Lectionary Commentaries for August 15, 2021
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 6:51-58

Robert Hoch

In this section of the Bread Discourse, the dispute “chews” on Jesus’ flesh. Was this the narrator’s plan all along?

  • “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);
  • “one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread” (verses 50-51);
  • “… the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (verse 51b);
  • “whoever eats me will live” (verse 57).

Over the course of this chapter, the narrator has moved steadily from metaphor to eucharistic realism.

This section of discourse begins with religious leadership erupting with cutting sarcasm (pun intended): “How can this man give us his flesh [sárka] to eat?” (verse 52). In answer, Jesus reprises a negative version of verse 35: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of the Human Being and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Verse 54 says the same thing, but positively, and in the first person rather than the third: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” The narrator has shifted from the receptive verbs of “seeing” and “believing” (verse 40) to “eating and drinking” leading to eternal life (verse 54). Manna does not give eternal life like the bread that “comes down from heaven” (verse 58).1

In chapter six, John’s narrator uses multiple verbs to convey the act of eating. Jesus uses trogein in verses 54, 56, 57, and 58b. The NRSV makes no distinction between the verbs, rendering all as “to eat.” However, the larger context may make a case for a more textured translation. First, in the leadership quarrel in verse 52 they use the perhaps less earthy version of to eat, phagein. Jesus’ verb choice is arguably more offensive, leaving his metaphorical flesh stuck in their teeth—or a recollection of John’s prologue introducing the incarnation: The Word became flesh because God so loves the world.

Second, the narrator carefully composed each of the elements of this chapter, knitting them together into a cohesive whole. Would it be surprising if the narrator were revisiting in this eucharistic moment the realism of the multiplication of barley loaves and dried fish? These are not highly processed foods that you can quickly eat, almost without chewing. Jesus is the opposite of commodified food. Chew, gnaw, nibble, munch, eat (audibly, like animals)—all of these suggest possible renderings of this verb.

Raymond E. Brown uses “to feed” for trogein because it emphasizes the realism of the Johannine account of the eucharistic meal.2 It also functions as both verb and noun: daily feed for the sheep and animals feeding. Jesus’ flesh and blood is the believer’s daily bread, the believer’s daily feed. It seems to offer semantic range for the way, by feeding, the believer “remains” or “abides” in Jesus and Jesus in the believer (verse 56).

The Fourth Gospel is sometimes called the Gospel of Life. For good reason, according to Brown: “life” occurs 36 times in the Gospel of John and 16 times in the Synoptics. “Life” and “live” occur 17 times in the NRSV of the Bread Discourse. For John, eternal life is not something that God gives to us in the “next” life. Rather, it is something we experience in this life, though it is not determined by the natural life. Brown distinguishes the “natural life” which God gives when God breathes the Spirit into the human being and the Spirit that Jesus breathes onto the disciples in the locked upper room. The narrator views the coming of eternal life through the incarnation, namely the real life of Jesus. In that sense, those who trust in Jesus have already passed from death (separation from God through sin) into life with God now.3


John moves on from the dried fish of John 6:1-11 to focus on Jesus as the bread, but I haven’t. I’m still there with dry fish. As a Native kid in Alaska, that was our candy, and the first thing you need to know is that you don’t “eat” dried fish. Saying that you “eat” dried fish misses a lot of what counts as its physicality. It’s tasty and nutritious, of course, and it’s a convenient source of protein if you’re out hunting or fishing. But a big part of the satisfaction is the jaw-work. You pull on it, you use your molars to grip it, you chew it, you suck its sweet oil from its red flesh, you yank and tug the skin from the flesh as if it were a piece of duct tape. And this says nothing about the process of preparing fish for drying, which of course, must first of all be caught, and then gutted and filleted into strips. Then there’s cutting down alder branches, hanging the flesh to dry in the smokehouse … it is also, for Native people, the way our ancestors lived through the winter.

It brings to mind the work of an Athabascan woman in the interior of Alaska. She makes parkas and jackets and boots from salmon skin. So, in addition to the salmon being a source of nourishment (she uses all of the salmon, except for the guts), she also produces garments made of salmon skin. Her art grows from something like meditation or maybe what the narrator in John means by “abiding” or “remaining” in relationship with Christ through the totality of life, even your ancestor’s life.

“If I didn’t have my art,” she says, “I don’t know what I would do. It gives me such great pleasure and it is an honor knowing that I am bringing back something that in times gone by was made by other Native Athabascans like me.”

Feeding body and spirit means keeping time with the seasons: “You can make many things from fish skin, but first you have to catch your fish. I live in Alaska and in the summer the weather is beautiful, so that is when I fly-fish, standing in the water for between eight and 10 hours every day. Winters are freezing—I’m stuck at home then, so that is when I sew. I treasure every piece of fish skin because it is so hard to get.” She doesn’t make her things for a market, but for people who know her. “Someday it would be great,” she says, “if I could wear a whole outfit made out of fish skin, but I will need to get the fish first.”4

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh abides in me and I in them.”


  1. Whenever reading New Testament texts, interpreters confront the problem of supersessionism. Is this idea in John? Probably, but John’s Jesus simply doesn’t exist without the covenant of God with the people of Israel. No less significant: Jesus teaches in the synagogue and will, in John, go to the temple multiple times. The antagonism here arises not from superiority or inferiority but from a family dispute. Understand the contexts that give rise to such distortions, but don’t bless them.
  2. Brown, Gospel According to John, 283.
  3. Brown, 503-8; see also Gail R. O’Day’s “Eschatology” in “John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke and John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 426.
  4. Audrey Armstrong, “First Person: Audrey Armstrong” in The Financial Times (18 January 2013), accessed on April 19, 2021 at https://www.ft.com/content/2d55e1da-5f73-11e2-be51-00144feab49a (subscription required).

First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 9:1-6

Megan Fullerton Strollo

On the surface, Proverbs 9:1-6 reads as positive instruction for those seeking to live an ethical life, one that leaves aside “naivety” (Hebrew peta’im) and is grounded instead in “understanding” or “insight” (binah; verse 6). 

Verses 1–5 present this choice of living as a feast or great banquet. Before the invitation is even offered in verse 4, it is clear that great preparation has gone into making this banquet hospitable and desiring. The reference to a “seven-pillared” house is not meant to be read literally, for there is little archaeological evidence that such a structure would have existed in the ancient world. It may be a metonymy for a grand house (see also Judges 16:25), or the reference to “seven” may metaphorically suggest strength and security. Slaughtered animals and mixed or spiced wine (verse 2; see also Song of Songs 8:2) are typical features of a feast, and impart the significance of hospitality to the reader (see also Genesis 18:1-16; Psalm 23:5-6; Luke 14:16–24; John 2:1–11). Overall, the passage presents wisdom—“understanding”—as a thing to be desired.

What is more, the passage suggests that choosing to attend this feast has broad consequences for one’s whole life. The invitation of verse 5 shifts to command in verse 6: those who accept the invitation must eat and drink, thereby choosing to “live” a life that embraces wisdom. Moreover, this invitation and instruction is aimed at life now. Wisdom instruction generally, and Proverbs in particular, is this-worldly, offering pragmatic insight on societal living, and is not primarily concerned with matters of afterlife.1 The three imperatives are thus simultaneous rather than consequential: “lay aside” naivety, “live” (an ethical life), and “walk straight” in understanding.

Again, it seems on the surface that Proverbs 9:1-6 leaves nothing to be desired. Indeed, it describes an ethical life as a thing most desirable.

Below the surface, however, lies a trap for any preacher. At the center of this potential pitfall is the one who, in Proverbs 9:1-6, offers the invitation: Woman Wisdom (that is Wisdom, personified as a woman).

Proverbs 1-9 is a distinctive section within the book, containing longer sections of instruction for ethical living (as opposed to the short quips located throughout chapters 10-29).2 The instruction is presented as advice from a parent to a son (1:8). The tendency of some English translations (for example, the NRSV) to translate the Hebrew word as “child” is commendable; however, the intended audience was decidedly male. This factor is essential to remember when interpreting Proverbs. 

There are two dominating rhetorical tools utilized in Proverbs 1-9, and they relate to the historically male-centric audience of the instruction. The first is personification, that is, the attribution of human characteristics onto something that is nonhuman; in this case, wisdom (khokmah) is personified as a female entity. In Proverbs 9:1-6, then, it is Woman Wisdom who invites guests to her house, and to her feast with her food and her wine. Elsewhere in the instruction, Woman Wisdom calls for the reader to walk in her ways (8:32) and to listen to her words (1:33; 8:4-8). 

The second rhetorical strategy used is comparison. In general, making comparisons allows for the reader to find order in experience, analyze options, and make an informed decision. As a teaching tool, it enables agency and promotes retention of knowledge and application of instruction. The comparison to be made in Proverbs 1-9 is that of a life led by wisdom versus one guided by folly. 

Just as wisdom is personified, so too does the book of Proverbs create a personified version of folly: the “strange” woman (‘ishah zarah; 7:5). The “strange” woman, or Woman Folly, is identified in varying ways throughout chapters 1-9: adulterer (2:16–19; 6:24); prostitute (6:26; 7:10); fool (7:21); foreign (2:16; 5:20; 6:24; 7:5). She is, for lack of a better descriptor, the “other” woman. This “othering” sets up the comparison between wisdom and folly. 

The comparison is particularly striking in chapter 9, where Woman Wisdom’s invitation is paralleled almost exactly with Woman Folly’s (9:16-17). The reader, then, is presented in Proverbs 9—after hearing many comparative descriptions throughout the earlier chapters—with a choice. Recalling that this is presented as advice from parent to son, the image of two women as choices thus becomes an exercise in voyeurism: which “woman” will the son choose? 

These days, one cannot read the comparisons of personified Wisdom and Folly in Proverbs without being mindful of how male voyeurism pervades the book of Proverbs. The instruction presents women as wholly good (Wisdom) or wholly bad (Folly), and such stark categorization is dangerous and misguided, especially if these categories are maintained. Preachers of this text must be mindful that they do not perpetuate these stereotypes, or participate in voyeurism themselves. 

Even for all her positive qualities, Woman Wisdom is still presented here as an object for a male student’s consideration. In the age of #MeToo, a preacher must be attentive to how wisdom in Proverbs is to be presented. Calling out and condemning the male-centrism of Proverbs is essential. Moreover, it is possible (as I’ve demonstrated above) to glean meaning from the text without resorting to the male gaze.


  1. Proverbs does make frequent use of a life-death trope (for example, 2:18-19; 3:16-18; 4:13; 7:27; 8:35-36; 9:11; 11:19), that emphasizes for the reader the benefit of an ethical life.
  2. Proverbs 1-9 is framed on the other end by 31:10-31. Many of the attributes of “woman wisdom” in chapters 1-9 are visible in the description of the “worthy woman” (Hebrew ‘eshet khayil) in chapter 31.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Dora R. Mbuwayesango

The transition from the reign of David to that of Solomon is noted in 1 Kings 2:10-12 and Solomon’s beginning is marked by a narrative of how he is divinely equipped for the task in a dream encounter with God (3:3-14). 

First Kings 3 begins by noting that Solomon will eventually build the Temple, but before the temple’s construction he worshipped at the high places, originally Canaanite worship places, as did the rest of the people (3:1-2). Worship at these centers was regarded negatively but here Solomon is exonerated because the temple had not yet been built. The narrative highlights the positive qualities of Solomon by pointing out that at this initial stage, his devotion to God is equal to that of his father David, if the worship at Canaanite centers of worship is ignored (3:3-4).

The exoneration of Solomon for worshipping at Canaanite religious places is surprising because this was one of the sins considered to have led to the destruction of both Israel and Judah by the Deuteronomistic writers. (In scholarly theories, the Deuteronomistic writers are credited with putting together the theological history that traces the experiences of the people of Israel/Judah from conquest to exile—Joshua-2 Kings, excluding the book of Ruth.) It seems that these writers were concerned that worship at these Canaanite centers would lead to confusion in the identity of the God worshiped. At this initial stage, however, Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were not confused about the God they were worshipping there. But at the end, Solomon does worse by not only building worship places for the gods of his foreign wives but abandoning his God and worshipping these other gods. Nevertheless, at this initial point, he is following in the footsteps of his father, David, whose devotion and loyalty to his God was never questionable.

When Solomon still has his father as his model, he experiences a theophany—God appears to him in a dream vision. He had witnessed how his father had been a successful king and maybe Solomon really wanted to be as successful as his father. Or he may even have aspired to surpass his father’s achievements. So, Solomon has a dream in which God appears to him while he is asleep. The dream may have been triggered by how Solomon was aware of his lack of preparation to fill his father’s big shoes, an awareness that was even present in an unconscious state of sleep. This may reflect that Solomon at this stage was consumed with a desire to do right.   

When God asks him what he wants to be given he thus starts by showing that he understands what grounded his father’s successes: “he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness and in uprightness towards you.” The source of his father’s success is evident to Solomon. He even acknowledges that his selection to be his father’s successor is not based on his own accomplishments but on the mutual loyalty between God and his father. Solomon is very much aware of what his selection entails. He is one among a multitude of God’s people—his task is to serve for the good of the whole community. 

Solomon is also very much aware of his own inadequacies as far as serving in the role of king.  He lacks the wisdom that is necessary in making decisions for the good of God’s people. Thus, Solomon asks for the ability to fulfill the role of governing God’s people well—“an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” He does not ask for power that would lead him into the accumulation of wealth for himself and those close to him. 

Solomon’s unselfishness pleases God so that God gives him even the riches he did not ask for, because at this stage Solomon does not see political power as the route to self-aggrandizement.  He genuinely wants to use his political power for the good of others. He wants to serve rather than to be served. He wants to provide good leadership for God’s people. This story should not be taken to mean that God will miraculously equip persons for tasks in ministry. Rather, it does reflect that a desire to be equipped for ministry is the right posture when anyone feels called to serve God and community in any way. It reflects more a posture of servant leadership that is so lacking in our communities today.

Why do individuals in our communities seek political power, or any kind of power for that matter? Is it for bringing good to the community or is it for personal gain? We are in a world where people with any form of power seem more and more interested in power for personal gain.  We need to seek wisdom and equip ourselves to build communities in which every person is valued; where the reality of justice and peace is experienced by all; where the vulnerable are protected; where power is used for the good of all.


Commentary on Psalm 34:9-14

James K. Mead

Last Sunday’s Psalm lection (34:1-8) contained some of the typical features of individual Psalms of Thanksgiving, where a worshiper invites others to praise God (verses 1-3) for an act of personal deliverance (verses 4, 6).1

This Sunday’s reading continues that invitation to learn from the author’s experience, but with verse 9 the psalmist begins to move in a new direction, focusing on the fear of the Lord and the wisdom that accompanies it.

The pastor who has been using the psalm readings for preaching already will have wrestled with the more challenging aspects of Psalm 34, from speculation about its literary form and original setting in worship to the historical superscription connecting the psalm to King David’s life (1 Samuel 21).

If verses 1-8 have not been expounded on in the previous Sunday, the congregation will need help getting their bearings. Whatever the circumstances for proclamation, the exegetical and theological currents within today’s lection are challenging. These six verses are united by the concept of the fear of the Lord, which is developed in the two ways: worship and wisdom.

Worship and the fear of the LORD
The “fear of the LORD” is mentioned four times in the central section of the psalm (verses 7, 9 [twice], 11).2 This concept challenges people of faith for many reasons, not the least of which is the problem of enjoying a close, personal relationship with someone who terrifies us. People wonder how to love and fear God at the same time. We may take refuge in texts such as 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out fear,” but it will be most helpful if our explanation is based on the concept of fear in the Old Testament, especially the Psalms.

Biblical words have a range of meanings connected to the contexts in which they are found, and “fear” can be associated with terror, respect, or worship depending upon the setting. In the Psalms, when the Lord is the object of this fear, the meaning of worship pervades. Thus, in the Israelite community, those who fear the Lord are those who worship Yahweh exclusively.3

I am therefore suggesting that we unite the themes of worship and the fear of God. The psalmist has already identified his audience as Yahweh’s “holy ones” (verse 9). In other words, he is not addressing a group of belligerent unbelievers who want nothing to do with Yahweh and thus need to be frightened into submission. Quite the contrary, they are the same ones who are called to “exalt God’s name forever” (verse 3), who “taste and see that the Lord is good” (verse 8), and “who seek the Lord” (verse 10). These believers are called “holy ones” in much the same way that the New Testament uses the term “saints” (e.g., Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; etc.); they are consecrated unto Yahweh for worship and service.

In the logic of the psalm, therefore, worship is still very much on the psalmist’s mind as we begin this lection, but the distinctive occasion here is not just the blessing of refuge in verse 8, but the way that protection from evil doers—metaphorically the “young lions” in verse 10—ushers forth in provision for Yahweh’s congregation.4 God graciously and abundantly meets the needs of those who seek him, a truth that creates not a paralyzing fear but a worshipful reverence before God.

Wisdom and the fear of the LORD
At verse 11, the psalm shifts its attention from worship to wisdom. There are several reasons for saying this:

  • First, the kind of language in the invitation of verse 11, “Come, O children, listen to me,” is found numerous times in the Book of Proverbs (1:8; 2:1; etc.). One of the important settings of Israelite wisdom teaching was the home and larger clan, and so the congregation is reminded of their need to be teachable.
  • Second, the subject matter to be learned, namely, “fear of the LORD” (verse 11), is echoed in the famous insight of Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom.”
  • Third, several of the motifs in verses 12-14 (long life, speech, peaceful relationships) are regularly expounded in Proverbs.
  • Fourth, Psalm 34 is but one psalm that focuses either entirely or partly on wisdom themes (e.g. Psalms 1, 37, 49, 73, etc.).

Perhaps all of these factors led to the selection of Proverbs 9:1-6 as the Old Testament lection for this Sunday. The epistle lectionary text (Ephesians 5:15-20) goes in a different direction, but it still exhorts hearers to connect worship and wisdom in their lives.

Familiarity with the Bible should not keep us from sensing the juxtaposition in the rhetorical question of verse 12 and the categorical response of verses 13-14. Under normal circumstances, everyone would “desire life” and “covet many days,” but they will not find the path an easy one to take. Avoiding deceitful speech and harmful actions, while also maintaining healthy relationships, is a tall order for anyone. The logic seems simple and straightforward, as Michael Wilcock writes, “if you desire good, then do good.”5

The irony, however, is that to aspire to a long life for oneself, a person must become completely committed to others. Indeed, living by these ideals is not merely difficult; the remainder of the psalm goes on to suggest that such a life will potentially invite brokenness and rejection (see next week’s commentary on Psalms 34:15-22). Regardless of the outcome, James L. Mays is correct that the connection of wisdom and worship gives “an ethical dimension to liturgical practice.”6 Psalm 34 thus stands in the tradition of the prophets who called for integrity of worship and life.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on August 16, 2009.
  2. The root word here is yara’, different from the rare word in v. 4, meguroth, translated “fears” (NRSV).
  3. M. Van Pelt and W. Kaiser, “yara'” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. W. VanGemeren (Zondervan, 1997) , 2:527-533.
  4. The word for “young lions” (kephirim) need not be amended as in the LXX (see New American Bible, “the great”); neither should the original term be avoided altogether (see New English Bible, “unbelievers”). The metaphor is discussed in Brent A. Strawn, What is Stronger than a Lion? (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005), 51, 304-310.
  5. M. Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 1-72 (InterVarsity Press, 2001), 117.
  6. James L. Mays, Psalms (John Knox, 1994), 153.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 5:15-20

Richard Carlson

Much of Ephesians deals with the ongoing interplay between Christian identity and Christian conduct. Indeed, Ephesians 1-3 functions as a type of identity reminder. In these initial chapters, Christians are being reminded of who they are especially as it relates to their place in God’s plan for cosmic salvation which is centered in Jesus Christ.

They have been given a new, distinct identity so that Christians are no longer who they once were (see especially Ephesians 2:11-22).  Ephesians 4-6 builds on this as identity-foundation by presenting both broad and particular instructions regarding Christian conduct which both is empowered by our new reality and manifests this new, God-created reality. Thus, Christians put off their old self and its ways of living and put on the conduct of their new self (4:22-24). In this way, Christian living entails walking in the light of our new reality and not walking in the dark of our old reality (5:8-13).

Ephesians 5:15-20 picks up this contrast and depicts it as wise living over against foolish living.  Indeed, in each of the three sentences which make up this short text, there is a negative “not as” which is then contrasted with a positive “but as” (see 5:15, 17, 18). The foolish person lives the former while the wise person lives the latter. Through these contrasts, the text is calling on Christians to pay close attention to how they are to live wisely. In the vision which Ephesians seeks to establish, a key question is: “What does living wisely involve?”

First, and perhaps foremost, living wisely is not a matter of doing what comes naturally; what comes naturally is the foolish, contentious ways of the old self (Ephesians 2:1-3) which includes living in reckless abandon and self-indulgence (5:18). Wise living flows out of the Spirit which is at work in the lives of individual Christians and in the corporate life of the Christian community. At the same time, living wisely is not a matter of obeying a given set of laws. Indeed, the word “law” is used only once in the entire letter of Ephesians and that is to inform us how Christ “has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” (2:15). While there are a number of “dos” and “don’ts” in Ephesians 4-6 (including our text), these are not presented as fixed rules which must be followed.  

Rather, living wisely involves discerning and enacting the will of Christ (Ephesians 5:17). While our succinct text does not elaborate on the details of Christ’s will, throughout the letter, his will is exemplified in the cross (for example, 2:13-16; 4:31-5:2). Living wisely also includes being able to tell time. That is, while we still live in the present evil age, we are called to make the most of the critical time at hand (5:16) as Christians are very much a part of the cosmic conflict between God and the devil (6:10-17).  

Living wisely also embraces and reflects the proper dynamics of worship which flow from the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the community and are carried out in the name of the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-20). Such worship has the vertical dimension of addressing Christ as well as the horizontal dimension of being corporate and edifying so that as we sing songs to God we are also singing songs to each other. Vibrant worship especially means celebrating all that God has done in Christ through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  

This short text and its surrounding context remind us that wise living is personal but never private. Each Christian is a new self which has been created by God. But this new self does not live in isolation. Rather, each new self exists as a member of the body of Christ, joined integrally to the body’s other members. In this way, we live both with each other and for each other. Similarly, our new self is created to be active by doing good works (Ephesians 2:10) and not to be dormant or secluded. Wise Christian living is not relegated to either the privacy of one’s church attendance on Sunday morning or one’s devotional life at home. Living wisely means allowing the Spirit to work the will of Christ in all aspects of life so that who we are as Christians is integral to how we live as Christians.  

All of this brings us back to the opening line of this text.  Unfortunately, most English translations render the opening Greek as a type of warning such as “Be careful, then, how you live” (NRSV, which is very closely aligned with the “Be very careful” wording of the NIV). The text’s opening, however, would be better rendered as a vibrant exhortation of encouragement: “Pay really close attention to how to live.” Hence this text (as well as most of the entire letter) does not seek to present cautions or red flags with regard to wise living. 

Rather, it offers robust encouragement for enacting our God-given, Spirit-empowered reality in Christ as it relates to all aspects of our lives individually and corporately. Living wisely, especially as it entails discerning the will of Christ, means active engagement and involvement in all of life’s circumstances so that the reality of our new self is continually manifested in and through the light of our new conduct “at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).