Lectionary Commentaries for August 12, 2018
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 6:35, 41-51

Susan Hylen

Jesus is manna, that miraculous substance with which God cultivated relationship with Israel and sustained them in the wilderness.

John continues to interpret Jesus’ identity through the story of the manna, God’s miraculous bread from heaven. The crowd introduced the story by quoting the scripture, “he gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6:31). Jesus interprets this scripture verse throughout verses 32-58. Although the crowd was initially receptive to the idea that Jesus could provide them with manna (verse 34), he goes on to indicate that he is the manna.

In the first “I am” statement of John’s Gospel (compare with John 8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:5) Jesus states that he is the “bread of life” (John 6:35). Both this phrase and the phrase “bread from heaven” were references to the story of the manna. Jesus’ initial statement in verse 35 associates him with the life-giving power of the manna. In the wilderness, the Israelites had neither food nor drink and would have died without God’s provision. So also Jesus has just provided miraculous food for 5,000 people (John 6:1-14).

Also like the manna story, Jesus is not only talking about the relief of literal hunger. The manna story is a story about trust in God. God saved Israel from slavery in Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14-15). But once in the desert, Israel did not trust God to provide for them. Even so, God provided both food and water throughout their forty years (Exodus 16:35).

Just as the Israelites complained to Moses, so also the Jews complain about Jesus. The word “complain” (John 6:41, Greek: gonguzo) is a cognate of words used in the Septuagint to describe Israel’s grumbling against God and Moses (for example Exodus 16:2, 7, diagonguzo; Exodus 16:7-9, gonguzmos). This theme continues in John 6:52 and John 6:61. The grumbling of the crowd characterizes them as the Israelites in the Exodus story. They have experienced God’s salvation and yet do not fully trust in God.

Manna had to be collected according to the instructions God gave (Exodus 16:16-26), and therefore was a training ground for learning to trust God’s word. Deuteronomy summarizes the story this way: “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you not your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). The memory of the manna story was not simply that God fed Israel, but that eating manna was akin to learning God’s wisdom and abiding by God’s law (compare with Psalm 78: 11-25; Wisdom 16:21-29).

The Greek word pisteuo, which is translated “believe” throughout John, was more commonly used to convey a trusting relationship. Thus, even though John is concerned that readers understand that Jesus is who he claims to be, pisteuo might better be translated as “trust” in these verses. John emphasizes throughout the Gospel that the audience should trust the witnesses to Jesus, along with Jesus’ own words and signs, and through these things come to trust in Jesus.

In a similar way, God gave Moses signs to perform so that the people would trust or believe that God sent Moses to them (see Exodus 4:1-9). God’s salvation of Israel resulted in their trust (Exodus 14:31), but the question of Israel’s on-going trust that God was with them animates the wilderness stories (for example Numbers 14:11; 20:12). This sense of the word pisteuo is surely in play in John 6:35, 47. The one who trusts in Jesus feeds on the bread of life. Like the manna, trust is required to access the life Jesus offers.

The gift of manna in Exodus is intertwined with God’s commands.

Moses said to them “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents’” (Exodus 16:15-16).

Those who did not gather the manna as instructed saw the extra manna rot, or they found that none was available to gather on the sabbath (Exodus 16:20, 27). Living by manna meant living by God’s word.

The bread Jesus provides is similar. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45). That is, not anyone can eat of the manna, but only those who followed the instructions of God. Since the opening verses, John has been associating Jesus with God’s word or wisdom, and the manna metaphor continues that important idea and extends it in a new way. Jesus the word is life-giving in the same concrete ways that the manna was. He communicates God’s will and through that word, cultivates a relationship of trust between human and divine.

Jesus suggests that he is different from the manna in one way. The ancestors died in the wilderness, but the one who eats Jesus’ bread “does not die” (John 6:50). This is not a criticism of the manna. The death of Moses and the first generation was a well-known part of the Exodus story, resulting from Israel’s idolatry. Jesus as manna offers to overcome that part of the story. Those who come to Jesus have learned from the Father. They are followers of God’s word who are promised a life-giving relationship that endures.

John’s characterization of Jesus as manna in these verses may convey a message similar to that of Psalm 1. Those who delight in God’s law “are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper” (Psalm 1:3). Both writers convey the deep and sustaining connection that comes from learning and following God’s word.

First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4-8

Garrett Galvin

When I was working my way through college, I was forced to take a year off to pay debts and start at a new school.1

I worked in two restaurants during that year. In the evening I worked at an elegant restaurant and in the mornings I worked at a diner. We referred to the morning shift as “slinging hash.” I was really bad at it. I am not a “morning person” to start with, and I often was up pretty late at the other restaurant, so I was definitely bumbling my way through the shifts. I messed up order after order or arrived late and was on the receiving end of a lot of short tempers.

Finally, one of the veteran waitresses who worked the counter pulled me aside. She said that it looked like I was having a lot of problems and I agreed with her. She told me that I could make a lot of mistakes during the morning shift, and they would be quickly forgiven. I could burn toast, I could be late with the food, I could get the order wrong, but the one thing I could not do is be late with the coffee. I had to get coffee to them immediately and I had to promptly refill the coffee. If I did this, all other mistakes would be forgiven. She was absolutely correct and my job went much more smoothly after this corrective. I got out of the wilderness and could proceed on my journey back to college.

Elijah literally finds himself in the wilderness in this reading, but he also seems to be figuratively in the wilderness as he asks the Lord to take his life. Elijah has endured a traumatic episode with the prophets of Baal and Asherah up in the northern region of Carmel. Although he successfully dispatched the prophets and demonstrated God’s power to Ahab, something is wrong. Elijah experiences a sense of shame or failure or some type of emotion on which we cannot quite put our finger. It leaves him deflated, despondent and depressed.

We may never know what exactly led to this situation under the broom tree in the wilderness, but I imagine we can all think of difficult situation like this. We can think of Hagar in the wilderness with her young boy, but God would not allow that situation to endure. We can think of Jonah under his own tree in faraway Nineveh, equally despondent.

The Bible presents these scenarios to us in order to highlight the travails of God’s people. Whether they be a foreign female slave, a runaway prophet, or perhaps the most famous prophet, there will be bumps in the road or perhaps chasms in the road. Our Scripture focuses on “the way.” At times that way is crystal clear. 1 Kings has previously presented Elijah as assured and triumphant. He seemed to have no problem finding his way, yet now we see a very different Elijah, an Elijah sharing more in common with Hagar and Jonah than Elisha and Isaiah. While we meet a very different Elijah here, we meet the same Lord here who ministered to Hagar and Jonah.

Elijah’s struggles with many things, but nothing more than himself. We can all probably recognize how we can be our own worst enemy. 1 Kings 19 clearly demonstrates Elijah’s demons bringing him to a standstill. Oftentimes, it is easy for us to see the source of other people’s problems. We have seen many triumphs of Elijah before this event, and we know that there will be many triumphs to follow. With all of this in mind it can be hard to understand how things went so wrong so quickly for Elijah. Yet that is part of Elijah’s story just like it can often be part of our story. We can often find ourselves most at risk, when we are feeling most invulnerable.

God sends unexpected help to Elijah during his time of great vulnerability. Elijah is able to overcome his great sadness through the care of the angels and the nourishment of their food. This story invites us to see how the Lord has been present to us in difficult moments. It also invites us to view our problems through a lens able to see God’s divine presence in the world. Just as God is clearly present to Elijah in order to help him overcome his travails, we must have the same confidence that God is present and will be present in our lives. We know the whole of the Elijah story and can see this as just a blip in the story. We must also have the awareness that our travails and troubles are far from the whole of our story. Just as God has been present in our past, we must persevere in the hope that God will be present in our future.

We find a compassionate God here sending an angel to Elijah in his hour of need, and sending an angel again to Elijah in the following verse. As God accompanies Elijah, Hagar, and Jonah on their journey, Scripture invites us to consider how God has accompanied us on our journeys. We can think of Elijah going from mountain top to mountain top on his journey from Carmel to Horeb.

Those mountain experiences are memorable and often fill us with life, especially when we have transcendent experiences of God. Yet Scripture stops here to focus on the horizontal experience rather than the vertical experience. This reading challenges us to see how God was present to us in the boring parts of our journey. Elijah teaches us to bring all our emotions to God. God will be present to us in different ways on different parts of the journey. We cannot experience the theophany of a storm cloud and deluge in the middle of the desert, but God finds a different way to be present to us. Our reading assures us that God makes the entire journey with us.


1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 12, 2018.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Gennifer Benjamin Brooks

Almost from its beginning, David’s life has been overshadowed by violence of one form or another, either perpetrated by him or by others against him.

Earlier in 2 Samuel, David had grieved openly at the death of his newborn son, a child that had been conceived in violence perpetrated against Bathsheba. Unlike the present situation, that son had been innocent of any wrongdoing, but here we find David’s adult son caught in the grip of an adversarial situation, in a fight for power, in the midst of death-dealing violence, and yet at his death, there is an outpouring of grief from David.

The selected verses that make up this lectionary text disallows the tension that the author sets in place through the record of Absalom’s attempt to oust his father from Israel’s throne. By bypassing the intervening verses, one loses both the width of the separation between father and son that resulted in war and also the sense of David’s continuous concern over the fate of the very son who has fought against him, who has challenged his right to be king.

The beginning of the text records David’s strict instructions to his generals that they should “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake” (2 Samuel 18:5b). What does it say for a father that regardless of the ills committed by his child, he cares enough to seek that child’s welfare? The reflection of the care that God gives to each of us, regardless of our continued sinfulness is obvious.

As fallen humanity, we sin in thought, word, and deed. We wage war in our spirits and with one another because of the willfulness of our minds. Violence engulfs our lives and we not only fight with each other but we are also at war within ourselves against the directives that God gives us for holy living. Yet God continues to make each of us recipients of God’s favor that seeks only our good.

And like Joab, those who are charged to protect us from harm, to help us live out the grace of God in our daily lives, are too often the very ones who seek to do us harm, and to be the perpetrators of the death-dealing systems that overshadow our lives. Joab had heard the words of his king and knew that David wanted his son’s life spared. But Joab felt that he knew what would be better for all concerned. Since Absalom had been the cause and the originator of the war in which he and all the troops were involved, to get rid of Absalom was to “cut off the head of the snake,” so to speak, and get rid of the problem once and for all.

Joab’s action offers us an example of one who disregards the divine directives and creates a new path that leads, not to the goal set by the leader, by God, if you will, but follows his or her own path. In doing so, it brings about a result that is contrary to that which God intended. Too often there are persons in our lives that fit that picture and whose leadership points to a different direction than that which God has set in place. The analogy of this story with the Christian story may not provide a clear parallel with one’s life, yet the beginning and the ending fit clearly and closely with the divine/human relationship. God desires fullness of life for each person and seeks in any way to hold back the forces of death that roams freely in the world.

In the last verse of this text David is found expressing deep agony over his son’s death. This verse has been touted as a great example of parental grief, expressed to such an extent that it overshadows for David the great victory that the army has won over the forces that have sought to overthrow his throne. David is broken-hearted. His weeping is loud and long; his grief is inconsolable; his pain feels like death. It is the response of a loving father at the loss of a beloved child. Given the broken relationship between father and son, one may think of David’s outpouring of grief as excessive. Joab certainly thinks so and calls David back to reclaim his position and take up his responsibility.

Similarly, God grieves at the loss of each person from the realm of God. God who has seen the plight of the human race and has taken steps to ensure that each person has abundant life, grieves deeply over each person that is lost to sin. God is aware of the sin that so easily besets us and draws us into a war with ourselves and with one another. But despite our sinfulness, God desires our good, and has done the best to ensure that our life is saved.

Without turning this text into an explanation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the preacher can be faithful to the Old Testament text and speak of the God of creation who made us and desires the best for us. It is that same God who wept when disobedience caused the death of the life in paradise that God had ordained for created humanity. Disobedience lost humanity the perfection that had been laid out for all people across time. But even when death came, it did not prevail in its totality because God’s heart was moved by deep compassion and God’s grace gave us new life.

That’s the overriding message of this text. David’s grief was real and palpable, as a father’s for a son. But despite the grief he felt, David could not restore Absalom. God on the other hand, as creator of all, has the power to restore life when the world does everything in its power to take it away. With God, death is not the end. Grief and pain are not the final answer. God restores our lives, and we live only and always in God’s favor.


Commentary on Psalm 34:1-8

Eric Mathis

I work with college students in a Baptist university.1

Telling our story, what Baptists call a “testimony,” is a common practice in campus worship, and not long ago I worked with a group of students to craft a small portion of their story to be told in worship.

As we were working on their story, one of them looked up and said, “I’m not sure my story — my testimony — is that exciting.” I think that’s the way a lot of us might often feel. We feel like one of these college students, or we feel like the author from the article “My Boring Christian Testimony” who claimed that her testimony was boring because nothing dramatic had ever happened in her life of faith.2 She went to Sunday school where her charts were dotted with stickers, she memorized scripture, sang hymns, never strayed from the church, and never had a moment she could describe as a “specific day of spiritual awakening” that most testimonies point to.

In the article, she claims it wasn’t until she was in her forties that she realized, “There is no dull salvation. The Son of God took on flesh to suffer and die, purchasing a people for Glory … the idea that anyone’s testimony could be uninteresting or unspectacular is a defamation of the work of Christ … When I don’t tell my story, I deprive the church of what should be one of its sweetest gifts. Boring stories like mine are just what the church, especially its young people, need to hear. Testimonies of childhood faith have all the elements of God’s amazing grace — beginning, middle, and end.”

Psalm 34: Overview

Psalm 34 is a testimony embedded in the narrative of scripture. Like any testimony, it gives the narrative of God and the narrative of David, the Old Testament protagonist or antagonist — depending on which part of his life the reader is considering. In Psalm 34, David gives testimony of a time when he fled Saul, took refuge with the Philistines, and came to be afraid of King Achish, the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-12).

The structure of the first eight verses of this Psalm does two things: it establishes the author’s intention to give a testimony (verse 1-3) and it provides details of David’s experience that prompted the testimony. Although this week’s lectionary reading includes verses 7 and 8, any division of verses 7-14 could be characterized as nebulous. Because they are included here, it could be that they are intended to foreshadow the message the Psalmist will emphasize through the remainder of the Psalm, that doing good is a matter of following the ways of the Lord.

Psalm 34:1-8

David begins his testimony in Psalm 34 by stating his intent: to worship YHWH at all times (verse 1). This praise, however, is not passive; it is an intentional commitment to extol the name of YHWH in an ongoing manner. This praise is to be continuous. It is to happen at all times. The author then invites, even commands others to listen (verse 2), particularly those who are weak. What is the cumulative result? The assembly will worship YHWH together by offering praise, so that what began as one individual’s praise has now become a corporate reason to praise (verse 3).

Verses 4-6 are a more specific account of the general introduction to Psalm 34. Here, the Psalmist doesn’t tell the whole story, but he does say that he prayed to YHWH, YHWH heard, and YHWH rescued him from what may have been a terrifying experience (verse 4). YHWH delivered him from the “object” of the fear, not only the feeling of fear. Looking to YHWH will do for others as it did for the Psalmist: give a new appearance (verse 5). In this particular instance, the new appearance was one of radiance, of shining. Verse 6 provides a recap of the Psalm: a weak man called to YHWH, YHWH listened, and YHWH delivered.

Preaching the Psalm

Thomas Long has said, “To be human is to live a story.” Psalm 34 reminds us of this. Psalm 34 also reminds us that sharing that story through the practice of Christian testimony is deeply embedded in the narrative of scripture and in the narrative of God and God’s people.

Here, we see David’s testimony embedded in the narrative of scripture, of God, and of God’s people. Through David, we are reminded that as Christians our testimonies are not boring because they involve the action of God, the one whose ears are turned to us, the one who has delivered our forebears, and the one who is ready to deliver us if we are bold enough to ask. And, we are reminded that when God does deliver us, we are to share that story so that our individual praise can become a communal praise.


1 Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 9, 2015.

2 Megan Hill, “My Boring Christian Testimony: How I Know It’s Nonetheless Real,” Christianity Today (December 31, 2014), <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/december/how-i-know-my-testimony-is-real.html>.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Scott Shauf

After the rich theological discussion of Ephesians 1-3, Paul turns in Ephesians 4-6 to an extended series of moral exhortations.

The guiding principle is given in the opening words of the section, where the author urges the audience “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). This point about unity is then elaborated artfully in the following verses: “one body and one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). This language of unity builds on the theological ideas of the first three chapters, where the primary point is that God has brought together all people through Christ.

Jews and Gentiles together now form “one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). God’s unified people are the church, which consists of Jews and Gentiles together as God’s temple, the place where God dwells (Ephesians 2:19-22). As Ephesians 4 moves forward with its moral exhortations, this emphasis on unity provides the framework for the individual instructions that are given.

Another key principle for the second half of Ephesians is that, since the Gentile audience has been brought by God’s grace into this new body, they must act in accordance with their new status rather than with their old ways prior to Christ. Ephesians 4:17 puts it bluntly: “you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” Immediately before our passage the audience is told “to put away your former way of life…and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24).

Having been brought into God’s people entails a transformation of identity and character, and with this transformation comes changed moral behavior. Our passage gives mostly very specific moral instructions. What makes the passage rich and not merely pedantic is that these instructions are grounded in the earlier theological ideas.

Our passage begins with a command to put away falsehood and to “speak the truth to our neighbors” (verse 25). It sounds like such an easy command, something we might think only children should need to be told. But note the reason that is then provided for it — “for we are members of one another.” Since the community members form one body (from Ephesians 4:4, quoted above), lying to one another simply makes no sense. It is a similar idea as in the better-known statement from later in Ephesians, “He who loves his wife loves himself” (5:28). The unity of the church is the basis for moral behavior.

Similar rationales are given for the instructions in Ephesians 4:28-29. In verse 28, thieves are told to give up stealing and instead to “labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Note that the prohibition of stealing is based not on the notion of respecting others’ property but solely on the motive of helping others in the community. Verse 29 likewise prohibits “evil talk” and enjoins speaking “what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Both moral action and moral speech are to be guided by the principle of doing what strengthens the community.

The instructions in the following verses, however, are given quite different rationales, and at first glance it may seem as if Paul has moved on from talking about the community to different things altogether. Verse 30 instructs the audience to “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Is offending God now the rationale, rather than building up the community? In fact, this is a false dichotomy. The Spirit is described in Ephesians as the mark of the community, as that which bonds the community together.

The language here in verse 30 echoes that of Ephesians 1:13 in referring to the Spirit as the “seal,” for example the mark of the community that is a pledge of God’s positive judgment on “the day of redemption.” In Ephesians 2:18 we are told that it is through the Spirit that both Jews and Gentiles have access to God, and in Ephesians 4:3 we saw that maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is one of the fundamental goals of the letter’s moral exhortation. Hence not grieving the Spirit goes hand in hand with building up the community; the Spirit is what makes the church God’s temple, God’s dwelling place.

Ephesians 4:31 enjoins getting rid of all kinds of destructive attitudes and speech, and verse 32 provides their replacement: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” Then comes the real kicker — the rationale that forgiveness is to be done “as God in Christ has forgiven you.” The final two verses of the passage build on this, urging the community to be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1) and to “live in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:2). The idea of imitating God both builds on Old Testament traditions — a key Levitical command is “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2) — and on the earlier language of Ephesians, where God’s plan is said to be to “gather up all things in him” (Ephesians 1:10) and Christians are said “to be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:29).

If the church is to be the dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:22), and both Christ and the Spirit are said to be in us (Ephesians 3:16-17), and we are “created in Christ Jesus” Ephesians (2:10) and “created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), then the moral exhortations to imitate God and to live in love as Christ did both follow naturally. Imitating God and loving as Christ did are high standards! These commands may be ambitious challenges for us, but they also remind us of the amazing possibilities for those who have been re-created in Christ and brought into the church, the very dwelling place of God.