Lectionary Commentaries for November 15, 2015
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 13:1-8

Emerson Powery

It is easy to handle a parable speaking, disciple calling, village loving, synagogue attending Jesus, one committed to his family and who performed kind deeds for others.

For most contemporary people living in the so-called First World, it is much more difficult to understand the end-of-the-world apocalyptic prophet figure, who distanced himself from family (cf. Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; 6:1-6) and religious institutions. This is the “Jesus” of Mark 13. Apocalypticism means an “unveiling” or “revelation.” Jesus’ opening sermon revealed God’s kingdom: “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). Jesus performed exorcisms and considered them to be signs of the presence of the “kingdom” and the beginning of the end (cf. Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). In chapter 13, Jesus continued unveiling other signs of the end.


In light of the preceding passage (cf. 12:41-44), the disciple’s reaction (“Wow, look at this grand place!”) seemed really out of place in chapter 13, since such grandeur was built on the “gifts” of poor widows and others, which Jesus carefully analyzed. Other disciples — since the first one was unnamed — will be more inquisitive privately wondering about the timing of Jesus’ predictions.

In this chapter, Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, the center of religious life. When compared to Jesus’ public, symbolic action in Mark 11, his words here take on an ominous tone, similar to the prophet Jeremiah’s tone (cf. Jeremiah 7).

As clear as Jesus was about a final devastation, he was more ambiguous about the timing of the event(s). He pointed to a period when a number of people will “come in my name” and claim special authority (“I’m the one!”); later in the chapter, Jesus stated more directly that many false Messiahs and prophets will appear (Mark 13:22). Jesus’ “name” took on a significant authority during this period (probably the later period in which Mark wrote). For example, others had performed exorcisms in Jesus’ “name,” but Jesus did not hinder them despite his disciples’ desire (cf. 9:38-39). How could non-followers have access to this kind of authority and power as well? A later Markan tradition will point to the disciples carrying out this same kind of exorcizing activity in Jesus’ name (cf. 16:17).

Private conversations in the Gospel

A few of the (named) disciples curiously asked about the timing of Jesus’ prediction. Legitimately, the disciples wonder when the destruction of the Temple might occur, providing one more example that they themselves did not interpret Jesus’ earlier action (in Mark 11) as representing the obliteration of the sacred religious center. Why was the time-table of the end a “private” matter? Could a public conversation about the Temple have been misinterpreted as an act of rebellion? It seems so (see 14:58).

Throughout Mark, Jesus reserved some of his most essential teaching for private moments with the disciples. Jesus explained the parables to them privately (4:34; cf. 4:10-12). He took Peter, James, and John alone to a high mountain and revealed his transfigured self to them (9:2-8). Privately, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out a demon in a specific case (9:28). In chapter 13, the disciples — Peter, James, John, and Andrew — ask about the timing of the telos (or, “end”; 13:3); three of these four also witnessed the physical metamorphosis of Jesus (cf. 9:2-8).

In response to this private inquiry, the teacher offered his predictions about other “signs” that will signal the end — including the “desolating sacrilege” (13:14) — but claimed not to know the actual “time” of the end. Jesus claimed that this knowledge was reserved only for God (13:32). Mark’s apocalyptic prophet did not claim to know it all!

Telos elsewhere

Do we ever witness the apocalyptic Jesus elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel? Direct teaching on the end of the world was rare and seems somewhat incompatible with the remainder of the Gospel story. There were, however, a few clues earlier in the story. At one point, he announced that “Satan” (ho Satanas) would come to an “end” (telos; 3:26). As mentioned earlier, some scholars view his exorcizing activity as representative actions signifying the reality of the basileia (“kingdom”) as the beginning of the end. Jesus’ own sense of the end may also explain his symbolic actions at the Temple (cf. 11:15-17), believing in the renewal of the Jerusalem Temple as a sign of the end (cf. 15:29).

So, what then?

Today, we tend to view, rightfully, “street-corner preachers” who concentrate their words heavily on end-time affairs with skeptical eyes. Whether it is because their predictions tilt toward precise descriptions (and, are easily misguided) or their rhetoric leans toward anti-social behavior except for those who agree with their efforts. The “Jesus” of the first century shared some of these qualities, so it’s important to feel that awkward tension occasionally even with the Jesus of the Gospels. The difference between the two is worth reflecting on in church communities today. At least, Jesus recognized his own limitations (cf. 13:32). And, his end-time predictions, in chapter 13, were apparently reserved for his closet followers.

Despite the global disasters that surround us — some instigated by First World policies — we’d rather think about a messianic figure who has already arrived and called on us to be kind to our neighbors. But, occasionally, it may be an important reminder to hear an ancient prophet cry out about the fragile nature of the world. Perhaps we’ll appreciate our world more and care for it with a sensitivity it deserves. As Mark offered as a side-note comment, so I close with hope, “Let the reader understand” (13:14)!

First Reading

Commentary on Daniel 12:1-3

Anathea Portier-Young

Following stories of trial and contest, the book of Daniel culminates in a series of apocalyptic visions in which the book’s hero, Daniel, is shown his people’s future.

In Daniel 7:27, his people are given a special name: “the People of the Holy Ones of the Most High.” This name marks the special relationship among Daniel’s people, the Most High God, and other inhabitants of heaven, who in Daniel are variously called angels, watchers, princes, men, and holy ones.

“Michael, your prince”

Daniel 12 is part of a longer discourse that begins in chapter 10. A “man,” or angel, dressed in linen, with a face like lightning and eyes like flaming torches (10:5), speaks with Daniel, touches him, and gives him strength to stand (10:10-11,16-19). This angel, also called “one in human form,” explains to Daniel that he has been fighting against the “Prince of Persia” and will later fight the “Prince of Greece” (10:13, 20-21). Alongside him fights Michael, “one of the chief princes” (10:13). The angel who speaks with Daniel tells him, “There is no one who contends with me against these princes except Michael, your prince” (10:21).

This passage provides important background for Daniel 12:1. The title “prince” in Daniel 10 and 12 refers to a superhuman, celestial being who represents and has responsibility to protect a particular people (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8-9. LXX and 4QDeutj). The identification of Michael as the prince of Daniel’s people suggests that Michael has been their guardian from the very beginning of their existence. It emphasizes to Daniel and his audience that when they do not have power to contend against their enemies, the greatest of all princes fights on their behalf. A situation may seem hopeless, but what Daniel’s oppressed people can see and hear does not tell the whole story. Behind the scenes, forces more powerful than those on earth shape the destinies of peoples and nations.

“In that time”

Up to this point, Daniel’s visions have portrayed a succession of warring empires who subjugate God’s people, century after century. Toward the end of each vision Daniel sees a king, sometimes symbolically portrayed as a horn, whose pride reaches to the heights of heaven and whose lies lead many among the Judeans to forsake their covenant with God. This king desecrates the sanctuary, proscribes Judaism, and forces people of Judea to worship a foreign god. In later Christian interpretation he becomes identified with the Antichrist. For the earliest audience of Daniel, he was the Seleukid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (d. 164 BCE).

The angel who speaks to Daniel reveals that this proud king, persecutor of Daniel’s people, will meet his end “with no one to help him” (Daniel 11:45). Daniel 12:1 follows immediately on this prediction. In this verse, the phrase “in that time” is repeated three times, identifying this moment as a decisive turning point. In that time of horrible persecution and of the persecutor’s death, Michael, warrior-angel and prince of Daniel’s people, will stand up. The people will be delivered, all who are “written in the book” (12:1). To be written in this book is to be registered as a citizen, not of an earthly city, but of God’s kingdom. This people will experience distress like nothing ever before known. “That time” of greatest anguish will be the moment of their salvation.

Waking from dusty earth

The next verse promises resurrection for some of those who have died (Daniel 12:2). Two fates await those who wake from dusty earth. One group will wake to life eternal. Another group will wake to reproaches and eternal horror. This word “horror” or “abhorrence” occurs only one other time in the Old Testament, in the final verse of the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 66:24). The scroll of Isaiah culminates in a vision of new heavens and new earth, a promise that God’s people will endure forever, and a final warning: those who come to worship the Lord will see the corpses of the ones who have rebelled against God. Of these rebels God says, “their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24). In both passages, God’s radical intervention does not erase the legacy of those who rebel against God, but offers them as an eternal sign.

Among those who wake to eternal life, another group is singled out: “those who are wise,” who have “made many righteous” (Daniel 12:3). The angel told Daniel of these “wise” ones in 11:33-35. In the midst of persecution they will give their lives in nonviolent witness to God’s revelation. They are teachers and martyrs. By their courage and truth they will help others to remain faithful to the covenant. Their reward will be to shine like the stars of the firmament. These wise teachers will counter eternal reproach with eternal witness to the light of truth.


When you preach this passage, help your congregation to know that the Prince of your people is fighting for them, standing over them, and working for their salvation in ways that they cannot see. Ask them to consider what it means for them to be the people of the holy ones of the Most High, to share citizenship in the kingdom of God with the holy angels. Our shared hope in life eternal, with God and angels, is not simply a dream for the future. Daniel offers us this hope to sustain, guide, strengthen, and embolden us. Teach your people to witness to God’s covenant by their words and by their lives. Show them a path of nonviolent resistance to persecution and give them strength to stand up for righteousness in the face of oppression and death. Caution them not to look away from the legacy of sin, violence, and rebellion. And invite them to look to the lives of the martyrs and saints for the light of truth that will guide them in their hour of distress.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:4-20

Alphonetta Wines

The reader who wants to understand Hannah’s story must understand not only the intricacies of her story, but the context in which her story appears as well.

Although separated in most Bibles,1 1 and 2 Samuel form a single book that depicts the difficulty involved in Israel’s transition from a loose system of judges to a unified monarchal system. As the opening narrative, Hannah’s story provides a foray into this compelling narrative portrayal of the complexities involved in this transition.

Knowing that the Bible seldom highlights a woman’s story, the reader is immediately put on notice that this is not business as usual. Hannah’s barrenness puts the reader on notice that her child will be a special blessing from God that will impact the story of Israel for generations to come.

In a world where barrenness was considered a curse, only the birth of a child could complete Hannah. Day after day, year after year, she had to live with a pain in her heart that would not go away. Her barrenness was an “unsettled ache.”2 In his book, The Power of the Names of God, Tony Evans writes, “the worst turmoil of all often takes place in one’s own soul. This happens when you can’t seem to live with yourself, when your own pain, anxiety, depression, and regret eat you up, leaving you with an unsettled ache. You are at war within.”3

An unsettled ache lingers no matter what one does. Possibility thinking, positive psychology, words of affirmation, wishing, hoping, even praying don’t make the hurt go away. Like the smell of smoke after a cigarette has extinguished, this type of pain relentlessly meanders in one’s thoughts. It is an unwelcome guest that wore out its welcome long ago. Unlike hurts that are at least manageable, this type of hurt affects one’s entire life, leaving heart wounded and spirit broken. This type of wound impinges not only life circumstances, but also one’s sense of self as well.

This is the “Hannah kind of hurt.”4 This kind of hurt leads to addictions and “emotional disorders”5 since people will do just about anything to relieve the agony as they “search for escape — some way to numb the pain, remove the anguish, and discover some momentary peace.”6 Hannah resorted to no such escape.

As if barrenness were not enough, Hannah withstood the affliction of being misunderstood. Like Job’s friends who had no clue, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, just didn’t get it. Thinking himself better than ten sons, his inept words of comfort made bad matters worse. Thinking herself better than Hannah, Peninnah’s disdainful attitude and repeated boasts about her fertility left Hannah shattered beyond words. Adding injury to insult, Eli, an insensitive priest, accused her of being drunk.

Despite her pain, Hannah would not be like the barren women before her. She would not be like Sarah who insisted that Abraham evict Hagar so that Ishmael would have no part in Isaac’s inheritance. She would not be like Rachel whose competition with her sister Leah to bear children for Jacob did not end until Rachel’s self-fulfilling prophecy came true when she died giving birth to Benjamin.

Hannah chose another path. Unlike the barren women before her, she took her concerns to God. While David is explicitly described as a man after God’s own heart, Hannah implicitly is a woman after God’s own heart. Like David who later would refuse to harm God’s anointed, King Saul, Hannah refuses to retaliate against her rival, Peninnah.

Although Hannah did not share the details of her situation, Eli eventually understood that hers was a heartfelt cry. Assured by Eli by God heard and would answer her prayer she went home, confident that God’s answer would manifest itself. God’s answer came when she gave birth to Samuel, Israel’s last judge, the prophet who anointed Saul and David, Israel’s first two kings.

Later in 1 Samuel 1:21-28 Hannah gives Samuel back to God. When she leaves him in the temple to be mentored by Eli, she sets in motion the series of events that propel Israel toward monarchy, which carries within it the seeds for its own demise, including the consequent Babylonian Exile with its loss of temple, land, and monarchy as well as the return to rebuild under Ezra and Nehemiah.

By placing Hannah’s story at the beginning of the book, the writer hints that the story of Israel’s transition and subsequent events cannot happen, cannot be told without first telling her story. Hannah is an integral part of this transition. This story cannot begin without her.


1 1 and 2 Samuel form a single book in a recent publication, The Books of the Bible, published by Zondervan in 2012.

2 Tony Evans, The Power of God’s Names (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers), 101.

3 Ibid.

4 Alfie Wines, “Hannah’s Heartfelt Cry,” sermon by author, Fort Worth, Texas, January 18, 2015.

5 Evans,102.

6 Ibid.


Commentary on Psalm 16

Beth L. Tanner

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is yet to come” is a central passage in the Mark text for this week and it could serve as a parallel for Psalm 16.

The psalm is one of trust in uncertain times. The opening verse asks for God’s protection and refuge. The pleas are not as urgent as a lament, fitting well with the Mark text where the world seems to be falling apart and there is fear in the air, but no immediate or specific threat.

My family and I play a game with the local and national news programming. We list all of the things we were told to be afraid of in a 30-minute span. Try it; the average is 6-8 per broadcast and it ranges from races of persons, to scary multi-national terror groups, to “the dangers of sunscreen.” It is my way of showing my children just how much of the media is designed to keep them fearful. It is an inoculation of sorts because clearly, fear sells. The author of the Gospel of Mark and this psalm knew that and both texts serve as an antidote to a culture selling fear. The theme of both texts is to trust in the Lord and to ignore those who say otherwise. It means to trust God in the face of an uncertain future.

The psalm is written in five stanzas of 2 verses each, making it symmetric in nature. The first and last stanzas are statements of trust, providing a circular movement. The psalm begins with an imperative plea to God to “keep or guard me for I take refuge in you.” At the end of the day, nothing can protect us from danger and uncertainty is difficult and anxiety producing, but no matter what or where, one can find refuge in God. The stanza then quickly moves further declaring not only God’s protection but “I have no good apart from you.” It is more than safety then, happiness and God is found only in God or the gifts God provides.

Psalms usually provide some type of contrast. Modern folk can find this distracting, but it is simply the shape of ancient poetry and so the second stanza (Psalm 16:3-4) is just that. It contrasts the “holy ones in the land” with “those who choose another god” and a promise not to follow the latter. Scholars have tried to decipher who these holy ones are but even without an exact definition, it is clear that this stanza directly relates to the concept of what is good from above. Good is found in God and not others and this is simply a reaffirmation of the first commandment. In a similar way, Deuteronomy 10:13 implores the people to keep the commandments, not for God’s sake, but because it is good for them to do so.

The next stanza returns to the good that God gives (Psalm 16:5-6). Here the psalm moves far beyond combating fear or going after other gods. There are two words in Hebrew that defy easy definition. The first is ‘asher often translated as “happy” and the other is tamim or “complete.” Yet this psalm serves as a good definition for both. The person who has the characteristics in this psalm is “complete” and because he/she is complete, he/she is happy and content. God has provided boundaries that are praised. God’s gifts of a portion and an inheritance are enough for the one praying and worthy of praise. We are to be content in God and the parameters placed on human existence.

This concept of contentment can be tricky to preach today because it is not about material or monetary value. A preacher must be careful not to imply that the broken systems of this world are justified and one should just be content in the face or racism, sexism, under employment, and injustice. No! The psalm is not speaking in defense of injustice, nor should we be content with broken systems, but we should be content with God and our relationship with God and our place in God’s kingdom. Indeed, it is this type of personal “completeness” that provides the strength and confidence to speak out against worldly powers. Despite what we are not by the world’s standards, God has given to us what we need and even our conscience is a gift for it keeps us in the ways of the Lord. The next stanza (vv 7-8) continues the confession declaring the greatness of the Lord for God’s teaching and God’s constant presence. The psalm blesses God for the gift of counsel and a conscience that is guided by God keeping us from the wrong paths in life.

The psalm ends with resounding praise of what is to come in the future and that future is secure in God’s hands. Here again the Gospel lesson and the psalm mesh together into a powerful message. For the Good News of God often becomes twisted into a “rapture theology” that teaches humans to get right with God or face eternal wrath. The end times from the Gospels is yet another thing we are to fear. The Gospel lesson and the psalm both state that future is in God’s hands. The second coming is not the terrible end to our world, but the glorious transformation of old broken systems into justice for all whom the Lord made. “In your presence is complete gladness and everlasting pleasure at your right hand.” The kingdoms of the world are violent and unjust places so trust should be placed in God’s right hand where our complete selves are to be found.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

Israel Kamudzandu

One of the besetting sins of 21st century Christianity is “performance,” by which I refer to an unreflective and anti-formational, anti-theological, and anti-spiritual formation of both the officiating clergy and Christians who are either participating in baptism or Holy Communion.

Read in the context of post-modernism, Hebrews 10, seems to call into question our assumptions around the so-called means of grace practices that all Christians engage in during times of worship. The sharp contrast between the repeated sacrifices done by the Jewish priest and the once-and-for-all sacrifice that Jesus did serves as a reminder of the true nature of the identity of Jesus as the one who establishes a new covenant. As partakers of Holy Communion, Christians are reminded of the presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine elements.

The preacher of Hebrews returns once again to the basic text, which is Psalm 110:1-4 of which a eternal priest like Melchizedek was to remain seated until his enemies were put down. Having already offered his once-for-all sacrifice, he sits in the rightful place, “at the right hand of God,” (Hebrews 10:12a). What then should Christians do or what are the implications of what the Hebrew preacher is saying in these verses? I want to suggest three elements that can assist preachers to interpret these verses in a practical way. First, sacrifices are meaningful when they give people what they need, rather than what they want. Since Jesus came as a high Priest, he came as John claims, to “have life and have it abundantly.” It is crucial for preachers to remind parishioners of the presence of Jesus Christ in all that they do and say. Second, people must prepare themselves to receive, be it the effects of baptism or Holy Communion, and they can only do this after prayer. Prayer is absolutely necessary for spiritual and faith transformation and without prayer, all that we do in our churches slides into meaningless and powerless rituals. Third, people must pray for Holiness (Psalm 51:1-2). The problem in our postmodern era and in some parts of the world is that there are some Christians who believe that there is nothing to confess while they live in sin, yet God commands us to “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The following verses of Hebrews 10:15-18 are probably problematic to most Christians because the mention of the “Holy Spirit” as the one that testifies about what God through Jesus says, tends to be difficult for people to wrestle with. Yet, the power of the written word and Jesus’ power is manifested in the work of the Holy Spirit, which is the cornerstone of biblical interpretation, worship, and all that takes place in the Church. Like Christians, Jewish preachers and writers attributed the inspiration of Scripture to the “Holy Spirit,” who in ancient Judaism was viewed as the Spirit of prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34). As an African preacher and New Testament scholar, I have lived to believe and count on the interceding power of the Holy Spirit when I preach, teach, and pray. In a word, the Holy Spirit is another way of talking about God and since the Son is also God, Hebrews raises a fundamental theological fact of the inseparability of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In fact, Hebrews 10 reminds preachers to always remember that Jesus is more superior to any other priest, be it a Levitical or modern day priest.

The theological notion that Jesus is a high priest before God leads interpreters to wrestle with the idea of a heavenly tabernacle of which Jesus Christ is the embodiment (Exodus 25:9; 40; 26:30). While the notion of colonization and decolonization do not appear in Hebrews, readers may be intrigued to notice how verses 15-18, are a call to be decolonized from colonial powers of culture, religion, and empires. The promise of verse 18 is that the new covenant established by Jesus Christ, the eternal priest, was first and foremost for the forgiveness of sins, and one’s sins will never be remembered because of the ‘atonement’ that was made by Jesus. In the postmodern period, the gospel of Jesus Christ has one goal in mind, simply to decolonize families, individuals, churches, and world communities from religious, cultural, and imperial colonization. Hebrews has one goal in mind and that goal is to rescue souls from spiritual death; restoring and nourishing believers to eternal life through Jesus Christ. Thus, being a believer is equal to being a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). The problem for our time is that there are many Christians who do not believe in what Jesus Christ did, and consequently their faith in Jesus is not well established.

The theology of Hebrews is that forgiveness is for everyone no matter how wicked one is. The key is simply to confess and believe in what Jesus did. The message that Jesus has compassion for everyone is profoundly important for readers and interpreters of Hebrews. Like Psalm 95:4-13, Hebrews calls on believers to seize the opportunity to enter God’s resting place and in similar ways to believe in the eternal role, function, and place of Jesus Christ as the one who allows believers to have access to God. While there are some seasons when believers slide into spiritual sluggishness and drooping morals and ethics, Hebrews summons Christians to a life of constant spiritual alertness, engagement, and striving to be Holy and perfect (Hebrews 12:2).

Hebrews 10:19-25 are indisputably a call to a new form of worshiping God, one in which faith in Jesus allows believers to have access to God without waiting for a priest. The superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice opened a new door for believers to have obedience in both death and resurrection of the messiah. In verse 21, the preacher alludes to Jesus’ superiority over Moses and thus helps interpreters to appreciate the magnitude of the ‘Christ event.’ Of theological depth is the language of “Drawing near,” which signals an invitation to enter into a relationship with God (Hebrews 7:19), as well as availing oneself in the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19-20).

Most lay people may not understand the language of Hebrews, especially when it comes to phrases such as “holding fast, faithful, and harmony,” but these words point to the presence of evil, and as such Christians must remain faithful as Jesus did in his ministry, death, and resurrection. Jesus, the faithful one, is a model of faith and the Hebrews preacher exhorts Christians to emulate the example of Jesus. In summary, Hebrews 10:11-25 is a call to faithful living and an exhortation to endurance in the midst of a series of trials, tribulations, and persecutions.