Lectionary Commentaries for July 11, 2021
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 6:14-29

Emerson Powery

The report of John’s death, Jesus’ mentor (see Mark 1:9), was the end of innocence for Jesus’ mission.1

Placing this account between the commission and the return of the twelve disciples (during the heart of the expansion of the Jesus movement), Mark relayed the story of John and Herod as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death by the hands of a political, though sympathetic, figure. Immediately before Mark told this story—the only one in which Jesus was not the primary subject—he told the story of the rejection of Jesus at home.

The death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29)

Mark chose this opportunity, after Jesus sent out his disciples on their first formal mission, to report the death of John the Baptist. Mark hinted at this political death earlier in the story when John was arrested (1:14), but saved the full report until chapter 6. Interpreters who choose to think that Jesus’ life and mission were disconnected from the socio-political affairs of his first century context must view this account (John’s death by Herod) as an aside.  Using intercalation (i.e., the “sandwich” technique) once again, Mark placed this account between the commission and the return of the disciples to intimate its significance for the expansion of Jesus’ mission.

Despite what some scholars suggest, this scene is not an interlude. The manner of John’s death was intimately tied to the mission of Jesus. This story showed Markan narrative technique at its best. Not only did John’s message meet with political obstacles, so would Jesus’ and so would his followers’ (cf. Mark 13). John’s declaration of the unlawfulness of Herod’s marriage to Herodias would probably have been shared by Jesus as well (cf. Mark 10). In addition, marriages of this type already had huge political implications attached to them. (Compare the less sensational account in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.)

At the beginning of the section, Mark offered transitional verses (verses 14-16) in order to express Herod’s views of the Jesus’ movement. Unlike others who thought that Jesus was a “prophet” (cf. 8:28), Herod thought that Jesus was a resurrected John (6:16). Herod’s assessment made a close link between the missions of Jesus and John. Not only was Jesus’ mission initiated only after John’s arrest, according to Mark, but Jesus’ continual activity was viewed by the “powers that be” as intimately associated with John’s. These close ties would appear again later in the story (cf. Mark 11:27-33).

The length and detail of this account were also significant. There is not enough space here to explore in depth Luke’s omission of this story or Matthew’s abbreviated version, but a few words are in order. Mark’s version was filled with detail and intrigue.  Only Mark’s audience would have discovered other views of Jesus (besides Herod’s), Herodias’s grudge, and the specific conversation between Herodias and her daughter.

In addition, there was a relevant disagreement between Mark and Matthew on Herod’s view of John. In Matthew, Herod feared the people, who considered John to be a prophet (Matthew 14:5). In Mark, Herod feared John himself, considering him a “righteous and holy man” (dikaion kai hagion).  Herod, in Mark, “protected” John (6:20) until the request came for his head. In Matthew, Herod wanted him killed (Matthew 14:5). Even after his agreement to fulfill his oath, Herod “deeply grieved” in Mark’s account (6:26). This word, perilupos (“deeply grieved, sadness”), was used only here and to describe Jesus’ feelings in Gethsemane (14:34)!

We should assume, in light of the description of Herod’s attitude towards John (in verse 20), that this was a sincere contrite feeling. Mark’s Herod was a sympathetic figure, whose public oath became his own demise. In the biblical tradition, oaths were not easily dismissed among Jews. The tension was depicted clearly at the end of 6:26.

Finally, Mark’s portrayal of women in this chapter deserves mention.  Mark’s more sympathetic depiction of Herod did not carry over to Herodias. Her grudge against John finally found its satisfaction—by means of her daughter’s entertainment value—as she became the person most responsible for John’s death in Mark’s account. (Josephus blamed John’s death entirely on Herod, never mentioning Herodias or her daughter in his account of the murder.)

While most of the positive examples of women in the story were unnamed, this woman of high standing received her name, as well as her “prize” on a platter. Yet, her reward halted the work and mission of the messenger sent by God. So, her overall role would have been viewed in a negative light. To be fair to Mark, the author bracketed this portrayal of two negative female characters with two positive female images (cf. 5:24-24 and 7:24-30).

Many scholars have imagined a highly charged sexual event in the dance, partly due to Western scholarship’s interpretive views of the “Orient.” A number of feminist biblical scholars have rightly challenged this interpretation. Mark simply writes that she “came in and danced, (and) she pleased Herod and his guests” (6:22). Mark described Herodias’ daughter as a korasion (verse 22), which was used only here and for the 12-year old “little girl” in 5:41-42.

It seems that their daughter (since she was Herod’s daughter, too; 6:22) was young.  At the same time, John could not have died a more ignominious death in the culture of the first century … at the instigation of a woman.  As Janice Capel Anderson stresses: “(T)o die in battle at the hands of enemy soldiers is honorable.  To be executed or to die at the hands of a woman is a mark of shame.”1

However one understands the relationship between John and Jesus, one thing is certain: agents of God who challenge those in power usually suffer significant consequences.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 15, 2012.
  2. “Feminist Criticism: The Dancing Daughter.” In Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, 2nd edition. Eds. Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore (Fortress Press, 2008), 111-144 [126].

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 7:7-15

Julián Andrés González Holguín

Our text is part of what in scholarly discussion is called the “Book of Visions.” It is the third vision followed by the encounter with Amaziah, the priest of the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:10-15). Amos’ vision is not as important as YHWH’s interpretation. God announces through this vision that the end of Jeroboam’s dynasty is coming. The divine warrior is coming with a sword to desolate and lay waste. It is surprising to read Amaziah’s reaction to the oracle of destruction; after all, the prophetic voice describes a vision—probably the least verifiable way to communicate a message from YHWH. Amos’ vision proves nothing, for how does anyone listening to its recounting know that the speaker is not self-deceived, inebriated, or plainly lying (see also Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16; Ezekiel 13:7)? This is part of the reason there are fewer prophetic materials using visions to communicate a divine message.

It is history that validates the oracle and not any claim of a possible historical figure stating that the vision comes from God. In other words, the authority of the vision does not reside on any hypothetical origin that proves whether the prophet was inspired by God. To believers across time and through generations, the effect of the words proves the authority of the text to “speak” to new contexts and communities. 

For those who lived centuries after the destruction of Jeroboam’s dynasty, Amos’ words spoke to them at least in two ways: First, they provided comfort because the text states that God is actively intervening in history to set things right. Jeroboam is remembered in the biblical drama as the king who established two high places, one in Bethel (where Amaziah is priest) and one in Dan. People would not need to travel south to Jerusalem. He provided worship places for the northerners (1 Kings 12: 25-33). For southerners, worship places outside of Jerusalem were idolatry.

Second, the oracle and the prophetic material in general were an ancient catechism to form younger generations within the worldview of the Israelite community as the chosen people of YHWH. If God intervened in history for previous generations, then the value of the prophetic material entails its capacity to shape the faith of new believers, providing hope that YHWH continues to be involved with them. 

Even to this day people claim as justification for their actions that God speaks to them. They assert God’s presence in their lives providing hope to face all kinds of circumstances. Whether Jeroboam’s destruction happened or not does not matter because we have no way to verify it. The power of the text is its capacity to shape a believer’s faith that God continues to set things right from ancient times to our times. 

However, one of the dangers of looking at the prophetic material as catechism is the tendency to domesticate the text. Believers may consider that God is always on their side and setting things right means that those outside of their community are against them and thus against God. Perhaps the divine warrior imagery of Amos 7:7-15 also represents a way of saying that God’s patience has its limits and even the people of God may experience God’s wrath. Other prophets express it more explicitly, especially Ezekiel, who recounts Israel’s history as one of continual rebellion (for example, Ezekiel 2:1-5). 

The biblical tradition describing a patient God, waiting for the people to change, was an attribute that Israel continually celebrated. This is the God who is “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6-7). However, this theological pearl in the Hebrew Bible may become cheap grace. God may relent from evil, but our text also states, “I will never again pass them by” (verse 8b). This seems to be one of Amos’ ways of saying that God runs out of patience. The angel of death passed over the Israelites in Egypt and no Hebrew firstborn were killed (Exodus 12:13). Amos claims that God has had enough and brings death upon the people. 

The idea of God relenting or changing God’s plans may surprise many Christians who were brought up believing in God’s immutability. Yet, the Hebrew Bible and specifically the prophets constantly show a God who repents from evil or runs out of patience with the people and brings evil upon them (see Genesis 6:6, Jeremiah 18:8, 10, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 3:9). The mutability of the divine will suggests that for God, as represented in the Hebrew Bible, the future is open. Usually, it is characterized as God’s changing God’s mind to bring mercy instead of wrath. However, Amos 7:7-15 is one of many examples in the prophets where God has had enough. This malleability of the divine will symbolizes the biblical tradition of God’s sovereignty. Neither divine mercy nor wrath reflect mechanical processes based on human behavior, because God decides to exercise grace or punishment upon the guilty on account of divine freedom, that is, God chooses when and how to act and human repentance does not force God into one action or the other. 

Although Amos intercedes for the people in the first two visions, in the third one intercession does not occur. It is replaced with the account of Amaziah’s rejection of the prophet and thus of the divine message. As a result, YHWH determines that Jeroboam’s kingdom will end. 

One wonders how to apply Amos’ message to the postmodern, pluralistic world. It is difficult to ponder the God of Amos as a God of death. However, a starting point is to consider this message for personal self-reflection on the alliances we make today as communities in the 21st century. The oppression Amos addressed of wealthy individuals and nations taking advantage of poor people continues to be a problem in today’s society.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Amy G. Oden

While the account of David’s ascendance is the stuff of movies, consider focusing this week’s preaching on what it means to be in the presence of God.

Ark of the Covenant

At its most basic level, the ark is a wooden box that held the stone tablets with the commandments that Moses received on Mount Sinai. The box was attached to two long staves for carrying, so it could accompany the people wherever they went.  However, the ark was more than a box carrying stone tablets. 

The ark is a concrete symbol of God’s self-revelation to Moses. As a ritual object, the ark tells a story. It points to the larger narrative of God’s delivering the people from slavery and divine guidance into the promised land. It reminds the people of this salvation history and of the nearness of God’s Presence with them always. It provided continuity from the time of Moses to the present moment described in 2 Samuel 6. First and foremost, the ark is a concrete sign of God’s Holy Presence. 

Divine presence

How do we recognize God’s Presence? In 2 Samuel 6, the ark of the covenant signaled God’s Presence and promise among them.  What symbols, objects or stories help us “have eyes to see and ears to hear” God’s Presence among us? Stories from scripture, such as the exodus from Egypt, can make God present now. Or our congregation’s story—perhaps about immigrants whose determination founded this congregation—can do this. Perhaps divine Presence is signaled through a symbol for our community—a rainbow flag that brings God’s love for all into our present awareness. 

Or it may be an object, like the stained glass window at 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that commemorates the four girls killed in the 1963 bombing by the KKK as they came from Sunday School (https://www.16thstreetbaptist.org/our-history/).  The window features a black crucified Christ. Each time the people gather, this window brings God’s Presence, even or perhaps especially, in the midst of racism and violence, into this present moment. Moreover, the window was a gift from the people of Wales in 1964, so it also recalls the story of the unity of the human family. God’s Presence in this act of solidarity signals, each time the community gathers, that this community does not journey alone.

The danger, of course, is that the special objects or rituals will become idols in themselves, rather than signs pointing to God-with-us. So we must cultivate dynamic awareness that allows our rituals and objects to act as a sort of hyperlink, moving us beyond them to the larger Presence there. 

Our Christian spiritual traditions teach that this dynamic awareness happens in ordinary, daily life. God’s incarnated Presence is revealed in nano-seconds of noticing: a shaft of light on the floor, a tiny hand reaching out for ours, the quiet dignity of the elderly man on the bus. We do not have to wait until we are in church or opening a Bible to know God’s Presence.   The proclamation of Immanuel, God-with-us, means that Holy Presence is available always, if we will pause and pay attention, if we “have eyes to see.” The ancient contemplative traditions and the more contemporary mindfulness movement invite us to be attentive to God’s Presence right here, right now.

Embodied rituals 

David could have received the ark in private, within the sanctum of his tent or a circle of trusted advisors. Given the profound holiness of the ark itself, that would be an understandable strategy in order to not risk polluting the ark or risk dishonoring Yahweh inadvertently.  

Instead, the presentation of the ark is a public event in the midst of the people. The ark then makes a ritual entrance that enacts the inauguration of a new era. Not just David, but also “all the people with him” go to bring in the ark together (verse 2). Their pilgrimage to the ark embodies this new journey with God toward a newly united kingdom in a new royal city, Jerusalem. Once they arrive at the ark they don’t stand idly by as observers.  The people accompany the ark, singing and dancing “with all their might” (verse 5).

What shared rituals bring your community into God’s Presence? Since the Enlightenment, Christians have tended to focus on faith as mostly a set of ideas or beliefs. In this pos-modern world, we are discovering that humans are perhaps more powerfully shaped by our shared rituals and enactments than by ideas alone. People are hungry for ways to pray together, to lament together, to celebrate together and to serve together. Spiritual practices and communal embodiments help make God’s Presence real in everyday life. Take time to identify the embodied practices or rituals particular for your community’s recognition of Holy Presence. For many Christians, the eucharist table may a central one. 

Response to Holy Presence 

Once we are aware of Holy Presence, how do we respond? David and “all the house of Israel”—all 30,000 of them!—dance before the Lord “with all their might” (verse 5)! Even the list of instruments: “lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (verse 5) conveys exuberance.  Holy Presence may invite us into quiet contemplation, into bold action or renewed commitments. Here it evokes festive joy.

We have moved from lament in chapter 1 of 2 Samuel to joy in chapter 6. Lament and joy share the same root system in the same ground. In fact, our capacity for celebrative joy is in proportion to our capacity for lament and grief.   In chapter 1, lament was raw and real. There is something about grief that takes us to the depths of our being, our knowing, our understanding, a spiritual nakedness that strips away illusions and constructs, leaving us more radically aware that everything is more mysterious and expansive than we thought. We discover a joy there that is even deeper than lament.  At the same time, joy melts our hearts for the world that God so loves, increasing our capacity to see suffering and to know loss. Grief and joy hold hands in the spiritual life. 

What symbols, objects or stories help us to have “eyes to see and ears to hear” God’s Presence among us? What is our response?


Commentary on Psalm 85:8-13

Beth L. Tanner

Reflecting on Psalm 85:8-13 without the first 13 verses is akin to a liturgy that omits the call and prayer of confession, moving instead straight to the assurance of pardon.1

The words are applicable alone, yet are designed as part of a whole. The psalm is a communal prayer for help and can be divided into three sections or stanzas, verses 1-3, 4-7, and 8-13. Verses 1-3 serve as a reminder of God’s forgiving acts in the past, followed by pleas by the people for God’s forgiveness in the present, ending with a section expressing hope for restored relationship between the people and God.

Verses 1-3 function as the call to confession reminding the people and God of God’s past saving acts. God’s active grace is clear in the verbs used “favor,” “return,” “lift,” and “cover.” These acts are God’s alone given to an undeserving people (verse 3). The people have angered God repeatedly and in response God has relented and turned back all anger.

We like to think of God as always loving and forgiving and that is the case. However, there are real consequences to our actions that hurt the humans we love and God. It is a sobering thought to think of God’s “fury” and “fierce anger” against us. It is easier to imagine God’s wrath poured on the heads of our enemies. The actions of the people in the past and the actions of the people at present have angered God and the only way back is for God to relent and forgive. Without God, there is no future for this people.

The second section, verses 4-7, is a cry to God for restoration now. The sinful acts of the people are not named specifically, allowing for use of this psalm in many times and places. Yet, the sins are clearly present as the people ask God if God will be angry forever (verse 5). The people clearly stand in need of God’s grace and ask if God will show God’s steadfast love (hesed) and give the people (again) salvation. Indeed, the whole section is bracketed by “salvation” calling on “the God of our salvation” in verse 4 and ending the stanza with “Give us your salvation” as its last imperative plea.

Many scholars see this psalm in light of the exile and this as a prayer for restoration after the exile was over. This is a possible context, but certainly not the only situation to which this prayer can apply. The pleas in this stanza are universal and, as we all know, from Genesis 3 forward, the story is a long one of sin and redemption. Over and over, the people found ways to turn from God either out of fear, lack of faith, greed, or in a search for other gods. These verses are then not about one event, but they reflect all of the times that God has restored “the fortunes” of Jacob. “Fortunes” (NRSV, NIV) is best understood not in terms of monetary gain, but as a restoration of the community to full communion with God. Tate suggests a meaning of “well-being” instead of “fortunes” (Psalms 51-100, 364).

A new voice enters at verse 8. The voice could be a prophet or a worship leader. Ultimately, it is not the person speaking the words that matter, but the message being delivered. The imperative form of the last section, give way here to the cohortative, meaning a wish for the future. The wish is a view of the world ordered by God’s kingdom. The last line of this verse is a source of debate and the NRSV reads the LXX here as “to those who turn to him with their hearts.” Most scholars, however, read the MT, “but do not let them return to stupidity (or “folly” NIV).”

A warning within a wish for the future is not uncommon (Psalm 95:8-10). The warning serves as a reminder that the people and God have been in this place before, and the people will probably put them there again. The response to God’s great forgiveness should be more than words, it involves a change in behavior. It involves remembering the warning.

The remainder of the psalm gives us a glimpse of God’s kingdom. The foundations of that kingdom hesed and faithfulness meet righteousness and shalom kiss. The vision is one of a long awaited reunion as God again sets the world right. It is a powerful way to declare an end to the impasse between God and the people. The images continue and this restoration involves the whole creation, reuniting heaven and earth (verse 11), and God will give what is “good,” also understood as what is beneficial, pleasant, and for the welfare of all. The land responds with its own gift of bounty in response to God. All of this is in preparation for God’s arrival in verse 13.

The image is of a world transformed by God’s forgiveness. What if for just one Sunday, we could see and believe the power of God’s forgiveness? Could we imagine the world as it should be when God sets it back in place? What if as we hear the words of assurance, the heavens open and we see the glory of God? Would we listen the warning and change our world?

Since I began participation in the weekly liturgy, the assurance of pardon has always been the most sacred to me. All worship rituals are weighty and important, but to speak God’s forgiveness to the people is a powerful priestly function. Like me, the ones who spoke these words in the temple were mere humans and the pronouncement was as much for them as it was for the people.

To announce God’s grace and restoration is to call a new beginning into the world. Psalm 85 celebrates God’s grace and offers all of us a glimpse of God’s kingdom.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 15, 2018.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14

Israel Kamudzandu

The art of celebration and giving thanks for God’s creation has been lost in the 21st-century world. The human family is caught up in an us-versus-them dichotomy, but in this letter, the author summons believers of all nations, tribes, ethnicities, and genders into a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God, our Creator. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-21 signaled God’s reversal of the story of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9), where God is shown to confuse human language in a way that would not allow them to build a tower toward the heavenly realms. 

Ephesians 1:3-14 is a celebration of God, who from the beginning of times wrote the script and melody of human life, as well as the natural order of things. Creation’s music and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals something of the attributes of God’s mystery. The mystery summons people to live together as siblings because Christ’s death and resurrection formed humanity into a new creation. More importantly, God’s mystery signals to all believers that God is not as impulsive as humans are, but that the divine nature of the creator is deeply intentional.  

In Ephesians 1:3-14, the writer invites Christian believers to sing a spiritual hymn, one that centers all souls on the orderliness of the creator. Three words captivate the mind, soul and heart of the reader: “chosen, redeemed, and sealed” (Ephesians 1:3–10). Humanity and every individual human being is not an accident, but we are all enshrined in the blanket of the divine. The opening outburst of verses 3-5 is a joyful celebration of what God, in and through Jesus Christ, did in bringing believers into an “already but not yet” world of salvation. Believers’ lives are embedded in the life of the resurrected one, not just for now, but for all eternity. In any event, Ephesians 1:3-14 does not claim that Christians are in any way out of the world, but as resurrected and Pentecost people, their daily lives must be Christ-like. Having been repositioned in Christ, redeemed, chosen, and sealed, Christians are to live into this new realized eschatology, that is a space where God’s Kingdom is already manifested. In other words, Christians are to embody God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in all what they do, say and perceive. 

The orderliness of night and day, changing of seasons, and physical and biological rhythms reveal God’s mysterious and encompassing saving purposes. In the same way, Resurrection is no different from Creation, in that the God whom the author praises in these verses is the same God who manifested divine love in and around the events of the cross. It is this mystery that believing human beings are called to inhabit.  Yet, humanity has not yet learned to celebrate God’s mystery, instead, we choose some parts of the Trinity, as well as some parts of resurrection, and leave out sections we don’t like. It would indeed be a celebration if worship, every form of our gathering, was a delightful time of honoring God’s gift of diversity. Indeed, it’s not enough to just attend church services on Sunday, but people must remember that celebration is a form of prayer, and God ushers in blessings when people are able to celebrate each other’s presence and gifts. 

Pentecost or no Pentecost, believers are cautioned to remember that our presence on earth depends on God’s intention and not ours, and so our failure to join the author of Ephesians in this spiritual hymn of God’s creation, might result in our missing out on the spiritual blessings (verse 3). In lifting these blessings or riches that believers “In Christ,” now enjoy, the author redefines the nature and quality of the church, as a place or space where God intends to manifest salvation and presence, as a way of God’s ongoing creation. In a way, Ephesians reminds believers that God’s creation is not a one-time event, but rather it is an everyday process. 

Hence, the church in Ephesus, and the church of the 21st century, are not just about buildings, but rather God’s domain where a new humanity is being created. This new creation called the church is called to be hospitable to all nations, races, ethnic groups, rich and poor, people of all genders and persuasions. In a world so polarized, Ephesians 1:3-14 reminds believers that the Church is to be the heart of all humanity. Everyone must feel welcomed into the church, because it is a place where God molds, forms, and shapes us into Christ-like image. 

Pastors, lay people, and religious leaders must look at Ephesians 1:3-14, and use it as a launching pad for the building of a multicultural and cross-cultural church where all people are recognized as God’s children. In the church, and more poignantly, in what God did through Jesus Christ on the cross, the Church becomes a sacred place where racism, sexism, tribalism, prejudice, and many other human sicknesses have no place. 

The church of the 21st century and beyond faces a challenge because humanity is not willing to live together in peace and harmony. Polarization of all kinds threatens the message of Ephesians, and that message is unity in diversity. But one has to wonder whether unity in diversity is possible? Regardless of what God in Jesus Christ did on the cross, one has to wonder whether unity, love, peace and reconciliation can be achieved. The message of Ephesians 1:3-14 is that God predestined the world for love and this love is for all humanity. In a subtle but poignant manner, creation and resurrection are all part of the same plan of God. While God created the world, nature, and humanity, Jesus Christ on the cross brought forth the plan of God, making it possible for believers to enjoy the blessings and riches of God’s Kingdom. 

In any case, believers have a misinterpretation of “predestination,” if they see it as if God made a choice to save some and leave out others. Instead, predestination points to intentionality on the part of God’s all-encompassing love of all humanity. God’s love does not exclude but embraces all creation, including the human family. Secondly, God’s love makes it possible for humanity to experience the grace and faithful relationship of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (1:5). Therefore, our response to God’s love, grace, and presence with all believing humanity evokes praise, honor and worship. Because God does not exclude, humanity should also learn to include others in ways that usher in peace, unity and love.