Lectionary Commentaries for July 31, 2016
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 12:13-21

Meda Stamper

The parable of the rich fool (or “barn guy,” as I always think of him) at the heart of this week’s text illustrates simply and memorably the futility of choices made in isolation from the love of God and neighbor.

It reflects a central theme in Luke and in Jesus’ preaching, the problem of wealth in the context of the holy kingdom where closeness to God is life and attachment to things reflects soul-stifling anxiety and fear.

The parable emerges from Jesus’ response to a request from someone in the immense crowd of Luke 12:1 that Jesus arbitrate between him and his brother in the matter of an inheritance. Jesus not only denies the request but makes it the basis for a warning against greed and a reliance on wealth for security of the soul (Psalm 49, another lectionary passage for this Sunday, has a similar message; see also Colossians 3:2, 5). Inheritance, greed, and accumulation of wealth all figure in the parable and in its interpretation in the verses that follow the lectionary text (Luke 12:22-34); these verses are linked to 12:13-21 by the word “therefore” and by the focus on what makes for life (the word translated “life” there and in 12:20 is translated “soul” in the inner dialogue of the rich fool in 12:19), a connection reinforced by references to barns, treasure, possessions, and eating and drinking. Luke 12:22-34 never appears in the lectionary, so it is worth including it in this Sunday’s worship, if possible, but even if it isn’t read, it should be taken into account as part of Jesus’ response to the problem raised by the brother in the crowd and as the antidote to the predicament of the greedy fool.

At the heart of the parable is an abundant harvest, which might be a good thing, but we suspect from the start that this is unlikely because we know from Jesus’ introduction of the landowner that he is rich. The best hope Luke offers the rich in this Gospel comes in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), who seeks out Jesus and then welcomes him enthusiastically when Jesus invites himself home with Zacchaeus for dinner. While everyone is grumbling that Jesus is off with sinners again, Zacchaeus promises to give half his possessions to the poor and to pay back anyone he has defrauded fourfold. Zacchaeus is a special case among the rich of Luke in that he is also a member of a marginalized group, tax collectors, who are portrayed sympathetically throughout and treated kindly by Jesus. Other references to the rich are almost uniformly negative and almost always contrasted with positive references to the poor: God sends the rich away empty in Mary’s prophetic poetry (Luke 1:52-53); they have “a woe on them” (as a cousin of mine used to say) in the beatitudes (6:24), where the poor are given the kingdom of God; they are portrayed as beyond hope in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, where in response to the rich man’s request that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers, Abraham says that if they haven’t listened to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be convinced “even if someone rises from the dead” (16:31); and finally the very rich ruler seeking the way to eternal life lacks only one thing, that he sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, and that appears to be the one thing he cannot do. It is nearly impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus concludes (18:24-25), but he ends the episode on a note of hope (18:27): “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

That is the situation for the rich of Luke’s Gospel, so we are not hopeful about how the rich landowner will handle his abundance. Confronted with the happy problem of a bumper crop, he consults with himself, with no thought of God or neighbor, and concludes that the answer is to build bigger barns for his crops and his other goods. Then he looks forward to congratulating his soul on this decision, as he and his own soul with all that accumulated wealth spend many happy years eating, drinking, and making merry.

God, overhearing the rich man’s conversation with himself, cuts short these dreams of merriment: “Fool,” says God. The word occurs elsewhere in Luke only in Luke 11:40, with reference to the Pharisees; there too foolishness is associated with greed and with the neglect of justice and the love of God. In our text, there is no time for the rich fool of the parable to make amends because his soul/life is coming to an immediate end, which no amount of accumulated wealth can forestall. “And whose will it all be then?” God asks, returning to the notion of inheritance raised by the brother in the crowd but from another angle. Jesus concludes that this is how it always is for those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. The two notions, storing up treasure and being rich toward God, are verbal forms with the same roots as the noun “treasure” and adjective “rich.” In other words, it isn’t a question of something we happen to have or a characteristic among many. We actively choose to do one thing or the other, to be rich with barns or rich with God, to serve God or mammon (Luke 16:13).

Like the story of the rich ruler where God’s grace has the last word, so here also Jesus’ teaching ultimately transcends the greed and God-less treasure of the parable to move in a hopeful direction with Luke 12:22-34. With a shift in perspective, we lift our eyes up to the birds and out to the lilies of the field. We turn away from treasure that corrupts and is corruptible toward the kingdom and fullness of life, which we already know from Luke 10:25-37 is rooted in wholehearted love of God and neighbor. In this alternative message about God’s faithfulness, Jesus recognizes that what underlies excessive accumulation is most often anxiety and fear. So Jesus offers the antidote to accumulation of too much empty treasure in the promise that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom itself to his little flock. And the way to collect treasure of the heart suitable for that kingdom isn’t the earthbound, inward-looking way of the barn guy but the soaring, beautiful way of the one who lives and loves generously, lavishly, and with joy.

First Reading

Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

Walter C. Bouzard

Beyond this text, the treasure that is Ecclesiastes appears for only one day in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 is appointed for New Year’s Day in years A, B, and C. Therefore, even the truncated text before us presents a rare opportunity to listen to an ancient sage whose questions about life’s meaning anticipate those of believers in the twenty-first century.

The theme of the entire book is sounded in Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The word translated as “vanity” (hebel) is notoriously difficult to render in English, in part because it a tensive symbol that simultaneously signifies multiple meanings. One author proposes “vapor” because vapor is at once insubstantial, transient, and sometimes foul or poisonous.1 Throughout the book, the Teacher asserts that all things in life are ephemeral and vaporous. Consequently, much of human activity is futile and pointless (Ecclesiastes 1:3).

The lection bypasses a poem that asserts the monotonous character of creation (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9c), and people are destined to disappear unremembered.

The “king of Jerusalem’s” persona (see Ecclesiastes 1:1) reappears at verse 12 with an autobiographical account that continues to 2:26. His conclusion appears at the beginning and near the end of his ruminations. His quest for meaning and understanding led him to conclude that God has given human beings unhappy “business” with which to be busy. “Business” (‘inyan) is a favorite word of the Teacher, appearing in the Hebrew Bible only in 2:23, 26; 3:10; 4:8; 5:2,13, and 8:16. Human business is, in the Teacher’s view, generally irksome. In 2:23 ‘inyan is vexatious while in 2:26 is the tedious reward of the sinner. Most of all, however, our unhappy business is pointless since our strained efforts are unable to effect a change in the way the world goes (1:15) and leads to a joyless, dismal life (2:20-23).

What interests the reader, however, is how the “king” reached this seemingly gloomy conclusion. He reports a series of experiments in which he sought to discover life’s meaning and purpose, all of which failed.

First was the quest for wisdom itself (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18). Although the Teacher was successful in acquiring great wisdom, he concluded that his gain was as futile as chasing the wind. Indeed, the increase of wisdom led to vexation and sorrow.

In Ecclesiastes 2:1-10, the Teacher describes his search for meaning through pleasure, broadly defined. Specifically, he sought for meaning in the pleasures of sensuality (2:1-3), labor (2:4-6), and wealth (2:7-10). He declares all of these activities to be equally vain (2:11) and hackneyed (2:12).

The Teacher returns to wisdom in Ecclesiastes 2:13-14a. He rehearses the traditional virtues of wisdom (see, for example, Proverbs 18:4-8), declaring the benefits of wisdom to exceed the gains of folly and the sight of the wise superior to fools stumbling in the darkness. But then comes the twist: the same fate, death, befalls both the wise person and the fool (2:14c, 16). The Teacher realizes death will overtake him has well (2:15), so what, he wonders, is the point of his great wisdom?

The penultimate conclusion to the Teacher’s search appear in verses 18-23. He hated his life since all that he had done was vaporous and transitory (Ecclesiastes 1:17). He hated his labor because, he knew, he would surely die only to leave the fruit of his work to someone who may or may not be worthy (18-19, 21). As a consequence, the Teacher was overcome with hopeless despair (19), concluding that human toil and strain profited not at all (22). Our days are full of pain, work is vexatious, and sleep is ruined (23).

Verses 24 to 26 soften the dismal tone of what has come before. If God has so ordered the world, there is nothing to be done but to make the best of it, eating, drinking, and enjoying our toil as we can. Those who are pleasing to God fare better than those who do not, for they have a measure of “wisdom and knowledge and joy.”

Considering the Teacher’s position and wisdom, it is a bit surprising that he had hoped to discover in his work, wealth, and pleasure something that would satisfy his longing for purpose and meaning, let alone that his achievements would thwart death. And yet his story is the human story: we weary ourselves with our busyness in an endless, hopeless effort to find lasting satisfaction, security, and happiness. Death, however, has the final say for all of us, as Jesus’ parable appointed for this Sunday illustrates (Luke 12:13-21). Our frantic attempts to ward off death and its companions — meaningless, despair, fear, and more — is doomed to fail from the start.

This is a lesson that we seem constantly in need of relearning. That for which our hearts long can never be satisfied with our ceaseless desperate business or our self-indulgence and consumption. And yet the analysis of President Jimmy Carter confirms that we are still not far removed from Qoheleth:

“Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”2

What then, can we say? Are we to content ourselves with the Teacher’s “get along as best you can” advice?

Today’s Colossians lesson points us to a better way. If our self-serving, frantic striving leads us to emptiness and death, then

2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (Colossians 3:2-4).

Our vane lives find their meaning in Christ. Embracing the Teacher’s message is to acknowledge the truth of his claim: our end is, inevitably, death. Our accomplishments will be the legacy of someone who comes after us, be that person worthy or not. Our hope, however, is that our life is hidden with the resurrected one, with Christ in God. Our glory will not be in our works, our treasures, our fame or anything we may do. “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

May we so consider the business (and busyness) of our days.


1 Douglas B. Miller, Ecclesiastes (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2010), 41. For a convenient but thorough discussion of hebel see Choon Leong Seow, Ecclesiastes, AB, vol. 18C (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 101-2. Seow translates hebel as “vanity,” although not without acknowledging that no single English word suffices to convey the nuances of the Hebrew.

2 Jimmy Carter, Crisis of Confidence, a televised speech on July 15, 1979. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/carter-crisis/. Accessed on 03/08/16.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 11:1-11

Stephen B. Reid

Long before the American sitcom “The Office” launched Steve Carell’s career and the U.K.’s version catapulted Ricky Gervais to fame, there were biblical offices that proscribed one’s identity.

“The Office” hit a nerve with viewers because it displayed how the modern office (workplace) shaped identity.

In biblical times, an office required virtues and behaviors from those who served in that office. We think of the office of the priest, the prophet, or the king; but Hosea 11 speaks to the office of God and the responsibility of human believers.

The chapter contains three movements. The first movement (Hosea 11:1-4) opens with a touching “when Israel was a child.”  The first movement exhibits a popular pattern in storytelling that compares and contrasts the past with the present. Sometimes it highlights the continuity. An extended soliloquy of divine pathos opens the chapter. The first movement establishes the two relationships that shape the passage — the parent/child relationship with God and the believer on the one hand, and the Israel-Egypt relationship on the other hand. What marks the continuity is the love of the divine speaker. At the same time the relationship with Egypt also goes back to the childhood of Israel/Ephraim.

The language of God as Father occurs often in the New Testament (see Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15, 16, 21; 9:8) but Hosea 11 is the lodestone for the metaphor God as Father in the Old Testament. The term “my son” occur only Exodus 4:22-23. At the same time the language father-son connects Hosea 11 with Hosea 1-3 where we find the language of husband and wife. At core, the recurring metaphor is Israel as belonging to the household of God. 

The verb pair “love” and “call” in verse one sets up the pathos of the chapter. The next verse repeats the verb “call” now associated with affection. The parent, or even an animal trainer, understands this metaphor: the more one calls, the more the child or animal moves in the other direction.

The use of the term “youth” connotes both age as well as a relationship that is subservient or dependent.  Youth connects Israel/Ephraim to Gomer, who also came up from the land of Egypt from the days of her youth. (Hosea 2:15) This theme resonates with Jeremiah (2:2) and Ezekiel (16) as well as Hosea 2.

The “called out of Egypt” theme in this first movement points to a troubling reality. The toxic relationships of our youth can and often do persist into adulthood and beyond. The Exodus story describes the crucible of oppression in Egypt. African Americans and European Americans in the United States are inextricably connected through chattel slavery and the racism that built it. White and Black South Africans likewise conjoin in the history of apartheid and its demise. The Holocaust joins together Germans and Jewish people. The Hebrews came out of Egypt and never completely shook off Egypt. The Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 11-12) played a role in Israelite politics.  During the era of Assyrian power some people in Israel thought that Egypt would rescue them from Assyrian power. The same script occurs during the rise of the Babylonian empire. This pattern continues throughout the Persian and Hellenistic periods.

Scholars disagree about whether the training metaphor in verse 4 reflects parental imagery or reining of domesticated animals. The language of cords and bonds fits better with animal training practices. We don’t teach children to walk with cords and bonds. The phrase “cords of human compassion” occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. Nonetheless if one understands the training of an animal, the “cords of human compassion” intensifies the emotional quality of the training. The story of the poor man and his sheep (2 Sam 12:1-7) depicts an animal that is treated like a human. The first movement connects with the opening of the book of Hosea in that the marital failure of the opening chapters is now matched with the filial failure of chapter 11.

The second movement (Hosea 11:5-7) recounts the punishment of Ephraim. The first movement suggests that Israel/Ephraim sought to return to Egypt. The second movement pronounces that the desired return will not occur. The Israelite King Hoshea appealed to Egypt for help to fend off the Assyrian threat (2 Kings 17:4). Further, the phrase “return to Egypt” elsewhere in Hosea refers to slavery or at least a loss of autonomy, and expresses a desire to return to the repressive empire one knows (Egypt) instead of the repressive empire one does not know (Assyria). The text plays on the word return that can point to either “go back” or “repent.”

The nature of the failure is explicit. The whirling sword razes the city and by so doing devours human plans. This speech makes sense in light of the invasion of Tiglath-Pileser III in 734-732 BCE. Hoshea was put on the throne by the Assyrians displacing the anti-Assyrian Israelite King Pekah.

The third and final movement (Hosea 11:8-11) begins with six clauses of three consecutive pairs of parallel expressions. This movement returns to the soliloquy form that began the chapter.  The verbs of relinquishment dominate like give and surrender. Embedded in the passage are references that seem obscure to many contemporary readers with comparison of Admah and Zeboiim were eradicated and incinerated along with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 11:8; 14:2; 19:25-29; Deuteronomy 29:23).

The soliloquy describes the office of God human categories; it also depicts God with the all-too-human experience of pathos in the face of betrayal. God chooses not to workout divine anger on Ephraim based on office: “I am God, not a human being.” To read Hosea 11 as the divine office mandates a type of “cheap grace” of “moral therapeutic deism” that pulls this chapter out of canonical context. Chapter 11 complete the harrowing depiction that began in Hosea 1-3. Nonetheless at the end of the anguish of God and the trials of the once apostate community, God provides us our own home (Hosea 11:11).


Commentary on Psalm 49:1-12

Adam Hearlson

So here is the hard truth.

The one that the psalmist doesn’t really want to admit. Money can make you happier. Sort of. 

In a 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton at Princeton’s Center for Health and Well-being, research showed that income had a positive effect on both people’s emotional well-being and their life evaluation.1 Of course, this shouldn’t surprise us given that we tend to assume that poverty is likely to exacerbate the struggles of life and therefore lead to greater rates of unhappiness. And yet, it feels crass to make the inverse claim that more money will necessarily lead to greater happiness.

According to Kahnmen and Deaton, happiness suffers when people live below the threshold of $75,000 per U.S. household. That said, above $75,000 per U.S. household, the emotional well-being of subjects levels out. The struggles and strains of daily life for those above $75,000 balance the value of financial well being. Kahnmen and Deaton go on to report that while our happiness is unlikely to increase with income above $75,000 our life satisfaction will steadily increase with greater income. To put it more bluntly, money can only buy you happiness to a point, but money can buy you satisfaction.

This, I think, is an interesting place to begin reading this Psalm. By distinguishing between happiness and satisfaction we distinguish the emotional from the physical. According to Kahmen and Deaton, and the Psalmist, we can sate our desires with the stuff we buy. We can trust in our wealth to bring satisfaction. But satisfaction is not happiness, and, more importantly for the psalmist, satisfaction is not safety. Too often our desires to be sated morph into a confidence that our stuff will save us. The sad truth, according to the Psalmist, is that our salvation cannot be bought. This is both terrible news and good news. 

First, the terrible news. Nothing we can obtain can prevent the approaching specter of death. No amount of work, toil, and good fortune will save us from the coming gleaning. The money might buy you a chance to have your named chiseled into granite on an important building, but in time, that building too will fall. Father Time is undefeated, and all of the pathetic attempts to stave off the coming death are, according to the Psalmist, pure vanity. In this way, Psalm 49 has an Ash Wednesday feel to it. We departed Lent long ago, but in this ordinary time, we tarry as we remember the cold day where ashes marked us as bound for death.

The great gift of Ash Wednesday is its ability to temper our grand visions. Psalm 49 and Ash Wednesday say, “you are dust. But not just you, you and everything you touch. That book you are writing, that work you are doing, the relationship you are cultivating. It will all crumble. It will all be forgotten. It will all die.” Bleak, I know, but necessary lest we too quickly embrace a sense that being remembered is part of our inheritance or that our work might save us. Psalm 49 pierces our entitlement by leading us to the grave and showing us that we are entitled to nothing more than a dirt nap.

The temptation when preaching on this sobering Psalm is to valorize those who live so close to death due to poverty. On the one hand, it is the privilege of the weak to have a more intimate relationship with death. The weak have eaten with death, supped with him in their homes, and they tend to have no grand visions of their own legacy. It is the privilege of the weak who have made peace with death to laugh at the strong as they wriggle under the pin of death. Yet, that the weak know death intimately does not give us permission to romanticize a group who would rather keep death a stranger. Intimacy with death is the terrible consequence of poverty. Valorizing poverty is an old and clever trick that shields us from the terrible ways in which poverty is not a choice, but a death sentence.

Our culture tends to venerate those who take vows of poverty. Even now we marvel at Warren Buffet as he promises to die penniless after accruing billions. What a sacrifice after years of living comfortably. Yet, the choice to give up our goods is different than never having goods to begin with. That the Psalmist criticizes those who place too much faith in their stuff, is not a license to venerate the impoverished as inherently holy. The truth is stuff doesn’t save us, but neither does the absence of stuff save us. According to the psalmist, the poor will meet death, just like the rich. Typically, the poor meet death quicker and with greater frequency than the rich.

Now the good news, which shows up obliquely in the Psalm. The Psalmist sings, “Why should I fear in times of trouble?” The Psalmist knows something that the rich do not: death is not just our enemy, but also our mother. Of course, death is coming, but death is not simply the end, it is also a new beginning. We are delivered into the hands of death, but death then delivers us into the hands of another. Verse 15 of the Psalm 49 reads, “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Finally, we do not abide forever in death’s hands. We will be received into the hands of God and, it seems it is death doing the handing over. Why should I fear death when death is just a way station, when sheol is just gestation, when the grave is just a lay over? The Psalmist has a complicated relationship with death and is unwilling to either hate death nor totally embrace death. The Psalmist realizes that death and life coexist in an inextricable embrace and that deliverance is a messy process. 


1 Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, “High Income Improves Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well-Being,” PNAS, vol. 107 no. 38 (2010), http://www.pnas.org/content/107/38/16489?tab=author-info, accessed April 12, 2016.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 3:1-11

Brian J. Walsh

The “heavenly-mindedness” of this text presents an immediate problem to the preacher.

How can the author move from a severe criticism of dualism in chapter two to counseling the community to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2) in the very next breath?

Let me suggest another hermeneutical principle. Always assume that an author’s position is internally coherent until clearly proven otherwise. Call this a hermeneutic of generosity.

If Paul has been grounding the community in a decidedly creational worldview (Colossians 1:15-23) that engenders a full-bodied vision of life in Christ (2:10-11), then what do we make of what appears to be otherworldly language in 3:1-4 that might then be seen to occasion a repressive view of sexuality in 3:5-6?

In Colossians 2:8-15 Paul counters the idolatry and dualism that threatened the church by insisting that Christian identity is a matter of being incorporated into the story of Jesus. Just as we are “buried with him in baptism” so also are we “raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12). And now he continues to unpack that narrative as the foundation for what it means to live our lives in Christ (2:6).

When Paul writes, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1), he is, of course, taking the next step in the narrative, moving from Resurrection to Ascension. We set our minds on what is above not because of some heaven/earth dualism wherein heaven is a higher good than earth, but because the risen one is the ascended one whose rule is now “from heaven.”

This is essentially “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). And if we were to ask what it means to set our minds on the above, to have our imaginations shaped by the rule of Christ, we need only look to the end of the longer section that this verse begins: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus … ” (Colossians 3:17). Whatever you do in your embodied life on earth, do it subject to that name, subject to the risen and ascended Lord. Rather than getting too worked up about the false lord on the throne in Rome, subject your lives to the risen Lord at the right hand of the Father.

This is a narrative ethic. We have been buried with Christ, we are raised with Christ, we are subject to the ascended Christ and, the apostle will continue, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Paul finishes the story with an allusion to the return of Christ. Death, resurrection, ascension, second coming. That is your story, therein is your identity in Christ. This is the story we tell every week at the table and from the pulpit. Go live that story.

So when our text goes on to enjoin us to “put to death … whatever in you is earthly” and explicates that with a list of sexual sins, we need to be clear that this is not an attack upon sexuality as a good gift of our embodied lives but a critique of sexual practices that tell a story that is outside of the story of Jesus.

Paul concludes his list of sexual sins with “and greed (which is idolatry)” (Colossians 3:5). That is the heart of the matter. The sexuality of the empire, then and now, is a sexuality of insatiable consumption. An economic ideology of unlimited growth and unrestrained consumption engenders a promiscuous sexual practice. Multiple sexual partners is just good capitalism and a church that will preach against sexual immorality without addressing the idolatrous greed at the heart of our economy does not have the courage of St. Paul.

It is not a stretch to move from sexuality to the dynamics of intense emotion and how we speak with one another. When the apostle calls us to get rid of “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” (Colossians 3:8) that just might sound like every day political language on the campaign trail. While such an abusive discourse has always been at the heart of political life, we have seen it descend to new lows in recent years. The problem here isn’t so much the lack of manners and common decency as it is the free reign we give to dismissive and slanderous language in every day life. And it isn’t just a matter of how we talk about people who are different than us (whoever the ‘us’ might be), but it is there in the double-speak of Wall Street, the seductive “come on” of the advertising industry, the spin of politicians, and, yes, the way in which Christians talk about each other in the ecclesiastical culture wars. With a language of love and humility the preacher is called to name the abusive language that is in our mouths and in our ears every day.

Why put to death insatiable sexuality? Why get rid of the discourse of violence? Because, says Paul, that is the life of the old self which needs to be stripped off like soiled clothing as we are clothed “with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). There is the whole point of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. A renewal and deepening of knowledge so that we might be restored to our original calling as those created in the image of God.

If you read the New Testament with Old Testament eyes you will not miss the clear allusion here to Genesis 1:26-28. In Christ we are renewed to our full humanity.

And if you read scripture in the shadow of empire you will not miss the empire shattering implications of a renewal in which “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free: but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). All the ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic divisions of the empire collapse in Christ!

Look at your country. Look at your neighborhood. Look at your congregation. Is this true? And I wonder what Philemon and Onesimus were thinking when they heard this declaration from Paul.