Lectionary Commentaries for July 19, 2015
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Elizabeth Webb

A lot happens in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is rejected in his hometown.

He sends the twelve on mission. John the Baptist is killed. Jesus feeds the five thousand and walks on water. These are all major events in Mark’s narrative, so much so that the passages appointed for today pale in comparison. Sure, Jesus heals many people in the end, but otherwise these pericopes seem to have missed the dramatic boat.

But in fact, the passages that make up the Gospel reading for today serve in important ways to advance Mark’s central concern: the inauguration of the kingdom of God in Jesus. These verses emphasize Jesus’ identity as the true, divine shepherd, who will guide his sheep into the kingdom; and the nature of that kingdom, through healings that disrupt the economy of this world.

The Urgency of the Gospel

The first words that Mark has Jesus speak are of the nearness of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), and the narrative rushes toward the death and resurrection of Jesus that set in motion the fulfillment of the kingdom. Things happen fast in Mark’s Gospel; one event follows quickly after another, emphasizing that the time is short. The word eutheos, translated “immediately” or “at once,” occurs over 40 times in this Gospel. Jesus moves quickly, as do the events that lead to his death and resurrection.

The urgency of Mark’s Gospel is reflected in the text for today. After the apostles relay to Jesus in Mark 6:30 “all they had done and taught” on their mission, he recognizes their need for rest, and calls them to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” for “they had no leisure even to eat” (verse 31). They cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat, but they do not get the rest that Jesus prescribes for them, because many people “saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them” (verse 33). The second pericope depicts another crossing of the sea, where when they reach land the people recognized Jesus “at once,” and they “rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was” (verses 54 and 55). The urgency of the gospel and of the people’s need for it are too great to waste any time.

Jesus, the Shepherd of the Kingdom

Several biblical resonances are at work in verses 30-34, each of which underscores Jesus’ identity as the true shepherd, the very inauguration of the divine kingdom. Seeing the great crowd, Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (verse 34). These words echo Moses’s prayer in Numbers 27, in which he asks God to appoint his successor, someone “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:17).

Like many of the usages of shepherd language in the Hebrew Bible, here in Mark the language of Jesus as shepherd serves as a scathing critique of Israel’s false leaders. Ezekiel 34, for example, lambasts Israel’s kings for enriching themselves while ignoring the needs of the people: “Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? … You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals” (Ezekiel 34:2b-5).

Following as it does the narrative of John’s beheading, the Markan passage serves as an indictment of Herod. The people of God have become precisely what Moses and Ezekiel warned against, sheep without a shepherd, weakened and scattered and vulnerable. Meanwhile their “shepherd,” Herod, throws a banquet “for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee” (verse 21), at which he kills the herald of God’s coming kingdom. The people are longing for, even chasing after, the true shepherd who will bring them into that kingdom.

Jesus, moved in compassion for these lost sheep, “began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). The food for which the people hunger is the very word of God, and in so feeding them Jesus shows himself to be a shepherd “after [God’s] own heart,” feeding God’s people “with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). What is more, he shows himself to be the divine shepherd, the very Son of God in whom the kingdom has come.

In Ezekiel 34, after rebuking the false shepherds of Israel, God reclaims God’s flock as their true shepherd. God will “rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness … I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice” (Ezekiel 34:12b, 16). These things Jesus does. The crowds that follow and gather around him, the healings and casting out of demons, the miraculous feedings are all signs that the Son of God is shepherding the people into God’s kingdom. Indeed, Jesus proclaims in Mark 13:27 that on the last day he will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Mark is clearly identifying Jesus as the divine shepherd, who will gather his sheep from the places where they have been scattered.

A Kingdom Economy

The healings that Jesus performs after the second sea crossing in today’s text point to how the kingdom of God upends the economy of this world. When Jesus and his apostles land, the people, as noted above, rush about “the whole region,” bringing the sick to wherever Jesus is. “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, … and all who touched [the fringe of Jesus’ cloak] were healed” (Mark 6:56). The word translated “marketplace,” agora, refers to a public space in which legal hearings, elections, and debates took place, in addition to the buying and selling of goods. Thus the marketplace was the political and commercial center of a city or town.

By healing the sick, the weakest and most vulnerable members of a community, in this space, Jesus is subverting the economy of this world through the very inauguration of God’s kingdom economy. While the marketplaces of the world belong to the rich and powerful, in the kingdom of God this most political and commercial of spaces is occupied by those with the least. In the age to come, Jesus proclaims, “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:31). That age is now breaking into this age; we who seek to live God’s kingdom here and now must follow Jesus’ subversion of worldly power and wealth.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 23:1-6

Tyler Mayfield

Just as sheep need a shepherd to guide and protect them, the people of Israel need responsible leaders to provide for them. Wise leadership matters.

Jeremiah 23:1-6, which concerns shepherds and their sheep, was chosen for this Sunday in July because of the thematic connection to the Gospel reading, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, which includes a description of the crowd following Jesus “like sheep not having a shepherd.” As we will see below, this image of shepherd-less sheep provokes feelings of anxiety and concern.

As you probably know, there are two tracks for the First Readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during the season of Pentecost. The Jeremiah passage is appointed for the track that provides complementary readings for the Gospel Reading. The other track provides a more consecutive and canonical reading through portions of the Old Testament.

Our passage issues judgment to shepherds who have not upheld their duties to their flock. Jeremiah is not concerned with actual livestock and real shepherds. Instead, the prophet is using a common metaphor from the ancient Near East to speak of human kings and leaders as shepherds to the people. The ovine imagery is appropriate since the duties and responsibilities of shepherds would be well-known to ancient readers. Shepherds are supposed to take care of their sheep. Feed them; protect them; guide them.

But the kings have not been good shepherds given that the sheep now find themselves in exile, scattered among the nations. God blames these leaders for destroying and scattering the sheep. Given the use of the plural, shepherds, we are to assume that a whole set of Judah’s kings is responsible, not just a single figure.

This judgment against the leadership brings up the question of responsibility and accountability. This passage from Jeremiah seems to want to place all the blame for the exile on the Judahite leadership (more specifically, the last few kings of Judah before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem). But can we always blame the shepherds for the disastrous affairs among their sheep fold? What role might the sheep play also in this scattering? And how about other nations’ shepherds who have held more political and military power? The theological and ethical perspective of Jeremiah 23 is quite narrow: woe to the shepherds!

The shepherd is indeed a very biblical image. Psalm 23 uses this same imagery to speak of God as a shepherd. Shepherds take their sheep to green pastures and still waters and along correct paths. They protect them with their rod and staff in the darkest valleys. Likewise, Ezekiel 34 speaks of the leaders of Israel as shepherds and of God as the good shepherd. God seeks out the scattered sheep and rescues them from dangerous places.

Many of us today do not have intimate knowledge of these pastoral responsibilities. The metaphor of a shepherd really works only for those of us with prior biblical knowledge or livestock experience. How might we reimagine this metaphor for today? How do we speak of and imagine leadership? Similarly, many of us do not live under the rule of a king. To conceive of God as a king does not resonate as well with a people of democracy. We need perhaps new metaphors for leadership, a way to update and expand our biblical metaphors. But where shall we obtain these understandings of leadership? Should we think of God as the good C.E.O.? or the President?

God’s solution to this instance of poor leadership is forthcoming. The oracle of judgment becomes an oracle of salvation in verse 3. God takes the initiative. God will gather the flock from their scattering, bringing them back to the fold of the land of Israel, and raise up new shepherds, new leaders, for them.

Verses 5-6 then move beyond the shepherd metaphor to speak of a righteous branch. God will raise up a Branch who will reign wisely so that Judah and Israel will be saved. Jeremiah has in mind an earthly king or line of royal figures here, a future Davidic monarchy.

Finally, we get a glimpse of the characteristics of a proper leader or shepherd in verse 5: the execution of justice and righteousness in the land. The specifics of this type of wise leadership are still withheld, as these details are not a part of the rhetorical goal of this oracle of promise. Nevertheless, we have a promise of new leadership. God will begin again with the house of David to enthrone a sagacious shepherd.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Ralph W. Klein

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this passage for both Jews and Christians.

While David’s offer to build Yahweh a house or a temple was rejected, Yahweh promised to build David a house, that is, an everlasting dynasty. Davidic kings ruled in Jerusalem for more than four centuries, ending with the exiling of Zedekiah in 586 BCE. But already before the end of the physical kingship, biblical writers concluded that God would keep the promise to David in the promise of the coming messiah, and Christians concluded that the promise of messiah was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, whose title Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word messiah. So 2 Samuel 7 is the real basis for the messianic hope.

The word “house” is used fifteen times in 2 Samuel 7:1-29 with three different meanings: a. David’s palace (vv. 1-2); b. Yahweh’s temple (vv. 5, 6, 7, and 13); and c. David’s dynasty (vv. 11, 16, 18, 19, 25, 26, 27, and 29 (twice). The luxurious quality of David’s palace led him to propose building a fitting temple for Yahweh, but while God declined this proposal, he ironically promised to build for David a dynastic house. In 2 Samuel 23:5 the promise to David is called an everlasting covenant.

The first seventeen verses of 2 Samuel 7 are commonly called the oracle of Nathan, while vv. 18-29 are David’s prayer in response to that oracle. The oracle of Nathan ends with v. 14a in the Revised Common Lectionary, presumably because vv. 14b-15 note that God will punish David and his descendants who sin with blows delivered by a foreign enemy, but the Davidic dynasty will not come to an end in the way Saul’s potential dynasty ended. This open-ended guarantee to all the kings despite their behavior does have potential theological problems.

It is not clear in the Oracle of Nathan why David is prohibited from building the temple. In fact, Nathan’s initial reaction to the proposal is quite positive: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you” (v. 3). It is only after the word of the LORD came to Nathan at night, that the prophet changed his mind. God seems to have two objections to the proposal. The first objection is to the idea of the temple as a permanent structure. From the time of the Exodus God had contented Godself with living in a tent or tabernacle, and God had never asked the tribal leaders (v. 7) to build a temple. The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 17:6 states that God had never asked one of the judges to build a temple. The words for tribal leaders and judges are quite similar in Hebrew. To some in Israel building a temple may have been seen to be an attempt to control God or to limit God’s freedom. Even the proposal to rebuild the temple after the exile is met with this rhetorical question: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me” (Isaiah 66:1)? There is also the problem that a temple built by a king might lead the temple establishment to endorse all the king’s policies, in an unhealthy mixture of church and state. That danger becomes clear in the northern kingdom when Amos is rebuked by the king’s priest Amaziah (Amos 7:10-17). Congregations who put too much value on their church building may have an “edifice complex.”

But the second objection is to David’s role in building a temple: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in (2 Samuel 7:6)? That too is surprising since Samuel had anointed David to be king, and the southern and northern tribes had anointed him as king in in 2 Samuel 2 and 5. Solomon addressed the question of why David could not build the temple in 1 Kings 5:3-5, suggesting that David was too busy to build a temple because of his many wars. The book of Chronicles builds on that suggestion by stating that David had shed too much blood in his wars (1 Chronicles 22:8 and 28:3). Solomon on the other hand was a man of peace to whom God had given rest from all his enemies (1 Chronicles 22:9). The oracle of Nathan too suggests that David’s son Solomon would build the temple (2 Samuel 7:13).

Scholars who note the conflicting themes in 2 Samuel 7 often suggest that this chapter has gone through several editions. However that may be, the chapter in its final form concludes quite clearly on the unbreakable promise to David as the basis for the long Davidic kingship and the messianic hope, and that focus leads easily to Christian proclamation.

The New Testament and we contemporary Christians proclaim Jesus as the fulfillment of the messianic hope. But the fulfillments of God’s promises are often better than the original promises themselves. Paul states, “We preach the messiah crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23), which has become the central theme in the Christian appropriation of this passage. But the death of the messiah is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Christians also recognize the deity of this Christ-messiah, again a motif not mentioned in the Old Testament. Old Testament writers also expected that the coming of the messiah would lead to justice and the total transformation of the society. Christians often speak of already and not yet. The full transformation of society will come with the second coming of Christ. But the Old Testament expectation should encourage Christians to seek peace and just already here and now.


Commentary on Psalm 23

James K. Mead

Well, here you are, wondering whether to take the leap of faith and make Psalm 23 the text for — or at least an important element of — proclamation for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost.

You may be aware of Walter Brueggemann’s verdict, namely, that commenting on this psalm is “almost pretentious.”1 If Brueggemann feels that way about commenting on it, where does that leave us with preaching it?

But before we sell ourselves short, I want to persuade you that there are ways to share this beloved poem with your congregation so that they discover new insights for themselves. A psalm as treasured as this one deserves a bold homiletical move, something that takes us and our hearers outside the “comfort zone” of a typical sermon. This might mean something more interactive, creating space within the message for meditation, conversation, song, or prayer. It might mean a different homiletical style from your “bread and butter” outlines and stories: perhaps an imaginative, perspectival testimony on the ways you, as their shepherd, have been one of the “sheep of God’s hand” (Psalm 95:7); or a dialogue/round table with two or three members of the congregation (some newer and some longer-term members) who each comment on an element of the psalm. If those ideas make you nervous, then at least craft your points, illustrations, and applications to get at something new for them, perhaps along the lines of, “What you didn’t know about Psalm 23 that will make you love it even more!” Regardless of the homiletical path you choose, I’m persuaded that your preaching and the congregation’s response will be enhanced by discovering amazing aspects of the psalm’s literary, historical, and theological dimensions.

Literary artistry. The basic facts about the psalm preach an eloquent message by themselves. There are fifty-five Hebrew words in this psalm, and unlike many psalms there are almost no repetitions.2 Only the Hebrew words for “Lord” (verses 1, 6), “day” (verse 6, twice), and possibly “restore/return” (verses 3, 6, NRSV “dwell”)3 are repeated. It’s as if the poet were given a list of some fifty words and told to write the most memorable poem in human history. Moreover, a total of fifty-five words creates a precise center (the 28th word), namely, “you,” in reference to the Lord. Thus, the thought at the very center of the poem is the phrase, “you are with me” (verse 4).4 Combine that insight with the closure created by the use of “Lord” in the psalm’s opening and closing phrases, and we see the portrait of the divine shepherd who is there at the beginning, the middle, and the end of our journey. By virtue of its literary artistry alone, therefore, this psalm declares that God enfolds his people so that we all are part of the flock; and yet this shepherd intimately knows the sheep in all their distinction and difference. Each one of us is throughout his or her life a unique and precious possession of God.

Historical context. Scholars have done excellent work explaining the ancient Near Eastern context of the psalm. Still, this is not an idea that every commentary discusses, and it almost certainly is not on your parishioners’ radar. Nevertheless, it is important for grasping the psalm’s meaning in its original context to know that both Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures used the shepherd image for their kings, their gods, or both. The epilogue to the famous Code of Hammurabi has that king state: “I made the people lie down in safe pastures, I did not allow anyone to frighten them.”5 Or in regard to the image of the banquet (vv 5-6), there is the goddess Anat who “arranges seats for the warriors, arranges tables for the soldiers.”6 The biblical psalmist, being well aware of this broad cultural background, is thus making an affirmation of faith: The Lord — not a foreign god or king — is the only true shepherd of each and every Israelite. We now hear this psalm not merely as a message of comfort on life’s journey but a theological creed spoken in the midst of our own culture with all of its earthly leaders and “gods” that can never be the Shepherd-King of Psalm 23.7

Biblical theology. Finally, while many parishioners will connect this poem with the shepherd images elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34, John 10), few will identify the echoes of Israel’s national journey of deliverance, wilderness, and emergence in the land (see especially Psalm 78:52-55).8 This most precious of personal psalms is about both our individual journeys and the journey of the people of God. Finally, biblical theology finds echoes of prophetic themes — the NRSV accurately renders the KJV’s “paths of righteousness” as “right paths” (verse 3) — connecting this psalm to the covenantal standards of justice. And the poet’s sense of protection from the enemies (verse 5) moves toward a richer understanding of reconciliation through the good shepherd who tells us to love and forgive them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 22:34).9

In the end, whatever vehicle you choose to carry the message of Psalm 23, find ways to share insights that increase your flock’s appreciation of their favorite psalm. Far from domesticating it through a thousand and one analytical details, your careful preparation will open up new worlds of meaning for your congregation.


1 Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 154.

2 I am counting the actual lexical units in Hebrew, not separating out the so-called inseparable prepositions and conjunctions.

3 A. E. Arterbury and W. H. Bellinger, “‘Returning’ to the Hospitality of the Lord: A Reconsideration of Psalm 23,5-6,” Biblica 86 (2008): 387-395.

4 This is a key focus in Rolf Jacobson’s commentary on the passage: “Psalm 23: You are with Me,” in The Book of Psalms, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 238-246.

5 See the study by Beth Tanner, “King Yahweh as the Good Shepherd: Taking another look at the Image of God in Psalm 23,” in David and Zion: Biblical Studies in Honor of J.J.M. Roberts, eds. B Batto and K. Roberts (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2004), 273-274.

6 Ibid, 281.

7 Jacobson calls this a “powerfully subversive element” (245).

8 For a discussion see Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 130.

9 See J. Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), IV:770.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 2:11-22

Kyle Fever

Circumcision, uncircumcision, and blood. These words all seem very abstract and not part of our cultural fabric.

The blood of Jesus is an important theological concept; but the phrase weirds people out. Talking about circumcision does not immediately imply something about one’s status as part of the people of God. People think hospital and current debates about whether it’s child abuse. The words don’t connect with the vast seas of non-seminary grads (and sometimes even for seminary grads) as we often assume it will. People are either confused by such churchy words, or they fit the words into oversimplified categories of Christian theology. If we are to communicate this passage effectively, we need to get past the words.

Ephesians 2:11-22 in Context

Rhetorically, Ephesians 2 lays very important groundwork for the rest of the letter. It’s helpful to see the argument in terms of concentric circles. The outer circle in 2:1-10 communicates God’s cosmic transformation of humanity from being dead in sin to alive in Christ. The inner circle in 2:11-22 begins with a “therefore” (dio), suggesting that everything said issues from 2:1-10. Here Paul1 focuses on the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, which falls within God’s bigger move of reconciling humanity from sin and death to life. This social, on-the-ground-relational transformation cannot be divorced from the greater cosmic move of transferring humanity from the house of the old aeon to the new house under the lordship of Jesus Christ. God’s reconciliation does not stop with me and my own sinfulness; it aims to resurrect humanity from the palpable widespread systemic brokenness of a world caught under sin and death.

Uncircumcision and Circumcision

Verses 11-12 focus on Gentiles who had been excluded and separated. They are the “uncircumcision.” It is not that Gentiles were “not saved” — not on the train to heaven but rather on the highway to hell. The writer describes their situation as “apart from Christ, separated from the commonwealth of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, not having hope and godless in the world.”

These verses provide opportunity to go in two directions. First, they provide a doorway to reorient the idea of God’s salvation. Being saved is not just “getting a ticket out of hell,” or positively put, assurance of heaven. It is a movement from one sphere of life to another. These verses remind us: salvation involves more than forgiveness of the individual sinful self; it is the integration into God’s work of redemption and reconciliation, which is strongly implied in the following verses (see also 2 Corinthians 5).

From the perspective of the author, humanity outside of God’s reconciliation exists as hopeless wanderers. It’s not that humanity apart from God has no identity or home. Humanity apart from God’s mission would not see themselves this way. But human identity outside of God’s working of redemption is about as lasting as the fog in the San Francisco bay. Sure, it’s thick and dense and a force to be reckoned with; but it will pass, revealing it was only a mist with no substance. It’s not that God has called humanity from nothingness; God has called humanity from the illusion that our stubborn insistence that we and our manufactured ways can actually bring into actualization our full identity as those made in the image of God.

Second, and related, these verses provide an opportunity to reorient hearers in our congregations to the importance of God’s historic people Israel and their story in the Old Testament — the “circumcision.” God’s salvation cannot properly be understood apart from the overarching trajectory of the unfolding mission of God through the people of Israel. And this is more than just finding the moral of the story in the various stories of Old Testament characters. It’s common to see Israel as incomplete apart from Christ, to minimize their place, seeing them as a “waiting room people,” to ask “what’s the moral of the story of David and Goliath?” Israel’s story is more significant than this. Scripture’s witness sets Israel as witnesses to God’s creational intentions in the world, an alternative people who witness to the promises of God to restore, and the ones through whom God would accomplish this. In spite of their humanity and struggles with God, their story remains the central witness to God and God’s ways, as well as to God’s faithfulness to not only redeem humanity, but to do so through the people Israel.

The Two Have Become One

The circumcision and the uncircumcision are two separate groups within humanity according to our author. One group was considered outsiders, the other insiders with regard to covenant with God (and it was not only that Jews saw Gentiles as outsiders; from the perspective of Gentile life and religiosity, Jews were equally ignorant of God as defined by their history and tradition). This separation between the two groups was not limited to theological disposition — to “belief”; it played out in very real ways in terms of human social relations. While it would be incorrect to say these groups of people had no interaction, it is important to understand that they did not sit at the same table together; they were not interested in sharing life. They were opposed.

This passage trumpets the good news that God has brought uncircumcision and circumcision together. One radical element of this message is that God’s unification of the two groups does not mean “uniformity.” One group does not fall under the power of the more dominant group. Rather, Paul says that God in Christ has made one humanity of the two. Gentiles do not become Jews; Jews do not become Gentiles. Rather, both Jews and Gentiles become united in Christ as Jew and Gentile. The uncircumcision are welcomed into the story of God played out through the people of the circumcision, to play their own part in the continuing story of redemption.

The point is that God’s reconciliation and transformation of humanity finds expression in a unity marked by welcoming and hospitality. Consider areas of divisiveness within the church, or even within culture. We even in the church should not presume that those outsiders need to become like us. The church should be a light that paves the way by welcoming both Jew and Gentile and uniting them into God’s mission in Christ (consider “conservative” and “liberal” [as useless as these phrases are, they remain very much in the vernacular of most churchgoers]; homosexual and heterosexual — not simply the people so identified, but even those who hold positions on both sides; American and Muslim; the list goes on).


This reconciliation comes through the blood of Christ. Behind this statement lies the upside-down idea that such uniting of humanity was won not through the blood of conquest and victory, but through (in the eyes of the world still enslaved to the spirit of the air) the blood of defeat. Where the unity sought in the Roman world came through conquest and uniformity to Rome’s ways, the victory of God comes so differently that it is unrecognizable to the world. “The powers’ triumph over Christ was their own defeat.”2 It’s not that Christ defeated them, it’s that in their defeat of Christ, they show themselves still remaining under the ways that lead to death and have always led to death since Genesis 4. Through death to the ways that lead to death — in blood — God in Christ has brought an end to those ways and raised up a people who die with Christ to witness to reconciliation and unity in Christ.


1 I am unpersuaded by arguments against Pauline authorship of Ephesians.

2 Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic) 88.