Lectionary Commentaries for August 16, 2015
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 6:51-58

Craig A. Satterlee

The temptation on this Sunday, when the gospel reading is so obviously, if not originally and explicitly about the Eucharist, is to endeavor to explain Holy Communion.

On the one hand, we may hear sermons on worthy reception, discerning Christ’s body, knowing ourselves to be sinners, and believing in the real presence. On the other hand, we may hear sermons that explain this is Jesus’ meal and table and not the church’s meal and table. I struggle with sermons that draw such a stark distinction between Christ and his Church.

Whichever the approach, we participate in the Church’s centuries old practice that we need to know some things before we are ready to receive the Lord’s Supper. A few years ago, I was interviewed about Holy Communion for a Lutheran denominational video series. Among other things, I was asked to explain “consubstantiation,” which seemed kind of silly since, as adults who receive Holy Communion, this audience should have already known what that means.

I am struck that Jesus does not give the crowd in the wilderness (what for us is) a four-Sunday discourse on the Bread of Life until after they have eaten their fill of the loaves and fishes. Jesus did not make the five thousand sit down on the grass and give them a lecture so that they understood before he “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). It almost seems that, if Jesus hadn’t fed the large crowd, he wouldn’t have much to say.

And in these verses where Jesus picks up on the feeding by speaking of giving his flesh to eat, his concern is less with getting his hearers to understand as getting them to eat. Jesus tells his hearers of their absolute need to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Humanity. “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:53-54). The words “flesh” and “blood” point to the cross, where Jesus’ flesh will be broken and his blood will be spilled, Jesus associates the separation of his flesh and blood in his violent death on the cross as the moment when Jesus will totally give his whole self for the life of the world.

The shift in the Greek text from the more polite verb “to eat” to a verb that suggests the physical crunching with the teeth accentuates that Jesus intends a real experience of eating. At the very least, hints of the Eucharist find their way into Jesus’ words. For us who will come to the table, the connection is unavoidable. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, we participate in the promise that Jesus fulfilled on the cross. It seems we also participate in the violence by which that promise was fulfilled — crunching with our teeth.

Jesus promises rather than instructs or explains. Jesus promises that whoever eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Jesus, the Son of Humanity, has eternal life now and will be raised up on the last day. Jesus promises to provide food for the life of the world, his flesh and blood. Jesus promises to nourish the world with the gift of himself. For the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus, his incarnate life and very real death on the cross, is life-giving food for us and for the world. In, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion, which is nothing other than Christ’s body and blood, Jesus nourishes faith, forgives sin, and empowers us to be witnesses to the Gospel. What would it mean for preachers to proclaim Jesus’ promises rather than explain the sacrament?

All throughout John 6, Jesus has tried to help us embrace that God’s wisdom — to steal a word from Proverbs — is not so much knowledge to be explained and understood as it is relationship to be trusted and embraced. Jesus no longer speaks of “belief in,” as we find in chapter 3, but of “the one who eats me” (verse 57). For eternal life does not come through understanding correctly or believing the right things. Eternal life is being in close communion with Jesus. Eternal life is to remain in Jesus and to have Jesus remain in us. We take Christ’s body and blood into our mouths, into our stomachs, into our bodies, so that Christ remains in us and we remain in Christ. As we eat and drink, Christ moves us closer to himself. Christ moves us closer to the very life of God. Christ moves us closer to himself, so close that we are as intimate with Jesus as the Father is with the Son.

If in bygone days we leaned too far in the direction of understanding before being invited to eat, perhaps today we lean too far toward eating without proclaiming Jesus’ promise and inviting into relationship with him (baptism). There is certainly more going on at Jesus’ table and in, with, and under the bread and wine that is Jesus’ body and blood than loaves and fishes, manna, and a fellowship meal at which all are welcome. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” Jesus promises. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me” (John 6:54-57). Indeed, as I hear many Sundays, it is Jesus’ table. What I hear less frequently is what Jesus promises to do at his. Perhaps proclaiming Jesus’ promises will bring our hearers from loaves and fishes to the body and blood of Christ.

First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 9:1-6

Scott Shauf

Proverbs 9:1-6 is an invitation to wisdom.

The invitation is given through a personification of wisdom as a woman who has built a house, prepared a life-giving meal, and invited all to partake. It is a simple passage at first glance, yet it contains riches in the description and in its connections to other places in the biblical witness.

Woman wisdom

Wisdom is first personified as a woman in Proverbs in 1:20-33; the personification is picked up again in 3:13-18 and 4:1-13. All of Proverbs 8, the chapter immediately preceding today’s passage, consists of the longest and most developed of the personifications. The basis for the particular personification of wisdom as a woman lies in the feminine gender of the Hebrew word for wisdom, hokmah. Interpreters have debated how the personification is to be interpreted, especially as wisdom is stated to be the first creation of God (8:22) and to be involved in the creation process itself (3:19). Is wisdom meant to be a specific aspect of God or even a separate being from God? Or should all such language be taken as mere metaphor? In today’s passage, however, such questions are not of direct relevance, as wisdom, while given a divine quality, refers to a way of living the human life.

The ways of wisdom and folly

The personification of wisdom in today’s passage is paired with a personification of foolishness in Proverbs 9:13-18, also as a woman. The similar structures of the two passages indicate that they are to be read together and in contrast. Both invite the “simple” into their houses for a meal, using the same invitation (vv. 4, 16). But while wisdom has gone so far as to build her own house, prepare her own meal, and to make efforts to invite people in, the foolish woman merely sits at the door of her house, calling to whoever happens to pass by (vv. 14-15), and her meals are stolen (v. 17). Moreover, while wisdom’s meal leads to life (v. 6), foolishness kills her guests (v. 18).

Wisdom’s feast

The description of wisdom’s meal paints a picture of a true feast in a lavish, even sacred setting. The opening verse states that she has built her own house and that this construction involved setting up “seven pillars.” Pillars would only be used in building a house of substantial size and quality, and the number seven implies some special character to the house. This perhaps is a reference to the mythic pillars of the foundation of the earth, especially as wisdom’s role in creation was emphasized in the passage preceding this one (Proverbs 8:22-31). The number may also suggest the pillars of a temple. Both ideas may indeed fit together, picking up the common scriptural idea of the whole earth as God’s temple.

The meal itself and the invitation likewise indicate the rich and open nature of the feast. Wisdom has slaughtered multiple animals and set a table (Proverbs 9:2), indicating that this meal will go beyond the everyday meals of the average Israelite (the typical meal for the average person in the ancient world did not involve meat). Bread and wine are also to be served (vv. 2, 5). Wisdom has servant girls — she is a woman of means, clearly — and she has sent them out to issue the invitation where all can hear it (v. 3). It is a rich feast, one to which all are invited.

Partaking of this feast leads to life (Proverbs9:6). The connection between wisdom and life is frequently made in Proverbs, often artfully so: “For whoever finds me finds life” (8:35a); “Long life is in her right hand…She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (3:16a, 18a). To accept wisdom’s invitation is to embrace the life that God has designed for us.

Wisdom and Christian faith

A consideration of our passage in light of the broader witness of scripture enriches the passage yet further. There are two main ways the language of wisdom from Proverbs is found in the New Testament. First is the continuation of the wisdom tradition and teaching about wisdom, primarily in some of Jesus’ teaching (most notably the Sermon on the Mount) and in the book of James. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom,” James says, “ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5). James picks up on the Proverbs idea that God is the source of wisdom (e.g., Proverbs 2:6) and on the idea from our passage that wisdom is available to all. Shortly after our passage, we find the important saying, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (9:10). The last line of our passage, then — “walk in the way of insight” — is first of all an admonition to follow God.

The second way we find wisdom in the New Testament is in the understanding of Christ. The connection between wisdom and creation in Proverbs is a significant part of the foundation for our understanding of Christ’s pre-existence and involvement in creation as it appears in the New Testament, seen especially in John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1:1-4. Paul declares that Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Since Christ thus takes on the Proverbs role of wisdom, it is appropriate — perhaps even necessary — for us to see in our passage an admonition to follow Christ and a celebration of doing so. Hence, while neither the original author nor the original audience could have thought of the Lord’s Supper in the reference to bread and wine in v. 5, this description of the feast of wisdom can only enhance our own understanding when we partake of the elements. Jesus, after all, described life in the kingdom of God as a great feast on multiple occasions (e.g., Luke 13:29; 14:15-24; 22:29-30; Matthew 22:1-14). The invitation to eat wisdom’s feast in her house, therefore, can well be understood as an aspect of Jesus’ invitation to follow him and to feast in the kingdom of God.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Garrett Galvin

I was at a piano recital of my nephew and nieces last year.

We went out to dinner to celebrate their performances at the recital. My seven-year old nephew jumped out of his seat at dinner and declared that his oldest sister got a note wrong. My brother quickly corrected him and told him that we focus on what people get right rather than what they get wrong. She played over a 1,000 notes right and only got one note wrong. Life is like that. Oftentimes we focus on the one little thing that is wrong in the life of someone else rather than the many things that they are getting right.

King Solomon has received a lot of bad press in recent times. His father David has received even worse press. There are hints of this bad press in other books of the Bible/Deutero-canonical books like Sirach. Solomon starts out well as reflected in our reading here, but he falters at the end. Yet, if we only read the gospels, we would only see the positives of Solomon. It is possible to read this as part of a much larger narrative or as it is presented to us this Sunday as a self-contained narrative. I will go with the latter as I believe this depiction of Solomon has much to offer.

The Bible does not feature a lot of dreams, so our ears should perk up when we have one featured as we do here. Solomon keeps company with the likes of Jacob and Joseph in Genesis. We can also think of other important figures like Daniel from the Book of Daniel and Joseph in the New Testament who are associated with dreams. Finally, we are told that troubled figures like Saul receive no dreams (1 Samuel 28:6, 15). So I would argue that the dream of Solomon is participating in the tradition of blessings established in Genesis 1 and seen repeatedly in Genesis’ stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and his wives, and Joseph.

Solomon’s greatness in 1 Kings 3 resides in his preference for relationships over things. Solomon has not always followed this as we see in his struggle to succeed his father, David. Here in this dream Solomon opts to focus on relationships rather than things. The language of relationship appears in many ways, but perhaps never more clearly than in 3:6. This verse focuses on God’s “great and steadfast love” by repeating the phrase twice. “Great and steadfast love” shines forth as one of the most important concepts in the Hebrew Scriptures. It can be translated, and is translated, in almost innumerable ways from mercy to kindness. Another important part of this concept is loyalty. This “great and steadfast love” is what Moses experiences from God, but it is also something we are all called to share with each other as Ruth shares it with Naomi.

The two appearances of this “great and steadfast love” bookend the idea of heart that stands at the center of this reading. “Heart” is a very important concept in the Old Testament. It stands at the center of our understanding of what it means to be human in the Old Testament. Solomon’s greatness resides in his understanding of his father’s greatness. His father’s heart is at the center of his greatness. Let us pull back a little and think about what “heart” actually means in the Old Testament.

The individual person is located at the center of a group of relationships in the view of the Old Testament. The Old Testament views the heart as we often view the mind. The understanding of anatomy in the ancient world was problematic. They understood the brain was important, but did not fully understand its functioning; hence, they stressed the heart and gave it functions we would often associate with the brain. This understanding magnifies the importance of the heart. The Lord can look at the heart and not be fooled by exterior signs. This leads to the election of David over his more superficially appealing older brothers. Psalm 90:12 will stress the importance of the heart as it explains to us: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Here, we see wisdom associated closely with the heart.

The word “heart” appears three times in this short passage, translated from two different Hebrew words. It indicates to us what was foremost in Solomon’s desires. Since he desires the interior and profound rather than the superficial, Solomon becomes the hero of this story. Today we are more challenged than ever to overcome superficial materialistic consumerism for the profundity of relationships and the personal growth they offer. This is true wisdom whether it be in Solomon’s time or our own. This allowed Solomon to see the beauty in his father’s life.

A wise heart allows Solomon to see all the virtue in King David’s life. King David certainly struck a number of wrong notes during his reign, but a wise heart allows Solomon to look elsewhere. He looks at the relationship between David and God, which implies the importance of the other relationships in King David’s life. David’s capacity for relationship allows him to benefit from the relationships of the prophets Gad and Nathan, who tell him things very hard for a king to hear. Yet, David hears them and corrects his course. Relationships offer us the opportunity to grow and trust more in the Lord as we see the Lord’s goodness to us in the care others express for us.

Solomon’s dream ultimately appears to move him in this direction. Dreams participate in the wisdom tradition and are often a source of wisdom in our lives when properly understood as they were by the two Josephs and Daniel. Solomon comes to a good understanding of this dream. It allows him to appreciate the virtues of his father and chart a course for his reign and administration centered on the heart, the place only the Lord sees perfectly.


Commentary on Psalm 34:9-14

Eric Mathis

How many times a day do you use the phrase “It’s all good?”

It’s an expression that’s thrown around a lot in everyday life suggesting that everything is fine, acceptable, perhaps even great. We use it to keep peace in relationships with our family, our friends, and even strangers we don’t know.

Someone hurts you; you brush it off. “It’s all good.” You make a mistake and feel embarrassed. A friend assures you: “It’s all good.” You disagree with a spouse. “It’s all good.” We all believe that these three words will actually repair the damage of an argument or anything gone wrong. We say “It’s all good,” and we imply, “I’m ok and you’re ok … don’t mess with me, and I won’t mess with you.”

The problem is that “It’s all good” actually says very little. The only real meaning it holds is that we use it when trying to rise above whatever problem exists in our world. We use it because we don’t have the time, energy, or capacity to deal with the reality that things might not be good. In fact, they might be bad. How do we deal with that?

Psalm 34: Overview

Though it might be a stretch, Psalm 34:9-14 makes the statement “It’s all good.” It’s all good because YHWH is good, and YHWH has a clear interest in our lives. Even when we are at our worst and left wondering, “What are we to do now, when things aren’t good?” This Psalm reminds us that we are to remember the testimony given in the first half of the Psalm, vv. 4-6, and we are to take comfort in a good God who is happy when people take refuge in that goodness.

Although this week’s lectionary reading excludes vv. 7 and 8, it might be helpful to begin with the reading of this Psalm at v. 7. These two verses, along with vv. 9-14, underscore a message the Psalmist has emphasized, will continue to emphasize through v. 14, as well as the remainder of the Psalm (vv. 15-22). God is good to us, and our well-being, in addition to our doing good, is a matter of following the ways of the Lord.

Psalm 34:9-14

Verses 7-8 begin a list of commands to taste, see, fear, come, keep, depart, and do. In this section, vv. 7, 9, and 11 emphasize the reverence of YHWH among all other gods that an individual or community could choose to worship. Vv. 8, 10, 12, and 14 lace the reverence of YHWH only with the good and pleasant things that may come in this life. YHWH is the source of good (v. 8), and we also should do good (v. 14). Thus, the fear of the Lord really might be the beginning of wisdom, as the Proverbs and now this Psalm tell us.

A word of caution may be appropriate here. One must not view the relationship of YHWH’s goodness to our goodness as a moralistic imperative only. It is helpful to understand the relationship between these two “collocations” as described by John Goldingay:

“The collocation suggests a link between the theological and the experiential; YHWH’s goodness lies in a generosity that gives good things. It suggests a link between the theological and the behavioral; doing the good thing is a matter of taking the right attitude to YHWH. It also suggests a link between the behavioral and the experiential; doing good leads to enjoying good.”1

There are multiple theological, behavioral, experiential, and even ethical lessons in vv. 7-14 to our understanding the relationship between a God who is good, God’s people who want to enjoy and do good, and a world where all is sometimes good and sometimes not good.

Preaching Psalm 34

In contrast to the surrounding culture that wants to assume “It’s All Good,” Psalm 34 presupposes that even those who revere and call on the name of YHWH are going to have fears, worries, and troubles. There will be times in each of our lives when, in fact, it’s not all good. In those moments, we are to follow the example of David in Psalm 34 who did not pretend that “It’s all good.” Rather, he cried to YHWH, he was heard by YHWH, and he was saved by YHWH.

In those moments of our deepest fear, worry, and trouble, we are to lean into the one and holy God, the source of all goodness. We are to approach God knowing that we are God’s creation, God’s goodness, God’s beautiful piece of art — like a poem, a sculpture, or a musical score. And, like theologian N.T. Wright says, “the music, which we now have to play, is the genuine way of being human, laid out before us in God’s gracious design so we can follow it.” Now that’s all good.


1 John Goldingay, “Psalm 34,” in Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41, ed. Tremper Longman, III, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 480.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 5:15-20

Brian Peterson

This unit of exhortation begins with its roots planted in the wisdom tradition.

It is the “wise” who see that a new day has begun in Christ (Ephesians 5:14), and who live that out in their lives. If we are truly awakened from the sleep of sin and death, then our lives will not stumble trance-like along the well-worn paths of the world’s values.      

Such a life is able to deal with time honestly. We live in a culture which pushes us to act as though there is never enough time. We are constantly rushing, with every moment of time absorbed in our desire to be connected and productive. In other ways, we try to tell ourselves that we have all the time in the world, and that mortality and its limitations will not impinge upon us. Either way is a path of foolishness. To be the awakened and wise people of God means that we can be good and honest stewards of time, so that opportunities to do justice, and to live boldly as God’s reconciled people during this time, are not missed. We are called to discern the wise ways to live in this time, capitalizing on new opportunities and having our eyes open to potential pitfalls.

Ephesians 5:16b indicates that the motive for such wise stewardship is that “the days are evil.” Ephesians 2:2 talked about those in the world who are “following the ruler of the power of the air.” Though we cannot pretend that evil isn’t real (such a view would hardly be “wise”), this also cannot be the whole story of the world. We know that the world is God’s good creation, and that all days are God’s gifts. This is the time for living in the good works for which God created us (2:10). We cannot look on the world, or our community, or our days, as simply unredeemably “evil.”

We can see the world truthfully and live in it wisely, because we “understand what the will of the Lord is” (verse 17). This does not, however, send us off on an endless quest to discover which car God would like us to purchase. Something far bigger is afoot here. Ephesians 1:10 has already declared that the will of God is to bring all things together in Christ. That is God’s goal, God’s telos for the world. As if that weren’t breathtaking enough, Ephesians 3:10 insisted that God’s intent for the church is that the church will be a witness about God’s rich wisdom to all the spiritual forces of the world. Thus, we know where God is bringing the world, because God has revealed that grace in Christ. We also know that God has an astonishing role for the church in being the community which embodies that promise. To “understand what the will of the Lord is” means to live lives, which align with the goal revealed in Christ.

To live out such a life can only be done by the power of God’s Spirit. The ironic association between being intoxicated and being filled with the Spirit can be seen in the Pentecost story of Acts 2, where the bystanders think that the believers are drunk. However, in Ephesians 5:18 the thought may not be so much about being filled “with the Spirit” (New Revised Standard Version, NRSV) as it is about being filled “by the Spirit” (New English Translation, NET). The Greek construction found here does not indicate the content of the filling in any other New Testament verse, but instead it often speaks about the means of being filled (i.e., how it happens). Furthermore, there are several verses in Ephesians which speak about being filled, and these need to be heard together. In all cases, it is a member of the Holy Trinity that does the filling. Ephesians 1:23 speaks about a divine fullness of which the Church as Christ’s body is the foretaste; in 4:10 it is stated more explicitly that Christ fills all things. The church will be filled with all the fullness of God (3:19); here, “the fullness of God” (i.e., God’s own presence) is the content of the filling. If we hear these other verses in connection with 5:18, the claim is that the church is filled with nothing less than the full presence of God in Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit.

The result of such filling by the Spirit is contained in the actions of verses 19-20. Though the function of the Greek participles here is open to multiple interpretations, it seems best to understand that these activities are not what we do in order to get the Spirit to fill us, but that these are the activities which flow as a result of the Spirit’s work among us. This is what wisdom looks like, and what the Spirit’s filling brings: a life composed in songs, in praise (and lament), a melody joined together across cultures and years. It is in such songs that we declare together “the will of the Lord” for all the world. The phrase “among yourselves” (NRSV) is an attempt to express what more strictly reads “speaking to one another.” In the church’s liturgy and hymns, of course we address words to God. However, such words are intended also for the good of one another. In hymns and songs, we express our struggles and joys, our faith and our doubt; we train one another to give voice to the life and faith of the church.

Verse 20 may speak about giving thanks for “everything” (NRSV) or for “everyone” (NET “each other”). The latter, of course, is contained within the former, but we too easily forget to give thanks for others. To be filled by the Spirit does not lead to private projects or mystical experiences, but to the common work of the community’s worship and mutual building up. The wise life in Christ is one that is embraced within a context of worship, and one which itself becomes an act of worship in thanks to God.