Lectionary Commentaries for November 13, 2016
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 21:5-19

Gilberto Ruiz

Whenever a disaster strikes, it doesn’t take long for some prominent Christians to blame it on the secularization or moral permissiveness of society.

On a September 13, 2001, appearance on The 700 Club, Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed the 9/11 terrorist attacks on certain groups and organizations he characterized as promoting “an alternative lifestyle” and trying to “secularize America.”1 Austrian priest Rev. Gerhard Wagner wrote in a 2005 parish newsletter that Hurricane Katrina resulted from the indescribable amoral conditions of New Orleans.2 Recently, the Westboro Baptist Church has attained notoriety for this line of thinking.

Anyone who wants to justify their belief that God uses wars and natural disasters to punish people for “attacking” Christianity can find material in Luke 21:5-19 to support this view. This passage presents Jesus predicting the Jerusalem temple’s destruction (vv. 5-6) as well as more general catastrophes (vv. 7-10) that are preceded by an intense persecution of Christians (vv. 12-19). I propose, however, that we take a closer look at the different sections of 21:5-19 to see if other, more compelling readings are possible.

By the time Luke puts the finishing touches on these verses, the temple’s destruction has already happened. Luke’s Gospel is dated to about 85 ce, 15 years or so after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70 ce, which means that for Luke’s readers what Jesus says in Luke 21:5-6 is more a reflection on the temple’s destruction than a prediction of it. Luke uses the destruction of this magnificent temple to make a statement on the impermanence of human achievement. In response to their wonder at the temple’s beauty, Jesus attempts to divert the attention of his audience from their fascination with “these things that you see” (21:6). Their focus should be on something else. What, exactly, is not specified, but immediately before this exchange Jesus drew attention to a poor widow in the temple (21:1-4). Perhaps Luke’s Jesus thinks his audience should focus their attention on the poor, not on the temple building.

Those listening to Jesus teach in the temple, however, remain concerned with what will happen to the building (Luke 21:7). In response, Jesus moves from discussing a specific catastrophic event to more general statements about the coming of false prophets, wars, and other calamities (21:7-12). Here Luke employs language and imagery that is conventional in apocalyptic literature from this period (for example Daniel 11:20, 25, 44; 4 Ezra 13:31; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18).3 As readers we now have to decide how we are going to interpret Luke 21:7-12. Are we going to read these as literal predictions of Jesus, or are we going to read this section in light of the aims of apocalyptic literature? If a story begins “Once upon a time,” do we take literally the story’s events, or do we adjust our expectations because we recognize it as a fairy tale that is trying to entertain even as it conveys a moral or lesson? The decision we have to make in reading Luke 21:7-11 is similar. A specific genre (apocalyptic) is introduced, meaning we should adopt the interpretive lenses that help us understand this genre on its own terms.

Apocalyptic literature uses unsettling language and imagery as a means to assure the faithful that they should keep their trust in God even when facing the most challenging of circumstances. Sure enough, while describing the terrible events, Jesus tells his listeners not to be afraid (Luke 21:9). There is nothing particularly original or specific about Jesus’ “predictions” here. Every age has its own false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on. We will misread 21:7-11 if we think Jesus is describing a specific set of calamities. The point is that when bad things happen — and they will — we should “not be terrified” (21:9) or follow anyone proclaiming these are signs of God’s judgment and the end (21:8). Instead, we should trust that God remains present in our lives.

That assurance of God’s faithfulness to us in the face of difficult times is the real concern of this passage is confirmed by Luke 21:12-19. Jesus details the persecution that his followers can expect to face: arrests; persecution; trials before government authorities; betrayal by family and friends; hatred on account of Jesus’ name; and even execution. Throughout his Gospel, Luke depicts Jesus as a prophetic figure who risks rejection and death as a result of his prophetic message (see especially Luke 4:16-30). Anyone who follows Jesus can expect the same hostility that Jesus and Israel’s great prophets endured. Indeed, the Acts of the Apostles (written by the same author who wrote Luke’s Gospel) provides numerous examples of early Christian leaders facing precisely the sort of troubles that Jesus describes in 21:12-19.4

But does Jesus in Luke 21:12-19 tell his audience they should lay blame on a particular person or group of people, on their society, or even on their enemies, for such treatment? No. He says that persecution is “an opportunity to testify” (21:13). Just as God gave Moses and other prophets the capacity to speak to and confront their doubters and opponents (for example Exodus 6:28-7:13; Jeremiah 1:6-10), Jesus himself will provide strength and wisdom for such testimony (Luke 21:15). Using a proverb that signifies divine protection, Jesus tells them that not a hair on their head will perish (Luke 21:18; see also 1 Samuel 14:45; 2 Samuel 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52).5 Ultimately, their experience of persecution will not end in death but in a victory for their souls (Luke 21:19). Underscoring all of these statements in 21:12-19 is the importance of trusting in God even in the midst of hardship and persecution.

A close reading of Luke 21:5-19 shows that using this passage as a springboard for proclaiming God’s judgment on society would miss the point. Rather, the passage warns us about becoming too fixated on temporary human institutions, perhaps with the implication that we should attend to the poor in our communities instead (21:5-6; see also 21:1-4), and it exhorts us to be firm in our trust in God when calamity and persecution strike (21:7-19). Despite its language and imagery of destruction, Luke 21:5-19 is ultimately a passage grounded in hope — in the hope that God remains present in the world and in one’s life even when things have gotten so bad that it feels like the world is closing in on us.


1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-CAcdta_8I

2 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-rescinds-hiring-of-katrina-priest/

3 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (X–XXIV), Anchor Bible 28A (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 1336-1337.

4 See R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible 9 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 400-402.

5 Fitzmyer, Luke, 1341.

First Reading

Commentary on Malachi 4:1-2a

James Limburg

Most of the people sitting in the pews would have no trouble naming Genesis as the first book of the Bible.

Most would also be able to quote the first words in that book, “In the beginning … ”

But even the most diligent church-goers might have some difficulty naming the last book of the Old Testament. “Malachi” is the final entry in a collection of a dozen shorter prophetic books beginning with Hosea and called the “Minor Prophets.” The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from that last book which ends with the last promise of the Old Testament, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah … ”

I remember clearly the first time I heard words from the prophet Malachi. It was the fall of my freshman year in college. The word was around, “You should sing in the Messiah. Practices begin in November. It’s lots of fun!”

While I played in the college band, I had never gone in so much for singing in choirs. So I went with a few friends and discovered that this was indeed a big event, involving hundreds of students, faculty, and townspeople. The conductor was Weston Noble, and the singers packed a basement rehearsal room. There was an alto solo from Malachi, Chapter 3: “But who may abide the day of his coming … ” Then came an up-tempo part marked “Prestissimo” in our music books, “For he is like a refiner’s fire,” again from Malachi. Next was a selection for the whole chorus, “And he shall purify.” It was clear that most of the people around me had sung it before, and they charged through that chorus like a roaring fire. I still remember stepping outside after that first rehearsal, a gentle snow falling in the November darkness, and those words from Malachi running through my head: “and he shall purify … ”

Now to the text for this Sunday.

The historical setting for Malachi

Malachi is the last of the twelve shorter prophetic books, which conclude English editions of the Old Testament. The prophet is addressing a people living in the Jerusalem area who have returned from years of exile in Babylon (587-539 B.C.E.). They are trying to get their small community going again. Haggai and Zechariah have succeeded in getting a temple rebuilt and re-dedicated in 515 B.C.E. Nehemiah was a layperson, appointed governor and charged with the task of building a wall to guarantee security for the citizens of Jerusalem. His contemporary Ezra was a priest whose job it was to get worship in the temple going once again and to get religion back into the everyday lives of the people. Malachi (whose name means in Hebrew “my messenger”) was active among the members of this post-exilic community. True to the meaning of his name, he brought to these people a message from God.

The prophet’s preaching

The “book” of Malachi is made up of a series of six short sermons. They give us an idea of the situation in this community. All was not well, and the prophet clearly pointed that out!

1) 1:1-5. The destruction of Edom is understood as a punishment for this nation’s attacks upon Israel (see the prophet Obadiah). This is a reminder that the LORD’s power goes beyond the borders of Israel.

2) 1:6-2:9. The clergy (that is, the priests) are in for the sharpest prophetic criticism. They have failed in their calling. They were in charge of worship, which meant conducting the sacrifices and offerings. But they have brought blind, sick animals for sacrifices when they should have brought the best! (see Leviticus 22:17-30).

The priests are also in charge of the congregation’s educational program, and that too has been a failure (“you have caused many to stumble by your instruction” Malachi 2:7-9)

3) 2:10-16. Intermarriage was causing religious problems in the homes (2:10). Divorce has become a scandal. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD. Husbands have been unfaithful to their young wives. This has become a metaphor for the people’s unfaithfulness to the LORD.

4) 2:17-3:5. People are complaining that the LORD is unjust (2:17). They are involved in bizarre magical practices (3:5). They also commit adultery, swear by other gods, and don’t pay their workers a fair minimum wage. In charges reminiscent of the prophets Amos, Micah, and Isaiah, the rich do not care for the powerless — the widow, the orphan, and the refugee (NRSV “alien”). And they don’t have a proper regard for the LORD (3:5).

5) 3:6-12 Expected to engage in proportionate giving, people are cheating on the amount of their tithes (see Leviticus 27:30; Deuteronomy 14:28).

6) 3:13-4:3 The people are complaining, “Our religion is a waste of time. Evil people prosper and we suffer. It’s not fair!”

Next comes the portion of the text assigned for this Sunday. A day of judgment will come, when arrogant evildoers will be punished. But those who are faithful will receive God’s blessings: “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (see also Psalm 84:11).

There is another promise: the LORD will send the prophet Elijah once again (4:5). Jewish tradition is to repeat 4:5 at the end of the book, to end on a positive note. .

Toward preaching on Malachi 4:1-2a        

The New Testament identifies this “second Elijah” with John the Baptist (Matthew 11:114; 17:9-13; Mark 6:14-15; Luke 1:17). The preacher will want to call attention to the link between Elijah and John the Baptist, and could also refer to the Jewish custom of leaving an empty place for Elijah at the Passover table.

The sermon could call attention to Handel’s Messiah, which will be often heard during this season. The alto solo and chorus are familiar, but few know that it is setting of these verses from Malachi!

Charles Wesley has set this text to music, in the seldom-sung third stanza of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!” This is a natural hymn for the season!

Hail the heav’n born Prince of peace,
     Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
     Ris’n with healing in his wings.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 65:17-25

Walter C. Bouzard

If it seems to you that the passage from Isaiah has cropped up recently, you are correct.

Besides this day, Isaiah 65:17-25 was an alternate lection for Easter Sunday last March.

The chances are good that most preachers focused on the Gospel reading that day. While that is understandable, the reappearance of this text affords a gospel “do-over” to proclaim the joy and assurance that the Resurrection story always brings, but that no single Easter text can contain.

We need not long delay over the scholarly debates surrounding the placement of this oracle between the first half of Isaiah chapter 65 and chapter 66. We have the canon we have. Suffice it to say that chapter 65 anticipates judgment and hardship for those who forsook the LORD and who failed to listen to God’s voice but blessings for the faithful servants of God (Isaiah 65:12-16).

The fact that these assurances of blessing and curse are held out as a promise suggests that the prophet addressed people for whom the triumph of God was not self-evident. In the “now” of this Isaiah, it was not altogether clear that the faithful would be sated and blessed because seemingly only those who rebelled against God were filled and satisfied. In other words, the oracle describes a situation much like our own. We wait in hope for the declination of the world’s moral compass, but the “former troubles” are currently neither forgotten nor hidden from God’s sight, the prophetic perfect of Isaiah 65:16 notwithstanding!

This Isaiah ups the proverbial ante in Isaiah 65:17-25. Promises of a new creation envelope the whole: a new heaven and a new earth (v. 17) will include a peaceable kingdom the likes of which have not been known since the beginning (v.25; see Genesis 1:29-30). The promise of peace between wild and domestic animals on “my holy mountain” echoes the messianic promise of Isaiah 11:6-9.

Three themes emerge in the description of the coming new creation, any one or all of which could serve as a basis for the proclamation of the good news.

  1. Joy. The LORD enjoins the people to be glad and rejoice. Indeed, gladness and rejoicing are the hallmarks of the new creation envisioned by this Isaiah:

Be glad (sisu) and rejoice (gilu) forever in that which I create (bore’);
for I am creating (bore’) Jerusalem as a rejoicing (gilah) and her people a gladness (mesos).
I will rejoice (galti) in Jerusalem and I will be glad (sasti) because of my people.1

The imperative forms of the verbs sus and gil in verse 18a are matched by their nominal forms in 18b. Between them are twin participles describing God’s creative acts. The people should be glad and rejoice for Jerusalem is created as a rejoicing and her people a gladness.

Since only God can create (bore’ is restricted to divine activity throughout the Bible), verse 19a refers to the divine rejoicing. Like the people, the LORD will rejoice (gil) in Jerusalem and be glad sus) in her people.

Consideration of God’s joy at the glad condition of the redeemed and saved people of God could easily occupy the entirely of a sermon. The inner voices of disapproving family members, employers, or our own unforgiving consciences are matched and overcome by a God who is made glad and rejoices over us.

  1. Life. As the second Genesis creation account makes clear, death is a consequence of rebellion (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:3) and not a part of God’s intention in creation. Speaking biologically, death is a necessary factor in our existence. We all have a biological expiration date! Speaking theologically, however, death is the antithesis of God’s intention. It is the wages of sin (Romans 6:22). God’s wills that God’s people might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Isaiah 65:20 exults in the claim that, in the new creation, infant mortality will be unheard of, as will be the death of anyone younger than one hundred years (with the exception of most determined sinner). The claim of believers this side of the cross, however, is even more expansive for we have heard Jesus say, “”I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
  2. Just rewards for labor. Isaiah 65:21-23 imply a condition of economic injustice where some labored in vain and bore children anticipating terror (v. 23). Verses 21 and 22 are set in opposition. If the situation presently is such that those who build and plant do not enjoy the rewards of their labor (v. 22), that condition will not persist (v. 21). They shall be like a long-lived and fruitful tree (v. 23b; see Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:8). They will enjoy the work of their hands and as will their children and their descendants.

Economic inequalities and unjust distribution of resources is a growing problem in the so-called developed world, and it is a problem of long standing for developing nations. This text includes a condemnation of that status quo. Strains of “The Canticle of the Turning” are, even now, wafting through the air. How will the Church be involved further in the work of economic justice? How can preachers help the people God understand that justice is a central concern not just of this text but of the Scripture as a whole?

Before returning to the theme of the new creation with which this oracle began, the prophet forwards one more gospel promise in Isaiah 65:24. The LORD will answer before anyone calls and hear while they are yet speaking. If in the new Jerusalem there is no weeping or crying (verse 19b; Revelation 21:4) it will be because any potential cause for grief will be anticipated and answered even before it can be fully articulated. If, previously, the people’s iniquities prevented God from responding (Isaiah 59:1-2), that barrier will be overcome. If the hallmarks of our days are death, including a shortened life, grief, economic injustice and terror, then believers anticipate an unspeakable joy that is guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


1 Verses Isaiah 65:18-19a, author’s translation.


Commentary on Psalm 98

Paul O. Myhre

Psalm 98 invites hearers and readers into a new frame of reflection about the activity of God.

It breathes with the movement of the planet around the sun. It ties the movement of life to the power of song and music. The earth sings, the sea booms out a bass line, the rivers tap a rhythm, and creation is joined together in an orchestral arrangement that goes on around the clock and is generally imperceptible to human minds or unnoticed by those traveling from one obligation to another.

The passage of time is something that everyone experiences in a range of ways. In childhood I would stare at the elementary classroom clock and wonder why time moved so slowly. Now as an adult who is moving swiftly toward my twilight years, I wonder why time moves so swiftly. The year has barely begun and before I know it I am preparing the house for another winter. The experience of time and reflections about it are ubiquitous, yet the perception of the passage of time is something that varies with age, cultural context, economic status, and so on. Any number of factors can intersect the human experience of time’s passage.

Human perception is limited, yet it can be prompted to discern more than what appears to be possible. The movement of planets, solar systems, galaxies, electrons, microbes, and anything else not readily discernable through human senses are moving all the time, yet people don’t generally think about them.

The earth turns and revolves around the sun. The sun and planets spiral around the Milky Way galaxy. The movement is imperceptible if it weren’t for a few objects in the sky — sun and moon — or in the ocean’s tides. People and all creation experience the rising and falling of the sun as it sweeps across the sky. They see the moon rise and set at all hours of the day. But they don’t really feel the movement of the earth’s turning under the sun or the moon’s passage, nor do feel the revolution of our planet around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Yet, everything is in constant motion. Everything is moving. One could also make a similar observation about the movement of electrons around individual proton and neutron cores in the atoms of everything. In the human body trillions of electrons are moving at any given time. In other words, move than “seven billion billion billion.”1 The sun, planets, and stars follow their courses, but human beings cannot sense the movement. The expanse is too great for human senses to easily observe.

The earth teems with life and only a fraction of it is discernable to the human eye, ear, touch, taste, or olfactory nerves. According to Discovery Magazine the average human body is shared with roughly ninety trillion microbes.2 Microbes move in and over human bodies at every moment, but human beings cannot discern the paths they travel. They are too small for human senses to notice.

Perhaps the Psalmist is inviting people to not only sing a new song, but to sing a song infused by new perception. Reflect on what God has done and is doing in creating trillions of microbes, trillions of atoms, and trillions of suns, planets, moons, and galaxies that stretch out further than the human mind can discern or smaller than the eye can see. Maybe it is the act of reflecting on the mysteries of creation that can give rise to a capacity to begin to notice the atom singing, the mountain drumming, trees dancing, clouds clapping, and pulsars blowing horns?

Maybe the marvelous things of which the Psalmist wrote are that which human capacity cannot easily reach or craft or create. They exist somewhere beyond perception and yet bump against human abilities to see, touch, hear, smell, and taste them. In that expansive and microscopic space there is movement that brushes all things. In the movement there is an activity that the Psalmist claims is the activity of God.

Given that human perception is limited, yet also able to be stretched beyond its limits, the Psalmist invites people to consider the activity of God as a movement of salvation that is oriented toward putting all things right. It is an activity that is infused with not only the movement of God, but the very presence of God in the thickness of human experience and in the movement of all things. “The Lord has made God’s salvation known and revealed God’s righteousness to the nations” (New Interpreter’s Version Psalm 98:2).

Psalm 98 is an exhortation to discernment of God’s activity in the ordinary activities of every living thing. Even the things that may not be seen as living are exhorted to join the chorus of those already singing — sea’s resound, rivers clap hands, mountains sing before the Lord God. Their movements and solidity provide a framework on which the musical score is sung.

Psalm 98 can function as both an awakener to perception about the presence and activity of God and a reminder that God remembers in love, is faithful to Israel, provides salvation, and judges people with equity.

Psalm 98 is a timely Psalm for today. Many are convinced that God is absent, hidden, deceased, or never existed. This isn’t anything new for human experience. However, it is present. The Psalm interrupts that musing by offering another way to reflect on the present. The writer invokes human minds to break out of spaces where thinking is limited and life is regarded as something lived independent of other living things or of God. It seems that the writer was intent on pushing people to see the unseen that was right before their eyes. And once they could begin to make out the outlines and contours of the activity of God, then it was time to shout, burst into song, and make music. What else can really happen once one has discerned the previously un-discernable? It seems that the most reasonable choice is to open one’s mouth and let the songs usher forth from wells of joy.


1 Quora.com. “How many electrons are in the average human body?” Srijan Ghosh. https://www.quora.com/How-many-electrons-are-in-the-average-human-body-How-many-atoms-are-in-the-average-human-body-How-many-electrons-leave-the-body-at-death Accessed June 28, 2016.

2 Discovery Magazine. “Your Body is a Planet.” Josie Glausiusz. June 19, 2007. http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/your-body-is-a-planet Accessed June 28, 2016.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Frank L. Crouch

We will explore two key ideas expressed in this passage:

(1) the most contested idea, and most contextual — “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat,” and
(2) another idea, widely applicable, less context-bound — “Do not give up on doing what is good.”

“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” — universal principle or solving a problem in Thessalonica?

This dictum has a long history as a governing principle of community, driven by one fact — “people need food,” and one question — “how do we justly distribute food?” The dictum has been invoked in the last hundred years by wildly different political perspectives — applied not only to food but also to other resources. One perspective uses it to attack Medicaid, food stamps, and other social programs, seen as encouraging sloth and freeloading among the poor, taking advantage of decent, struggling, hardworking people. Another perspective uses it to attack the unrestrained accumulation of wealth and material possessions, seen as encouraging sloth and freeloading among those who have more than enough, taking advantage of decent, struggling, hardworking people. We will best understand Paul’s use of the dictum if we detach it (temporarily) from the context of contemporary political and economic views and explore it in the context of Old and New Testament scripture.

In scripture, the question of how we justly distribute food and other resources within our communities lies on a continuum, with this statement from Paul on one end: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat,” and a statement from Jesus on the other end, “Give to everyone who begs from you [Greek “aitéo”: asks, requests, pleads for, demands], and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:40-42). Or, from the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Each of these three statements at either end of the continuum immediately evokes objections and questions. To Paul: what if someone is willing to work but unable to find a job? How can we justly describe what “unable to find a job” means? Or, if someone is able to work, but has lots of money, and, therefore, is unwilling to work … should that person eat, or do we make an exception for them? Or, is there an age limit for being willing to work — too young or too old? Does simply being of “retirement age” excuse someone from being willing to work? Is there an ability consideration — either physical or cognitive? To Jesus: Wait, give to “everyone” who asks? Everyone? Paul said I don’t have to give to lazy people; what about that? Or, what if they’re a con man, a drug addict, an abuser, etc.? To Deuteronomy: Okay, open my hand to a needy neighbor? Then tell me, who is my neighbor?

Don’t give up on doing good
What problem is Paul solving that causes him to slant his words so thoroughly to one end of the giving spectrum? Despite the common assumption that he addresses poor people taking advantage of others’ generosity, the letter does not say that the problematic people are poor, just that they are “idle” and “busybodies.” Although this could be a group of poor people who are also lazy, Paul does not identify them by economic status. He could also be referring to a group of the idle rich, with resources for doing good, but who spend their time meddling, throwing their weight around because they can. Or, he could be referring to formerly wealthy people who gave away resources to the community, but now are “coasting” on that gift, ordering others around while expecting now to be supported by resources that they still consider, in a way, their own. Regardless what behavior existed that Paul described as “unwilling to work,” he is concerned about its impact on the community and its ministry.

Paul describes the problem by reminding them of the example that he set and how they are not following that example (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). Paraphrasing Paul, “We weren’t idle when we were with you [because we didn’t have to be]. We paid for what we ate [because we could]. We didn’t want to be a burden on anyone [because we didn’t have to be]. We were setting an example of how, if God has given us capabilities and gifts, we should put them to use for the good of others — for you — even if we weren’t ‘required’ to.”

Paul is not trying to establish social services policies for the city of Thessalonica. He is trying to establish a “do good for others even when you don’t have to” ethic among those who seek to follow Christ. He came to town, did not “have” to work, had the “right” as an apostle not to work, but, because he could work and contribute to the good of the whole, he did. (“Work” here is not limited to earning a paycheck, but is focused on fulfilling whatever purpose God has called us to fulfill.) If there’s something good that we can do, do it. If there’s something good we can give, give it. Even if we don’t have to. Even if we have a right not to.

The closing sentence of the passage sums up Paul’s ethic here. The New Revised Standard Version translates it, “Do not be weary in doing what is right.” The Greek exhortation is a compact three words, difficult to capture exactly. But it offers a counterbalance to the idea that “anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Rather than advising us to pursue ways to stop ourselves from helping others in need, or limiting our help only to those who prove they deserve it, Paul ends by tilting suddenly over to the other end of the giving continuum. He ultimately calls on the Thessalonians, and us today, to hold some combination of the following as our ethical goal: “Don’t get tired of doing what is right. Don’t get sick of doing good. Keep on keeping on in doing good things. Never stop lifting up those around you if you can. Don’t ever give up on doing good. Do whatever good you can, whenever you can, wherever you can, in whatever ways you can — even if you don’t have to.”