Lectionary Commentaries for July 12, 2020
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Holly Hearon

As every gardener knows, it’s all about the soil. Without good soil, worked with compost, seeds cannot flourish.

So it is, also, in the parable of the sower.

  • The seed that lands where the soil has become hardened from being repeatedly walked on simply sits on the surface, waiting to become food for the birds.
  • The seed that falls on rocky soil has difficulty taking root because the soil inhibits the growth of roots, necessary for plants to access the nutrients in the soil.
  • The seed that falls on ground covered in thorns must compete with already well-established, invasive plants and stands little chance.
  • But the seed that falls on the soil that has been prepared, turned over and loosened until it is fine, replenished with nutrients from the decaying matter of leaves, thrives.

So, while the parable of the sower appears to be about the seed, I suggest (because I am a gardener) that it is really about the soil. This means that the parable is really about us—those who hear the “word of the kingdom” (or “kindom” for those who seek less kyriarchal language). We are the soil.

Soil, like human beings, is shaped by its environment. So, if soil is walked on over and over again, beaten down so that it becomes packed hard, it is no longer fit for the planting of seeds. We see this in the human community too. People who have been walked on over, and over, and over again often develop a hardened exterior to protect themselves. Rocky soil, says Jesus, describes those who lack the staying power to deal with—well, rocky ground. When the going gets rough, they go into retreat. The soil filled with thorns easily translates into our overcrowded lives; there is no room in an already overplanted plot for anything more, even with double-digging the beds.

And the good soil? It would be nice if it were as simple as buying a bag of ‘good soil’ at the gardening center. A gardener will tell you, however, that good soil takes years to cultivate. It must be fed, nurtured by the remains of plants that have come and gone. It must be worked and reworked so that it becomes supple, but not worked so hard that its structure is broken down. And it must be replenished, as seeds grow and draw on its nutrients. Good soil can develop in nature, as years of leaves fall and dissolve into the earth. Good soil can also be the work of gardeners, who tend the soil as carefully as they tend the plants.

The parable, of course, doesn’t say anything about gardeners—only sowers. Scattering seed was (and in some places still is) a relatively efficient way to plant a large field of grain. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is depicted as one who sows (Jeremiah 31:27-28; Hosea 2:21-23). In Matthew, it is Jesus who sows the “word of the kin(g)dom” and it is the disciples, too, who will become sowers of the word.

The lectionary leaves out the verses that link the parable (13:1-9) to its explanation (3:18-23), in part (no doubt) because it makes for a very long reading, but I suspect also because verses 10-17 make it a much more complicated story. In these verses, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks to the crowds in parables and he replies, in effect, that those who are confused or confounded by the word of the kin(g)dom will never understand. This harsh response, it has been suggested, is intended to explain why the word, spread so freely and widely, hasn’t attracted a large following.

Why this might be the case becomes clearer when we examine to what the “word of the kin(g)dom” refers. Although the phrase occurs only once in the Gospel of Matthew (13:19), it may be understood as a parallel to the phrase the “good news of the kin(g)dom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). Notably, it is the only Gospel that speaks of a “kin(g)dom of heaven.”

This spatial reference sets up a contrast between the “kin(g)dom of heaven” and the kin(g)doms of the world; in the ancient world, the Roman Empire in particular. Those who belong to the kin(g)dom of heaven are likely to find themselves in tension with the kingdoms of the world. While the reference to heaven clearly establishes this kin(g)dom as the realm of God, it is described in the Gospel not so much as a place as a state of being expressed by loyalty to and trust in God, and in God’s child, Jesus, through whom the kin(g)dom of heaven draws near (Matt 3:2; 4:17).

The kin(g)dom of heaven, says Matthew, belongs to the poor in spirit and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3,10), it is governed by humility (18:3; 19:140) and demonstrated in righteousness (5:10, 19-20; 6:33), which is to do the will of God (7:21). As we ponder the parable of the sower, this invites us to reflect on a number of questions:

  • What does it mean to be good soil, prepared to receive the word of the kingdom?
  • How do we assess what kind of shape our soil is in?
  • What would we need to do for the seed to be able to take root in our bodies and souls?
  • How will we know if this is happening?
  • And how might we nurture good soil in those around us?

While we set about cultivating good soil, we are not without hope. It is true that seeds landing on hard or rocky ground stand less of a chance of gaining root and thriving but it does, sometimes, happen. There are remarkable pictures of trees growing out of rocks and flowers that push up through the pavement. These tenacious plants offer signs that the word of the kin(g)dom will continue to find a way to grow even on the days when we feel beaten down, or overcome by thorns, or at our rockiest.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 55:10-13

J. Blake Couey

Isaiah 55:10-13 concludes the section of Isaiah often called “Second Isaiah” (chapters 40-55) by offering a poetic vision of restoration from exile.

These verses serve that vision by declaring God’s power to transform the world. Although addressed to exiled Judeans in the sixth century BCE, their hopeful words eloquently address contemporary challenges.

Water and God’s word

Isaiah 55:10–11 is an extended simile comparing God’s word to precipitation, emphasizing their respective results. By their nature, rain and snow cannot help irrigating the earth, making plant growth possible. Similarly, the divine word successfully achieves its intended purposes. But like any poetic simile, this one resists simple paraphrase. Its affective impact is as important as its intellectual content. Verse 10 unfolds an image of abundance that engages the senses. We can feel the cool dampness of the rain, see the greenness of the verdant landscape, and taste the bread in our mouths. That, the prophet/poet tells us, is what God’s word is like. Refreshing. Abundant. Life-giving.

This text owes its place in this week’s lectionary to its connections with the Gospel reading, Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23. Both texts are about God’s word, and both use agricultural imagery, including the language of “sower” and “seed.” Unlike Isaiah’s vision of unopposable divine fiat, however, Jesus’s parable presents multiple scenarios in which God’s action doesn’t achieve its desired end. We shouldn’t gloss over this difference. It’s the tension in which Christians must live, hoping for the culmination of God’s reign, yet realizing how much in our world remains contrary to God’s will. At the same time, both texts agree that God’s word works in subtle, unobservable ways, and ultimately produces unimaginable abundance.

A similar reflection on the divine word appears near the beginning of Isaiah 40-55. Isaiah 40:6-8 contrasts the transience of humans, who are as short-lived as seasonal vegetation, with “the word of our God [that] will stand forever.” Isaiah 40-55 predates the emergence of the idea of canon, so the divine “word” in in 40:8 and 55:11 doesn’t refer narrowly to scripture. Instead, it signifies God’s work in our world more broadly. After long decades of disappointed hopes, the Judean exiles needed reassurance that this work would be effective. In response, the prophet/poet masterfully uses human words to convey the power of God’s word.

The return of the exiles

The final verses of Isaiah 55 dramatically depict the accomplishment of the divine word. Verses 11 and 12 are linked by the verb “go out” (Hebrew yatsa’), but the subject changes from God’s word to God’s people. The text doesn’t identify their destination, but the larger context of Isaiah 40-55 suggests the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (see Isaiah 48:20; 52:11). The text directly addresses these exiles as “you” (plural in Hebrew), in turn inviting contemporary audiences to identify with them and hear the text’s words addressed to us.

Isaiah 55:12 describes nature’s participation in the exiles’ return. Mountains and hills break out in harmony, while the forest claps the rhythm. The very landscape transforms itself. Pernicious weeds are replaced by tall, luxuriant trees. (For similar depictions of changed landscapes, see Isaiah 41:18-19; 43:19-20; 51:3). This new creation becomes an “everlasting sign” of the life-giving power of God’s word, language that looks forward to the next chapter (compare Isaiah 56:5).

The idea of exile offers rich possibilities for reflecting on our own situations. Many people are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic as an exile from the usual structures and comforts of life. For African-Americans, whose first enslaved ancestors were forced here more than 400 years ago, the persistent realities of institutionalized racism make the United States an ongoing site of exile. And literal exiles—refugees who’ve been forced away from their homelands by violence or lack of opportunity—face continued abuse in today’s xenophobic climate. How might the ancient words of Isaiah 55 offer hope for the future in these different experiences of exile? How might it encourage our solidarity and advocacy for those in exile?

Ecological implications of Isaiah’s imagery

Although the water imagery in Isaiah 55:10 serves the larger theological point of illustrating the effectiveness of God’s word, it’s worth lingering over it to reflect on the importance of water in God’s creation. The Hebrew Bible is the product of a subsistence agricultural economy, where the amount of annual precipitation could mean the difference between life and death. This concern is hardly restricted to the ancient world. Climate change has increased the number and severity of droughts in our own time, and billions of people worldwide lack access to safe water.1 By using water as an image of God’s gracious word, this text encourages us to appreciate water as a divine gift and think carefully about our stewardship of it.

Similarly, the nature imagery in Isaiah 55:12-13 enhances the depiction of the exiles’ return as an  unprecedented divine action. As one should expect in poetry, these verses involve exaggeration and personification. (Trees don’t really have hands, after all!) At the same time, they join other scriptures to suggest that the non-human creation has its own, independent relationship with God. In multiple psalms, nature itself praises God (Psalms 19:1-4; 65:12-13; 148:1-10). And according to Romans 8:22-23, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” awaiting God’s redemption.

The Christian tradition has sometimes encouraged the view that nature is a commodity for humans to use and exploit at their pleasure. This attitude has led to massive environmental degradation, which has in turn harmed vulnerable human populations. In conversation with other biblical texts, Isaiah 55:10-13 encourages a different view of the natural world, one that emphasizes its standing with God and inherent value as God’s creation. The text powerfully depicts humanity and nature alike responding to God’s call. In our current ecological crisis, that is a vision worth proclaiming.


  1. See https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 25:19-34

Amy Merrill Willis

Genesis 25:19-34 begins a group of narratives that biblical commentators usually call “the Jacob Cycle” and which the Hebrew Bible calls “the toledot (generations or descendants) of Isaac” (25:19).1

Both of these labels convey important information about the stories found in Genesis 25-36, but neither gives the full picture. Missing from these titles are the rest of Jacob’s family — the formidable figure of Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, his older brother, Esau, and Jacob’s primary wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah.

The biblical writers understood family to be the foundational unit of society and religious experience, and they understood this particular family (beginning with Abraham and Sarah) to be the foundation of ancient Israelite society and religion. As such, these stories explore not only the complications of domestic ties, they also explore the connection between family dynamics, social customs, and covenantal life.

Like many of our own domestic dramas, the stories of the Israelite ancestors are replete with infertility and problem pregnancies and difficult births. Pregnancy is a condition that is always fraught with meaning and risk. In this case, the situation of Rebekah and Isaac is itself an echo of Abraham and Sarah’s earlier difficulties. Infertility threatens the family line with biological extinction and jeopardizes the promises of the ancestral covenant (see Genesis 17:1-8) until God intervenes after a lengthy period.

Rebekah’s resultant pregnancy means that the covenant promises and the family line will survive, against the odds, but hers turns out to be a problem pregnancy in more ways than one. Rebekah’s condition creates such discomfort for her that she is not sure what the outcome will be. A word from the Divine informs her that she is not just gestating twins who are struggling within her, she is also gestating two different nations fighting for dominance.

As it turns out, these twins are not identical and they don’t share a special bond that involves a secret language and a fierce devotion to each other. Quite the opposite. At birth, Esau and Jacob each possess characteristics that signal physical and personality differences that will lead them into conflict. Esau is born hairy and red, characteristics that link him to the people of Edom, who the writer of this passage understands to be descended from Esau.

These characteristics also link to Esau to the outdoors and he turns out to be brawny and skillful at hunting. Jacob, who is destined to be the progenitor of the 12 Israelite tribes, is born second. He is smooth-skinned and comes out with his hand around Esau’s foot. The detail is not gratuitous; it indicates Jacob’s desire to upset Esau’s status as the firstborn son and to subvert the social customs and expectations that would favor the firstborn.

The social status of these twin brothers is complicated by the Ancient Israelite expectation that the first- born son should be favored. The firstborn son typically takes on his father’s profession (Cain becomes a farmer, like Adam in Genesis 4:2), succeeds his father as the family patriarch, and inherits a larger portion of the family goods than his other brothers (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). These privileges make up the birthright (25:31) and collectively provide a level of social and material security that the younger brother would not enjoy. The younger sibling would have to depend on the mercy of the older brother or make his own way in the world. It may be that these customs developed to create consistency and fairness in families, to prevent parental favoritism from running amok. When the older and younger brothers in question are twins born just minutes apart, however, then the custom seems a bit more arbitrary and unfair.

Jacob is determined, even before birth, to have the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. But since he is not the outdoorsy type, he uses brains, not brawn, to gain it. Jacob is a trickster, an underdog character who uses his wit and cunning to change the status quo. As a man who prefers the tents to the hunt, Jacob knows how to cook and he uses this skill and his knowledge of Esau’s weakness to trade some red soup for Esau’s birthright. It is a trade that Esau willingly makes.

The story of Jacob and Esau has profoundly influenced western literature’s treatment of sibling rivalry and parental favoritism. Katherine Paterson’s award winning novel, Jacob Have I Loved, about twin sisters,is just one fine example of how the riches of this story can be brought to bear for contemporary readers. Nevertheless, it is often difficult for Christian readers to appreciate these as religious narratives. Seen through the lens of a traditional Protestant or Catholic piety, there seems to be little about Jacob to inspire us.

When I teach these narratives, my students often think that Jacob victimizes Esau. They read Esau’s comment in verse 32 quite literally and think that Jacob is trading on Esau’s dire situation. In fact, Esau has just come in from hunting. He is not starving to death, he just prefers immediate gratification over the long term benefits of his birthright. His family inheritance, which in this story is tied to the covenant promises, means little to him.

American Christians have been taught to correlate piety with traditional personal virtues like selflessness and guilelessness. Moreover, we tend to view our personal successes as rewards for our piety and virtues. But these stories challenge our first-world sensibilities by lifting up an otherwise disadvantaged character who must use guile and ambition to claim his status as a son of the covenant.

Esau may not value his familial and spiritual inheritance, but Jacob does. Moreover, Jacob doesn’t see any immediate reward for his efforts; it will be decades before he actually sees success. Jacob is not deterred by the prospect of delayed gratification.

These stories illuminate a different view of grace. God chose Jacob even before his birth, a choice that was clearly not based on Jacob’s merits or achievements. Indeed, this is one of many stories about siblings (see also Genesis 4; Genesis 21; Genesis 48; 1 Samuel 16; Luke 15:11-32) in which God acts contrary to the social custom of favoring the firstborn.

Firstborns are no more virtuous by the fact of being born first, but being born second in the ancient near eastern world made one an automatic underdog. These stories show that God seems to prefer underdogs and tricksters, something that might rankle conventional American notions of grace.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 13, 2014.


Commentary on Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13

Walter C. Bouzard

Although the central section of this psalm is comprised of hymnic praise of God, the psalm as a whole suggests that the prayer exemplifies what Walter Brueggemann categorized as psalms of reorientation.1

Psalms of reorientation are prayers uttered after the disarray and disorientation of life slips into the past. Like the ancient psalmist, we recognize and give thanks to God for the rescue for which we had longed and prayed.2 God answered the psalmist’s prayers and the psalmist is prepared to perform the vows he had vowed in his distress (verses 1-2), including, perhaps, the vow of an animal offering (compare verse 3 and Leviticus 4 and 5).

Nevertheless, for a psalm that ends with shouts and songs (verse 13), its opening reference to quiet tarrying is odd. English translations vary, but a rather literal rendition might read: “For you a still silence, [and] praise, O God in Zion; for you a payment of a vow” (author’s translation). The word translated “still silence” (dumiyyah) also appears in Psalm 62, which is a prayer of trust in God in the face of persecution. There the psalmist declares that “For God alone my soul waits in silence,” (verse 1) and with an imperative verbal form: “Only wait silently for God, O my soul” (verse 5, author’s translation).

An insight of both of these psalms is that silent, expectant waiting for God to act often is a part of our life with God. In a culture such as ours, namely one that is characterized by frantic noise and busyness and by the din of machines and the glare of large and small screens, the preacher could do worse than to prepare him- or herself to preach with some intentional still silence, listening for God.

The psalmist’s backwards glance into his past is, nevertheless, a brief one. However long his silence, after verse three the poem turns to praise that culminates with a jubilant declaration that the meadows and valleys shout and sing for joy.

The psalmist first expresses happiness that God chooses to bring people into God’s presence found specifically in the courts of God’s house, the temple (verse 4). The text makes it crystal clear that the approach to God’s presence is a function of God’s choice and of God bringing the worshiper close (“you choose,” “you bring near”).

As always this side of Eden, proximity to God is by the grace and choice of God and not our own efforts. Unfortunately, the NRSV’s indicative “We shall be satisfied with the goodness…” does not reflect that satisfaction is also hoped for and ever dependent upon God’s gracious decision. Indeed, the NRSV disguises the text’s cohortative construction of verse 4b. So with the psalmist we pray, “Let us be sated fully by the goodness of your house, your holy temple” (author’s translation).

Beginning with verse 5, the psalmist focuses his praise of God on the role of God in the creation. Water images abound since God’s salvation and deliverance include divine control of chaos, depicted by otherwise unchecked billows.

A reminder of ancient Israel’s conception of the cosmos aids the interpretation of the balance of this psalm.

Hebrews of antiquity thought the sky was a solid, translucent dome erected by God to hold out the waters of chaos (Genesis 1:6-8; Job 37:18; Psalm 148:4). The dome was held up at the extreme ends of the flat earth by mountains (Psalm 104:1-4; Job 26:10), a conceptualization that explains the present psalmist’s praise of God’s establishing the mountains (verse 6a), “girding [them] with might” (verse 6b, author’s translation).3

The dome had windows or floodgates that God opened in order to make it rain or snow (Genesis 7:11; 8:2; Psalm 78:23). The surface of the dome was populated by luminaries — the moon and stars by night, the sun by day — that moved across the face of the dome to provide the appropriate light for nighttime or daytime (Genesis 1:17-18). Psalm 65 suggests that the dome had entranceways (motsa’ey) through which entered the daytime and night (verse 8).

When, therefore, this psalmist speaks of God as “the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,” (verse 5b) and of God’s having established the mountains (verse 6), he has in view divine mastery and management of the world. That authority is characterized by God’s control of chaotic waters (see Genesis 1; Psalms 89:10; 93:3-4; 104:5-9; Job 38:11). Whether roaring seas or tumultuous peoples, none are a match for God’s power (verse 7).

More than control the chaos, however, God subordinates chaos water and employs it for God’s own good intentions. God converts the waters of chaos to an instrument of shalom, producing grain to feed God’s people (verses 8, 13). Freshly plowed soil, with its sharply furrowed edges, are softened by gentle rain and readied for growth (verse 10).

It is unclear if the wagon tracks of verse 11 refer to the earth’s furrows in verse 10 or to an image of God’s chariot cutting through the clouds (see Psalms 18:10-12; 68:4; 104:3), releasing rich, fructifying rain. In any case, the image means to convey luxuriant abundance. The wagon tracks overflow with “richness,” (dsn). The word means fatness or fat ashes, but more broadly it signals rich satisfaction and fullness that comes with the presence of God (see Psalms 63:6; 36:9).

The psalm concludes with a summons that the meadows and valleys, covered with abundance in the form of flocks and grain, might shout and sing for joy. As shouting and singing were characteristic of ancient Israel’s worship,the image intends to help us understand that the very creation worships God.

Several themes emerge as possible directions for preaching. The motion of the psalm from quiet, expectant waiting to a summons for the creation itself to join the choir of praise suggests that the journey from expectation to exaltation is just that — a journey. Many of us, perhaps most of us, find ourselves somewhere in the middle of the journey. We recognize that God in Christ has answered our prayers.

In our baptisms we have been claimed by God and brought into the richness of God’s presence. Indeed, we have been incorporated into the body of Christ. And yet, for many of us, perhaps most of us, chaotic powers still affect us. Whether the chaos is a still unstable economy, a newly unstable marriage, grief, illness, loneliness, or a sense that our lives are adrift in a formless chaotic sea, our God remains master of the tumult.

Or, better, we can confidently claim that this God has joined us in our tumult. If we find ourselves awash, we know that God in Christ has likewise suffered as we do. Christ experienced loss and being lost to the depth that we have and more, and yet he comes to us with the firm intention to stay with us until we arrive at that valley where even we, the flock of his pasture, will to shout and sing with joy.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 13, 2014.
  2. On psalms of reorientations, see Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 123-167. Brueggemann regards Psalm 65 as a thanksgiving song of the community, albeit he notes that “there is something of a mismatch between the subject of verses 1-5a and the doxology that follows” (136).
  3. Reading this unique niphal masculine singular participle with an active voice rather than the usual passive or reflexive. The niphal does allow an active sense for some verbs (e.g,, nchm, “repent”). Moreover, the verb ‘zr does appear as a reflexive (hithpael) in Psalm 93:1 and Isaiah 8:9 and 9:8. Thus, participles of both stitches refer to God’s action upon the mountains:
    mkyn    hrym    bkchw
    n’ar  [hrym]  bgbwrh 
  4. See Psalms 71:23; 81:1; Isa 12:6; 24:14; 42:11; 44:23; 54:1; Zephaniah 3:14.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 8:1-11

L. Ann Jervis

Until this point in Romans, Paul has taken his hearers through the “shadowlands” of the faith.1

He has described the context in which the righteousness of God has been revealed (Romans 1:16-32). That context is that all people, whether Jew or Gentile have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Paul claims that in such a context the revelation of God’s righteousness is available from faith for faith (Romans 1:17). Paul has said this has always been the case. Even Abraham was reckoned righteous not by following Law, but by faith (Romans 4:3).

The righteousness of God that is revealed in the Gospel allows for liberation from sin and death, and from sin’s destructive use of the Torah. Unfortunately, this does not mean, as Paul made clear in chapter 6 and 7, that sin is obliterated for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Paul sees that in the life of the Christian, sin still has an influence. His direction to believers is to not give sin any power, but to consider themselves dead to sin (6:11). [Note that Paul does not claim that sin itself is dead].

By the time Paul gets to chapter 8 of Romans, he has described in graphic and dramatic detail the “shadowlands” of the Gospel; the darkness into which the light of the Gospel has shone and the challenge that that light has to stay bright.

At the beginning of chapter 8, Paul focuses on the Gospel apart from the shadowy edges that it must contend with. With a ringing and positive and strong voice Paul says, with conviction, “so it is, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He is saying what he has said before, but he is saying it one more time with feeling. And he is saying it without qualification.

Humanity’s problem, which he has described so poignantly and powerfully — the problem that there is condemnation for all humanity because of Adam’s trespass (Romans 5:16); this problem is solved by being “in Christ Jesus.” The solution to humanity’s problem is being “in Christ Jesus.” Paul has said earlier that the solution is faith. Here he describes what faith means. Faith means being “in Christ Jesus.” It is not simply putting faith in Christ, it is being in Christ.

Paul said something similar in earlier passages. In chapter 6, Paul talked about being buried with Christ in baptism; in chapter 7, Paul talked about belonging to Christ (7:4). Here Paul uses the phrase being “in Christ Jesus.”

The faith about which Paul is talking is much more than intellectual assent to propositions about Jesus Christ; it is more than loyalty to Christ; it is more than following Jesus. Just as the Spirit is an eco-system — a location — in which Paul believes we can live (Romans 8:9), so is Christ

Christ is a being in whom believers are. And in that being — in Christ — there is no condemnation.

The problem that began with Adam is resolved for those who “in Christ Jesus.” Paul tries to explain the mechanics of this remarkable solution. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has liberated believers from the law of sin and death (8:2).

In the reading we had last week, Paul talked about the war of the laws. There is, Paul says, a battle between the law of God and the law of sin (Romans 7:22-23). Here in chapter 8, Paul says something similar. The law of the Spirit of life is opposed to the law of sin and death. 

Law here is almost certainly not simply Torah, although it may include the Jewish Law in a certain sort of way. Law rather refers to the structures of reality. Paul thinks there are two realities, two worlds to which humanity can belong. There is the reality, the cosmos of sin and death in which the Torah is unable to control sin and to bring life — because sin is stronger than Torah’s commands.

And there is the reality, the cosmos of the Spirit and Christ. The reality of the Spirit/Christ is structured by the law of the Spirit of life — it is all about life. The reality of sin and death is structured by sin and death, and is all about those two entities.

Paul believes that only in the alternative reality created by Christ’s death and resurrection — the reality of “in Christ” — can the Torah be fulfilled (8:4). Paul is giving his hearers eyes to see where they are living. They are those who are “in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is seeking to help his hearers leave behind their old identities which were shaped by the structures of sin and death. He wants them to open their eyes and to see the beautiful reality created by Christ’s death and resurrection. They are living in this alternative cosmos because they have believed and so been brought into Christ.

Being “in Christ” means that believers are not ruled by sin, not ruled by death. Believers have been transported to a new place where life and not death is in charge and where there is no condemnation because sin is not the master.

The challenge for believers is to open their eyes, to see and live the gift of being in this new place.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 13, 2014.