Lectionary Commentaries for July 3, 2016
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Mikeal C. Parsons

Luke 10:1-24 records the mission of the Seventy(-two) and its aftermath.

We will focus on Luke 10:1-12 and 17-20. The introductory phrase, “After these things” (10:1a) ties this episode to what immediately precedes and thus the passage functions as an application of the conditions for discipleship set out in 9:57-62. The mission of the seventy-two also repeats on a “grander scale” the mission of the Twelve in 9:1-6. In 9:2 Jesus “sent” (apesteilen) the Twelve; in this scene “the Lord publicly commissioned (anedeizen) seventy[-two] others” (10:1b). Why the difference? The term occurs elsewhere in Luke only in its cognate noun form (avadeizis) at 1:80 and indicates the “public recognition of an appointed official” (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrick Lexicon 62). The reference there anticipates the public presentation of John the Baptist to Israel as he begins his ministry. Like John the Baptist who was sent “before the face” (pro prosopou) of Jesus (7:27), so Jesus “sent them before him (literally, “before the face” pro prosopou) in groups of two to every city and place where he himself was about to go” (10:1c). Thus, the seventy(-two) are “publicly commissioned” to continue the fore-runner role of John the Baptist (cf. 16:16). They go out “in groups of two,” which anticipates the missionary pattern of Acts1.

There are hints also in the text and its context that the mission of the seventy(-two) not only continues the forerunner ministry of John the Baptist but is expanded to anticipate the mission to the Gentiles (cf. Luke 24:47). First, there is the reference to the seventy(-two) who are commissioned. Whether the number is “seventy” or “seventy-two” is grounded in textual variants that go back to the Greek text of the Old Testament. Luke seems to be alluding to the (Gentile) Table of Nations traditions in Genesis 10 (both seventy and seventy-two are found in the manuscript tradition). Thus the commissioning of the seventy(-two) anticipates the church’s mission to the nations (cf. Luke 24:47). Furthermore, the reference in Matthew that limits the mission to Israel (“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, but go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”; 10:5-6) is missing in the parallel passage in Luke.

Luke explains the rationale for the mission: “He had been saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’” (10:2a). The first part of the statement is a chreia that occurs elsewhere in various forms2; references to the “harvest” in the Jewish Scriptures allude both to eschatological judgment3 and preservation4. Both aspects are present (cf. 10:7-8), though the emphasis here is on the ingathering of God’s people and the lack of workers to assist in this task. The disciples, then, are to “ask (“beseech”; “pray”) the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (10:2b). The “Lord of the harvest” clearly refers to God, but in the immediate and larger contexts in which Jesus is also referred to as kurios (here at 10:2 and e.g., 7:13, 19; 10:39, 41), the audience will conclude that Jesus who sends out the seventy(-two) is also “Lord of the harvest.”

Jesus then instructs them regarding the danger of their assignment: “Go! I am sending you like lambs surrounded by wolves” (Luke 10:3). To the ancients, “[t]he wolf is a rapacious animal, irascible, deceitful, bold, violent” and “men of this type are crafty, impious, blood-thirsty, quick to anger, vicious to the extent that they refuse what is given or offered them, but steal what is not given”5. Of course, the imagery of lambs and wolves also echoes Isaiah6, though that eschatological vision seems not quite fulfilled in Jesus’ warnings7! The authorial audience would know that the dangers inherent in the mission included the very ones to whom the disciples were being sent!

Rather than equipping the disciples for “Holy War” against infidels, Jesus “de-equips” them of the requisite travel paraphernalia: “Do not carry a wallet, a travel bag, or sandals; and greet no one along the way” (Luke 10:3; cf. 9:3). The absence of standard traveling equipment indicates the total dependence of the disciples on the Sender. The instruction to “greet no one along the way” is a time-saving measure and underscores the urgency of the mission8. The message echoes Luke 9:57-62: Be single-minded in purpose and do not be distracted!

Jesus gives further instruction regarding the disciples’ behavior when entering a house: “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a peaceful person happens to be there, your peace will remain on him. If that is not the case, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6). The command to greet householders with “peace” is not only adopting common Jewish practice9, but it characterizes the message of Jesus’ good news10, fulfills the promise expressed in the infancy narrative (Luke 1:79; 2:14, 29), anticipates the greeting issued by the resurrected Christ to the disciples (Luke 24:36), and thus expresses a robust eschatological hope. The pronouncement of peace will find fulfillment if within the house there is a “peaceful person,” literally, a “son of peace.” To be a “son” (or child) of X is to be characterized by or inclined toward that attribute. Thus, Absalom’s command to his servants to “be sons of power” (huioi dunameos) is equivalent to being a person who is strong or valiant11. Similar expressions are found in Greek literature and inscriptions12. Analagous constructions are also found elsewhere in Luke (16:8; 20:36) and in the New Testament13. What does the idiom mean here? Jesus “when he asked his disciples to go out to gather the sons of peace, was sending them out to identify with those in Galilee who were bent on pursuing peace”14. With such as these, peace will reside. If there is no one “worthy of peace”15, Jesus warns, the peace will return to the sender.

Jesus gives further instructions: “Stay in that same house, eating and drinking what they provide; for the worker is worthy of his wage. Do not move from house to house. And whatever city you enter and they welcome you, eat what is placed before you” (Luke 10:7). The social context is hospitality. The command to eat and drink what is provided is standard etiquette for a guest in a hospitality context16; such activity is an act of table fellowship and “seals the acceptance of the gospel by the household”17. Furthermore, Jesus’ followers are not to beg for money (as Cynics and others did); their wage is hospitality and shelter. Nor are they to move from house to house, becoming a “parasite at large with no fixed stable”18. Beyond guest etiquette required in hospitality, the second reference to “eat what is placed before you” may allude also to setting aside strict food laws for the sake of sharing the Good News, especially if the mission of the seventy-two is intended to foreshadow the mission to the Gentiles19. Furthermore, when the followers find a hospitable reception they are toheal those who are sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:8). Emulating Jesus, his followers are to respond to these acts of hospitality in deed (heal the sick) and word (preach the kingdom).

Jesus also prepares the seventy(-two) for times when the response to them would be one of rejection rather than reception: And whatever city you enter and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust that stuck to us from your city on (our) feet we shake off against you. But know this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, in those days it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that city” (Luke 10:9-12). Jesus has replaced the knee-jerk vigilante vengeance of James and John (9:54) with a powerful, prophetic gesture. The shaking of the dust from their feet is an appropriate symbolic act for those who have not acted hospitably, for if they had been proper hosts (who washed the feet of their guests), there would be no dust to shake! Regardless of their response, the kingdom has still come near and the eschatological judgment against them will potentially be more severe than that experienced by Sodom, whose wickedness was proverbial20 and whose great sin was inhospitality21. Reference to Sodom also provides a transition to the second part of Jesus’ discourse (10:13-24).

An aside which consists of a litany of judgment against Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Luke 10:13-16) is followed by another “apocritic chreia22 in which Jesus responds to a statement by his disciples (10:17) with the report of a vision in the form of a chreia (10:18) — an “elaborated chreia,” which preserves a memorable, if mysterious, saying of Jesus (10:18). The elaborated chreia in Luke contains the following elements:

Introduction (“Lord … ”) 10:17
Chreia (“I saw Satan falling … ”) 10:18
Rationale (“I have given you authority”) 0:19
Opposite (“Nevertheless do not rejoice”) 10:20

Luke 10:17-20 has no parallels in the Synoptic tradition23. The unit begins with the disciples’ return. Their joy recalls the joy associated with God’s anticipated action in the aunnunciation (1:14; 2:10) and foreshadows the disciples’ joy following the resurrection (24:52): “The seventy[-two] returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name’” (10:17). Although the introduction is missing any explicit praise of Jesus (typical of an elaborated chreia), it does include implicit encomiastic language: Jesus is referred to as “Lord,” strengthening the identification of Jesus (with God) as “Lord of the harvest” (10:2), and the power of Jesus’ name is acknowledged (10:17b24). The commission of the seventy(-two) contained no explicit command to perform exorcisms (10:1-2), but the authorial audience could easily accommodate the subjection of demons under the general command to heal as part of the proclamation of the kingdom of God (cf. 9:1; 4:40-41).

Jesus responds with a verbal chreia: “Then he said to them, ‘I watched Satan falling from heaven like lightning’” (Luke 10:18). The nature of the chreia is much debated. Most likely, Jesus is reporting a vision of the eschatological future25 that has been foreshadowed by the mission of the seventy(-two). In the Old Testament, Satan played the role of God’s (and humanity’s) adversary in the heavenly council26, and the fall of Satan reflects the apocalyptic texts of Second Temple Judaism27 and early Christianity28 in which Satan and the powers of darkness are defeated by God in an end-time cosmic battle. Quite possibly, the Lukan Jesus saw in the fall of the Babylonian king29, a connection to the fall of Satan: the fall of earthly powers and principalities foreshadows the downfall of Satan and his minions30. In his vision, Jesus’ mission is tied to God’s coming triumph over the rule of Satan.

The chreia is followed by its rationale: the mission of the seventy(-two) is a harbinger of the cosmic battle between God and Satan not because of the disciples’ own power but because Christ has empowered them: “I have given you the authority to walk on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy” (Luke 10:19a). Through Christ the disciples have the authority to tread on “snakes and scorpions,” which are well-known symbols for the sources of evil31. The two are paired in Deuteronomy 8:15 as a vivid reminder of the dangerous wasteland through which God had led his people (cf. also Luke 11:11-12), and the identification of the combination of the snake and scorpion as a symbol of evil gains further traction in Testament of Levi’s re-writing of that same Psalm: “And Beliar shall be bound by him [God] and he [God] shall give power to his children to tread upon the evil spirits32. That the downfall of Satan is anticipated by, but not ultimately fulfilled in the mission of the seventy(-two) is underscored by the use of the future tense at the end of the rationale: “and nothing will by any means harm you!” (Luke 10:19b). Through the complex of events that leads to Jesus’ exaltation in Luke, Satan will be defeated decisively. In some Christian apocalyptic texts, however, Satan’s fall may also hint at some temporary period in which he wreaks havoc33. Jesus also hints at this eschatological havoc in Luke 21:12-27 and reassures his followers that “not a hair of your head will perish” (21:18). Jesus’ words here also provide assurance that this victory over Satan will happen — indeed, has already begun to happen, and the reference to Satan’s fall (Luke 10:18) anticipates an event destined to occur when Jesus is raised to God’s right hand.

The elaboration of the chreia continues with a statement of contrast intended to clarify what the disciples should rejoice over (and what they should not): “However, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). It is clear from what precedes that the disciples have no reason to rejoice over the fact that the spirits are subject to them since their dominion over the spirits is due exclusively to the authority of the Lord who has sent them. Rather, they should rejoice over the fact that their names have been written in the heavenly registry. In the face of impending eschatological woes, they should take consolation that the source of their joy is their status in heaven, which they owe to God, and not their success over the spirits!

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 In Acts: Peter/John, 8:14; Barnabas/Saul, 13:2; Barnabas/Mark, 15:39; Paul/Silas, 15:40; Priscilla/Aquila, 18:2

2 Compare with John 4:35; Gospel of Thomas 73

3 Joel 3:13; Micah 4:11-13

4 Hosea 6:11

5 Anonymous Latin 126; André 1981, 136-137; compare with Polemo, Physiognomy 172; Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus, 1.3.7

6 “the wolf will lie down with the lamb”; Isaiah 11:6; 65:25; compare with Tanhuma Toledot 5; Str-B 1:574

7 compare with 2 Clement 5:2-4

8 many commentators remark about the “time-consuming” nature of “oriental greetings” which might involve hugs, kisses and the exchange of news

9 Judges 6:23; 19:20

10 Acts 10:36

11 2 Samuel 13:28 LXX

12 e.g., “son of fortune” = lucky

13 Matthew 23:15; John 17:12; Ephesians 2:3

14 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, 173. 

15 as Matthew 10:11 puts it

16 compare with Testament of Abraham 4:7, 10

17 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, 173. 

18 Horace Epistulae 1.15.28; compare with Sirach 29.23-24

19 compare with Acts 10-11; Galatians 2

20 Genesis 13:13; Isaiah 3:9; Ezekiel 16:48, 56, Jeremiah 23:14

21 Genesis 19:1-23; Jude 7; 2 Peter 2:6; Romans 9:29

22 compare with Theon Progymnasmata 98

23 though compare with Mark 16:18 and 10:19

24 compare with Acts 3:6; 4:10, 17-18, 30; 5:40; 9:27

25 such as one finds in Amos 8:1-3; Jeremiah 1:13-19; Ezekiel 2:9-10

26 compare with Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zechariah 3:1-2

27 Sibylline Oracles 3.796-807; Melchizedek 13f.; 1 Enoch 83:4

28 compare with John 12:27-33; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 12:7-10; 20:3-10; Romans 16:20

29 Isaiah 14:11-15 and allusion in 10:15

30 compare with Acts 12

31 compare with Genesis 3:14, Numbers 21:6-9; Sirach 21:2; Psalms 58:4; 140:3

32 Testament of Levi 18:12; my emphasis

[xxxiii] Revelation 12:7-12; among Jewish texts, see possibly Testament of Solomon 20.17

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 66:10-14

Michael J. Chan

This oracle addresses Persian period Jews in the form of pure promise.

These promises are not abstract, disconnected doctrinal statements hurled into the ether. Rather, they are Seelsorge (“soul care”) for a city and its people, ravaged by war, pain, and terror. For the Bible, promise is linked to pain, and Isaiah 66 is no exception.

But in order to understand the pain into which these promises are spoken, one must understand how Jerusalem is described in earlier chapters of Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66).

Zion is in ruins. The holy city of God, the place of God’s own choosing, the concrete, geographical location of divine promise, has “become a wilderness … a desolation” (Isaiah 64:10). Promise died with the city, at least at first glance. The symbols of God’s favor and presence have been “burned by fire … our pleasant places have become ruins” (64:11). It was over these same structures that a psalmist once proclaimed, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns” (Psalm 46:5).

But morning’s light never broke, and night persisted. Zion’s “post-apocalyptic” landscape is not only the fallout of Mesopotamian imperialism; God is somehow caught up in it all. Modern sensibilities lead one to try and untangle God from involvement with such death and destruction. But for the biblical texts at least, the God of Israel is caught up in both death and life, judgment and salvation (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 90:1-12). These texts insist that, God’s wrath somehow lurks behind the mask of imperialism: “But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed … for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” (Isaiah 64:5). Zion labors under the oppressive weight of divine absence and silence (Isaiah 63:19).

The text begins with a command to “rejoice” in the new reality God is creating: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her.” (Isaiah 66:10). The joy to which the people are called is the joy of fulfillment, the joy Simeon had upon realizing that his long wait had finally come to an end (Luke 2:28-32). Jerusalem, the text promises, will no longer be a source of mourning and sorrow, but rather will bring maternal satisfaction, consolation, and delight (Isaiah 66:11). And why? Because God will:

  1. “Extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream” (Isaiah 66:12)
  2. “you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees.” (Isaiah 66:12)
  3. “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

These lavish promises knit together imperial and maternal imagery. The God of Israel is king of the world, and the center of God’s royal power is Zion/Jerusalem. Like planets to a sun, the “wealth of nations” gravitates to Zion because she is the center of God’s reign. The offering of tribute, in this case, is a sign of obedience to God’s reign.

But God has promised not only to make Zion an imperial capital, God has also promised to make her a comforting mother:

and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
     and dandled on her knees.

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you;
      you shall be comforted in [or, ‘by means of’ or ‘through’] Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:12-13)

These carefully crafted poetic lines make it clear that it is impossible to separate God’s comforting work from the agency of Jerusalem: “I [God] will comfort you; you shall be comforted by means of Jerusalem.” God comforts as a mother might, holding a child, not only with an eye toward solace and safety, but also with a sense of deep and abiding joy (“and dandled on her knees.”). God is bound to God’s people through promise, but that sense of commitment is also energized by God’s parental delight in Jerusalem. In this text, play and comfort are linked.

God’s promises in Isaiah 66:10-14 bring the old world of ruin to an end, and in its wake, create a new world, one in which Jerusalem is a joy (cf. 65:17). In this new world, Zion is no longer a place of scarcity and collapse; its life and destiny are marked by gladness, love, joy, and consolation.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 5:1-14

Stephen B. Reid

At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia there is a tomb of the Unknowns.

It commemorates American service members who have died without their remains being identified. The Unknowns were interred as recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. On the face of it, 2 Kings 5 is a story of a Syrian military leader but 2 Kings 5:1-14 critiques foreign imperialism. The powerful are satirized and the servants provide wise counsel. Jesus mentions this story when he preaches at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:27).

The story of the healing of Naaman occurs in three stages (2 Kings 5:1-4, 15-19, and 20-27). Our focus today is the first act. Each element is a self-contained narrative. Many scholars mention that the stories have three characters — Elisha, Naaman, and Gehazi — but that overlooks the unnamed, the unknowns but not silent slaves that bring the sole voice of theological reason to stories of imperial folly.

The writer effectively describes the powerful Naaman from Arameans Empire. Naaman, a rarely used name in Hebrew means “fair” or “gracious” (Genesis 46:21; Numbers 26:40; 1 Chronicles 8:4,7) where it refers to a member of the tribe of Benjamin. However, the Syrian may mean something else. This Naaman is a commander of the army of the king of Aram (modern day Syria) and a “great man” from the perception of the King of Aram. When this story is taken into the Septuagint the place name is given as Syria. The Luke passage follows the Septuagint (Luke 4:27). The NRSV reads “in high favor” renders a Hebrew expression of “lift up the face.” The term refers to pleasure and affection that brings about an upturned facial expression (See also Isaiah 3:3, 9-14; Job 22:8).

The honorific designations in the early part of the first verse are based on a result based on a particular act, the victory of Aram. The writer uses a ki as an indicator of result. The writer testifies to the sovereignty of God. The high status of Naaman depended on the victory that God had given him. Even though Naaman likely would not have perceived the victory as the result of divine activity, if by that we mean divine activity by the God of Israel. However, the prophets as well as Kings assert that even the successes of non-Israelites find their origins in the God of Israel (See Isaiah 10:13; Amos 9:7).

Even the great man Naaman has a boss. In a world of patron client honor shame community even the great man has constraints. Naaman’s constraint is his disease or disability. Hebrew laws (Leviticus 13-14) about skin disease often lumped together under the title leprosy designated persons with this contagious disease as unclean. They were relegated to the fringe of society. These same social practices show up in the New Testament as well. Skin disease stands between Naaman and full honor. The writer accents the passive voice the healing of the skin disease in order to demonstrate that even this paragon of power is laid low by the skin disease. The writer displays a revered and vulnerable hero.

The first sentence states the status of Naaman, describes his honor and wealth of Aram but ignores the Aramean war machine. The Aramean military expansion meant raids in Israel. The captives were deported from the land of Israel, among them a little girl. This little girl joins a chorus of unnamed women in the Hebrew Bible. The contrast of power flavors the very beginning of the story. But notice that Naaman is not his own man as they say. He has a patron in the king of Aram. Her patron, the man of God, Elisha would take away the skin disease. The young slave girl shares her faith with the mistress of the house who then talks with Naaman.

The theme of power and status continues. Naaman goes first to his patron the king of Aram. The king of Aram sends his man to the king of Israel. The king of Aram sends an entourage with a letter, silver, gold, and garments to the King of Samaria. The king of Israel demurs. He asks “do you think me god that I could heal a skin disease?” This reminds one of the magi who go to Herod to find the king of the Jews (Matthew 2). The elites can get so lost in a world of their own construction that they miss the theological solution. The Aramean’s can orchestrate raiding parties that bring back slaves but they cannot cure skin disease.

The king of Israel tore his clothes in a sign of anguish (2 Kings 5:7). When this came to the attention of Elisha he sent word to the king telling the king that he should send Naaman to him. He reminds the king of Israel that this is an opportunity to demonstrate to Naaman to recognize “that there is a prophet in Israel.” But when Naaman came to the house of Elisha, Naaman brought with him the trappings of power and wealth. But even that could not get Elisha “to come out and play.” Elisha sent a messenger with instructions to go and wash seven times and your skin disease will be taken away. These instructions angers Naaman. His sense of status and protocol was offended. He thought that the prophet would personally come out, maybe wave a hand and heal him in the name of his God. Instead all he received were instructions to bathe in what he considered the puny River Jordan. He fumes to himself that Syria/Aram has the impressive Abana and Pharphar Rivers. Naaman turns and goes away in a rage (v 12).

What the slave girl began (v 3) now Naaman’s slaves enable (v 13), as they calm him by using familial language of “father”. They say in essence “you would have accomplished a difficult task; why do you balk at such an easy assignment?” Naaman heeds the instructions of the prophet and the slaves. He is healed by Elisha and the unknowns.


Commentary on Psalm 66:1-9

Jin H. Han

Chosen for a Sunday toward the end of the liturgical season of Ordinary Time that confirms the constancy of grace manifested mysteriously in the middle of doldrums, Psalm 66 blows in fresh air with its jubilant call for joy — a common thread that all scripture lessons for this Sunday share.

According to the psalmist, there is a great deal that the believing community can recall joyously from the past acts of God, and the worshippers are to continue the story of God’s goodness ever extending to encompass all the earth.

Although not transparent in English translations, the Hebrew text of v. 1 (as reflected in the Greek and Latin versions) depicts that the act of praise with a plural form of the verb, envisioning “all the earth” as a company gathered to make “a joyful noise.” The jagged reference to a “noise” is not haphazard. The psalmist apparently welcomes an outburst of joy in praise, for the quality sought is not a musical elegance but the jubilation inspired by the joy of worship. It echoes nicely the first reading from Isaiah 66:10, whose call for gladness has been the basis of the Laetare (“Rejoice”) Sunday observed as the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

The joyous shout of praise in v. 1 is shaped into a song in v. 2. This song is to have a clear goal and content. Its focus is solely on God, publicizing how great and worthy of praise God is. The psalmist wants to add his own encomium on the mighty acts of God (v. 3). He describes them as “awesome” (v. 3a). This descriptor is double-edged. On the one hand, God’s work fills the worshippers with awe, as they deliberate on what God has done and will do (as will be narrated later in this very psalm). On the other hand, it inspires fear among those who rise up against God (“[God’s] enemies,” v. 3; “the rebellious,” v. 7).

The psalmist depicts the posture of God’s enemies that “cringe before [God]” (v. 3). This posture may have an external resemblance with what the verb “worship” in v. 4 evokes, for the latter includes the idea of bowing down. However, the two acts could not be more different in intent and import. One bows for homage, and the other for the gesture of obeisance. The possibility of feigned submission in the latter apparently has led the ancient versions (e.g., the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate) to declare these enemies are lying to God.

Our psalmist finds the circle of reverential awe extended from the congregation to the world (v. 4). The expanding horizon of the Old Testament anticipates the report of the seventy sent out for mission in the gospel lesson from Luke 10. There the apostles, too, are charged with the proclamation of the reign of God and come back “with joy” (vv. 9, 17).

Psalm 66:5 starts a new section with a recitation of God’s work “among mortals.” In v. 6, the psalmist cites as its concrete examples the crossing of the Red Sea and of the Jordan (Exodus 14:21-22; Joshua 4:23). The grand narrative from exodus to the entry into Canaan is presented against the background of the symbolic world of the ancient Near East, in which the water represents the power of chaos. God’s mastery over the chaotic forces is revealed in the deliverance of God’s people (Psalm 66:6). It can also be observed in God’s sovereignty over the nations (v. 7). This reign of God over the world will be eternal, for divine governance precludes a chance that those who rise up against God can prevail. The Hebrew for “the rebellious” (sorerim) recalls another similar sounding word tsorerim (“foes”; see 8:2). Our psalmist anticipates the triumph of God’s power.

The idea of the use of might may be troublesome to modern sensitivities; however, it is an important part of the psalmist’s message that divine power delivers God’s people from helpless situations. God’s watch may well trigger the thought of divine surveillance. For the psalmist, however, it is a mark of the liberating governance of God, who keeps the powers of chaos at bay and provides an ever-present protection (as mentioned in Job 29:2).

In the last two verses of our psalm selection, the psalmist renews the call for the global worship, elucidating the tangible benefit enjoyed by him and his congregation of praise (Psalm 66:8-9). Again, the psalmist invites the peoples of the earth to celebration, as he did at the beginning of the psalm. The repeated call of praise gives an expression to the eagerness of the psalmist, who is excited to tell the world about what God has done for the people of God.

Of course, the psalmist is keenly aware of precariousness that accompanies life. The image of a slip of the feet that the NRSV presents in v. 9a conjures the perils of falls. The reference to a slip may serve as a metaphor for a death-like experience. Since the Hebrew verb for “slip” in the NRSV derives from a root that depicts something that totters due to insecurity, the psalmist may also deliberate on the threat of instability and appreciate God who keeps the faithful firm.

In the midst of the perilous journey of life, the psalmist affirms that God “has kept us among the living” (Psalm 66:9a). The affirmation of sustained life may explain why the Greek Septuagint translators were compelled to introduce this poetic piece as “a song of psalm of resurrection” in the superscription (canticum psalmi resurrectionis, Latin Vulgate). Though life is invariably accompanied by many dangers, and though history is painfully familiar with oppression and hardships, the end of life and history is going to be not death but life. There is a good reason to be jubilant with all the earth.

Second Reading

Commentary on Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

Alicia Vargas

The specific verses from our pericope for this week upon which we will focus is one of a cluster of three texts found scattered throughout Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which may profitably be considered, and preached, together.

Paul’s personal witness to Christian faith: Galatians 6:14-15

In this first text, Paul offers his personal witness or testimony to Christian faith. He does so by way of the image of crucifixion and the cross of Christ, saying that he and the world have been crucified to each other. Paul further explicates this witness by saying that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” (Galatians 6:15). This reflects back to Paul’s statement in 3:28, that in the community of those in Christ there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Greek, i.e. between Jew and non-Jew, between that group whose males are circumcised and that whose males are not. More than that, it underscores and bolsters Paul’s main thesis to the Galatians: it is not that circumcision does not save while non-circumcision does; it is that neither one saves. This in turn constitutes a whole new way of being which absolutely transcends these either/or categories. This Paul calls a new creation: the utterly new way of being for those in Christ, made right with God by faith and thereby set free to be and to live in a new, distinction-free form of life.

Faith working through love

In a closely parallel but not identical passage in the previous chapter of Galatians, Paul had said: “For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (5:6). The first half of this verse is virtually identical, word for word, with the first half of 6:15, and the same understanding applies; the second half of 6:15 substitutes “a new creation” for “faith working through love.” We need not see an inconsistency here, but rather a distinct emphasis in each text. Characteristic of the new community — the new creation — in Christ is justification by faith rather than by works of the law; to that extent the two verses overlap and are consistent with each other. At the same time, Paul’s ethics, Paul’s explication of what it means to be a new creation and have a new life in Christ, is absolutely interested in and concerned for the doing of good works. Remarkably, these works may be and in truth are the very works of the law. In the middle of an extended discussion of the Christian life and the nature of Christian freedom, Paul writes: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (5:14). Living in the new creation in Christ is living the life of love.


Paul himself has been crucified

In what is surely the most profound of the three passages we are considering, Paul writes:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Rather than being crucified to the world as in 6:14, Paul here asserts that he himself has been crucified (from which it follows, of course, that he has been crucified to the world). Paul asserts that he no longer lives and that it is Christ who now lives in him. Nevertheless, his “I” reappears a moment later, and Paul says that he now lives his life “in the flesh,” in his human, mortal life in this world, “by faith in the Son of God.” As the NRSV footnote indicates, this phrase may also be translated “by the faith of the Son of God,” emphasizing Christ’s faithfulness in going to his death on the cross. Paul’s “I” now hovers on the border between being and non-being, existing by the thinnest of margins; the life Paul now lives is “not really his own,” being lived not by his but by Christ’s faith. Paul is as close to being absorbed in Christ as can be.

Questions toward faithful preaching

Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan state: “Paul was a Jewish Christian mystic.” They go on to say:

A mystic is one who lives in union or communion with God. The difference between union and communion is relatively minor: the first involves a sense of “one-ness” with God; the second, a sense of connection with the sacred that is deep, close, and intimate, even though a sense of “two-ness” remains.1

Borg and Crossan also helpfully relate passages such as ours for this week with what they term “personal,” “internal transformation” in one’s relationship with Christ.2

Regardless of how comfortable, or not, we may be with the language of mysticism, — do we experience personal, internal transformation in our relationship with Christ?

What language do we use to describe that phenomenon? Or perhaps we should ask the prior question: are we comfortable describing, sharing our personal transformative experience of Christ? Do we feel more “at one” with Christ, or do we feel a sense rather of “two-ness” in that relationship? Or sometimes one, other times the other?

Borg and Crossan argue that, for Paul, to be crucified to the world means that he has been crucified to “the world of imperial normalcy,” the world characterized by “‘domination systems,’ societies ruled by a few who used their power, wealth, and ‘wisdom’ to shape the social system in their own self-interest.”3

How do we as persons in Christ describe “the world”? How does our personal, internal relationship with Christ affect our relationship with the world as we define it? Have we been “crucified to it and it to us,” or what language and images would we use to describe the relationship?

May God strengthen us in our relationships with Christ.


1 Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon (HarperOne, 2009), 19, 20.

2 Borg and Crossan, The First Paul, 137.

3 Borg and Crossan, The First Paul, 136, 135.