Lectionary Commentaries for July 3, 2011
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Elisabeth Johnson

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John’s disciples ask Jesus at the beginning of chapter 11.

John, who so clearly recognized who Jesus was when he baptized him, is now having doubts. Who can blame him? The great judgment John announced has not materialized, the corrupt are still in power, and John is languishing in Herod’s prison.

Jesus tells John’s disciples to tell John what they have heard and seen — the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor receiving good news (11:5). Although not the mighty judgment John envisioned, these are surely signs of God’s kingdom drawing near.

Wisdom Vindicated

After John’s disciples leave, Jesus speaks to the crowds about John the Baptist with words of high praise. No one who has ever lived is greater than John the Baptist, Jesus says (11:11). He is the fulfillment of prophecy, the Elijah sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah (11:12-14). He stood on the threshold of the kingdom. Yet now the kingdom is breaking in through Jesus, and even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John (11:11).

The problem with this generation, Jesus says, is that they listen neither to John nor to Jesus. John’s austere lifestyle led people to accuse him of having a demon, while Jesus’ habit of eating and drinking with sinners earned him a bad reputation (11:18-19). This generation finds reason to take offense at both John and Jesus and thus to evade the call of both. They are like children in the marketplace who cannot decide whether they want to play wedding games or funeral games and end up playing neither (11:16-17).

“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus says. Jesus’ own deeds as described in 11:5 give evidence that he embodies and reveals the wisdom of God, that he is “the one who is to come,” the one who ushers in God’s kingdom.

Rest for the Weary

Skipping over the “woes” to unrepentant Galilean towns (11:20-24), our reading picks up again at verse 25, with Jesus’ prayer thanking his Father because he has “hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and revealed them to infants.” The “wise and intelligent” may refer to any who reject Jesus and his message, but perhaps especially to the religious leaders, whom Jesus often rebukes for their self-importance and hypocrisy. The scribes and Pharisees pride themselves on being learned in the law yet fail to understand the basics of justice, mercy, and faith (23:23). They repeatedly reject Jesus and conspire against him, thus conspiring against the very purposes of God.

The “infants,” on the other hand, are not regarded as wise or important. They are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, all whom Jesus calls blessed (5:3-12). They are the sick and the lame, the lepers and demon-possessed, the tax collectors and sinners, who come to Jesus for healing of body and spirit. It is God’s gracious will to act in ways that confound human wisdom (11:26), and so these “infants” see what the “wise” cannot — that Jesus is sent by the Father and reveals the Father (11:27).

Jesus’ prayer then turns to invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (11:28). Who are the ones laboring wearily (kopiao) and heavily burdened (fortizo)? Again, it is the common people rather than their leaders. Later in Matthew, Jesus chastises the scribes and Pharisees because “they tie up heavy burdens (fortion), hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (23:4). The heavy burden they lay on the people is not the law per se; it is rather their particular interpretation and practice of the law, which, for instance, excludes from meals the ritually unclean (9:10-13), places restrictions on the Sabbath that ignore human need (12:1-14), is zealous about tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but neglects the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (23:23).

The religious leaders in Matthew’s story are also complicit with the Roman rulers in maintaining the imperial system. The common people labor wearily under Roman occupation, in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the lowly. Jesus rejects this social order as contrary to God’s will: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (20:25-28).

To all those laboring under harsh religious and political systems, Jesus says, “Come to me… and I will give you rest.” Rest (anapausis) in the Septuagint can refer to Sabbath rest, the rest of death, or rest from war when Israel’s enemies have been subdued. Rest also functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising “rest,” Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing into being.

Jesus further invites the weary: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:29-30). The yoke was a familiar symbol of burden bearing, oppression, and subjugation. Yokes were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen and also on prisoners of war and slaves. But “yoke” was also used metaphorically with positive connotations, as in the invitation to wisdom in Sirach 51:26, “Put your neck under her yoke, and let your souls receive instruction,” and as a rabbinic metaphor for the difficult but joyous task of obedience to Torah.

What is the yoke Jesus offers? We might infer that it is his teaching, his way of discipleship, which is not burdensome but life-giving. He invites the weary to learn from him, for he is not a tyrant who lords it over his disciples, but is “gentle and humble in heart.” His yoke is easy (chrestos, better translated “good” or “kind”) and his burden is light. To take his yoke upon oneself is to be yoked to the one in whom God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion is breaking into this world, and to find the rest for which the soul longs.

Preachers will find rich treasure in this text, for themselves and for their congregations filled with people who are “weary and carrying heavy burdens” of many and various kinds, deeply longing for rest. To all who are weary to the bone and weighed down, Jesus says, “Come to me… and I will give you rest.”

It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery. It is life yoked to Jesus under God’s gracious and merciful reign, free from the burden of sin and the need to prove oneself, free to rest deeply and securely in God’s grace.

First Reading

Commentary on Zechariah 9:9-12

James Limburg

For me at least, this is one of those biblical texts that cannot be read without hearing music. In the midst of puzzling over the visions and sayings of Zechariah, it comes as a refreshing surprise to find the words of our lectionary text for today.

With Zechariah 9:9, I hear a soprano somewhere singing that melody, “Rejoice, rejoice, rejoi-oi-oi-oi-oice greatly!” from Handel’s Messiah. The great composer’s instincts were correct. This is one of those Old Testament texts properly classified as “messianic.”

The Royal Psalms as Seedbed for Messianic Hope
We may recall that the seedbed for messianic hope in the Old Testament was the royal psalms, that is, psalms that played a role in the life of the king. These psalms originated and originally functioned during the time of the monarchy, from David (1000 B.C.E.) to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. They include psalms for a royal wedding (45), an inauguration (2, 72, 101, 110), and other occasions (the list also includes 18, 20, 21 89, 132, 144). These psalms speak of the king in extravagant language, declaring that he will be victorious and rule over the nations of the earth (2:8-9; 72:8-11,19) with justice and righteousness (72:1) and with special concern for the poor and powerless (72:2-4, 12-14). He will bring about shalom (72:3). The king is called messiah, translated “anointed” (2:2; 45:7) and even son of God (2:7), seated at the LORD’s right hand (110:1). These extravagant expectations laid a “magnificent purple robe” on the shoulders of each of the young successors of David.1

As history played itself out, however, king after king failed to measure up to these expectations. But when the period of the monarchy had passed, with the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, the royal psalms continued to be used in the people’s worship, now expressing hope for an ideal king who would come in the future.

Messianic Hope in the Prophets
The prophets gave these hopes new expression. Isaiah spoke of a king coming from the line of David who would establish peace and rule with justice and righteousness forevermore (Psalms 72; 89:4; Isaiah 9:2-7). He spoke of a new David, a “shoot from the stump of Jesse,” who would be concerned for the poor, rule with righteousness, and bring about shalom, pictured as peace among people and animals (Psalm 72; Isaiah 11:1-9). Jeremiah promised a “righteous branch” from David’s line, who would rule with justice and righteousness and bring about a time of peace (Psalms 72; 89:4; Jeremiah 23:5-6). Micah identified David’s home town Bethlehem as the place from where the king would come and promised that he would rule to the ends of the earth and bring about peace (Psalm 2; Psalm 72; Micah 5:2-5). Today’s lectionary text should be seen in the context of this great stream of hope for a coming Messiah.

The Book of Zechariah
The book of Zechariah falls into two major sections. The date for the material in “First Zechariah,” Chapters 1-8, is given as from the second to the fourth years of Darius, who ruled the Persian empire from 522-486 BCE, thus 520-518 BCE. Dating of the material in “Second Zechariah,” Chapters 9-14, is not so easy. Here is an anonymous collection of sayings, dating from some time later than the material in chapters 1-8.

Chapters 9-14 divide into 9-11 and 12-14, each section introduced as “An Oracle.” Chapter 9 leads off with a series of prophetic sayings against a string of foreign cities whose residents are enemies of Jerusalem; compare Amos 1-2. The LORD is portrayed here as the “Divine Warrior,” sweeping down the Mediterranean coast and destroying Jerusalem’s enemies (1:1-8).

Reading the Text
The lectionary text for today picks up at this point. News of the destruction of these enemies is cause for rejoicing in Jerusalem, here named “daughter Zion” or “daughter Jerusalem.” There is another cause for rejoicing. Triumphant and celebrating victory, a king is portrayed as entering the city. There is something unusual about this king. He does not come mounted on a white charger, riding high and looking out over his people. This king comes “humble and riding on a donkey.”

But make no mistake about it. Though a king of a different sort, this is the king! Verse 10 begins to sound the familiar messianic melodies from the royal psalms and the earlier prophets. He will initiate a disarmament program; compare Isaiah 2:2-5. His rule will result in shalom, peace, for all nations, extending “from sea to (shining!) sea”; compare Psalms 2, 72 and Isaiah 9.

Zechariah 9 concludes with more good news for the people of Jerusalem, announcing freedom for prisoners (11-12), further victories (13), and goodness and beauty for all (16-17).

Toward a sermon: “What’s In Our Name?”
What might all of this mean for us? All four Gospels identify the events of what we call Palm Sunday as the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-38; see especially Matt 21:1-11 and John 12:12-19). We ourselves are those people who identify the one who rode on that donkey as the long-awaited King or Messiah, promised in those writings we call our Old Testament.

As Christ-ians or Messiah-ists, we are people who confess that this–Jesus who was crucified and raised from the dead, is our Messiah, our King, our Master. We confess that through his death this Jesus has saved us from sin, death, and all the powers of evil. We are those people who thank God for sending this Jesus the Messiah into the world for us so that we Messiah-people need not live haunted by guilt and sin and so that death will not for us be the end.

1Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology I (New York: Harper & Row, 1962) 323-324.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Juliana Claassens

Genesis 24 constitutes an expansive narrative regarding the quest of finding a wife for Isaac.

The lectionary chooses to only include selections of this chapter, but the preacher would be well served to consider the whole of the narrative.

Genesis 24 fits into the book of Genesis as a whole considering central questions such as whether God’s promise of progeny, land and protection will be realized. In the matriarchal and patriarchal narratives that make up the narrative cycles in the book of Genesis, it is evident that throughout each generation, God’s faithfulness has to be discovered anew. In Genesis 24, it is Isaac who discovers that God was not only faithful to Abraham, but that God’s faithfulness extends to a new generation as well.

The topic of Genesis 24 is the question many young men and women ask when they come of age, and that is where do I get a wife or husband? In the case of Genesis 24 this question is all the more pressing as Isaac needs a wife so that God’s promise of progeny may be fulfilled. In Genesis 25:20 it is said that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah, in any age, and particularly in that time, quite a late stage to be a bachelor. It may not have been easy to find a wife as the family lived outside of their land, particularly as Abraham is adamant in verse 37 that Isaac should not marry a local Canaanite girl, but a good Aramean wife that offered a shared background and roots from Abrahams’ early life (cf. Abraham’s instructions to the servant in verse 10 to go to the city of Nahor, Aram-naharaim).

This drawn-out account of finding Isaac a wife in the end turns into a love story, when the narrative has a happy ending.  In verse 67 it is said that Isaac married Rebekah, taking her to his mother’s old tent, and thereby instating her as the new matriarch of the clan. Moreover, the events of Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage are nicely joined together when his marriage to Rebekah is said to comfort Isaac after the death of his mother. And most significantly, Isaac is said to love Rebekah — one of the few instances in the Hebrew Bible in which love language is used to describe the relationship between a man and a woman.

So on one level, the account of Isaac finding a wife has a quite secular topic and outcome, suggesting something of the ordinary cycles of life and death that form the backdrop of many of the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs. However, this ordinary story of finding a wife for a sworn bachelor, which takes human experience seriously, is given a religious flavour as the theme of God’s blessing and guidance is introduced as a central part of the narrative.

So in verses 35-36, the servant’s pitch to Laban’s family with regard to the marriage proposal coming from his master’s Abrahams’ family, we read the servant’s interpretation of Abraham’s life, saying that God has richly blessed Abraham with many possessions as well as a miracle baby when his wife Sarah was already old. Also in verses 42ff we read how Rebekah is as well as considered to be an answer to prayer, for even before the servant concluded his prayer, Rebekah came along, giving not only water to him but also to all his camels (an image that particularly vividly attests to her generosity and commitment seeing that camels drink many gallons of water and she only has a singular water jug!). In verse 48, the servant looks at these ordinary events with eyes of faith when he professes that God has led him by the right way to accomplish his employer’s charge to him.

It is furthermore important to note the role that Rebekah plays in this narrative. This young woman who comes from a line of impressive matriarchs (Rebekah being the granddaughter of Milkah, wife of Nahor in verse 47) is portrayed in a few lines as a courageous, independent woman. When her family seeks to delay her departure, and the servant insists that they leave sooner, Rebekah is called in and asked her opinion that would settle the matter, suggesting a remarkable instance of female agency in the patriarchal context of the biblical traditions. Moreover, her decision to move away from her family and her land, to marry a man upon whom she has never set eyes, parallels the courageous actions of Abraham leaving all that is known to depart on a journey into an unknown future, accompanied only by the generous promises of God.

In the account of Rebekah leaving her home, an interesting reference is made to Rebekah’s nurse that is accompanying her on the next phase of her life (verse 59). In Genesis 35:8 we will once again hear about this nurse, named Deborah, when we read about the death and burial of this woman and especially how Rebekah mourned the death of her nurse.

This reference to the nurse, whose name is remembered in subsequent chapters, attests to the significance this woman held in the communal memory. In particular, this woman had a prominent place in the life of Rebekah, offering the link between her past life and her future life. The accompanying presence of Rebekah’s nurse moreover attests to the hope and the expectation for the many children that will come from this marriage between Isaac and Rebekah (cf. also the blessing by Rebekah’s family in verse 60 that she will be richly blessed with children who will be strong enough to overcome their enemies).

Finally, the fact that God is considered to be not above the ordinary life events with which people busy themselves; the challenges of finding a suitable life partner or the joy of finding one’s soul mate offers an important theological perspective regarding a God who is a personal God; a God who is deeply committed to and involved with God’s creation.


Commentary on Psalm 145:8-14

Scott Shauf

Psalm 145 is an acrostic in Hebrew,

with verse one beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second verse with the second letter, and so on down to the last verse beginning with the last letter (verse 13 covers two letters). Each verse is divided into two parts, which the NRSV and most other English translations make into separate lines. As translations cannot convey the acrostic structure easily, the psalm may come across as slightly disjointed to many readers and hearers, reading as a series of somewhat loosely connected statements. But what does unite them all is the theme of praise–from start to finish this is a psalm of praise to God.

The lectionary selection, verses 8-14, covers eight lines of the acrostic, the Hebrew letters het to samek. The first two and last two lines (verses 8-9, 13b-14) testify to important features of God’s character and dealings with humans. The middle four lines (verses 10-13a) are addressed directly to God and focus on the glory and eternal nature of God’s kingdom. This alternation between testimony and direct address is common in the psalms and, indeed, is characteristic of authentic worship in general, which must always balance out prayer and testimony, praise and proclamation, confession and profession.

Verse 8 is a paraphrase of God’s self-revelation to Moses at Sinai: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). This initial divine self-revelation was an important source of reflection for later Old Testament writers, who quote or paraphrase it often, including in the Psalms (e.g. Numbers 14:18; Joel 2:13; Psalms 86:15, 103:8). For the people of Israel, God’s gracious and merciful nature, God’s slowness to anger and abundance of “steadfast love” (Hebrew khesed) are foundational in forming the people’s relationship to God.

What is especially noteworthy about Psalm 145 is how the gracious character of God, initially revealed as a part of God’s relationship to Israel, is then extended to all of creation. Verse 8 reflects Israel’s traditional core understanding of God’s disposition towards Israel itself. Verse 9, however, immediately broadens the recipients of this disposition to include everyone: “The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” The word “all” appears over and over in verses 9-14, a strong indication of the comprehensive scope celebrated in the psalm of God’s gracious dealings with the entire creation.

While verses 8-9 proclaim the gracious character of God, verse 10 begins the section of direct address to God. Fittingly, the grammatical subject shifts from God to those addressing God, stated as “all your works” in the opening part of the verse. Just as verse 9 asserted God’s goodness to all, so verse 10 reciprocates: “All your works shall give thanks to you.” The reference to God’s “works” picks up on the language at the end of verse 9–God’s compassion is given to “all that he has made.” Just as God’s own creation is the recipient of God’s compassion, so it is the creation, God’s own works, who return thanks. The phrases “that he has made” (verse 9) and “works” (verse 10) in the NRSV actually translate the same Hebrew word, a connection that is clearer in some other translations.

How is it possible that all of God’s works will return thanks to their creator? The second half of verse 10 and verses 11-12 explain. At first glance, it might appear that verse 10b re-narrows the scope of God’s relationships with humans: “your faithful shall bless you” (the NRSV’s “all” here is not present in the Hebrew). Is the concern now only with God’s chosen people? The exposition in verses 11-12 of the way in which the faithful will bless God makes it clear that the expansive character of God’s grace is still in view. The faithful will bless God by testifying “to all people” (literally, “to the children of humankind” or even “to the children of Adam”). The faithful will testify of God’s glory, power, and mighty deeds. These verses thus present a certain challenge to God’s people–it is their task to proclaim God’s kingdom and mighty acts to all people, so that all of God’s creation may then give thanks to God in return.

The notion of God’s “kingdom” is central in verses 11-13a. Verses 11-12 speak of the glory of God’s kingdom twice. In verse 13a (the mem line), God’s kingdom becomes the subject of the sentence, and both halves of verse 13a express the eternal nature of God’s kingdom. This eternal nature naturally contrasts with the transient nature of all human kingdoms, and all other human institutions, for that matter. Similarly, the glory and splendor of God’s kingdom bring to naught any claims of glory that might be asserted by human governments or other institutions. Jesus memorably spoke of God’s kingdom as the treasure and pearl of highest value, worth selling all one has to obtain (Matthew 13:44-46).

Verses 13b-14 return to testimony of God’s character and deeds, as in verses 8-9. God’s faithfulness and grace are proclaimed, and as in verse 9 the emphasis is that they are present in “all” that God does–and therefore extend to all to whom God does them! Verse 14 concludes our reading with a turn of emphasis that is perhaps surprising at this point in the psalm–God’s care for the fallen and bowed down. Though not a major point thus far, this picks up on the language of mercy and compassion from verses 8-9 and again emphasizes the universal outreach of God–two more uses of the word “all.” Just as importantly, the verse reminds us that God’s glory and might does not merely contrast with human frailty. Rather, in God’s kingdom the frail and suffering are raised up and upheld by God’s glory and might.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 7:15-25a

Walter F. Taylor, Jr.

Our toddler granddaughter is learning how to talk and has a wonderful way of lengthening the word “no.”

Recently I caught her sitting in front of an electrical outlet.  “Nooo,” she said to herself.  “Nooo, … nooo”–and then she reached her hand toward the outlet.  Grandpa was there to say another kind of “no”!  She knew she shouldn’t touch the outlet, but she was ready to do it–and so are we with all the “outlets” that lead to broken relationships and ultimately to death.

Our granddaughter already knows the dynamics of Romans 7:15-25a:  “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (verse 15).  We know what is right–we just do not do it.  The gap between willing and doing is a universal phenomenon. 

The key to the interpretation and proclamation of this passage is the identification of the “I.”  Theories abound, and much exegetical ink has been spilled.

  • The “I” equals Paul’s pre-Christian life, in which he was dissatisfied with God and with legalism; what we have in Romans 7 is essentially Paul’s pre-Christ diary.  Paul himself, however, does not show that dissatisfaction; see Galatians 1:13-17 and Philippians 3:4-6. 
  • The “I” equals the Christian.  But how does that fit with all of the passages that speak of the believer as free from sin?  See, for example, Romans 6:2, 6, 7, 11, 17, 22; 7:6.
  • The “I” equals Adam or humanity as determined by Adam (Romans 5:15-19).
  • The “I” is the sinner, but the sinner (or perhaps Paul himself) viewed from the perspective of one who has been justified.  The now justified person re-evaluates his/her pre-Christ life.
  • But finally, perhaps the “I” is at least in part the present-day Christian.  So Dunn wonders why Paul devoted so much space to our passage’s concern if the temptation to sin was firmly in the past (bullet two).  The anguish of our text sounds fresh.  Dunn’s solution is the interplay of the “already–but not yet.”  In 7:4-6 he sees a strong statement of the “already,” but in 7:14-24 Paul details the gravity of the “not yet.”1 For now the believer is caught in-between.

The pericope is carefully constructed in a point to counter-point pattern.  Often the juxtaposition occurs within one verse, as in 15b-c, 18c-d, 19a-b, or between two verses as in 16-17.  There is a strong sense of an internal debate, but ultimately any balance between willing and doing is lost, and the text indicates the desperate situation of the person who can will the right things but is powerless to do them–that is, it indicates our desperate situation when left to ourselves.

The basic situation is outlined in verse 15: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Somewhat oddly, that results in the statement that because the “I” knows the gap between willing and doing, that shows “that the law is good.”  The sense is that the law is not to blame for the “I’s” evil actions.  Where, then, does the problem lie?  Verse 17:  “in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”  Wonderful!  Then I must be off the hook–no responsibility for me. 

When most Americans hear the word sin they think of individual acts of sinning.  While Paul can use the word that way, his basic understanding of sin is that it is a power–sin with a capital “S.”  Does that Sin absolve people of responsibility?  Not at all, if we remember that in 5:12 Paul said that the individual has bought into the matrix of Sin by participating in it. 

The situation is similar to addiction.  At the beginning of the addiction, the person freely chooses to ingest the addicting substance, but soon that substance controls the individual, whose life becomes dominated by seeking the next drink or the next fix.  Thus the person has both bought into the addiction at one level, while being overwhelmed by it at another.  And so “it is the sin that dwells within me” that is in charge.

Verse 18a:  “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.”  Flesh (sarks) is readily confused with the concept of body (soma).  Paul’s normative use of body is positive.  The body is a gift of God, and it is in the body that the believer is called to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:20).  Flesh, on the other hand, is the short-hand term Paul uses when he wants to designate a body or life that is being misused, that is, a body that is controlled by Sin.  The positive body in that case has become the negative flesh.  It is important to realize that body and flesh do not usually in Paul mean the same thing.  And that is why nothing good can dwell in the “I’s” flesh.

Verses 21-24 express the person’s conflict in different language.  At one level the person is able to recognize and rejoice in the goodness of God’s law, but at another level the person sees a great war going on in his/her life.  In that war “the law of sin that dwells in my members” takes the person captive.  There is a war going on, and Sin is taking its prisoners!  The result is hopelessness.  “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” the “I” cries out.  And the answer?  “God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The burdens people carry are great.  The conflict within each person is stark and at times overwhelming.  Romans 7 has its answer.  And so does our Gospel, Matthew 11:28-30, where the same Jesus promises to carry our heavy burdens and give us rest.  Jesus knows the gap in our lives, and he invites us to rely on him.

1 James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle [Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1998], 472-81