Lectionary Commentaries for June 29, 2014
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 10:40-42

Stanley Saunders

Jesus’ discourse on the disciples’ mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6) alternates between images of warning and promise.

The disciples are granted remarkable powers, even to raise the dead (10:1, 8), but are warned repeatedly of the suffering and threats they will face (e.g., 10:16-18, 21-23, 34-36). Their closest and most important relationships will be ruptured (10:21, 34-39), and yet they participate in the most integral of relationships not only with Jesus, but with God.

On the face of it, these seemingly contradictory conditions may sound like a crude way of motivating the disciples to face harsh realities: “you will suffer now, but your eschatological reward will be great.” Warning and promise are here, however, not two, mutually exclusive points in a temporal series — risk now, reward later — but rather the two poles that together define the singular experience of discipleship. To be sure, the last three verses of this discourse (10:40-42) serve as a counterpoint to the notice of broken relationships in the preceding section (34-39).

Yet, even within these verses, Jesus’ promises of reward also carry reminders that the vocation of the disciples is dangerous. They are numbered among the prophets and the righteous, whose fate Matthew persistently associates with opposition, suffering, and death (cf. 5:11-12, 23:29-36). They are also counted among the most vulnerable members of the community, the “little ones” for whom a cup of cold water is a gift.

In the preceding verses of this sermon, Jesus focuses on the rupture of the disciples’ most important relationships as they take up the cross and follow Jesus (10:34-38). Now, these final verses in the sermon affirm first the relationships between disciples, Jesus, and God (10:40) and then the certainty of the reward due to those who welcome prophets, the righteous, and the little ones (41-42).

The first of these triads presupposes Jewish traditions in which emissaries represent the functional presence and bear the full authority of the one who sends them (cf. 10:1, 8; 28:18-20). The disciples represent the full presence and power of Jesus, just as Jesus bears the full presence and power of God, as Matthew stresses throughout the Gospel. While emissary relations might imply a hierarchy of power, Jesus is here instead affirming the full, real, integral, and authoritative relationship between the disciples, Jesus, and God.

More than any other Gospel, Matthew underlines the ways in which Jesus not only represents divine power and presence, but democratizes this power — and the responsibilities that come with it — in ministry with his disciples (e.g., 9:1-8; 10:1, 8; 14:22-33; and 28:18-20). This discourse as a whole makes clear that God’s power is now at work not only in Jesus, but in and through his disciples.

The integral relationships between the disciples, Jesus, and God replace the disciples’ broken relationships with family and society, a point to which Matthew will return in 12:46-50 and 13:53-58. Apparently, the call of discipleship does not fit very happily with “traditional family values,” whether ancient or modern. The vocation of disciples necessarily relativizes all other relations and obligations — whether to party, corporation, or family — in favor of the new family that is the community of disciples.

The second triad of relationships — prophets, the righteous, and “little ones” — also might imply a hierarchy within the community, for prophets and the righteous seem much more important than “little ones,” who elsewhere include the most vulnerable members of the community (18:1-14). Triads often focus attention on the third member, whose identity comes as a surprise. Thus, audiences might have expected this triad to include prophets, the righteous, and … the wise or the holy ones.

The identification of the little ones, in need of a cup of cold water, instead elevates the least powerful member of the community of disciples into a position equal in importance to that of prophets and righteous ones. At the beginning of this discourse, Jesus sends his disciples in mission without any means of support or defense — no gold or money, no bag, no change of clothes, not even a staff or sandals. They are completely dependent, first on God and then on the hospitality of the communities that receive them. Their vulnerability and dependence is the key to the success of the mission.

These three designations — prophets, the righteous, and little ones — do not differentiate members of the community so much as they describe interrelated aspects of Christ-discipleship. The prophetic dimension has to do with proclamation and miraculous demonstrations of divine power. Righteousness is the enduring pursuit of justice and of the healing and restoration of relationships. The vulnerability of little ones demonstrates that the mission is wholly dependent on God’s power and presence. The power at work in this mission is fundamentally different in kind from other forms of human power. Dependence is contrary to American cultural values, but dependence on God is crucial to the integrity and distinctive character of the alternative community Jesus is building.

The theme that binds these two triads of relationship into a unit is “welcoming,” which is at the heart of every relationship in these verses. Jesus is not merely pointing in a general way to the importance of welcoming or hospitality, already an important value among the communities in which he ministered.

He draws attention, rather, to the specificity of 1) welcoming prophets as prophets, who expect opposition and violence at the hands of the powers; 5:11-12, 23:29-36); 2) welcoming the righteous as those who work for justice, usually risking their lives to do so; and 3) offering a cup of cold water to the little ones “in the name of a disciple” (10:42). These acts of welcoming come at a cost that surpasses food, water, and shelter. They bind those who offer welcome integrally with those who are welcomed. These acts are not “one off” events, but constitute the defining feature of the mission, generating the social settings where God’s way is articulated, discerned, and either accepted or rejected.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 28:5-9

Bo Lim

Which way is up? The answer to that question would appear obvious, but not so if one is underwater inside a capsized vessel.

I still recall watching the 1972 movie, “The Poseidon Adventure” as a kid. In particular, I remember the horror I felt watching the scene where the majority of the passengers, rather than head toward the bottom decks of the ship to safety, moved toward the top decks to their doom. Certainly under normal circumstances they would be making the right choice. But since the boat had capsized, what was up was now down, and what was previously down was now up. Getting to safety required rightly assessing the situation and following a reliable guide.

The world of Jeremiah has been turned upside down. Jeremiah himself has been partly responsible for this upside-down-world since his very call as a prophet is “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow” (Jeremiah 1:10). The world as God’s people knew it was collapsing before their very eyes because they had broken the covenant with their God. It was Jeremiah’s vocation to bring to an end to the covenant Israel made with God at Sinai and codified in the book of Deuteronomy.

Whereas normally the role of a prophet was to pray and intercede on behalf of the people, in Jeremiah 7:16 God instructs Jeremiah to no longer do so. Mt. Zion was considered the mighty fortress of God and impenetrable because of the presence of Yahweh (cf. Psalm 46; 48), yet in Jeremiah 21:1-10 Jeremiah calls upon Zedekiah to surrender Jerusalem over to the Babylonians.

According to the book of Deuteronomy, exile was deemed the curse of the covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49); yet in 24:1-10, God deems exiles as good and those remaining in Jerusalem as worthless and rotten. The Judean king was considered God’s anointed, the Messiah, who was to rule over the nations with an iron rod (cf. Psalm 2); yet in Jeremiah 27:12-13, Jeremiah calls upon King Zedekiah to submit to, and serve the king of Babylon.

In Jeremiah 27 Jeremiah places a yoke on his neck as a sign of the impending yoke of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule upon the region. Jeremiah calls upon King Zedekiah and the people not to resist the rule of the Babylon since it is Yahweh who has given him rule over the nations and creation. Whereas previously the role of the prophets was to call upon Israel’s kings to resist allegiances to foreign kings or powers (e.g., Hosea 5:13; 8:9-11), according to Jeremiah it would now be false prophets would who say such words (27:14-15).

Jeremiah warns the people that it will be the false prophets who will announce a quick end to Babylonian rule (27:16-17). So when Hananiah announces, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon” (Jeremiah 28:2-3), these words are in direct opposition to the message of Jeremiah. In dramatic fashion, Hananiah goes on to take the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and breaks it as a sign that the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule will come to an end within two years (28:10-11).

This prophetic “throwdown” between Jeremiah and Hananiah is a source of much interpretive consternation because the distinction between true and false prophecy is not obvious. The form of Hananiah’s speech and his prophetic actions are no different than that of Jeremiah and are consistent with that of biblical prophets. Hananiah employs the traditional messenger formula, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,” announces a salvation promise in the form of “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon” (28:2), performs a prophetic sign by breaking Jeremiah’s yoke, and concludes his speech with the formula, “says the LORD” in 28:4.

A century ago the prophet Isaiah spoke similar words of encouragement and salvation to King Hezekiah during the Assyrian Crisis of 701 BCE when Sennacherib threatened to conquer Jerusalem. This event is narrated in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37, and on that occasion the prophet Isaiah disputed the words of Rabshakeh, who urged Hezekiah and the people to surrender the city to the king of Assyria. In this case Isaiah announced that the city would not fall into the hands of the enemy because of Yahweh’s commitment to Zion and the Davidic monarchy (cf. Isaiah 37:35-37).

Some have argued that Hananiah’s timing was simply off; had he lived a century earlier he would be a true prophet. Yet more is going on here than just bad timing. In 28:8 Jeremiah accuses Hananiah of ignoring the prophetic tradition that warned of judgment due to covenant disobedience and announced that exile would not be short-lived (e.g. Hosea 3:4). Jeremiah, possibly in a sarcastic tone, wishes Hananiah’s announcement to come to pass in 28:6.

Yet because he is a truth teller, Jeremiah provides a counterargument in 28:7-8, however unpopular that may have been to his audience. He rests his ultimate trust in the providence of God to affirm true prophecy (28:9; cf. Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Not only does the death of Hananiah demonstrate his prophecy to be false (28:15-17; Deuteronomy 18:19-20), but final form of the book demonstrates Jeremiah’s prophecy to be true. Discernment is required from God’s people to determine the true word of the LORD.

Sometimes God’s prophet speak words that seem utterly contradictory to our sensibilities. In such cases it may not be that the prophet has gotten God’s message confused, but rather God’s people have gotten their priorities reversed. Sometimes it is the vocation of the prophet to say seemingly nonsensical statements such as, “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the persecuted,” in order to proclaim to the world that an upside-down kingdom has come in Jesus.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

There is a Yiddish folk tale that goes something like this: Why did God not send an angel to tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

Because God knew that no angel would take on such a task. Instead, the angels said, “If you want to command death, do it yourself.”

The story named by Christians “the sacrifice of Isaac” and by Jews “the akedah” (the “binding” of Isaac) has engendered heated debate over the centuries. Is it a story of an abusive God, a misguided Abraham, religious violence at its worst? Or is it a story of faith and obedience?

Trying to get around the difficulties, many argue that it is simply an etiological tale about the shift from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. This seems likely. It is certainly the case that other biblical texts expressly forbid child sacrifice (e.g. Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 7:30-34; Ezekiel 20:31). The practice is known in the cultures surrounding Israel and may have been practiced in Israel as well (hence the prophetic condemnation of it).

There is more here, though, than such a history-of-religions interpretation allows. The akedah is a foundational story for Judaism and Christianity in ways that are too complex to trace in this short essay.1 Even before the canon was closed, the akedah became associated with worship at the Jerusalem Temple. In 2 Chronicles 3:1, the mountain of the Temple is called “Mount Moriah,” the mountain of the akedah. (In fact, “Moriah” appears in the Bible only in these two passages.) Hence, the sacrifice of the ram in place of Isaac becomes the foundational act for all the Temple sacrifices that follow.

For Christianity, the sacrifice of the beloved son has obvious resonance with Jesus’ death. That’s why Genesis 22 is appointed as one of the readings for the Easter Vigil (and sometimes as one of the readings on Good Friday). In addition, the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son became for early Christians one of the greatest examples of his faith: “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac … He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17, 19). In the history of Christian interpretation, Genesis 22 has continued to be understood as a story of faith against all odds, and as a foreshadowing of God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ.

Despite this rich history of interpretation, well-meaning people through the centuries, horrified by this story, have attempted to negate it in various ways. And it is true that it can be a dangerous text, especially in an era of religious extremism. Anyone who preaches this story must emphatically say that God does not demand child sacrifice; indeed, that God abhors it (as evidenced by the prophets).

Still, there is a theological depth in this story that should not be passed over. The narrative has gripped the religious imagination of Jew and Christian alike for thousands of years.2 It is worth looking at its details.

The story begins, “After these things God tested Abraham” (22:1). And what do “these things” include? God’s call to Abraham to go to a land he has never seen; God’s promise to Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation; the long years of Sarah’s barrenness; the birth of Ishmael; and at long last, the impossible birth of the boy they call “Laughter.”

Then Abraham, at Sarah’s insistence, casts out his first son, Ishmael, with great sorrow (see last week’s commentary). And now, God demands a most horrible thing: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go3 to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you” (22:2). The rabbis imagine the scene:

God said, “Take your son.” And Abraham said, “I have two sons.” He answered him, “Your only son.” He said to him, “Each is the only son of his mother.” God said, “The one whom you love.” Abraham replied, “Is there any limit to a father’s love?” God answered, “Isaac.”

The Hebrew prose of this story is beautiful and succinct. Abraham does what God demands, and sets out with his son. Abraham doesn’t say much. Isaac says even less, and one is left to imagine what they are thinking and feeling. The narrator uses repetition to heighten the poignancy: “The two of them walked on together,” as the father and son walk together in silence on the third day (22:6). Together in purpose, together in love. The narrator continually emphasizes the relationship between the two, as if we need to be reminded: “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac.” “Isaac said to Abraham his father, “My father!” and he said, “Here I am, my son” (22:7).

“Here I am” — in Hebrew hineni. It’s the same word Abraham used to answer God’s call in verse 1: “Here I am.” Abraham is attentive to God, and equally attentive to his beloved son. Here I am.

And Isaac says, “See, we have fire, and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham, heart torn in two, says, “God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And, again, “The two of them walked on together” (22:7-8). Whether Isaac knew what was going to happen is a matter that the rabbis debated. Perhaps he did not, which makes Abraham’s pain all that much more acute. Perhaps he did, which makes Isaac, too, an example of great faith and obedience. The two of them walk on together, father and son, the son carrying the wood for his own sacrifice. The first century rabbis, with no connection to Christianity but with ample experience of Roman executions, said of this detail: “Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice like one who carries his own cross.”

They reach the place of sacrifice, and Abraham builds an altar. Again, as if we need to be reminded, the narrator emphasizes the relationship between father and son. “He bound his son Isaac … Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son” (22:9-10).

At that moment, the LORD calls to him with great urgency, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham replies for the third and final time in the story, hineni, “Here I am.” One can imagine that his tone now is one of unspeakable relief and hope.

The LORD speaks, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12).

“Now I know.” This story does not subscribe to later notions of God’s perfect omniscience. This is a genuine test, and Abraham is free to decide what he will do. God neither knows nor pre-ordains how Abraham will respond. Reading this story with a hermeneutic of generosity, one could argue that God imposes this one-time test on Abraham because God has risked everything on this one man, and God needs to know if he is faithful.4

Abraham and his descendants are the means by which God has chosen to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:3). And Abraham has not always proven up to the task (the wife-sister charade, Hagar and Ishmael). Now God needs to know whether Abraham is willing to give up the thing most precious to him in all the world for the sake of being faithful to the God who gave him that gift in the first place. And Abraham passes this most excruciating of tests: “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Then, as Abraham had told Isaac, God provides; God provides a ram to take the place of the beloved son. “So Abraham called that place ‘The LORD will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided’” (22:14).

There is a word-play here and in verse 8 that is worth noting. The Hebrew word (ra’ah) translated “provide” is literally the word for “seeing.” So the last phrase can be translated, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” or “On the mount of the LORD he shall be seen.” Given the association of Mt. Moriah with the Temple Mount, both translations speak truth about God’s presence and God’s providence.

Well, much more could be said, of course. This is a very difficult story; there’s no getting around it, and I’m sure that my reading of it won’t be satisfactory to everyone who comes to this site. Still, I hope it’s clear that when one is willing to plumb the depths of this story and to read it with care and with generosity, there are theological riches here.

The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present. And, of course, as generations of Christian interpreters have seen, it foreshadows the story that forms the foundation of Christian faith – the story of the death and resurrection of the beloved son,5 son of Abraham, son of David, Son of God. For all these reasons and more, this is a story worth preaching.


1 For an insightful discussion of the akedah and its resonance in Jewish and Christian tradition, see Jon Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son (Yale University Press, 1993).

2 The akedah is a motif in many modern Israeli poems. See, for instance, the poems at http://ktiva.blogspot.com/2006/11/poetry-of-akedah.html (accessed 5/4/14).

3 The Hebrew phrase lek-lekah (get yourself going) occurs only here and in Gen 12:1, linking the two stories and marking this one as being as momentous as the initial call to Abraham.

4 This is the argument of Ellen Davis in her book Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cowley, 2001) 50-64.

5 To use the title of Jon Levenson’s book (above).


Commentary on Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Walter C. Bouzard

The assigned verses are a portion of a much larger psalm that concludes book three of the psalter.

The context of both the verses and the psalm are interpretively significant.

Verses 1 to 4 introduce two themes that will be further expanded in the psalm. Verses 1-2 celebrate the LORD’s steadfast love, linking divine faithfulness to the solidity of the heavens and thus to the created order (see Psalm 34:4-9). Verses 3-5 introduce the LORD’s covenant with David, a relationship that is declared to be eternal.

Verses 5-18 return to the subject of the LORD’s majestic rule over the created universe. The LORD rules not only over the heavenly council (verses 5-8) but also over the raging forces of the chaos waters and the sea monster Rahab. The psalmist asserts the LORD’s sovereignty over the heavens and the earth in verses 11 to 13 and over the worshiping congregation in verses 14 to 18.

The preacher may want to include verse 14 in the reading on grounds that the righteousness and justice of the LORD mentioned in verse 14 serves as the foundation of the congregational exultation (verse 18). There is, moreover, an implied link between the divine ability to control the more unruly aspects of creation celebrated in verses 5 to 13 with the congregation’s security (verses 17-18).

Verses 19 to 37 revisit the subject of the LORD’s covenant with David. The LORD established a perpetual covenant with David (verses 19-21) for which reason David and his line can be certain of protection from all foes (verses 22-24). David’s intimate relationship to the LORD as son and as God’s “firstborn” (verses 26-27) was such that David even enjoyed aspects of the LORD’s regal authority over chaos (verse 25).

Verses 28 to 37 underscore the declarations of verses 3 and 4. A reference to the eternal quality of the relationship brackets this section; “forever” (Hebrew le’olam) appear in verses 28 and 37 (see verse 4). The promises to the Davidic line are guaranteed by the LORD’s own oath and holiness (verse 35). Not even sin could undermine the covenant (verses 30-34) which was, in any case, as enduring as the creation (verses 36-37).

The psalm pivots dramatically at verse 38. With the exception of the unoriginal, appended verse 52, the balance of the psalm consists of unrelieved lament. The circumstances are clear. The LORD’s oath notwithstanding, the king’s enemies have outwitted and humbled him (verse 22). Rather than the LORD crushing the king’s foes (verse 23), the reverse has transpired; the LORD oversaw a dramatic military defeat of David’s descendent, wresting the scepter from his hand and leaving him humiliated (verses 40-45).

The psalmist plaintive questions, powerfully expressed under any circumstances, are particularly poignant following the extended praise in verses 1 to 37. This is, after all, the sovereign regent of all creation who has sworn, in the strongest conceivable terms, that the divine promises to David and his descendants will never, under any circumstance whatsoever, be revoked. What then, could the LORD possibly say to the question of verse 49 with its latent accusation:

LORD, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?

The problem cannot be that the LORD lacked the might to sustain the king. This is the God who rules over even the chaotic elements of nature. Nor could there be any mistake about the eternal, unconditional qualities of the covenant. So what excuse might the LORD possibly offer? What answer might the Almighty conceivably give?

The psalmist — whether he be the king or, as seems likely, someone speaking on his behalf — has no answers to these questions. The poet does not know how long the LORD will remain conspicuously absent (verse 46) or what has become of the covenant. And so the original poem ended simply with a plea that the LORD might remember the plight of the king, God’s anointed (verses 50-51). Indeed, the plea for the LORD to remember concludes this portion of the psalter and thus “closes the book.”

I suspect that the poet is not the only one left dazed and confused by the collapse of institutions and relationships that provided order, stability, and security. We have trusted the LORD of creation in whose arms the stars sway. Many Christian worshipers who “know the festal shout” (verse 15) — or the more subdued mainline Christian equivalents! — gladly join the faithful affirmations of verses 15 to 18. It is, therefore, all the more surprising when bodies fail, when marriages collapse, when the boss says you are being “let go,” when unanticipated change comes to a congregation, when churches are scandalized, or when a precious loved one dies — to name but a few of those sacred solids we assume are guaranteed by the strength and power of the LORD.

The preacher dare not offer facile explanations or answers for those who experience such “ambiguous loss.” The psalmist’s guidance is better: in our distress, whatever its shape, we implore the LORD to remember us in our anguish. In so doing, we place ourselves in good company. Another petitioner put it this way: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). If we are not assured that our institutions or our relationships are eternal, we are promised this: Jesus the Christ remembers us in our darkness. Jesus holds before us the hope that resurrection and life will again be ours.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 6:12-23

Israel Kamudzandu

This reading is a continuation of Romans 6:1-11, where we discussed theological themes of sin and death in relation to Paul’s teachings on the sacrament of baptism and eschatology.

Verses 12-23 orient readers toward living a new life because justification is probably the beginning of what we may call Christian life, which is followed by sanctification. However we understand justification, one thing that stands clear is that Paul understands a new walk with Christ as the work of grace in which resurrection power propels believers to live worthy lives.

It may be appropriate at this point to bring in a dialogue between conservative and liberal Christianity. The former is a form of Christianity that is strict in terms of making believers live by the biblical principles, even if it means messing with their human rights that are in most cases dictated by the desires of the flesh. The latter is a form of Christianity whereby flexibility is allowed and growth is given chance because humanity is always under the pressure of the flesh and the spirit is always in conflict with the human body (see Galatians 5: 16-26).

Theoretically, the apostle Paul makes readers ponder on the differences between religion and spirituality, and this may be taken by some as a conversation around ethics or religion and ethics of spirituality, of which the human being is always caught in between. Theologically, Paul teaches that believers must at some point grow from being religious to becoming spiritual for that is the work of grace and sanctification.

The solution is resolved when Paul motivates believers to grow within the fruits of baptism and to “become what you now can become,” which means that one has to grow and mature spiritually. Spiritual maturity is indeed a struggle for many believers, and preachers need to educate people on ways they can grow spiritually.

Like the apostle Paul, preachers must exhort believers to live out their faith in concrete ways, and this can be done when people aspire to live in love because love is the vitality of faith and love accomplishes Christ’s saving work. Love is indeed the description of the Christian life, and while we cannot fully grasp the meaning of being in mystical union with Christ, Paul exhorts us to live out this mystery in love. Becoming what we have become in baptism means to live beyond religiosity.

Three Pauline teachings are clear in this passage. First, Paul is not concerned with issues of sin and guilt, but he is advocating for freedom from the power of sin, that is, believers can make a conscious effort on whether they should sin or not. Secondly, Paul is not concerned with growth to perfection but with an awareness of the once and for all saving act of justification done by God through Jesus Christ. The Christ event launched humanity into the ocean of grace and no one will ever take that away from believers. Third, the gift of grace and salvation calls believers to live in obedience as a verification of the work done by Jesus Christ.

While it is hard in North America to discuss issues of faith, spirituality, and Jesus Christ, in the Global South, believers are intrigued and invigorated by knowing that “In Christ, In the Spirit, and With Christ,” are part of what it means to live the eschatological act of salvation. These theological truths are what grounds Christianity in Third World nations, and they were grounds of Christian boasting even in the ancient Christian faith communities. Without these three, it becomes difficult for preachers to teach about the complementarity between faith and baptism. Everything boils down to the fact that the lordship of Jesus Christ summons believers to live ethical, Christ oriented lives.

In this chapter, the premises are given in verses 1-11 and 12-123 in the sense that freedom from the power of sin is grounded in the sacrament of baptism and salvation of which the effects are manifested in service to others and to the world. Resisting sin and victory over it depends on our realization that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and Christ imparts grace to us during and after baptism. Becoming what you have become in baptism signals new growth and one has to experience the results in real life of faith.

Metaphorically, Paul speaks the language of members, meaning parts of our bodies that do not function in autonomous ways but always subjected to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Christian existence and all our bodies belong then to the realm of the power of resurrection and our existence is not exempted from challenges, sicknesses, and powers of this world. The mortal body is still the bull’s eye for the devil, but because of resurrection believing humanity is always under the protection of the risen Lord.

As believers then, we are called to be slaves to righteousness, meaning that we only have one master and by conversion that master is God. Maybe, African-Americans and colonized nations have hard time with the language of slavery because our consciousness is marked with years of enslavement and dehumanization. In any case, verse 17 points believers to a shifting paradigm, that is our allegiance as former slaves is no longer to masters but to a God who loves us unconditionally.

The change is irreversible, and the freedom launches us into the righteousness of God. Righteousness leads to increased spirituality and holiness both of heart and with each other. Freedom for obedience then means that our faith is secure and that we continue to go through a journey of sanctification in which believers are gradually transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

The results of living a righteous life are that we begin to experience eternal life even while we are still on earth. Many Christians still ask weather one can live a holy life and whether people can experience eternal life whilst on earth. I leave that to others to decide, but from Paul’s theology, believers are privileged to experience the glimpses of eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:3). As believers, we probably think of these results as wages given to workers in whatever field they labor.

In Romans 6:23, Paul reminds us that the “gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is when we labor for God with faith, what we get is indeed more than wages for we cannot measure it with earthly standards but it is far more beyond us. It can only be called the gift of grace — that we are given what we do not deserve and that gift is eternal life. Christians must ask themselves who they serve and whose they are in all what they do.