Lectionary Commentaries for June 12, 2016
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3

Lucy Lind Hogan

Imagine if you had invited guests to your home for dinner and suddenly someone entered your dining room uninvited and unexpected.

I know that I would not be very happy regardless of whom the person was. I think that we have to be a bit understanding of Simon and his shock as this woman enters and kneels at the feet of Jesus. My response would definitely be, “Who does she think that she is?”

We are asking the same question of Jesus, “Who does he think he is?” as we continue our journey with the author of Luke-Acts. Who is this Jesus of Nazareth? We have seen that he is a “long-distance” healer. And we have begun to wonder if Jesus is actually a prophet. Didn’t the crowd watch Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, bring back to life the only son of a woman, a widow? The crowd declared that a great prophet had arisen, a great prophet who would do great things (Luke 7:16).

When following the Lectionary it is always important, not only to dig deeply into the text that is given, it is also important to investigate what have been skipped. Before today’s text we have learned that disciples of Jesus’ cousin John have been sent to ask him — are you the one? Jesus answers not with a simple yes or no, but by presenting them with the signs of the Messiah. Where people are being cured and the dead are raised, then you have been in the presence of the Messiah. These will definitely help us answer our question, “Who then is this?” (Luke 8:25).

There is another person who is wondering who is this Jesus of Nazareth. In today’s text we are told that a Pharisee named Simon decides to invite Jesus to his home for dinner. We don’t really know if he was a friend or a foe. We don’t know if Simon genuinely wanted to hear more of Jesus’ teaching, or if he really wanted to trick Jesus. What we do discover is that he was not a particularly good host, and he was hypercritical of Jesus.

In the previous healing and resuscitation stories the persons healed or returned to life had no prior contact with Jesus. And Jesus did not ask for any information about them. In this story the background of the person forgiven seems more significant. Again, we do not know if Jesus knew the woman who entered the home of Simon. But it would seem the Simon knew her, or better yet, knew of her reputation.

Let’s step back from this shocking scene for a moment to look briefly at the way this story appears in the other gospels. This is a story that appears in all four gospels but it appears in very different ways. In Mark and in Matthew’s gospel this episode takes place two days before the Passover. As they tell it, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of a different Simon, Simon the Leper. The unnamed woman pours nard, a burial ointment, over the head of Jesus, anticipating his burial. In this story it is not the host but the disciples who are angry with the woman because she has wasted the expensive ointment. We are told nothing of her character but Jesus praises her and reminds us that “where ever the good news is proclaimed … what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mark 14:9). In John’s gospel the moment takes place six days before the Passover. It also takes place in Bethany, but it is in the home of Lazarus who was recently brought back from the grave. And now it is Lazarus’ sister Mary who anoints the feet of Jesus with the expensive nard and wipes his feet with her hair.

Simon and his guests are reclining at table, and perhaps dinner is in the process of being served when this woman, this sinner, enters the home of a Pharisee, uninvited. She pours oil over the feet of Jesus and unbinds her hair to wipe his feet now wet with the oil and her copious tears. She weeps and kisses the feet of Jesus. The woman does not give us any indication of why she is doing this. We should recognize that her action, whether or not she was a sinner, would have been scandalous. Aside from the fact that she crashed the party, a woman would never have uncovered her hair before strangers. Nor would she have touched a stranger’s feet. There are definitely sexual undertones in the picture painted by the author. Notice how, in Mark and Matthew’s gospels the oil is poured on Jesus’ head.

Who is at the center of this story? Is it the unnamed woman or the shocked Simon? We see a healing of sorts, the woman’s sins have been forgiven; she has been saved. Jesus does not speak with the woman. He asks her no questions. He asks nothing of her. But Jesus tells her that because of her scandalous actions which were truly acts of great love, her sins, “which were many, have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47).

Jesus would seem to want us to turn our attention to Simon. I suspect that Jesus always knew that he was always under intense scrutiny. Simon wants to know who Jesus is. The reason Simon does not think Jesus is a prophet is because he lets this sinner touch him. Simon does not understand the true nature of God’s love and acceptance. Simon would reject the woman and think that she was unworthy of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus is not only a healer; he is a mind reader as well. He can tell from the look on Simon’s face and read in the silence at the table that the Pharisee would dismiss the woman instead of forgiving her sins. So Jesus at the heart of this story is another story of two debtors. Simon recognizes that if a large debt is forgiven that debtor will love the one who forgives.

Jesus wants us to realize that we are all like the woman. She has come to Jesus with the large debt of sin. We are all like the woman and like the debtor who owes God an un-payable debt. Our healing comes when we, like the woman, kneel at Jesus’ feet and pour out our love.

First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:26—12:10, 13-15

Juliana Claassens

2 Samuel 12 is one of the most compelling stories of injustice uncovered.

The story actually starts in the last few verses of 2 Samuel 11:26-27 with Bathsheba crying bitterly when she heard about the death of her husband Urijah.  But then life moves along at a brisk pace with David marrying the newly widowed Bathsheba and their son being born a couple of months later. Time passes and the last word about the injustice seems to have been spoken. Except the narrator notes in v 27 that God is furious about what David had done.

The next thing we as readers see in 2 Samuel 12:1 is the prophet Nathan arriving on David’s doorstep. It is uncertain how much time had passed since the end of the previous chapter, but it is evident that God’s displeasure with David resulted in God sending his prophet to go confront David. In one of the smartest tactics in order to get the King to admit what he had done, Nathan tells a story. He paints a compelling picture of a poor man who had a pet female lamb who he treated like a child, who slept in his bosom, and who ate from his plate, only to have a rich man who had many possessions and lifestock come by and take the little lamb in order to serve up a meal of roast lamb to his dinner guests. When David, displaying some hint of moral fibre, replies in outrage about this injustice, Nathan responds with the famous words: “You are the man!” In dramatic fashion, he thus uncovers the injustice that for many months and maybe even years had been covered up.

In terms of the biblical understanding of retribution, Nathan proclaims that the violence that David committed by means of the sword when he was responsible for the death of Urijah, will be returned upon him when the sword of his enemies will be against him. Indeed the saying is true: You live by the sword, you die by die sword. The story ends with David’s confession that he had sinned against God (2 Samuel 12:13) which has found poetic expression in Psalm 51 that is an extensive elaboration upon the terse admission of guilt in this narrative.

A number of perspectives are worth exploring in terms of this text. First, David’s confession is quite surprising. As Walter Brueggemann rightly points out, David who finds himself in a most powerful position could easily have silenced the voices of dissent around him — potentially even resorting to killing Nathan in order to make him shut up (1 & 2 Samuel, 282). After all, leaders today all too often insulate themselves from critical voices which conceivably create circumstances rich for injustice to germinate. The fact that David admits that he was wrong shows some sense of morality, even though admittedly his confession focuses on his sin against God with no mention of his actions killing Urijah and violating Bathsheba.

Second, Nathan emerges as an incredibly courageous prophet speaking truth to power and doing so in a quite clever fashion using imagination to draw the king into judging himself. Noteworthy is the fact that the language used for the rich man taking the lamb is the same language that was used in 2 Samuel 11:4 when David took Bathsheba. Moreover, the verb “to take” is the language that is used in 1 Samuel 8:11-19 by the prophet Samuel when he warns the people about the dangers of the royal office. Kings take whatever they want. In the context of leaders abusing their power, one truly needs whistle blowers and other upright individuals who stand up and say “No!” to injustice and the abuse of power. 

Third, probably the most disturbing part of this narrative is that, after David’s confession, Nathan promises David that he will not die, however his son will. This troublesome aspect of this text reflects the biblical idea that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons — literally in this case. But how is this fair? And was it perhaps the illness of the child that caused the people around David, including also Nathan, to ask the question: Why would this baby become sick and die? In terms of the theology of the day, the answer would of course be because of the atrocious things David had done.

It is very important though in a sermon to challenge this direct association between sin and suffering. The reason for this is that such religious views, even though forming a distinct part of this biblical text as well as many others, is deeply problematic when children today would get sick and die. In this regard, it is significant that, in the rest of 2 Samuel 12 that does not form part of the lectionary reading but nevertheless offers important perspective on this story, David is shown to fast and pray for the life of his child. It seems that through these religious rituals David is resisting the forces of death as well the underlying theological framework for the sake of the child. David’s actions calls to mind the mothers and fathers, teachers, health care professionals, and relief workers who work relentlessly to save children in a context of exceedingly high infant mortality worldwide.

Finally, glaringly absent from this text is Bathsheba’s voice. It is ironic that whereas she in the beginning of the pericope was lamenting for her husband, now when her child dies we do not hear what had to be this bereaved mother weeping at the top of voice. Perhaps Bathsheba’s silence in this text about the death of her child in addition to the events that led her to this place is fitting given the fact that so many victims of sexual violence today are silent and silenced. Ultimately it is up to the preacher to stand up as Nathan had done and uncover the ugly reality of violence against women as well the high incidence of infant mortality.


Commentary on Psalm 32

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

Three of the readings for this Sunday, including Psalm 32, speak of sin and forgiveness.1

The first reading tells the story of the prophet Nathan confronting King David with his sin. Adultery and murder stain the reputation of this beloved king of Israel. In the Gospel reading, an unnamed woman, a “sinner,” washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. To the astonishment of those around him, Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven.

Psalm 32 could be the song of that woman and the song of King David (though Psalm 51 is associated more closely with the story of David and Bathsheba). The writer of Psalm 32 knows the terror of secret sin, and the joy of being forgiven. “Happy are those…” he begins his psalm. Or, in an older translation, “Blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

The psalm is titled, “a maskil,” which seems to mean a wisdom-poem, or a composition designed to make one wise. The psalmist uses the same root in verse 8 to speak of instruction: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go.” This psalm, then, is a composition designed to teach one how to live well, how to live a happy and blessed life.

So, how does one pursue this happy or blessed life? By confessing one’s sins to God: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away…Then I acknowledged my sin to you…I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (verses 3, 5).

Unrepentant, hidden sin causes grief, shame, and guilt. The sinner’s body “wastes away,” and his strength is “dried up,” like a potted plant left too long in the scorching summer sun. There is no life or vigor left in him, and his secret sin eats away at him, mind, body, and spirit. God’s hand is “heavy” upon him (verses 3-4).

It is an apt description of the effects of guilt on a person, though it seems very dated in this day and age. We do not often talk about guilt or shame. Indeed, we do not see many examples of shame in our public figures. Too often, people in the public eye who are caught in moral or ethical sin exhibit less than sincere contrition, and they issue apologies that are not apologies. (Not “I’m sorry,” but “I regret…”)

Our public figures do not provide good examples of true repentance. Even many churches do not speak of sin or guilt, trying to distance themselves from the damaging effects of misplaced shame in generations past. I am not advocating a return to fire and brimstone preaching. But what this psalm tells us, and what life experience corroborates, is that sometimes guilt and shame are entirely appropriate responses to something one has done!

I recall a student of mine describing in class one day her relationship with her friends. She said, “Sometimes I tell friends something that I have done wrong, and they say, ‘You are only human,’ or ‘You meant well,’ or “That is an honest mistake,’ or something like that. But what I really need them to say is, ‘Yeah, you screwed up.’ A friend should be honest and tell us what we really need to hear.”

The writer of Psalm 32 is, in that sense, a true friend. He does not offer platitudes. Instead, for those who truly know the depth of their sin, the psalmist offers a remedy: Confess! Pray! And God, who is faithful, will forgive your sin.

That forgiveness is what leads to true joy. The one forgiven finds a “hiding place,” a secure stronghold, in God. “You preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance” (verse 7). The forgiven sinner can “be glad in the Lord and rejoice.” She can “shout for joy!” (verse 11). The sinner does not have to deceive himself or anyone else (verse 2). When he confesses his sin, God forgives, and he can start life anew. Such new life is what the psalmist calls “happy” or “blessed.”

For those who do not know or want to follow the “way” they should go, the psalm provides a vivid image: “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you” (verse 9). There is no place here for stubbornness or ignorance. The discerning person will hear and receive the instruction the Lord gives, and will follow in the way of life.

The prophet Nathan makes David see clearly the sin he has committed. The woman who bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears knows the weight of guilt and sin. Over them, and over every person who knows and confesses his or her sin, Psalm 32 pronounces this blessing: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”


1 This commentary was first published on the site on June 13, 2010.

Second Reading

Commentary on Galatians 2:15-21

Alicia Vargas

The great theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is Christian freedom.

That theme has already been sounded in the letter’s opening verses, where Paul praises “the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free (Greek deliver us) from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). And Paul also reintroduces the theme when he introduces some of his main antagonists in the Galatian communities: “But because of false believers (Greek brothers) secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us … ” (2:4). Finally, Paul concludes the great Allegory of Hagar and Sarah in 4:21-5:1 thus: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1).


As the NRSV footnote indicates, it is not certain whether the quotation of Paul’s previous words to Peter carries over into the section at vv. 15-21 and, if so, precisely where it ends. Either way, the current pericope carries on and supports Paul’s thought as he has been developing it in the preceding verses.

Peter had participated in common meals with mixed groups of Jews and Gentiles, in which Jewish Christians relaxed their adherence to Jewish food laws. But under perceived pressure from members of the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem, Peter pulled back and resumed the life of a law-observing Jewish Christian. Paul took this to mean that in Peter’s opinion, all Christians, including Gentile converts, must observe the Jewish food laws. Paul took exception to this.

Paul’s Law-free Gospel

Paul begins this section of text with a clear statement of his central theological affirmation: “ … we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16a).

Paul’s use of the singular “a person” makes it sound like he is addressing individual salvation. However, his actual point is different: “The issue is corporate fellowship, not individual salvation.”1 Moreover, contrary to appearances again, “Paul is not against the law or Judaism as such, but opposes the imposition of the law on Gentile Christians.”2 As missionary to the Gentiles, Paul was convinced that Gentiles should not have the Jewish laws regarding circumcision, food laws, and observance of special holy days imposed upon them.

Be that as it may, it certainly appears that his attack is directed against the Jewish law. An attractive middle road interpretation is available to us: “In his fight to obtain and hold on to his [Gentile converts] Paul fiercely but unfairly … attacks the quite normal Judaism of his opponents.”3 This interpretive option allows us to explain why Paul seems clearly to attack the Jewish law while at the same time not actually being opposed to it. Perhaps Paul had no objection to Jewish Christians continuing to observe the law; he does not directly address that point. He simply did not want the law imposed upon those non-Jews to whom he had been sent in mission. Paul’s argument can be seen as unfair insofar as it presents only the negative side of the law; it does not present the whole story, both sides of the law, good and bad.

In these initial verses of our pericope, then, Paul elaborates his understanding of a law-free gospel: the gift of freedom in Christ is, in this instance, freedom from the demands of the Jewish law.

But whose faith?

Paul’s logic is significantly strengthened by an ambiguous phrase that occurs three times in our pericope. As the NRSV footnote states, Paul’s phrase “by faith in Christ” may also be translated “by the faith of Christ,” which, in turn, may be translated “by the faithfulness of Christ,” referring to his steadfast adherence to the will of God and his endurance all the way to the cross. The net effect of this ambiguity is that if the latter translation be preferred, then justifying faith is itself not a human work. Paul would then not be contrasting one human work with another, not contrasting the works of the law and the work which is believing in Christ, and claiming that one kind of human work saves while the other does not. He would be contrasting all human works, be they of the law or of faith, with God’s saving act in Jesus Christ, which by itself is sufficient for justification. While Paul certainly values the human work of faith, as he does in the middle clause of v. 16, his point would be that the ultimate efficacious work of justification/salvation belongs solely to the work of God in Christ.

Thoughts and questions toward preaching

In his mission to take to gospel of Jesus Christ to non-Jews, Paul confronted the large questions of ethnic and religious practices and requirements for Christians of different backgrounds and traditions.

How do we as the church measure up in these kinds of questions?

To what extent are our congregations mixed at all, combinations of people from divergent ethnic and religious/denominational backgrounds?

Do we diligently strive to find ways to be both fully respectful of racial/ethnic differences among the people while at the same time being mindful and discerning of what are those things that are and are not essential in making us who we are?

In our churches, do we implicitly or explicitly require new participants (“members”) to conform to previously existing patterns of congregational behavior? Are there requirements or expectations for specific doctrinal affirmations or other expected behaviors?

How diligent are we in discerning what is necessary and what is contingent in these matters of congregational life and faith?

And as important as these matters are, — and they are very important — do we really and truly take to heart Paul’s message that no human acts or works, none whatsoever, are what ultimately justify us with God?

May God help us to live into the freedom of the Gospel.


1 M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 583.

2 Boring and Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, 583.

3 John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), xi.