Lectionary Commentaries for February 21, 2016
Second Sunday in Lent

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 13:31-35

Ruth Anne Reese

This text reminds us of Jesus’ daily ministry in the face of his approaching passion.

In Luke 9:51, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem where he knew that he would face opposition from religious leaders and eventually death (9:22). Along the way, he demonstrates the presence of God’s kingdom through repeated deliverance from demons and healing from sickness. Crowds of people from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem follow Jesus along his journey. Today, Jesus might have a host of social media followers tracking his journey on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem and turning out to see him in person as he passed near their town. Wherever Jesus goes, he brings signs of God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ daily ministry:
Every day (what Jesus described as “today and tomorrow”), Jesus is about the work of healing and deliverance. Since the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4), this has been the work that Jesus has done. There are specific stories of Jesus’ deliverances in a synagogue (4:33), among the tombs (Luke 8:27-39), and generally among the crowds who came to see him (4:41). Jesus also gives his disciples power to enact deliverance (9:1; 10:17) and explains that deliverance is a sign of God’s kingdom breaking into this world (12:20). Similarly, Jesus has healed many people (4:40) sometimes without regard for the appropriate time and place. He has healed in the synagogues and on the Sabbath, and these very actions bring criticism from the religious authorities (6:7). And Jesus sends his disciples out to heal (9:2). Healing and deliverance are central aspects of Jesus’ message and daily work, and they are still available today. As preachers, we might think about the need for healing and deliverance within the church as well as for those who are not yet part of God’s people.

Jesus’ approaching passion:
As Jesus goes about his daily work of healing and deliverance, he is also keenly aware of his destination. There are two senses here. He knows he is headed to Jerusalem and to his death. While Herod (the same ruler who had John the Baptist beheaded) wants to kill Jesus, it is clear that Jesus is in charge of his own timetable. Today and tomorrow Jesus will continue his daily work, and Jesus is the one who will complete that work. It will be completed on the third day. The third day is an allusion to Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7). Jesus’ work of healing and deliverance does not end with his crucifixion. No. It is made perfect and complete by his resurrection. Although Jesus is aware that he is traveling towards Jerusalem — a city with a hostile record towards prophets — his work will not be undone by death. Rather, it will be completed by resurrection. As we contemplate Jesus’ passion during Lent, let us also remember that Jesus’ death was only one part of the process by which Jesus completes his work of deliverance and healing among his people. Attention to his death should not exclude reflection on his resurrection during this season.

Jesus’ longing:
Jesus is headed towards the historic seat of Jewish power where both kings and priests have their home. Prophetic ministry in the face of power is a dangerous activity that jeopardizes the lives of those who would speak the truth of God’s kingdom to the powers that be. Jesus is no exception. But what is surprising is Jesus’ reaction. He characterizes the city as killing prophets and apostles (“those who are sent,” Luke 13:34), but his response is the compassion of a mother. Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem under his wings (v. 34). Jesus longs to comfort those who would reject him. He envisions Jerusalem as a brood of vulnerable chicks in need of their mother’s protection and longs to offer the same protection, salvation, to the very city where he will die. Unfortunately, Jerusalem also has a longing. The city does not want to be gathered under the salvation of Jesus.

In this passage, we see three examples of longing. “Want” (the word θ?λω, thelo, may be translated as “wish,” “will,” “would,” or “desire” depending on the English translation) is used three times in this text. First, the Pharisees report that Herod wants to kill Jesus (v. 31). Next, Jesus tells us that he wanted to gather Jerusalem under his wings (v. 34). Finally, Jerusalem is described as a city that did not want to be gathered (v. 34). During this season of Lent, we might ask ourselves what it is that we long for and desire. Do we want to experience the ministry of Jesus even if it is uncomfortable or challenging? Or, are we tempted to respond with murderous anger (Herod) or perhaps rejection (Jerusalem)? Do we long to be like Jesus, to be able to find compassion for our enemies, even those who want to put us to death? In this world of religious and political violence, what does it mean to long for our enemies to experience Jesus’ compassion even as we ourselves have?

Jerusalem’s refusal to be gathered by Jesus is not without consequences. The city is described as abandoned and unable to see Jesus until the day when they receive “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26). Although a large crowd of Jesus’ disciples will shout this same passage when Jesus rides into Jerusalem (Luke 19:38), Jerusalem itself will become the place of Jesus’ death. Those who reject Jesus’ compassionate offer of salvation, deliverance, and healing, find their city rejected, abandoned, and left to its own devices.1 In this season of Lent, as we contemplate the ministry and passion of Jesus, we must also remember that rejection of his ministry comes with consequences of our own choosing. Jesus’ longing is to have compassion, but his longing must be met by our own longing for salvation, deliverance, and healing.


Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1997, p. 539.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

William Yarchin

Our lesson from the Old Testament is not the first occasion in Genesis where God speaks to Abram, but it is the first time that Abraham responds so that a back-and-forth exchange takes place.

In every previous occasion, God had promised to give Abram progeny and land. What is the issue that, this time, brings Abram to speech?

In this chapter Abram has two visionary experiences. The first one takes place at night, while the stars are visible (Genesis 15:1-6), and the second one takes place later (perhaps the next day), as the sun sets (15:7-21).

The question at issue in the first vision episode is: who will childless Abram’s inheritor(s) be? The answer is, his own biological descendants, innumerable and several generations down.

The question taken up in the second vision episode is: what will be the inheritance that estateless Abram will hand down? The answer is, this land, so much of it in fact that it will include the domains of many other peoples.

But this chapter poses a different question as well, expressed directly in v. 8, when Abram challenges the divine with the demand for certainty, “How am I to know?” A hermeneutical rendering of Abram’s question to God would be: in what sense am I to understand your promise of inheritance? This is essentially the same question Abram posed in vv. 2-3: how am I to interpret this promise about inheritance?

These questions in every case follow a divine self-revelation to Abram as his shield and reward, as the one who brought him to this land for an inheritance. When Abram asks “what?” (v. 2) and “how?” (v. 8), he uses specific Hebrew terminology that usually appears in prophetic texts such as Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. In virtually every case where the phrase is uttered on human lips, it is part of a plea directed to God, particularly with reference to something that is hard to believe or accept.

Abram’s “what” and “how” questions are necessary because the divine self-revelation in itself was not sufficient; it was in need of clarifying interpretation. Given his present circumstances, he reasonably did not understand how he could pass on an inheritance — even though God had told him directly that he would.

In the second episode (vv. 7-21), Abram receives clarifying certainty in two forms:

  • a prophetic word about Abram’s personal future and the ultimate fate of his descendants;
  • a covenant in which God utters a promise to give this broad expanse of land to those descendants.

We see, then, that Abram is brought to a better understanding of what God means, through an additional divine word that clarifies and interprets the initial revelation. Salvation (tzedeqah, “righteousness,” v.6b) comes by relying on (he’emin, “believed,” v. 6a) God in the light of God’s disclosive revelation (“the word of the Lord came in a vision,” v.1) as clarified and interpreted by the further prophetic word (“the word of the Lord came to him,” v. 4).

If there is any plot movement in our Old Testament lesson, it is a movement from Abram’s need for understanding to God’s provision of understanding.

Through these nuances we see the more fundamental issue that underlies our lesson: the problem of making sense out of divine revelation when it doesn’t make sense in the actual life of the recipient. Possessing no actual heir, Abram is given not a substitute or even a son, but rather a prophetic experience of promise that there will be one. Owning no actual estate to pass on, Abram is given no possession but a covenant commitment that the vast land will ultimately go to his descendants.

Our lesson reflects a characteristically Old Testament prophetic view on the deep existential problem of God’s people in the world (Israel among the nations), a problem that became acute after the demise of the monarchy. For the prophetic mindset, salvation lies in what God has uttered, and until the lived reality arrives, the present generation has only God’s utterance as concretized in covenant.

The present generation, then, relies on that covenant word, and that faith is its tzedeqah, its righteousness, its place where salvation is found. In order that there might be trust in the divinely revealed sufficiency, there is offered prophetic interpretation of the initial revelation, directing to better understanding of what the revelation means for the present generation.

Our lesson bears the markings of a prophetic mindset that wants to take the ancient covenant traditions seriously, and aims to grasp what those traditions might mean for a later generation. According to our Gospel reading, the generation to which Jesus ministered in Judea disputed what the older prophetic revelation might mean for them. Was persecution under the Roman regime a sign of divine displeasure (Luke 13:1-4)? What are the boundaries of faithful Sabbath observance in the face of suffering (13:10-17)?

The various of responses to Jesus’ ministry we find in Luke 13 bring him to illustrate parabolically how the ways in which God’s work in the world is hidden yet unstoppable — not unlike what God reveals to Abram.


Commentary on Psalm 27

Beth L. Tanner

Psalm 27 fits well with the Gospel reading in Luke 13.

In Luke, Jesus laments over Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing (v. 34)!” The psalm is from one who desires that very place, “[For] he will hide me in his shelter in the days of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent (27:5).” Indeed, the complete psalm expresses hope in the midst of darkness that makes it especially appropriate for the season of Lent.

Is Psalm 27 a psalm of trust or a prayer for help? The short answer is it depends on who you ask. Some scholars (Gunkel and Weiser) argue this is two psalms combined at some point. This may be the case, but the psalm as it appears today in the Bible begins with praise (vv. 1-6), moves to lament and uncertainty (vv.7-12), and then returns to praise (vv. 13-14). It is cyclic, just as our lives are. We praise, we cry, we praise. It is the stuff of our existence.

The first three verses are ones of confidence in the LORD. Beginning with familiar questions, if God is my light and my salvation and my stronghold, what or who is there to fear? The third verse gives a possible circumstance for the fear, an enemy in war. This does not mean it is the exact circumstance; it could simply be what it feels like to the one praying. With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises. To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places. Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality. The feeling of the psalm is the same. It was a time to choose which fear would win the heart of this one. The psalm reminds us there is only one path to pick. We can succumb to fear of the other or embrace God’s path for us and the world.

The next section (vv. 4-6) comes as a cool breeze on a hot day. The scene changes from the encampment of an enemy to “the house of the Lord.” As Christians, we should long for the LORD and the chance to stand in God’s presence. It may mean the person praying has gone up to the sanctuary for prayer or protection, but it is much more than this. It is this one’s destiny; it is home. The church today is often a hive of activities and responsibilities. Many can suffer from burnout and stress. What can we do to make the church feel as the Temple does in this psalm, as a resting place, an oasis to refresh the mind and heart? Part of Lenten discipline is contemplation, and this is a possible topic. What can we do to make us long for the house of the LORD? Can we become a place that “lifts up the head” of the broken above those things that caused their heads to drop in shame and hurt? Can our priority be one of shelter under the wings of our Lord? Could we contemplate less business and more refreshment?

The world intrudes on this peaceful interlude as it always does (vv. 7-10). Something has upset the peace and tranquility of the last stanza and the one who was at home is now lost. God seems distant; the connection is broken. We know the feeling. What this prayer does is encourages us to keep praying when the way is dark. The confident center is that God will not abandon us even if those closest to us do. The psalms teach us that it is not only God’s responsibility to find us, sometimes we must also fight to stay in this relationship with God. We must go forward confident that God’s seeming absence does not equal abandonment. It is the fear talking. Instead this prayer invites us to contemplate, not the evil of the world but to believe in “the goodness of the LORD” and in the goodness I can wait and hope and be courageous until this storm too passes by.

In the days after 9/11, I like many others in the area, stood on a train platform headed into New York City. We were still unsure what the future held or what would happen. Every cell in my body was afraid, and it seemed crazy to be heading into the city that everyone was trying to escape. There in those moments was the same decision seen in this psalm. “The LORD is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?’ rang in my head. Was my belief stronger than my fear? We all have these moments and those moments are the essence of our faith. God is reaching out to us, will we be brave enough to lift our arms in response? Lent is a time to ask the deep questions of our faith. We can repeat the fears of the past, or trust a new ending to God. It is never easy, but it is the call of God on our lives. This psalm invites us to believe again that our faith in God will never desert us, no matter what happens. Life without fear is not possible, but faith can call us to live into God’s will for our life instead of reducing our lives because of our fears and insecurities.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 3:17—4:1

Sarah Henrich

In this short passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, these verses begin and end with something between an exhortation and a plea.

Paul’s letter is written to the small assembly of believers in Philippi, a significant city and proud Roman colony on the main east-west road between Byzantium and Rome. The letter has a thematic unity in spite of a number of abrupt changes of topic: Paul is eager to highlight Jesus’ refusal to cling to any advantages that might have been his as God’s own son. Jesus gives up the advantages of power to become God’s call, God’s wooing, if you will, of humankind (yet again!). When God exalts Jesus above all others after Jesus’ death on a cross, Jesus’ way of being in and among and for humankind is the light for us of God’s love for us.

Paul sees himself and other evangelists of God’s love in Christ as living in this same way, that of eschewing privilege and power in order to woo others by and for God’s love, not least for each other.

Our passage once again sums up a call to a way of life and an understanding of a Godly life, that is “citizenship in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) that has been repeated and developed throughout the letter.

It begins with a direct description of how these believers might understand themselves, that is, as symmimetai or fellow imitators (NRSV “join in imitating”). The imitation called for is not a matter of Paul’s ego-driven mission and to be readily dismissed. Rather Paul offers himself and others as those who are not “enemies of the cross,” but find in the cross the true description of how God in Christ has come to serve. Surely such a god is almost incomprehensible to Paul’s hearers: such a contrast to the gods with which they were familiar in the Greco-Roman world, and our world as well.

Paul is trying so hard throughout this letter to clarify what the “this way” in Philippians 4:1 really means for all followers of Jesus, all those incorporated into his body. There is a present “this way” and a future: these two are connected by process. The key Greek verbs here are in the present tense (see Philippians 3:17 and 4:1). The Philippians are asked to continue behavior and not abandon what it means to “stand firm” (4:1) in Christ, that is living according to God in Christ (“heavenly citizenship”, 3:20), as Paul and others are trying to do (3:17). “Keep on imitating,” “keep on observing” so that you may continue to live (3:17) not as an enemy of the cross of Christ, but as one “standing firm” in the Christ who himself went to that cross.

It is a powerful passage, offering both a calling that is counter-cultural for the ancient recipients and perhaps even more so for us. The promise of life for those who have their citizenship in heaven is continued transformation into the body of Christ’s glory (Philippians 3:21). That transformative action is written of in the future tense, beginning, one dares to assume, with incorporation into that body through baptism. It is really important to say that neither “heavenly citizenship” nor full future transformation refer only to some reality beyond that of earthly life. The Philippians, like Jesus and Paul and others, are to live here on earth as citizens whose constitution (the gospel, cf. 1:27) comes from God, not from any other gods or emperors. Their lives, transformed by being caught up into the body of Christ, now have different values, different sources of power, different goals than those who are not living that life (cf. 3:18-19).

It is important to notice how Paul describes the Philippians believers in 4:1. They are those for whom Paul longs. They are his joy. Their existence is Paul’s own crown — he needs no other, itself a counter-cultural claim that exemplifies the very life in Christ that Paul calls to mind in this letter. The crowns voted by assemblies, the crowns that deck the brow of Roman emperors or other kings, are not the reward treasured by lovers of God.

This letter, so marked by joy (Philippians 1:4, 25; 2:2, 29; 4:1) and affection, helps the Philippians understand that true joy and hope flow from trust in God’s promises, the presence of the transforming Holy Spirit, and a life lived in accordance with the “mind of Christ.” Such joy is corporate rather than individual and is known in lives lived for the well-being of the neighbor rather than a life lived for the sake of one’s own achievement.

Can this be preached in 2016? The preacher’s imagination will be called upon to help picture for hearers how a life lived with the mind of Christ might shape the relationships so clouded by racism. Or the fears that arise for many of us as we contemplate an influx of refugees whose needs stress the supplies we have in place to maintain a way of life. How can believers not cling to privileges, many earned by hard work AND a lot of luck? Can we yield power to those who have so little, trusting that it is God’s way to increase joy in this life and the next? Can we do any of this imaginative action, this creative living without a phony naiveté?

Is it possible to be convinced in 2016 that creation itself needs to be treated with respect and a holding back on our part that allows nature to thrive? I don’t know. We are so shaped by the expectation of consumption, accumulation, preservation of our goods into the future, and self-determination about what we will give and care about, that this ethos, this citizenship that is “worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) is a radically strange world to imagine. But, what an opportunity to remind ourselves of God’s good news as law and gospel!