Lectionary Commentaries for April 30, 2017
Third Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 24:13-35

Robert Hoch

The walk to Emmaus must have been a dry walk indeed.

A friend in our church had us over to her home recently. Her recently deceased husband had commissioned an artist to paint a picture of Jesus, but he did not want the “sentimental” Jesus, eyes full-to-the-brim with affection and warmth. He explained that he wanted to see Jesus against a barren landscape and a blue sky.

When I looked at the painting, I saw that, indeed, the artist had composed the painting in this way: three figures walked together, one of them using his hands as if teaching. They were coming down from a mountain, following a long road; they did not occupy the center of the picture. Yet the defining feature of the painting was to be found in the three walkers. There was a kind of quiet intensity with them, as if the desert itself were listening. The painting almost invited its viewers to lean into the painting, to make out this conversation, to catch the discourse between teacher and companions.

I have no way of knowing whether the artist had the walk to Emmaus in mind, but it strikes me as an apt image for Luke’s second resurrection appearance.

There are some walks that are longer than others — not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens. I suspect this was one of the latter type. It was a seven-mile walk, a walk you would notice in your ankles and calves. But the real path they were walking was vastly longer and more difficult — it was the walk of hopes in shambles. It was the walk taken through the valley of disillusionment. It was a walk burdened with perhaps accusation or shame.

The Greek terms used by Luke suggest the intensity of the talk between the two disciples, according to David Lyle Jeffrey. For the conversation, the narrator uses three terms: homileo (from which we get homiletics or homily) and antiballette (a term from rhetoric and forensics, literally, “to put” or “place against”), translated in the NRSV in its gerund form, “discussing” (reflecting in its etymology the sense of a “concussive” exchange of words), and an “emotional” syzeteo (dialogue).1

Now, if you’re reading this commentary, you know this kind of conversation! There have been more times than I care to remember when a theological conversation (and perhaps a sermon or two) felt more like combat than communion. But it doesn’t need to be theology. In our arguments, many of them necessary and important, human beings risk losing sight of each other. The more heated our “discussions” become the more likely we are to disregard the human dimensions of our common journey.

In other words, it is not accidental that Jesus appears in this text as a stranger, with all the ethical obligations this would recall for those who live under Torah. With whom are we walking? Who overhears and who is overlooked when we “exchange words”? How might the testimony of the resurrection — through the witness of a stranger (e.g. undocumented person) inform our seven-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus?

Luke uses this setting, two disciples engrossed in a conversation while they walk, as one of the contexts for Jesus’ resurrection. Most often, we think of resurrection as the flash of God’s triumph over death dealing powers. And yet Luke gives us a different aspect of this resurrection event, which is less “flash” of light and more the gentle probing of our heart’s entanglements on the road to our next chapter.

Luke’s narrator employs irony to begin that gentle disentanglement: “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them” (verse 15). Readers “recognize” Jesus but the disciples, of course, do not. And then, perhaps without them even knowing he was walking alongside (stranger or otherwise), Jesus questions them: “What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?” (verse 17).

Drawn up short by this question, which seemed perhaps impossible to imagine, Cleopas answers Jesus’ question with a question of his own: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (verse 18).

A hint of sarcasm in Cleopas’ response? Anger? Perhaps. In any case, Jesus doesn’t take the bait and simply repeats the question: “What things?”

Some might describe what follows as a therapeutic discourse, as Jesus’ question helps them name, in a succinct way, the bare bones of their struggle. A therapist stands as a stranger to our inner troubles — and thus acts as an “uninitiated” and “neutral” party that must be introduced to the dimensions of the problem. The “patients” in this case disclose disappointment and perhaps deep sickness.

For instance, the disciples characterize the resurrection report of the women as unbelievable, perhaps reflecting their view that the women were suffering from a psychological disturbance. Jeffrey notes that the term translated as “idle tale” in the NRSV and as “nonsense” in the NIV is a physician’s term to describe “the delirious babblings of very sick persons.”2 Given the inability of the disciples to recognize Jesus, it would stand to reason that they would regard the women’s testimony as nonsense. Stated more sharply: it is not the women who are delirious.

One problem you might find in the translation of this text, especially if you follow the “therapeutic” trajectory suggested here, is Jesus’ entry into the dialogue: “… how foolish you are” (verse 25). Jeffrey believes it would be more accurate to translate the Greek here as “foolish” (NRSV and NIV) to something like a term of endearment: “You sweet dummies! How could you miss this?”3

Luke’s narrator fills this account of the resurrection with the paradox of the Christ who is stranger and companion. Two quotes from Augustine convey the beautiful paradox: “The teacher was walking with them along the way and he himself was the way.” “And because they observed hospitality, him who they knew not yet in the expounding of scriptures, they suddenly know in the breaking of bread.”4

What does it mean to meet the resurrection on the road, as a stranger, when we are between places and perhaps beside ourselves? What are the ethical dimensions of this text, especially the encounter with Jesus as a “stranger in a strange land”? Do we take this “resurrection” — this homeless one — into our homes? Argument, whether theological or otherwise, is often a struggle for triumph; by contrast, acts of mercy speak the quiet word of communion.


1) David Lyle Jeffrey, Luke (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 284.

2) Ibid., 283.

3) Ibid., 285.

4) Augustine, Sermon (235.1-2) and Harmony of the Gospels (3.25) as quoted in Jeffrey, Luke,  286.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Luke has kept us waiting so long for the fulfillment of this plot point that we may have forgotten we were waiting for it at all.

So, let’s start by backing up and rediscovering the seed that was planted so long ago.

It all started in Luke 3. John the Baptist, whose miraculous birth we’ve heard all about, has burst onto the scene as a full-grown adult with curious habits of attire and nutrition. He does not pull any of his punches. He has a lot to say about repentance — and a lot to say to those who don’t repent. But for those who do, he has something to offer: baptism.

Baptism is so exceedingly familiar to Christians that we rarely catch how unutterably bizarre and novel John’s baptism was. Of course, there were plenty of ablutions and immersions in the religious practice of Israel. Using water for cleansings both physical and symbolic is hardly an innovative idea. But in Israel, all these immersions were performed solo, by and on one’s own self. No one else immersed you.

As far as we know, John was the first one to come along and immerse others. Getting a dunking by John in the Jordan was public testimony to one’s repentance, aligning oneself with repentant Israel. It was odd enough to attract crowds of people to the wilderness, including tax collectors and soldiers.

Compelling as it is, John’s baptism centered on repentance is limited in its scope. It’s not clear whether Luke thinks John’s baptism could also forgive the sins of the repentant; the Evangelist seems to be trying to distance himself from that inference inherited from Mark. But there is an even more important curtailment of John’s power that Mark, Luke, and all the rest agree on: John cannot baptize with the Holy Spirit. Instead, one is coming, John prophesies, who will indeed baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. And that one is so far above John that John isn’t even worthy to untie his sandals.

The proof: Jesus himself is the first to have the Spirit descend upon him at baptism. John’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s astonishment at the sight, and Matthew’s Gospel reports a kind of quarrel the two men had over whether the one should receive baptism from the other, which is followed by the startling descent of the Spirit. Luke actually detaches John the Baptist from Jesus’ baptism altogether, by interpolating the account of his beheading and keeping the act of baptism in the passive voice. One way or another, Luke wants to make it very clear that John’s baptism can’t bestow the Spirit.

Then twenty-one more chapters of Luke’s Gospel ensue, with a lot of exciting and distracting things like miracles, exorcisms, a crucifixion and a resurrection, so we may easily lose track of baptism and the Spirit along the way.

Fortunately, Peter, filled with the long-promised Holy Spirit, is here to make amends. All righteousness has been fulfilled: the Holy One of Israel was killed, but his faithful Father raised him up again to new life and through him grants the Holy Spirit. So, all those who are still carrying burdens of repentance can come to the promised deliverance. Come and be baptized, and two extraordinary promises will be fulfilled: in the name of Jesus Christ your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. This is baptism 2.0, new and improved and better than ever!

The long list of the gathered nations on the day of Pentecost often obscures the fact that the people gathered to hear Peter’s sermon are all Jews — diaspora Jews, in the main. They’re back in Jerusalem for the festival, but they’ve so acclimated themselves to their new homelands (after the example of Esther or the instructions of Jeremiah) that they’ve forgotten the mother tongue, which is why the Spirit has to effect a linguistic miracle before Peter can be heard. But repatriation is not a problem. This gift of baptism with forgiveness and the Spirit is for them, for their children, and for all those however faraway they may be. In fact, the gift is for anyone the Lord calls to Himself: that’s the only prerequisite.

The rest of Acts is the Lord’s calling more and more people to receive His gift: first Samaritans, then a Jewish proselyte in the form of the Ethiopian eunuch, next Gentiles starting with Cornelius, and finally John’s disciples still stuck at baptism 1.0. But in the end the Lord claims them all, every community if not yet every individual member thereof. Sins will be forgiven and the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh.


Commentary on Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 116 is fourth in a group of psalms known as the “Egyptian Hallel” psalms (Psalms 113-118), the psalms recited at the Passover meal on the eighth day of Passover.

Psalms 113 and 114 are read before the meal; Psalm 115-118 are read at its conclusion, while drinking the fourth cup of celebratory wine.

Psalm 116 is classified as an Individual Hymn of Thanksgiving, in which a psalm singer praises God for goodness to or on behalf of them, usually for deliverance from some trying situation (oppression, war, sickness, etc.). The great psalm scholar Hermann Gunkel describes the occasion on which these songs would have been offered: “A person is saved out of great distress, and now with grateful heart he brings a thank offering to Yahweh; it was customary that at a certain point in the sacred ceremony he would offer a song in which he expresses his thanks.”1

Individual Hymns of Thanksgiving typically consist of three elements:

  1. Introduction in which the psalmist declares the intention of giving thanks and praising God.
  2. Narrative in which the psalmist tells what has happened to the psalmist and what has prompted the words of praise.
  3. Conclusion in which the psalmist praises God for all that God has done on the psalmist’s behalf.

In Psalm 116, verses 1 and 2 are the Introduction, declaring the psalmist’s intentions. Verses 3-11 are the Narrative, telling what has happened to the psalmist and what has prompted the words of praise. And verses 12-19 are the Conclusion, the psalmist’s praise to God for what God has done. In this commentary, we will examine the Introduction, a portion of the Narrative, and the Conclusion.

Verse 1 has a seeming interpretational difficulty that leads modern translators to emend the Masoretic (Hebrew) text from: “I love because the Lord hears my voice … ” to “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice …” (perhaps on the model of Psalms 18:1 and 31:23). Does the psalm singer love (in general) because God has heard the singer’s voice or does the singer love God because God has heard the singer’s voice? This commentator opts to leave the Masoretic text as it stands: “I love (in general) because…”

Verse 1 continues with the notice that God hears the psalmist’s cries for favor or supplication [tahanun] before God. The word “favor” is derived from the verbal root hanan which carries a basic meaning of “an aesthetically pleasing presentation or aspect of someone or something” or “the pleasing impression made upon one individual by another.” The singer of Psalm 116 is able to love because God hears the “requests to show favor” from the psalmist. In verse 2, the psalmist declares that because God has “inclined God’s ear [to the singer] therefore I will call upon God as long as I live.” The phrase “inclined God’s ear” is a wonderful picture in Hebrew — it literally says “to stretch out the ear.”

In verses 3-11, the psalm describes the events in the psalmist’s life that precipitated the Hymn of Thanksgiving. Verses 3-4 tell us that the psalmist was inflicted with great distress, including the threat of death, and then cried out in the name of the Lord. “Name” was an important concept in the ancient Near East. Names reflected the natures and characters of the persons who bore them and were conceptually equal to the very essence of being. To know someone was to possess some part of that person; to speak a name was to speak into being.

In Genesis 2, God brings the animals one by one to the first human and we read, “and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Here we have a wonderful picture of humanity working together with God as co-creator. Naming brings the animals into being — an ibex becomes an ibex; a hippopotamus becomes a hippopotamus; an eagle becomes an eagle.

In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God at the burning bush. In that encounter, Moses replies to God’s command to return to Egypt, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (3:13). God replies with self-naming words of existence, “I am that I am.” From the Hebrew words ‘ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh  the Israelites derived the personal name of God, Yahweh. And the book of Deuteronomy tells us that God’s name will dwell in the place of God’s choosing in the land (12:5, 14:23-24, 16:2).

The final section of Psalm 116, verses 12-19, contains the psalmist’s praise to God for deliverance and protection. Two refrains divide it at verses 14 and 18: “My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people.”

In verse 12 the psalmist asks what may be given to the Lord for all the goodness that the Lord bestows. Verses 13 and 14 answer the question: “a cup of helps” and ” completion of vows.” In the context of the “Egyptian Hallel” psalms, the “cup of helps” can refer to the fourth cup of celebratory wine drunk at the Passover meal.

Verse 15 has puzzled commentators for millennia. Most English translations follow closely the translation of the 1611 Authorized Version: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” But, one Hebrew word in verse 15 is an interesting study.

The word usually translated as “precious” comes from the Hebrew root yaqar, which means “be dignified, honorable, heavy, valuable.” It occurs nine times in the book of Psalms, and is translated variously in the NRSV translation as “precious,” “glory,” “honor,” “costly,” “pomp,” and “weighty.” The use of yaqar to describe the death of the Lord’s (faithful) hesed ones indicates that God does not happily accept the death of any faithful one, but considers life the better alternative and counts each death as costly and weighty.

Verse 16 returns to the praise of God for deliverance and protection, as we see in verses 3-4. The psalmist states, “Indeed, I am your servant … a child of your maidservant; you have unleashed my bonds.” The psalm singer’s words in verses 17 and 18 echo those in verse 14, “I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice … I will pay my vows to the LORD.”

The Passover celebrants raise a cup of wine to God in remembrance of all of God’s goodness to their ancestors and to them in the Exodus from Egypt. Psalm 116 is recited at each Passover as an individual recounting of God’s goodness and deliverance to each celebrant.

Psalm 116 is recited also in Christian tradition during the celebration of communion on Holy Thursday. As in the Passover celebration, so Christians raise a cup of wine in remembrance of all of God’s goodness to their ancestors in the faith and to them.


1) Hermann Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967), 17.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Peter 1:17-23

Judith Jones

1 Peter has an important word to speak; both for those who feel alienated from society and for those who find themselves comfortable within it.

Many of the people to whom it was written lived as outsiders in their communities. Others had grown up in the area and knew the local culture well but had left the faith they were raised in to become Christians. Whether they were Jews who had become Christians, or foreigners who had moved into the area, or natives of another region who had converted to Christianity, they were regarded by the insiders as strangers, as other, and different. 1 Peter calls them to embrace their otherness and live it out with utter commitment, seeing it not as a stigma, but as a priceless gift.

Through Jesus’ resurrection, 1 Peter says, God has given Christians a new birth into a new family. The precious gift of Christ’s lifeblood has redeemed them, that is, set them free from the old way of life handed down by their ancestors. From the vantage point of their new life, their ancestral traditions are revealed as empty and pointless, with no lasting value. Surely in this passage the author is thinking primarily of Gentile converts; it is inconceivable that a writer who relies so heavily on images and stories from the Hebrew Bible would refer to Jewish tradition as futile.

In fact, it is striking that the author would dismiss any ancient tradition as futile. In that culture, the older an idea was, the more valuable it was. New ideas might be interesting, but they did not have the weight and worth of traditions that were rooted in antiquity. Notably, 1 Peter does not say that newer is better. It argues that Christian faith has the oldest, deepest roots of all: Christ was known before the foundation of the world.

Those who believe in Christ and who, through him, place their trust and hope in God have become members of God’s family. In a world where peoples’ lives revolved around acquiring social honor and avoiding social shame, what could be more honorable than being a child of God? Since Christians call God “Father,” 1 Peter urges them to conduct themselves as God’s children. That means modeling their behavior and their values not after their culture or their ancestral tradition, but after God, the parent who has given them new birth.

In the passage just before this text, the author urges Christians to be holy because God is holy. The reading for the third Sunday of Easter describes what holiness looks like in human form and in everyday life. Since God shows no favoritism in judgment, Christians too must set aside the social norms and love each other without hypocrisy.

People who practice God-like love do not ignore the unemployed single parent in their community so that they can shower help and attention on the CEO of a major local business. They do not measure the worth of members of their congregation by the size of their pledge. Love is not a strategy for gaining honor and prominence within the community. Instead, genuine love comes from the heart and pays no attention to the social or economic status of the beloved. 1 Peter calls Christians to love eagerly, with outstretched hands, not waiting timidly in the background for someone to ask them for help, but throwing themselves enthusiastically and persistently into the hard work of active love for neighbors.

At the end of the passage the author circles back to the energy source and origin of holy behavior. Loving as God loves is not merely a natural human impulse. Holy love flows from the living Word of God, the seed from which new life grows. Being loved, honored, and welcomed by God frees people to love, honor, and welcome others. Outcasts become family. Where divine love lives and grows, no one is a stranger, an outsider, or an alien. God’s love creates a secure and lasting home for all.