Lectionary Commentaries for May 26, 2013
Holy Trinity

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 16:12-15

Lucy Lind Hogan

I suspect that most in your congregation would not appreciate a sermon that began like this: “There are things that are essential to our faith, but I can’t speak about them because you would not be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.”


Of course, the reality is that there are many dimensions of our life in God that we don’t understand and we may not understand until we are seated at the heavenly banquet. In preparation for that day, I am keeping track of a long list of questions that I want answered. I suspect you, too, have that list.

Likewise, I feel confident that I stand in a long line of people who have asked questions. Moses certainly wanted to know, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). Who is this God who has called us? What are your questions? So much seems unanswered.

Therefore, it is disconcerting each and every time I come upon Jesus’ observation that “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) What are they? Tell us. Don’t leave us hanging. We want to know. We can take it. We heard about so many things from you. You told us that we are to be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. You explained that we should not worry.

You reminded us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. And you told us that things would not always be easy or go smoothly for us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The call to take up our cross is definitely a hard saying. What else could you have possibly told us? What did we miss?

In this brief portion from Jesus’ farewell sermon we are not told what those many things are, only that Jesus will not tell us. But, we are told that, in the future; in the unfolding of time, we will be told them. And we are told how we will hear of them. It is the Spirit of truth who will guide us, speak to us, and declare all to us all that we need to know. We are given a portrait of the three persons of the Trinity. Jesus speaks of himself, of the Spirit’s activities, and of the Father.

The Holy Trinity is definitely one of those difficult, challenging, thought-provoking doctrines of our faith. But we should not think of it as an exam question that must be answered before we will be admitted to the heavenly banquet. Nor is the Trinity an IQ test to identify the superior intellects and weed out those who are not worthy. Rather, as Catherine Mowry LaCugna explains her book, God For Us, the Trinity is “ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life . . . [it] is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, [and] what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.”1

Throughout John’s gospel we are given glimpses of the Spirit. And in John’s gospel the Spirit is associated primarily with Jesus. In fact, we are told that Jesus “said this about the Spirit which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:29). John the Baptizer gives witness to the fact that, after baptizing Jesus, “’I saw the Sprit descending from heaven like a dove” (John 1:32). He had been told that this would be the sign that this person would be “the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).

Early in his ministry Jesus introduced the Spirit into his conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus. How central is the Spirit? Jesus declares “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). Jesus explained to the unnamed Samaritan woman “God is spirit . . .” (John 4:24).

But it is during his farewell message that Jesus most fully explores and explains the Spirit that he was to give to his disciples: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). And in his farewell message and prayer Jesus weaves the connection between God, the Father, himself, and the Spirit. We have been exploring these relationships as the season of Easter has come to an end.

How are we to know God? We know God because we have known Jesus. In his prayer Jesus reminded us, “you, Father, are in me and I am in you . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them” (John 17:21, 23). The proclamations he made, what Jesus taught — “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10) — Jesus speaks the words of the Father, and the Spirit. The Paraclete “will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears” (John 16:13) from Jesus. The Father speaks to Jesus, who speaks to the Spirit, who will “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

The Holy Trinity is about relationship and indwelling. It is about collaboration and the self-communication of God. The Trinity is about the mutuality of God within the God-head, about our invitation into the God-head by Jesus in the power of the Paraclete. And it is about our mutuality with each other, guiding, speaking, and declaring to one another the glory of God, Father/Creator, Jesus/Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.

1 Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 1.

First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Elizabeth Webb

What is the connection between wisdom and joy?

In the text appointed for today, Wisdom is personified as female, and in her humanity finds all knowledge, insight, and truth. Wisdom is also portrayed as delighting God and in human beings. How we are to interpret this portrayal, often referred to as “Lady Wisdom” or “Woman Wisdom,” is among the most hotly contested issues of interpretation in the book of Proverbs, especially with regard to verses 22-31, the latter portion of today’s text.

In particular, the question of the relationship between Yahweh and Woman Wisdom is significant here: is Wisdom God’s laborer, an attribute of God, or God’s partner in creation? As it turns out, the relationship between Wisdom and God is also about the delighted relationship between God and humanity.

The text opens with Wisdom calling out to all people from the places of human interaction and discourse. She calls from the centers of economic and juridical exchange (the “crossroads” and the “gates” in verses 2-3), as well as from the ordinary spaces of societal life (“On the height, beside the way” in verse 1). Wisdom cries out to “all that live” (verse 4), for the “simple” to receive instruction (verse 5), and for rulers to “govern rightly” (verse 16). Thus Wisdom is a prophetess, a preacher, who stands amidst the people and demands attention. She does not work quietly, behind the scenes, but she is to be the guiding force in all-human affairs.

A “definition” of Wisdom here is necessarily multiple, reflecting the vibrancy of Wisdom in the many aspects of human life. Looking beyond the appointed text for today, verses 5-21 provide us with a picture of this multiplicity. Wisdom is, of course, centrally concerned with knowledge, in its many forms. Prudence, intelligence, truth, instruction, discretion, insight (verses 5-14) — Wisdom is all knowledge, and she is the ability and the power to discern the proper exercise of knowledge. As noted above, it is by Wisdom that rulers govern (verses 15-16).

For all people, Wisdom is the most valuable of possessions, and she bestows wealth on those who love her (verses 18-19). Finally, and significantly, Wisdom walks “in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice” (verse 20), guiding human affairs in the right direction. Indeed, the very purpose of knowledge, insight, and discretion is to lead people into the right ordering of just society.

The final portion of the lectionary text, verses 22-31, is a striking passage that describes the indispensable role of Wisdom in creation, and the infusing of Wisdom throughout the created order. Wisdom, she proclaims, was created at the beginning of Yahweh’s work, “the first of his acts long ago” (verse 22). The language of verses 23-29 echoes that of the creation narrative of Genesis 1. Wisdom is “set up before the beginning of the earth,” “brought forth” from the depths, before God created the springs, the mountains, and the fields.

Even more significantly, Wisdom proclaims her presence at the creation: when Yahweh established the heavens, “drew a circle on the face of the deep” that separated the seas from the skies, “marked out the foundations of the earth,” Wisdom was there. These echoes of Genesis 1 establish Wisdom as the ordering principle of creation, by which God proscribes the boundaries of created things (verse 29), embedding Wisdom into the very creation.

The final two verses of the passage are the most crucial for understanding not only the relationship between God and Wisdom, but also that between God and that which God creates, especially human beings. In verse 30, Wisdom describes herself as beside God at creation, either, depending on the translation, “like a master worker” or “like a little child.” The former translation is in keeping with a depiction of Wisdom as God’s helpmeet in creation, a craftsperson who assists God in the formation of the world. The latter translation reflects the delight that God takes in Wisdom, and that Wisdom takes in humanity in verses 30 and 31.

The ambiguity of the translation, I believe, allows both understandings to operate together, depicting Wisdom as the formative power of God’s delight. As Elizabeth A. Johnson writes of this text, Wisdom “is a beneficent, right-ordering power in whom God delights and by whom God creates; her constant effort is to lure human beings into life.”[1] Wisdom is the creative power of God that is embedded in the world; each created thing, and the creation as a whole, speaks of the Wisdom of God at its foundation.

That Wisdom is God’s very delight. It is by the power of delight that God brought forth the world, and Proverbs 8 tells us that God delights in particular in humanity. God’s delight is the power that drives God to create, forming all that is through the ordering power of divine joy. Human life, guided by God’s Wisdom in the ways of righteousness, is God’s special delight; Wisdom draws human beings into delighted relationship with the divine.

[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist in Theological Discourse (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), 88.


Commentary on Psalm 8

Jerome Creach

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise.

There are many examples of this type of psalm in the book of Psalms (for example, Psalms 93, 136, 150). But Psalm 8 is unique in at least two ways.

First, it is the first hymn one encounters when reading the Psalms straight through. The psalms that immediately precede it are prayers spoken by people who are suffering or who are persecuted (Psalms 3-7). Psalm 8 reveals that those suffering at the hands of evil forces are those made in the image of God and valued highly by their creator. Indeed, the psalm proclaims that humans are God’s agents on earth. Second, this psalm is the only hymn in the Psalter spoken entirely to God. It emphasizes God’s sovereignty (8:1, 9) and proclaims that humans exercise their legitimate authority within the rule of God.

The first half of verses 1 and 9 are identical. They give structure to the psalm and draw attention to the majesty and sovereignty of God. The opening of the psalm seems to express what was promised at the end of Psalm 7, “I will sing praise to the name of the Lord” (Psalm 7:17). “Name” refers to God’s essence and character. In this psalm, that character pertains primarily to the divine power over the created order. Psalm 8:1a and 9a declare that the whole created order gives evidence of God’s sovereignty. It is not that the psalmist admires elements of creation as though God is in them. Rather, the psalmist wonders at the natural world because of the majesty of God who stands over them and has put them in place.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in interpreting Psalm 8 is the question of how verse 1b relates to verse 2. This second section of the psalm seems to expound on verse 1a, but what exactly does it intend to say? The expression “you set your glory above the heavens” (8:1b) probably indicates that God is sovereign and thus sits as king over the creation. From above God subdued chaos and made the world with order and regularity.

Verse 2 is an exaggerated statement that further makes the point. Even the weakest creatures (babes and infants) give voice to the power of God that overcomes all forces that would thwart God’s will. The “avenger” and “enemy” here most likely refer to the chaotic forces God overcame when creating the world (see Genesis 1:1-2:4).

The next section of the psalm (verses 3-8) focuses on human beings and their place within the created order. But as it does, the psalmist presents the high place of humans in creation as a marvel in the face of the magnificence of the rest of God’s work. The question, “What are humans?” has two important features that are keys to the meaning of the psalm.

First, the word “human” translates the Hebrew expression ben adam (“son of man”). Adam is closely related to the word for earth or soil (adamah; Genesis 2:7). “Son of man” therefore connotes humanity’s finitude and fallibility. The human is from the earth, not from the heavens.

Second, it is important to note that the question (“What are humans?”) is not an abstract query about the nature and identity of humankind. Rather, the question puts the human in relation to God’s greatness: “What are humans . . . that you would pay attention to them?” Hence, although the answer to the question is quite positive in Psalm 8, the same question appears in Psalm 144:3-4 and Job 7:17; 15:14 in a way that casts negative light on humanity (see also Psalm 144:2).

Despite the lowliness of humans before God, verse 5 declares God made humans “a little lower than God.” The word for God, however, is a general word (elohim) that may be translated “angels” or “gods.” Only context can determine if the word refers to the one God, to the attendants around God’s throne, or to the gods of the nations. In Psalm 8 it is impossible to tell the exact intention. The point, however, is not so much the identity of elohim, but the difference between the heavenly and earthly realms. God put humans in charge of the earth. The dominion of humans extends to all living creatures. Here they are classified as domestic and wild, birds and fish.

The portrait of humans in this section is much like the one in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25. The image of God bestowed on humans in Genesis 1:26-28 is defined by human dominion. In Genesis 2:15 God makes the human the caretaker of the earth. So also Psalm 8 describes the unique place of humans in terms of the human place over other creatures.

The language of Psalm 8:5-8 suggests humans are royal creatures. In Egypt pharaoh was described as the “son of God,” as one who represented the deity on earth. In other parts of the Old Testament the Israelite king is described in similar ways. Second Samuel 7 calls David God’s son when God appoints him to his office. Psalm 89:25 presents David as the earthly representative of God’s reign from heaven.

Psalm 8, like Genesis 1:1-2:4a, seems to present all humans in the royal office. This may be due in part to the fact that kingship came to an end in Israel in 587 BCE. When the monarchy ended the royal office once reserved for the king was transferred to humankind as a whole. Glory and honor are words used to describe monarchs, but here they describe all human beings.

The final verse contains the same words as the first line of the psalm (8:1a). But the repetition of these words adds emphasis and says something that the first occurrence of the words alone does not say. By repeating the words at the end the whole psalm is given a structure that calls attention to God’s sovereignty. Just as God’s majesty begins and ends the psalm, so also it creates the context for human glory.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 5:1-5

Mary Hinkle Shore

In the space of five verses, the second reading for Trinity Sunday mentions God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

We have peace with God (verse 1). This peace, as well as access to grace, has come through Jesus Christ (verse 2). Moreover, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (verse 5). The Son gives us access to God’s glory and the Spirit pours out God’s love for us.

The reading, however, is something more than a lesson on the Trinity. It is first of all a bridge between the “What?” of Romans 1-4 and the “Now What?” of Romans 5-8. In Romans 1 and 2, Paul demonstrates the universality of the power of Sin over human beings: both Jews and gentiles have fallen short of the glory of God. In Romans 3 and 4, Paul announces God’s response to humanity’s plight: because of Christ’s righteousness, humanity now stands justified by God’s grace (cf. Romans 3:21-26). Boasting is excluded; Paul goes on, because “a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28, NRSV).

Interestingly, Romans does not end at the end of chapter 4. Justification is not the religious equivalent of the fairy tale ending, “They lived happily ever after.” In chapters 5 through 8 of Romans, Paul turns to answering the “Now what?” question. As he does so, we see that in the world Christ has redeemed, Sin continues to exercise influence (cf. Romans 7) and suffering remains so acute that Paul is at pains to say it cannot separate us from God’s love (cf. Romans 8). According to Romans 5:1-5, the life of the justified is a mix of peace, hope, suffering, and love. These themes, as well as the glory of God, will all be discussed again and expanded in Romans 8:18-39.

While some manuscripts contain the hortatory subjunctive meaning, “let us have peace,” most if not all English translations regard the verb as the indicative, “we have peace.” The NET Bible notes, available at http://www.net.bible.org, document the arguments for each reading and settle on the indicative. Either way, peace is a present possibility for those who have been made right, or justified before God. Justice and peace go together. One is reminded of Isaiah 32:17, “The effect of righteousness will be peace” or those places in the Psalms where peace and righteousness exist together (cf. Psalms 72:7; 85:10).

We have hope as well. Paul says, “We boast in our hope of sharing God’s glory.” NRSV has added “sharing” to the text to clarify what it means to hope in the glory of God. The word for “boast” (kauchometha) also means “rejoice” or “exalt in.”

Paul’s rhetoric here resembles the late night infomercial. Through Jesus Christ, we have peace with God. We also have access to the grace in which we stand. But wait! There’s more! We have the hope of sharing in God’s glory. We boast in this hope, recognizing that it exists side by side with suffering.

In Romans 8, Paul will say “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us” (v. 18). In Romans 5, Paul says that we rejoice not only in the glory of God but also in our sufferings. The message is not that Paul and his readers rejoice because they are suffering but rather that they rejoice in the midst of suffering. Suffering does not produce our rejoicing or boasting; rather, it cannot squash them.

The current status of believers has two implications for how we understand suffering.

  1. God’s Spirit has been poured into our hearts, Paul says. For first-century Jews like Paul, the outpouring of the Spirit would be a sign that the turn of the ages was underway (cf. Joel 2:28-29). We may rejoice in the midst of suffering because we know that it is temporary: another chapter has begun and the future for which we hope is already changing the way we live.
  2. We have been justified. Religious traditions always flirt with the idea that suffering is somehow “payback” for sin. If that were true, then suffering people would have to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” Some of Job’s misguided friends suggest that he undertake just such self-examination. For those made righteous by Christ’s faithfulness, however, suffering is not a sign of God’s lack of favor toward us chiefly because God has no lack of favor toward us. Rather, God has shown what Katherine Grieb calls “outrageous generosity” toward us (p. 62): “While we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).[1] In the context of such grace, suffering finally only works to strengthen the resolve and character of those enduring it.

This is the first time Paul mentions love in the letter to the Romans. Grammarians discuss whether the genitive construction, “love of God,” should be objective (meaning the love that we have for God) or subjective (meaning the love that God has for us). The NET Bible notes argue for a plenary genitive, meaning that both love from God and for God are in view. It seems an appropriate work of the Spirit both to communicate God’s love for us and to make it possible for us to love God. This, perhaps, is the Trinitarian word for the day. Christ has acted out God’s love for us. It is that same love of the same God that the Spirit pours out to, and through, us.

[1] A. Katherine Grieb, The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2002), 62.