Lectionary Commentaries for April 10, 2016
Third Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 21:1-19

Robert Hoch

When I saw him, his jet-black hair coiffed, swooped up and slicked up, the dark glasses, white leather jacket with tassels and beads, largish belt buckle, turquoise, and all the rest, I just knew he had to be an Elvis impersonator.

So, naturally feeling as if I was in on the joke, I called out to him: “Hey Elvis! How’s it going with your hound dog?” 

I thought he would laugh. Instead, he looked at me as if I were crazy.

My wife, who was with me at the time, hissed under her breath, “I dont think hes pretending to be Elvis!

Maybe he really believed he was Elvis. Or perhaps that’s just the way he dressed, implausible as that may sound. My wife, of course, was right. I’ve seen him since, and he dresses that way all the time, almost as if in a permanent state of Elvis-hood. And still, even though I say nothing, every time I see him, part of me wants to say, “But you’re not Elvis, you understand that? You’re just not Elvis!”

That experience comes to mind as I read John 21:1-19, assigned for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year C). It purports to be John, but it’s not, not really. It has all the familiar swag, but it’s not quite the real thing. My instinct is to wrinkle my puritanical nose, as if I’ve found an unpleasant impostor, or a self-conscious poser.

According to Gerard S. Sloyan, the text is almost certainly a later addition, written in the Johannine tradition, but not in the hand of John.

Among other things, the last chapter of John seemed to be the last word. The Johannine ignition switched off . . . only to growl to life again with, “After these things Jesus showed himself again … ” (John 21:1a).

Some unfinished business, perhaps? Yes, according to Sloyan, some things needed tidying up. Sloyan wonders if the Johannine community was unsettled about how it had ended for Peter, the three denials still ringing loud in its collective memory. “What becomes of him? How is he restored into the community?”

Peter didn’t exactly make a very strong exit, did he? Maybe a little damage control is in order …

Perhaps another reason is to put down any docetic rumors regarding the resurrection: the Risen One shows the wounds on his body, roasts fish over a fire, eating with the disciples on the seashore.

Finally, maybe there were questions about the Beloved Disciple. There were rumors, apparently, that he might not die, but be taken straight up to heaven. And maybe there was a rivalry between the two, Peter and the Beloved Disciple: who was the greatest? We thought that question got settled before Jesus died, but perhaps it still had some traction in the community.1

Whoever penned this epilogue meant to address these concerns.

Enter the Johannine impersonator. Turns out, this impersonator is actually quite good, even convincing in his own way.

Simon Peter announces to the assembled disciples, “I’m going fishing.” Improbable as it may sound to our ears given all the goings on in this suddenly post-resurrection world, Simon Peter figured the fish would be biting and so, without a second thought, he collected his nets and gear. Out he went, and the others with him, to the Sea of Galilee. Seasoned with the sea, knowing the water and the currents like their own heart beat, they fished all night and still they caught nothing.

At dawn, they saw a stranger on the shoreline, but didn’t recognize him as Jesus, though Jesus knew them; this “stranger” called to them with a term of endearment, “children” (John 21:5b cf. 1 John), watching them as they plied their trade, one they had seemingly left behind. Then the stranger told them how to fish: “Throw your net out on the other side!”

They did so and they caught an enormous load of fish. Fish of all kinds. The symbolic significance of the number, one hundred fifty-three, is lost on modern readers, but the meaning of the story is not: the Jesus proclaimed by John draws (or drags) in an ecumenical collection, inclusive and diverse.

Moreover, it reprises two or three traditional stories of the disciples: the work of the disciples as fishermen; the more radical call to become fishers of people; and finally, the reminder of John’s Jesus that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 21:15:5b); and it shares similarities with Luke’s account of the disciples “recognizing” the stranger/Resurrected One in their midst when he broke the bread.

In the final scene of this text, we hear the dramatic exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter. Three times Jesus asks Simon Peter, do you love me? The first time he asks, it’s a comparative, “do you love me more than these?” Most conclude that “these” refers to the other disciples, rather than the fishing gear or the fish. In any event, what is most important here is the way this text brims with symbols we have already seen: the charcoal fire burning in the background, its quiet red glow cast over the memory of Peter’s three-fold denial. Now it burns again, but this time what we hear is the confession, three times repeated, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

What sort of text is this? I’ve heard and, yes, probably given sermons on the significance assigned to the different words used for “love” in this text, but John may be using these terms interchangeably.2

Another possibility suggests itself when we think of this text as a “testing” narrative: Amid the memory of denial, Jesus “tests” the depth of Peter’s confession, almost as if he does not know Peter’s heart in the matter. This is baffling, hard to believe, even hurtful to Peter (John 21:17c), just as it would be to us: God knows all things, why should this be hidden from God?

Patrick D. Miller makes the intriguing argument from Psalm 139 that, indeed, God discerns who we are through just this kind of dialogue. Psalm 139 begins with the expansiveness of God’s knowledge: “You know my rising up and my lying down, before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely.” So we believe. But this truth exists in tension with the last verses of this beloved psalm: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). Miller points to the story of how the Lord tested Abraham and through that testing “knew” him: “ … for now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12a).3

Impostor or the real thing? According to Sloyan, the center of gravity for this text appears in Jesus’ command, repeated twice: “Follow me” (John 21:19b, 22b).4

“The great matter,” according to Sloyan, “is to give the witness required: truthful, faithful witness. Not the lying witness of an inauthentic life but the Jesus-like testimony of a career . . . that is alethinos: genuine, real. True with the truth of God.”5

It is almost as if by deciding to follow Jesus, we return to our true selves, beloved of God. Our lives imitate Christ’s life, our joys Christ’s joy, our heartaches Christ’s heartache.

Feed my sheep.

Impostors? Posers?

Or authentically Jesus-like, “true with the truth of God,” always by the grace of God?


Gerard S. Sloyan, “John” in Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 227-230.

Sloyan, “John” in Interpretation, 230.

Patrick D. Miller, The Lord of the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 13-15.

Sloyan, “John” in Interpretation, 231.

Ibid., 232.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Eric Barreto

One of Luke’s primary protagonists enters the literary stage in a most suspect way.1

The first time we hear about Saul (7:58), Luke tells us that he was standing guard over the coats of those who would execute Stephen in brutal fashion. But he’s not just a passive witness. No, he “approved of their killing him” (8:1a). Moreover, Stephen’s is not the only Christian life whose taking he has approved. As we move to chapter 8, Saul’s portrait as arch-persecutor is only enhanced as Acts recounts that “ravaging the church … dragging off both men and women,” he shut them all behind bars. And then Luke turns to the impact of these persecutions; leaving the reader for a moment wondering what role this Saul might play in this story.

Of course, Acts was written by a Christian for other Christians. That is, Luke’s readers know who this Saul is; they know what turns his life will take. In short, they and we know how the movie ends! But by introducing him in this way, Luke establishes the dramatic u-turn Saul’s life is about to take. In doing so, he draws a portrait of calling that continues to shape how we understand God’s graceful but not always subtle or easy pull on our lives.

The beginning of chapter 9 finds Saul continuing to persecute the faithful followers of Jesus. This scene reveals something crucial about the character of the discipleship of these early believers. Later on, Acts 11:26 will recount that it was in Antioch when the faithful are first called “Christians.” How then was this group known prior to this? In chapter 9, these people are known as followers of “The Way.” There is a rich irony, of course, that Saul travels great distances, traverses miles of road persecuting these followers of “The Way” only to be struck down on the way to Damascus. Plus, Saul’s call will also be characterized by a life on the road in his many journeys around the Mediterranean.

“The Way” is a powerful metaphor for Christian identity. Instead of being identified by a set of beliefs, these faithful communities were known by their character in the world. Christian faith was a way of life and one that impelled individuals and communities to leave the safe confines of home and church to walk on the road God had set out. “The Way” suggests that faith is a living, active way of life.

But let’s return to Saul. As he draws near to Damascus and a slew of new persecutions, Saul is struck by a heavenly light and addressed by a heavenly voice. This voice belongs to none other than Jesus himself. Jesus’ presence should serve as an excellent reminder that his ascension is not the inauguration of a time when Jesus is absent from the life of the faithful. If anything, in Acts, Jesus’ presence is that much more palpable in the life of these Christian communities, a presence to which the risen and ascended Lord now refers.

Jesus asks Saul why he has sought to persecute him. That is, when Saul afflicts the faithful, he actually persecutes Jesus himself! Whenever Christians are harassed and abused, Jesus is most palpably present with the oppressed. That too is distinctive characteristic of “The Way”.

Jesus’ instructions to Saul are specific but elliptical. Go into the city, and there you will discover what you need to do. Here, we learn something essential about this narrative. To me, calling this narrative an account of Saul’s conversion misses half the story. Saul does not just turn away from a previous way of life; more importantly, he is called, commissioned to walk in a new “Way.” Even more than a conversion, Saul’s monumental experience on the road to Damascus is a call, a commissioning akin to the call of Isaiah or one of the twelve.

God, however, works in unusual ways in Acts. Instead of continuing to dictate instructions from the clouds, Jesus calls upon a disciple in the city named Ananias. Naturally, Ananias resists these instructions. Even being in Saul’s presence could be a death sentence!

But the Lord is unrelenting and reveals to Ananias in one brief sentence the nature of Saul’s call: He will bring the gospel to kings and Gentiles alike. And he will suffer for the sake of the gospel. In brief form, we learn what shape Paul’s ministry will take in the remaining chapters of Acts. Luke also reveals what is central to the gospel. The good news is expansive and broad. It reaches to the widest edges of the world seeking the lost, but God also turns to the powerful of the world and demands justice, grace, and peace. Yet this good news comes with a price, a price we must wonder if we are willing to embrace as Jesus’ disciples.

The story of the call of Saul/Paul is a stirring and famous story. Luke himself repeats this tale three times in the rest of Acts (also in chapters 22 and 26). It is clearly of importance to a narrative hoping to shape not just what Christians know about the early days of the church but how these stories might shape an imagination for community in our current day.

How might the story of this dramatic call on a dusty road to Damascus give us a new imagination? Encourage people to wonder if their zeal, like Saul’s, has been misdirected and even destructive. Encourage them to expect God to ask them to do difficult things and go to unexpected places. Encourage them not to exclude their supposed enemies from the work God might do in the world.


1. This commentary was originally published on this site on April 14, 2013.



Commentary on Psalm 30

Eric Mathis

“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

These are welcome words in the Easter season, and it is no wonder that Augustine described Psalm 30 as “a Psalm of the joy of the Resurrection, and the change, the renewing of the body to an immortal state, and not only of the Lord, but also of the whole Church.”1 This Psalm is indeed both.

Overview of Psalm 30

Psalm 30 is a classic example of a thanksgiving Psalm. It begins with a commitment to praise and prayer (vv.1-2), names the deliverance acts of YHWH (v. 3), invites others to praise and gives reason why (vv. 4-5). The second half recalls a past season of well-being and challenging changes (vv.6-7), prayer (v. 8), YHWH’s deliverance, (v. 11), and the reason for continued praise.2

The origin of this Psalm is unknown, thus whether it was originally intended as an individual Psalm or a communal Psalm is also unknown. Whatever the original intent, it has functioned as both: celebrating the healing of an individual, the dedication of David’s Temple, the dedication of a house, or the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). Like many prayers of thanksgiving, Psalm 30 has been used in very general ways and very specific ways.

Personal and corporate praise

The psalmist begins by personally extolling YHWH because YHWH has delivered from all foes (v. 1). When the individual cried out to God, God provided help in the form of healing, whether physical, mental, or otherwise (v. 2). Whatever the healing, it was significant enough to be compared to death, or even be an actual death. YHWH did more than simply “preserve” the suppliant (v. 3).

The psalmist invites the whole community to join in this prayer of thanksgiving (v. 4), suggesting that praise and thanksgiving are not one time acts, but the way of those whose lives have been drawn out of death and darkness (v. 5). What is important to the individual is also important to the community, and vice versa, the psalmist implicitly suggests.

The second half of the Psalm (vv. 6-10) repeats the story told in the first half as the psalmist’s individual prayer resumes to reflect, once again, former distress and deliverance. The Psalmist, shaken by something (v. 6-7), asked for the mercy of YHWH (vv. 8, 10), and even questioned the act of praise in calamity (v. 9), yet YHWH reversed mourning and weeping and turned them into joy (v. 11). The only logical response is to reaffirm the decision to praise and offer thanksgiving (v. 12).

Preaching the Psalm

As a Psalm of Easter, this Psalm is “an affirmation of both God’s life-giving power and life as God’s good gift.”3 This can be taken into the pulpit with the Gospel, Epistle, and Old Testament reading appointed for today. In Psalm 30, “the psalmist’s deliverance is not so much from physical sickness to physical health as it is from a deadly misunderstanding of human security to a lively awareness of God’s presence in all of life.” Surely, this is what all of us need in some way or another this Easter season.

Once we move individually to a more acute and “lively awareness of God’s presence in all of life,” then we, too can offer our thanksgivings in the same way that this Psalm calls us to no matter where we find ourselves: in the pit or on high, in joy or in lament, in light or in darkness. Then, like the Psalmist, we can call the company of the church and even the world to join in our song of thanksgiving and to offer our whole life as an act of praise “even into the morning, when there will be the exultation of the resurrection, which has shone forth by anticipation in the morning resurrection of the Lord.”4



1 Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 8 of A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989). http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-08/TOC.htm (accessed January 16, 2016).

2 John Goldingay, “Psalm 30,” in Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41, ed. Tremper Longman, III, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 424.

3 J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 4:797.

4 Augustine of Hippo.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 5:11-14

Israel Kamudzandu

Easter is a season of prayer, praise, and worship.

Revelation summons its readers to manifest their loyalty to God, the Lamb, and the Holy Spirit to a life of worship. This is a way for them to demonstrate the Lamb’s example as narrated by John in the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 5:11-14, John hears a heavenly chorus and what he hears invites readers to join him in what he sees. In this part of the letter, John places his audience in a narrative world that rejects the imperial world around them, creating what we can call a “worshipping world,” where God alone is worthy to be given honor, praise, and worship. This world of worship is a place outside of all places and it deserves a divine perspective from all the participants. Universally, the multitudes surrounding the throne is incalculable and giving readers the expansiveness of the nature of God and with their entire being, these angelic creatures around the throne, praise the seven of the lamb’s attributes. In a world of imperial ideology and propaganda, the angels break forth in joy singing a new song. The song is deeply divine as it is one of jubilation and a newfound certainty. They are aware that the struggles are not over yet but they believe that God has the last and final word and as such worship belongs to Him alone.

In the deep valley of pain and struggle, Revelation calls upon its readers and interpreters to sing a new song — a song that transcends the present pain and reaches into the divine future. The song of a worshipping congregation overturns the present reality of pain and transforms that reality into a prophetic reality — where God is in control. Worship penetrates the present darkness and transforms it into a world where God’s vision is realized. The taking of the Scroll by the Lamb results in him receiving full praise, signaling the end of the reign of Caesar. Theologically, worshipping of God and singing songs of joy frightens the devil and the oppressor and worship is such a noise in the ears of the evil one (see Luke 10:18). Like in the Global South, freedom songs were frightening to colonizers and to those who sang, they were songs of defiance, faith, and hope for a better future. Similarly, worship songs bring hope in a hopeless world of terrorism, anxieties, depression, cancer, wars, hunger, and poverty. The song of these 24 elders is the same song of Israel and it vibrates with the same vitality as in 1 Chronicles 29:11.

Theologically, Revelation 5:11-14 orients or summons readers to the “theocentric nature of God,” in a world that claims absolute power.1 Like in the movie “Matrix,” people are called upon to choose either the “red or the blue pill” and in similar fashion, Revelation calls people to choose between the worship of God or the empire of which John invites his congregants to choose only the former. The slaughtered Lamb is given worship and more divine attributes are accorded to the Lamb, namely: wealth, wisdom, might, and blessing. These are deeply paradoxical to human perspective, yet John invites readers to envision a new form of wealth in contrast to the wealthy of the empire. The wealthy of the empire is evanescent and the wealth of the Kingdom of God is one of service and not exploitation of the less privileged. In its worship, the church is summoned to be counter-cultural and here the 21st century church is challenged because its worship is tied to the worship of the Imperial world. This statement is deeply controversial and as I write this commentary; I invite my fellow brothers and sisters in the Global world to seriously ponder on this statement and find ways to give full loyalty to God. The question is: Who possess the true wealthy? Is it the empire or is it Jesus Christ?



1 Bauckham, New Testament Theology, 159 – 160.