Lectionary Commentaries for July 10, 2016
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 10:25-37

Mikeal C. Parsons

In the Lukan context, the parable of the Good Samaritan is prompted by a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer.

“A certain lawyer stood up to test him, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25). This question is repeated verbatim near the end of the travel narrative on the lips of the rich ruler (18:18). Here Jesus responds with his own questions. “He said to him, ‘What has been written in the Law? How do you read it?’” (10:26). The lawyer takes the bait by quoting from the Law (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18) as Jesus had directed him: “He responded and said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and (love) your neighbor as yourself’” (10:27). The response is in the form of a rhetorical exemplum, that is, the citation as authoritative of something done or said in the past.1 Jesus affirms his answer, noting that observing these commandments will lead to the life the lawyer seeks: “Then he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live’” (10:28). But now the lawyer has a question of his own: But he, since he wanted to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (10:29). Questions of the “who” and “how” of justification will recur later in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus responds to the question, not with another question, but with the story of the Good Samaritan (10:30-35).

The meaning of the parable in a larger Greco-Roman context is illuminated by relating the Samaritan’s act of compassion with the virtue of philanthropy as practiced in the ancient world and as it would have been understood by an ancient audience. Of course, that such virtuous philanthropy is exhibited by a Samaritan and not the pious Jewish layperson would have come as a surprise to the lawyer listening to the story in Luke (and no doubt to Jesus’ Jewish audience).

What more can be said regarding the parable within its Lukan framework? Despite the fact that modern scholarship has been generally negative toward a Christological reading2, it is worth revisiting the argument. The term esplagnisthe (“he had compassion”) occurs three times in all of Luke; in the other two instances, only God’s agent, Jesus (Luke 7:13) and a figure for God, the father of the Prodigal (Luke 15:20) show compassion. In other words, “showing compassion” in the Lukan narrative is a divine prerogative and a divine action.3 Here is our first clue in the text of Luke itself that the Good Samaritan, when he shows compassion on the man in the ditch, is functioning figuratively as God’s agent.

This interpretation gains momentum when one considers the Lukan frame within which the parable is set. At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbor of the one who fell into (the hands of) the robbers?” (Luke 10:36). The lawyer responds by saying, “The one who had mercy on him(10:37). This comment is usually understood to show the lawyer’s reluctance to even utter the word, “Samaritan.”4 Without denying this claim, the response also has the effect of creating an interpretive gloss on the Samaritan’s action. The Samaritan’s act of compassion is construed by the lawyer as the dynamic equivalent of “showing mercy.” This interpretation is evidently accepted by Jesus and the narrator, since neither corrects nor contradicts the lawyer. This interpretation would seem crucial for getting at Luke’s understanding of the Samaritan’s action, and through that action to the Samaritan’s “identity.” As with “compassion,” virtually every instance of “mercy” in Luke is associated with acts of God or God’s agent, Jesus (Luke 1:47-50, 54, 72, 78; 17:13; 18:38-39; the only exception is when Father Abraham refuses to show the rich man “mercy” [16:24], an exception which ultimately proves the rule that in Luke’s Gospel only God and Jesus show mercy). Within the immediate context of Luke’s Gospel, the Good Samaritan, who “shows compassion” and “does mercy,” functions as a “Christ” figure who ultimately acts as God’s agent.5

The story ends with Jesus admonishing the lawyer: “Go and do likewise yourself!” (10:37), causing many interpreters to label the parable as an “example story.” Certainly this is an important aspect of the parable within its Lukan context, but to label the Parable of the Good Samaritan an “example story,” as though the story were itself devoid of a Christological or theological referent, is to miss a significant point of the parable. The parable, in its narrative context, does not primarily focus on the perspective of the man in the ditch (contrary to popular interpretation). Rather, Jesus’ admonition to the lawyer demands that the primary perspective be that of the Good Samaritan, whose example the lawyer is admonished to follow. The example is here enlivened by the fact that the example of the Good Samaritan’s compassion and mercy is, as the text of Luke affirms, the example of none other than God and God’s agent, Jesus. Thus, we have in its literary context a call by Jesus to imitate the compassionate Samaritan and in so doing to imitate the compassion of Jesus himself. Ethical admonition is grounded in a Christological basis.

For the Lukan Jesus to depict himself as a “compassionate Samaritan” has profound implications. In the immediate context of Luke 9-10, it is to identify with the group upon whom James and John had just offered to call down consuming fire from heaven (Luke 9:51-56), an act certainly understandable to those familiar with Jewish/Samaritan hostilities. Such scandalous identification is not unknown to Luke’s Jesus; rather, it fits in with the generally acknowledged pattern of reversal in Luke’s Gospel, where the world is turned upside down. Furthermore, the radical claims of the parable of the Good Samaritan are not avoided when one excludes Jesus as the referent of the parable, since Jesus calls the lawyer to “act like a Samaritan.” Why should Jesus, a Jew, expect something of a Jewish lawyer that he himself is not prepared to expect of himself? It is in the very offense of the image of the Samaritan as a Christ figure that the parable has its evocative power in its fullest sense.

Material adapted from Luke. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons, Charles H. Talbert, and Bruce. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 2015. Used by permission.


1 compare with Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.49.

2 Evans 1990, 178, states flatly: “The Samaritan is not Jesus!”

3 Menken 1988, 111.

4 on the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 9.29; m. Qiddusin 4.3; John 4:8-9; Luke 9:54.

5 compare with Origen, Homilias in Lucam 34.9.

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

A friend of my sister’s, a member of my church youth group, chafed at the rules and expectations for behavior that our church taught its youth.

And he found an “out” through his own simplistic understanding of grace:
“I love to sin, and God loves to forgive sin, so we make a good pair,” this 16-year-old budding theologian observed one day after church, no doubt thinking of his plans for the coming weekend.

The writer of Deuteronomy (not to mention the Apostle Paul) wouldn’t recognize this statement as a valid expression of faith. Paul writes, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 8:1-2).

Deuteronomy, for its part, exhorts its readers over and over again to “obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances” (Deuteronomy 30:16).

It is a choice, Deuteronomy says, a choice that we can make — to obey or not to obey. To obey means blessing and life. Not to obey means death. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:29).

Now, churches of the Reformation, including my own, have some trouble with this idea of choosing to obey God’s Law. The Law condemns and kills. We are sinners and depend completely on God’s grace. We cannot choose to obey the Law even if we try.

Our passage for today doesn’t seem to agree. “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

This passage echoes the Shema, the prayer that observant Jews pray twice daily, which begins with this well-known passage from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).

The word, the commandments of God, are to be in the Israelites’ heart and on their lips, according to the Shema. They are to memorize them, recite them, talk about them daily. So later in Deuteronomy when Moses assures the Israelites that “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe,” it would seem to be a direct result of obeying the previous command.

The thing is, though, that the Israelites did not obey that command. This latter part of Deuteronomy knows of the exile and understands it as punishment for disobedience: “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord … They turned and served other gods … The Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, fury, and great wrath, and cast them into another land” (Deuteronomy 29:25, 26, 28).

So if the Israelites cannot obey the commandments of God at the beginning of Deuteronomy, when God calls them to love him, what makes them think they can do so at the end of the book?

Because God promises that they will: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

If the Israelites cannot love God with all their heart and soul, then God himself will make it possible for them to do so. God will circumcise their hearts, removing their disobedience and their callused disregard for God’s covenant, so that they might indeed love God and thereby live.

Ezekiel speaks of God giving Israel a new heart — “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant — “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). Likewise, Deuteronomy speaks of a circumcised heart and a word that is “very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deuteronomy 30:14).

In all of these instances, it is God, not Israel, who makes it possible for Israel to be in relationship with God.

Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilaender speaks of this grace of God that empowers God’s people to be who God intends them to be:
“The more God’s grace empowers their lives, the more they know their need of his pardon. And the word of pardon carries with it God’s commitment to make us people who will want to live in his presence — to make us what he says we are. Hence, God’s promise is embedded in his command: ‘You shall be holy.’”1

God’s promise is embedded in God’s command: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

It is a word of law. It is also a word of promise. You shall love the Lord your God.

So, my sister’s friend didn’t have it quite right. He was espousing what Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously called, “cheap grace.” And the biblical witness is not about cheap grace. It is about costly grace. God doesn’t love to forgive sin. God loves sinners. God calls sinners to love him in return, and God through Jesus Christ gives them the grace to do so, to become the people God says that they are: freed, forgiven, sent out.

“Costly grace,” writes Bonhoeffer, “is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him … Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”2

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” writes Paul, quoting Deuteronomy. And what is this word? “The word of faith that we proclaim” (Romans 10:8). Gift of God for the people of God.


1 Gilbert Meilaender, “Hearts Set to Obey,” in I am the Lord your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, ed. Carl Braaten and Christopher Seitz (Eerdmans, 2005), 274.

2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 44-45

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Amos 7:7-17

J. Blake Couey

Amos 7:7-17 describes two episodes in the prophetic career of Amos, set in the northern kingdom of Israel around 750 BCE.

Verses 7-9 recount a vision of doom for Israel that he received. Verses 10-17 describe his encounter with the priest Amaziah, which results in Amos’ being banned from the temple at Bethel. These originally separate episodes are connected by their similar announcements of judgment against King Jeroboam II of Israel (vv. 9, 11). Although their tone is largely negative, they are not completely without hope, and they offer contemporary readers an opportunity for critical self-reflection.

The vision

The phrase “vision” may bring to mind the elaborate, bizarre imagery associated with Ezekiel or Revelation. Many prophetic visions in the Bible, however, are simple object lessons. (Imagine a really ominous children’s moment!) The prophet sees a single object or scene, which is either self-explanatory or comes with a brief explanation.

Unfortunately, it is not clear what Amos sees in Amos 7:7-9, because the text includes an obscure Hebrew word in vv. 7-8. Most English translations of the Bible, including the NRSV, translate it as “plumb line,” but the word may mean “tin” or “plaster” instead.1 Whatever it means, the significance is clear. God will no longer overlook the failures of the people of Israel, described primarily in the book of Amos as economic oppression (Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-12; 8:4-6). Following each of his previous visions (Amos 7:1-6), the prophet had persuaded God to give the people another chance. Now, punishment has become inescapable. A violent catastrophe — likely a military invasion — lies in Israel’s future, with disastrous implications for its religious sanctuaries and ruling dynasty (v. 9). It is significant, though, that God still calls Israel “my people” in v. 8. This detail offers a brief glimmer of hope, suggesting that restoration may be possible on the other side of judgment.

The encounter with Amaziah

Bethel was the site of an ancient religious shrine (see Genesis 28:18-19) that became the chief sanctuary of the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:28-33). Amos had proclaimed that the worship-taking place there was meaningless because it was divorced from a concern for economic justice, especially for Israel’s oppressed agricultural laborers (Amos 5:21-24). He even warned of Bethel’s destruction (Amos 3:14, 5:5-6). Not surprisingly, these words attract the attention of Amaziah, a priest there. He perceives Amos as a threat not only to the temple at Bethel but to the stability of the nation, because the prophet had threatened the king. These fears were not groundless; prophetic activity had played a role in political uprisings in Israel before (see 1 Kings 11:29-39; 2 Kings 9:1-10). In response, Amaziah first sends a letter to King Jeroboam reporting Amos’ role in a possible conspiracy (Amos 7:10-11). This action would not have been unusual, as royal officials (including priests) frequently reported prophetic activity to rulers in the ancient Near East.2 Amaziah also forbids Amos from ever speaking at Bethel again. In the process, he makes it clear that Bethel is committed to the interests of the state: “it is the king’s sanctuary, and … a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:13 NRSV). He attempts to discredit Amos in v. 12 by dismissing him as an outsider and implying that he only prophesies for income. (Although he prophesied in Israel, Amos was a citizen of the neighboring kingdom of Judah.)

Ironically, Amos defends his prophetic activity by denying that he is a professional prophet. The phrase “prophet’s son” in v. 14 doesn’t necessarily refer to biological descent from a prophet, but rather to membership in a prophetic guild. Candidates for public office use similar rhetoric when they claim not to be career politicians or members of “the establishment.” He warns that neither Amaziah nor his family will escape the coming disaster that God has decreed for Israel (vv. 16-17). The story ends there, without revealing what happened to either Amaziah or Amos. King Jeroboam himself died peacefully, but his son was assassinated, triggering several decades of political instability for Israel (2 Kings 15:8-31). The kingdom was eventually conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, and many of its citizens were exiled. The original audience of Amos 7, which was written after the time of the historical prophet, would have likely made these retrospective connections.

It’s easy to cast Amaziah as the villain in this story, but closer examination reveals a more sympathetic character. No doubt he sincerely believed he was doing God’s will by supporting the ruling powers. As current trends lead many to despair about the future of the church in America, one can even admire his commitment to the security of the institution he served. Faithful leadership frequently requires Amaziah’s brand of pragmatism. And yet his investment in the status quo ultimately led him to oppose God’s transformative work in the world. This unfortunate example should force us to examine our own individual and communal commitments. Whose interests do we promote? Does working with political and economic institutions — which no doubt accomplish much good — give our tacit approval to their unjust actions or policies? Can we simultaneously benefit from and speak out against structures that promote violence, enshrine economic oppression, and dehumanize persons of color, women, and sexual minorities? These are complex questions, and the answers may look very different in different contexts. This story invites us to self-reflection and criticism, lest we too sacrifice our witness to secure our survival.


1 See Marvin A. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, Berit Olam (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 1:53-55; Shalom M. Paul, Amos, Heremeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 233-36.

2 J. Blake Couey, “Amos vii 10-17 and Royal Attitudes toward Prophecy in the Ancient Near East,” Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008): 310-13.


Commentary on Psalm 25:1-10

Jin H. Han

Psalm 25 may qualify as a poetic epitome of teaching ministry of the church.

The psalmist, who desires to learn the ways of the LORD, has a meaningful response to the first lesson from Deuteronomy 30:9-14, which reiterates the desirability and feasibility of life that lives by the word of God. The epistle lesson from Colossians 1:1-14 celebrates the growth of the congregation at Colossae in their understanding and engagement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the first order, our psalmist orients his entire being toward God (Psalm 25:1). This ancient poet’s posture parallels the picture of God, who is ever present in “the word of the Lord [that] is very near” (Deuteronomy 30:14). The psalmist refers to himself as “[his] soul,” which is an idiomatic way in Hebrew of referring to oneself. The nucleus of the phrase is nefesh (“soul” or “living being”) that recalls the creation account of Genesis 1-2, where human beings and other creatures are called nefesh. Its Semitic root covers a wide range of meaning from soul to appetite. He lifts up his desire and life energy and directs them to the LORD.

The psalmist clearly recognizes the perils in life. He is confronted by “[his] enemies” (Psalm 25:2b). They could prevail and gloat over their victory to add insult to injury. Above all, he dreads the danger of “shame,” which constitutes a major concern in the biblical world. The loss of honor is a debilitating situation in antiquity as is the case in many parts of today’s world. In vv. 2-3, he mentions “shame” repeatedly with three words derived from the same root. From the psalmist’s perspective, God should prevent him from being humiliated. First, it affects adversely “those who wait for [God]” (v. 3). The Hebrew word that signifies waiting shares the same etymology with tiqvah (“hope”). The root originates from the practice of making thread by twisting fibers together. God cannot let down those who hope and wait for God’s intervention, anxiously wringing their hands.

In the security of confidence in the LORD, the psalmist wants to learn and follow God’s way (vv. 4-5). In the Hebrew text, these two verses are twins. They begin and end with words based on the root that refers to a “way,” as if he is saying, “I will KNOW your way. I will GO your way.” He is determined to do this, for he recognizes God as his salvation. The Hebrew word for “salvation” includes not only deliverance from the present dangers in life (as depicted in vv. 2-3) but also the well-being and prospering that accompany the observance of the law (torah as referred to in Deuteronomy 30:10).

The psalmist has a good reason to count on God’s mercy and steadfast love, for these are some of the things that one can be sure will last forever — “they have been from old” (Psalm 25:6). His petition that the LORD “be mindful” enlists a simple Hebrew word that means “remember.” This Hebrew verb is oriented not so much to the past as to the present. The psalmist is not merely asking God to recall something that could be forgotten. The psalmist petitions God to act based on the categories of mercy and steadfast love.

Mercy and steadfast love are linked together elsewhere in the book of Psalms (40:11; 103:4). Our psalmist conceptualizes the divine attributes as two sides of the coin. In the Greek Septuagint, they are translated with two synonyms that mean “compassion.” The Latin Vulgate uses miseratio and misericordia; the former may signify the emotion of pity, whereas the latter includes willingness to do something about it.

The latter of the pair (“steadfast love”; mentioned three times in 25:6, 7, 10) translates hesed, a Hebrew word that has vexed many generations of translators, for there is no suitable English word that can convey its meaning. The modern convention of rendering it as “steadfast love” is based on the observation that it portrays faithful compassion that never fails. In the gospel lesson from Luke 10 for this Sunday, the Samaritan who extends gratuitous assistance to the poor person victimized by random violence illustrates such virtue. Jesus challenges his interlocutor to do likewise and be “the neighbor” — no longer merely someone in the vicinity but one who has the opportunity to show mercy unconditionally.

When the psalmist asks God to remember mercy and steadfast love, he prays that God may not “remember the sins of [his] youth or [his] transgressions” (v. 7a). Again, the psalmist prays that God may not base divine decision on the past. The petitioner cannot rule out the wrongs that he must have committed as a reckless youth. As a fallible human being, he makes his straightforward confession of sins (“transgressions” NRSV). He is neither able nor willing to claim innocence as the basis for God’s aid. He can only rely on God’s mercy and steadfast love (v. 7b).

He can be sure of God’s deliverance, for even sinners are granted the chance to be taught in the LORD’s way (v. 8). For the humble, God has a special arrangement (v. 9). In the Hebrew language, it is almost impossible to distinguish the humble from the oppressed poor. It is not always possible to keep them apart in today’s world, either, where power and privilege are poised to preempt the care for the powerless. The two halves of the verse make a reasonable pair, in which guidance and instruction are brought together. Yet, there is a subtle overtone that suggests that the first half recommends the humble walk in life, while the second underscores the importance of learning (which translates the Hebrew word that also gave us the word Talmud).

The psalmist’s confidence resides in God’s steadfast love that will endure “for those who keep his covenant and his decrees” (v. 10), which again recalls the first lesson from Deuteronomy 30:9-14. One needs not construe v. 10b as a prerequisite to the proposition presented in v. 10a. The psalmist has already established his helplessness in having himself saved for himself. The psalmist ponders the blessing reserved for those who live faithfully. They will witness God’s faithfulness.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 1:1-14

Brian J. Walsh

Was Paul just undisciplined or did his writing get away from him?

Or did he dictate this letter so quickly and with such enthusiasm that his secretary (likely Tychicus, 4:7) didn’t think about punctuation and sentence structure? You see, after a brief salutation (Colossians 1:1-2), this epistle launches into a long, run-on sentence that stretches from 1:3 to 1:14, and then adds on a poem (Colossians 1:15-20) for good measure. The preacher is advised to avoid such monster sentences while embracing and proclaiming the breathtaking scope and depth of what Paul here writes.1

Let me suggest a hermeneutical principle: Always read the New Testament with Old Testament eyes. Or to shift the metaphor, always hear the New Testament with the ears of Hebrew scripture. Of course allowing the lectionary to shape our worship and our preaching is already living by this hermeneutical principle.

So as we begin to read this passage from Colossians what Old Testament allusions or echoes might we immediately begin to notice? And how might attending to those connections deepen our reading and our preaching?

Let’s begin with the metaphor of ‘fruit.’ Paul employs the metaphor three times in the span of four verses. “Just as [the gospel] is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves … ” (Colossians 1:6). And then he prays that the community would “lead lives fully worthy of the Lord … as you bear fruit in every good work … ” (Colossians 1:10). Isn’t it lovely that our reading from Deuteronomy today employs the same metaphor? Torah obedience, the text assures, “will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil” (Deuteronomy 30:9).

Beyond the happy serendipity of the metaphor occurring in two of our texts for today, might we “fruitfully” investigate this relationship more closely? Might it be that when Paul, a Jew deeply embedded in the narrative and symbolism of the Hebrew scriptures, employs a metaphor like “fruit” there is a whole wealth of allusion to be unpacked? In the biblical imagination fruitfulness is always connected to faithfulness while disobedience and idolatry invariably results in fruitlessness. But what is this fruitfulness that we are talking about? Evoking a covenantal shalom that permeates all of life, our reading from Deuteronomy refers to the fruitfulness of our bodies, our livestock, our soil. This is a familial, procreative, agricultural, and ecological fruitfulness.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this language of fruitfulness goes all the way back to the beginning of the story. Creation is invited to “be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis. And the first word spoken to humanity, indeed, the primal blessing is, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it … ” (Genesis 1:28). This isn’t the place to engage in the ecological debate about whether this is license to a death-dealing domination of the world (it isn’t), but it is clear that for Paul, when the gospel is proclaimed it brings life, not death. Indeed, when people grow in gospel wisdom and understanding they lead lives worthy of Jesus, lives that bear fruit in every good work.

The creative word that calls forth a world and a people of fruitfulness is spoken anew in the gospel and, lo and behold, it bears fruit. The fruit of a new humanity who themselves bear the fruit of good work in every dimension of life, every nook and cranny of our culture. If the preacher was thinking of expanding on what that might look like, she would need look no further than today’s gospel reading.

The preacher is also wise to notice the proximity of this gospel, this fruit-bearing word. This is a word, says our Deuteronomy reading, that is not far away, but rather, “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts for you to observe” (Deuteronomy 30:14). And so the apostle says that the gospel is also not far away. It is not something that you need to go looking for. Rather, in almost personalizing language, it “has come to you” (Colossians 1:6). The gospel has sought us out. Perhaps we need to consider how our preaching is called to be a ministry of such proximity, wherein the word is near and the gospel comes to bear rich fruit in our lives.

Paul’s prayer for the community mirrors the purpose of his letter. He prays that they “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10). That is also Paul’s agenda in this epistle. It is, if you will, a catechetical text. An epistle for deepening knowledge, wisdom and understanding. But the goal is not to acquire abstract theological information. No, this is a transformative knowing, rooting this young Gentile Christian community ever more deeply in the story of Jesus understood through the narrative of Israel. Without growing in such knowledge, without being more deeply shaped by this story, the community will be barren, devoid of good fruit. No wonder the psalmist this week prays, “Lead me in your truth, and teach me” (Psalm 25:5).

Again, Paul evokes the story of Israel in the language that he uses. Employing metaphors of covenant and election, he calls his listeners to give “thanks to the Father, who has enabled [or ‘called’] you to share the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Colossians 1:12). And he clearly understands redemption in Jesus in terms of the exodus tradition when he concludes our passage with language of being “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred … into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14).


1 These commentaries on Colossians will assume Pauline authorship of this epistle.