Lectionary Commentaries for August 29, 2021
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Matt Skinner

At least one part of this passage is straightforward, although disturbing: Jesus explains where evil comes from.1

It comes from within all those people who bug you. But also from within you. Me, too.

Of course, it takes a while for Jesus to get to that basic point in this tongue-lashing delivered to a group of Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem. Their exchange begins with a question to Jesus about traditions, particular interpretations of laws given through Moses.

Following the discussion

Jesus’ followers (Jews, all of them) didn’t adhere to the same purity practices. “Some” disciples did not wash their hands in particular ways prior to eating. This alone means little, as the wider Jewish population at that time didn’t exhibit strict consistency in such matters. The narrator’s comment in verse 3 about “all the Jews” overstates the case; different Jews followed different traditions.

Yet the scribes and Pharisees’ question in verse 5 implicitly criticizes those disciples. Even more, it indicts Jesus. Even though no Old Testament texts call for anyone to wash hands before eating (but see what priests do in Exodus 30:18-21; 40:31), by Jesus’ day certain practices had arisen among some Jews. Why don’t all of Jesus’ followers abide by these more recent customs? What kind of teacher leads his pupils to violate revered elders’ teachings, that is, the legal interpretations affirmed by at least these scribes and Pharisees?

In verses 6b-7 Jesus cites the Greek (Septuagint, or LXX) version of Isaiah 29:13. He thus likens the “traditions of the elders” (verse 5; cf. verse 8) to mere “human precepts” (verse 7) that misconstrue God’s “commandment[s]” (verse 8). In no way does Jesus deny the validity of either the Mosaic law in general or its individual commandments; he rejects how certain interpretations—and thus, certain practices—may have deviated from or obscured the intent of laws meant to safeguard purity.

The reference to Isaiah 29:13 (LXX) also allows Jesus to redirect the conversation (which proceeds as a monologue, really) when the setting changes later, beginning in verse 14. The Isaiah passage introduces a contrast between the lips/mouth and the heart, and Jesus builds on this contrast to transform the issue into one about defilement and how a human body becomes polluted. Simply put, impurity is a matter of the heart, not the mouth.

And so the passage ends with a representative (not exhaustive) list of things capable of making a person impure (verses 21b-22). Some are deeds, others are character traits and attitudes. All originate, Jesus says, in “the human heart,” which for the ancients represented the seat of rationality and will. Defilement dwells deep within.

What Jesus does not say

According to Mark’s commentary on Jesus’ speech, in verse 19b (which the lectionary omits, as does a parallel passage, Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus thus “declared all foods clean.”2 Yet, it’s not patently clear that Jesus’ words point exactly to this conclusion. Mark may be asserting that Jesus, in this moment, made all foods clean. (Compare “God has made clean” in Acts 10:15.) But this is hardly the main point of the passage, and the lectionary’s scalpel encourages preachers to keep more central matters in view.

Despite the radical nature of verse 15a, “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile,” we have no evidence that Jesus himself disregarded the dietary laws. (Notice Peter’s practice according to Acts 10:14.) In any case, the parabolic nature of Jesus’ comments (see reference to “the parable” in verse 17) supports the conclusion that hand-washing and foods are not the main concern here. Instead, Mark 7:1-23 speaks much more plainly about the source of defilement: it’s more internal than external. It’s more about who you are than about the foods or filth you avoid.

To be clear, Jesus does not dismiss the issue of defilement as insignificant. He does not declare the Mosaic law unimportant. He disagrees with these scribes and Pharisees’ interpretations of certain laws. He reasserts the law’s basic concern to be about restraining evil and avoiding defilement. Yet here’s the problem for us human beings: evil and defilement stem from places rather deeply embedded within our very selves.

As any reader of the Old Testament knows, Jesus was hardly the first to propose such an idea. Further, not all of his contemporaries would have experienced offense over his disagreements with these scribes and Pharisees. So don’t preach about differences between Judaism and Christianity. Don’t extol the bacon cheeseburger as a sign of God’s benevolence. Preach about the evil output of the human heart. Tell people:

“We have met the enemy and [it] is us.”3

From text to sermon

I offer four comments about what such a sermon might include.

First, Jesus’ outlook on the human heart needs careful qualification. For example, he does not denounce the heart for producing only evil intentions. Believe in total depravity if you must, but I still think it’s worth underscoring that people are occasionally capable of great good and selfless compassion.

Second, remember: it’s not the scribes. Not the Pharisees. Not the law. What Jesus subjects to fiercest criticism in this passage is the human being. Joel Marcus notes the concentration of the word anthrōpos (“human being” or “person”) eleven times in the span of Mark 7:7-23 and says:

“The basic problem Christians should be concerned about, Mark seems to be saying through this striking pileup [of the word anthrōpos], is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the anthrōpos. It is this malignancy that chokes the life out of tradition, turns it into an enemy of God, contorts it into a way of excusing injustice, and blinds those afflicted by it to their own culpability for the evils that trouble the world.”4

Third, Jesus’ comments propel us to keep our evils in the spotlight. Whatever Satan is in Mark’s Gospel, it is not the cause of wrongdoing. That job belongs to the human heart. Placing blame on a diabolical entity lurking in the shadows risks diverting attention from our own propensity to rebel and destroy. Truly “evil intentions” dwell, not only within society’s notorious figures, but within ourselves and those we love and trust most fervently.

We know enough about the human condition to say that evil is about more than an individual’s selfishness or bad decisions. It roams our collective existence, our social, economic, and familial systems. We are at once perpetrators and victims. And our victimization furthers our capacity to perpetrate. “The human heart,” or the human will, remains a complex thing. Our kin and culture usually keep us ingrained in patterns of defiling self-destructiveness and idolatry.

Fourth, the biblical text needs a preacher to make Jesus’ point personal, so we can see his generalizations made concrete within our particular experiences. The same goes for the solution we believe Jesus promises to this deeply rooted problem. Without soft-pedaling the passage’s negative focus, preachers and other worship leaders also must direct a congregation toward the love and mercy God nevertheless extends to each and every broken anthrōpos.


    1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 2, 2012.
    2. This comment, considered alongside the generalized description of Pharisaic practices in verses 3-4, indicates Mark writes to a Gentile audience or a mixed Jewish-Gentile audience possibly debating the ongoing validity of dietary restrictions. If Mark understands the abandonment of dietary laws in Christian communities as the abolishment of a significant marker separating Jews and Gentiles, then this passage sets an interesting context for next week’s Gospel lection, in which a Gentile woman contends with a resistant Jesus to receive his help.
    3. I know nothing about the old comic strip Pogo, except for this line.
    4. Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (Anchor Bible 27; New York: Doubleday, 2000), 460-61.

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Stephen B. Reid

The season that we anticipate as the COVID pandemic seems to ebb gives the listeners to this text a context: a new hearing of the instruction of God. At the last stop for Moses there was no photogenic setting of people and monuments. It was the river and history alone that set the stage for the sermons that built on a similar rhetoric of ethics. Successful completion of the tasks assigned by God through Moses would result in life, possession of the promised land, a sense of community, and esteem in the eyes of other peoples. 

It is always now for community (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)

The passage begins with a temporal term interjection. Time organizes human emotion, perception, and action. The language of now accents the urgency of the present to spark obedience. 

The word pair “Israel” and “hear” occurs four other times in the book of Deuteronomy (5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3). “Hear” includes emotion and decision to act. Then there is the call to community in the name Israel. The legal aspect and poetry have a rhetoric of request in the language “give heed.”

Who are you all?

What is Israel? Practices, ordinances, and statutes forge group identity. Moses as the prophetic prototype promotes unity through orthopraxy, common behavior, and practice. The mentoring has clear student outcomes as they say in higher education. The assumption is that teaching changes action with the verb “do them.” Action shapes group identity.

The benefits of being you

Common practice builds group identity, but it has other material benefits. Keeping the statutes and ordinances results in divine favor expressed in the gift of the land. God who provides this favor has roots in the religious history of the people noted in the language “the God of your ancestors.” 

A legal proceeding depends on evidence presented according to approved standards. That evidence must stand up to scrutiny as coherent and to some degree unified without addition or subtraction. Religious revelation depends on coherence, inviolability, and unity. When that testimony is altered by addition or subtraction then the validity of the revelation comes under doubt. 

Divine instructions come as a package. The writer instructs the community to avoid additions or omissions from divine instruction. Similar passages occur elsewhere in the Deuteronomy (12:32) but also in Revelation 22:18-19. The text points to the integrity of the witness. The instruction of God for this writer provides a coherent unified testimony that should remain unaltered. 

You have to see it to be it (Deuteronomy 4:6-9)

The Hebrews stood at the edge of a promised land, but the promised land was already inhabited. Deuteronomy 4 argues that the embodiment of obedience of the people of faith elicits obedience from other people groups. The canonical setting of the Book of Deuteronomy helps to frame this understanding. 

The Hebrew word pair “keep” and “do” the NRSV renders as “observe diligently”. The intense adherence to the instructions of God demonstrates wisdom and understanding. The writer uses the word pair of these synonyms to accentuate the synergy between these words of knowledge as perspective. The adherence to the instruction of God becomes a way of knowing the entire universe. One that the eyes of the people can recognize. 

The unique God builds a unique people

The recognition of the other people groups sparks two things. First the audience hears and obeys all the ordinances. Second, the peoples affirm the national stature of the Hebrews. The intimacy between God and the Hebrews out strips any other religious community. They observe that no other god is that near and that responsive. Yahwistic claims of incomparability in Deuteronomy 4 anticipate Isaiah 40:12-31and Psalm 113. The God of the Hebrews has no peer. The people of God likewise; the statutes and laws of God have no equal. 

Remembering good, forgetting bad

The writer of Deuteronomy believed that covenant had both benefits for completion and consequences for derelict behavior. On the one hand, “remembering,” a term that does not occur in this verse, has its benefits but on the other hand, “forgetting” illustrates a type of transgression. The believing community remembers through diligent obedience. Absent mindfulness self-care amnesia destroys persons and community. The term “forget” occurs for the first time in Deuteronomy in this passage. However, it will occur again at key times in the book of Deuteronomy (4:23, 31; 6:12; 8:11, 14; 9:7; 24:19; 25:19; 26:13; 31:21; 32:18). The narrative of this transgression is twofold. First one forgets the words or things that God has done to save and liberate the community which they saw with their own eyes.

The final instruction uses the Hebrew term shamar twice which the NRSV translates as “take care and watch.” Such behavior insulates the person and group from forgetting what the eyes have seen and the mind and heart have used as true North. 

Forgetting allows the knowledge of and relationship with God to give way. The task of memory and keeping the memory at the forefront of thought and action remain central. 

Teach your children well

Children create a problem. Eyewitness accounts give way to generational memory. The task of remembering includes instruction of subsequent generations who did not see the deliverance firsthand. The grand narrative of God’s salvation, liberation provokes the behavior that makes the Hebrews unique and intimately connected to God. Here the passage anticipates Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The laws we observe depend on the God we have observed and continue to observe in history. 

Israel parked on the edge of the Promised land heard Moses encourage them to keep God’s instruction. Moses in Deuteronomy calls us today, parked on the edge of the COVID pandemic.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Lisa Wolfe

If you have not read the Song of Songs (its Hebrew title) lately, start there. Try to set aside any preconceived ideas about its interpretation, such as the traditional understanding of it as an allegory for the love between God and Israel or Christ and the Church. This book contains beautiful poetry shared between young lovers, and it highlights the physicality of their attraction. At the very least, the existence of this book in the canon invites us to consider the holiness of embodied love, even if it does not invoke God explicitly. Furthermore, the Song of Songs is an important reminder of the inaccuracy of generalized statements about the lowly, voiceless, and marginalized status of biblical women. 

Song of Songs 2:8-13 contains romantic lyrics sung by an unnamed young woman (probably a teenager) to her equally young (male) “beloved.” One unique aspect of the Song of Songs is that the woman’s voice dominates the book. Furthermore, unlike some other biblical references to sexual(ized) relationships, this book does not contain domination or submission of the woman by her lover (though others seek to keep them apart, 3:3; 8:8-9). This woman claims her voice, her desire, and her lover as her own, and does so proudly and poetically. 

This portion of the woman’s song opens with her admiring her beloved from afar, comparing his physique to a majestic creature that can navigate any barriers to her. She watches him watching her (2:8-9). Her delight with him is palpable. Notice that the terms “mountains” and “gazelle” in 2:8-9 repeat in 2:17, which invites us to extend the pericope through the end of the chapter. In 2:10-13, her speech on his behalf includes the repeated, impassioned phrase in 10b and 13b: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Norah Jones, anyone?1) How lovely that we hear him beckoning her, through her voice. 

Some of the most captivating poetry in this passage appears in 2:10-13, where the woman shares the man’s words through both metaphorical and literal references to springtime. With imagery of growth and fecundity fitting to the season (“flowers,” “turtledove,” “figs,” “blossom,” “fragrance”), Song of Songs’ singer simultaneously enlists her springtime scene to describe the wondrous newness of her relationship. 

We can employ both levels in our own interpretations, first recalling our joy at the return of spring each year, then our own experiences of new and renewed love. Beyond that, we can consider the many occasions to celebrate newness, from our first time receiving the hugs we craved during the 2020-21 pandemic, to our joy when we first felt the spark of a divine connection. 

The passage leaves some things unclear, as is often the case with poetry. Does the young woman remember that her beloved calls to her this way, or are we to read this scene as a fantasy? Those questions may not seem to matter much here, but in more explicit portions of the book they make a huge interpretive difference as to the status of the couple’s relationship (for instance, see 5:1-8 with openness to the euphemistic language there). The answers to such questions have resulted in the variations among Song of Songs interpretations. Some commentators insist that the couple are engaged and then married, though most agree that the couple remains unmarried, indicated by their ongoing pursuit of one another.2

The ambiguity over the couple’s status and their actual or fantasized time together invites us to broach topics that do not often make it into the pulpit. Physical expressions of love, sexuality, consent, and desire are not foreign to the Bible or the religious experience, as evidenced by the Song of Songs. Nor should they be topics we avoid in the church. Indeed, perhaps the church would be better off if we created comfort in discussing such things in a congregational context, rather than relegating them to popular culture or allowing a default repressive view to dominate parishioners’ thinking on the topic of sex and all things related. 

While pastors may feel nervous to discuss this in a sermon, imagine how relieved some congregants would be to have some pastoral guidance and reflection based on the love poetry in Song of Songs. Certainly, this needs to be done with great sensitivity to one’s congregation, remaining mindful of parishioners in various types of relationships and with different comfort levels—it need not be imposed prescriptively as the basis for marriage or even heteronormativity. Does not romance have a place in Christian worship, even at times other than weddings?3

A clergy colleague once told me how much he struggled to prepare a children’s sermon on a Song of Songs passage. While it may seem impossible to parlay this book into anything kid-friendly, it can become an opportunity to broach the topic of welcome—or unwelcome—physical touch. Since the Song of Songs is unique in the biblical literature because it deals with desired rather than imposed physicality, it would be fitting to introduce children to the idea of using their voices to say yes or no to any kind of touch, starting with hugs. Many adults need to hear this message as well. Here is where the pandemic offers another opportunity, as it has made us all more aware than ever of seeking consent about any kind of touch. Someone who makes a move toward a hug can be told “no,” offered a Namaste-style bow, or embraced. Children have the right to make those choices, and should be taught to do so. 

It is also appropriate to teach children that the appropriate expressions of love they see between adults—when they are indeed gentle and consensual—need not be embarrassing and are certainly not bad. While such physical touch may become awkward for children of a certain age, the Song of Songs can help us lift up the embraces, hand-holding, kissing and cuddling they see among adults in their lives as something God-given.


  1. Note the similarities of this passage to her song “Come Away” on her 2005 album of the same name (Blue Note).
  2. For a longer discussion, see my book Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, and Judith (Wipf and Stock, 2011), 131-132, 155-157. For Bible Study resources on Song of Songs see my “Uppity Women of the Bible” videos (Living the Questions, 2010).
  3. Wolfe, 191-193.


Commentary on Psalm 15

Esther M. Menn

What makes a good guest?1

At summer’s end, when many people are returning from visits with family and friends, this is a timely question. There is an old joke that says a visitor and a fish smell the same after three days. Both stink!

But there are also guests who bring so much joy and contribute so richly to our well-being that they never wear out their welcome. We look forward to their coming and wish they would stay forever!

There are also instances when visitors become permanent members of a household. In our current economy, these arrangements are more common. We are no strangers to the dynamics of living closely together as guests and hosts!

Psalm 15 asks who would make a good guest in God’s home. The divine dwelling is identified poetically as a “tent,” recalling the tabernacle of the wilderness wanderings, and also as a “holy hill,” evoking the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem: “O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” (15:1).

In sacred spaces as fragile as a cloth structure or as solid as a mountain, God stays with Israel through changing times. What is more, God welcomes guests!

Psalm 15 has been viewed as a liturgical entrance rite (see Psalm 24:3-6), but gate-keeping is not its purpose. Longer term arrangements are at stake. What kind of person may “abide” as a resident alien in God’s house? The verb “abide” is related to the Hebrew word for the landless stranger (ger), whom Israel is charged to protect (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 10:18). In Psalm 15:1, we are asked to think of ourselves as immigrants seeking God’s protection.

The second verb in verse 1, “dwell” (shkn), is also rich, since it can refer both to people settling down peacefully and to God’s encampment in the wilderness tabernacle (mishkan, literally God’s “dwelling place”) and on Mt. Zion (Psalm 135:21). This word choice suggests cohabitation of a holy place by human and divine occupants.

After the first verse, the focus in Psalm 15 shifts abruptly to ordinary life. The rest of the psalm provides a thought-provoking answer to the question of who would make a good guest in God’s home (verses 2-5).

A series of descriptive verbs paints a portrait of the long-term visitor who would gladden God’s heart. What one does defines the person, whether acting for good or refraining from harm.

The NRSV paraphrases the masculine singular verbs in Psalm 15 by using the plural pronoun “those.” This translation is helpful because it is gender inclusive; however, it obscures the emphasis on each individual’s discernment, behavior, and speech. Every person makes a big difference!

Psalm 15 has a teaching purpose. It encourages us to think about how we as individuals, families, and communities are invited to live in God’s presence with joy and integrity. All the lectionary readings for this Sunday teach about values and behaviors (see for example, Deuteronomy 4:9).

The portrait of an ideal guest opens with a three-part summary of positive traits. The best guests are:

“Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak truth from their heart” (verse 2, NRSV).

Additional nuances of this beautiful orientation to the life of faith are captured by an alternative paraphrase. The ideal guest would be:

“The person who walks with integrity, does what leads to reconciliation, and acknowledges truth when making decisions” (verse 2, author’s translation).

“Walking” suggests that all we do is a lifelong journey in God’s company. What is “right” refers to the quality of relationships fostered by our behavior. The “heart” in Hebrew anthropology is the organ of deliberation and commitment to future action. Integrity, good will, and honesty are hallmarks of daily life with God.

Psalm 15:2 is comparable to the memorable verse in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV).

The following verses develop the principles summarized in Psalm 15:2. In verses 3-4 there is a special emphasis on speech (similar to James 1:19, 26). What we say matters! The lack of civility in politics, social media, and interpersonal exchanges makes this an enduring topic.

The ideal guest refrains from speaking ill of others and from spreading harmful gossip. Humiliating critiques are avoided (verse 3), since shaming can cause damage rather than constructive change. Preserving the reputation of others is important.

Positive speech about others should also be discerning. The guest portrayed in this psalm intentionally lifts up for public honor those “who fear the LORD,” who live according to God’s wisdom. By contrast, those with baser motivations are best avoided (verse 4).

Regarding another type of speech, the imagined guest keeps promises even when it is not in this person’s own self-interest (verse 4).

The final verse of Psalm 15 treats systemic economic and legal concerns (15:5). Not charging interest on loans means not profiting from the poverty of the most vulnerable members of society. A positive implication is that interest-free loans may assist a neighbor out of a crisis.

In the legal arena, rejecting bribes signals a commitment to fairness in the courts. The integrity of the legal system promotes justice for all.

The description of the ideal guest is not exhaustive, but it is enough to suggest a whole way of life. There is resilience and stability in being God’s guest. Like the firm mountain of Zion itself (Psalm 125:1), the person who stays close to God will not be moved. (See Deuteronomy 4:7 for another reference to nearness to God.)

This promise does not exclude challenges and profound experiences of loss. We only have to recall Jesus’ crucifixion and the 2015 shootings of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other Charleston Nine. Our daily lives as God’s guests are the holy ground from which we will never be shaken, whether we live or whether we die.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 30, 2015.

Second Reading

Commentary on James 1:17-27

Casey Thornburgh Sigmon

“Half a foot between knowledge and wisdom”: that’s the short and oh so very long of the situation in James. There is a gap between knowledge (knowing in my mind ideas about God) and wisdom (living and acting from the soul what I know of and about God in my mind). It was a critical gap in James’ religious community nearly two thousand years ago. And it is a critical gap now in so many of our religious communities.

Scholars consider the letter of James to be in the genre and lineage of wisdom literature, not epistle. While the first verse of this letter identifies James as its author, we do not know more about who he is. His audience is the “assembly,” or, in the Greek, “synagogue” of Jesus followers dispersed around the Mediterranean basin.1 James reads like a collection of sayings and teachings for a developing community of Christ-followers hoping to distinguish themselves from the world by how they live together.

James does not hold back in diagnosing the death-dealing ways of the world for the poison that they are. This wisdom literature from James is prophetic and provocative. Famously, Martin Luther gave James the side-eye, deeming it an epistle of straw for its emphasis on works rather than reliance upon faith in God for salvation.

Perhaps this is a season in which you, dear preacher, need to mind the gap between knowledge about God and living wisely as friends of God for yourself and your congregation.

Verse 17 names the good news for the preacher: God is generous with the gift of truth, the gift of wisdom. Wisdom is not hidden, requiring some decoder ring to discern its direction. If we truly desire to be wise, wisdom from God will come from another plane of existence to help us create an alternative community of care in this world. If we dwell in wisdom and allow it to take root in us, we will be more equipped to resist the cravings of this world that disrupt the self and community. As Ron Allen states in The Preacher’s Bible Handbook, the intention of this writer is “to call to mind a way of life” together for God’s purposes, even if many of the instructions seem aimed at individuals.

With its 59 imperatives in twice as many verses, James represents the Torah tradition of wisdom as it exhorts humanity toward freedom through wisdom born from on high rather than succumbing to passions and desires from within.

The selection for today (verses 17-27) reads like a collection of snapshots of quick proverbial lessons. Many a sermon is preached on being quick to listen and slow to speak. Many a sermon is preached on being slow to anger. Many a sermon is preached on being doers, not just hearers, of the word. And one more verse that inspires many a sermon is in this pericope: caution of the unbridled tongue. Should any of these lines of proverbs launch your sermon this week, do not lose track of the ideal all of these lessons contribute to, also included in this week’s pericope:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
To care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (verse 27).

We listen, we hold our tongue, we temper our anger so that we can do what God wants us to do rather than walk in the ways of the world unthinkingly. The world’s wicked ways are sprinkled throughout James almost like Wanted posters scattered through town in order for the community to stop criminal behavior in its tracks when it appears in their life together. 

The image on James’ Wanted posters is this: worldly lust for money, wealth, and status. Such behaviors lead to actions that destroy the fabric of Christian community. In contrast, true religion hurries to help the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the ones on whose backs the rich grow their wealth (James 5:1-5).

We know that we aren’t supposed to lust after money and status. I know this to be true. But James holds up a mirror so that we can reflect on whether or not our actions betray what we know in our heads. So, we must mind the gap between knowledge and wisdom. What is it that keeps us from doing God’s word and desiring what God desires? Answering this question with honesty is how we get at what’s really at stake for ourselves and our people as we seek to follow Jesus, and not merely to know about him. 

Sermons on James can incorporate the genre of this biblical text: paraenesis or advice. As we offer advice for living wisely as Christians together in our time and place, we must simultaneously expose the deadly half foot between knowledge and wisdom. For James, sins in that deadly gap are greed, selfishness, covetousness, and the pursuit of personal pleasure and comfort, no matter the cost to society. Is it any different for us in 2021? The challenges of James are timeless.


    1. Ron Allen, “James” in The Preacher’s Bible Handbook, Wesley Allen, ed. Kindle Loc 4871.