Lectionary Commentaries for September 18, 2011
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 20:1-16

Karl Jacobson

What, in a word or two, is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard about?

Before reading any further in this commentary take a moment to re-read Matthew 20:1-16 and think about this question.  The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about ____________________.

If you are anything like me you could re-read this parable a couple of times come up with a slightly different angle on it, depending on the word or phrase you use to summarize the story. This does not mean, of course, that the parable can mean anything, but that there is some complexity to the way the biblical text (and perhaps parables in particular) will strike us. Two things in particular jumped out at me as I read and re-read this parable. So, to answer my own question:

First, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about the 9th (and 10th) commandment. In a very real sense this parable is about coveting. While “covet” may not seem the most obvious word to describe what is going on here, it does fit both the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching and the overarching emphasis in Matthew on the Law and Jesus’ representation of it in a way that transforms our thinking and doing. Coveting lies at the heart of this parable in a couple of ways.

We covet what God chooses to give to others. A parable is essentially an elaborate allegory. We are invited to see ourselves in the story, and then apply it to ourselves. The wages at stake (even at the moment of Jesus’ first telling of the parable) are not actual daily wages for vineyard-laborers, but forgiveness, life, and salvation for believers. We need not literally be laborers in a vineyard, as we are all of us co-workers in the kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:9).

And in relationship, one believer to another, covetousness is a problem. The point here isn’t necessarily that other folks receive blessings from God that we don’t — that they get more or better or lovelier gifts from God. The problem is that they get the same as us; and they don’t deserve it, do they? They are less worthy, or later arrivals, or just plain worse sinners. They don’t deserve the same as we get, do they? Not nothing maybe, but certainly not the same. The parable’s day laborers parallel perfectly with today’s forgiven-sinners in both our pews and pulpits. 

We have a tendency, as the parable aptly illustrates, to covet and to be resentful of what others receive from God. The owner of the vineyard asks those who have worked longest and (presumably) hardest for him, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” The point is that God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness are God’s to give away as God sees fit.

As a direct result of this, we covet God’s power to forgive and God’s control over who is forgiven and how. This parable is perfectly matched in the lectionary to the parable of Jonah, who has run away to avoid delivering the message of forgiveness that God has sent him to proclaim. Jonah complains (complains!), “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing,” and surely this cannot be for them? It is ironic that Jonah, who had earlier declared that “deliverance belongs to the Lord” (2:9, a deliverance he himself has experienced), has rejected the good news of who God is for others.

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about coveting, about our frustration with the grace of God as it applies not to us, but to others.

Second, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about the first and the last. The parable itself displays a reversal of expectations — “the last will be first and the first will be last”; this is not only the summary of the parable (20:16), but a critical aspect of New Testament theology. 

Notice the flow of the narrative as the workers are compensated for their labors: 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  When the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.  And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'”

The last are literally first in that they are paid first. And the first, who have labored longest, must also wait the longest to get theirs. But notice as well that the first who are now last do not receive nothing or less, they receive the same, as the laborers themselves say, “you have made them equal to us….” So perhaps it should be said that the last shall be first, and the first shall be the same.

This element of the parable is taken up in the other Gospels and in Revelation; this scandalous reversal of expectation, of our sense of justice, and even of our hopes, is a central piece of the New Testament. Whoever wants to be first must be last, and servant of all (Mark 9:35); so much for human ideas of greatness. Who is worthy to climb the holy hill, and enter the gate of God’s kingdom? Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last (Luke 13:30). And it is Jesus, who is first and last (Revelation 1:17), who tells us that we need not fear; for in the one who is both first and last, the first and the last are brought together when we are called to lay down the burdens of our days and find our home with God.

The scandal of this parable is that we are all equal recipients of God’s gifts. The scandal of our faith is that we are often covetous and jealous when God’s gifts of forgiveness and life are given to other in equal measure. And the scandal of our preaching, if based on this parable, ought to encompass both.

First Reading

Commentary on Jonah 3:10—4:11

Margaret Odell

For reasons that make the book of Jonah a ripping good story, it takes a good while for Jonah to get to Nineveh.

But when he finally delivers God’s message, the word spreads throughout the city. It even reaches the ears of the king, who proclaims a fast of both humans and beasts. “Who knows?” says the king; perhaps God will change his mind and avert this disaster.

And indeed Nineveh’s repentance does result in God changing his mind. This is when the real fun begins. I knew it! says Jonah. Didn’t I say at the very beginning that you are a merciful god? The rest of the story is God’s answer to Jonah’s complaint, as well as to our own perennial tendency to define and delimit the goodness of God.

Almost from the beginning of the Christian tradition, this little story has fascinated Christian interpreters. Jesus identified himself with Jonah, and Christians have puzzled over the “sign of Jonah” ever since. Matthew understood the sign as an allusion to Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as an indictment of those who rejected Jesus: “The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).

Sadly, Matthew’s triumphant Ninevites are eventually invoked to support the Christian claim that the church has displaced the Jewish people as the elect of God. This, says Martin Luther, is what irks Jonah so: “To think that he should be the first to make Judaism contemptible and superfluous” (W, XIX, 241). But the story of Jonah is not about Jews and Gentiles; much less is it a story of the displacement of one people in God’s affections by another. It is a story about God, Israel, and the nations, but we would do well to see this dynamic in terms of neighbors and enemies, not winners and losers.

Perceiving God’s decision not to punish Nineveh as a “great evil” (NRSV: “very displeasing”), Jonah prays. Some commentators have observed that Jonah’s prayer is pretty bold, as prayers go. However, the Hebrew verb may have a closer connection to prayers of lamentation and complaint, in which case Jonah’s tone is perfectly understandable. Such prayers complain of divine absence and seek the return of God’s favor and mercy. Jonah complains of the very mercy most people seek, since this mercy has been extended to his enemy Nineveh.

Jonah’s statement in 4:2 is a virtual quotation of the first part of God’s revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. In both Exodus 34 and Jonah 4, God’s attributes of mercy appear in conjunction with God’s change of mind (Exodus 32:14), an idiom which indicates the reversal of a decision to execute punishment.1

The question is why mercy for Nineveh should seem an evil to Jonah. One possibility is that Jonah regarded God’s “steadfastness,” or “lovingkindness” as the unique, covenantal possession of Israel. However, it was not unthinkable that God would “change his mind” with regard to the nations. This possibility is raised in Jeremiah 18:7-8: if God plans evil against a nation but it repents, then God would change his mind, and not bring disaster against that nation. The nation in question would have mended its ways and sought to live in accordance with the divine will. There is thus nothing arbitrary or inconsistent in the divine decision to act with mercy; God’s purposes have been achieved.

The story of Jonah can be regarded as a test of the hypothesis set forth in Jeremiah: just how far does this principle extend? Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Nineveh’s deliverance in Jonah’s lifetime means that it will “live to fight another day,” so to speak. And fight it will: in 722 the northern kingdom will be utterly destroyed by the Assyrians, and for much of the next century Judah and Jerusalem will be firmly under the thumb of Assyria as its vassal. God’s mercy for Nineveh appears, then, to come at a cost to Jonah, and to Israel. If that is the case, then the question of God’s mercy might be a question of winners and losers after all.

However, the dialogue between Jonah and God shows no indication that God gives up on Jonah (or Israel) even if Nineveh should be spared. As Jonah waits to see what would happen to the city, God makes a gourd grow up to shelter Jonah and just as quickly causes it to wither by allowing a worm to devour it. Although the exact meaning of the gourd remains uncertain, certain features of the narrative suggest that it is a symbol of Nineveh.

Running throughout this episode is the question of Jonah’s anger. When Nineveh was spared, God had asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Now, when the gourd dries up, God asks the same question: “Is it right for you to be angry about the gourd?” When God remarks that Jonah has done nothing to cultivate or nourish the gourd, it is tempting to hear God telling Jonah he can get rid of his anger by realizing that the gourd (i.e., Nineveh) is not his concern. But this is a story about how God, Israel, and the nations hang together, so perhaps there is another solution to his anger. That solution comes when Jonah can see Nineveh as God sees it.

The author may be suggesting that Nineveh is like a gourd to God. If so, then the author intends to parody Assyria’s own self-understanding as the cosmic tree in whom all the creatures of the earth find their shade. It was a powerful image, lending not only prestige to Assyria but also grounding its world conquests in an ideology promoting its almost immortal power and strength. At least one other prophet, Ezekiel, ridiculed this ideology (see Ezekiel 31).

By presenting Nineveh as a gourd and not a cosmic tree, the author presents an alternative understanding of Nineveh: it is God who plants it, God who allows it to become great, and, eventually, God who brings it down. The gourd is, in effect, God’s counter-complaint to Jonah. “The grass withers, the flower fades” (Isaiah 40:7); so also do apparently enduring kingdoms like Assyria. Knowing as God does what will eventually happen to Nineveh, why would Jonah begrudge God’s pity?

The gourd also grounds the meaning of God’s justice and mercy in God’s identity as Creator. Where Jonah’s declaration of God’s mercy in 4:2 is very closely connected to Israel’s covenantal traditions, the parable of the gourd emphasizes what Jonah also knows, that the God of Israel is also Lord of the Earth and Sea. God’s mercy and justice are therefore rooted not only in God’s commitment to the covenant, but also in the Creator’s commitment to creation. The shift is subtle but significant, because it grounds God’s mercy in the natural order of things. Consider the consequences if God chose arbitrarily to honor some commitments and not others. Should I not pity Nineveh? What would happen to my covenant with Israel if I did not?

In his impressive theological commentary on Jonah, Phillip Cary raises the possibility that God’s question, “should I not pity Nineveh?” is, in effect, God asking Jonah’s permission to love his (Jonah’s) enemies.2 But God does not give Jonah that power; instead, God’s question urges Jonah to see Nineveh as God does. The question is reminiscent of God’s questions to Job about Behemoth and Leviathan. Those questions shattered Job’s narrow definitions of justice; God’s question to Jonah shatters Jonah’s equally constraining conception of mercy. If God pities these poor Ninevites, why in the world does Jonah insist on being angry? If the enemies are God’s concern, then just maybe they should be Jonah’s concern as well.

1See Phillip Cary, Jonah (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible; Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008),  134-135
2Jonah, 158.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 16:2-15

Amy Erickson

“Whine, whine, whine…. Complain, complain, complain. That’s all the Israelites do.”

I often hear this kind of complaint (!) from students. But is that what this story is really about? The stubbornness of the Israelites and their inability to accept their freedom?

My students are picking up on an important theme in the wilderness stories, to be sure. In this passage alone, someone complains or is said to complain seven times in just 14 verses. But are we as readers to conclude that Israelites are ungrateful whiners testing the patience of a long-suffering god? Or is there something more to this story?

This week’s lectionary text contains the second story of the Israelite’s journey through the wilderness. It was only at the end of chapter 15 that they found themselves, by the skin of their teeth, on the other side of the Red Sea and celebrated their freedom from and Yahweh’s victory over Pharaoh. Prior to the events narrated in this passage, they have spent part of that time at an oasis in Elim, perhaps to regain their strength and prepare for the journey to come.

And once they have set out, they find themselves in a battle for survival. The inhospitable environment of what we know as the Sinai Peninsula and southern Israel prompted the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament to imagine this desert wilderness as a land of chaos and death. It is, of course, to the wilderness that Jesus must go to endure forty hunger-filled days of temptation and testing by the devil himself (Luke 4:1-13). The Israelites’ move from the oasis into the depths of the wilderness signifies a move directly into the heart of risk.

The reality television series “Survivor” has shown us what happens to groups of people forced to survive difficult conditions together. They can turn on one another quickly, especially if they’re hungry and thirsty! And they do a good bit of complaining.

But is this story merely trying to tell us that these Israelites are a bunch of no-good complainers and that this is just the beginning of God’s trouble with them?

It might be interesting to take a different sermonic tack here. While the writers cast judgment on Israel’s complaining in Numbers 11-21, after they have made the covenant with God at Mt Sinai in Exodus 20, the narrator in the pre-Sinai tales of wilderness wandering does not depict the Israelites’ behavior in a strictly negative light. Instead theses narratives focus on God’s response.

In verse 3, the people complain specifically against Moses and Aaron and accuse them (not God) of leading them into the wilderness “to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” God responds immediately, telling Moses that he will “rain bread from heaven” (verse 4). There will be enough for that day and that day only, with the exception of the Sabbath. On the sixth day, they can gather enough for the seventh day because God’s food-from-the-sky restaurant will be closed on Sunday. On the Sabbath, both God and God’s people will rest. God indicates that, “in this way, I will test them” (verse 4).

Although God tells Moses all of this, Moses’ speech to the Israelites goes in a remarkably different direction. First of all, Moses never tells the people that God has designed the food gathering rules as a test. And at this point, Moses does not even tell them about the stipulations against storing up the food.

Instead Moses says, “In the evening, you will know that it was Yahweh who brought you out of the land of Egypt and in the morning you will see the glory of Yahweh…” (verse 6). Moses’ words here suggest that the people do not know or do not understand that the god who enacted their deliverance also plans to be with them in the wilderness.

Moses also tells the Israelites that they will see God’s glory — even though God did not mention to Moses that God planned to show up in a cloud. Surely God’s glory does appear in a cloud in verse 10, but the disconnect between God’s words and Moses’ is intriguing. Moses interprets God’s promise to rain food from heaven as a means for the people to come to know their deliverer.

And to know that Yahweh is the one who sends the food, Moses’ speech implies that the people will need to see it to believe it. To connect the action of provision with this god, the people need more than magically appearing bread; they need to see direct — or at least, indirect but strong — evidence that the food gift comes from Yahweh.

The disjunction between what God says to Moses and what Moses then relates to the people is striking because Moses makes some tremendous interpretive leaps. Moses even makes an extravagant promise — that the people will see God — even though God has not said this at all! Perhaps Moses can read the divine mind or there was more to their conversation than what the narrator reports.

Or perhaps Moses’ speech is meant to be overheard by God. As Moses speaks to the hungry and ornery people gathered before him in the wilderness, bent on rebellion, perhaps Moses suggests to God that talk of testing and rules is not really what is called for at this moment. What these tired and starving people, barely surviving in the wilderness, need is something more along the lines of a pep talk, a promise.

After all, what they have seen of God so far is a god of drama, a god who engages in mighty deeds of battle and deliverance. God’s people suffered in Egypt for 400-plus years (according to the biblical chronology) before God heard their cries and acted to liberate them. These people might be justified in worrying that this god, whom they have only recently become acquainted with, may not be the steady and reliable type.

It is remarkable that God responds to the people’s need for assurance and for a promise, accompanied by a visible sign of presence, of provision and guidance. But God does something else in this passage as well. God designs and implements a plan to shape these former slaves into the people of the Yahweh. Prior to their liberation, the Israelites knew only life in Egypt, an empire where they constructed storehouses for food (Exodus 1:11), where they were exposed constantly to a hoarding, competitive ethos, and where human lives were abused and broken in order to fuel the hunger of the elite.

In this passage, God acknowledges not only the Israelites’ need for assurance but also God’s desire to shape them as a different kind of people, a different kind of community. In the ritual practice of daily gathering of food that falls from the sky, they will learn, with their very bodies, to come to trust their god; they will learn to share their basic human resources equitably.

They will come to know a food distribution practice antithetical to the one designed by Pharaoh. And the keeping of the Sabbath will remind them that they are more than technologies of empire; they are human beings who, like their god, require rest and rejuvenation. Even in crisis, with chaos all around, Sabbath practice is essential to their lives and their emerging identities.

In a society shaped by values of consumerism and capitalism, the options for preaching the counter-cultural nuances of this text are rich and multivalent.


Commentary on Psalm 145:1-8

Henry Langknecht

As a response to the first lesson, Psalm 145 was chosen to show how Jonah knew that God was “merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah’s version of verse 8).

But even with that prooftext connection the psalm is an odd companion to the reading from Jonah in that the psalm celebrates God’s gracious character while Jonah, God’s own prophet, resents it.

A sermon developed around this connection will likely end up being more about Jonah than the psalm. The psalm tells us that God’s people pass the stories of God’s work, power, and character down through the generations. The issue to ponder here is why in that process God’s people tend to narrow God’s broad mercy and nationalize the international scope of God’s care. God’s own words in Jonah 4:11 make God’s commitment clear: “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh?” Yet Jonah, who knows the stories, thinks not.

It might be fruitful, if fanciful, to imagine a different connection between Psalm 145 and the first lesson. The psalm could be put onto the lips of the king and people (and even the animals!) of Nineveh as they celebrate their deliverance as God relents from the violence God had intended to rain down on them. Imagine cows throwing off their sackcloth and dancing. A sermon developed around this vision would still have to rely heavily on the psalm’s lectionary connection to Jonah.

But in it the preacher might dare to celebrate all the formerly oppressed people who now sing Psalm 145 after being liberated by the Word of God — even when that Word was delivered to them with little enthusiasm or (worse) with the intent of endorsing their oppression. Perhaps the real “sign of Jonah” is that slaves, women, GLBTQ people, and countless others have heard in the stories of God their freedom proclaimed, even when the storytellers are their oppressors!

Those who elect to tackle preaching on this psalm on its own terms (without reference to the lectionary setting) will face three tricky but surmountable issues.

First is the lack of tension in the psalm. In the appointed verses it’s all good! Simone Weil (among others) has pointed out that as deeply interesting as love and goodness are in real lived life, when it comes to literature (sacred as well as secular), lack of trouble — obstacle, burden, threat, Law — is boring.

It is only when we read to verses 14-20 in the psalm that we encounter the “falling,” the “bowed down,” and the hungry; only then does the outline of a compelling narrative start to emerge. In the appointed verses, narrative tension is only implied — the preacher will have to supply details of the concrete historic actions of God (and the troubles they addressed) to which the psalmist might be referring.

A second tricky issue is locating the current audience (by which I mean whatever Christian community you are preaching to) in the stories and actions that the psalm celebrates. When the psalmist’s generation praises God’s works to the next, that praise is for specific historic political acts. These acts involved God taking sides and making judgments in relation to specific events in the lives of God’s people — among them: migration, Exodus, conquest (as both conqueror and conquered), exile, and return.

It is appropriate for all of God’s people to publish the remembrance of God’s great goodness. But if a sermon on Psalm 145 is to bring that publication home, the preacher will first have both paint a convincing picture of how God’s action then predicts God’s action now and second will have to dare to identify God’s likely disposition now to the sides to be taken and judgments made. If the United States or the Christian Church is playing a role more akin to Pharaoh or Babylon than to slaves or exiles, the remembrance of God’s action takes on a tone less celebrative than the one in Psalm 145.

This brings us to the third tricky issue. When I’m sitting in the pew on September 18 I’d like to hear testimony about whether and how God continues to mightily act in the world, in economies and politics. On account of which concrete historic works of God will we “praise God to the next generations”? What does it mean really to “tell of the might of [God’s] wondrous acts”?

What I’m about to say would not be true for all Christians, but in the discipleship communities of which I’m a member, the perceived arena for God’s concrete involvement is a bit smaller than the psalmist’s. Sure, a few in my circle believe that God intervenes “contrary to nature” in order to heal tumors or keep airplanes aloft. But most of my pew-mates are functional deists who believe that God established the deep processes of creation, set them in motion, and now watches (with love and mercy but sans meddling) as things play out — a subset of this group believes that Jesus reveals the deepest of those deep processes to be the paradoxical power of self-giving.

Others testify that God roams freely and acts mightily only in the personal spiritual realm of their souls, families, congregations and a few will also grant the presence of Holy Spirit at synod and churchwide assemblies. But they would be reluctant to proclaim God’s hand at work in addressing the unemployment rate or peace in the Middle East. Tell us, preacher, is Psalm 145 grandiose pious hyperbole or is there something concrete, historic, and global for us to sing about to our next generations?

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 1:21-30

Susan Eastman

Reciprocating Glory
The first part of today’s lesson from Philippians tells us Paul’s own thinking about his possible impending death at the hands of the Roman authorities.

He writes from prison, not knowing whether he will be released and able to visit his beloved congregation again. One would expect him to feel helpless, caged, at the mercy of a capricious and corrupt empire, yet he writes with an extraordinary sense of freedom. He rejoices that, through the Philippians’ prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, even his present situation will “turn out for my deliverance.”

He adds, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20b-21). Note how comprehensively Paul understands “deliverance” here: it encompasses life and death, and is manifested by his hope of being a fearless witness to Jesus Christ regardless of the outcome of his situation. The word translated “boldness” signifies the confident attitude of a free citizen, in comparison with the fearful subservience of a slave. The freedom of thought and behavior which Paul models entails remarkable indifference to the power of the Roman authorities.

Yet he does hope and expect to be released, so he may see the Philippians again, and so they in turn will give glory to Christ. He glories in them, and they glory in him. Their relationship is one of reciprocating witness and reciprocating glory in the midst of shared struggle. So in the second half of today’s lesson, Paul writes as if his confident boldness is contagious. He expects that the Philippians’ experience will mirror his own. How so?

First, Paul encourages them to live their life “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The Greek work translated “live your life” is politeusthe. Related to the Greek word for city, polis, it has the sense of “live as a free citizen,” “conduct your public life.” As a plural verb, it addresses the Philippian community as a whole, not simply individuals within it. Together, in their public life, they are to live as free citizens — not of Rome, but of God’s coming rule on earth (3:20). Remember, Paul is writing this from jail. As Paul’s followers, the Philippians might anticipate a similar end for themselves.

Secondly, Paul also encourages the Philippians to a public life that will witness to their paradoxical freedom in the gospel. Such a life is marked above all by unity: “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and . . . in no way intimidated by your opponents.”

This is a striking vision of the church’s role in public life. First, it takes its cues from an accused prisoner awaiting possible execution. Second, it exhibits unity. When we consider the portrayals of churches in relationship to contemporary politics, unity is not the descriptor that comes to mind. Mutual recrimination, angry and destructive actions, and hate-mongering rather than confident joy, are more the order of the day. This is hardly a winsome witness to the faith of the gospel. Small, beleaguered, perhaps ostracized or harassed, the Philippians are told simply to hold fast their hope in Christ, without being intimidated by those who oppose them, and implicitly without reacting in fear or hatred.

Thirdly, the Philippians’ refusal to be intimidated by their opponents is a sign of both destruction and salvation. Which way the sign points is a matter of perception. While most translations, including the NRSV, read “their (i.e., the opponents’) destruction,” the possessive pronoun is missing in the Greek, thus leaving the sentence ambiguous. Paul might also be saying that the opponents think the Philippians are heading for destruction, because of the suffering they are experiencing — but the Philippians know better.

They know they are headed for salvation, and that even their suffering is a sign of God’s choice of them and their service of Christ. Once again, they are bound together with Paul in a mutually supportive relationship — they share his conflict and suffering, because their entire struggle is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ (3:10).

Finally, the basis of Paul’s and the Philippians’ confidence is simply this: “this is God’s doing.” It may look like Paul’s jailers are in charge. It may look like the Philippians’ “opponents,” whoever they are, are in charge. But no — God is in charge, and God is the only Savior, “who will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (3:21).

This is the reciprocating glory that animates Paul’s confidence throughout this extraordinary letter — the hope of glory that comes from Christ, and that animates a mutual joy and pride in the relationship between Paul and the Philippians.