Lectionary Commentaries for July 26, 2015
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 6:1-21

Craig A. Satterlee

Students who have studied John’s Gospel with me, and especially my teaching partner Barbara Rossing, will be shocked that I am cautioning preachers not to move too quickly to the Eucharist on these Sundays devoted to “the bread of life.”

Jesus has much to say to us about himself before we speak of the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps Jesus desires us to be aware of who he is before we receive him into ourselves. I am not thinking here of any doctrinal formula as much as a terrifying appreciation that in Jesus we are in the very presence of God.

“The Passover, the festival of the Jews was near” (John 6:4), and I imagine the minds of the large crowd following Jesus were at some level occupied with Moses. Jesus plays on the crowds’ — and our — preoccupation for all that it is worth. As a crowd followed Moses, so a crowd follows Jesus; both crowds follow because of the signs they have seen. It’s interesting that, while Moses prophesied plagues, Jesus produced abundance and healing.

And while “the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberius” (John 6:1) is a vague and undefined description, hard to pinpoint on a GPS, this very vagueness and lack of definition makes me think of the wilderness. So we have a crowd following a leader through the wilderness. We have the Exodus unfolding. And just like Moses, “Jesus went up the mountain” (v.3). Jesus adopts a position parallel to Moses.

As in the Exodus, God and God’s will are about to be revealed. This chapter is not as much about bread, even the bread of Holy Communion, as it is about who Jesus is. And John uses Moses as a reference point for this revelation. Herein lies the homiletic challenge. This reading from John’s Gospel demonstrates that Jesus is mightier than Moses. That’s quite a claim! How do we as Christian preachers make this claim in a way that means something to our hearers without disrespecting, denigrating, and diminishing Moses?

Perhaps the best way of proclaiming the greatness of Jesus is by recalling the greatness of Moses. Moses spoke mouth-to-mouth with the Almighty. Moses received God’s Name and saw God’s behind. Moses brought Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, and led the people through the wilderness to the Land of Promise. Then preachers might ponder who would be a Moses figure both for themselves and for their hearers. With an appreciation of who the biblical Moses is and an understanding of who a Moses figure might be for us, we can begin to grasp that, for Jesus to adopt a position parallel to Moses is to make a very large claim indeed. And in John’s hands, this is what Jesus does.

Like Moses, Jesus fed the multitude in the wilderness — with one important difference. When Moses asked God, “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’” (Numbers 11:13), Moses genuinely wanted to know. By contrast, when Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5), Jesus’ question is rhetorical; “he himself knew what he was going to do” (v. 6). Moses needed God to provide the people with food; Jesus knew he would provide it.

John claims Jesus is testing Philip. Do you suppose Philip recalled that God rained bread from heaven, and each day the people were to gather enough for that day, and in this way God tested them, whether they would follow God’s instruction or not? (See Exodus 16:4) If Philip knew he was being tested, Philip nevertheless failed the test. Jesus asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” And Philip answers in terms of the enormous amount of bread it would take to feed them (John 6:7). Andrew sees only the scantiness of their supplies (vv. 8-9). I cannot help but think of the church’s tendency to respond to Jesus and the needs of the people in terms of the amount of money it would take and the scarce resources that we possess. I am mindful that, if Jesus is testing us, and even when we know it, how often we nevertheless fail the test.

But Jesus feeds the people. Indeed, that “Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated” (John 6:11) certainly has Eucharistic overtones. But we are not yet talking about bread. We are still talking about who Jesus is. Perhaps this is the reason I have always been intrigued by the twelve baskets of leftover fragments (vv. 12-13). When the Israelites attempted to store the leftover manna, it perished. But the abundance Jesus provides remains available.

The crowd sees Jesus as a kind of Moses, but they do not see beyond that. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:14). The people have their expectations and they see Jesus as a Moses-like figure that fulfills them (See Deuteronomy 18:15-18). And in cases we too have mistaken Jesus for Moses, John provides the disciples and us with one thing more. When the disciples got into a boat and had rowed about three or four miles, “they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified” (v. 19). Perhaps it finally occurs to them that Jesus is mightier than even Moses. While Moses needed the Lord to part the sea so he and the Israelites could cross, Jesus comes walking on the surface of the water. Jesus comes across the waters as Lord, and reveals himself to the disciples with the name that God gave to Moses — I am (v. 20).

While Moses is God’s greatest prophet and lawgiver, Jesus is God. Stated another way: Whoever your — whoever our — Moses is, Jesus is mightier. Jesus is more.

First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 4:42-44

Garrett Galvin

Our short reading has a number of essential elements to it.

First, we hear about a “man of God” receiving an offering. The servant of the “man of God” is doubtful whether this offering is enough. The “man of God” does not appear to have any doubts. The narrative ends with the reality that this offering was more than enough. This narrative would seem to offer important background to the many reports of Jesus feeding large crowds with little resources.

The first puzzle is what exactly is a “man of God”? The Old Testament has many references to prophets. There are about four different words or Hebrew terms that can be translated as prophet. “Man of God” is one of those terms. The Old Testament describes a number of men that everyone acknowledges to be prophets as a “man of God.” So “man of God” is just the literal translation of a euphemism for prophet.

The next puzzle is who is the “man of God” here? Strictly speaking, we are never told who the “man of God” is here. This could be an independent account, but it is in the midst of stories all concerned with Elisha. Therefore, we do not have to stretch far to understand this material to be concerned with Elisha.

Elisha stands among the great prophets of the Old Testament. We have a large body of material concerned with him in First and Second Kings. He is an important figure within the salvation history of Israel as he will also be mentioned in the Book of Sirach and the Gospel of Luke. He inherits the mantle of Elijah and receives a double blessing from him (2 Kings 2:9-10). While Elisha remains something of a mysterious figure who should not be taken lightly (2 Kings 2:24), he also performs numerous impressive miracles like resuscitating the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:8-37). Elisha is a singular figure often connected with miracles and symbolic acts concerned with food. The actions of the “man of God” in this passage bear a great resemblance to what we have seen from Elisha in the past.

I would like to focus on one easily overlooked verb in this short passage because I think it tells us much about how God works. The verb is “to be left.” God seems to work through people who have an abundant vision of divine action. Here we see the “man of God” and his servant both assessing the same situation. I would imagine many of us have found ourselves in similar predicaments over the years. We encounter a situation where there is a scarcity of resources. How are we ever going to find a solution? These are the thoughts that I imagine are cascading through the head of the servant. These are not the thoughts in the head of the “man of God.” The “man of God” offers us a model of faith. The “man of God” tells us there will be some left, and it is confirmed at the end of the reading. God’s generosity is overflowing rather than parsimonious.

How does the “man of God” have such faith? This is undoubtedly a challenge for him as it is for all of us. For me it is very much a question of “How are we looking at the world?” We live in a world in which many see it through the lens of the servant, through the lens of scarcity. In many respects this is how our economic system functions. Advertising constantly reminds us of what we do not have and makes us feel inferior for not having it. If we somehow get the latest iPhone, then we will be accepted or have access to all that the world can provide us. Underpinning all of this is the constant pressure that there is not enough, and there will never be enough. Constant competition for resources fuels advertising and often makes us feel bad about ourselves.

The “man of God” sees things from a completely different perspective, and he invites us to open ourselves to a different perspective. Rather than seeing scarcity all around him, the “man of God” sees a world full of divine abundance. He invites us to see all that God is doing in our world rather than what is not happening in our world. The servant is stuck in the problem, which is a genuine perspective that I often find myself stuck in. What differentiates the servant from the “man of God” is that the “man of God” invites God into this problem. Rather than simply ruminating on the problem, the “man of God” invokes the Word of God. He does not stop at the problem, but he prays with the problem and thinks about how God can also be part of the solution.

Our story from Scripture reassures us that there is more than one way to approach a situation. We cannot run away from problems or resort to various formulas, prayers, or mantras for solutions. This is not the gospel of prosperity. No one is getting rich here. Rather, we see an abundance of divine action within this scenario. We are reminded that God made a good world. In the first chapter of the Bible, we hear the word “good” six times. When we realize that we are surrounded by all this goodness, we cannot help but have a reassuring sense of the abundance of divine action in our world. We are challenged by this reading to decide whether we want to look at the world through the lens of the servant or the man of God, Elisha.

Elisha’s model offers us a life full of hope. It is not a life without challenges because we see Elisha constantly in the midst of challenges. Yet we also see Elisha with the ability to respond to those challenges because he sees the world through the lens of abundance. Elisha does not look away from problems and he is constantly bombarded by people coming to him. Yet, Elisha’s reliance on God allows him to share his hope in the God of abundance with those around him and respond to their needs.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:1-15

Wil Gafney

Author’s Note: The explicit nature of the biblical text calls for an equally explicit conversation about the text and, I argue, that includes from the pulpit.

Second Samuel 11 tells the story of David’s rape of Bathsheba. The Church has equivocated on calling David’s action rape, some charging her with adultery. Having to prove to the reader that she was raped is uncomfortably similar to the plight in which many women and girls find themselves, having to prove to the police and general public that they were raped. (I say “women and girls” here, not to negate the very real experience of boys and men who also experience sexual assault, but because women and girls are so often disbelieved.)

The text indicates that David raped Bathsheba — it is important to write and preach in the active voice, holding him accountable — the evidence includes David’s commission of his soldiers to “take” her in v 4. Neither they nor she had the option to refuse. And, only David will be held accountable by God and Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 (viz. v 9); Bathsheba will not be accused of or punished for adultery in the scriptures.

In a literary sense, Bathsheba’s rape is about David. She is a character in his story, used to show how low he sinks, how penitent he becomes and how much God loves and forgives him. I prefer to read and preach the text with Bathsheba at the center of the story of her rape and aftermath, particularly the parts that are excluded from the lectionary. Doing so requires going beyond the text to some degree because it is not much interested in Bathsheba’s feelings, does not identify the rape as a crime or sin against her and shows no word from to God her directly or through any intermediary.

There is one further point about David that needs to made: David is a collector of women. After his broken engagement and marriage to Saul’s daughters Merab (1 Samuel 18:17-19) and Michal (1 Samuel 18:20-27; 25:44) over which he had no control, David collects more women. Prior to his abduction and rape of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11, David marries Abigail, a wealthy widow in 1 Samuel 25:1-42. In the very next verse, v 43, he marries Ahinoam as well, with no narrative explanation. Second Samuel chapter 3 lists David’s wives who have given birth to sons for him. The timing of these unions is not disclosed but they are placed before Bathsheba’s story. The sequence reflects the birth order of the sons. David’s wives include a royal daughter, Macaah of Geshur, daughter of King Talmai, and otherwise unknown women: Haggith, Abital, and Eglah. The birth order is significant; Solomon is a junior son who will eclipse many senior sons. So then, before he sends men to abduct Bathsheba for his use, David has sexual access to a minimum of six wives, seven if you count the banished Michal. The number does not include servants or slaves and prostitutes with which Israelite men could have sex without consequence. (One might argue that “servant” is not an appropriate translation given the expectation of unfettered sexual access.)

Bathsheba’s presentation in the scriptures is uncommon: Her name is preserved; only about nine percent of the personal names in the Hebrew Bible belong to women, (slightly more than one hundred). She is identified with regard to her ancestral family as a daughter or descendant of Eliam, and she is identified with regard to her spouse as the woman/wife of Uriah the Hittite. Her husband’s ethnicity has led some to speculate that her father is also Hittite. Others have identified her father with one of David’s legendary warriors in 2 Samuel 23:34, Eliam ben Ahithophel of Giloh. (In 1 Chronicles 3:5 her father’s name is Ammiel; both names are composed of the same two syllables in Hebrew, just in different order.)

Perhaps the text’s emphasis on Bathsheba’s family serves to indicate that she was a good woman, from a good family, in the same way contemporary conversations often turn to what a victim was doing or wearing. Indeed, many preachers accuse Bathsheba of flaunting herself. Again, it is important to note that the text neither condemns nor finds it out of order that Bathsheba bathes where she does. In the ethical world of the text as in our own, (they overlap here which is not always the case), David and only David is responsible for his actions.

In the aftermath of the rape, the text says that Bathsheba purified herself after her “uncleanness.” Many translations render this as “after her period,” which is a possibility accounting for the ease of conception as she would be fertile then. Any vaginal discharge, and the act of intercourse, also required the bathing ritual before which a woman was “taboo,” a better translation than the traditional “unclean.” Read in this light, Bathsheba does what many rape victims do; she washes as much of the rape off of herself as she can. Both text and culture support this.

There may have been weeks or months between the rape and the realization that she was pregnant. In the Middle Bronze and Iron Ages no one knew about the ova and the exact nature of the link between menstruation and pregnancy. As women then and now commonly bleed during pregnancy, the connection would not have been obvious. Women were not regarded as contributing anything but a suitable environment to conception. They were like fields, fertile or barren — though they surely knew seed could go bad yet never extended that analogy to male fertility. And, the word “she-conceived,” tahar, has the word “mountain,” har, in it, suggesting that pregnancies were visible when they were confirmed.

Bathsheba has to send word that she is pregnant — another humiliation. Through how many hands and mouths did that message pass before it reached David? Eventually, Bathsheba will have to live with her rapist, share his bed, and bear him more children, at least four according to 1 Chronicles 3:5.

Bathsheba’s story ends in 1 Kings chapters 1-2. She and Nathan work together to get Solomon on the throne. In Bathsheba’s last appearance in the scriptures, Solomon installs her on a throne at his right-hand side, gets up off of his throne and bows down before her. This may well be the beginning of the tradition of the Gevirah, the Queen Mother as an authoritative office that would characterize the later Judean monarchy. This text is an important supplement to Bathsheba’s rape narrative in 2 Samuel 11 because she survives the rape and David and thrives in spite of what it and he has done to her.


Commentary on Psalm 145:10-18

Jerome Creach

The main subject of Psalm 145 is the eternal kingship of the Lord.

The psalm contains a comprehensive expression of praise for God as heavenly king. Perhaps this is why the psalm’s superscription designates it as a “song of praise” (Tehillah). Psalm 145 is the only psalm to be identified this way. The Talmud recognizes its unique identity as a song of praise by saying, “Everyone who repeats the Tehillah of David thrice a day may be sure that he is a child of the world to come” (Berakot 4b).1 What the Talmud surely recognizes is that Psalm 145 invites the believer to praise God in ways that acknowledge God’s exclusive prerogative as ruler of the cosmos and God’s unique care for those who seek him. This central set of concerns is expressed in verses 10-18, the lectionary reading for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem. Each successive verse begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Acrostics were perhaps composed for ease of memorization or to make the theological point that what is expressed in the poem aims to be comprehensive. The acrostic style creates a somewhat artificial structure. Nevertheless, the psalm has two distinct points at which the psalmist invites praise of God. In the first verse the psalmist declares “I will extol you, my God and King,” thus giving personal witness to the intention to praise. Then verse 10 expands the voice of praise to “all your works” and “all your faithful.” Hence, verse 10 marks a second beginning of praise in Psalm 145. The initial “I” voice in verse 10 speaks on behalf of all God’s creatures and all God’s people with a similar promise of praise: “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.”

A key question about verse 10 concerns the identity of “your faithful.” Does this expression refer to a special group within Israel (e.g. “those who love him,” as opposed to the wicked; see verse 20), to all the Israelites, or to some broader constituency? Although the psalm does not make the identity explicit, the pairing of “your faithful” with “all your works” would seem to argue for a broad identity.2 Even if the faithful ones who speak God’s praise do not designate an expanded, inclusive group, however, their praise sends word of God’s grace to all people (verse 12). The message, if not the messengers, includes all who turn to God. The only criterion for inclusion is need recognized and expressed.

An important part of the theology of Psalm 145:10-18 is the location of the psalm in the Psalter. It appears as the last psalm before the final doxology (Psalms 146-150, tied together by “Praise the Lord” at the beginning and end of each). As the final psalm in the last Davidic collection in the book (Psalms 138-145), Psalm 145 is also the last word of David in the Psalter. Here David speaks and praises God, and his praise in turn introduces the praise-filled conclusion to the Psalter in Psalms 146-150. At the center of David’s praise, verses 10-18 declare that “your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (verse 13) and “the Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings” (verse 17). In other words, God as heavenly king is faithful in a way that no king of Israel ever was, and God’s kingdom of righteousness endures forever, in contrast to the Davidic monarchy that could not last. Perhaps most remarkably, David himself delivers this message. David appears here (as Moses earlier, in Psalm 90) as mediator for and guide to Israel from across the ages. He points the Israelites who have known humiliation and defeat at the hands of the Babylonians to the kingdom of God rather than to the kingdom of David’s descendants. They will find hope and future in the heavenly King rather than in a mortal “in whom is no help” (Psalm 146:3).

It is also appropriate that this final message on the lips of David sums up much of what the Psalter has been expressing in Psalms 1-144. Namely, God is uniquely concerned for the lowly and downcast (see Psalms 1; 34; 37). As verse 14 says, “the lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” As the psalm expresses this feature of God’s character it also presents a thorough-going understanding of God’s grace available through dependence and faith. As verse 18 proclaims, “the lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Indeed, the main requirement for getting help from God and knowing God’s salvation is calling on him out of one’s need. In other words, God looks for those open to divine direction and help. Faithfulness is thus defined primarily by dependence.

One final note on the identity of David as “author” of Psalm 145: as suggested already, the identity with David is not meant to be an historical statement about authorship. Rather, David is representative of the people and thus voices their needs. Another way to describe the Davidic identity is to say the people are invited to pray as David. Thus, this psalm anticipates the practice of praying in Jesus’ name. This makes all the more appropriate that the prayer in verses 10-18 looks to God alone as the source of salvation and hope.3


1 Cited in James Luther Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 437.

2 Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 3:A Commentary on Psalms 101-150 (Hermeneia; translated by Linda M. Maloney; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), p. 599.

3 See Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150: A Continental Commentary (trans. Hilton C. Oswald; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 544.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 3:14-21

Brian Peterson

This text comes at a hinge point in Ephesians.

Chapters 1-3 are an expansive statement about God’s overflowing and saving grace. That is brought to a fitting conclusion with this prayer and doxology, as the author prays that the church be filled by the God who is able to do more than we can imagine. That life of being filled is then described in the exhortations of chapters 4-6 (see 4:1). The author’s vision of the church’s mission is breathtaking: “that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10). In order to live out that mission, the church needs God’s own strength, power, and presence; that is, the church needs this prayer, and the one who is the object of its closing doxology.

God the Creator names all the stars (Psalm 147:4). The act of naming is a sign of authority and sovereignty over that which is named (see Genesis 2:19-20). So also the claim that all “families” get their name from the one Father of all is a declaration of God’s universal authority. The “families” mentioned here should not be thought of in terms of nuclear families named Jones or Smith. In a word play that is more evident in Greek than in English, the point is that God is the “pater” (father) of every “patria” — every clan or tribe, every grouping imaginable. Before the author launches into this prayer for the church, he reminds the readers that the God to whom they pray is the God and Father of all, the one who has reconciled, and will reconcile, all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). This God has already broken down the wall that divided Jews and Gentiles (2:14-16). This prayer will be focused on the church, but the gracious plan of God is as wide as the cosmos, and it is the God who is Father of every race, tribe, clan, and nation who calls, equips, and sends the church on its mission to that whole wide world.

Ephesians 3:16-17 list, in a bewildering array, several things that seem to be the content of the author’s prayer: that the church would be strengthened inwardly, that Christ may dwell within the church, and that the church may be firmly founded upon and growing in the soil of love. In the end, all of this amounts to the same thing. God’s strengthening, the indwelling presence of Christ, and the foundation of love are inseparable; any of these entail the other two as well.

Ephesians 3:18, in keeping with Ephesians’ effusive style, talks about knowing the breadth and length and height and depth, though the author doesn’t identify the reality about which the church will know such dimensions. The most likely understanding is that the author is talking about Christ’s love (mentioned explicitly in 19a). It is not that Christ’s love can be measured and its limits determined; rather, the author prays that the church will come to know the infinite reach of this love in all directions (see Romans 11:33, Philippians 4:7). It is such love that we “comprehend with all the saints.” This is what worship, service, fellowship, and the whole life of the church is about. This divine love is not knowledge gained by private study, but love learned in the fellowship of the church. In this community we learn the love of Christ — both Christ’s love for us and what it means to love Christ in others, including our enemies from “every family.”           

To know such love, indeed to be possessed by such love, is “the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19b). This fullness is not something we possess and hold; rather, we are filled for the sake of the fullness of God in the world. We are filled by God’s grace so that the reconciliation which has been accomplished in Christ might become the actual experience of the world. On the front wall of many Orthodox churches is an icon of Mary, with her child Jesus in her lap, and her arms spread wide. In traditional terminology, this is Mary who is “more spacious than the heavens,” because within her body she held and brought to the world the one who holds all things together (again, see 1:10). In an analogous way, as a result of knowing the love of Christ, we carry into the world that love which is the embracing fullness of God in Christ.

And so we are not simply filled “with” God’s fullness as something to make us feel satisfied and content, but we are filled for the goal of God’s fullness in and for the world. In this way, we come to know the love which surpasses knowing (Ephesians 3:19a). To know what is beyond knowing — what a wonderful phrase! This is not mere gnosis, but is that love which is the very life of the Triune God. Being filled with such love is what landed Paul in prison (and this author knows that Paul did not return to freedom but found martyrdom). This is not the fullness promised by a “prosperity gospel,” but the fullness of a life given in love for the world. Indeed, that path of suffering love may be “beyond what we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) precisely because we are unwilling to do so.

The text closes with a word about “glory” in the church. The language may, either consciously or unconsciously, conjure images of big churches, filled parking lots, expensive buildings, and high-salaried leaders. But where is the glory when the witnesses to God’s love are martyred, or when the temples of cultural and imperial power around us attract larger crowds, more money, and more appreciation? As with the 1st century church for whom this letter was written, we need strengthening, and a vision of what it means to be filled for the fullness of God (which is Christ himself), so that we can recognize where the glory of God is present.