Lectionary Commentaries for June 27, 2021
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 5:21-43

David Schnasa Jacobsen

One of Mark’s favorite writing habits is to place two stories in a sandwiched relationship that scholars call “intercalation.”

Our lectionary pericope begins with the healing story of a young girl connected with the synagogue leader Jairus (Mark 5:21-24a), interrupts that narrative with another intrepid healing story of a woman with hemorrhages for twelve years (verses 24b-34), and then concludes with the raising of the first young girl even though she had died waiting for the delayed Jesus to arrive (verses 35-43).

Intercalation, or the sandwiching of stories, is important not just as a marker of Mark’s writing style but also brings with it greater hermeneutical depth: the two stories of a young girl and a persistent woman, one sandwiched within the other, are there to interpret each other and reveal a Jesus in his differentiated healing and salvific power. It seems this Jesus can heal even when he doesn’t initiate it (verses 29-30) and can raise someone else he failed to heal in time (verses 40-42)! The intercalated stories are sandwiched because some things that you savor just taste better together.1

The first part of the young girl’s healing story reminds us that Jesus is still crossing the lake by boat, thus linking what we read in Mark 5 to the Jesus revealed on both Jewish and gentile sides of the lake ever since Mark 4:1. The danger is invoked by the troubled father Jairus who fears rightly that his young daughter is on the verge of death. Jairus’ faith comes through his voice: he believes Jesus’ laying on of hands can make his daughter well now and live going forward. Please note his description of Jesus’ prospective healing in Mark 5:23 draws on verbs of saving and thriving, healing and living.2

Jesus goes along with Jairus’ wish but finds his healing plot quickly interrupted. The crowd starts by pressing in on Jesus, but even that passing distraction proves to be adequate cover for a woman plagued by hemorrhages for twelve years. Here, early in this sandwiched narrative, a close reading of the Greek is a great help to the preacher. Mark 5:26 goes to great lengths to describe the woman in a long periodic sentence full of past participles: having suffered, having spent money, having not benefitted, and having gotten worse, having heard about Jesus, and having come from behind … then comes the long delayed main verb: she touched [Jesus’] garment. She “has been” participled worse than most, but by the end of the long periodic sentence the unnamed woman still has agency—in her only indicative verb—to touch the one she just knows can heal her. Hers is no passive rescue—and that itself, I suspect, becomes part of the healing. The healing confirmation does not come first from without, but within—the woman knows immediately in her body that the healing has happened.

 Jesus, by contrast, knows something’s up, but is at first a disoriented healer. He even asks his disciples who touched him. The healed woman comes forward, yes, full of fear and trembling as if caught up in a theophanic moment, yet also knowing and telling truth. Jesus calls her “daughter” which even now fails to capture her in all her fullness. But Jesus also addresses and sees her because she is now graciously restored. Jesus can only confirm her healing by joining together a blessing of peace and of release from her scourge going forward.3

With that the first healing story can now conclude at the home of Jairus. But even this final part of the intercalated narratives seems to offer disappointment. Already grief has begun, because the young girl once waiting for healing is now dead. Jesus offers words of encouragement to Jairus (is Jesus still hearing the persistent woman’s remarkable testimony ringing in his ears?) but finds the now dead young girl surrounded with what looks like professional mourners. Jesus’ comment about the girl merely sleeping is greeted with laughter. In a beautiful moment he addresses her and takes her hand. The young girl rises and is restored to her family. But Jesus is not through: he wants them to keep quiet about what happened here, but to nonetheless give her something to eat … going forward.

These remarkable intercalated stories of a young girl and a persistent woman help us see the range and the reach of this mystery we call Jesus. Their sandwiched stories interpret each other and at the same time reinterpret us readers toward an emerging vision of not just healing, but new creation. Jesus’ healing power goes beyond mere fixing to a restoration to life and even empowerment through the saving faith of others. And in this beautiful, sandwiched picture is Jesus, yes, but also the crowds, a father, friends, professional mourners, and above all women, young and old alike, loosed from death and invited into new creation going forward.


  1. Please read my commentary, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 80-82, which treats this beautiful text in much greater detail.
  2. Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2000), 356-57.
  3. Ibid., 361.

First Reading

Commentary on Lamentations 3:22-33

Brennan Breed

Lamentations is rarely read or sung in any American churches, but when it is, it’s the passage in today’s lectionary reading. Beautiful hymns such as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” have helped the church for hundreds of years to find hope and solace in the beautiful cadences of Lamentations 3. Yet when we focus only on these verses of hope in the midst of a book entitled “Lamentations,” we risk missing their point—and indeed, the point of the entire book in which they are found. 

The book of Lamentations was written by and for people who had survived an unimaginable trauma with personal, political, social, and theological dimensions. What if everything you relied upon for your security, comfort, identity, sense of God’s presence, and hope in the future simply vanished overnight? For the residents of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, who watched the Babylonians smash the walls of Jerusalem, burn down the temple, knock down the houses in the city, and execute the Davidic royal family, the world seemed to lose all sense of order and coherence. Life suddenly felt chaotic, brutal, meaningless, and hopeless. These emotions and the questions that arose from the traumatic destruction of Jerusalem are reflected in the book of Lamentations. 

As Kathleen O’Connor interprets the text, the book of Lamentations as a whole offers a theology of witnessing to suffering.1 In contemporary American culture, at least, the expression of pain and suffering is often seen as embarrassing, weak, and even tacky. If something is wrong, then many of us want to know how to fix it and then forget about it. Asking someone else to hear about our pain in detail is considered selfish and cringe-worthy. We should grin and bear the pain instead—especially in Christian communities, where the triumph of Christ’s resurrection often serves as a trump card to force people to rejoice, or the call of Christ to carry our crosses serves to halt any conversation about the pain of our suffering. But Lamentations asks us to sit with grief, either ours or someone else’s, and give ourselves time to feel its texture, weight, and shape. 

This can be seen clearly in Lamentations 1, where Daughter Zion—a personified Jerusalem ravaged by the Babylonian destruction—and the narrator repeatedly ask God and the passers-by to “look” at Daughter Zion’s pain (Lamentation 1:9, 11, 12), suggesting that God and neighbor have not paid attention to the tragedy. The only people who do notice are the mockers who heap shame onto Daughter Zion, compounding her suffering (Lamentations 1:5, 7, 8, 21). The narrator and Daughter Zion repeat another refrain throughout the chapter: she has “no one to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:2, 7, 17, 21). YHWH has not consoled her, and neither have any neighbors. If either had paid attention, maybe they would offer both comfort and support. 

So, why does the poet go to such lengths to describe in intricate detail the suffering of Daughter Zion (Lamentations 1:1-2, 12, 16, 20)? Perhaps because the poet is asking us to be the one who will pay attention to the suffering, that someone might finally notice. In Lamentations 2:13, the poet struggles to imagine how anyone could adequately bear witness to the immensity of Daughter Zion’s pain; but this struggle to enunciate the truth of another’s suffering is the point of the book of Lamentations, and it is entrusted to us, its readers, as our sacred task.2

Lamentations 3 introduces another character: the geber, or “strongman,” who is expected to defend the city from its attackers (verse 1). He has not only failed in his duty—his own suffering has left him without peace, happiness, energy, or hope (verses 17-18). The geber places the blame squarely on YHWH, who has mercilessly mauled Jerusalem like a bear hunting its prey (verses 10-11). After the text in today’s lectionary, the geber subtly accuses YHWH of failing to hear and save the people who so desperately need divine help (verses 42-65; note verse 42: “you have not forgiven”). 

In the midst of those accusations, we find the famous text that tells us: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: YHWH’s fierce covenant loyalty (ḥesed) never ceases” (verses 21-22; most scholars and translations choose to read with Syriac and Targum here instead of the Masoretic Text). The geber remembers the cornerstone of his faith: unflagging hope in YHWH’s continually renewing loyalty, grace, and mercy (verses 23-24). This declaration of faith sounds very similar to an often-repeated refrain that likely served as a backbone of ancient Israelite faith in YHWH (see also Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; etc). 

In the past, this knowledge gave the geber quiet confidence that YHWH would eventually save him from any and all troubles (verses 25-26). The geber even claims that suffering and adversity can be constructive and upbuilding especially for the young, as it builds spiritual grit (verses 27-30). According to these teachings, God will eventually bring salvation, and those who had hope will be rewarded—and presumably will increase their faith. God does none of this out of anger or rage, says the geber; it’s all for our benefit (verses 32-33). 

It is important to note that this is not the last word in the book of Lamentations. Some scholars have argued that the seemingly central position of these words within the book centers their theological claim and minimizes the descriptions of suffering that predominate in the rest of the book. Yet Lamentations 4 and 5 break with the tight acrostic patterns of Lamentations 1-2, and thus the book is unbalanced overall—and what seems like a central position given to Lamentations 3:22-33 is a mirage. 

Thematically, Lamentations 4 and 5 return to remembering the trauma in excruciating detail, which suggests that Lamentations 3 did not solve the problem or remove the need to voice grief or re-tell the traumatic narrative. Most strikingly, the book of Lamentations closes with a startling series of questions: “Why have you forgotten completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days?” (Lamentations 5:20) The poet asks God for restoration, but ends with a sobering thought: perhaps God has utterly rejected the people, and there is no more hope (Lamentations 5:21-22). The book thus begins with a question (“How?”; Lamentations 1:1) and ends with an implied question (Will you ever take us back?; Lamentations 5:22). 

Thus the robust and heroic faith of Lamentations 3:22-33 is part of a larger conversation about traumatized individuals and communities struggling through their own sorrow and grasping for any remnant of a relationship with God. It is a part of faith, but not the final word, and should be carefully used to open avenues of conversation, dialogue, and honest sharing rather than shut them down. Perhaps, within the overall structure of the book, the poet puts these words in the mouth of the geber to remind YHWH of the people’s formerly vigorous confidence in YHWH: “Be the God you long ago promised to be!” 

In the lectionary, this text is paired with the famous “Markan sandwich” of two miracles: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the flow of blood (Mark 5:21-43). Both of these miracles showcase the extreme faith of unexpected individuals who have faced tremendous adversity. Perhaps the voice of Lamentations’ geber can help us think about the suffering felt by both of these recipients of God’s miraculous healing power without reducing them to one-dimensional object lessons that lead us to ignore our pain—and that of others.


  1.  Kathleen O’Connor, Lamentations and the Tears of the World (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002), 3. 
  2.  O’Connor, Lamentations, 39-43. 

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Amy G. Oden

David’s mourning cry at the death of Saul and Jonathan is raw and painful. As Christians, we are not well-schooled in lament.

In general, Christian culture focuses on the joy of the resurrection—the insistence of new life in the face of death—so much so that we may be reluctant to linger in grief. How do we share in grief together? What communal practices help us name and navigate the deep waters of lament? Our experience of pandemic, of violence against people of color, of mass casualties and loss, has revealed these gaps in our common life. 


Unless your congregation is especially biblically literate or you have already been teaching on the history of Israel, I invite you to focus this week on grief and its place in the life of faith. David “intoned his lamentation,” that is, he sang his loss out loud. He did not shy away from naming the loss in detail. David’s lament is an opportunity to pause and name our losses. 

Walk through each arena of life listed below, naming specific examples from your context and community. This list is not exhaustive, so add the arenas or topics that are key for your congregation. After each arena, pause to allow your audience to reflect in silence on examples from their own lives. 

Loved ones

First and foremost, we have lost loved ones. We felt helpless in the face of their illness. Many, too many, died alone, unaccompanied by family and friends who were not allowed into hospital rooms. Our grief is compounded by delayed funerals, by isolation in our loss, the absence of communal rituals to express and mark their passing. Their absence weighs heavily in our lives. 

Also, we have lost connection to loved ones. Because we could not visit, hug or stay in literal touch, some relationships have weakened. We keenly feel the increasing remoteness of friends, co-workers, family members. We have felt the loss of our support systems and social networks. 

Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on the loss of loved ones.

Economic losses

The loss of jobs, wages, career advancement and retirement savings have hit many hard. Woven throughout David’s speech is the drumbeat “How the mighty have fallen.” King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were “the mighty,” the ones on whom God’s people depended for security and strength. Many of our sources of security and strength have crumbled for us this year. Livelihoods that provide both income and identity have fallen. Evictions have stripped away a sense of stability and security. Economic safety nets—unemployment payments and other benefits—have been overwhelmed by a sea of need and so these, too, “have fallen” as inadequate to secure our lives.

Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on economic losses.

Daily life 

The security and strength we draw from routine patterns of life were stripped away over the past year.  “Normal” was replaced by the unknown, confusion and lots of trial and error to find new daily patterns of life. 

This, in turn, affected our family relationships, the loss of family outings, trips and routines. More time at home together was certainly a great blessing. Yet many also felt the loss of ease with one another as close quarters led to heightened tensions. Our sense of “normal” was lost.

Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on the loss of routines and normalcy.

Church community and rhythms 

We have missed one another in our common life as a congregation. We have lost time spent together in ministry—serving meals to the community, group studies, food pantry, youth and children’s ministries, choir—we have felt the loss of all these gathering and serving places. Our corporate worship has changed radically as well, going online. We miss being together and sharing life. We miss the smiles, the hugs, the community. 

Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on the loss of church life.

Racial reckoning 

We recognize the lack of progress toward racial justice as the depths of racism have been laid bare, again and again. The evidence of white supremacy and white privilege are undeniable in the face of bodies of color beaten and murdered. White notions of racial harmony seem now to be naïve or even self-indulgent. We lament the systems and structures that have preserved racism in insidious and powerful ways. We have much work to do.

Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on fissures in racial justice.

Creation mourns, too

Grief is so profound, so all-encompassing, David reminds us that even mountains and fields bear witness to it (verse 21). Death brings a new reality that shakes us to the core. How can the sun still rise when our loved one or our sense of normalcy is gone? These verses recognize that all creation, not only people, shares in this interruption of life. 

Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on ways that all of creation is in solidarity.

New life ahead

Only after fully plumbing the depths of grief, can we also name another truth underlying this passage: new life will emerge. Saul’s death makes way for the next, new season in Israel’s life. This reality in no way lessens the loss. Yet it is important to squarely face the necessity of endings in order to have beginnings. Saul’s death opens the way for a time of turning for God’s people. A new, united kingdom will flourish under David and his dynasty.

Allow folks here to pause in silence and identify the signs of new life emerging in their lives and in the world.

Take-home prayer

Provide paper for folks to jot down their own personal words for each of the arenas of loss you identify in the sermon. Conclude with signs of new life ahead. Invite people to take this home to use throughout the week as a prayer of lament and hope.


Commentary on Psalm 30

Carolyn J. Sharp

Psalm 30 frames the struggles of the life of faith within a glorious edifice: the Jerusalem Temple, a powerful cultural icon that “narrates” the faith of the believing community, the enduring presence of God, and the inviolability of God’s promises to Israel.1

The psalm is ascribed to David, but it is also designated for the dedication of the Temple. Since the dedication of the first Temple took place under Solomon (1 Kings 8:63), in view here must be either the dedication of the second Temple in 515 B.C.E. (Ezra 6:16) or its rededication in the Maccabean era (1 Maccabees 4).

The complexity of the superscription invites us to hear the psalm as a prophetic reflection on the fortunes of God’s people from the early monarchy through the Persian period or even later. “Temple” becomes a richly layered symbol for the participation of the faithful in worship through the centuries. In the sweeping historical perspective constructed by the superscription, the Temple with its liturgical rhythms becomes the spiritual edifice constructed by those who sing God’s praises in every generation.

The psalmist begins with a shout of praise: God has drawn him up, healed him, and restored his life! The psalmist names his experience of healing using allusions to mythic depths, hinting at the spiritual deeps from which God has drawn him up (verse 1) and referring explicitly to Sheol and the Pit (verse 3), tropes for the spiritually inert arena of dusty darkness that awaits the dead. A chiastic structure with healing at its center (verse 2) renders transparent the veil between this life, with its pragmatic challenges of sickness and enmity, and the underworld that exists outside of human time. The mythic places of chaos and meaninglessness press on every side, threatening not only those who have already expired but those who seek to flourish in the present moment.

The psalmist breaks off his narrative to exhort the gathered community to praise the LORD (verse 4). Implicitly, we are invited to join the ranks of God’s seasoned “faithful ones.” The basis for praise? Experiences of divine punishment are only fleeting, whereas God’s favor lasts “for a lifetime.” The Hebrew phrasing here may be read in a theologically profound way: “a moment” is contrasted not with “length of days” or “all the days of my life” or another such commonplace expression of time, but with life itself (chayyim; compare Psalm 36:9 and 42:2).2  Transient pain is answered by God’s eternal grace.

The following lines feint toward the continued establishment of the one who praises God for divine favor: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain.” But the confidence of the psalmist is decimated by two startling words in the Hebrew: histarta paneka, “You hid your face.” All his strong talk is unraveled in a moment of abandonment! We are undone as well, for we trusted this narratorial voice.

The psalmist had not been boasting in any untoward way; he had rightly credited God’s “favor” as the means by which he had been caused to prosper. Surprised by his experience of abandonment, we find ourselves standing with the psalmist in that ragged liminal moment in which praise shades over into mourning. With his remembrance of having been left by God, the psalmist not only subverts false confidence. He renders poignant—and fragile—the shouts of praise that still echo in the sanctuary.

We are compelled to face the terrifying absence of God in the very midst of our singing. The psalmist challenges God with a barrage of rhetorical questions and impassioned pleas (verses 9-10). But this, too, is faith, for the psalmist’s anguished “Hear, O LORD!” (shema Adonai) evokes the majestic Shema Yisrael that perpetually reestablishes the covenant relationship between God and people (Deuteronomy 6:4).

We could try to dismiss the psalmist’s cries as irrelevant now, in the present moment of healing. But because of the brilliant way in which the psalm weaves together past and present, these sharp challenges to God remain forceful. Their traces cannot be silenced even in a sanctuary resounding with praise. The psalm may move gracefully into joy once again (verses 11-12), but we are left with trauma as an insistent memory just beneath the surface of our recovery.

Psalm 30 inscribes holy space in two temporal dimensions. One dimension is the contested space of historical time lived in God’s presence. We are drawn into the drama of the life of the believer with its doubts and joys, its anger and trust, its barely-suppressed fear of enemies. But another temporal dimension unfolds as well: the sacred space of eternity, in which God’s favor continually heals believers and clothes them with joy. Mourning turns to dancing; sackcloth is traded for a garment of rejoicing. These are liturgical terms: we are led to perceive the “Temple,” as both literal and spiritual edifice, holding together these two dimensions of faithful living.

It is not the case that we struggle and then are healed, once and for all. That might suggest that God’s redemption is a commodity that believers could seek to manipulate liturgically. Rather, we seek God through the changeable rhythms of joyous praising and bitter wrestling. Faith is lived in a dance of mourning and rejoicing—a dance that is by turns brutal and lyrical, as the turbulent Hebrew meter of this poem might suggest. Belief means alternately challenging and submitting to One whose power to save cannot be bounded by our expectations.

In many Christian traditions, Psalm 30 is read at the Easter Vigil in all three lectionary years. The suggestion is an ancient one that this psalm speaks of God’s mercy overcoming death itself. Augustine interpreted the psalm as singing “the joy of the resurrection” (see his Exposition on the Psalms at Psalm XXX). But this psalm resists any sort of triumphalist plot-line. God is not always experienced as loving and present.

And so we preach the good news of God’s mercy while honoring the reality of the spiritual bleakness that even seasoned believers can experience. We acclaim God in times of joy and desolation alike, for we testify to an incarnate Lord who struggled with temptation in the desert and cried out his despair on the Cross. Psalm 30 is urgently necessary for preachers because it invites us into an honest ministry of accompaniment. We can proclaim God’s redemption in Christ persuasively only while walking with our beloved community through its dark and agonistic experiences of the Cross.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 1, 2012.
  2. Due to variant numbering in the Hebrew text, the corresponding verses in Hebrew are Psalm 36:10 and 42:3.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Jane Lancaster Patterson

While the beautiful sequence of stories in Mark 5:21-43 constitutes the Gospel for today, this reading from 2 Corinthians on the faithful use of money is very pertinent and timely for North Americans. Even if you choose not to preach on it, it would make a powerful teaching for a church board, adult formation class, or committee charged with reflecting on social and economic justice.

Overflowing grace

English translations obscure an important theme of 2 Corinthians that is prominent in today’s reading: the word grace (Greek, charis). It is translated variously in 2 Corinthians as favor, privilege, generous undertaking, generous act, and blessing. Yet none of these words comes close to conveying the heart of grace, which is the life-giving power of God. In Paul’s view, the steady act of believing in Christ (Greek pistis) opens up within the believer a channel for the grace of God to enter the world, bringing life to people who have been under the power of death. Grace is the power that is saving and reconciling the world, a power with its origins in God, its channel through communities of believers, and its goal in every place where brokenness, suffering, and destruction reign.

A second Greek word, also obscured in translation, helps in visualizing the flow of grace: the word perisseuein, which the NRSV translates as “to excel,” but which means literally to abound or to overflow. The Greek term expresses so aptly the way in which God’s power for life is being poured into and through the churches not only spiritually but also quite materially in how they manage and channel all their assets, such as money, relationships, abilities, knowledge—all flowing graciously beyond them through giving, love, mutual service, and witness.

A complex work of art

The passage at hand is introduced earlier, in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2: “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” This is a case in which you might want to extend the reading, in order to establish the context for 8:7-15.

The Greek word for joy, above, is related to charis (grace); it is chará.

Paul’s rhetoric in this passage is like a carefully crafted painting, in which he builds up layers of related colors (grace, joy, thanks) as well as contrasting hues (poor, poverty, affliction) to try to convey what is essentially a mystery: the abundant grace of God flowing through the very vulnerability, marginality, and suffering of believers.

Peter Oakes1 has spoken of the economic basis for the Philippians’ suffering (Philippi was located in the region of Macedonia), and such suffering is the basis for the comparison with the Corinthians made in verse 8 and the reason for stressing the poverty of Christ in verse 9.

The grace of Christ

The theological weight of the passage falls in verse 9, with the vivid portrayal of Christ’s poverty, “though he was rich.” Paul’s theological assertion hinges on the word grace: “For you know the grace (NRSV, “generous act”) of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The center of Paul’s Christology is the crucifixion and resurrection, and I assume that Jesus’s execution on the cross is what he is referring to here in the contrast between poverty and riches (see also Philippians 2:5-8). The cross represents a total emptying out of the “riches” of Jesus’s position as God’s beloved.

Power has flowed out from the cross for the salvation of the Gentiles, grace moving from Jesus’ self-emptying into a world trapped in destructive patterns. Verse 9 follows the pattern of Paul’s theological ethics, that the grace of God flows when those with power, status, or authority are willing to empty themselves, willing to descend, in order to raise others up. For Paul, God’s economy is not zero-sum. In the economy of God, the pattern of self-offering results in the multiplication of grace for everyone involved.

Such a faithful calculation is counter-cultural.

The Macedonians understand the economy of grace. Paul says that they pleaded with him for the “grace of partnering in this ministry to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4, author’s translation). Despite their poverty, the Macedonian churches have been generous precisely from the origin of their suffering, their financial distress: they have been financially generous, giving to the offering that Paul is gathering for the poor in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10).

Bringing grace to fulfillment

Paul’s original financial promise to the “pillar” apostles in Jerusalem (James, Cephas, and John), was conceived as an outward sign of the spiritual kinship that connected the Gentile churches as a whole with the original Jewish community of Jesus-followers. Thus, the monetary gift being gathered among the Corinthians is not separate from that of the Macedonians and others. The money added to Paul’s collection by the Corinthians completes a movement of grace among the Gentile churches as they empty their pockets; and then grace proceeds in its other mode (abounding, overflowing, filling) as Paul carries the gift to Jerusalem to be poured out among the needy there. The dynamic power of grace is shared equally and tangibly among the far-flung Gentile churches and the poor in Jerusalem, a kinship in Christ both initiated and sealed by grace.

Grace in our context

Paul’s insistence that the flow of God’s grace can be observed in the movement of money from one community to another offers a radical challenge to conventional views of “charity.” For Paul, money is a powerful and relatively simple way for the reconciling power of God to reach effectively into human lives, drawing givers and receivers alike into right relationship with God and with one another. Verses 13-14 anticipates the Corinthians’ objections and their culturally-derived sense of what is fair by accounting not only for money but for the invisible virtues that the Macedonians “abound” in that overflow for the benefit of the whole body of Christ, including the Corinthians. 

Paul’s teaching on the economy of grace could play a significant role in discerning faithful responses to such large-scale current issues as reparations for slavery, fair systems of taxation, the establishment of a realistic minimum wage, and the impact of residential zoning on the education and future income of children in the U.S.


  1. Peter Oakes, Philippians: From People to Letter, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 110 (Cambridge Cambridge University, 2001); and Peter Oakes, “The Economic Situation of the Philippian Christians,” in The People Beside Paul: The Philippian Assembly and History From Below, ed. Joseph A. Marchal. Early Christianity and Its Literature 17 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2015).