Lectionary Commentaries for July 20, 2014
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Warren Carter

After explaining the parable of the seed and different types of ground, Matthew’s Jesus again employs an agricultural setting for the parable concerning weeds sown and growing among the wheat crop.

The audience seems to comprise both disciples, the audience for 13:18-23, and crowds (13:34, 36).

Jesus introduces the parable with a statement of comparison. The “empire of the heaven” is compared to the situation narrated in the parable (13:24). This introduction directs the audience to think about the following, unusual rather than familiar, agricultural situation as providing insight into the workings of God’s empire among human beings.

The parable’s scenario is initially similar to that of the previous parable in that it involves a sower sowing seed (13:3-9). The introduction stresses that this sower sows “good seed in his field.” We subsequently learn that this sower is a person of some wealth and status, a “householder” who owns slaves and land (13:27). That he would be sowing his own field rather than his slaves is unusual. This is the first of several atypical dimensions in the parable that function to gain the audience’s attention, to impart insight, and to prepare for the subsequent interpretation.

As with the previous parable, the seed experiences difficulties. This time, the difficulties involve not the types of ground on which it falls, but the actions of an enemy person. “While everyone was asleep,” this enemy sows different seed, namely weeds or literally the common and poisonous “darnel,” among the wheat (13:25). Just how such an action requiring much seed and during the night, is possible is not questioned. Slaves report to their owner or “Master” – the wealthy “householder” who owns land and slaves — the presence of the weeds growing among the wheat (13:27).

Further unrealistic features appear in the story. The owner somehow knows that an enemy has sown the darnel among the wheat, rather than recognizing that darnel is a common plant that inevitably grows most places (13:28). And when the slaves propose removing the darnel from the field (the usual practice), the owner tells them to leave the wheat and the weeds growing together until harvest time (13:29-30).

These unusual agricultural practices draw our attention to these dimensions of the parable and their subsequent interpretation about God’s empire. At verses 30-31, Matthew’s Jesus ends the parable and immediately begins another. In fact, he tells two more parables before offering an interpretation of the wheat and the weeds. He is prompted to do so by the disciples (13:36).

Jesus’ interpretation treats most of the parable as an allegory. He draws one-on-one correspondences between aspects of the parable and dimensions of the empire of the heavens that he manifests among human beings. As in the parable of the sower, he identifies the sower as himself, the Son of Man. The activity of sowing depicts his ministry of proclaiming and demonstrating (in healings and exorcisms for example) the presence of God’s empire or saving presence (1:21-23; 4:17). Jesus has also been identified previously as a householder or “master of the house” (10:25, the same word), as “Master” or Lord (8:2, 6, 8; 12:8), and as having slaves, an image for his disciples (10:24-25).

Jesus has identified himself previously as the Son of Man in relation to his itinerant lifestyle (8:20) and his determination of how to honor the Sabbath (12:8). In this parable, verse 41 indicates that Son of Man denotes Jesus’ role as the eschatological judge. This dimension of the Son of Man reflects the figure of Daniel 7:13-14 whom God appoints as an agent of God’s purposes and rule after ending the empires of the world. The evoking of this tradition here puts his “sowing” activity and its impact into the perspective of the final judgment and end of the world’s empires. This dimension was missing from the earlier parable in 13:3-9.

The field where Jesus sows is identified as “the world,” the realm of everyday political, economic, social, and religious life dominated by Roman imperial power. Jesus’ activity invades this sphere of empire to sow “good seed” concerning another empire (“the word about the empire” 13:19). In its midst, he forms a distinct community. This community comprises “the children of the empire” who live lives shaped by God’s empire and committed to doing the will of God (12:50).

But this community lives in contested space and is set in antithetical relation to those identified as “children of the evil one,” sown by the enemy, the devil (13:38-39). They coexist until “the harvest … the end of the age.” In the judgment the Son of Man divides “the righteous” from “all causes of sin and evildoers” (particularly the Jerusalem-based leaders who resist Jesus). He burns the weeds, and the righteous enjoy an existence marked by light and life, God’s saving presence (4:15-16). The parable ends with the familiar appeal to discern the significance of Jesus’ words and live appropriately in the present toward this future.

While the parable’s symbolism is readily accessible, some interpreters are rightly disturbed by its analysis and implications. For example, the parable’s presentation of two antithetical types of plants presents a view of human beings that hardly reflects the complexity of human life.

While some readily divide the world neatly into “Christians” (the righteous) and “non-Christians” (evildoers), both the Gospel and our experience tell us that such categories are fluid, co-existent, and difficult to discern at best. Most of us, including church-goers, comprise both plant-types and are not “purely” one or the other. In 12:50, Jesus declared his family to comprise those who do “the will of my Father in heaven,” a descriptor that might embrace a wide and surprising variety of people.

Labeling people as children of the devil hardly facilitates our recognizing all people as bearing the image of God. The parable warns us that now is not the time to be presuming to know final outcomes. Nor can we forget that God’s infinite and indiscriminate mercy — celebrated in 5:45 — plays little place in the parable.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 44:6-8

Samuel Giere

The prophet’s preaching is focused on God’s being.

Who is this Yhwh in a world whose horizon is filled with so many possible objects of worship — so many other gods? There are two complementary bits of this little text: the prophet’s witness (verse 6a) and Yhwh’s self-revelation (verses 6b-8).

The prophet introduces the divine utterance by drawing attention to who the speaker really is: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6a). The speaker being introduced is not playing second fiddle in the cosmic orchestra. Rather, Yhwh is introduced as both first chair and conductor — the one and only. Yhwh is King, Redeemer, and Lord of hosts.

References to Yhwh as “King of Israel” are infrequent with only one outside of Deutero-Isaiah.1 Given that there are no gods over whom Yhwh might reign,2 this kingship is directed at humanity and the cosmos as a whole. Yhwh is also redeemer of Israel. This is not so unique. The Lord Redeemer who speaks to the exiles in Babylon is the same Lord who redeemed their ancestors from the grips of slavery in Egypt.3

Though the image of Yhwh as Redeemer is not so unique, the point is not diluted: Yhwh alone saves.4 And to boot, Yhwh is also Lord of hosts. In a chaotic world where evidence of Yhwh’s place as King and/or Redeemer is in short supply save for the power of memory and promise, the promise that this one God is also Lord of hosts fuels a faithful imagination to see chaos and suffering against a alternative horizon where Yhwh is the final power and authority. Life’s ultimate horizon is not the displacement and subjugation of the present. This is only penultimate. That Yhwh is Lord of hosts suggests that life’s ultimate horizon is lived within the cosmos where Yhwh is King and Redeemer.

All of this introduces the plenary address5 — a speech that is dense and to the point.

Yhwh declares, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no other god” (Isaiah 44:6b). The speech is summarized with these two phrases. In short, there is no other viable object of worship. There is no other source of life. There is no other King. There is no other Redeemer. There is no other Lord of hosts. “You shall have no other gods before me.”6

Against the horizon where there are many “options” for worship, the radicalness of Deutero–Isaiah’s monotheism is crystal clear here.7 In fact, Yhwh moves into a kind of throw down8 with anyone who would say otherwise. “Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be” (Isaiah 44:7).

Of course, there is no one who pipes up. No one — god or human — answers Yhwh’s questions. Into this silence, Yhwh proclaims, “Do not be frightened, do not be shaken” (Isaiah 44:8a, JPS). Silence in the face of Yhwh’s questions is not a dangerous place. Rather, it directs the witnesses back toward the living God — King, Redeemer, and Lord of hosts — the Rock9, besides whom there is no other.

Of the many directions that this text could take the preacher and her hearers, two stand out. The first relates the question that begins this commentary: Who is this Yhwh in a world whose horizon is filled with so many possible objects of worship — so many gods? This question is as contemporary as ever. The world in which we live is wrought with objects demanding our devotion. These other objects, which we can all name and find in relation to ourselves and those whom we are called to serve, inspire fear … fears of death, inadequacy, alienation, being in control, being out of control, etc …

These fears, often awakened and fueled by strong messages from outside of ourselves, demand devotion. Yet, Yhwh — King, Redeemer, and Lord of hosts — the beginning and the end — directs our attention and our devotion away from these empty things, away from these empty pursuits back toward the only one who saves, back toward the only source of life. “I am the first and I am the last, besides me there is no god … Fear not, and do not be afraid.”

A second and related direction that this text might take the preacher is toward the particularly Christian incarnation of this “first-ness” and “last-ness.” Within the horizon of Isaiah 44:6 is the witness to the Jesus Christ’s first-ness and last-ness in Revelation, in particular the declaration of crucified and risen Lord: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”10

Here the author of The Revelation to John includes the identity of Jesus Christ within Yhwh, the God of Israel. “It does not designate [Jesus Christ] a second god, but includes him in the eternal being of the one God of Israel who is the only source and goal of all things.”11 This sharpens our focus toward the Christian proclamation of Jesus Christ — King, Redeemer, and Lord of hosts — who by his death conquered death and hell.


1 Isaiah 41:21 [King of Jacob], 43.15; and Zepheniah 3.15.

2 Isaiah 44.6b. Note also that Isaiah 44.9-20 is a rail against the absurdity of idolatry, including the rather humorous illustration that the same trees used for keeping warm and baking are used to fashion idols to which people direct their prayers of deliverance: “Deliver me, for you are my god!”(Isaiah 44.17b).

3 Exodus 15:3. The memory of Israel’s redemption fuels the corporate relationship between God and God’s people, e.g., Psalms 77.16, 78.35, 106.10. Yhwh’s redeeming activity also defines the personal relationship between God and the individual, e.g. Job 19.25, Psalm 19.14.

4 E.g., Psalm 69.18.

5 In form, Yhwh’s speech resembles an opening argument in a trial, cf. Klaus Baltzer, Deutero-Isaiah (Margaret Kohl, trans.; Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) 188.

6 Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7.

7 While the emphasis in Isaiah 44:6-8 is on the radical oneness of Yhwh’s being, Isaiah 45:5-7 rounds out this radical monotheism from the vantage of who God is and what God does.

8 Though far more succinct, there is a resemblance between this throwdown and Yhwh’s questioning of Job out of the whirlwind, insofar as both questions invite a witness to that which is only available to Yhwh.

9 Psalms 18.2, 19.15, 92.15, etc.

10 Revelation 1:17, RSV. The first/last formula also occurs in Revelation 2:8, 21:6, and 22:13.

11 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology; Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993) 58.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 28:10-19a

Esther M. Menn

Jacob’s surprising encounter with God at Bethel leads to reflection about where we as individuals and as congregations meet God unexpectedly on life’s journey.

In Genesis 28:10-19a, God appears to Jacob en route, as he escapes from his brother Esau’s hatred (Genesis 27:41-45). Jacob, always a “schemer” and “usurper” (meanings of this Hebrew name), has stolen the birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) and the blessing (Genesis 27:1-40) belonging to Esau as Isaac’s firstborn.

Jacob’s grasping for status within the family results also in danger and separation, since to save his life he must leave behind even his beloved mother Rebekah. Jacob’s flight from the southern city of Beer Sheba to the northern city of Haran seems to reverse the celebrated journey of his grandparents Abraham and Sarah, who traveled in faith from their homeland in Haran to the land that God promised their descendants (Genesis 12:1-9).

Mid-journey, at a site chosen because of nightfall, Jacob has an extraordinary dream that changes his life. His dream discloses the hidden yet active presence of God at this chance stop along the way. God’s ongoing engagement in the world and in Jacob’s disrupted life is portrayed through a striking vision of stairs reaching from earth to heaven. This structure recalls the stepped ziggurat or mud-brick mountain uniting heaven and earth prominent in Mesopotamian cities such as Babylon, a city whose name means “gate of the gods.” In Genesis God appears not to royalty or priests, but to a terrified refugee.

A Jacob on the move encounters a vision full of movement. Divine errand runners continually ascend and descend to do God’s work in the world. Only the LORD appears stationed at the apex (reading the Hebrew ‘alav in verse 13 as “above it,” as in the KJV and NEB). Jacob is startled to recognize this place of God’s indwelling as holy ground, as “the house of God” (the Hebrew meaning of “Bethel”) and “the gate of heaven” (verse 17). Consecrating his rock pillow as a commemorative pillar, Jacob fittingly names what will become the major Israelite shrine of Bethel. (See also Abraham’s earlier calling on the name of the LORD at an altar east of Bethel in Genesis 12:8.)

Jacob’s dream is not only awe-inspiring and majestic, but also intimate and personal. In an alternative translation, God stands “beside him” (another reading of the Hebrew ‘alav, as in the NRSV) as he lies on the ground, promising to be with him wherever he goes: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (verse 15). God’s words at Bethel initiate a covenant with Jacob, an enduring relationship committed to his well-being and future.

God’s self-revelation with a personal name, the LORD (YHWH), grounds the covenant relationship with Jacob (verse 13). The very God who in earlier generations established a covenant with Abraham and Isaac now speaks with Jacob about an enduring connection extending to his descendants. Alone and in a strange place, Jacob becomes part of an intergenerational relationship with God. Promises of return to the particular land on which he lies, many descendants, and widespread blessing (verses 13-14) mark the abundance of this relationship.

Ordinary people are the means for God’s widespread blessing. God announces that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring” (Genesis 28:14). Earlier Esau protests, “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!” and weeps in frustration at being excluded (Genesis 27:38). The coveted blessing that destroy this family is countered with God’s alternative vision. Rather than a limited blessing won through defeat and humiliation of others, God extends a prodigal blessing to all the families of the earth through Jacob and his descendants.

Blessing will be as widespread as the “dust,” the loose dirt that covers the ground in every direction and provides the thin layer of fertility sustaining all life on earth. Earlier promises compared descendants to stars or sand (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; 26:4), emphasizing vast numbers. The humble imagery of topsoil adds an insight about the productivity of Jacob’s family as a means for God’s blessing of all families. The ground’s fertility is an especially compelling symbol of blessing in our age of environmental concern.

Jacob’s concluding vow (Genesis 28:20-22) is not part of the First Lesson. This vow may cause discomfort since Jacob appears to be bargaining with God, requiring God to fulfill every promise before Jacob will acknowledge him at Bethel. This interpretation of Jacob’s vow as a calculated set of conditions fits well with his character as a striver, one who prevails in his wrestling with humans and with God, to be given the new name “Israel” (Genesis 32:28).

A more charitable interpretation of Jacob’s vow might view it as an appropriate response, since it is wise to test a subjective experience such as a dream. Questioning, doubt, and discernment are all part of the faith journey.

Another interpretation that attends more precisely to the grammar of the vow places the emphasis on Jacob’s intention to return to Bethel, in recognition of what God has done. Rather than setting conditions, Jacob simply paraphrases God’s promises — to be with him in the journey, to protect and provide for him in every way, to return him home finally (Genesis 28:15, 20-21) — in other words, to act as Jacob’s God.

The final conditional “if” clause of the vow in this interpretation consists of a summary, “if [in doing all these things] the LORD shall be my God,” with the resulting “then” clauses beginning with “then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you” (Genesis 28:22).

Jacob’s vow signals the importance of returning to the place where we encounter God most fully. Although Jacob continues on his journey to Haran, he remains oriented to Bethel, “the house of God,” with plans to return for worship and thanksgiving. Jacob’s descendants throughout the earth also hold this particular place as an orienting center. For Christians, Jacob’s vow resonates with our weekly returning from the journey of our daily lives to the place that we encounter God most fully through worship, word, and sacrament.


Commentary on Psalm 86:11-17

Walter C. Bouzard

No small amount of ink has been spilled trying to sort out the structure of this prayer song of the individual.

Hans-Joachim Kraus believes the poem to be plagued by copy errorswhile James L. Mays sees it as a prayer comprised of snippets from other psalms and scriptures have been crafted into an original creation.2

The present division of the psalm into a pericope comprised of verses 11 to 17 is also difficult to understand. James Limburg divides the prayer into three major sections, each concluding with a doxological statement (verses 5, 10, 15),while Kraus sees two divisions, verses 1-13 and 14-17.4

The present author also sees a break between verses 13 and 14. The first half of the poem is structured as a psalm of individual lament. The anticipated address and cry appear in verses 1 and 2 while the motivations for God to act are signaled by the preposition ki (translated as “for” by the NRSV) in verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. An oracle of salvation or word of assurance — missing from the lament psalms (but see 1 Samuel 1:17) — led to the praise and thanksgiving that appear in verses 8 to 13. Verses 14 to 17 return to the subject of lament, now identified as harassment by insolent villains who threatened the psalmist’s life (verse 14).

Given the clumsy division of the lectionary, the preacher may want to concentrate on the relationship between the petitioner and the LORD. Seven times in the psalm the psalmist refers to the LORD as “my Lord,”while three times the psalmist refers to himself as “your servant.”6 This relationship, lord to servant, means that the servant can cry out to his Lord and that he can confidently expect a positive response to his cry.

The Lord will answer (verse 7), he avers confidently, because he belongs to the people who know the constitutive character of this God. The LORD is good, forgiving, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love (verses 5, 15, see Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8). God has, moreover, spoken to this servant or, at the least, to his people in the past; Mays notes that verse 2 is the response to the declaration of Exodus 20:2, “I am the LORD your God.”7

Because of this relationship, the psalmist can call boldly to God, confident both of God’s will and of God’s power to help (verses 8-10). On the one hand, the psalmist is a member of the community that is “poor and needy” (verse 1), dependent upon the LORD to keep him from Sheol (verse 13). On the other hand, the petitioner knows himself to be a pious man (chasid, verse 2) who trusts God to respond to his calls for help (verse 7).

As is usually the case with the psalmist, he assumes that his enemies are also God’s enemies. In verse 14, the insolent ruffians who rise up against the psalmist and who seek his life are the very ones who “do not set you before them.” Again, in verse 17, the psalmist wishes for a sign of divine favor so that his enemies will be shamed by the knowledge that the one they despised was aided by the LORD.

If the pious trust of this servant of the LORD serves as a model for us, the one he repeatedly addresses as “my Lord” deserves our praise. If we knew no more about this God than what appears in this psalm we would still know much. This LORD answers the prayers of the poor and needy (verse 1) — a claim that should give pause for thought to those of us who are neither poor nor needy. More, this LORD is known by a character that is good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love (verse 5), a God who both in the past and in the psalmist’s experience is known to be merciful, gracious, slow to anger and (again!) abounding in steadfast love (verse 15).

This LORD can deliver us from the gates of Sheol (verse 13). This LORD strengthens and saves us (verse 16). This LORD’s wondrous works distinguish God as the only God worthy of praise (verses 8, 10), a circumstance that will ultimately be recognized by all nations who shall come, bow down, and glorify the name that is above every other name (verse 9, see Philemon 2:9-12; Revelation 15:4).

In short, this psalm praises the selfsame LORD who has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

The response to such a revelation in this psalm is, appropriately enough, characterized by doxology (verses 8-10, 15) and thanks (verses 12-13).

Added to his praise and thanks, however, is the fervent petition of verse 15 to the effect that the psalmist might be instructed to live according to the grace that has been poured out upon him: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.”

The psalmist’s requests that the command of Deuteronomy 6:4 (described by Jesus as the “first” of all the commandments) might be his experience as well. He longs for an “undivided heart.” The prayer is for a heart that concentrates its affections in order that God’s name might be revered properly and, with verse 12, entirely.8 Given that Hebrew anthropology generally credited the heart, not the head, with rational reflection,9 this petition summons us to a devotion that is also intellectually engaged and thoroughly concentrated.

In spite of the wish that the psalmist might glorify LORD’s name “forever” (verse 12b), praise dissolves to a plea for help just two verses later. Whether or not this psalm was originally a single composition, the movement from plea (verses 1-7) to praise (verses 8-13), and back again to a cry for deliverance (verses 14-17) reflects the actual faith journey upon which most of us find ourselves. Simply describing the movement from desperate hope to confident praise and back to pleading hope may, by itself, serve as good news for those who are discouraged that their hearts are so often fearful and divided.


Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150 (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 180.

James L. Mays, Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994). 278. Specifically, Mays notes the reuse of the following: Psalm 40:17 in verse 1; Psalm 25:1 in verse 4b; Psalm 27:11 in verse 11a; Psalm 54:3 in verse 14; Exodus 34:6 in verses 5 and 15.

James Limburg, Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 292.

Kraus, Psalms, 181.

Verses 3,4,5,8,9,12, and 15.

Verses 2, 4, 16. In addition, the psalmist refers to himself as the child of your handmaid (leben-‘amateka) in verse 16.

Mays, Psalms, 279.

The Hebrew verb ychd here means to be united and the petition intends that the psalmist’s heart/mind be thoroughly fixated on the LORD and his name. The Septuagint, the Syriac, the Vulgate, and other versions seemed, however, to have had “let my heart rejoice,” perhaps reading an original yichad from chada. Given the wholehearted thanks of verse 12, the Masoretic Text is likely to be preferred, albeit there is certainly something attractive about a joyful heart/mind that reveres God’s name.

Hans Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), 46-47.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 8:12-25

J.R. Daniel Kirk

When he received the Spirit as his baptism, Jesus was proclaimed to be God’s son. Driven by the Spirit, Jesus was tempted; empowered by the Spirit, Jesus exorcised demons.

This Jesus who was marked out as God’s son by the Spirit at his baptism cried out “Abba, Father” in Gethsemane, praying for deliverance from his hour of greatest anguish.

Paradoxically, Jesus’ sonship was put on display in what should have been its veiling on the cross. The centurion cried out, “Surely this man was God’s son!” And God vindicated Jesus’ filial obedience in raising him from the dead.

When reading Romans 8, we must keep all this fresh in our minds. Because what we learn in this chapter is that the Spirit grafts us into the story of Jesus. As our lives bear the marks of Jesus’ life, we grow in hope that we, too, are God’s beloved daughters and sons — those with whom God is well pleased, and upon whom God will bestow God’s glorious, eternal inheritance.

Paul says in 8:14 that those who are led by God’s Spirit are marked out as God’s family. Identity, however, is not just who we are in the inside. Our identity is made known through our actions.

First, our lives as God’s children are made known through our “putting to death the deeds of the body,” no longer living “according to the flesh” (verses 12-13). This speaks of what we might generally call “sanctification,” but Paul’s language is more evocative, referencing bodies, flesh, and death.

The language he uses does not mean that bodies are inherently bad, but it reflects the ancient idea that “physical” passions draw us away from moral virtue.

Paul differs wildly from his peers, however, in his conviction that the way these passions are brought under control is not through exercise of reason (as his Roman contemporaries might imagine) nor through the Torah (as his Jewish compatriots might hope) but through the Spirit of God uniting us to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Our “sanctification,” as we call it, is participation in the cosmic reality that God has put sin to death in the body of Jesus. We make good on our salvation by seeing that the sinful markers of this age are put to death in us, the sons and daughters who are led by the Spirit.

Second, our filial identity is actualized in literal suffering. Verse 16 puts the matter starkly: we are children and heirs with Christ, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (NRSV).

Here we have moved from “death” as doing away with our shadow self, into suffering that comes in many forms — perhaps most of all in the suffering that comes from living in faithfulness to God.

Early Judaism developed the idea that the suffering of the faithful would summon God’s final deliverance. These were the “labor pangs” that would birth to the age to come.

For Christians, Jesus’ suffering on the cross was just those pangs: not pains leading to death, but those signaling new birth, new beginning. Caught between the old age and the age to come, we join Jesus in that suffering, participating in the advent of the new.

The life of faith is nothing less than entrusting ourselves to this story — not only trusting the idea that Jesus died for us and was raised, but also trusting that if we enter into his death we, too, will be given newness of life.

Had we the ears to hear, we would have learned from scripture, long ago, that our destiny is intrinsically tied to that of the created order (and vice versa).

Reading Genesis 1-3 we learn not only that we have a role to play on earth, mediating God’s rule to the world, but also that our failures have all-embracing implications: human relationships are marred, our relationship with the divine is set askew, and even the dirt of the ground responds to our grasping after what is not rightfully ours (Genesis 3:8-19).

In Romans 8 we see that God has not decoupled us from the earth. God continues to allow humanity to stand at the fulcrum point of the destiny of creation.

In verses 18-25, this is the story Paul tells: creation has a future, and that future is tied to the resurrection life that God is bringing to God’s beloved children. The identity that is ours by the Spirit (daughters and sons of God) is consummated when our bodies are redeemed and all creation is ushered into the glory that God has bestowed first on Christ and then on us (verses 18, 21, 23).

God’s project, made known in the work of Jesus, runs through us, and does not stop until the entire created order is renewed. And so we see that a section that begins with a call to put to death the deeds of the body is not about escaping from our bodies or escaping from earth, but becoming more truly embodied people upon a flourishing eternal earth.

In all of this, the resurrection that we think of as future is forcing its way back into our present. To be adopted daughters and sons of God (8:15) is to have our future hope of adoption through resurrection (8:23) intrude on our present. This can happen because the same Spirit through whom we are adopted raised Jesus and exalted him as God’s firstborn Son (Romans 1:4).

We become agents of resurrection as we pursue our own sanctification, as we lay down our lives so that others might live (2 Corinthians 4:12), and as we treat the earth like an eternal partner in the life that God has in store for those who love Him.