Lectionary Commentaries for May 22, 2016
Holy Trinity

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 16:12-15

Gilberto Ruiz

John 16:12-15 begins with Jesus telling his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (v. 12).

What Jesus says here seems to contradict what he had just told the disciples in 15:15: “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” How can Jesus have made known “everything” to the disciples and yet “still have many things to say” to them?

Within the framework of the Fourth Gospel’s theology, Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God. To see him is in fact to the see God (John 14:9; cf. 1:18). This is why Jesus can say in earnest that he has revealed everything from God (15:15). This is also why Jesus’s words in 16:12 cannot mean that there is new content to his revelation. Something else must be going on.

John 16:13 adds some clarity. It won’t be Jesus doing the talking but the Spirit. The disciples “cannot bear” certain things now (v. 12) but will — through the Spirit — be guided “into all the truth” (v. 13). This will take place at a future time, as can be seen in the future tense of the verbs used to describe the Spirit’s actions (the Spirit “will guide,” “will speak,” and “will declare”). As the verses leading up to John 16:12-15 indicate, a fundamental difference between the current experience of the disciples at the Last Supper with Jesus and their future experience with the Spirit is that the future context is marked by Jesus’s departure from the world (16:4-11; see also 16:28). The claim made by verses 12-13 is that in the post-Easter period, after Jesus’ return to God, the Spirit facilitates a fuller understanding of Jesus’ revelation without any change to its content. Just as Jesus did, the Spirit reveals God.

The vocabulary the Johannine Jesus uses in 16:13 underscores the close connection between Jesus and the Spirit as well as the Spirit’s function of “further revealing” the same revelation that Jesus revealed during his earthly ministry. Earlier in his farewell discourse, Jesus identified himself as “the way” and “the truth” (14:6). Just as Jesus is “the truth” (14:6), so is the Spirit “of truth” who “will guide you into all the truth” (16:13; cf. 15:26). When Jesus calls himself the “way” in 14:6, the Greek word used is hodos. In 16:13, the verb used for the Spirit’s act of “guiding,” hodegeo, combines the noun hodos (“way”) with the verb ago (“to bring, lead”). By guiding us “into all the truth,” where “truth” is the revelation of God found in and through Jesus, the Spirit will “bring the way.” That the Spirit speaks “whatever he hears” (v. 13) is in complete continuity with Jesus’s method of revealing only what hears from God (John 8:26-28; 12:49; 14:10; 15:15; 17:7-8). Even though Jesus is no longer physically present as God’s Revealer, the believer can trust that Jesus and the Spirit share the same source of revelation: God.

John 16:14-15 continue drawing parallels between Jesus’ role as Revealer and the Spirit’s function of continuing Jesus’ revelation in the post-Easter period. What the Spirit reveals comes directly from Jesus: “he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:14). Verse 15 confirms that the ultimate source of revelation for both Jesus and the Spirit is God. Since the Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus, and since what belongs to Jesus belongs to God, then even in Jesus’s absence God’s revelation to the world and to the church is still available — through the Spirit.

As we can see in John 16:12-15, the Fourth Gospel’s particular understanding of the Spirit recognizes two realities about how Christianity relates to its past and future. The first is that the revelation that took place in and through Jesus is fundamental for Christian identity. The second is that, as fundamental and eternal as Jesus’ revelation is for Christians, the world will keep turning from the time that revelation first made itself known. The church in John’s day, today, and always finds itself trying to understand and live its faith in the midst of social, cultural, and global circumstances that change rapidly.

It might have been tempting for John — whose theology gave central importance to the incarnation (John 1:14) — to devalue any new understanding of the Christian message that emerges when Jesus is no longer visible in-the-flesh to deliver it himself. Instead, John places firm confidence in the Spirit as continuing the ongoing presence and revelation of Jesus within the Christian community after Jesus’ return to God. For John, then, the church need not fear learning and practicing its faith in Jesus in the midst of a changing world marked by Jesus’ physical absence. This is because the Spirit “will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). In other words, the Spirit makes possible a “deep understanding of what Jesus means for one’s own time” without betraying the core truth of Jesus’ original revelation.1

The question we are left with is whether we will listen to the Spirit and be open to newer and deeper understandings of our faith and to the implications of Jesus’s revelation for us today. The internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle now give us a more immediate awareness of local, national, and global crises that challenge us for a Christian response, such as immigration and racial disparity in police treatment, to list just two examples. What is the Christian response to such realities? What response is more true and faithful to Jesus’ revelation? Can we, like John, trust the Spirit to guide us in discerning what it means to live out Christian faith today?


1 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 vols.; Anchor Bible 29-29A), 2:716.

First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Juliana Claassens

On this Holy Trinity Sunday, the Ode to Wisdom in Proverbs 8 offers congregations the opportunity to think of Wisdom in terms of what Samuel Terrien poetically has called, “the mediatrix of God’s presence,” and in particular the role she played in what came to be understood as the second person of the Trinity (Elusive Presence, p360).

In this regard, Proverbs 8 had a rich afterlife as subsequent interpreters contemplated the relationship between Wisdom, which for the first time in Proverbs 1-9 is personified in female terms, and God, culminating in Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-26 where she is described as “a breath of God’s power,” “a pure and radiant stream of [God’s] glory,” “a reflection of eternal light,” and “a perfect mirror of God’s activity and goodness.” It has been shown by scholars like Elisabeth Johnson how this language has found its way into the New Testament. For instance, Colossians 1:15-20 refers to Christ as the image of God, the firstborn of all creation, the one through whom everything was created (For a helpful description of the journey of this metaphor see Johnson’s beautiful essay “Jesus the Wisdom of God,” ETL 61 (1985):261-294).

But already in Proverbs 8 itself, one finds some compelling theological perspectives regarding Wisdom’s role in creation as well as in the ongoing pursuit called life: First, before turning to the Ode to Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 that forms the heart of this week’s lectionary reading, we are asked to read vv 1-4 which serve the purpose of emphasizing that Wisdom’s words to follow ought to be heard by all who live. Woman Wisdom stands on the heights, along the highways, at the crossroads, at the city gates and she shouts at the top of her voice. Her message is public theology par excellence — this female figure crosses over into the public sphere and in the process breaks the stereotypes of female demure and passivity. And her powerful words in the rest of the lectionary reading match the loudness of her delivery when she outlines the central role she performs in creation.

A second important perspective regards Wisdom’s self-description in v 22 that she is the firstborn in God’s creation, the very first of God’s creative actions. Using language that is suggestive of childbirth (“fathering,” qnh in v 24 and “giving birth,” hûl in v 25], Wisdom is brought forth by God before all things. But not only is Wisdom said to be present when the mountains were shaped, and the firmament of heavens established, but Wisdom also actively participates in God’s creation. In v 30, Wisdom is called either a “master worker” (one could say architect), or a “little child” depending on how one reads the root ‘aman. Actually, the ancient versions are split on which way to go, making this one of the most ambiguous texts in the Hebrew Bible with multiple interesting interpretative possibilities to explore. For instance, in a sermon, one could focus on Wisdom’s active role in creation amidst a context of chaos as evident in the recognition of the existence of chaos waters in v 29 that represented Israel’s deepest fears of their world being hurled into turmoil. Yet, this text also professes that in spite of the reality of the watery chaos, God assigns a limit to the ocean, telling the waters not to “transgress his command.” It is within this world where chaos threatens to overtake that Wisdom is doing her work as a master worker alongside God. Indeed as we know all too well in our own little worlds disrupted by forces beyond our control that creates havoc in terms of our neatly constructed lives, it is by means of (a lot of) wisdom that the world becomes a habitable place, which makes it possible for people to live a good life. To heed Wisdom’s call today is then to look for ways in which Wisdom’s children may serve as created co-creators who actively work in some small way to bring life in situations where the forces of chaos loom large.

Third, the alternative interpretative possibility of Wisdom being next to God like a little child also offers quite interesting perspectives to explore. In v 30-31, Wisdom finds great joy in showing how she daily was God’s delight, rejoicing (one could say giggling) in God’s “inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” The image of a giggling, joyful, little girl who laughs when God shows her God’s new creations — the hilarious giraffe and hippopotamus, the monkeys and busy little ants — is marvellous in order to imagine the joy and the awe that is present in God’s creation. And then there are human beings! Verse 31 maintains that Wisdom delights in the human race. Indeed to find joy in others, not to seek to control the other nor expect the other to be like me, but to truly delight in the other, as other, that is wisdom.

Finally, such a spirit of openness translates then, as William Brown says it well, into an act of “imitatio sapientiae,” according to which Wisdom’s followers are called to play as Wisdom plays (The Ethos of the Cosmos, 316). This means that true wisdom is to realize that one cannot always control events, not to speak of the many others with whom we travel together on this earth. What’s more, Terrence Fretheim sees in this playfulness associated with Wisdom an important theological principle that assumes that “pleasure and playfulness are built into the very structure of things,” making possible a spirit of discovery and generosity that implies “that Woman Wisdom opens up the world rather than closes it down.” This readiness to be open to new experiences also has theological implications, when believers are encouraged to “recogniz[e] that God may be about new things for new times and places” (God and the World in the Old Testament, 217). To embrace Wisdom thus truly is transformative as it implies a whole new outlook on life, the universe and everything. And on this Trinity Sunday, this also means on God.


Commentary on Psalm 8

Shauna Hannan

“Who am I?” is one of those questions I’ve asked of God on numerous occasions.

“Who am I, God, compared to all this beauty that you have made?” This was my question some years ago while driving through the Canadian Rockies … alone … in a blizzard … in a white car … with no cell phone reception. (I’ll spare you the “up hills both ways” line.) Who am I compared to all of this majesty and wonder? I knew I could get swallowed up by the strength and power of all that surrounded me. My cry was one of desperation as well as awe. What are human beings that you are mindful of them? The response was loud and clear: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”

Moving from feeling so insignificant to recognizing one’s significance even in the face of such grandeur was very powerful. The mystery of it all invited me to affirm this God as my God all the more. What a faithful objective for a Trinity Sunday sermon! That is, to move the hearers to proclaim God as their God.

The Psalmist’s question that became my question (and, indeed is our question) is not only existential, but profoundly theological, and therefore fitting for Trinity Sunday.1 So, preachers, before getting to the proclamations of the scripture readings from Romans and John, considering lingering in the mystery expressed in Proverbs 8 and especially Psalm 8. Linger for a while in the question, who are we? I, for one, would welcome a sermon on Trinity Sunday that doesn’t sound like a cropped confirmation lesson that explains away the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Instead of boiling it all down, open it all up! That is, open my world to the awesome mysterious claim that our God, the creator of the majesty that surrounds us, gives us the awesome responsibility of caring for such majesty.

As usual the structure of the Psalm itself can assist preachers with the sermon form. Consider a sermon which progresses in a chiastic form just as the psalm does.

A – Doxology

B – God’s work

C – Who am I?

B1 – God’s work

A1 – Doxology

A and A1: Doxology

I can think of no better way to begin (and end!) this sermon than with a doxological claim that God’s name is majestic in all the earth. How is God’s majesty evident in your congregation’s life? Is there a phrase that your congregation has used to reflect this? What difference does it make that this majestic one is not just any Lord, but our Lord? The relationship indicated in these opening and closing words is key: “O Lord” itself suggests a relationship, but then there is the added, “our Lord.” The repetition and emphasis are worth … well, repeating and emphasizing!

B and B1– God’s work

Psalm 8 is the first Psalm categorized as “hymn of praise” in the Psalter. It is unusual in that it consists completely of direct address to God (other hymns of praise include a call to praise which is directed from the Psalmist to the people2). These leads me to wonder if a sermon could be offered with a similar direction of address. One possibility might be to invite congregation members to submit images of God’s handiwork in their midst. Have these images rolling throughout the sermon as a kind of collective offering of affirmation and praise.

C and C1 – Who am I?

God’s heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars, for example, prompt the Psalmist’s (and our) question: Who are we that you are mindful of and care for us? Or, as the Hebrew suggests, who are we that you remember and visit us? Even more, who are we that you would give us a job? trust us with such a responsibility? Mays reminds us that “human beings have an office in the world … the generic human being is an official in the administrative arrangement of the kingdom of God.”3 In Levenson’s words, “The human race is YHWH’s plenipotentiary, his stand in.”4 (Since plenipotentiary is not a word I would suggest using from the pulpit, I’ve been playing with the word understudy.)

Just when the spotlight for this Trinity Sunday sermon seems to be undeservedly on us, we are reminded that even the reflective segment of this Psalm (section C in verses 3-4) “is voiced in the idiom of worship.”5 The very human question “Who are we?” is ultimately asked to praise the Lord.6

If I were to draw this Psalm, I would place section C and its question “Who are human beings … ?” in a center circle. I would encircle that inner circle with another and include in that layer sections B and B1. The outermost layer would then contain sections A and A1. The result would be a kind of sermonic rebus, which would suggest that our very human questions are lovingly surrounded by God’s magnificent handiwork and our commitment to care for it. All of this is then enveloped by the proclamation of trust in the majesty of God’s name. This is what got me through that drive in the Canadian Rockies, and it will carry us through as we stand at the precipice of another long season of Pentecost.


  1. Jacobson, Rolf A. “Psalm 8.” In Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary, edited by Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn, 64-67. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  2. Mays, James L. “Psalms.” Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994, 65.
  3. Ibid., 66.
  4. Levenson, Jon D. Creation and the Persistence of Evil. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988, 114.
  5. Mays, James L. “Psalms.” Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994, 66.
  6. Ibid., 68.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 5:1-5

Cynthia Briggs Kittredge

Romans 5:1-5 marks a major transition in Paul’s letter to the Romans from faith to hope.

The post baptismal life is expanded in Romans 5:1-8:39 That life can be described as the “overlap of the ages” (Byrne) between the inauguration of the blessings of Christ’s victory and their complete fulfillment when the faithful share the glory of God. In this in-between time, suffering continues to beset the community of faith, but hardship and pain are interpreted in light of righteousness and grasped in hope. The tension between the present and the “not yet” in these verses in expressed in the present fact of “we have obtained access” and future anticipation, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Even suffering itself is a cause for boasting, explains Paul, presenting a neat chain of linked virtues: suffering to endurance, endurance to character, character to the penultimate gift of hope, that culminates in God’s love. The theme of “peace with God,” named in the opening verse, Romans 5:1, will be developed in the next passage, Romans 5:6-11, with the language of reconciliation of enemies.

The language of peace in the context of war

Paul uses a variety of terms for salvation that are at home in different semantic settings. Here the parallel images of “having peace with God” (Romans 5:1) and “being reconciled to God” (5:10, 11) have their meaning in the setting of warfare and conflict. The ancient audience of Romans would have recognized the echoes of imperial rhetoric that claimed the peace of the Pax Romana as the benefits gained by the emperor (Georgi 1991). Unlike the forced pacification of the Pax Romana through perpetuation of violence, here it is Jesus’ death (“through his blood” 5:9) that is the means of peace. For preachers reading Romans in a contemporary context where empire is a global phenomenon, using the language of enmity and reconciliation is both powerful and dangerous. Borrowing from the lexicon of imperial rhetoric, Romans uses the language of peace and war to present an alternative vision of peace made through Jesus’ death for the unrighteous. Reconciliation accomplished through Christ offers a critical and faithful perspective on the unending “war on terror.”

Boasting future and present

According to Paul’s anthropology boasting is a characteristic human activity. Boasting and being ashamed are part of the language of honor and shame typical of Greco-Roman culture. For a Christian, it is what one boasts about and on what basis that is a matter of debate and exhortation. While Paul criticizes boasting in Romans 2:17, 3:27, 4:2, here he celebrates boasting as positive. Here the speakers, “we,” who are made right with God through faith, as Abraham exemplified in Romans 4, may boast in hope and because we are saved from God’s wrath (5:3, 11). The phrase “glory of God” alludes to the story of Adam in Genesis (Genesis 1:26-28, Psalm 8:5-8) whose transgression caused him to lose the image or glory of God that he possessed. The early community of believers in Jesus believed that his death made possible a “new creation” in which that human beings are restored to the image of God and God’s glory. Boasting here is anticipatory — it does not brag about an achievement in the past, but is an expression of hope. Even present sufferings inspire boasting because of the virtues that are cultivated by suffering. Although modern interpreters may not share the same confidence in the disciplinary character of suffering, this text assumes it. This passage has the power to communicate hope as well as to describe it, and the preacher might attempt the same, naming those saints and communities of saints who indeed learn endurance (“patience” KJV) and character (“experience” KJV) through suffering (“tribulations” KJV).

Outpouring of God’s love through the spirit

“I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28),

As the prophetic tradition affirms, the Spirit is God’s gift of the new creation making the people of God ready for the new age. The physical image of “pouring” evokes the water of prophetic cleansing and of baptism. The love of God plentifully fills us and overflows (Romans 8:31-39). As did the community of the first century, the community of Christ in the present experiences God’s love as a present reality, given by the Spirit, even in the midst of violence and terror.