Lectionary Commentaries for August 8, 2021
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 6:35, 41-51

Robert Hoch

The reading begins with one of the most well-known “I am” sayings from the Gospel of John: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (verse 35).

The narrator adds “to see” alongside the verb “to believe.” The Johannine Jesus drives home the significance of what it means to come to Jesus and believe using a chiasm around seeing and believing:

A (verse 36) seeing and not believing

B (verse 37) Jesus will not drive away those who come to him

C (verse 38) I have come down from heaven

B’ (verse 39) Jesus will lose nothing of all that God gives him

A’ (verse 40) seeing and believing.1

In sum, it is not enough to see glancingly (for example, verses 19, 25, 34, 42, and 52). Seeing Jesus rightly leads to believing in Jesus deeply.

For the first time in John 6, the narrator singles out “the Jews” as being the source of conflict for Jesus (verse 41). John is of course in the middle of a conflict and we can understand how conflicts lead to distortions, but we don’t need to bless them. In terms of clearing the sightlines for communication, it seems best to translate the narrator’s “the Jews” as “the religious authorities” or “religious leadership.”

Jesus’ words in verse 35 spark controversy among the religious leaders: “They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?’” (John 6:42). Jesus doesn’t address the complaint as such but instead begins with God’s action (verses 44-46): God sends, draws, raises, and teaches. In turn, Jesus’ coming and being sent by God the Father gives rise to healthy verbs of receptivity: seeing, believing, hearing, and learning.2

It is not unusual to experience John as almost unbearably repetitive. Maybe the present chapter is especially heavy on repetition. Even so, it is not fair to say that John is just a repetition of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Gail R. O’Day calls our attention to how recurring themes contribute to the cohesiveness of John’s theological perspective. When Jesus repeats the crowd’s exegesis of “our ancestors” in verse 31, it becomes “your ancestors” in verse 48, thus putting distance between Jesus and the crowd. Then Jesus takes the bread image one step further—before, in verse 35, those who came to Jesus would be satisfied; now, in verse 51, those who eat the living bread, Jesus, will live forever. The language that had been metaphorical shifts: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”3

But why go after theological cohesiveness in this peculiar way? Is there something in the medium of John that can help us grasp its message?

Mulling this over, perhaps we notice the contrast between those who show a “glancing” acquaintance with Jesus and the narrator’s insistence that we see Jesus repeatedly. See Jesus as the One sent, and as the One to whom people come, and from whom people learn, and by whom people will be raised on the last day. See Jesus who sees and knows the Father. See Jesus who gives his flesh for the life of the world.

Living in John’s world as a disciple feels like enchantment, or perhaps being held in the steady gaze of the Word. But stand for a minute in the shoes of those who shake their heads in disbelief. Is the complaint of verses 41-42 anything worse than the way we might “glancingly” evaluate a loaf of bread? It is good or bad or neutral … but from heaven? Really?

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (verse 42).

Imagine, for a moment, the agitated atmosphere of Jesus’ day, when hungry eyes searched for the one who would glow in the dark of this age. Consider the promiscuous gaze, always looking elsewhere, until, at last, it cannot look away. Or, in not looking away, decides to linger in the gaze of the one who lingers with us.

The “I am” sayings hold our gaze on a person who seems and is very human, maybe the first real human being. Maybe we wonder what it means to believe in Jesus whom we have not seen. It seems to be a problem. And yet, even if we do not “see” Jesus, we do “see” the symbols of the “I am” sayings: “I am the bread of life” (verse 35); “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (verse 51); “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). The sayings point to commonplace images: shepherd, bread, vines, a viticulturist, a gate, and a gatekeeper.

But is there anything really “common” about the human experience? Or, what’s there to see that we haven’t already seen?


When we left the U.S. for England, we weren’t able to take much with us. For complicated reasons, our family pictures ended up with my parents in California, some 5,000 miles away. However, as we were packing, we did take along some pieces of art made by family members, especially our children. We also packed some of the sketches my mom has sent us over the years. We’ve framed them, and they are now hanging in our living room. Each picture consists of a few quick brushstrokes. The pictures include animals that you see in nature: a hummingbird, a school of salmon, a dragonfly, a wading bird, a deer.

It was only a few days ago when it dawned on me that we don’t have any pictures of my mom. We’ve been living here for five months at the time of my writing. Why hadn’t I missed her picture? As I looked again at those sketches, I knew the answer: when I see those paintings, I see them, but I “see” my mom. Or perhaps I see through my mom’s eyes, and I “see” her, almost as if she were here, in this place.


  1. Xavier Leon-Dufour, “Trois Chiasmes Johanninques,” NTS 7 (1960-61), 251-53, quoted in Gail R. O’Day, “John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke and John, volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 512.
  2. O’Day, “John” in New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 513.
  3. O’Day, “John” in New Interpreter’s Bible, 514.

First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4-8

Amy G. Oden

Wilderness, rest, nourishment. These are the restoring practices that gave Elijah strength for the journey.  

We can recognize Elijah’s state: utterly exhausted from the work of the Lord, in danger from speaking truth to power, with seemingly little to show for his efforts. Elijah is afraid, overwhelmed, burned out. He leaves his companion behind and walks into the wilderness, sits down under a tree and asks to die. “I’ve done enough! Take my life now” (verse 4).

Many of us are driven by the sense that no matter what we do, it’s not enough. There will always be more suffering, entrenched systems of injustice, new wars breaking out, fresh disasters occurring; human brutality to one another continues unabated and so, we try to do more. We want to be faithful to God’s calling into the world that God so loves. Yet we feel ineffectual and exhausted. We are overwhelmed, burned out, done! Our energies depleted, despair gaining ground, we fantasize about just walking away.


Notice two of the moves Elijah makes at this point: he goes into the wilderness and he lays down to rest. Most of us only go into the wilderness when forced by life circumstances. When we find ourselves lost in the wilderness of our own lives, it can be terrifying and disorienting. We want out as quickly as possible! Yet wilderness is precisely where so many divine encounters occur: Hagar and Ishmael, Israel’s wandering for forty years, Jesus’ forty days. The desert Christians of the fourth century grasped this insight and created an entire movement in the wilderness. 

What is it about wilderness that is so fertile? First, it is a no-place.  The wilderness is a spacious, blank page, without agenda or expectation. It can be disorienting and uncomfortable, but it can also be a place of possibility, where the old ways no longer work and the “next thing” has not yet consumed our vision. The spareness of a no-place creates a spaciousness, unburdened by over-stimulation. 

Wilderness can also be fertile as a place of unknowing. We get the sense from Elijah that he’s done all he can in service to the Lord and now, unable to see a way forward, a future, he is resigned. We need to be willing to be in such places of not-knowing, where there are no easy answers or quick fixes. Again, while this can be uncomfortable, it can also be freeing. Sitting with our un-knowing can open us up for Holy Presence. Rather than getting busy planning, managing, figuring it all out, we can become simple, aware of all we do not know, and surrender to this spacious wilderness, trusting God to meet us here.

What might it be like, when overwhelmed or burned out, to choose a wilderness space, a no-place? When we can sit in our unknowing, holding space for ourselves to breathe, we may receive a divine messenger, an angel bringing us a word (verse 5).


Second, Elijah lays down and falls asleep. Because he has just asked to die, this falling asleep seems connected, a sort of mini-death. Sleep may be another form of release, letting go of his own sense of success or failure, laying down the burdens of holy work to allow deep rest in body, mind and spirit. 

And Elijah does this not only once, but twice! After getting up to eat and drink, he goes back and lays down again (verse 6). It is not a quick “power nap,” but sustained rest, as much rest as he needs to be restored fully. 

Unfortunately, many of us seek rest in the wrong places, through various forms of numbing. The most common are overwork, alcohol and binge-watching or binge-scrolling. These do not provide true rest. Genuine rest can take many forms, from naps to play to focused creativity. However, solid sleep is especially essential for full restoration, as science establishes the crucial role of sleep in healing and health.  

What if we viewed these acts of rest as acts of faith? A way of de-centering “self-in-control” so that true rest can restore us, making us more open and available to however God calls us into the future? 


Now let’s notice what God does. God sends a messenger (angel) who says, “Get up and eat” (verse 5). The angel does NOT say, “Get up and go back to work” or “Get up and get going.” God invites Elijah to simply eat and God provides the nourishmenta cake and water right there next to him. Not an elaborate feast, but a simple meal, given for him in his great need. Not unlike the simple meal Jesus offers at the Eucharist table.

God does this twice, just as Elijah sleeps twice. In case we didn’t get it the first time, rest and nourishment are repeated. Again, the angel touches Elijah and instructs him to eat, to take nourishment, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you” (verse 7). Elijah is invited here to recognize his creatureliness, his need for food to fuel his body and provide strength for the road ahead: “then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God” (verse 8). 

We can easily go through life as though we are brains-on-a-stick, ignoring our bodies and denying ourselves as creatures. We resist living in solidarity with other creatures who know they need rest and food. This passage invites us to embrace our creatureliness, our need for rest and nourishment, not as signs of moral failure but as our connection to the One-Who-Provides. The gospel reading this week (John 6) points to the Bread of Life that nourishes us all.


Wilderness, rest, nourishment. These are simple and transformative, yet daunting. I hope we can see them as faithful. That is, as key practices that both form and witness to our faith. May we embrace the invitation to wilderness, rest and nourishment, trusting in God’s provision for journey into abundant life.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Timothy L. Adkins-Jones

By this point in David’s story, I’ve developed quite a bit of suspicion in the narrative surrounding David and the intentions of his actions. I don’t mean to initiate a conversation about the accuracy of the Biblical text so much as to recognize that both the telling of this story and what is going on in David’s mind is complicated. 

The lection for today selects very specific passages from the broader story of the failure of Absalom’s rebellion that focus our attention on David’s grief and his seeming lack of involvement in his own son’s death. But as with everything concerning David it is much more complicated than that.

When David gives instructions that Absalom should be dealt with gently, the narrator makes sure to note that all the people heard when the King gave those orders. David wanted to make sure that everyone heard him make this request. These directions were so loud and clear that no one could miss them. But by including this line for the readers of the text, we as readers also could not miss them. 

Is it possible that the narrator wanted to make sure that any original readers who were supporters of Absalom were informed that David wanted to treat him kindly in order to secure their support? Maybe in making the pronouncement David is  trying to save face with his own people who might judge him for going against his son or killing his son and the narrator wants the same thing for readers? Maybe it is as simple as David loves his child with his whole heart and despite all of the drama that they’ve been through at this point he simply does not want to see him die?  Maybe David knows that Absalom is worth more to him alive than he is dead? And maybe it is a little bit of all of that. It’s complicated.  

David is serving multiple roles. He is not only a shrewd king but he is a grieving father. There are personal emotions and national responsibilities living in tension. There are echoes here of many difficult decisions that David had to make throughout his rule, but for me David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant and dancing before said Ark in 2 Samuel 6 come immediately to mind.  Even that was complicated. Yes, he was happy that the ark came to his capital, and as we often remember he worshipped with reckless abandon. But it is hard to miss how politically beneficial bringing the ark was for further solidifying his rule.  

David had a way of doing that which brought glory to God and to himself. He’s complicated.  But David is not alone in that. The truth of our actions are often messy. A sermon from this passage might do well to avoid the “simple” narrative that might be formed around David’s grief and lack of involvement in Absalom’s death and instead delve into the complicated notions of desire, strategy, ambition, and power in David’s actions. What do we do when our motivations aren’t pure? Are our motivations ever pure? How might David’s complicated legacy inspire us and help us guard against the struggles that David faced? 

Collateral damage

The last section of this passage is one of the most gripping in all of scripture. It seems that a sermon from this passage must do the work of helping the hearers envision the horror and sheer grief that consumes David as he gets the word that Absalom has died. The reversal and contrast in emotions is palpable as the Cushite comes with the “good news” that Absalom has been killed. No longer referring to him as the young man Absalom, David cries out “My Son, My Son” and wishes that he had died in his place. That cry holds with it all of the pain and agony that a father would have at the loss of his son, but in that cry must also lie the guilt that comes from knowing the part he played in his son’s demise. 

Not merely the fact that they were at war with one another but going further back one could trace the origins of Absalom’s demise to David’s abuse and subsequent marriage of Bathsheba and his manslaughter of Uriah. The punishment that Nathan said would always be with his family proved to be accurate, as no order to treat his son Absalom gently could save him from death. This is not quite the end of David’s story but this encounter does serve as a kind of climax to David’s family drama. I can’t help but think that David’s cries for his son include a recognition of all that his sin and subsequent punishment has put his family and his country through.  

David’s actions have had collateral damage of epic proportions and this pain serves as a grave warning for any that have power and influence. Displaying the kind of self-centeredness that David displayed earlier in his rule is quite the temptation to anyone in power, and sermons from this passage might also call us to a broad consideration of our actions. One need not be a king or have that level of influence to cause great harm with their selfishness and shortsightedness.  

Finally, though they were performing their duty, and following orders as soldiers were trained to do, the way this lectionary highlights who caused the violence against Absalom is worth noting. Joab, both in this larger narrative and earlier in David’s story, was often used to do David’s dirty work. Joab provided cover for David and it was Joab’s leadership and actions that allowed David to remain in the background. Joab was the one that received David’s earlier letter about thrusting Uriah to the frontlines in order to die. And while Joab’s role is conspicuously missing from the selected passages, the ten men that ultimately killed Absalom bore Joab’s armor. David’s machinations not only caused harm to others but it forced those around him to be the purveyors of harm themselves.


Commentary on Psalm 34:1-8

Paul O. Myhre

Music has a way of provoking memories of events long forgotten.1

Acting as aural time machines any particular song, melody, or lyrical tone can transport us across time and space to another space and time in our own journey through life.  High water moments are interspersed with low water events and much of the rest of our life experiences are lived somewhere between the two.

The melodies we craft or choose to focus attention on along the way say much about what we were about at that particular point in space and time.  Simple lines like “welcome to the Hotel California” or  “be thou my vision” or “wasting away again in Margaritaville” or “amazing grace how sweet the sound” can catapult us to places once central in our experience.  They can bring to mind friends who are no longer with us, places we have visited, and events that have shaped us.  A few words coupled with a catchy melody can be burned into our memories like tattoos that never go away.

Psalm 34 functions something like that for me.  Each poetic line is like a line from a song I once knew.  “This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord.”  How many times could I say the same?  The line itself transports me back to those flood and drought moments where life seemed out of control or too much to control.  My poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord.  In personal recognition about my watermark moments and parched places I discover something about the presence of God that was there in the midst of it all and was vitally real.

Perhaps Psalm 34 as poetry set to song served in some way like that for the people of God.  Each human life is an aggregation of experiences that build up over time.  Sedimentary layers of rocks, sludge, and discarded ideas mingle together and press in on one another.  We are walking repositories of all that has happened to us and each new experience fits into that matrix to find its place among the rest.

If one were able to cut through the accretions to see by way of a cross section all that has been, what would they discern.  I suspect they might be surprised to see layers where God’s grace covered the hard places and where God’s presence brushed against jagged stones of disappointment or personal pain.  Perhaps the activity of God in human experience is not unlike a fertile layer of soil laid down by a springtime flood over our river bottoms of stone and sand.  Once given to the rocky places new life can emerge where none previously may have been thought possible.  Our hard times can be transformed by recognition of the abiding presence of God.

What would it mean to bless the Lord at all times with praise continually in our mouths?  Is the Psalmist realistic about human capacity to stay focused on a topic?  Or is the Psalmist interested in inviting the people of God to some reorientation of thought and action?  How would it be to go through life with each 24 hour day permeated by reflection on the presence of God and God’s activity in the things we think are somehow too removed, too banal, or too mundane?  What if God were one of us as the pop song suggested?  How might we note the difference?

The opening explosion of praise invokes human senses of taste, hearing, sight, and touch.  It seems only the sense of smell is missing or perhaps it isn’t.  Since smell is intimately connected with our sense of taste it may be implicitly indicated.  Smell from campfire smoke as the angel of the Lord encamped nearby touches minds filled with memories of outdoor camping experiences in the wilderness and in travels from place to place.

The Psalmist provides a sonnet of God’s activity that hears human pleas, speaks to human fears, and provides deliverance from what might paralyze capacities to live in the fullness of grace.  The kinesthetic activity of God affirms a living and present God involved in the lives of people for their comfort and strength.  The Psalmist’s poetic flurry of expression involves the whole human being.  The five senses are pictured as places where God is present.  They are places where God might be discovered in the ordinary events of life.

The Hebrew word—ira—translated into English as “fear” stands out in the text and draws hearers toward further reflection about how to not only be cognizant of the actions of God, but to face fears through living in right relation with the living God.  The word fear is sprinkled through the Psalm from start to finish — delivered from all fears and angels encamp around those that fear God.  Following verse 8 the Psalm encourages hearers to fear the Lord and reminds them about how the dimensions associated with the imperative to fear the Lord will be taught to them through faithfulness.  Maybe the word translated into English in the first part ought to remain as “fear,” but perhaps in later portions of the Psalm to be translated not as “fear,” but “awe” or “reverence.”

Fear for human beings is the result of many catalysts.  It can be derived from human experiences of guilt and shame.  It can arise from threats real and imagined to our existence or the existence of those whom we love.  It can grow from experience with the natural world that can be a place of physical and emotional pain.  It may emerge when one is faced with something that has not been previously experienced—like the first time standing at the edge of a high cliff when faced with the recognition that one slip could cause our demise.

Fear can make the legs weak or can trigger a response to run from the perceived danger or risk.  Rarely in my experience does fear invite adoration.  Instead the fight or flight response seems more common.  Maybe the idea of fearing God is not so much fighting or fleeing as it is recognition of the scale of something that cannot be fully comprehended.  Like an unsolvable math problem, the number of stars in the universe, or the number of beats our heart will beat over a lifetime—we cannot determine with certitude what the solution or numbers are.  We only know that they exist and if we had the capacity to determine them the answers would only produce more questions.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 12, 2012.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Richard Carlson

If one first encounters Ephesians 4:25—5:2 without considering its contextual moorings, its string of behavioral instructions can come across as an extended, alternating list enumerating the appropriate “dos” and “don’ts” Christians are called either to adopt or to avoid. While it is quite true that this text presents contrasting negative and positive behaviors, it is important to recognize that the exhortations listed here are grounded in the fundamental understanding that one’s reality (“who” a person is) empowers and is reflected in one’s conduct (“what” a person does). More specifically, a review of the “you were, but now you are” contrast in 4:17-24 helps one to grasp more fully the contrast of negative and positive behavioral appeals in 4:25—5:2.  

Earlier in this letter, its audience was given an extensive, contrasting overview regarding their former reality and their current reality. Rather bluntly, they were told:

“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Thus, their old reality was one of utter alienation from God, from Christ, from God’s people; a reality in which they were completely helpless and hopeless with regard to their own standing before God. In the immediate context of 4:25-5:2, this former reality is depicted as the “old self” (4:22; NRSV, NIV). In accord with the divine plan set down before creation, however, God changed their old reality through Christ’s death so that the audience now dwells in Christ (1:3-11; 2:4-10,14-22). In our text’s immediate context, this new reality is depicted as the “new self” (4:24; NRSV, NIV). Because Ephesians operates with a theological scheme in which one’s reality empowers and shapes one’s conduct, the audience has been called upon not to live (or even discern) as they once were, for example, as alienated Gentiles, but to live (and discern) as they now are, the new self which has been created according to God’s likeness (4:17-24).

The so-called “don’ts” and “dos” of 4:25-5:2, build upon and make more particular the contrasting interrelationship of how one’s reality determines and is reflected in one’s conduct.  The audience is called upon to “put away falsehood” (4:25) because relating to others through deceptions and lies was part and parcel of the old self’s way of life. Similar negative behaviors reflective of the former reality which are to be discarded like old clothing include “bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice” (4:31). It is also important to note that here in Ephesians not only is one’s conduct reflective of one’s reality but one’s conduct is also communal. In that way, the negative behaviors to be shunned are not simply bad actions according to some general or abstract moral standard. Rather, they are understood to be the negative, interpersonal ways Christian neighbors are no longer to relate to one another. Hence, the foundational drumbeat of our unity in the one body of Christ established and sounded throughout 4:1-16 remains the cadence for how we live out such unity in our ongoing interrelationships with each other as members of one another (4:25).  

The interpersonal scope of these behavioral instructions may help in understanding the directives and their motivations presented in 4:26-30. 4:26a concedes that being upset with another person is an aspect of living in community, but such anger is neither to be the springboard for sinful actions against others nor for smoldering, lingering attitudes toward others (verse 26b). 

Such actions and attitudes only open the door for the destructive schemes of the devil (verse 27; 6:11). Similarly, theft does not just involve taking something that belongs to another. Such theft robs another the ability of using their skills to produce what can also be shared with those in need (4:28). Likewise, what we say to each other directly impacts our relationships with each other as joint members of the body of Christ. Thus in 4:29 we are being called upon to speak to each other in ways which enhance our relational bonds steeped in God’s grace rather than in ways which corrode these bonds (on the “building up” of the body and its bonds also see 2:21; 4:12,16).

Interwoven into the edifying behaviors which build up the ties that bind joint members of the body of Christ is a triune motivational base. In baptism, the Spirit first imprinted onto us the divine promise of our full, future salvation (the “sealing” with the Spirit in 4:30 recalling 1:13-14). Hence, we are being called upon not to engage in detrimental conduct which would thwart or frustrate the promised goals for which the Spirit is working (thus the exhortation “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” in verse 30). This would include avoiding the negative, interpersonal behaviors listed in verse 31 while engaging in the uplifting behaviors listed in verse 32a.  

Thus, our text is calling us to be imitators of God in the mode of Christ (4:32b—5:2). Such a call to imitate God is not only unique in the New Testament, it may immediately sound an impossible ideal which we cannot possibly emulate. Actually, the acts of imitation presented here are rather concrete (both as a foundation and as action). We are to forgive each other because (and as) God first forgave us in the person and action of Christ (4:32b). We are to love each other because (and as) God first loved us in the person and action of Christ (5:1). We are to live selfless, God-pleasing lives as Christ lived selflessly to fulfill God’s salvific designs for us (5:2). Through these ways of living, our comportment stands in congruity with the grace-filled activity of God, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.