Lectionary Commentaries for August 9, 2020
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 14:22-33

Mitzi J. Smith

It is among the masses in Galilee that Jesus commences his healing and teaching ministry.1

Jesus’ popularity as a man who can heal whatever ails a person spreads beyond the Galilean borders. Jesus’ newly acquired celebrity attracted enormous crowds; the crowds consisted of the infirm and their caregivers and friends, as well as curious, fascinated, and antagonistic fans and tag-alongs (Matthew 4:23-25; 8:1-4, 19-22; 9:14). Jesus will develop ambivalence toward the constant press of crowds, oscillating between engaged compassion and crowd-fatigue. Most healer-teacher-preachers are energized and encouraged when the crowds show up to receive the gifts of their vocation, but all humans have limits and need boundaries, space, and time for self-care apart from the crowds and from their inner circle of confidants. Jesus was craving this kind of reprieve immediately before his disciples are haunted by him walking on the stormy sea (Matthew 14:13, 22).

The story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee is preceded by the narrative of the feeding the 5,000-plus (Matthew 14:13-21); a healing summary follows it (14:34-36). In all three narratives the crowds play a significant role. In the preceding narrative, Jesus tries to retreat into an isolated place, perhaps needing space to grieve the murder of John the Baptist; however, he is drawn back into the crowd and their needs (14:13-21). Jesus momentarily sacrifices self-care to attend to the crowds. The disciples urge Jesus to dismiss the crowds, presuming that the entire crowd has the means and ability to trek into the city to buy food. This won’t be the first time the disciples urge Jesus to send folks packing (15:23). But perhaps, in this case, Jesus’ inner circle sensed that Jesus needed some self-care—time to be alone and relax.

We all variously allow our callings to blind us to our limitations and the long term effects of neglecting self-care. But more importantly, we can forget that we are not God! And when we leave the earth, others will or will not carry on; over that we have no control. When I left home to attend college to prepare for my vocation, it was difficult and painful leaving my mother’s side. She was an invalid and I was the only child still home to assist her and look out for her. I cried myself to sleep nights in my dorm room; I felt I should be doing something more to help my mother (even though I was able to obtain work the second day in my new city to send money home). My mother said she just wanted me to be happy. But it was God, I like to believe, who reminded me one night, through my tears, that God can do what I cannot do, in my presence and in my absence.

Jesus, like many people called into ministry, had a passion for the people and sometimes passion and enthusiasm pushes self-care to the curb. A fully embodied ministry is one characterized by self-care. Self-care is a divine gift. Jesus was human like us and could convince himself that there is only one person and one way to fulfill the significant and daunting needs of the masses. Interestingly, our story is followed by a summary of the many crowds that pursued Jesus on the other side of lake. So great is the need and so massive the crowd, that the people themselves imagine a way that this one human being could meet as many of their needs as possible—by touching the fringe of his cloak. What happens when the fringes wear out?

Unable to escape the crowds, Jesus is so starving for self-care that he sends his disciples away in a boat, alone cross the lake before nightfall. Jesus risks being stranded without a boat. The narrator states that in the evening the boat carrying the disciples was battered by the waves and far from the shore (Matthew 14:23). Jesus had no boat. And Jesus stayed put. He did not panic; he chose to be fully present in his space and time alone (monos). We can’t jump for every storm and embody self-care too! Perhaps, God has another plan and another woman or man or a way out of no way! Jesus dismissed the crowds and sought a solitary place up in the mountain where he talked to God and rested. After Jesus’ spirit, mind, and body were rejuvenated, Jesus arose early in the morning—refreshed and looking good, I imagine—and walked on the sea toward his disciples. But the disciples think that Jesus is a ghost. Terrified, they scream. “Instantly, Jesus said to them, ‘Stay calm, it is I; don’t be afraid.’ Peter responds, ‘Master, if it is really you, command me to join you on the water.’ Jesus responded, ‘Come! [if you insist]’” (Matthew 14:27-28, my translation). Peter disembarks onto the water and walks around a bit and heads toward Jesus. Let’s be real. Feeding a mass of people with a few loaves of bread and fish is not the same as walking on water!

Peter soon discovers that it is one thing to be battered by strong winds while in the same boat with others . It is a whole other matter to be on the water surrounded by strong winds and all by yourself, without others who share in the same vulnerability. Jesus and Peter were not “in the same boat”; Jesus had evidently walked on the choppy sea of distress for some distance, from shore to boat in the fierce winds. Peter had not. Yes, Jesus chastised Peter when he notices the winds and begins to sink; Jesus accuses him of doubting and having little faith. Sometimes faith is seeing the boat for what it is—a shared experience and the opportunity to lean on one another, to encourage each other in the storm while waiting on God. Peter was eager to leave his shipmates and to join Jesus, rather than to wait for Jesus to join them in the boat. Sometimes we want our own miracle at the expense of others who are in the same boat as us. Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter, and they both got into the boat with the other disciples. It is when they are all in the boat together with Jesus that the winds calm down.

Few readers focus on the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. The spotlight is usually placed on Peter’s momentary walk on the water and his failure to maintain that walk because of his shifted focus from Jesus to the winds. Perhaps it is as significant that Jesus is able to walk on the water so as to reengage in his ministry after some much needed self-care. Perhaps, Jesus looks like a ghost because the Jesus that the disciples left on the other side of the sea looked overworked, fatigued, drab, and unsteady. Perhaps they were not accustomed to seeing Jesus look so rested, in control, and peaceful; thus, they think he is a ghost. Sometimes we are haunted by visions of our better selves. Our better selves are such an improbability for us that to see it, to envision it and what it may take to achieve our better selves is a haunting. We are haunted by better days that seem to escape us. Sometimes we get ourselves in such a rut of not taking care of ourselves, of not exercising, of not sleeping well or barely sleeping, of not eating properly, that to live otherwise haunts us. Bell hooks in her book Sisters of the Yam states that self-care is a political act of resistance for black women. Self-care may be a political act of resistance for anyone overwhelmed by challenges caused by the superman or superwoman syndrome and/or by the perennial onslaught of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, disability, or other forms of oppression (and being the oppressor is destructive as well).

After his time of self-care, Jesus is empowered from his head to the sole of his water-walking feet and at the fringe of his garment (14:34-36). When Jesus reaches land he doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting; the people empower themselves and are healed by merely touching the hem of his cloak, something that hadn’t happened since the early part of his ministry (Matthew 9:20-21).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 13, 2017.

First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 19:9-18

Christopher Davis

The word disappointment is a word that all of us will get a chance to use at some point in our lives.

I’ll go so far as to say that it’s impossible to live this life and not have some interaction with the reality of disappointment. Disappointment comes in many forms and fashions.

Sometimes people disappoint us. We thought we knew them and figured they were one way, only to discover, through their actions, that they were not who we gave them credit for being.

Sometimes circumstances disappoint us. You expected the promotion and somebody less qualified got it. You anticipated closing the deal and it falls through at the last moment.

Sometimes we disappoint ourselves. You let somebody get under your skin and you started acting in a way antithetical to who Jesus is. You thought you had forgotten some of those words, and now you’re disappointed because you suddenly realize you’ve not come as far as you thought you had. So, sometimes, people disappoint us; sometimes circumstances disappoint us; sometimes we disappoint ourselves.

But then there are those times when God disappoints us.

God didn’t fix it. God didn’t turn it around. God didn’t expose it. God didn’t cure it. God didn’t pay it. God didn’t move it, and the reason disappointment sets in is because you know God could have. God just chose not to. However, I think it important to point out that disappointment is a part of the process that God uses to mature us. Because, often it is our disappointment that reveals our character.

Disappointment time becomes examination time. How we respond in the face of disappointment often reveals who we really are, and not just who we say we are. And, this is where we find Elijah in 1 Kings 19.

Prior this week’s reading, Elijah has been on a victory tour. Elijah has experienced the thrill of hearing people call his name and celebrating his heroic feats. It was at Elijah’s behest, at his call, at his command, that God rained down fire on Mt. Carmel, a fire so intense it burned wet wood. This act alone cleared up any and all questions as to whether or not God was really with him.

Yet when we focus the sermonic spotlight on 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah dealing with a level of disappointment that’s threatening to push him into depression. He discovers that even after victory, there’s still a thing called reality. And the reality is this: one victory does not mean the end of challenges. Your calling does not cancel all your challenges. I don’t care how anointed you are. I don’t care how appointed you are. I don’t care how filled with the Holy Ghost you are. At the right time or the wrong time, with the wrong person, in the wrong situation, saying the wrong thing, acting the wrong way, you will discover that you still have some human moments.

Elijah gives us a vivid picture of public victory and private struggles. All the bounding assurance passes away; the heavens appear to be emptied; the earth is deserted; and the prophet is left languishing, declaring “I alone am left!” The once triumphant spokesman of the Lord has temporarily lost his exuberant faith and is sunk in dark despair.

There is something in human nature that makes us feel more akin to individuals who occasionally suffer defeat. If Elijah’s journey had been one of endless victories, and uncertainty had never held him in its grips, he would have appeared “a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” Peter’s break with courage that leads him to curse, and Paul’s feelings of wretchedness despite his ecstasies allow them to be counted among the crowd of the common. In spite of all he had exclaimed, experienced, and expected, Elijah has experienced a crisis of faith that pushes him to give up on ministry and lie down with a desire to die.

What is the source and secret of such great despair? What pushes the prophet to give up on his work and witness? He’s guilty of what so many pastors fall victim to: he’s been head counting. “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

When the focus is on numbers—budgets, butts in the seat, and the building fund, when we exaggerate the possibilities we see and disregard the power we cannot see—disappointment gives way to despondency. So, what must we do? What does Elijah do? We understand that in those moments we don’t find God, but rather God finds us.

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

Is the writer of the story denying that God has spoken in times past in this fashion? No! There are times when we need the rebuke of the storm, the terror of the earthquake, or the purification of the fire. At other times, this may have been fitting, but for the occasion, for this level of need, God dismissed the extraordinary in exchange for the ordinary.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn is that God is in the quiet, the gentle influences that are ever around us, working with us, for us, and on us, without any visible or audible indicators of activity. We must learn to listen for the God who is quiet and gentle. Maybe our failure to hear that which is quiet is what signals that which is catastrophic. When we fail to discern God in our health, God comes in sickness. When we fail to discern God in our prosperity, God comes in adversity. When we fail to discern God is the stillness, God comes in the storm.

In this age of feuding and fighting, screeching and screaming, bellowing and blowing, perhaps this story is a reminder that it’s in the hush, in the silence, where the presence and power of God are most identifiable.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Roger Nam

This week’s passage highlights a timeless theme of family dysfunction.

The background: Genesis 37:1-4

Genesis 37:2 gives a clean introduction, “These are the generations of Jacob.” We receive details of the story that will prime us for some major family drama:

  • Jacob’s father was an immigrant (verse 1)
  • Joseph is 17 years old (verse 2)
  • Joseph shepherds with his brothers (verse 2)
  • Joseph is a bit of a snitch (verse 2)
  • Joseph is his father’s favorite child (verse 3)

The detail of favoritism is particularly significant as it develops more fully in the rest of the narrative. Joseph was the youngest, but he was the unequivocally favored child. In patrilineal societies, the eldest son was the favored one, as he was the one to receive the largest share of the estate and take over as the next patriarch. The unexpected favoritism towards Joseph was naturally upsetting to the older brothers. It should be noted that in this patrilineal social setting, daughters were not in the conversations. Sometimes details in the Bible are reflective of culture over moral norms so let us all proceed judiciously.

The transaction: Genesis 37:12-28

The implied tensions in Genesis 37:1-4 are later manifest in the sale of Joseph to the passing caravan. The brothers are “near Shechem” without Joseph. These brothers have two commonalities: a shared task of pasturing the flock and a shared hatred for their youngest brother. A narrative tension arises with Jacob’s command to “bring word back to me” (verse 14). This mimics the earlier episode in verse 2, when Joseph goes to the brothers and brings back a report of evil to the father. The narrative is set so one will expect the same result. Joseph goes, Joseph gives a bad report, and the father rewards the youngest at the expense of the other brothers.

But before this can play out, the brothers intervene as “they conspired to kill him” (verse 18). Linguistically, this is a hitpael construction, a relatively rare Hebrew verbal stem that is both reflexive and causative. So perhaps another way to capture this verb in translation is “they caused deceit to themselves to kill him.” The pre-modern agrarian setting meant that kinship, specifically brotherhood, was a crucial component of their life. Their lives would be woven together from cradle to grave. They knew that they owed complete fidelity to their father’s wishes.

But the family dysfunction resulted in the brothers causing deceit to themselves. Naturally, the brothers had real envy at Joseph’s special abilities. The father’s favoritism exacerbated matters. These details invite us to contemplate the complexities within the minds of the brothers. There was real fear of Joseph delivering another unfavorable report to the father. The brothers did not make a rash decision, for they had a lot to lose. The ensuing dialogue among brothers further illustrates the conflicting feelings.

They mock him and make a plan for physical punishment. Then Reuben, perhaps with a tinge of remorse, convinces the brothers to spare him death in place of emotional shame (“they stripped him of his robe,” verse 23) and physical punishment (“there was no water,” verse 24). Judah then adds the potential of material gain to sell him to the traveling caravan of Ishmaelites. Perhaps the transaction assuaged some ongoing guilt at the offense, but ultimately the brothers violated a core value of ancient Near Eastern family life and a biblical law (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). In this case, the brothers valued “profit” (verse 26) over the “brotherhood.” The selling of their brother for twenty shekels of silver underscores the moral depravity.

I write these words in the first week of June 2020, as the nation is fractured under the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. I cannot predict the pulse of the nation as you preach this passage. But I have two gentle warnings. First, do not be tempted to use this passage to preach on God’s sovereignty. It is not explicit in the passage (yet). Second, do not fall into the temptation of an overtly Christological interpretation. I understand the commonalities later embedded in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but again, this is not in the text.

Instead, I urge you to preach this passage with attention to the brothers. How did these ten brothers end up stripping their youngest brother and selling him into a life of slavery? The answer is complex. Each of the ten had a different reaction to Joseph. Surely, upon seeing their brother coming to them, they experienced conflicting emotions of both fraternal loyalty and sheer hate. They also had fear for their own futures. Their father’s unfettered devotion to Joseph surely caused pain, masked by jealousy. Two of the brothers may have diverted an immediate death sentence for a more drawn out one. But in the end, ten brothers boosted themselves to protect their privilege, and sacrificed the life of their brother in the process. But even Reuben and Judah are not excused from this act of evil.

The hermeneutical payoff goes back to the hitpael verb of Genesis 37:18. Reading the text is an invitation to sit in the perspective of the ten brothers. How do we “cause deceit to ourselves” in ways that protect our own privilege at the expense of those in marginalized spaces? This is the reading that is so important with the reality of the violent dangers that African American communities face in daily life. Perhaps this passage can compel Christians to examine their present and historic complicities in the racialized terror that plagues Black bodies. Yes, we know that God is sovereign. But this passage ends with Joseph sold and being sent to a lifetime of servanthood. We cannot let the sovereignty of God rescue us from our moral responsibility. The sovereignty of God does not invalidate the present pain of oppression. The passage ends with Joseph in suffering with no justice in sight. Many in our faith communities will relate.


Commentary on Psalm 85:8-13

W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

An interpretation of Psalm 85:8-13 needs first to find a context in the whole of Psalm 85.1

The psalm is a prayer in the midst of crisis for the ancient faith community. They prayed for joy, joy that can come from God’s presence in the midst of the community. It is divided into three parts:

  • God’s previous restoration of the community (verses 1-3)
  • A plea for God to bring restoration in a new crisis (verses 4-7)
  • A message of assurance (verses 8-13)
    Most commentators understand the first three verses in terms of liberation from exile. Accordingly, they place the psalm in a post-exilic setting in which the community is struggling after the return. We could think of the era of Ezra and Nehemiah and understand that the psalm looks back to the return from exile.

The phrase “restored the fortunes” in verse 1 is at times used to describe ancient Israel’s return from exile (for example, cf. Jeremiah 30-33), but the phrase is not limited to that context. Rather, it can be adapted, so both this phrase and the psalm are applicable to a variety of settings of trouble and woe. The plea is for God to restore the worshiping community in the way verses 1-3 remember. Our focus is the concluding verses of the psalm that offer hope in the midst of the current trouble.

The opening section of the psalm brings to mind a fond memory of a time when God restored the fortunes of Jacob/Israel and forgave them. God turned from wrath to forgiveness. In verses 4-7, the praying community pleads that this same God with whom they have a salvation history will again act to restore so that the community can praise and thank God. “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation” (verse 7).

Verses 8-13

The third section of the psalm begins with a reference to the speaker who is revealing a word from God, a word of peace to the faithful. This word is not in the form of direct divine speech, but is in a style characteristic of the psalms and of announcements of salvation in the Old Testament.

Imagine the scene as the worship leader rises to proclaim a word of hope. The verses are filled with terms central to Old Testament faith. Verses 8-9 characterize the word as peace (wholeness or health) and salvation (wellness) for the community. God’s glory will again come to the land. In other words, God will again be present to bless the community and nurture it to fullness of life. And this gift is for the faithful, those whose lives are centered in relationship with God.

The images of God’s salvation delightfully pile up in verses 10-13. In verse 10, God’s unchanging love and trustworthiness come together to bring the community into right relationship with God and each other (i.e. righteousness). God’s righteousness brings peace. The personifications in verse 10 are worth quoting: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

In addition, faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will come down from the heavens. This exuberant poetic picture is clearly in excess of any possible human achievement, and so is focused on God’s presence and activity for the faithful.

This proclamation of salvation is a strong word of encouragement and assurance in a community crisis. It is a word of hope, and the worship setting seeks to call the community to trust and faithfulness in the God who will bring about this salvation.

The conclusion of the psalm proclaims that God will bring increase to the land, alluding to the beginning of the psalm that remembers a time when God was “favorable to the land.” Even more, God acts to bring the community into righteousness (right relationship), in turn making a path for God to walk with this community of faith.


Our attempts to interpret Psalm 85 and appropriate its faith for proclamation need to attend to the text’s poetic sequence.

The psalm begins by remembering a past when God restored the community. Now the community is struggling again and prays that God will once more bring renewal. The pivot comes in verses 6-7 with the plea for renewal and a demonstration of God’s unchanging love.

The remarkable poetic images in verses 8-13 promise just such a renewal. The terms used in those verses (peace, salvation, glory, steadfast love, faithfulness, and righteousness) are terms central to ancient Israel’s faith tradition. They characterize God’s involvement in the world to bring this faith community to wholeness in life.

The picture of life in these verses far exceeds what today would be a clinical definition of life as avoiding death.  Here, life is portrayed as a full, complete, and healthy life lived to the fullest in relationship with God as part of a community of faith.  It is another way of describing peace — the Hebrew word is shalom.

Shalom is much more than the absence of war or conflict. It is a sense of well being. That kind of wholeness is centered on a life in the presence of God with which the psalm concludes.

Psalm 85 thus models for the community the act of prayer in a time of crisis and the celebration of salvation articulated in the promises of verses 8-13. Such salvation can only come from the God who is present to bless and who comes to deliver.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 7, 2011.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 10:5-15

Matt Skinner

A preacher might get at this very challenging text from one of two directions.1

Each approach comes with its own difficulties.

You can ignore the wider context of Romans 9-11 and zero in on the pregnant statements in verse 9 (“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”), verse 13 (“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”), or verse 15 (“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”).

Or, you can treat this passage as part of Paul’s broader discussion about whether the reliability of God is imperiled by the gospel’s failure to attract the majority of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries.

The former approach will be utterly unhelpful for those who are working through a series on Romans or who are midway through the lectionary’s three-week tour of chapters 9-11. It also risks providing a shallow and unsatisfying engagement with scripture, which is prooftexting’s propensity.

The latter requires preachers to set this passage into the trajectory of Paul’s larger presentation, which is difficult since this is the lectionary’s only selection from Romans 9-11 between last week’s introductory text and next week’s conclusion.

Obviously (obvious to me, at least), the latter approach corresponds best with the lectionary’s function and is more likely to produce real “biblical preaching,” so that’s my angle in this commentary.

What Is Paul Saying?

Our passage follows directly on the heels of a bold statement: “For Christ is the end [Greek: telos] of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). (Actually, a better translation is: “For the end of the law is Christ….”) Whether telos refers to the Mosaic law’s termination or to its consummation/goal occasions no small debate. The statement’s basic emphasis is much clearer, however: Christ is the agent through whom God’s righteousness is actualized. Even the law aimed toward Christ. Christ is the means of righteousness for everyone who has faith.

To unpack the claims of 10:4, Paul offers in 10:5-13 a series of references to scripture. Trying to follow his point can make our heads hurt.

As is usually the case when Paul refers to scripture, scholarship on verses 5-13 has generated deep debates about Paul’s method and purpose. What we discover in these verses is not a scriptural “proof” meant to convince us. Rather, Paul collects biblical voices to provide resonance for his theological assertions. As a skilled midrashic deejay, he remixes a scriptural conversation for the Roman churches to hear, a conversation in which—in Paul’s arrangement—Christ sits at the center of the voices. All the words gravitate around him, thus acquiring new meaning as they express God’s work through Christ. (The relevant texts are Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Isaiah 28:16; Joel 2:32.)

Paul finds in Moses’ discourse about the law (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) affirmation that God’s word (Greek: rhema)—the life that the law promised—is very close to the people of God who received the law through Moses (see Romans 10:8). Just as near is Christ (the law’s telos), according to Paul’s christological rereading of Deuteronomy. Christ himself came “down” to humanity and enfleshed the law’s ultimate purpose (taking telos in Romans 10:4 as consummation), which is to give life. Christ accomplished what the law could not, hampered as it was by the power of sin (recall Romans 7:8-12). There’s no need, then, for us to go up to heaven to seek Christ; he already came to us. Nor do we descend into the grave to find him; he’s not there.

Concerning the nearness of the law, Moses spoke of “the word” being in the “mouth” (NRSV: “lips”) and the “heart” of the people of Israel (Romans 10:8a). Paul rereads this in verse 8b as “the word (Greek: rhema) about faith” that he now preaches as an apostle of Christ.

That is, Paul proclaims Christ, good news about Christ’s faithfulness and a message that in turn elicits faith in its hearers. In intimate ways, a believer interacts with Jesus: She confesses his Lordship in her “mouth” (NRSV: “lips”) and expresses faith in her “heart.” This way of confession and faith is the way of justification and salvation (verses 9-10).

At the end of the paragraph (verses 11-13), things get a little simpler. Here the emphasis falls on “everyone.” Recall that 10:4 spoke of everyone (Greek: pas) who has faith (“believes”). Four times Paul repeats the work pas:

  • Verse 11: “Everyone (pas) who believes in him will not be put to shame” (NET). That is, put positively, everyone will receive God’s approval.
  • Verse 12: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all (pas) and is generous to all (pas) who call on him.”
  • Verse 13: “Everyone (pas) who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

God’s salvation is available to all. This is a bold statement. We err if we hear it as anthropology, as a claim that all people are about the same, or as a maxim that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” (that’s not Paul, but Horton Hears a Who!). Rather, Paul makes a statement about God: God has made salvation near to all.

At this point, Paul takes the discussion forward another step. Verses 14-15 launch a different subunit within Romans 9-11, in which Paul will note that the message about Christ has gone out. It has indeed been proclaimed, and it has been heard, and so Paul must reckon with the perplexing reality of why it has not widely evoked a positive response among “Israel,” Paul’s Jewish contemporaries. Paul’s reflections on this matter extend far into Romans 11.

Why Is Paul Saying This?

How does Romans 10:5-15 serve Paul’s wider argument in Romans 9-11?

For one thing, Paul is ruminating on why it can be that so many of his fellow Jews have, in his words, “not submitted to God’s righteousness” (10:3). Why has the gospel apparently made no impact upon them? He contends in 10:5-13 that it has been made very available to them. This pushes the questions: Has something gone wrong? and What is God’s plan here? These questions drive much of the theological deliberation in Romans 9-11.

Paul is also moving to equate the lack of a response to the gospel with “disobedience.” The gospel has been proclaimed and “heard” (Greek: akouo; 10:14, 18). But not all have “obeyed” (Greek: hupakouo; 10:16) it. They have resisted its power, refusing God’s efforts to manifest righteousness. (Next Sunday’s text allows preachers an opportunity to revisit this aspect of Paul’s argument.)

The move here is similar to what Paul did in Romans 1-3, where he asserted that Jews and gentiles alike are estranged from God and under sin’s power (see 3:9). Paul dissolves some of the distance between Jews and gentiles; all suffer from disobedience to God, in some form (compare 6:16-17). But, for Paul, there is good news in this: God still saves people out of those conditions. In next week’s reading, Paul will contend earnestly that God remains faithful to save and shows mercy to all.

And so the word of salvation is still very near.

What Has Paul Told Us?

Beginning with last week’s reading from Romans 9:1-5, I’ve contended that Romans 9-11 is primarily about the character of God. This week’s reading is important for helping us get inside the argument Paul offers in these three chapters. But it’s also important for what it says about God and God’s relationship to us. What might a preacher emphasize, so a sermon does more than map the rhetorical flow of Romans 9-11?

First, this passage gets a place in the “greatest hits” list of Pauline passages that insist we must not presume we make our salvation happen. All people who are caught up in God’s righteousness do so because of God’s effort. None manufactures it on his own. Christ is the means by which God manifests God’s righteousness (see 1:17) and claims us within it.

Second, just as God’s instruction was very near to the people of Israel in the law Moses gave them, so too God’s word of life remains present among all people—ready to be encountered—through Christ. What does it mean that it’s near to us? It means it’s right here! Show it to your congregation. And remind them that none of us is any nearer to it than anyone else. It’s for everyone.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 9, 2011.