Lectionary Commentaries for April 15, 2022
Good Friday

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 18:1—19:42

Emerson Powery

“Good Friday” was not “good” that afternoon in Jerusalem. 

The series of events that ensue—within these two lectionary chapters (John 18-19)—bring closure to Jesus’ earthly mission. Judas’ betrayal—for which the fourth Gospel prepares readers (John 6:70-71; 12:4; 13:2, 26-27)—reaches its fulfillment. The arrest scene is followed by a series of trials for Jesus (18:19-24; 18:28-19:16) and less formal confrontations for Peter (18:15-18; 18:25-27). The narrative structure intersperses Peter’s “trial” with Jesus’ own, forcing a comparison. The repeated denials of Peter save his life. The truth-telling of Jesus causes him to lose his. The longest trial will be the one in front of Pilate and Jesus’s fate will eventually be determined. 

The final scenes, after the arrest, draw our attention:

The narrative slows down as Jesus comes in front of Pilate (18:28-19:16). The fourth Gospel records a series of questions from Pilate but none from Caiaphas, the high priest, in a private meeting. As Pilate begins his (first round of) questioning, he goes right to the heart of the matter, “Are you Israel’s ‘king’?” (18:33)—a question for which the Gospel of John has prepared the reader from the beginning with Nathaniel’s opening confession (unique among the Gospels!): “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49; see also 12:13-15). Nevertheless, Jesus’ response—“my kingdom is not of this world”—implies a different kind of strategy for its influence and success (and, a different kind of battle); otherwise, this “king” idea would be a problem for Pilate (18:36). 

Pilate’s questions move the trial along: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (18:33) “What is truth?” (18:38) “Where are you from?” (19:9) “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” (19:10) 

Although Pilate did not find Jesus guilty according to this Gospel (18:38; 19:4, 6; 19:12), Pilate still had him beaten (19:1) and ridiculed (19:2-3). Usually, the Empire uses violence against its prophets. The most significant charge was that Jesus “claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7; see also 10:30, 33). The NRSV’s “claimed to be” is an attempt to translate the Greek text’s more literal “he made himself” (Greek heauton epoiēsen), which suggests that the religious leaders charged Jesus with acting in such a way as if he were God’s Son. After this charge, Pilate ends his questioning, performs his duty, and hands Jesus over for crucifixion (19:16).

Reading between the lines of the fourth Gospel, Pilate was just as responsible for Jesus’ death as the Jewish leadership. Jesus’ words (19:11) suggest as much. Pilate had the authority of Rome to carry out his own judgment. His sympathies aside, no one forced his hand even though the religious leadership disagreed with his initial desires. Concern over the intention of the inscription is unique to this Gospel (19:20-22). Pilate’s inscription occurs in multiple languages testifying to the multilingual (if not also multicultural) environment in the land of Jerusalem:  Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The multilingual marker may also attest to John’s first-century audience in a region far removed from the confines of Jerusalem and to this Gospel’s attempt to depict “Jerusalem” as the epicenter of the world. 

Generally absent from the crucifixion scenes in the canonical Gospels were descriptions of the brutality that occurred at these public events. The Gospel writers collectively omit the exposure of blood that would have been inevitable. Instead, they focus their depictions more on the public shame this event incurred, especially on the families and friends of the crucified. Along these lines, John offers the character Peter and his denial of any association with the soon-to-be-condemned as an example of Jesus’ isolation. On the other hand, striking is the presence of Mary (Jesus’ mother) in John’s portrayal, whose attendance makes the death seem less shameful. 

In addition to Mary, the fourth Gospel mentions the presence of other women at the crucifixion scene. Only Mary Magdalene is explicitly mentioned in other Gospels as well. Commentaries debate whether the references to “Mary the mother of James and Joses” (Mark 15:40//Matthew 27:56) refers to Jesus’ mother. John’s Gospel is explicit! 

The naming of his mother introduces one more scene in which the beloved disciple is distinguished from other disciples (see also 13:23-25; 20:2-10; 21:20-23). Here, Jesus places his mother into the intimate care of this disciple, not into Peter’s care (19:26-27). All canonical Gospels mention the presence of women in attendance at this crucifixion scene. Only the Gospel of John mentions the company of a single disciple. 

Finally, the lectionary passage concludes with the burial of Jesus (19:38-42). Neither Peter nor the beloved disciple appear in this final scene before the resurrection (see 20:2). Rather, two minor characters within the narrative come to bury Jesus. Joseph was a “secret” follower of Jesus (19:38). Apparently, his secrecy was preserved since the fourth Gospel introduces him for the first time here. Nicodemus, on the other hand, made an earlier appearance in the narrative. In John 3, this leader among the Pharisees questions Jesus on his teaching and purpose. Although John’s Gospel did not portray Nicodemus’ final reaction in the earlier discussion, his presence here to assist Joseph implies that he, too, may have become a secret disciple. These two Pharisees oppose the Jerusalem priestly establishment’s opposition to Jesus of Nazareth.    

A description of the “burial custom of the Jews” may suggest a non-Jewish audience for the Gospel of John (19:40). The narrative also repeats the timing of the death on the Day of Preparation (19:14, 31, 42), which signifies that Jesus’ death occurred before the Jewish Passover has been eaten, linking the sacrifice to the period of preparation when the lambs are slaughtered. The fourth Gospel’s description stands in contrast to the Synoptic tradition, in which Jesus’ crucifixion occurred after the Passover meal. 

On this “Good Friday,” the fourth Gospel would have us see the inevitability of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ response to Pilate highlights the theological claims of the Johannine narrative: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (19:11). The various elements of these scenes that fulfilled the Scriptures of old—casting lots for his clothes (19:24), his thirst (19:28), unbroken bones (19:36), pierced side (19:37)—also testify to the inevitability of this death on a cross. But crucifixion was also Rome’s form of execution. Jesus died at the hands of the Roman state. At the original “good Friday,” the Empire won. But how we tell the story matters. Pilate had a choice but chose to appeal to the religious establishment. The Jewish leadership had a choice but choose to call for the death of one due to theological difference. We have a choice: what will we do this “Good Friday” season? 

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 52:13—53:12

Amanda Benckhuysen

Taking the description of the servant at face value, I’m struck by how likely it is that I would have dismissed the servant, passed him by on the street without another thought. He certainly wouldn’t have been a contender for “man of the year” or on my list of those most likely to succeed. I wouldn’t have sought him out with the hopes of making an important connection in my network. And I wouldn’t have believed that he had anything to offer me. 

The description here of the servant is one who defies all current measures of success in our culture. He was marred beyond human semblance (52:14). He had no attractiveness for which one would naturally be drawn to him (53:2). He was despised and rejected, hard to look at (53:4). He asked for nothing and yet gave all. He was oppressed. He was afflicted. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.  The world battered and bruised him, and did its best to sideline him.

Yet, in spite of all of the ways in which the servant was rejected or perhaps because of it, kings and nations are astonished by him (52:15). Far from being diminished or sidelined by his suffering, the servant is described as one who would be savior to all. This lowly figure turns out to be someone Israel needs and by extension, someone we need. And it is precisely the lack of qualities we associate with earthly success that ensure the servant’s success in God’s divine economy of salvation. 

There is no clear identification of the servant in this song. Some streams of Jewish tradition hold, however, that the servant is the real or ideal people of Israel who have suffered and continue to suffer for the transgressions of the world. This interpretation is supported by the identification of the servant as Israel in Isaiah 41:8 and 43:10. If this is the case, the song is an interpretation and exposition of the calling of Israel as a nation to be a people who would intercede for and bear the punishments and afflictions of the nations. The righteous one will make many righteous (53:11).  

In Christian tradition, this song has become an apt interpretation and key means for understanding the life and suffering of Jesus as the Messiah. Somehow, through the suffering of Jesus, all are healed vicariously from their afflictions. On him has been laid the iniquity of us all. In this Christian reading, the song transcends the particularities of ancient Israel and extends to all people, the first person pronouns in this song now referring to us today. He was wounded for our transgressions. Crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the punishment that made us whole. And by his bruises, we are healed.  

Human sin participated in his demise. But God refused to let his suffering and sin be the last word. Instead, in the mysterious ways of God, his suffering becomes the vehicle for our redemption and restoration. Perhaps that is what makes this song a fitting text for Good Friday.  Jesus’ death was not for naught. It was not gratuitous but salvific. And thus, though we grieve the suffering of the servant, we rejoice in what God has done through him. We celebrate that death was not the end. There is more to the story, for the song closes with the exaltation of the servant. Even as the servant was humiliated for our transgressions, God allotted him a share with the great and the strong (53:12). This servant, whom the world counted as insignificant and of low estate changed the course of history and now, God has raised him to a position of glory and honor. And so yes, Jesus died. But on the third day, he rose again from the dead and now is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Thus, even on this dark Friday as we commemorate the cross, we recognize the glory of the suffering Messiah who now reigns in heaven.

In light of a messianic reading, a number of applications seem warranted. First, the song invites us to reflect on the question of how we define success, especially for those who are called to the work of ministry and mission. For the servant, earthly standards and predictors for success were insufficient. The servant wasn’t charismatic. He didn’t have a strong personality or proven leadership qualities or excellent preaching skills. Instead, the servant’s main qualities are represented in terms of his character. He is a person who is humble and gentle in heart, empathetic and compassionate, and who puts the well-being of others before his own concerns about reputation. Jesus goes on to model these qualities in his own ministry, teaching with both word and deed that ministry is not about making ourselves big in the eyes of our parishioners, but rather, giving ourselves for their sake. The emphasis on good character as a key element to the servant’s success should certainly give us pause. Being faithful ambassadors of Christ’s salvific work is not nearly as much about what we can do as it is about who we are and how we act.

Second, this passage invites us to consider suffering in the Christian life. A common but false narrative associated with the Christian faith is that God will grant earthly blessings and rewards to those who have faith. This text clearly dispels that notion. Instead, this passage suggests that suffering is part of the Christian life. This doesn’t mean that God wants us to suffer or that all suffering is vicarious or beneficial. Most human suffering is the result of sin and evil. However, it does suggest that suffering is not a sign of God’s abandoning or forsaking us, no matter how much it may feel like that at the time. Instead, we learn from this text that God is very present in our suffering, comforting and strengthening us as one who knows intimately what it is to suffer because he has taken on the suffering of us all.


Commentary on Psalm 22

Bobby Morris

St. Athanasius once observed: “Most of Scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us.” Indeed, no texts of Scripture, perhaps in all of world literature, speak so directly and frankly to the uncensored and often painful rawness and realities of life as do the Psalms. That is, at least, if we will allow them to do so. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that, at least as often as not, we live and exert considerable energy and preoccupation in the midst of what Walter Brueggemann calls “deep discontinuities.”1 On occasion, life feels oriented and perhaps mostly free from threat or trouble. But for most, such a (perceived) reality is the exception, rather than the rule.2

The subject matter of the psalter testifies starkly to this imbalance. There are certainly psalms that affirm life as symmetrical and well-proportioned. However, it is a life-perspective that Brueggemann (and others) identify as “minimal” and a “minor theme” in the psalter.3 Instead, the prevalence of the lament identifies the disoriented life as that which overwhelmingly gives rise to the speaking of the psalms. 

Over one-third of the psalms are laments, with even more containing a lament motif within a larger form structure. Unfortunately, typical worship and proclamation tend to grievously underutilize this trove of life-candor. There are forty-five psalms which do not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary (for Sundays and high festival days). Thirty of those un-included psalms are laments. The number of excluded lament psalms rises higher if we note the laments that appear as “alternates” (which are rarely used) or only as options for semi-continuous readings. If we narrow our survey to the time outside the Lenten season, then the use of the lament in our psalmody grows even more paltry.4

How can the Psalms speak for us if we underutilize the most prevalent genre of the psalter which speaks to what may be the most pervasive and shared of human experience? The foregoing illustrates why the opportunity to read in its entirety and proclaim Psalm 22 is such a precious one, particularly at such a pivotal time in our world and faith journey.

The form of a lament contributes to its expressive power. With variations, laments will generally include the following elements, usually in the following order: complaint, confession of trust, request for help, praise. Psalm 22 begins with a particularly sharp complaintperhaps the most memorable in all of Scripture: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”5 The suppliant goes on to ask why God is so distant, and in verse two, in rather accusatory fashion, chastises God for failing to answer in the day and in the night.  

Only the psalms of lament give such bold voice to feelings of fear, anxiety and abandonment. If we largely fill our worship with expressions of the “happy-clappy” variety, these feelings experienced by virtually all in the pews will scarcely be addressed in the very place where they, more than anywhere else, should be, and thus will only deepen. Questions regarding the value and genuineness of the gathered community are likely to follow, often culminating in distancing from an atmosphere that is so tone-deaf to the experiences of real life. Uncomfortably wearing the mask of a manufactured smile, and feeling the need to do so, is never healthy or healing, particularly in the church.

No such masks are purveyed or allowed by the lament psalms, however. Psalm 22 continues to explore and express the depths of human suffering. The suppliant confesses feeling only as a worm, not even a human, in verse six, a self-perception exacerbated by the scorning, despising, and mocking of those around.6 Even God is the subject of a subtle swipe in verse eight!

The imagery of verses eleven thru eighteen is particularly evocative. The encircling of bulls and wild dogs, feelings of being poured out like water, bones feeling out of joint, a heart as wax melting in the chest, a mouth as dry as a piece of broken pottery to which the parched tongue sticks. It is no wonder that Jesus himself resonated with this psalm as he gasped for air before a mocking crowd upon the cross. Such, however, is precisely why God took on flesh and journeyed to Jerusalem, to know first-hand the darkest depths into which human experience can plunge, and further to win victory for all over them.

It is for this reason that we should not shy away from engaging in such barbed dialogue as we find in Psalm 22 with God. God not only apparently, but clearly wants to know and be with us in all the depths of our humanity. If our piety prevents us from being blatantly honest and expressing even anger with God, then we have a perverted piety. Thus, the lament, and even the complaint therein, is far less an expression of doubt than one of faith.

The lament psalm is furthermore an act of faith in that it includes, in the midst of deeply painful cries, professions of trust. We find such professions here in verses three through five, nine and ten. God is enthroned on the praises of Israel, praises generated by the trust and deliverance experienced by the ancestors, who cried to God and were not put to shame. On a more personal level, the suppliant confesses being taken from the womb and kept safe on the mother’s breast by God, who has continued to be God ever since! The confession of trust suggests that since God has acted for the good of the people, often in response to cries in the past, that God can and most likely will continue to do so. And so, again, we have a statement of faith within the psalm of lament.7

Out of these perspectives of faith, the suppliant can make the move to petition God for intervention.8 Thus we find addressed to God in verse eleven, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Verses nineteen thru twenty repeat the request for God to be not far away, adding petitions for God to “come quickly to my aid,” “deliver my soul,” and “save me.” Because God has an openness to and desire for hearing our cries, and because God’s faithful action in the past suggests continued saving action now and in the future, these petitions rise to God in anticipation of there being a responseyet another expression of faith. 

Thus follows what may be the most startling piece of the lament form, which occurs in and is a significant portion of almost every lament psalm: the expression of praise.9 In Psalm 22, the expression of praise comprises a full one-third of the text (verses twenty-two thru thirty-one).  Not only does the suppliant pledge to tell of God’s name to brothers and sisters, and to praise God in the midst of the congregation, but also exhorts others to praise, glorify, and stand in awe of God. The scope of the praise continues to expand in verse twenty-six with the declaration that “the poor shall eat and be satisfied,” and even further in verse twenty-seven saying “all the ends of the earth” and “all families of the nations” shall remember and turn to and worship the Lord. 

But even more startling and expansive is what we find in verse twenty-nine: those who would typically be excluded from any kind of activity, let alone praise of God, the dead “all those who sleep in the earth”will also be included in this laudatory chorus. Thus “posterity” will serve the Lord (verse thirty) so that God’s deliverance will be made known even to those yet unborn.

What a journey these thirty-one verses undertake and invite us into. Perhaps at this end of the Lenten journey, someone may hear the words of this psalm and breathe the relieving sigh of finally knowing that they are not alone in their experiencesthat this ancient text and even the words of our Savior resonate and connect with the depths of their emotions. 

Tragically, you may have limited opportunity to offer on Good Friday these words of life to many who desperately need them, because in much the same way as our calendar of readings dodges and avoids the laments of the psalter, people of faith have a tendency to skip from Palm Sunday over the darkness of Holy Week and straight to the brightness, dare I say “happy-clappiness,” of Easter Sunday. This is to say, perhaps your proclamation of Psalm 22 need not be restricted to Good Friday.10 It may need to be the departure point of your proclamation on Easter Sunday, for without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the tomb, occupied or vacant, is meaningless.


  1. Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit, 2nd Edition (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2007), 6.
  2. Accordingly, the Director of Clinical Pastoral Education with whom I studied once commented that when we stand in the pulpit to preach, above all, we should see seated before us individuals who, most likely, are experiencing some kind of pain in their life – and it is that pain that we must address.
  3. Brueggemann, 2007, 3-4.
  4. I chose not to add to the length of the above introduction by also referencing the many times when the lectionary does include lament psalms, but omits some of the verses which most poignantly indicate the pain of the suppliant.
  5. Citations are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.
  6. How often has such a scenario resulted in the mental distress and even suicide of our young people who were left feeling they had no place in or means by which to express and have earnestly heard their deepest angsts and apprehensions?
  7. Anderson points out the crucial difference between a lament and a dirge. The lament expresses a measure of confidence that the situation can be remedied by the intervention of God, whereas a dirge grieves over a calamity that is perceived as irreversible. Bernard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak For Us Today, (Louisville: John Knox, 2000), 60.
  8.  Note that we dare not perceive this move as an easy one resulting from a neatly linear process! There is clearly tension and inner struggle in this suppliant evidenced by the vacillation from cry in verses 1-2, to trust in verses 3-5, to cry again in verses 6-8, to trust in verses 9-10, to cry yet again in verses 12-18.
  9. Psalm 88 is among a few rare exceptions in which the suppliant is in such a depth of darkness as to render the expression of any praise impossible.
  10. While I get and appreciate the theological cleverness of the designation “Good,” I wonder if we also inadvertently sugar-coat the darkness and tragedy of this day which needs to be experienced on its own terms, rather than as some kind of flavor-enhanced snack.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 10:16-25

Lucy Lind Hogan

We Christians are an interesting, perhaps odd, group of people. We follow a savior who was born in a stable rather than a palace. A teacher who ate with tax collectors and sinners, who touched the untouchables, and called on us to do the same. And today we call Good Friday? How can we call this a good day? On this day we retell the story of our savior’s death in dishonor, surrounded by thieves. What can possibly be good about the day when we remember the torture and death of the Word made flesh who came to dwell among us so that we might have eternal life? This would seem to be a day of weakness and failure. 

Over the past two years it has been difficult to call anything good. The person who wrote what we have entitled, “The Letter to the Hebrews,” seeks to show us why it was and still is a good day. And, during the continuing pandemic we, albeit odd Christians, are able to call life good. I appreciate how, in his New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Fred Craddock describes the unknown author as a preacher, for this is more a sermon than a letter. 

Written by whom and for whom, we don’t know. We do know that the author drew extensively on the Hebrew Bible, hence the attribution. Today’s reading opens with the reminder from Jeremiah that God had heard the cries of the people. The prophet told the people in exile that God was going to give them a “new covenant” in their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33-34). What makes this a good day, according to the author of this “sermon”, is that this new covenant, through the death of Jesus on the cross, has come to pass. The author’s goal is to explain how we are to understand who Jesus was and what he did.

The sermon/letter opens with the reminder that God told us who Jesus was, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (Hebrews 1:5l; Psalms 2:7; Mark 1:11). The writer continues, echoing the high Christology of John, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Hebrews 1:10; Psalms 102:25; John 1:3a). The word came and dwelt among us and has accomplished his work as a high priest, “to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

While Jesus gave us ways to understand who he was and what he was doing for us: the good shepherd, the true vine, the bread of life; the author of this sermon/epistle turned to the image of Jesus as our high priest. In verse 18, the writer continues a discussion that has been developing throughout the text, connecting the ministry of Jesus and his death with the priesthood and the sacrifices in the Temple. 

If one was familiar with the priestly orders and sacrifices, which these readers seem to have been, one would know that Jesus could not be a high priest. He was, we have been reminded, “the son of David, and son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Jesus was not a Levite, and the priests were drawn only from the Levites. Twice a year they were chosen to serve in the Temple performing the daily sacrifices for the sins of the people. They alone were able to enter behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies. 

On this day we call “good,” we have a high priest who has offered the final sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. There will no longer be any need for the daily sacrifices because of what Jesus has done. We are told, “there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). 

All has changed. Not only is there no need for sacrifices, but there is also no longer a need for human Levite priests. Jesus, our great high priest, has opened the curtain in the Temple so we all “have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). In the synoptic gospels we hear that, at the death of Jesus, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). Therefore, we now can call ourselves the “priesthood of all believers.” 

This is a very good day. But our responsibilities to God and one another did not end because of Jesus’ death on the cross. The preacher not only explains what Jesus did on that good day but reminds us not only to remember what happened in the past; we are to look to the present and future. We are to turn our saved hearts and minds to the ways that we are to live this life in the new covenant. The author shows us what the life of these “odd” Christians is supposed to look like with three instructions echoing 1 Corinthians 13: “faith hope, and love”. 

How are we to worship, entering the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies? It is with faith and “true hearts” that have been washed clean. With allusions to baptism, not only has the death of Jesus on the cross written God’s laws on our hearts and we are therefore “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22), our whole bodies are “washed with pure water.” With hope we confess our faith in the God who has given us new life through the death of our savior on the cross. We are faithful because “he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

And finally, we are to recognize that we are not alone in our worship and confessions. We are bound together in love. It is through this love that we uphold and encourage one another in these challenging times. If we see those who are coming before God in worship, failing to confess their love of God, we have been called to remind them that it was a Good Friday. It was a good day because our great high priest offered the final sacrifice of himself so that we would be able to declare that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39).