Lectionary Commentaries for August 23, 2020
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 16:13-20

Audrey West

Peter gets it right: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

His aptitude is no surprise; he is, after all, Disciple #1 among the Twelve. As the first one called, Peter has participated in every tutorial offered by Jesus from the beginning of the public ministry. His confession suggests that he has been paying attention—for the moment, at least.

Experiential revelation, revelatory experience

Peter has observed the healings of mercy, heard the sermons on justice, and twice tasted bread multiplied and shared with thousands. Saved by the grasp of the Lord’s own hand when stormy waters threatened to sink him, he has professed with others, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:28-33). Sight, sound, taste, touch … through the flesh and blood of his own experience, Peter has learned much about Jesus. He is an excellent student. (In next week’s reading, we see that he also excels at failure.)

The most important element of this episode, however, is not Peter’s capacity as a gifted student; rather, it is the truth to which Peter’s answer points. Peter and his colleagues are in the presence of the One who is anointed by and Son of the living God.

Jesus is not just one prophet among a long line of prophets, as “the people” suggest by their multiple-choice answers (Matthew 16:13-14). (Are they trying to cover all their options, just in case?) Peter’s answer points in the direction of a greater truth: as Son of the living God, this Messiah is also the one who is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

That truth is significant because it means (among other things) that everything the disciples have experienced with Jesus, everything they have learned from this Messiah through their limited senses of sight, sound, taste, and touch, is not simply knowledge or experience revealed through “flesh and blood.” It is, in fact, a revelation from God.

Their human senses and experience are imperfect, but God’s revelation is not limited by that imperfection. Jesus’ own “Father in heaven” has revealed the truth through the words and deeds of Jesus. “[F]lesh and blood has not revealed this to you,” says Jesus to Peter, “but my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Whatever Jesus reveals is what God reveals. Whatever God reveals is what Jesus reveals. Peter and the disciples receive God’s revelation through their experiences of this Messiah.

To the extent that the church is built on “this rock” (whether the rock refers to Peter himself, or to the words of his confession, or to something else), it is worth naming the means through which we experience the revelatory power of God. How might preachers help others to see and know God in Christ at work in the world? How might the church model the truth of Peter’s confession to others? What kinds of “experiences of Jesus” do we share? How do we share and embody the words of Peter’s confession?

Location, location, location

In its rough contours, Peter’s confession in Matthew echoes the Gospel of Mark. Both accounts place the event in or around Caesarea Philippi, a city outside of the familiar region of Galilee in which Jesus’ ministry has largely taken place. Both include the same basic questions, and in both, Peter asserts that Jesus is Messiah. To that assertion, Matthew includes, “Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).1

An additional distinction may be worth noting. In Mark, Jesus “was asking” his disciples while they went “on the way” into the villages near Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). The imperfect verb, “was asking,” indicates repeated activity while the phrase, “on the way,” calls attention to movement from place to place. Mark frequently uses “the way” as shorthand for the journey of discipleship (see also Mark 1:3; 9:33-34; 10:52; 12:14).2

Matthew retains the imperfect verb, but omits reference to the journey. This omission shifts the focus from journey to place. That is, in Matthew, Jesus asks his questions once they have arrived in Caesarea Philippi rather than during the journey to get there. This geographical signpost might be worth homiletical reflection, as noted below. The place matters.

Situated about 25 to 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea Philippi was near a trade route that connected Tyre in the West to Damascus in the Northeast. A nearby cave housed a great spring that fed one of the sources of the Jordan River.3 The cave and spring had long served as a sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god, Pan. Greek inscriptions and niches carved into the rock, still visible today, suggest dedications to other pagan gods as well.

In addition to the polytheism represented at the site, signs of power and authority were on display as well. A couple of decades before Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great had built a temple near the spring in honor of Caesar Augustus. By the time Jesus and his disciples visited the region, Caesarea Philippi had been given over to the auspices of Herod’s son, Philip the tetrarch, who established the city as the administrative center of his government.4 By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, people were likely aware that the Roman commander who led the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE had returned with his troops to Caesarea Philippi in celebration of their victory.5

Thus, Jesus’ question—“Who do you say that I am?”—hangs in the air at the intersection of economic trade, religion, and the power of the Empire. It is a question not simply about Jesus’ identity, as if getting the titles right would earn somebody an “A” on a messianic quiz. It is a question about allegiance.

In what or in whom will the followers of Jesus place their trust? Will it be in the privileges deriving from access to opportunity and wealth? In the worship of a prevailing culture’s latest idols? In allegiance to the dominant power of earthly rulers?

Or will they trust, instead, in the One whose life, death, and resurrection reveal the mercy and justice of the living God?


  1. Jesus in Matthew commends Peter’s response. See the other Working Preacher essays on this passage for several excellent discussions of this and other matters.

  2. See David Rhoads, et.al., Mark as Story, 2nd ed., (Minneapolis: Fortress), 68-72.

  3. Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, (B.J. 1.21.3).

  4. Herod the Great called for the death of infants when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:16). His son, Philip, who established the city of Caesarea Philippi, was half-brother to Herod Antipas, the “Herod” who called for John the Baptist’s execution (Matthew 14:1-11; see also Mark 6:14-28; Luke 3:19-20) and participated in Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:6-12).

  5. Josephus, The Jewish Wars, (B.J. 7.2.1, 23-24).

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 51:1-6

Stephen B. Reid

When you listen to a choir you hear a collection of voices coming together.

Isaiah 51:1-6 is a blending voice. The resonates with several other elements in the Book of Isaiah. Preaching from Isaiah 51 requires a sense of the voice of the passage as distinctive and part of the blended chorus. Isaiah 51:1-6 describes the relationship ancestry (Sarah and Abraham) and aspiration (righteousness and the LORD) for the people Zion.

God, through the prophet, speaks in the first-person for almost the whole passage. Furthermore, imperatives provide the dominant form of address. in Isaiah 51:1 opens a new subject with the first imperative is “listen”. Every parent or teacher has heard the plea “Hear me”. It connotes the desire of one to connect with another.

Isaiah 51 calls to attention, echoes parallels in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 46: 3, 12 48:12; 49:1). The addressee of the call to hear are those who “pursue righteousness.” The passage puts this pursuit in parallel to “seeking” the LORD. “Pursue” can also refer to running. This accents the intensity of the verb. Therefore, pursuing and seeking indicate a passionate activity. The audience of the imperative by what they do and what they aspire. Those who pursue righteousness. The writer puts the aspiration of righteousness to the pursuit of the LORD. The activity is intense.

 “Righteousness” serves as a catchword occurring three times. (verses 1, 5, 6) A parallel text Deuteronomy NRSV renders the term as “justice.” (Deuteronomy 16:20 ) “Justice only justice you shall pursue” indicates that overlap between righteousness and justice. The parallel verbs “pursue” and “seek” and objects “righteousness” and “LORD” proposes that righteousness lives in relationship with God. There is no righteousness absent a strong healthy relationship with God.

Verse 1b presents a second imperative “look.” The prophet invites the audience to look to the rock. The metaphor of rock often refers to God. Neighboring peoples to Israel and Judah in mythological stories describe men as rock and women as quarry.1

Verse two has a third imperative, “look” to Abraham and Sarah. Isaiah 51:2 is the only place in the Hebrew Bible that point to both Abraham and Sarah as progenitors of promise. They begin as a single family that multiplied into a people group. Abraham and Sarah function not only as biological ancestors. They also carry the role a vehicle for a narrative of aspirations and values. The writer invites the audience to follow the ancestral readers who joined their aspirations to God who made the aspirations possible. Despite the challenges to the promise of multitudes of children Abraham and Sarah continued to believe. Paul pointed to Abraham as a pioneer of belief.(Romans 4:9; Galatians 3:6) Isaiah 51:2 extends this ancestral equity of belief as a virtue to both Sarah and Abraham.

The consequence of this imperative to look by those pursuing righteousness and seeking God leads the writer to the redemption of Zion. God comforts Zion. Verse three moves to third person references to God. The comfort of Zion harks back to Isaiah 40 that describes the comfort of the people. Now God comforts Zion. The language echoes earlier Isaiah speeches of redemption. (Isaiah 40:1-2) The verb comfort carries a sense of compassion as well as an act of compassion. It gestures the intersection of emotion and activism. The ancestral promise now blends with divine compassion for Zion, the location of God’s people.

The people of God flourished in a concrete place, Zion. Christianity often translates Zion into a reified metaphor without a concrete place. Zion is an ongoing theme in the Book of Isaiah. However, the Zion of Isaiah may be eschatological, but it is nevertheless, also concrete. When Isaiah mentions a “new heaven and a new earth” (Isaiah 66:22) it does not mean that heaven has subsumed earth. Zion remains a specific place with international implications.

The comfort goes to ravaged Zion and places of disaster. The juxtaposition of Zion and her ruins or “waste places”. Without seeing the disaster, one misses the redemption. Her “wilderness” and desert will become as a garden like Eden. The passage describes the transformation from barren to bucolic. Earlier in the Book of Isaiah one reads about “the rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19) The desert becomes a garden.

Verse 4 begins with an imperative, the call to attention came back in the phrase “listen attentively to me.” The language of people and nation both noted with the first-person suffix. The people and nations stand in parallel with those who pursue “righteousness” and the LORD. In other words, people groups are organized by aspirations and relationship to God.

The language of the “teachings” occurs in decisive but limited places in the Book of Isaiah. The first chapter begins “listen to the teaching of God” (Isaiah 1:10) which echoes Isaiah 51. Isaiah 8 (verses 16 and 20) describes teaching and testimony as artifacts of faith, even in times when God remains hidden. The language of teaching also appears in the servant passages as the prophets teaching. (Isaiah 42:4) However, God’s teaching sometimes languishes. (Isaiah 42:21)

International transformation by the children of Abraham and Sarah echo the metaphor a light to the people (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3; John 8:12) echoes elsewhere in the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of John. The juxtaposition of near and coastlands. The writers of Isaiah often use the word coastlands to point to the ends of the known world.

The final verse moves out even beyond the coastlands, something beyond heaven and earth. The final imperative is to “lift up your eyes … and look.” The writer closes with a call to look high (heavens) and low (earth). Even if the word pair heaven and earth do not survive, divine salvation and deliverance will endure.


  1. Shalom M. Paul Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary, The Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm Eerdmans, 2012).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 1:8—2:10

Roger Nam

This week’s passage is divided into two distinct units.

The first unit (1:8-22) gives a concise account about how the favored family of Jacob became an oppressed subgroup within Pharoah’s empire. The second unit (2:1-10) narrates the circumstances surrounding the birth and early childhood of Moses.

These two units contrast each other. Consider some of the word choices of the first unit (per the NRSV): powerful, war, enemies, taskmasters, oppress, forced-labor, dread, ruthless, bitter, hard service, labor, task. These word selections signal the tonal elements of this unit. The Israelites populate quickly to the point of posing as a potential threat to the Egyptians. Consequently, the Egyptian king enslaves the Israelite people. When initial rounds of oppression do not work, the Egyptians become more draconian in their oppression, calling for execution of all Hebrew boys. These verses underlie the references to slavery that will appear throughout the rest of Exodus.

Much of this first unit revolves around the idea of fear. The new king of Egypt did not know Joseph and the legacy of provision that he brought to the land. Consequently, the new king feared the potential uprising of the Israelite people. The text does not include a single hint of any rebellious spirit in the Israelites, yet this fear becomes the driving force to a series of escalating oppressive policies, even to the point of planned genocide. Baseless fear is still fear and resulted in generational suffering for the Israelites.

Verse 15 continues the theme of fear and introduces the midwives. It is important to contrast the cowardly fear of Pharaoh to the midwives’ righteous fear of God. With the failure of earlier actions, Pharaoh introduces progressively harsher measures of cruelty. But the midwives do not fear the Egyptian king, despite his signals of dangerous paranoia. Rather, the midwives fear God (verses 17 and 21). Such a fear compels them to defy the order of Pharaoh and openly disobey the royal command to murder Hebrew boys. This blatant insubordination should normally result in summative execution, but God honors this fear and blesses the midwives, not only with their own lives, but with abundant progeny. Pharaoh’s plans have backfired so he escalates even more. He commands murder of all Hebrew male babies. This is the most complete example of infanticide in the entire Bible.

Immediately following this narrative of fear and cruelty, Exodus 2:1 opens the second unit with a sharply different tone. The narrative moves away from this theme of fear and moves to a broader picture of maternal care. A baby from a priestly and holy lineage is born under this plight. The baby is described as a “good” baby. In this case, a good baby does not refer to an obedient and well-behaved baby, who magically never cries. Rather, it is more of a whole and right baby. Through a complex chain of events, both the birth mother and the royal daughter care for this baby, protecting his life, and divinely providing for the most nurturing of environments. The careful placement of the baby (verse 3) shows the manifestation of this nurturing, and the basket (Hebrew, tevat) recalls the protection for Noah’s ark (also tevat) during the flood. This gentle nurturing for the baby will allow him to grow to orchestrate the downfall of the mighty Pharaoh.

The reversal of fortune against Pharaoh is explicitly theological. Pharaoh is king not only of Egypt, but he reigns during a period of cultural and political flourishing with hegemony beyond its borders to the Eastern Meditteranean, covering modern day Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. But as the Pharaoh’s paranoid fear intensifies, God’s response of sovereignty commensurately rises. And Pharaoh’s cruelest edict of infanticide comes back to him in the Passover event. God is sovereign.

When we think of God’s sovereignty, we often associate this with the mighty hand of God, and divine acts when God alters the forces of nature. God’s sovereignty also projects ideas of divine intervention on a massive human scale such as warfare. But in this passage, God protects the baby through these women. It is a different perspective of sovereignty from much of the Bible.

Consider some of the word choices of the second unit (Exodus 2:1-10), again per the NRSV: married, conceived, bore, child, sister, daughter, mother, bathe, pity. God’s sovereignty is manifest through compassion and care. God does not have gender, but in this passage, the analogy of sovereignty is manifest in the care of a newborn through mothers, whether by birth or by adoption. This care is heightened due to the nature of the crisis of infanticide.

But do not mistake this compassion for weakness. Maternal care is powerful. The passage shows that a royal edict cannot defeat the resilient strength of maternal compassion. As Pharaoh increases the oppression, the compassion of the different women ends up raising the one who will truly lead the Israelites into liberation from this oppression.


Commentary on Psalm 138:1-8

W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.

In Hebrew, the name for the book of Psalms is tehillim, or “praises,” because from beginning to end, the God we confess is the subject of our praise.

Yet we must be clear, this unbridled praise is always grounded in gritty reality. There is no room for escapism or denial in these texts; the Psalter does not afford us this kind of luxury. What the psalms do provide, however, is a lens through which to see this world, and even more, a language that can lead us to full confession in the midst of it. Psalm 138 provides both.

This psalm is typically labeled as a psalm of thanksgiving, as the opening line suggests. Yet, the verb “to give thanks,” yadah, can also mean “to praise,” or better still, “to confess” in the sense of giving testimony. To thank God is always to confess something about this God; gratitude apart from testimony always falls short. The psalmist announces, “On the day I called, you answered me” (verse 3). Although some thanksgiving

psalms provide specific details regarding deliverance (for example, Psalm 118), others such as this psalm remain rather muted in their description, perhaps leaving us to wonder: What testimony is being offered here? The point, however, is not what God did, it is that God did; it is that God moved in response to the psalmist’s cry and God answered. The testimony is that the God who made the heavens and the earth (Psalm 115:15), the one who stands over all, heard a cry and answered. God’s willingness to answer serves as the ground of our hope. It is the very thing that strengthens our souls (verse 3); it is the very thing that makes possible the larger confession of this psalm.

These thanksgiving psalms always ask us to look backwards and forwards simultaneously. We glance to the past—to those moments where the faithfulness of God was on full display—so that we might stare into our present with great hope for the future. Such a perspective should not be underestimated, however; it is an act of a bold, and even at times defiant, faith.

We might be tempted to take the references to “gods” (verse 1a), “kings of the earth” (verse 4a), and “wrath of the enemies” (verse 7b) as antiquated categories from another day, but if we do, we empty this psalm of its power. In our proclamation, we need a “thick description” of those categories so that we might better understand how to transfer them to our world, how we might best overlay them onto the reality we experience. The psalmist declares that he will give thanks to God “with his whole heart” and that “before the gods” he will sing God’s praise.

In the ancient world, there was a close association between the gods and nations; the unfolding of the world and the rise and fall of empires and peoples were all associated with the deities confessed by each nation. But in this psalm, as an act of defiant thanksgiving, the psalmist pushes back against the forces that lay claim to the world. Before these forces, the psalmist says he will pour out his life in declaring the hesed, steadfast love of this God and this God’s enduring faithfulness. The reference to the gods and all other systems that lay claim to shaping this world are not ignored, but instead they are drowned out by thankful praise.

In verse 4, the psalmist announces that all the kings of the earth will one day join in confessing (yadah) this God. In the second stanza, the psalmist pushes back against the human systems and structures that assert authority in the world, declaring that one day, they too will sing of the “glory of the LORD” (verse 5b). Those who run the most powerful empires, those who presume the world is their plaything, will one day hear the words of God (verse 4) and see the works of God (verse 6) and understand that this God works in ways counter to our presumably well-ordered world. This is the God who regards the poor and lowly while keeping the arrogant at a distance (verse 6).

In the final section (verses 7-8), the psalm narrows considerably, moving from the threatening forces that are more global and structural to that which is more personal. The psalmist pushes back against those circumstances within his own experience that threaten to diminish life. In verse 7b, the psalmist references the “wrath of my enemies.” While this phrase might prompt us to consider the identity of those enemies, as with all good poetry, such particularity remains largely elusive.

A better place to start might be in verse 7a. The psalmist bemoans a life lived “in the midst of trouble.” The rendering of the Hebrew word sarah as “trouble” in the NRSV and NIV diminishes the image at work here. The Hebrew root of this word refers to “narrowness, constriction,” here understood as something that is “squeezing the life out of a person.” The psalmist refuses to allow such moments of seeming constriction and sheer distress to have the last word; redemption comes from the One who willingly “stretches out his hand.”

The final plea in the psalm, “Do not forsake the work of your hands,” may seem surprising, given all that has been confessed thus far. In the fifth book of the Psalter, “the work of your hands” frequently refers to God’s work of deliverance (for example, 107:22; 111:2; 118:17) and that seems to be in view here. The word “forsake” (rapah) might be better rendered as “abandon,” or more literally, as “let go.” Thus, the psalmist concludes with a plea for God not to abandon or walk away from his works of deliverance.

At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive, given his confession in verse 3 and his claims concerning the gods, kings, and enemies in the remainder of the psalm.

But in fact, it is not. The psalmist concludes with such a plea because he knows full well that in the midst of such a world, he cannot save himself. Deliverance can only come from this God—the One who answers the cries of his people.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 12:1-8

Israel Kamudzandu

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is both a countercultural and counter-political document.

It points to the global renaissance of a human family whose identity, frame of perception, and discipleship are based on God’s act of reconciling with humanity, regardless of our vulnerability (Romans 1:18-5:11).

Romans 12:1-8 is a summary and reminder of Romans 1-11, in which the Apostle Paul is writing an apologetic of the presence, work, and callings of God on the entire human family. Readers are called to live a countercultural lifestyle, moving from the life of flesh to a life formed by the Holy Spirit. Thus, writing to those under the Roman Empire, Paul persuades Christian communities living in the imperial center to live not according to the political ideologies of Rome, but rather to live out faith on the basis of what God did in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While some scholars think Romans is a doctrinal letter, I think of Romans as a call to abandon the sin of individualism and to embrace the cross-cultural Christian life. The life to which Paul calls Christians in Rome, and consequently those in the 21st century, is a life that exhibits the essence of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Put differently, a holy life is one through which all one says and does is governed by sacrificial living (Romans 12:1; see also Isaiah 6:3; Philippians 2:5-11). To worship the God proclaimed in this letter, and throughout Scripture, is to adopt a stance of humility and self-denial.

In the Scriptures, readers see God’s attraction to humility through whom God calls (for example, Luke 1:46-56). For some, humility is a birthright; for others, humility is a learned disposition. The former is easily discernible among people who live in so-called third-world nations. Christians in the Roman Empire were probably accustomed to the culture of affluence; we can see this in the Apostle Paul’s appeal in verse 1, where he pleads with Christians to present their bodies as instruments of the Holy One.

In third-world countries, humility is often a daily posture. Those who struggle to feed their families, send their kids to school, afford clean water, and maintain a farm see God in their daily vulnerabilities. Alternatively, so-called first-world nations seem to take God for granted, easily becoming blinded by affluence, political smartness, academic achievement, and the striving for the American dream while failing to appreciate God’s provisions of these blessings. Instead of being thankful to God, first-world Christians risk worshiping God’s blessings instead of worshipping God, the source of true life. Hence, the Apostle Paul calls on Christians to metaphorically see the manifestations of God not just in the materialistic world, but in every aspect of their lives. In essence, worship is not just a Sunday adventure, but an everyday sacrificial practice. The way Christians live their lives in today’s world should be one embracing worship both within and outside of the church building. In Romans 12:1, the Apostle Paul seems to raise the following question: Where is God in your living?

In this regard, Paul’s appeal and persuasion points Christian practitioners to what can be called testimonial living. When Christians live out a life of testimony, they become instruments of evangelism, missionary work, and discipleship. Most of what we encounter and read in the Scriptures depicts the lives of faith practitioners transformed by God’s grace and compassionate love. Distinct from a sermon, testimonies function as vehicles by which others hear and perceive God’s work in the lives of people. There is no sacrificial living without a testimony. Notably, the Apostle Paul is not just talking about sacrificial living; he himself is a testimony (see especially Romans 12:1-8). Paul’s life in God is a story, one that must be told throughout global Christianity. We also see models of this sacrificial and testimonial life in the lives of apostles such as Mary Magdalene, who offered her life as “a living sacrifice.” She declares: “I have seen the Lord. He is risen” (John 20:18).

Testimonial experiences lead one on a journey from “conformity to transformation” of one’s living through the mind, heart, and soul (Romans 12:2). Paul is a paradigm of such transformation, as his life was powerfully and dramatically transformed by his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Like Paul’s life, our lives will indeed become aligned with the gospel of Jesus Christ if transformed by our encounter with Jesus on our own Damascus roads. The injunction of the word “therefore” in Romans 12:1 signals a change of direction in the life of one who has had such an encounter with the love of God, as that life becomes consistent with gospel living. Instead of conforming to the ideals of the world, one will take a 180 degree turn toward a life of service and humility in and outside of a Sunday morning service.

With humility comes a loss of pride, arrogance, and ego; these three are cancerous to the church as they give birth to superiority and inferiority complexes. Caught between affluence and Christianity, humanity consciously and unconsciously slides into the dark world of wretchedness, injustice, and the dehumanization of others. Instead of obscuring God in those whom one dehumanizes, transformation will illuminate God’s presence in all human beings. This metamorphosed life, heart, soul, and mind leads to a renewal of consciousness and allows one to be an instrument of God.

God made humans to be partners in transforming the world (Genesis 1-2). In God’s creation, God summons heavenly communities to create a human being in the image of the divine (Genesis 1:24-29). God breathed God’s Spirit only in a human being, giving humanity the responsibility to tend and care for other created entities. From the beginning, God invites humanity into a transformative relationship. Paul’s letter to the Romans, if not all his letters, should be read within this canonical context. Paul was entrusted with a gospel in which human families are called to be transformed in every aspect of their lives: the cultural, ethnic, gender, political, economic, social, and geographical boundaries. This transformation comes to us through grace, as we are saved through our belief in God and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The power of the gospel to equalize humanity before God becomes the impetus through which we become part of the “body of Christ,” a term Paul uses to describe the church and its members (Romans 12:4-5). Thus, each member’s identity and essence becomes intertwined with the other, regardless of our color, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or race. Our faith in God becomes our common denominator, rather than our affluence, education, status, or upbringing. With God as the source, a transformed life oriented to the Holy Spirit is the engine that drives our growth as a fellowship of believers (Romans 12:5).

In the context of Paul’s theology and practical life applications, remember that transformation and renewal are not one-time events, but an intentional process endeavored through humility, prayer, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and our total surrender to the Trinity. If the body of Christ loses its divine interdependence, it will lose its source of power. Without the power and formation of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, one will not be able to discern God’s purposes in his or her life. In other words, the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit are indispensable qualities to assist people in their “discernment in what is good, acceptable to God, and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The good news of Jesus Christ is a corrective to 21st-century individualism because it advocates for the transformation of the entire human family.

Paul employs the image of the church as a human body with several parts working in tandem in its function. Similarly, clergy’s call and work with lay people and others in the world should be done in ways that give holistic health to that body.

We are called to a life that appreciates the diversity of gifts and talents through which the body of Christ can function as God intends. This body functions from a posture of humility when each part is invited to contribute (Romans 12:5-6). Used in the service of building the church, each part will be enriched, appreciated, and honored in his or her magnifying of God. Indeed, one’s gifts find meaning in the giftedness of others, who seek to build the Kingdom of God in today’s world.