Lectionary Commentaries for March 25, 2016
Good Friday

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 18:1—19:42

Cláudio Carvalhaes

After a Good Friday worship service with her friends at their African American church on the Westside, She was going to drive her three friends home.

They decided to stop at a corner store to pick up some milk. It was a cold Friday night and they were weary of the sadness of Jesus’ death sung, prayed, and preached at their church as they were reminded of the painful, brutal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones, Laquan McDonald, and many, many others. They had never experienced a Good Friday service so real, so sad.

As She went inside of the store, her other friends stayed inside of the car talking about the service. After She left the store with her milk, she saw three cop cars surrounding her car with her friends being frisked for guns and drugs outside of the car. She came running, asking, “What is going on here?” The cop next to Her immediately took pepper spray and sprayed it in her eyes making her scream loudly! One of her friends was infuriated by this violent action and jumped on the cop’s back. Immediately after people heard what sounded like 25 gunshots at this woman, she fell to the ground. The others were beaten, thrown to the pavement, and handcuffed. Screaming and fear took over that parking lot. More police were called, and they came with lanterns and sprays and weapons. A group of white folks from the Protestant church nearby saw this whole scene and stood next to the police cars shocked as they watched it all unfold in front of their eyes. They tried to leave as soon as they could, but the police held them near the scene.

After She had regained some of her vision, She saw herself and her friends sitting against the wall of the corner store and asked: “Why are you harassing us? Why are you doing this?”

And they answered: “You were all looking for trouble.”

She said: “My people have always been in trouble in this country, since the arrival of our ancestors.” She asked again: “I don’t get it, why you stopping us? What you looking for? Black folk? We are here!”

When She said that they kicked her face and said: “Are you done? Shut up!” The police took them to the district and sanitized the scene.

They were thrown into a tiny cell and were denied a phone call or talking to anybody. An officer came to the cell and told them they were putting the neighborhood in danger. She said: “That’s what you say. We weren’t doing anything wrong.”

“Are you contesting me? Don’t you mouth off to me, girl.” asked the officer.

“Yes! You were not even there!”

But he replied: “This is what I have heard about you, and I trust the people saying it.”

She and her friends insisted, “Oh, other cops? You cannot trust them.”

The officer looked shocked and said: “We are the law and you are the lawbreakers.”

“No! I know my rights! This is not legal! Why are we here? Why? We were coming from church and stopped at the store and you killed our friend!”

“You don’t get it, you were looking for trouble. You need to watch your mouth now before you’re in more trouble.”

“No! We did nothing! You stopped us because we are black! There was a group of white folk talking about their Good Friday service and I talked to them inside of the store, they saw it all, go ask them!”

The officer replied: “We had our people asking them to tell us what they saw, but they said they didn’t see anything. We asked them three times, but they denied every time saying they didn’t see anything.”

“Why did they say that?” She asked still in deep shock. “Why are they hiding? Because we have been talking about how black people are treated in this country. You all are vultures!”

One of the police officers standing nearby smacked Her across the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high officer?”

With blood dripping from her nose she replied: “If we have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if we have spoken truth, why do you hit me?”

A high officer came and asked what they did wrong and why they were there. Another cop said: “One of them tried to kill one of us, and we responded with appropriate force. If these women were not criminals, we would not have brought them here to you.” And the high officer said, “Aren’t you the Black Lives agitators people?

The women answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about us?”

And he replied: “I am not a black person am I? You have handed yourselves over to me. What have you done?”

“We have done nothing to be oppressed and lynched for the last 350 years along with the first nations for the last 500 years. We have been living in this country for all this time but still this country is not ours to live in peace.”

“So you think you are too much huh?” he asked despising Her.

“We are sons and daughters of people who resisted slavery and apartheid. And we live to testify to this truth: that you have systematically tried to erase us from this country with laws and economic moves against us, breaking our communities and now with incarceration. Everyone who belongs to the truth will listen to our voice.”

“What is truth?” the high officer asked, as he went out to wash his hands. He said: “You are talking about the past that all of us in this precinct have nothing to do with it. We are here to prove that all lives matter.”

Other people from nearby cells shouted saying the blacks were responsible for murders and unsafe social conditions in this country. “Put them into jail! We’d rather have them in jail than have them walking around our streets.”

She stood up in anger with the last of Her strength and said: “You know nothing,” and spit on the face of that man. Ten officers were called, and they took all the women out of jail and beat them mercilessly until they could barely breathe. The man She spat on shouted: “We have a law in this country, and according to that law you must die because you have claimed a humanity that doesn’t belong to you.” The officers asked: “Why do you want to provoke this country as we try to live in peace? Why are you trying to disturb and attack honest people when we are doing nothing against you? You brought this situation upon yourself. Why don’t you just accept and live in a non-violent way?” They didn’t answer. “Speak to me stupid women!” screamed the high officer.

They answered him, “You would have no power over us unless it has been given to you from your government; therefore, you are a continuation of this greater sin.”

For a moment, they wanted to release them, but all the officers said: “If you release these women, we will be called no friends of the governor. Everyone who claims to be against the governor sets themselves against the Law.”

They were brought to a larger cell, but they were in terrible condition. Some of the people in jail and some of the cops cried out, “Away with them! Get away with them!” Some of the other officers, however, were very disturbed by it all. As they were talking about what to do next, they heard each one of the women breathe their last breath.

Their bodies were handed to a place called The Place of the Lynched Bodies. There they crucified them and with them many others, on all sides, with other black people killed.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 52:13—53:12

Samuel Giere

Preparing to preach on Good Friday is preparing to wander about in the heart of the mystery of God’s reconciling activity in Jesus Christ and (most importantly!) inviting your hearers and by extension the world into the all-important mystery of faith.

Isaiah’s Servant Songs, of which this Good Friday text is the fourth and final, hold a particular place within the theology of the church. I do not mention this as a means of ranking texts one above or below another. Rather, I draw our attention to the place of these texts in the interpretation of the church because in and by these texts the early church understood who Jesus of Nazareth was and is. And, quite frankly, they remain guiding texts in how we continue to understand who Jesus of Nazareth was and is.

Textual horizons

There are many well-known textual, historical, and interpretive challenges in and around the Servant Songs of Deutero-Isaiah.1 These are heuristically important, but not central to the preaching task for Good Friday. Perhaps the primary interpretive task when thinking about this particular text in relation to Good Friday is hanging out in this fourth Servant Song with the conviction that it is Christian Scripture.2

Such a conviction does not negate that it is also Jewish Scripture. Interpretation is not a zero sum game. Isaiah, like the rest of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible, is inherited by both Judaism and Christianity.

That said, it is important to acknowledge and remember that we Christians have misused this (and many other!) texts in condemnation and persecution of Jews. At times during the history of the church, Good Friday has proved to be a particularly violent flashpoint for Christian persecution of Jews.3 It does the church no good to deny the anti-Jewish and even anti-Semitic misuse of Old Testament texts. It also does the church no good to condemn Isaiah for this misuse.4 In fact, turning directly into Isaiah may well be the route to take — preaching Christ and him crucified, normed by Isaiah as Christian scripture without moving towards anti-Judaism.

It is no wonder that early Christians heard the story of the crucifixion in the fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

“He shall be exalted and lifted up … ” (52:13)
“ … his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance … ” (52:14)
“He was despised and rejected … ” (53:3)
“ … like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, … he opened not his mouth (53:7)
“And they made his grave with the wicked … ” (53:9)

The parallels with the New Testament (NT) gospels’ stories of the crucifixion of Jesus are significant.5 Yet, rather than making this a matching game between Isaiah and the NT gospels, consider turning your homiletical gaze toward the theological claims that the Servant Song makes. If we as Christian interpreters allow that this Good Friday pericope “lives” within the horizon of God’s reconciliation of the cosmos to God’s self in the crucifixion of the incarnate Word, we have a place to start.

So, how does this text nudge us to think about the significance of the Servant’s suffering?

Repeatedly the song speaks of the Servant taking on griefs and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), iniquities (53:6, 53:11), and sins (53:12), for the benefit of the hearer. As Luther says of Isaiah 53:4, “These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold.”6 The Servant is not suffering for the sake of suffering. The Servant’s suffering and death, which is also the judgment of God (53:10), is the revelation of God’s mercy. In our stead, Christ bore our sins.7

Preaching horizon

On Good Friday, consider wandering boldly into the mysteries of God. Jesus Christ has taken on the sins of the world. “… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) As a result, we are no longer defined by our sin, our iniquities, our sorrows, our transgressions. All are defined by Christ’s death. When you look in the mirror, when you look at a family member, when you look at a friend, when you look at a stranger, when you look at an opponent, when you look at an enemy, their sin does not define. God’s mercy revealed in the ugliness of Christ’s crucifixion defines us all. Christ bears your iniquities and gives you his righteousness. Good Friday and in particular Isaiah’s song leaves no room for self-righteousness. Rather we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of faith.


1 The interested are invited to explore Klaus Baltzer’s masterful survey of research and exegesis of the Servant, c.f. Deutero-Isaiah (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) 19-24, passim.

2 Consider chewing on Brevard Child’s The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), a survey of place of Isaiah in the history of the Church’s biblical interpretation.

3 Between the gospel readings which may include Matthew 27:25, wherein the crowd shouts, “His blood be on us and our children!” (RSV), and the Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of the “perfidious Jews,” Christians were known to take the occasion to be an open door to violence against Jews. Cf. Heiko Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism (James I. Porter, trans.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 28.

4 Cf. John F.A. Sawyer, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 100-125.

5 In addition to the 50+ references and allusions to Isaiah in Revelation, Sawyer’s visual of the prominence of Isaiah in the NT Gospels, Acts and Letters is striking, 26-28.

6 LW 17.221. Recall also the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

7 1 Peter 2:24


Commentary on Psalm 22

Amanda Benckhuysen

Borne out of a gut-wrenching anguish, Psalm 22 is the cry of one who knows what it is to be bullied by his enemies, rejected by his community, and abandoned by God.

The threat for the psalmist is imminent as a “company of evildoers” surrounds him like bulls ready to attack and lions eager to devour. Bystanders despise and mock him. Even God seems to have forsaken him. The one in whom his ancestors trusted, the one who he has worshiped since his birth, this one has also seemingly cast him aside. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the psalmist cries. “O Lord, do not be far away! … Come quickly to my aid! (verse 19).” Yet in his time of trouble, God remains agonizingly silent.

The distress of the psalmist is palpable. With no one to help, the psalmist is consumed with a fear that debilitates him, exacting a physical and emotional toll. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax (verse 14),” the psalmist murmurs. For twenty-one verses, the psalmist voices his agonizing pain, his loneliness, his feelings of abandonment. God, where are you? “Deliver my soul from the sword … save me from the mouth of the lion! (verse 20a, 21a),” the psalmist pleads.

Then rather abruptly, the threat is gone. The enemies who once circled around the psalmist have been replaced by a worshiping community. The psalmist’s fear of affliction has been redirected into fear of the Lord. Lament has turned to praise. The world, which was once a place of danger for the psalmist, has become a place of joy and blessing — not just for the psalmist but for the wider community as well to whom blessings now flow. “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord (verse 26a).” All this, the psalmist tells us, is God’s doing. In the end, God did not despise the affliction of the afflicted but heard his cry, his desperate plea for help. God turned his face toward him. God answered and acted for his sake, one whom the community had stigmatized, marginalized, and cast off. The holy God, enthroned on the praises of Israel, stooped down and attended to the needs of one despised and rejected.

For those familiar with the Christian Scriptures, it is almost impossible to read this psalm without calling to mind the events of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” Jesus cried (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Certainly the gospel writers understood Jesus as taking on the experience of the psalmist and all who would pray this prayer, embodying the sorrow, the loneliness, and the abuse reflected in this psalm. Soldiers gambled for his clothes (cf. Psalm 22:18 and John 19:23-24). Passersby jeered at him (cf. Psalm 22:7-8; Mark 15:29, Matthew 27:39). Enemies sought his life. And God remained silent.

The associations between this psalm and the passion of Christ highlight how fully and completely Jesus entered into the suffering of humanity, taking the sorrow and anguish of those who are afflicted upon himself. So the writer of Hebrews can speak of Jesus as one who became like his sisters and brothers in every respect and who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness and suffering as he intercedes for God’s mercy on our behalf (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15). But Jesus’ suffering is not just about solidarity and sympathy. Jesus not only suffered like us or with us, he suffered and even died for our sake. His is a redemptive suffering, a vicarious suffering, a suffering that marked the beginning of the end of all senseless and gratuitous suffering caused by human sin and evil. Jesus’ suffering brings about the new day described in verses 22-32 when all the families of the nations shall worship the Lord and the poor shall eat and be satisfied and the Lord will reign with justice and righteous and suffering and sorrow shall flee away.

As we consider this psalm on Good Friday, at least two avenues for reflection open themselves up to us. First, Psalm 22 reminds us that our faith is not rooted in a facile triumphalism. Christ’s was a hard-won anguish-filled victory against all that the forces of evil could muster. He stared sin and evil in the face and put them to death in his own body. This psalm, then, gives us a glimpse of what our redemption cost God, the Son submitting to the excruciating journey of the Via Dolorosa all the way to his brutal death on the cross. The father, tormented by Jesus’ cries for help and overcome by grief at his last breath all for the sake of our redemption. What wondrous love is this? What greater demonstration of love can there be than that God would lay down his life for us?

Second, it is not difficult to imagine those in our society who would pray this prayer, those who are the target of prejudice and injustice, those who suffer gratuitously on account of laws, policies, and social norms which fail to make space for them, those whom our society has pushed to margins. Good Friday is a day to join with Jesus in his fierce grief and sorrow over the sin of the world, to lament the forces of evil and cry out to God to bring healing to our sin-sick world. Through the cries of Psalm 22, we are reminded the evil that still plagues our world and even resides in our own hearts and so we lift up our voices in lament, awaiting the day when God will finally bring an end to all evil and pain.

“Come quickly, Lord. Do not be far away!”

Alternate Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

Richard Carlson

Hebrews has the most intricate Christology in the New Testament.

It presents a high Christology in which Christ is the agent of creation and the exalted Son of God and High Priest installed at God’s right hand (especially see the opening of 1:1-4). Yet at the same time, Hebrews stresses how the enfleshed Christ shares every aspect of our humanity with the exception of sin (2:17-18; 4:15). Both emphases also serve as motivational Christology in which the varied presentations of Christ stimulate our perseverance in faithfulness and obedience (12:1-4). All of these Christological elements come together in this Good Friday lectionary text.

Our text opens by presenting dual identities for Jesus as Son of God and High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). His identity as Son of God builds on the Old Testament concept that the Davidic king was regarded as son of God, i.e., God’s regent ruling on earth, especially as presented in Psalm 2 (quoted in Hebrews 1:2, 5; 5:5). In the Old Testament, however, the king and the high priest were completely separate offices as the former was a descendant of Judah and the latter a descendant of Levi. Jesus occupies both positions so that he not only rules the cosmos but also offers sacrificial intercession on our behalf. The image of Jesus passing through the heavens (4:14) builds on these dual identities. As Son, his passing through the heavens involved his fore-mentioned exaltation and installation (1:3-4; 2:9-10). As High Priest, he passes through the heavenly sanctuary and its curtain to perform his priestly duties (6:19-20; 8:1-3; 9:11-12,23-24; 10:19-22). The exhortation at the end of 4:14 (that we hold fast to our confession) is not simply a matter of our belief in Jesus. It also is an exhortation to live out this confession in our persistent, obedient, faithfulness.

Our High Priest’s solidarity with us and sympathy towards us include human weakness and testing which Jesus experienced. For the author of Hebrews, weakness on both our part and Jesus’ part is multifaceted including physical weakness whose end is death (2:9,14-15), social ostracism and abuse (10: 32-34; 12:3-4), and susceptibility to sin (2:17-18; 9:26-28). The only difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus was without sin which enables him to offer sacrifice on behalf of our sins as both the ultimate High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice (2:17; 7:27).

Again, this Christological presentation has a motivational intent. We are now exhorted to approach the divine throne with boldness because it is a throne of grace where we will find mercy, grace, and help throughout our perilous, earthly pilgrimage (Hebrews 4:16). This is a stark reversal of Old Testament sanctuary theology. Only the high priest was able to enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. Now, however, we are invited to approach the divine throne with boldness to receive all the divine benefits which flow from our High Priest’s sacrifice.

Hebrews 5:7-9 expands on Jesus’ dual identities as Son of God and High Priest. Part of Jesus’ priestly service involved offering up prayers and supplications while identifying fully with humanity (5:7a; note how the technical term “offer up” was also used in 5:1,3 in connection to human priestly service). The exact content of Jesus’ prayers is not directly reported here. Some have sought to connect Jesus’ loud cries and tears in 5:7 with Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane that the cup of death would be taken from him (Mark 14:36; Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42). Such a struggle with his fateful death, however, does not fit the theological presentation of Jesus in Hebrews. The thrust here is the emotional depth of his prayers not for his deliverance but for our deliverance as part of his priestly service (2:9; 6:20; 7:25,27; 9:24; 10:12).

A related theological point entails the description of God as “the One who was able to save from death” (Hebrews 5:7). Again, Jesus is not praying that he would avoid death. Rather, he is praying to the One who will save him out of the reality of death through his resurrection and exaltation. Thus Jesus is modeling ultimate trust in and reverent submission to the One who has ultimate power over death as part of his priestly service. He rescues us from death through his own death (2:9,14-15; 9:16).

In Hebrews 5:8 the author is putting his own Christological spin on the link between suffering and learning in Greco-Roman morality. It was commonly understood that moral character was learned and formed through adversity. Here Jesus learns obedience through his experiencing of suffering even though he is God’s Son. His intimate and lofty relationship with God does not render him immune from either suffering or obedience. Instead, his mission as High Priest involves obedience to God’s designs by suffering onto death (Hebrews 13:12). Because this remains motivational Christology, Jesus stands as our paradigm so that we too learn obedience through our experiences of suffering even though we share relational intimacy as God’s children (2:10; 12:6-8).

The result of Jesus’ educational experiences is expressed in Hebrews 5:9 which is unfortunately obscured by English translations which present Jesus as “made perfect” (NRSV, NIV, RSV, KJB). The focus here (and throughout Hebrews) is not moral perfect but soteriological completeness. “Jesus is made complete by his death and exaltation to heavenly glory, so that he now serves as high priest forever at God’s right hand. Others are made complete when they go where Jesus has gone, following their forerunner into the presence of God.”1 Thus Jesus is both the source and the goal of eternal salvation.

Within the context of Good Friday, the centrality of Jesus’ solidarity with humanity and his sacrificial suffering on behalf of humanity stand as central components of this text. In going to his death, Jesus does not renounce his identity as God’s Son and High Priest. Rather, he demonstrates and enacts his identity so that we would experience the salvation he accomplishes for us. As our paradigm, we too embrace the way of the cross to enact our faith, obedience, and perseverance in the midst of weakness and suffering.


1 Craig Koester, Hebrews, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 36 (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 123.