Lectionary Commentaries for March 13, 2022
Second Sunday in Lent

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 13:31-35

Jeremy L. Williams

Jesus has been heading to Jerusalem since Luke 9:51, and in Luke 13:31-35 the Pharisees urge him to get there even quicker. They claim that Herod desires (thelō) to kill him (verse 31). However, Herod is not the only one who has desires. The word thelō appears two other times in this passage. The first is when Jesus responds to the Pharisees with his own desire (verse 34). The second is when his desires are tragically countered by Jerusalem, which does not desire what Jesus the Prophet does (verse 34). These desires expose key features of Luke’s drama as Jesus journeys toward execution in Jerusalem.

Herod’s Desire

Readers familiar with the gospels may recall that the Pharisees are often juxtaposed against Jesus and his work. It is worth noting that Jesus pronounced woes against Pharisees in Luke 11:42-44. On the one hand, when they suggest to Jesus that Herod desires to kill him, their claim could read as propaganda to scare Jesus out of town. On the other hand, Luke has previously demonstrated that Herod has no problem imprisoning and executing outspoken prophets like John the Baptist (3:19,20; 9:9). The Pharisees could very well be telling the truth. 

Outside of the New Testament, writers like Josephus positively portray the Pharisees. Even in Luke, Jesus accepts the dinner invitations of Pharisees. Jesus’ presence at those meals intimates collegiality, even though those dinners often devolve into power contests between him and his hosts. 

Regardless of the trustworthiness of the Pharisees, Jesus sends them back with a message: “tell that fox that I answer to a higher authority.” Foxes in both Greek and rabbinic literature were depicted as crafty, sinister creatures. This is no compliment to Herod. Jesus insists that the tetrarch of Galilee will not hinder his work of casting out demons like Legion (Luke 8:26-39) who represent Roman military might. 

Nor will King Herod’s threat prevent him from providing cures for people’s maladies. Jesus declares that he will keep working today, tomorrow and the third day when he will be completed (teleioumai). The completion on the third day, for a Christian reader, shouts resurrection. But Jesus must make a stop before resurrection. He is under divine mandate to go through Jerusalem. This necessary stop is captured by the word dei in Luke 13:33, which for Luke is associated with God’s divine purpose at work, especially in the life of Jesus.

Jesus’ Desire

Luke characterizes Jesus as a prophet who takes upon himself the image of the divine bird. Not quite as the eagle with a nest (Deuteronomy 32:11), but as a hen, he desires (thelō) to provide shelter under his wings (Psalm 91:4). Jesus’ prophetic work since Luke 4 has been to live out the words of an earlier prophet, Isaiah, whom he quotes saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

  because he has anointed me

         to bring good news to the poor.

 He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

  and recovery of sight to the blind,

         to let the oppressed go free,

 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

(Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)

This message is not always accepted. When Jesus first proclaims it, he is almost thrown off a cliff in his own hometown (Luke 4:28-30). In this passage, Jesus has received another death threat, this time from Herod. He does not cower from that intimidation, but he counters it by calling him a fox. Jesus’ priority does not seem to be his own safety. He instead is primarily concerned about following the divine purpose (dei) that does not direct him away from danger. It leads him directly into it and ultimately through it. 

Jerusalem’s Desires

As noted above, Luke presents Jesus as a prophet. A significant aspect of his prophetic identity is Jerusalem’s negative response to him. Jerusalem does not desire (thelō) what Jesus desires. In this way, Jesus the prophet operates similarly to philosophers like Socrates. Both claim to have messages from the divine, which land them on trial. Moreover, they both get convicted and sentenced to a death penalty by the local leadership. For Socrates, this occurs in Athens, for Jesus it is in Jerusalem. The texts portray the civic leaders as understanding the prophet/philosopher’s messages as divisive, controversial, and dangerous.  

In the case of Jerusalem, rather than desiring the prophet’s message, they opt to stone those sent by God. The Torah assigns the lethal sentence of stoning to various crimes. Most relevant for our discussion are the charges of blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14, 16, 23) and apostasy (Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 13:11). The leaders in Jerusalem charge those sent by God with disrespecting God and disavowing the covenant. 

The prophet’s message in contradistinction declares that it is those leaders who actually violate their covenant with God. They are the ones who convict innocent people and prioritize political correctness over providing cures. Hence, their house (oikos), authority, faithfulness, and desires are empty like an uninhabited wilderness (erēmos). 

Although Jesus’ words are pointed at Jerusalem, we need not make them about Jewish people more broadly. Jerusalem functions rhetorically here on several levels. First, the Jerusalem leadership would not have had the power to execute lethal sentences. Only the Romans wielded that power. Thus, Jerusalem reflects local leaders under the auspices of empire who conspire to eradicate a voice that critiqued their power and challenged their authority. Second, not everyone in Jerusalem and certainly not all Jews were opposed to Jesus and his message. Hence, there would be some that would exclaim the words from Psalm 118:26 “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Jesus’ critique is not against all Jewish people nor is it against all of the people in Jerusalem. It is against those who criminalize truth-tellers. One must remember that Jesus was Jewish. He primarily preached to Jewish people, and his critique against Jerusalem was akin to an American critiquing Washington D.C. In most cases, such a critique sounds general, but it is not against all of the people who live there. The critique is often directed toward particular problems that the critic observes about the way that things are and their desires for the way that things should be.

Further Reading: 

Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, “Luke,” in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary ed. Brian Blount et. al. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007).

Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997).

Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003).

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991). 

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Justin Michael Reed

We usually describe Abram’s main problem in this passage as a lack of children, but the real issue is not what he lacks. Abram’s problem is the prejudice that he holds onto. Of course, it would be disingenuous to say childlessness is not part of the problem. In Genesis 15:2, Abram (who we will come to know as Abraham after Genesis 17:5) complains, “I remain childless”; and in verse 3 he blames God: “you have given me no children.”

From the start of the Bible, we see the importance of having children. God’s first command to humans is “be fruitful and multiply,” which God repeats verbatim to the first humans after the flood (Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7). The genealogies in Genesis 4, 5, 10, and 11 show that people are heeding God’s instruction to reproduce. Unfortunately, their procreative obedience ends up multiplying wrongdoing; disobedience (chapter 3), killing (4:8, 23–24), lying (4:9), and violence (6:5, 11–12) abound. God tries to reset things by wiping out everyone except a small remnant of people and animals, but the new creation remains corrupt (Genesis 8:21; 9:20–29). In Genesis 12, God takes a new approach to engaging with humanity: God will work through an ongoing relationship with Abram.

The story of God and Abram starts when God commands Abram to migrate to Canaan. God offers Abram magnanimous promises: he will be a great nation; he will have a great name; God will bless people who bless him and curse the ones who curse him; and through Abram, all the people of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). When God adds a promise of land to Abram’s “seed” (Genesis 12:7), we think that Abram cannot remain childless. Unfortunately, his wife, Sarai, is barren (Genesis 11:30).

With this background, we typically read Genesis 15:2–3 as if the central issue for Abram must be that he needs to have children and he has none. But there is more going on in these verses. It is not only a lack of children that Abram grieves. After both complaints about his lack of progeny, Abram laments the consequence: Eliezer of Damascus, his slave, would end up being his inheritor. Abram is not just concerned that he has no children, but especially concerned that a slave would carry on his legacy!  

When describing Eliezer as a slave, Abram literally refers to him as “a son of my house” in these verses. Eliezer is not named as the child of a father—the typical designation for a person—but as the child of Abram’s property. This description of Eliezer fits with an idea that sociologist Orlando Patterson says transcends many cultures: that the enslaved person is imagined as “socially dead,” someone alienated from their bonds of kinship and lineage.1 The urgency of Abram’s complaint comes from the fear that a slave, not even a full person, will inherit after him.

I wish that childless Abram would develop a special connection with Eliezer whom he describes as fatherless. They could complement one another well. It would be nice if God pointed this out to Abram, but that is not what happens in this passage. God seems to conform to Abram’s degrading worldview. With a not-so-humanizing-pronoun, God assures Abram, “this [not “this man” as the NRSV translates] will not be your heir” (Genesis 15:4). After God tells Abram that his own body will produce children more numerous than the stars, Abram can feel relief. Knowing that a slave will not be his heir, Abram can recognize God as righteous (Genesis 15:5–6).2

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. God turns from the promise of descendants to the possession of land (Genesis 15:7). Abram asks how he can trust that his descendants will inherit the land (Genesis 15:8). Now that he believes he will have biological heirs, Abram wants reassurance that God will give them all that God promised even after Abram is dead and gone.

This passage has God concede to interact with Abram at the level of human cultural practices. God gives instructions on how to “cut a covenant” (Genesis 15:9–10, 17–18). This is not just a promise (which Abram had already received), but a type of agreement where humans ensure their obligations with a symbolic gesture that speaks volumes. By treading through a path of blood between an animal (or animals) cut in half, a person “cutting a covenant” symbolically asserts that they will keep their word lest their own body be severed like the animal whose blood they walk through (see also Jeremiah 34:18–20). Remarkably, Genesis 15:17 depicts Abram having a vision where God—represented by a smoking pot and burning torch—passes between the carcasses in order to say that God will suffer death if God does not keep this promise.

Twice, our lectionary reading displays God meeting Abram at his very human level. God concedes to Abram’s prejudicial anxiety about a slave carrying his legacy, and God concedes to Abram’s apprehension that some human ceremony could make the divine promise more reliable. But the verses left out of our lectionary reading also offer some nuance to God’s concessions.

In the midst of the covenant ceremony, God tells Abram “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there” (Genesis 15:13). In other words, Abram feared that his heir would be a slave, but God tells him, indeed, there will come a time when all your descendants will be slaves.

Abram thought of slavery as a sign of inferiority that should disqualify someone from inclusion in God’s special lineage. But Abram’s descendants will endure harsh slavery and come to understand it as central to their own identity. God does not make enslavement an immediate circumstance for Abram’s children, but enslavement, perseverance through it, and salvation from it become the banner of God’s people. 

Abram was not ready for a radical change in his perspective on enslaved people. In this passage, God gave him comfort. But for the majority of the Torah, God will show that an enslaved people are the right people to carry on the legacy of what it means to be the children of God.


  1. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
  2. Since only pronouns are used in the second clause for Genesis 15:6, it could mean “God credited it to Abram as righteousness,” meaning that God considered Abram’s trust in God as evidence of Abram’s righteousness. I believe I have chosen the more likely reading: that Abram considers God’s reaction to his situation as proof that God is righteous.


Commentary on Psalm 27

Beth L. Tanner

Psalm 27 fits well with the Gospel reading in Luke 13.1

In Luke, Jesus laments over Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing (verse 34)!” The psalm is from one who desires that very place, “[For] he will hide me in his shelter in the days of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent (27:5).” Indeed, the complete psalm expresses hope in the midst of darkness that makes it especially appropriate for the season of Lent.

Is Psalm 27 a psalm of trust or a prayer for help? The short answer is it depends on who you ask. Some scholars (Gunkel and Weiser) argue this is two psalms combined at some point. This may be the case, but the psalm as it appears today in the Bible begins with praise (verses 1-6), moves to lament and uncertainty (verses 7-12), and then returns to praise (verses 13-14). It is cyclic, just as our lives are. We praise, we cry, we praise. It is the stuff of our existence.

The first three verses are ones of confidence in the LORD. Beginning with familiar questions, if God is my light and my salvation and my stronghold, what or who is there to fear? The third verse gives a possible circumstance for the fear, an enemy in war. This does not mean it is the exact circumstance; it could simply be what it feels like to the one praying. With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises. To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places. Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality. The feeling of the psalm is the same. It was a time to choose which fear would win the heart of this one. The psalm reminds us there is only one path to pick. We can succumb to fear of the other or embrace God’s path for us and the world.

The next section (verses 4-6) comes as a cool breeze on a hot day. The scene changes from the encampment of an enemy to “the house of the Lord.” As Christians, we should long for the LORD and the chance to stand in God’s presence. It may mean the person praying has gone up to the sanctuary for prayer or protection, but it is much more than this. It is this one’s destiny; it is home. The church today is often a hive of activities and responsibilities. Many can suffer from burnout and stress. What can we do to make the church feel as the Temple does in this psalm, as a resting place, an oasis to refresh the mind and heart? Part of Lenten discipline is contemplation, and this is a possible topic. What can we do to make us long for the house of the LORD? Can we become a place that “lifts up the head” of the broken above those things that caused their heads to drop in shame and hurt? Can our priority be one of shelter under the wings of our Lord? Could we contemplate less business and more refreshment?

The world intrudes on this peaceful interlude as it always does (verses 7-10). Something has upset the peace and tranquility of the last stanza and the one who was at home is now lost. God seems distant; the connection is broken. We know the feeling. What this prayer does is encourages us to keep praying when the way is dark. The confident center is that God will not abandon us even if those closest to us do. The psalms teach us that it is not only God’s responsibility to find us, sometimes we must also fight to stay in this relationship with God. We must go forward confident that God’s seeming absence does not equal abandonment. It is the fear talking. Instead this prayer invites us to contemplate, not the evil of the world but to believe in “the goodness of the LORD” and in the goodness I can wait and hope and be courageous until this storm too passes by.

In the days after 9/11, I like many others in the area, stood on a train platform headed into New York City. We were still unsure what the future held or what would happen. Every cell in my body was afraid, and it seemed crazy to be heading into the city that everyone was trying to escape. There in those moments was the same decision seen in this psalm. “The LORD is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?’ rang in my head. Was my belief stronger than my fear? We all have these moments and those moments are the essence of our faith. God is reaching out to us, will we be brave enough to lift our arms in response? Lent is a time to ask the deep questions of our faith. We can repeat the fears of the past, or trust a new ending to God. It is never easy, but it is the call of God on our lives. This psalm invites us to believe again that our faith in God will never desert us, no matter what happens. Life without fear is not possible, but faith can call us to live into God’s will for our life instead of reducing our lives because of our fears and insecurities.


  1. Commentary first posted on this site on Feb. 21, 2016.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 3:17—4:1

Frank L. Crouch

Lent serves as a time for prayer, repentance, and turning our whole selves over to the One who can heal and save us. The Apostle Paul’s words here focus on “stand[ing] firm in the Lord” so that we might more clearly see who we should look to as role models. He encourages us to discern the differences between reliable guides to life and intentional or unintentional agents of destruction. He exhorts us to look to Christ as a source of transformation, of power to become who we are called to be.

Whom Do You Want To Be Like?

The passage opens with a significant intercultural moment: “Join in imitating me” (3:17). It’s common in the US to be taught not to hold ourselves up as examples. It’s conceited, arrogant, off-putting to others. To some degree, that was true in early Christian settings as well—“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Romans 12:3); “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11). Conceit and arrogance have never been held up as virtues, then or now.

At the same time, in the first century Greco-Roman world a leader, teacher, or anyone in a position of responsibility was expected to conduct themself1 in an exemplary way. Similarly today, a contractor pouring a foundation, a surgeon making an incision, a counselor working with someone in crisis are all expected to have sufficient competence to say to observers, “This is a correct way to do this.” We count on them in those moments to be role models for how this should be done.

In Paul’s day, if one had a track record of excellence and effectiveness, it was not seen as arrogant to say so. It was a “no brag, just fact” expectation in their culture. One could be both aware of their advanced capabilities and humble as they described them. Paul sought to be a model of those who practice what they preach.  

That’s a fine and narrow line to walk. So, if we still refrain from holding ourselves up as examples of how to live, we can also seek to live in such a way that, if asked, others could say about us, “Here’s where I’ve seen faith in this person, where I’ve seen hope, and where I’ve seen love.”

What Do You Want Out of Life?

At a spiritual formation retreat, the retreat leader led participants in discerning formational forces at work in our lives. Churches, schools, families, friends, neighborhoods, media, advertising, employers, professional organizations, etc., affect us daily, for better and for worse. At the end, the leader reminded participants, “Remember that as you leave, you will reenter the multibillion dollar formation machine that is American media and advertising.”

This is not to disparage all media or advertisers but to note the enormous cumulative impact they have on our lives—if we’re not careful. As a shaping force on our culture, it is not far off to say that “their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things” (3:19). 

A relentless campaign of engaging distractions seeks to focus our attention on possessions, wealth, convenience, and comfort, on the biggest, boldest, newest, most advanced, most appealing things that—with our money or our votes—we can have. An equally relentless campaign of anxiety-producing scenarios seeks to focus our attention on threats, dangers, disasters, and risks, on the biggest, boldest, newest, most advanced, scariest things that—with our money or our votes—we can escape.

In Paul’s day and in our own, people find themselves in need of constant discernment in order to distinguish the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18) from those who follow the cross of Christ to find life (3:17; 4:1). Paul urges us to “stand firm in the Lord” as he did (see Philippians 3:2-16). Living in Christ offers us the best opportunity to discern what actually matters most in our lives, what is really worth longing for from birth to death and beyond. 

How Open Are You to Being Changed?

Paul’s message does not stop with discerning bad from good, hurtful from helpful. We move more readily from discernment to transformation when we recognize that at the deepest levels of our lives “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). 

Here Paul refers to heaven not as an afterlife destination where angels with harps and halos will lounge on clouds. He refers to heaven as the fullness of the reign of God, now. (It’s not that our citizenship “will be” in heaven but “is” in heaven.) “We are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” not only in the future but also in our present (3:20). Christ transforms our bodies now, transforms our whole lives as they unfold (3:21). 

Paul focuses on the transformation of our bodies because everything we do in our lives, we do in our bodies. In that sense, our bodies are not just flesh and blood, biological entities. We are unfolding expressions, embodiments, of the extent to which Christ is at work within us. And Christ works most powerfully within us when we understand that our bodies belong both to us and to God. 

Paul expresses this idea earlier in this letter, when he hopes that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phillippians 1:20). He also expresses this idea in Romans: “We … groan inwardly while we wait for … the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-3). “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).

The three headings above represent three questions for Lent (or any season) raised by this passage. Paul offers his words here as invitations to “my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for … my beloved” (4:1) If preaching on this passage, it is worth considering how a congregation might best hear the sermon as an expression of that same spirit of love.


  1. Using “themself” as a nonbinary third person singular pronoun.