grace extends to more and more people through us, it increases thanksgiving, the “Eucharist” of lives that also overflow with this grace (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Living by faith, not sight

How does all this actually take place in our everyday lives? For one thing, faith does not immune us from suffering. Yet, through faith, as our “outer” self (all that is ephemeral about us, including wealth, status, or even our physical or mental state, etc.) is threatened or “wasting away,” our “inner” self (our inexpressible core) is being “renewed daily” (2 Corinthians 4:16; see also Romans 12:1-2). In describing this, Paul uses the distinction between “outer” and “inner” selves not to depict a split between mind and body or between spiritual and material layers of existence but rather to describe how — amid all that we undergo — the Spirit “produces” (katergazetai) within us a hyperbolic excess of an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17; see also Romans 5:1-5).

What he is depicting here is a distinctive way of perceiving and responding to life, one that involves attending to what is “unseen” (which is eternal) precisely amid what is “seen” (which is temporary). Now what is “unseen” here is literally unseen: nothing we perceive. It is only perceived by being mediated through what is “seen”: something we perceive. Elsewhere Paul uses unique verbs to describe such mediated vision. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 he speaks about “seeing and reflecting” (katoptrizo) the glory of the Lord as if in a mirror. And in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he speaks of “seeing and shining” (augazo) the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

Perceiving all that happens to us in this way gives us courage. It frees us to acknowledge that the “spaces” in which we live — our “earthly tents” — are not ultimately secure. The physical spaces we identify with — bodies, homes, churches, temples, even cities and nations — can all be destroyed. Even the social spaces that define us — our spheres of influence, our interpersonal and societal networks, and even our cultures — are not completely in our control (2 Corinthians 5:1a).

But amid the insecurity of these flimsy “tents,” we find we have a building (oikodome) from God, a house not made by human hands (2 Corinthians 5:1b). What the Spirit creates within and among us through faith is nothing other than God’s overflowing, freely given reign of justice and mercy — making our lives a roomy and expansive domain of grace.