Lectionary Commentaries for July 4, 2021
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 6:1-13

Emerson Powery

Before Mark reports John the Baptist’s death, the only story in which Jesus is not the primary subject (6:14-29), Mark tells the story of Jesus’ hometown rejection.1

Rejection at home (Mark 6:1-6)

For the first time in Mark’s story, Jesus entered his hometown synagogue.  (Compare the parallel account in Luke [see Luke 4:16-30], which occurs at the opening of Jesus’ public ministry.) His successful activity in neighboring synagogues, like Capernaum (e.g., 1:21-27), would have led readers to expect positive results here as well.  Also, the previous healing occurred in the home of a neighboring synagogue leader (cf. 5:35-43).  These positive results would not continue here.

The audience’s “astonishment” (exeplessonto) at Jesus’ “wisdom” (sophia)—perhaps a reference to his parables, as some scholars suggest—would remind readers of the first synagogue appearance in which the spectators were “astounded” because “he was teaching them as one with authority unlike the scribes” (1:22).

On this occasion, however, the amazement immediately turned negative as the crowd vocalized a series of questions that led them to the issue of Jesus’ own origins.  And, they—hometown folk—seemed to know all too well from where he came.  If anyone had the right to question Jesus’ origins, it should be those who knew him best.  Their description of him as “the carpenter,” “the son of Mary,” ignored any mention of a father figure.

So, they know a lot about his family.  This information would be a direct insult on Jesus’ character, his honor, in first century culture, hinting at one who was conceived illegitimately.  This type of history, with a fatherless lineage, would be “scandalous” to them (skandalidzo is translated as “took offense” at 6:3).  Unlike Matthew and Luke who cleaned it up, Mark did not alter the tradition and include a father (cf. Matthew 13:53-58; Luke 4:16-30).  Rather, the tension between Jesus and his family or hometown was an ongoing subplot of the story (cf. 3:20-21).

Despite the hometown’s assessment, Jesus provided an alternative self-designation: “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown” (Mark 6:4).  By referring to himself as a “prophet,” he associated himself with a long line of countercultural figures within Israel. In the Gospel of Mark, others would also view him in this way (cf. 6:15; 8:28).

In an honor/shame society, “prophets” would have received honor (cf. 11:32).  But the traditional wisdom of the age was that this occurred generally in places in which prophets were less familiar.  Indeed, as Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh stress about the cultural mores in antiquity, “honor was a limited good.  If someone gained, someone else lost.  To be recognized as a ‘prophet’ in one’s own town meant that honor due to other persons and other families was diminished.  Claims to more than one’s appointed (at birth) share of honor thus threatened others and would eventually trigger attempts to cut the claimant down to size.”2 This was the issue at stake.

Their reaction seemed to surprise Jesus.  Such “faith,” or the lack thereof (apistian, “unbelief” in Mark 6:6), amazes even Jesus!  Furthermore, the absence of faith challenged Jesus’ ability to perform healing miracles.  At first, the text indicated that he could not do anything there (6:5); then, the author corrected himself by adding an exception clause.

On the one hand, it was clear that Jesus’ healing authority was intimately interrelated with the faith of others (see Mark 5:34, 36).  On the other hand, Jesus could overcome the absence of faith when he desired to do so.  Throughout the story, Mark promoted faith as a critical element in the healing mission of Jesus.  But faith was not essential. Faith was not a necessary condition in any absolute sense. God’s freedom cannot be limited in that way. The end of this passage provided an explicit example of this perspective. (The language hinting at Jesus’ inability due to lack of faith was apparently too difficult for Matthew who altered these words to emphasize Jesus’ volition: Jesus “did not do” [Matthew 13:58].)

The disciples’ mission (Mark 6:7-13)

The rejection at Jesus’ hometown synagogue did not hinder the mission for long. In fact, it may have given impetus to the commissioning of the twelve for their first assignment. This was why Jesus had chosen “twelve” in Mark 3. Since that point, they were preparing for their own mission. In Mark 4, Jesus taught about the nature of God’s reign, providing private instruction for them. In Mark 5, Jesus performed liberating acts for them to witness.  Finally, just before he sent them out, the mission experienced unexpected rejection, as a signal of what was to be expected in their work in the movement (see verse 11).

Differences in the Gospel accounts may simply have reflected the various missionary strategies in early Christianity. For example, only in Mark did Jesus command the disciples to take a staff and wear sandals. This may imply the length of their journey. Dependence on hosts would be important in each Gospel strategy, but in the Markan missionary plan the disciples were more prepared. Also, there are two other significant features in Mark which should be highlighted.

First, they were to continue the Jesus movement in households. This was not unanticipated, in light of Jesus’ own successful activity in the homes surrounding Galilee. In this narrative, Jesus’ message and activity in the synagogues had been growing less impressive as the story went on, including the latest rejection in Mark 6:1-6. Synagogues, with established religious traditions and authorities, were not always susceptible to new ideas and activities that may have represented a new move of God!

So, Jesus prepared his disciples for potential rejection.  Wherever rejection existed, so would judgment: “shake off the dust that is on your feet” (Mark 6:11).  (The Didache suggested that a false prophet would be one who stayed longer than two days [11.4].)  Yet, according to this account, their mission was successful (6:12-13).  The disciples, clueless in several earlier stories, apparently understood enough to carry out this mission effectively.

Second, while continuing Jesus’ message of “repentance” (metanoein), their use of “oil” was distinctive. Such a mediating “medicine” was not anticipated from chapter 3. No provisions of this kind were mentioned in Jesus’ earlier words. Since Matthew and Luke omitted the reference, its use may actually have reflected a later practice in the Markan community. But it was a common custom that was known in the wider culture (cf. Luke 10:34) and utilized in some circles of early Christianity (cf. James 5:14).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 8, 2012.
  2. Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press, 2002), 212.

First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 2:1-5

Julián Andrés González Holguín

Ezekiel seldom appears in lectionary readings and sermons. This prophetic voice sometimes seems to come from an extremist individual whose visions are difficult to understand in our modern context. The oracles are deemed severe, very often they are complex, and on occasion one can sense deep pain in the prophet. For that reason, we may hesitate to bring this voice before congregations. It is difficult for modern readers of the Hebrew Bible to understand the circumstances that make Ezekiel a prophet worthy to be heard and heeded.

In Ezekiel 2:1-5, one can sense the prophet’s exhaustion by the suggestion that after the divine commandment “stand up on your feet,” Ezekiel is not able by his own volition to do it and a spirit enters him to set him on his feet. The prophet is called a “son of man.” This phrase emphasizes Ezekiel’s humanity. This is the first of the ninety-three times this line appears in the book. It might work to distinguish Ezekiel from the divine being that appears several times in the book. The repetition could as well emphasize Ezekiel’s weakness as he faces this prophetic call and the need for a spirit (ruach) to enter and accomplish what he is not able to do by himself.

Our text describes Ezekiel’s commission. He is sent to Israel with a message so that Israel would know something about YHWH. This is the essential element of Ezekiel’s call. Our text describes Ezekiel’s divine authorization to speak on behalf of YHWH. The message is addressed to Israel, a house of rebels for generations, perpetuating the sins of their ancestors. God brings charges against the people who are described literally as “hard of face and tough of heart.” (verse 4).

Ezekiel must proclaim to them: “Thus says the Lord.” In prophetic literature, this phrase is known as the messenger formula introducing an oracle, usually of destruction and divine punishment. The lack of an oracle after the phrase may suggest that all that comes after in the book should be considered the very word of YHWH. For this reason, whether they heed this word or not, the people will know the message has nothing to do with Ezekiel’s humanity and weakness. The weakness of Ezekiel’s humanity embodies a cosmic message from the Lord to a community who have been rebellious for generations. Ezekiel’s success as a prophet does not depend on the audience reaction. It is entirely dependent on Ezekiel’s obedience to the Lord’s commission to speak to Israel.

If Ezekiel’s message in the entire prophetic book strikes us as odd, we should recognize that his message matched the complex and painful time of Babylonian invasion. The numbing experience of national catastrophe, slaughter of a community, suffering, and mass dislocation helps us understand not only the crisis that the prophet experiences but also the need to interpret it. This text underlines a theology that clarifies God’s role in the devastation of the city, the destruction of the temple, and the extinction of the monarchy. As a result of Ezekiel’s commissioning, Israel will know of God’s continuous involvement in Israel’s life. Even when there seems to be little hope for the Israelites in exile, a prophet is still raised up by a spirit and sent to speak to a stubborn people.

Therefore, Ezekiel’s commissioning entails two theological purposes. One is an exhortation to the people. It asserts that God is still the God of Israel, even when the Israelites are in the diaspora. Second, God has given them warning in due time, regarding the impending Babylonian invasion. It was not lack of consideration on God’s part but their own recklessness that caused their destruction. The commissioning highlights divine concern for the people, despite their generational disobedience and obstinacy. Yet, it also implies Yahweh’s concern with reputation. From the outset, the book of Ezekiel states that God’s punishment fits Israelites’ crimes because the divine is concerned with God’s holy name, “which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came” (Ezekiel 36:21).

The book of Ezekiel does not give us information about the prophet prior to his encounter with the divine and his commissioning, but what Ezekiel experienced transformed him and sent him to a task that on paper looks impossible and from which there was no release. It was a life-transforming event and Ezekiel had no way to excuse himself. The very idea of this commissioning sounds like entrapping and deceiving in modern contexts. Such unqualified demands implicit in the statement “thus says the lord” with no actual message from God, is more likely to send us running away from the divine, a la Jonah, than bending on our knees.

The fact is that we do not know many details about how Ezekiel experienced his commissioning. Yet, his book speaks about Ezekiel’s capacity to be awestruck and obey his vision of divine intervention in the world. Contrary to Jonah, Ezekiel was not sent to a foreign people. He spoke to his own people even when they did not listen.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Amy G. Oden

This passage signals the new reign of David as king. It is a time of transition to a new way of doing things, an opportunity for a united kingdom, in a new city, with a new “shepherd-king.”

The shepherd way of ruling

The first two verses convey striking images of power: “Saul was king over us” and “you [David] who shall be shepherd of my people Israel” (verse 2). Saul’s rule was marked by “power over,” while David is first described as shepherd, not the typical image of power and might. David is the one “who led out Israel and brought it in,” just as a shepherd takes out his flock to feed and brings it in at night for safety. In this new way of ruling, the king is not so much the mighty one fixed upon his throne, but the simple shepherd who feeds his flock as he guides them to nourishment and protects them from danger and predators.

This alternate way of exercising power, not through brute domination but through caretaking, signals a radical shift. David’s mission is not simply to hold power but to steward that power on behalf of God’s people, as a shepherd stewards her flock. To be sure, David does not always succeed in this task, as Nathan’s prophetic confrontation makes plain (2 Samuel 12).

The shepherd way of ruling may tell us something not only about this shift for Israel, but also something about God and the ways God holds power, not through coercion or force but like a shepherd keeping her flock. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will also show us who God is (John 10, 1 Peter 5). In the gospel reading this week, Jesus does not use brute domination when his credentials are questioned (Mark 6:2). Furthermore, when he sends out the twelve, he instructs them to proclaim good news in simplicity and peace (Mark 6:7 and following), not through spiritual bullying or force. Jesus demonstrates the shepherd way of holding power.

The people’s choice

Remember that David’s predecessor, Saul, is anointed by Samuel when they are alone (1 Samuel 10). This is a private pronouncement and anointing, although Samuel later calls together all the people to acclaim Saul king.

Our passage this week describes a very different sequence of events. Earlier, in chapter 2, the tribe of Judah had proclaimed David king at Hebron (2 Samuel 2: 4). Now, with Israel, David’s anointing is public, including a gathering of the tribes. There in the midst of the gathered elders at Hebron, David makes a covenant with them (verse 3). Then, “all the elders of Israel . . . anointed David king over Israel” (verse 3).

To be sure, this is not some ancient form of democratically elected government. The Bible knows nothing of democracy. Rather, here we notice that “the shepherd way of ruling” entails the gathered people, shepherding all the sheep, not just the king’s favorites.

Critique of monarchy

In the midst of this celebration, it can be easy to forget that the prophet Samuel first offered a critique of the people’s desire for a king back when he anointed Saul (1 Samuel 10).

Why do we humans seem to want a powerful person in authority? Most often, we place our sense of security in that person. We draw our identity and safety from the king (substitute here any authority figure: president, CEO, governor, lead pastor, military general, opinion leader, ideological guru, spiritual teacher, etc).

This is a fundamental category mistake and Samuel tells them so. Our identity and security come only from God, the Source of our lives, in whose image we are created (Genesis 1:26). When God’s people clamor for monarchy so that they can be like the other important nations, Samuel calls out the idolatry of entrusting our lives to “the king” instead of to God: “But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us’” (1 Samuel 10:19).

Even as we see the new “shepherd way” of ruling that David embodies, it’s important to remember there can be a fundamental mistake built into the very DNA of this political system.

Unity of the tribes

In the first verse we are told that “all the tribes of Israel” (verse 1) joined in unanimous affirmation of David’s kingship. These tribes who had fought and grumbled against one another, joined as one, obedient to God’s decree that the house of David would rule over the people. Again, this happens on the heels of the southern tribe of Judah doing the same.

It’s worth pausing here to notice what didn’t happen. In the power vacuum of Saul’s death, there could easily have been generations of conflict and intrigue that further fragmented the twelve tribes as they vied for ascendence. Plots, assassinations, wrangling for power, were the common strategies of the day. And we will see some of this during David’s reign. Still, this rare moment of unity is striking.

A new place

The reign of David is signaled by a new unity of the tribes, a new shepherd way of ruling, a new ritual of public anointing and pronouncement and now, all of this embodied in the establishment of a new place, a new physical location of the heart of Israel, Jerusalem. “David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David” (verse 9). For millennia, Jerusalem would stand as a holy city, the center of God’s people.

For us

2 Samuel 5 invites us to ask: How do we hold power, or exercise agency, on behalf of all, not just our own tribe, group, church or ideological camp? As we recognize the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence we are more aware than ever that the aspirations of this document fell short of holding power on behalf of all.


Commentary on Psalm 123

Jerome Creach

Psalm 123 is the fourth psalm in the collection of psalms held together by the common designation “of Ascents” in their titles (Psalms 120-134).1

These psalms were probably collected for use during pilgrimage to Jerusalem or to promote such pilgrimage. The term “ascents” comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to go up.” This word appears in the last line of the Chronicler’s history as part of the report that Cyrus of Persia, having conquered the Babylonians, would allow the exiled people of Judah to return to their homeland and to worship God in the soon-to-be-rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. The word to the exiles concerning anyone who would return to Jerusalem was, “Let him go up” (2 Chronicles 36:23). Thus, “ascents” in the title of Psalm 123 denotes ascent to Jerusalem and/or to the temple on Mount Zion.

The psalm has elements of the prayers for help known elsewhere in the Psalter (e.g., Psalm 13): complaint of trouble and petition for salvation (verses 3-4) and expression of trust (verses 1-2). These features most often appear in reverse order, with complaint and petition first, followed by a statement of trust, though the present order occurs in some other psalms such as Psalm 40. The two parts of Psalm 123 hold together well, with the statement of trust and confidence serving as the foundation for the complaint and petition. For example, references to mercy in verses 2 and 3 connect the two segments of the psalm. The petition for mercy in verse 3 is related to the recognition that it is God’s nature to give it.

The psalm opens with an individual speaking (“I lift up;” verse 1). In verse 2 the voice becomes plural (“our eyes look to the Lord”) and the community voice pervades the remainder of the psalm. This shift from first-person singular to first-person plural speech probably reflects the situation of worship in which an individual spoke on behalf of the worshipers gathered (see similarly cast prayers in Psalms 129 and 131).

Psalm 123 begins with the declaration, “To you I lift my eyes” (Psalm 123:1), which is similar to the opening of Psalm 121 (“I lift up my eyes to the hills”) and may in fact be an adaptation of Psalm 121:1. “Lifting the eyes” is an expression of anxiety and helplessness.2 In Psalm 121 the psalmist lifts eyes to the hills in search of security and protection. The psalm suggests this is found in God’s presence as experienced in the Jerusalem temple. In Psalm 123:1, however, the eyes are not lifted to God’s dwelling place in the Jerusalem temple, but to God’s heavenly abode (“enthroned in heaven”). Though the psalm appears in a collection meant for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it identifies God first and foremost as the one who dwells in the heavens. The worshipers who prayed this prayer lived in the period after the Babylonian exile. They had experienced the vulnerability of the temple in Jerusalem when they saw it destroyed and, as a result, they placed their trust in and conceived God primarily as the one who was enthroned in the temple that could not be destroyed by an enemy.

Verse 2 contains a double simile that expounds on the opening declaration. The worshiping community “lifts its eyes” as servants look to a master (verse 2a) or as female slaves look to their mistress (verse 2b). The images connote vulnerability, dependence, and obedience. As William Bellinger and Walter Brueggemann observe, this type of address is not politically correct, and it should not in any way suggest that servitude of one human to another is good or right. In a context in which such relationships were common, however, the simile makes sense. But even here the notion of the “master” is transformed. The psalmist who calls on the Lord as master knows no dread or fear, only mercy.3 This master is one exclusively sought out for salvation: “our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy on us” (verse 2).

The psalmist seeks mercy in the form of relief from the contempt and oppression of the enemy. The notion of being held in contempt by an enemy is a common theme in the Psalter. For example, the reference to being scorned by the proud suggests a situation akin to the psalmist’s description of enemies sarcastically asking “Where is your God?” in Psalm 42:3. The language here is particularly close to that in other passages that distinguish humankind as rich and poor, righteous and wicked. Those who are speaking scornfully are “at ease” (verse 4) and are identified thus as rich and wicked. Although the psalm does not identify the enemies further, this language appears in Amos 6 in reference to those who enjoy economic privilege and oppress the poor. Both Amos and the psalmist identify the poor as righteous (Amos 2:6; Psalm 34:4-10, 19-22). The division does not suggest that material wealth itself is a mark of wickedness or that lack of it is a sign of righteousness. Rather, the language is used this way to highlight the typical attitude of dependence and humility of the poor and the common lack thereof by the rich.

Bellinger and Brueggemann aptly describe Psalm 123 as “one of the loveliest prayers in all of Scripture, simple and direct, trusting and confident, spoken out of need and in much hope.”4 It captures as well as any psalm the essence of piety the Psalter identifies with the righteous, and it calls on God for mercy and grace so as to acknowledge the primary identity of the God in the Psalms and in the Old Testament (see Exodus 34:6).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 5, 2015.
  2. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101-150 (Hermeneia; translated by Linda M. Maloney; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), p. 349.
  3. Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 531.
  4. Ibid.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Israel Kamudzandu

In a world defined by power, weaknesses are not always welcome, yet the apostle Paul highlights the centrality and benefits of weaknesses through which God is manifested (2 Corinthians 12:10). In the face of worldly challenges, Christians, like Paul, should expect God to come through. When the world confronts Christians, and asks us to prove the existence of God or God’s presence in our lives, we have to be careful not lift up our “visions and revelations,” but rather have the humility to testify about our experiences of God’s grace and compassion in seasons of sicknesses, exclusions, isolations, death of loved ones, and all painful life episodes.

When pressed between a rock and hard place, one must also give a testimony of divine experiences, as Paul does in 2 Corinthians 12: 2. The use of the pronoun “I” in verse 2 is shrouded in gracious irony and sarcasm. Paul does not want to boast about himself, but invites listeners to know that “14 years ago,” he had an apocalyptic experience. While Christian believers are not always called to boast about our divine encounters, there are times when it is appropriate to let our opponents know.

While these experiences are not a measure of one’s calling and vocation, the world at times compels preachers to be apologists of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There is something to note in the way Paul frames his experiences of God’s manifestations. Verses 3-7 are seasoned with humility, helping 21st-century Bible readers and Christian believers know that the virtues of humility and self-surrender are instruments for transformation and formation of Christian communities. In the same manner, we also recognize the passive form in which Paul expresses his experiences of the divine. The passive form points to the fact that these experiences are God’s doing and initiative. Thus, egotism is excluded and has no part in one’s ministry.

Instead of being viewed through mystical experiences, Paul wants to be evaluated on the basis of personal faith relationship with God, and also wants to be known for what he preaches, that is the proclamation of the cross of Jesus Christ (verse 6). In other words, Paul’s point is that prophetic or spiritual experiences should not be exalted in ways that put a spotlight on him. Yet, in our world and maybe in the world of 2 Corinthians people, reputation and personal honor are valued, but Paul signals that personal glory must be kept in check.

A question for readers of this chapter revolves around miracles, signs and wonders, in which most Pentecostal denominations and even Global South Christianity are in many ways grounded. In other words, we should perhaps give these miracles prominence, and failure to do so would also stifle the energy behind church revival and growth in many parts of the world. In the spirit of this chapter, miracles, signs and wonders are benchmarks to strengthen and transform Christian communities and their followers (verse 12). For behind all these spiritual and divine manifestations, believers are invited to expect more from God, and welcome seasons of vulnerability. In the message of Paul, it is in vulnerable situations that we experience the fruits of our faith relationship with God.

While the season of Pentecost is a time when people are to encounter the Holy Spirit, it is amazing that we read of Paul’s physical struggles with what he calls “a thorn in the flesh.” It seems as though Paul is saying, the more we experience God’s “visions and revelations,” the more we get afflictions in and on our bodies. Balancing these two developments sounds illogical, but that is what the apostle Paul invites us to wrestle with. Paul’s testimony is stunning to many readers, because it is not an accidental event, but that intentionally God placed this “thorn,” and its purpose was to humble the recipient. More so, Paul informs us that three times he pleaded with God to remove the thorn from his flesh, but each time he was overruled.

The question for 21st-century readers is: What do we do when God says no? Or what happens to our callings, faith, and our walk with other believers, when God does not grant our prayer requests? The years 2020-2021 have indeed brought a “thorn in the flesh,” not just to one person, but the entire global world. The point of God’s intentionality is challenging and daunting, yet the apostle Paul sees it as a sacred space. First, we have to surmise on what the notion of “thorn in the flesh,” points to in both Paul’s time and in ours. Could it be that various forms of life’s challenges fall in the category of thorns in the flesh, whose purpose is to keep humanity grounded and dependent on God?

I want to suggest that any form of a mysterious apocalypse is filled with hope in God who is at work in the present moment, and this same God will finally reveal sovereign saving power. In some ways, I am persuaded to read 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10 as prophecy, summoning 21st-century Christians to endure any form of physical, ministerial, missional, and theological suffering. Second, the notion of “a messenger of Satan,” is worth exploring because many Christians remain naïve in their perception of the Devil.

It is perhaps fair to say that Paul’s painful experiences reminded him of the presence of Satan who in some languages is referred to as the opponent. In all the catalogues of Paul’s daunting challenges, Satan was an ever-present enemy, one he endured for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hence, being aware or being fully knowledgeable about Satan allows one to be in prayer constantly. The danger of many Christians is that of living in a bubble, Satan-free zone, yet Paul reminds us that afflictions are inevitable. While there are some lessons on being naïve and aware of the Devil, Christians should be vigilant, as Paul’s says in verses 8-9, and pray persistently.

The relationship between God and Paul is fascinating, and in praying three times, God still overruled the apostle. In the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14: 32–42), Jesus Christ prayed for the cup to be removed, but he was overruled. Hence, in our prayer life and faith walk with God, there are some afflictions we have to live with and endure, for in them we will experience God’s grace. Deliverance is not just positive and instant, but God’s presence in our suffering is the answer we most need. The pandemic has brought untold afflictions in the world, but God’s grace is still available, for it is in seasons, moments, and predicaments that God’s amazing grace and compassion are experienced.