Lectionary Commentaries for October 30, 2011
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

Sharon H. Ringe

As a resident of Washington, DC, I recognize political rhetoric, caricatures, and trash-talk when I hear them, and I hear them loud and clear in Matthew 23:1-12.

Allegedly the context is Jesus’ confrontation with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. In the previous two chapters we have encountered the vehemence of that confrontation, but here Jesus’ opponents are not the temple officials (“chief priests and elders” — 21:23), but the Pharisees and, presumably, the scribes who worked with and for them (23:1).

While the Pharisees, a group of lay leaders whose authority lay in their ability to interpret Torah, certainly had a voice in Jesus’ day, it was after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE that they emerged as the primary representatives of the Jewish leadership. The confrontation represented here seems, then, to be the increasingly bitter conflict between the Jewish “congregation” (synagogue) of Matthew’s city and the small group of those “called out” (ekklesia) as Matthew’s church. Theirs was a family fight, and the name-calling and harsh rhetoric flourished. 

There were a number of issues dividing the two groups. The Greek terms used to identify them, synagogue and ekklesia, have led many Christian interpreters to frame this as the opening salvo in the Christian polemic against Judaism that has characterized far too much of our shared history. It is important to note, however, that Matthew has Jesus begin by acknowledging the powerful political and social position of the Pharisees, and the unassailable ground of their authority: they “sit on Moses’ seat” (23:2).

What they “say” when they cite the Scriptures is good, but as we have seen through this Gospel, Jesus and his followers do not accept their interpretation (see, for example, 12:3, 5; 19:4, 8-9); 21:16; 22:29, 44-45). The official occupants of “Moses’ seat” (verse 2) can neither interpret them nor follow them, so Jesus’ (and the church’s) instruction is to follow the Scripture that they read, but not to copy what the Pharisees do or follow what they preach (23:3).

Verses 4-10 detail points at which the Pharisees do or counsel things that are inappropriate in the eyes of Jesus’ followers. Clearly they are not telling people that Torah permits theft, murder, covetousness, or other such obviously immoral activities. Rather, the list here turns on issues of justice or status.

The first of the things criticized, heavy burdens imposed on others (verse 4), evokes Jesus’ own ministry, where the requirements of such things as Sabbath observance and purity codes are identified as impossible for poor peasants or the urban poor to follow (8:1-9:8; 12:1-12, for example). The detailed emphasis on following these laws was central to the teaching of the Pharisees, and not taking care to mitigate such things for people marginalized by their society, added the burden of religious approbation to the burdens of poverty–disdain on top of suffering.

The Pharisees’ desire for prestige and honor comes under fire next, with the accusation that they act solely in order to win praise from others. They wear showy prayer shawls with long fringes that will draw attention to themselves, and they always want to be in the most conspicuous places so that folks will see them, treat them with deference, and reward them with titles of honor (verses 5-7).

“Rabbi,” “father,” and “instructor” are specific titles to be shunned (verses 8-10) by Matthew’s community. These are all titles that carry both status and authority in the value system of the Empire. “Father” in particular was the term for the head of a household, whose total life-or-death authority mirrored the role of the emperor. To seek such roles and titles would be seen as desirable and in conformity to the hierarchical values of the Roman Empire, but those values should not prevail for Jesus’ followers.

For them the vision and practice of an egalitarian community, with God and the Messiah as the only authorities to be accorded honor and obeisance, are hallmarks they share with the divine reign whose coming Jesus proclaimed.

The reversals portrayed in verses 11-12 repeat earlier statements in the Gospel about servant hood and humility that are to characterize life in Matthew’s community (see 11:24; 1:1-6; 19: 13-15; 20:20-28). The tenses of the verbs in verses 11-12 make the author’s point clear, namely that one’s present action and attitudes relative to status and dominance will have consequences in God’s eschatological judgment.

It is likely that such differences in the core values of the communities, and not any cultic or doctrinal positions, were the real points of tension that threatened to divide Matthew’s group from the surrounding “synagogue”/congregation. Both groups were trying to negotiate life under Roman rule, and they drew the line allowing no further compromise at different points.

To what extent their positions were shaped by the social and economic status of their members, and to what extent those positions stem from particular readings of Torah, we can never know for certain. Suffice it to say that we heirs of Matthew’s community soon adopted the culturally more comfortable view that this text is opposing. We have become the targets of what began as our own community’s rhetoric and trash-talk about those we consider “other.”

First Reading

Commentary on Micah 3:5-12

Fred Gaiser

This year, at least for many, Pentecost 20 is also Reformation Sunday, but we really need not change or manipulate the texts chosen for the former in order to observe the latter.

A primary goal of the Reformation was and is sola scriptura, so preaching any text — actually paying attention to a particular text — will always be a Reformation sermon. And Micah 3 will work especially well, since it pretty much disallows the kind of triumphalistic celebration of ourselves that we sometimes hear on or around October 31 (“Hey, Martin got it right, and so do we!”).

Nobody gets much right in Micah. He was one of those eighth-century prophets (along with First Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea) who had the unhappy call “to declare to Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). The problem, in Micah’s view (not to mention God’s) was the failure of God’s people to care adequately for — indeed, even to exploit — those whom Jesus (following in this same prophetic train) will eventually call “the least of these who are members of my family” (Matthew 25:40).

Alongside this lack of concern for social justice — especially by the rulers of the day — Micah criticized a kind of worship that simply mirrored or idolized the prevailing culture and whose preachers were all too willing to say whatever people wanted to hear. Twentieth-century biblical archeologist and historian Roland de Vaux uses, as a symbol of the eighth-century evils that enraged the prophets, his discoveries at the village of Tirsah (some seven miles northeast of Nablus), where, as he writes: “The houses of the tenth century B.C. are all of the same size and arrangement. Each represents the dwelling of a family which lived in the same way as its neighbors. The contrast is striking when we pass to the eighth century houses on the same site: the rich houses are bigger and better built and in a different quarter from that where the poor houses are huddled together.”1

As de Vaux notes, a “social revolution” separates these two centuries. Monarchy and temple had produced a distinction between the haves and have nots unlike anything known in an earlier agricultural Israel. There is probably no halting “progress,” then or now, but Micah makes clear that God will have no interest in preserving or protecting a form of “progress” that is built on the backs of some for the benefit of others.

For Micah, the chief sinners in all this are the establishment figures — rulers, priests, judges — who have the power to make things happen, but who wield that power unjustly and unequally. The preacher must be both bold and careful here: boldly declaring that, throughout the Bible, equal justice and care for the poor are not optional — and that the consequences are severe; but being careful not to embrace too quickly (or at least, giving “divine” sanction too quickly) to a particular program or party of social or political reform.

The prophets were not “social reformers” in that they pushed particular political agendas; they were more like fire alarms. Somebody has to yell, “Fire!” before others determine whether this particular conflagration requires a class A, B, or C extinguisher. The prophets are more the former than the latter, performing that essential first function of announcing that, no, we are not okay. In biblical faith, the alarm the prophets sound is God’s own, of course. People are dying here, and it is profoundly not okay.

And who (now) are the corrupt rulers and religious leaders to whom the prophet’s message must be applied? There are, of course, particular egregious examples that are properly denounced, but in a society and in churches where all have much more individual responsibility than that given folks of the eighth century B.C., Micah’s words must be addressed to all.

Micah was neither a Republican (though he based his arguments firmly in Israel’s conservative traditions) nor a Democrat (though he liberally denounced injustice to the downtrodden); indeed, Micah knew nothing of democratic government or global economics. The preacher of Micah’s texts is called not to be partisan, but to proclaim to all — in language as direct as that of this text — that God will not put up with injustice to the poor and self-satisfied arrogance of the wealthy and the powerful.

Republicans and Democrats may disagree about whether the primary responsibility for social and economic justice lies in the private or the public sector, but, again, the concern itself is not optional, at least not for those who read and believe the Bible. In our own society, where we all claim independence and share responsibility, the text is addressed to each of us, and it will let no private party and no public or governmental enterprise off the hook. God is Lord of all.

Similarly, as Micah attacks the “prophets” who lead people astray, while claiming for himself the presence of God’s spirit, the preacher will remind Christians that we claim and believe that God’s Spirit has now been poured out on all and that therefore all of us — that is, particularly believers — are addressed and challenged by this text.

One of Micah’s most surprising pronouncements is the destruction of Jerusalem itself (verse 12). A strong identification of God and temple, Jerusalem and the kingdom of God, had made many regard Zion as inviolable. God certainly could never attack God’s own city! Yet, Micah claims otherwise. Apparently, God’s city can cancel that identification by failing to follow the (rather simple) “rules” that God has given.

Doing “religion” properly will not suffice. Doing it improperly (that is, identifying religion and culture; serving whatever gods the culture has established) will be worse. One thing matters for Micah’s God, as we have heard so often: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).

Sounding the fire alarm is an essential duty of the preacher, but people will only respond if they know there is a secure place to flee. Thus, the sermon will have to assure them of God’s unqualified grace through Jesus Christ, in whom they will be able at last to give no thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:25-33), thus becoming free to give of themselves and their possessions to those in greater need. And again, for believers and for God, doing this is not an optional activity.

1Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, trans. John McHugh (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961) 72-73.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Joshua 3:7-17

Carolyn J. Sharp

The story of the crossing of the Jordan highlights the authorization of Joshua’s leadership and demonstrates that sustained attentiveness to sacred tradition is foundational for Israel’s cultural identity.

This passage is of profound significance for Christian understanding of what it means to be formed in faith as a community that claims spiritual rootage in ancient Israel.

We listen for the authority of new vocations just as Israel did; we gather around Scripture just as Israel did. This story also demonstrates the seriousness with which ancient Israelite traditions explored the motif of journeying through liminal spaces toward fulfillment of the purposes of God. Our passage is of paramount importance as witness to the unsettling God who calls us into places of wilderness and challenges us to cross boundaries in our own spiritual journeys.

The Israelites had traveled through the wilderness for forty years, wrestling with deprivation, threats, and deep anxiety. Their deliverance from Egypt was only the beginning of their reformation as God’s people: they had to learn and relearn the truth that their God was mighty to save and swift to punish. Arriving at Sinai, they had claimed their covenantal identity in God’s marvelous and terrifying gift of the Law, the means by which they would draw near to Holiness itself and, on occasion, convict themselves of sin.

But ironically, the defining moment of grace atop Sinai had been met at the foot of the holy mountain by a defining moment of faithlessness. In the fraught pause before Moses returned with the Ten Commandments, the people had yielded to anxiety, trying to force the unfolding of a new narrative of their own making (“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” Exodus 32:4) and suffering fatal consequences.

Their journey toward Canaan would continue to be marked by risk. The destruction of Nadab and Abihu for offering “unholy fire” (Leviticus 10:1-7) and the divine fire and plague upon those who craved meat (Numbers 11) underline what was at stake as the Israelites negotiated the landscape, geographical and spiritual, that lay before them.

Our passage opens with God’s reassurance that the divine presence will be with Joshua just as it had been with Moses. This is not simply God ratifying Joshua’s promotion. God’s presence has been crucial for the survival of the people from the beginning of their wilderness journeying. Lack of drinking water had provoked Israel’s fear that God might have abandoned them: “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7), and after the Golden Calf debacle, Moses had implored God to remain present with this people (“If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here,” Exodus 33:15).

The Divine Warrior’s presence at the vanguard of Israel’s forces was, per holy-war ideology, vital for Israel’s success in military conflicts. Our passage is not so much about Joshua’s stature as about God’s continuing provision for God’s people through the Law, through Moses and Joshua, through the prophets, and through new leaders and new means of grace in subsequent generations (Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Isaiah 61; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 5; Hebrews 3-4).

Israel stands on the banks of the Jordan, poised on the brink of fulfillment of the promises of God. The story of the crossing places the ark of the LORD decisively at the center of the narrative action. The threat here is real, for the river is at flood stage. The ark goes before Israel into the waters of the Jordan, showing that “the living God” (verse 10), the “Lord of all the earth” (verse 13), is sovereign even in the most dangerous moments of Israel’s journey.

Parallels with the crossing of the Red Sea are transparently clear, as interpreters have seen from the similarity of content and a shared, rare Hebrew term for how the waters appear (as in a “heap,” Exodus 15:8 and Joshua 3:13, 16). Where the angel and pillar of cloud/fire were crucial as front and rear guard during the exodus from Egypt, here the focus on the ark emphasizes the indwelling of God’s holiness in the midst of Israel.

Israel’s deep reflection on its sacred traditions is visible not only in this story’s attentiveness to the narrative of the crossing of the Red Sea, but also in the editorial interventions within our passage. Several hands have worked on the literary shaping of Joshua 3-4. Many literary cues suggest this: the awkward interpolation about the selection of twelve men (3:12; their role will not be important until later); competing images of the priests as standing at the edge of the water (3:8, 13, 15) and in the middle of the riverbed (3:17; 4:3, 18); and most telling, the variant regarding whether the twelve memorial stones are to be set up in the camp on the far side of the Jordan (4:2-8, 20) or in the middle of the Jordan (4:9).

Deft indeed are the narratological techniques, including editorial framing and resumptive repetition, which shape the story into a coherent whole. The complexity of the final form reveals an Israel gathered reflectively around its ancient traditions, cherishing and preserving even contestatory moments as essential parts of an organic whole.

This passage offers magnificent riches for homiletics. The preacher might invite believers to look for God’s holiness at liminal times in their own spiritual journeys. One could explore this passage’s Exodus resonances as evidence that God offers deliverance from captivity not just in one paradigmatic instance but continually in the lives of sinners and whole communities.

Dramatizing the moment when the waters of the Jordan stand in a heap, the preacher might proclaim the saving love of God in Christ as a love which cannot be quenched by many waters (Song of Solomon 8:7), witness to our rebirth through the waters of baptism (Romans 6:3-4; so Origen), or affirm that no obstacle or threat can separate us from the love of God as we struggle toward obedience (Romans 8:31-39).

But the risks of this passage are grave and should be considered prayerfully. The story is bound up in the narrative of Israel’s attempted genocide and colonization of indigenous Canaanite groups (explicitly named in 3:10). Responsible preaching here might celebrate the power of the Gospel as reaching across ethnic, regional, and religious markers of Otherness (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4; Isaiah 11:1-9, 19:24-25; Acts 10) to draw all creation into the knowledge and love of God.


Commentary on Psalm 43

Rolf Jacobson

An Initial Decision: Psalm 43?  Or Psalm 42/43?

Psalm 43, in its canonical placement, is actually the final third of a longer poem which makes up all of Psalm 42-43.1

When considered together, the unified poem consists of three stanzas of equal length, each of which is followed by an identical refrain: 

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. (Psalm 42:3; 42:11; and 43:5)

So, the preacher and worship planner face an initial choice. Will they include all of Psalm 42/43? Or will they select only Psalm 43? If the former, it seems like an obvious move to have the congregation voice the refrain, leaving the majority of the poem for a worship leader to voice. 

If the latter, worship planners may still want to note the power of the closing refrain and to plan some way to set it apart from the remainder of the psalm. (Note that the Revised Common Lectionary, in its choice to include only Psalm 43 and to use 43:3 as a responsorial verse, effectively composes a new poem with a new refrain.) 

Even those preachers who choose to focus only on Psalm 43 will want to have an interpretive grasp of the whole psalm as they prepare to preach on the psalm.

The Situation: Separation from God

This psalm is a song for those moments when one doesn’t feel like singing. It is a poem of faith for those cold nights when one doesn’t feel the flames of faith flickering too warmly in one’s soul. It is a psalm for those times when one feels separate from God.

What person of faith hasn’t felt like that?

The poetic “location” of the psalmist is separation from God. The psalmist charts this spiritual location with a broad range of intense metaphors and pleas. The psalmist longs for God as a thirsting “deer longs for flowing streams” of water (42:1). The psalmist expresses separation from “the face of God” (42:2).

The psalmist was likely a Levitical Temple priest (probably a musician), who remembers being in the presence of God, leading the “procession in the house of God” during the “festival” — the word “festival” (hag) refers to one of the three great celebrations of the Israelite liturgical year: Passover, Weeks (Pentecost), and Booths (42:4). 

But the psalmist is now separated from the Temple — singing to God from a distance, “from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” These exact nature of these geographical references is, in the words of Peter Craigie, “difficult to interpret.”2 Mount Mizar is unknown, while Mount Hermon lies some distance north of the Jordan River. But in context, it is clear that the psalmist is lamenting being separated from God, Temple, and community: “My soul is cast down within me” (42:6b). And the psalmist is surrounded by enemies who oppress and taunt the psalmist (42:10).

The mocking oppression of the psalmist’s enemies is summed up in the haunting taunt: “Where is your God?” In ancient times, the taunt was often spoken by military victors to their defeated captives (see Psalm 79:10; 115:2; 42:3, 10; Micah 7:10; Joel 2:17; cf. also Isaiah 10:9-10). 

In a polytheistic worldview, a conflict between two rival nations might also be imagined as a conflict between their rival gods — with the result that one nation defeating another nation might be imagined as also meaning one god had defeated another god. 

Even though most modern people — especially people of faith — might not imagine the world in such terms any longer, the taunt still can carry the visceral power of a punch in the guts. In 1988, I heard the Apartheid survivor Pastor T. Simon Farisani describe torture he endured at the hands of his oppressors.3 Among other tortures, he described having electrodes attached to his genitals and being shocked, while his torturers laughed, “Where is your God now?” 

The psalmist describes being surrounded by such mocking adversaries “continually” (42:10). 

Not surprisingly, the psalmist asks God, “Why have you forgotten me?” He wonders why a faithful servant who once marched gladly in the procession in the house of God, must now “walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” (twice: 42:9 and 43:3). He asks, “Why have you cast me off?” (43:2).

Such questions aimed at God are not the sign of a weak faith or an absent faith. Rather, such questions are typical of the tenacious faith of the psalmists. Indeed, such challenges to God should be understood as one of the characteristic marks of true biblical faith.

Such questions hold God accountable for the promises that were made to Israel, and the promise of God’s presence that was extended through Jesus Christ — who promises to be with us always, to the end of the ages. Such questions assert that all is not right in the good world that God made — and that God’s people are looking to God to do something (more) about it.

The Hope: Send Out Your Light and Your Truth

Separated from God, from Temple, and from a life-giving community, the psalm writer’s very memories cause pain: “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul” (verse 4); “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you” (verse 6). But the memories of community and worship also spur the psalmist both to trust and hope in God on the one hand, and to demand God’s saving help, on the other hand.

The memories of worship provide the raw material from which the psalmist fashions her or his confession of trust and request for help. Recalling the prayers that are lifted up and the songs that are given voice in worship, the psalmist confesses: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” The psalmist also thrice confesses confidence that “I shall again praise him.” Similarly, most likely recalling the lamps used in the worship procession and “the truth” proclaimed in the Temple, the psalmist prays, “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.”

But perhaps the most important thing to note in the psalm is the thrice-repeated self-admonition of the psalmist: “Hope in God” (42:5; 11; 43:5). The psalmist here is talking to her or his self (or “soul”). With nobody else to offer encouragement, the psalmist encourages her or himself. And the source of that encouragement is neither therapeutic nor personal — it is theological. It must come from “outside of the self.” 

1Whether Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one psalm that was divided into two (similar to Psalm 9-10), or whether Psalm 43 was composed as a later poem to augment or accompany Psalm 42 is not known. The vast majority of commentators treat the two psalms as a unified composition.  See Goldingay, Psalms 42-89 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007); Seybold, Die Psalmen (Tübigen: Mohr, 1996); Psalmed 1-50 (Würzburg: Echter, 1993); and so on.
2Psalms 1-50 (Waco: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 326.
3For more on Farisani’s story, see Diary from a South African Prison, 5th ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1990).

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Holly Hearon

These verses are a continuation of the ‘diary’ begun in 2:1, and further develop the story of how Paul, Silvanus and Timothy conducted themselves among the Thessalonians.

Having dealt with ‘being bearers of the word’ in the previous sermon, I am choosing here to focus on verse 13: “when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” What, exactly, is this ‘word’ that we receive, and that we carry to others? This is a question not so much about content as about the nature of the ‘word’.

A Human Word

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write that the Thessalonians accepted what they heard not as a ‘human word’ but as ‘God’s word’. What exactly is the distinction being drawn here? On the one hand, it can be argued that what the Thessalonians heard and received is precisely a human word: that is, a ‘word’ that is both proclaimed and interpreted by humans, much as we experience the ‘word’ in preaching today.

This is borne out by the fact that when Paul uses the language of ‘word’ (i.e., logos) he is always referring to something that is spoken. The phrase ‘word of God’ in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, then, refers to the message that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy proclaim about Jesus Christ.

This ‘human word’ is what I think of as the incarnational dimension of the ‘word’. It is a ‘word’ that comes to us where we live. That is to say, it is proclaimed by one person to another within the context of and in relation to human culture and experience. How could we possibly understand it otherwise?

It is ‘incarnational’ also, because as a spoken word it is shaped by the intersection of the speaker, audience, and context. The ‘word’ may revolve around a fixed point — in this case, Jesus Christ — but the ‘word’ will be new each time it is spoken, because it is spoken response to the point in time, the social circumstances, the physical space in which the speaker and the audience meet. It becomes in that moment God with us.

Not a Human Word

On the other hand, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy say that the Thessalonians did not hear these words as a ‘human word’ but as ‘God’s word’. I don’t think that what they mean here is that the Thessalonians in some way took Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to be ‘gods’ (such as is reported in an incident in Acts –), nor that they believed the words spoken were not those of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, but the voice of God speaking through them (as an oracle).

I believe that what the Thessalonians recognized was that the words spoken by Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy witnessed to the nature and activity of God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To put it another way, they recognized the very presence of God in the act of proclamation. God is made known and becomes visible at the very point in time, the social circumstances, the physical space in which the speaker and the audience meet. In that moment, we become alert to God with us.

God’s Word

The message that is proclaimed may be, in one sense, a human word, but it is a word that has its origin in the life-generating nature and activity of God. 1 Thessalonians, unlike Romans, offers no grand exposition of ‘God’s word’. Rather, the primary Christological theme in the letter is ‘the coming of the Lord Jesus’ (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:14; 5:9, 23). This single focus underscores the ‘contextual’ nature of proclamation: in this letter the focus is on a particular concern that has arisen within the community of faith.

This is also the way in which God becomes truly known — not in the abstract, but on the ground, in the midst of people’s lives. What Paul, Silvanus and Timothy affirm, in addition, is that the whole of our lives are lived in the presence of God (4:1-2), a cause for thanksgiving, whatever our circumstances (5:18), because the power of God is at work, in life-giving ways.

A word at work

I am struck that the Thessalonians are praised for not only hearing and receiving the ‘word’, but most especially because the word is at work (ergazomai) in them. Two different words (verbs and their cognates) for ‘work’ are used in the letter, but they are closely related: in 1:3 the Thessalonians are commended for their “work of faith (ergon) and labor (kopos) of love” and in 5:12-13, they are urged to “respect those who labor (kopiaō) among you . . . esteem them very highly in love because of their work (ergon).” Paul, Silvanus and Timothy also use the word kopos to refer to their own labor among the Thessalonians: both their physical labor (2:9) so as not to be a burden, and the labor represented by their witness to God’s word (3:5).

How do we know if the ‘word’ is at work within us? Write Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, it will be manifested by works that are expressions of our faith: a labor of love. Just as God’s power is manifested in life-giving ways (see notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10) so, too, the ‘word’ generates in us both the desire and willingness to engage in life-giving activity. This activity includes not only proclamation of the word, but pulling our weight so as not to be a burden (literally engaging in labor that produces sweat), the sharing of ourselves (see notes on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8) and working on behalf of and for the good of the community so that it, too, might incarnate the word of God with us, in power.