Lectionary Commentaries for April 24, 2022
Second Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 20:19-31

René Such Schreiner

The purpose of John’s Gospel: belief or trust?

According to the preponderance of English translations, the purpose of John’s gospel is that hearers will either come to “believe” or continue to “believe” that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. This “believing” is important because, through it, the hearers will have life in Jesus’ name (20:31). And, the immediately preceding verses (20:24-29) are all about Thomas “believing”—or are they? 

The Greek root behind the English “believe” is pist. While overwhelmingly rendered as faith (for the noun) or believe (for the verb) in English NT translations, its lexical range fully includes the concept of “trust”. John employs the verb rather than the noun and, according to Jouette Bassler, the nuances of the Greek verb “range from trusting in something (or someone), relying on something (or someone), to believing something is true.”1 The English verb “believe” has a predominantly cognitive emphasis—our “brain” either assents or not. Trust, on the other hand, is more relational and exists on a spectrum—often encompassing the feelings that influence our thoughts and actions. Hence, we often associate believing with our “heads” and trusting with our “hearts”.

Re-reading John 20:27-31 embracing the nuance of trust inherent in pist we find:

Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Do not be distrusting but trusting” and “Are you trusting because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.” 

The purpose of the gospel: “ … written so that you may come to trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through trusting you may have life in his name.”

Trust opens doors: even in risky situations

How does the concept of trust help illuminate the gospel? Ask those that are profiting (and benefiting) from “designing for trust” in the midst of our current “trust economy”. Have you stayed in an Airbnb lately, or taken an Uber or Lyft? Or maybe you’ve taken the even greater risk of opening your car or home as a host or a driver? These services are evidence of the power of trust to build relationships even amid very real risk, and our passage today highlights how Jesus’ ministry “designed for trust”.   

It’s all about opening doors: car doors, house doors, the locked doors protecting the disciples (20:19, 26). In his 2016 TED talk, Airbnb founder, Joe Gebbia describes how “designing for trust” is the critical factor in getting people to open doors, whether to enter or to let people in.2   In the case of the disciples, it is a matter of getting them out the door, despite the risks, to fulfill their commission from Jesus (20:21-23).  

Aren’t we also, as churches, in the business of opening doors, whether encouraging “new” folks to enter our churches, or “sending out” into ministry those that have entered? How might “designing for trust” influence our church, church websites, or even our liturgy?3   

Risk: essential to eliciting trust and trusting actions

Our passage depicts a community immobilized by fear after Jesus’ crucifixion, and Jesus’ task is to re-mobilize them. The inherent risk to the disciples is precisely why trust is needed. Risk and trust go hand-in-hand; the amount of risk one is willing to take is dependent upon the amount of trust one has. “One does not need to risk anything in order to trust; however, one must take a risk in order to engage in trusting action”  risk is the indispensable ingredient that transforms trust into trusting action.4  This highlights the pivotal nature of the resurrection appearances for the formation of the disciples—the very risky post-crucifixion situation is the fertile ground upon which their trust in Jesus can grow. 

Is vulnerability something to be consistently avoided, or an opportunity for growth? How can trust grow (trust in God, each other, or the church) if we avoid all risk? 

Trust: an essential precursor for cooperation with Jesus

The resurrected Jesus is seeking the cooperation of his disciples to continue his ministry (the Holy Spirit is not thrust upon them; neither are they pushed out the door). Cooperation does not require trust in every situation. For example, cooperation often occurs in the presence of coercive power and/or in the absence of risk.5 Neither of these exist in the situation of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus has eschewed traditional power structures throughout his ministry and warns the disciples about the risk of persecution and even death (15:18-19; 16:33; 21:18-19). Thus, trust is an indispensable precursor for what Jesus is asking the disciples to do—continue his ministry on earth, commissioned with the Holy Spirit.    

If we neglect to grow our trust in Jesus by avoiding risk, how can we possibly cooperate with Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry?  

Jesus and Thomas: building trust via cooperation

In a risky situation, trust is needed for cooperation to even begin. Once established, a trust relationship can be nurtured through further cooperation.6 We see this in the interaction between Jesus and Thomas (20:24-29): Jesus makes his body available to Thomas, and Thomas cooperates with Jesus’ instructions to examine his hands and side. Jesus’ exhortation to trust is a follow-up to these cooperative actions. This is a demonstration of the evolution of trust through relationship. Trust is not a one-time, absolute assent, but a relational virtue that can be nurtured and grown.  

Rescuing the Greek root pist from the narrow confines of “belief” reveals a gospel that tutors us on “designing for trust”. One consequence is hearing Jesus’ words to Thomas as nurturing rather than admonishing. What other NT passages might benefit from embracing the nuance of trust inherent in pist?


  1. Jouette M. Bassler, Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 24, italics added.
  2. https://www.ted.com/talks/joe_gebbia_how_airbnb_designs_for_trust?language=en Accessed 20 January 2022.
  3. Amy Valdez Barker’s Trust by Design: The Beautiful Behaviors of an Effective Church Culture (Abingdon, 2017), engages the concept of trust in church contexts. 
  4. Roger C. Mayer, James H. Davis, and F. David Schoorman, “An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust,” The Academy of Management Review 20, no. 3 (1995): 724-725. Online: https://doi.org/10.2307/258792.
  5. Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman, “Organizational Trust,” 712.
  6. Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman, “Organizational Trust,” 728.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 5:27-32

Raj Nadella

The story of the apostles’ trial before the Sanhedrin comes on the heels of their miraculous escape from the prison. This motif of escape from prison is a familiar theme in the book of Acts, including in chapter 12 where an angel assists Peter’s jailbreak. Later in chapter 15, Paul and Silas break free from a prison at Philippi.

The literary context of this story highlights the significance of the apostles’ actions—teaching and healing ministry—that led to their imprisonment. Peter and John were warned twice by the elders and the high priest not to continue their teaching ministry (4:17-18). They are at it again, this time in the temple court, having just escaped from the prison. From the perspectives of the authorities, Peter and the apostles have become repeat offenders. But what exactly was their offense? 

What got Peter and other apostles in trouble were their healing miracles and their insistence that Jesus was the only name by which humankind could be saved (4:10, 12). Peter refers to Jesus again in this pericope as the ruler (archeyon) and savior (soter). From a Roman perspective, Augustus Caesar was the sole savior of the world and the healer. The authorities who were deeply invested in depicting the emperor as the only savior likely saw Peter’s words as a challenge to, and a mockery of, royal titles. Jesus, from their perspective, was an imposter whose name should not be associated with the titles the emperor had rightfully earned.

Peter’s suggestion in this story that God exalted the crucified Jesus is reminiscent of Paul’s Christological hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, where Jesus was exalted as a result of his sacrifice on the cross. Whereas the Roman emperor would have exercised absolute power in order to maintain his status, Jesus sacrificed his power and status in the process of bringing salvation to everyone. Unlike the Roman emperor’s abuse of power and violence that allowed him to claim the title of savior, it was Jesus’ crucifixion, an act of solidarity with the marginalized, that made him the savior. The emperor might have undeservedly claimed the title of savior for himself but, in truth, it was Jesus who lived up to that title. This makes the emperor, not Jesus, an imposter.

Within the literary context of this story, it was also their healing ministry and the practice of sharing possessions among members that enhanced the apostles’ popularity and landed them in trouble. Whereas the empire turned a blind eye to the needs of the disadvantaged, the apostles brought them healing. Whereas the Roman empire fostered an ethos of hoarding and acquiring wealth at the expense of the poorest, the Jesus movement was promoting an alternative worldview—an ethos of sharing possessions.

Peter’s insistence that they will obey divine authority rather than humans (5:29) is reminiscent of 4:19 where he and John defied officials by forcefully articulating their obligation to preach what they had witnessed. And their escape from the prison suggests that the new movement will not be curtailed or limited by human institutions or structures.1 God’s word transcends the power of human authorities. This story of Peter, just like the one in the previous chapter, speaks to the resilience and indomitable spirit of the Jesus movement. That’s the good news in the text, but the story also poses some interpretive challenges. 

When the leaders of the Sanhedrin rebuke Peter and the apostles for blaming them for the death of Jesus (Acts 5:27-32), Peter employs disturbing imagery to accuse them yet again of killing Jesus. This text, specifically the notion that the religious officials were responsible for the death of Jesus, has been interpreted by many Christians in ways that have perpetuated anti-Semitism. Similarly, celebrating the resilience of the Jesus movement in Acts often takes the form of holding first century Judaism responsible for the persecution of Peter and other apostles.

Peter’s scathing criticism of the officials is a reflection of the conflict between the apostles and the elite in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the suggestion in 5:26 that the captain and his officers did not use force against Peter and the apostles because they feared the people—who were likely sympathetic to the apostles—also highlights a conflict within the community. Finally, the apostles are bailed out of their predicament by Gamaliel, a member of the Pharisaic community.  

Still, Luke’s placement of blame for Jesus’ death at the feet of temple officials is puzzling. Crucifixion was a Roman form of death and, just as Peter and other apostles were imprisoned for challenging imperial titles, ethos, and practices, Jesus was killed for undermining the economic and political interests of the Roman empire, not for violating any Jewish religious traditions. The chief priests may have collaborated with the Roman empire in targeting, but ultimately crucifixion was the Roman form of death carried out by imperial agents in order to preserve political and economic interests of the empire. Luke holds the elite in Jerusalem responsible for the death of Jesus but does not call attention to the fact that Rome would have been primarily responsible for what happened to Jesus. 

Luke likely shifted the blame toward temple officials (5:28), perhaps in an attempt to make peace with the Roman empire. Such a harsh tone toward the priestly community would have been especially problematic at the time of Luke’s writing when the Sadducees were increasingly less powerful in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple. This was a case of two colonized groups turning against each other and, in the process, deflecting attention from the empire’s role in perpetuating violence against its subjects. This was likely also the result of two oppressed groups convincing themselves that they can only survive at the expense of the other.  

Luke’s attempt to highlight the tenacity and resilience of the apostles in the midst of adversity is commendable, but Luke’s suggestion that the religious leaders were primarily responsible for what happened to Jesus has engendered deeply problematic interpretations and violence against our Jewish siblings. 

Luke’s proclivity to shift the blame for Jesus’ death primarily toward the temple officials suggests that even a community like Luke’s that practiced anti-imperial ethos can fall into the trap of allowing itself to be pitted against another marginalized community and, in the process, serving the interests of the empire. Even as we celebrate the way Luke highlights the resilience of the Jesus movement, we need to juxtapose it with Luke’s failure to hold the empire accountable for its violence and death-dealing practices against those at the margins.


  1. F. Scott Spencer, Journeying Through Acts: A Literary-cultural Reading (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 70.


Commentary on Psalm 150

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 150 is the last of the five “Hallelujah (praise the LORD)” psalms that close the book of Psalms (Psalms 146-150).1

It, like the four psalms that precede it, begins and ends with “Praise the Lord,” but in Psalm 150 the word “praise” occurs thirteen times, forming a resounding doxological close to the Psalter. The first two verses of the psalm describe the God to whom the worshipers are called to offer praise; verses 3-5 describe the method by which the worshipers are to offer praise; and the final verse of the psalm includes all of creation in the praise of God.

The temple in Jerusalem was viewed by the Israelites as the dwelling place of God (or the name of God) on earth. In verse 1, the singers of Psalm 150 refer to the temple as “the sanctuary,” literally “holy place.” While the basic meaning of “holy” (qadosh) is “be set apart,” in the act of worship, the sacred, that which is set apart, and the mundane, that which is the daily ordinary, meet and commune, and for a holy time the boundaries between the two are transcended. Verse 2 offers the reasons for this meeting of the two in praise—God’s mighty deeds and exceeding greatness.

Verses 3-5 detail the method by which the worshipers are to offer praise to God. Music and dancing were an integral part of worship in the ancient Near East. In Exodus 15, for example, after the Israelites safely crossed the Red Sea, Miriam “took a tambourine in her hand” and all the women followed, “with tambourines and with dancing.” In 2 Samuel 6:14, we read that when the ark of the covenant was being brought into Jerusalem, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.” According to 1 Chronicles 25:4-6, David appointed temple musicians like the sons and daughters of Heman, who were “under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God.”

While in Psalms 146-149, the worshipers announce their intent to sing and make music to God (see Psalms 146:2; 147:1, 7; 149:1, 3), Psalm 150 depicts the realization of the that intent, with details of the types of instruments to be used in worship—trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe, clanging cymbals. Richard Clifford describes the array as “a full symphony” in which “every instrument of the orchestra joins the human voice in giving praise.” Verse 6’s call to “everything that breathes” to praise the Lord echoes the proclamation by the singer of Psalm 145:21 that “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever,” and provides an envelope structure around the final doxological words of the Psalter.

The book of Psalms begins with the wisdom words of Psalm 1, calling on the faithful to delight in and meditate on the Torah and with Psalm 2’s admonishment to acknowledge God’s role in providing a ruler for the people. The book then chronicles humanity’s joy and sorrow, wonder and skepticism, gratitude and anger either directed to or about the God we worship. Each word of the psalms is part and parcel of the fabric that makes up the saga of this journey through life.

We find words of awe and wonder in Psalm 8:3-4:

When I look at your heavens, the works of your fingers …
What are human beings that you are mindful of them?

Words of utter despair in Psalm 22:1, 6:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me …
I am worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

Words of longing for God in Psalm 42:1:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Words accusing God in Psalm 74:1:

O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?

and words of confident trust in Psalm 97:11:

Light dawns for the righteous
and joy for the upright in heart.

The multitudes of human emotions expressed in the psalms reflect the ebb and flow of human life. We move often, in our daily lives, our daily walks, from feelings of hope to ones of despair, from questioning to assurance, from awe to doubt. The book of Psalms echoes that ebb and flow. We do not find in the book a tidy grouping of psalms of despair followed by psalms of hope followed by psalms of awe and wonder. Rather it is a seemingly “messy mix” of psalm types, reflecting, I maintain, the human condition—a psalm of hope gives way to one of despair, one of awe to one of doubt.

Only after the whole range of expressions of the human condition have been articulated, heard, and pondered upon may the psalm singers offer the final hallelujah praises to God, culminating in Psalm 150’s emotive cry to “let all that has breath praise the LORD.” In the gospel reading for this second Sunday after Easter, after the resurrection, Jesus suddenly appears and stands among the disciples. Imagine their rejoicing when they realized who he was. And also imagine the feelings of hope and despair, joy and sorrow, questioning and assurance, wonder and doubt they experienced during their journeys as Jesus’ disciples. Their joy and wonder at the sight of the risen Jesus came at the culmination of the life they shared with Jesus, with all of its ebbs and flows.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 28, 2019.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 1:4-8

C. Wess Daniels

Depending on your congregation, preaching from Revelation may constitute an oddity, causing congregants to scratch their heads about where this might be going, or worse yet, the topic becomes a triggering event.1

Let’s look closer at Chapter 1: there are three lessons that are worth drawing in this opening chapter and section in the lectionary.

We are not the intended audience

First, we are not Revelation’s intended audience (“John to these seven churches that are in Asia,” Revelation 1:4). What is it like to read letters from another time, written to people we don’t know and who aren’t like us? Revelation was not written for you and I. It was not written to predict our time or represent our world. When we make it about us and about predicting our time we not only miss the whole point of the book, we get caught in what Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza calls “paranoid fantasies.”

Schüssler Fiorenza puts it this way:

Something very strange happens when this text is appropriated by readers in a comfortable, powerful, majority community: it becomes a gold mine for paranoid fantasies and for those who want to preach revenge and destruction.2

John is writing to churches he has an intimate knowledge of, all living in a particular time and place (probably under the emperor Domitian AD 81-96. Domitian made Nero look like a favorite uncle compared to him). John is not pretending to write to them but actually writing to us. No pastor does such a thing. Pastors write, speak, and pray for the communities we love. The ones we are concerned about. The ones we believe can and are the golden lampstands in their place and time.

“Where you live, where you pray is essential to who God is and reveals (Godself) to be.” -Eugene Peterson

John’s churches are made up of a persecuted minority: people indigenous to the area, a mix of Jewish and Gentile, all following the testimony of Jesus, living under Roman occupation. They are on the margins of the empire, poor (as the subjects of imperial occupation are), and religiously persecuted by Rome. John’s message to them during this time is to “patient endurance” (Revelation 1:9); resist assimilation into the ideology of empire (see also 3:1-8; 14-22).

Because of the historical, contextual, and experiential difference between the first readers of John’s apocalypse and us, we cannot assume to understand all of the symbolism and allegory taking place in the text. John is smuggling notes out from Patmos to these churches, using Biblical language, images, and symbolism that Roman readers would not automatically understand. This is one way to pass notes under the nose of the authorities without getting caught.

When I was in seminary, my New Testament Professor Marianne Maye Thompson talked about Revelation as a kind of political cartoon. Until we are well-acquainted with the people and events it was written for and about, the joke is lost on us.

Reading the letter, as best we are able, with empathy for those first hearers, helps us recognize that it isn’t about us; this is a letter from their pastor and spiritual leader to them in the midst of great suffering and challenge, shaping their imaginations by “the lamb that was slain”. I think starting here, recognizing this distance with the first hearers, allows us to find our own way into this text as people of faith today, living in another time of empire.

Apocalyptic literature requires a different set of eyes for reading

Second, John writes apocalyptic literature beautifully, as a skilled practitioner within his own tradition. John’s vision is not as an end-time prediction but an apocalyptic unmasking. Apocalypse means to unveil or unmask, to show what lies underneath the surface.

David Dark, in his fantastic book, Everyday Apocalypse, writes:

“Apocalyptic shows us what we’re not seeing. It can’t be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of “the way things are” whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as “the way things ought to be” and whose greatest virtue is in being “realistic.”3

Therefore, this is not a book of prophecy, but it is a prophetic book from Jesus through John, speaking as all biblical prophets do, against superpowers that oppress the most vulnerable and seek to take the place of God. John employs the power of apocalyptic writing used by other biblical prophets like Daniel, Enoch, and some portions of minor prophets like Joel, Amos, and Zachariah to “invest the details of the everyday with cosmic significance while awakening its audience to the presence of marginalizing forces otherwise unnamed and unchallenged.”4

The struggle against the powers for John’s congregations is now. John writes to people who are the vulnerable ones in their context. If God has a preferential option for the poor, Revelation is a love letter to those poor suffering at the hands of the powerful. His vision of Jesus is meant to unmask what is really going on so that they are able to see things in context and understand the larger picture and how to sustain and resist.

Consider the character of John

Third, Besides John’s connections to these churches and skillful writing of apocalyptic literature, we also know that he is imprisoned on the island of Patmos, a kind of Roman Alcatraz. An island that housed the Roman Empire’s prisoners of state. We do not know for sure what put John on Patmos but we know that it was due to persecution (1:9). I think we are safe to infer after reading Revelation that John’s scathing critique of Rome would be enough to land him in trouble with the authorities, not unlike what the Civil Rights leaders experienced when their hotel rooms and phones were being tapped and recorded.

I like what Daniel Berrigan says of John in his book called, The Nightmare of God:

In a slave camp, in exile on a rock. Because, as he said, he preached God’s word, the truth Jesus revealed. What kind of preaching brings that kind of punishment? … Was he a kook, a vaporized freak, a non-sequitur in a chain of logic, a broken link? We ask the question because it seemed as though the early church was facing the same question, at least by implication…No, he suffered for Jesus and thereupon, in a link with all who suffer for the faith, he was granted this visionary sequence. Thus a logic of suffering vision held firm, hand to hand…The seven churches evidently also deserved the vision of John, welcomed it, and believed it. Thus the vision is for the community, not for John alone.5

Revelation is about a clash of powers (God and Empire)

I have done a lot of re-framing in this article, addressing how some of the issues in chapter 1:4-8 are important if we choose to step into the text of Revelation. John is setting the reader up to emulate the resistance of Jesus when he says: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Jesus Christ, the anointed one, the one who announced good news to the poor, proclaimed release to the captives, liberation for the oppressed and God’s jubilee (Luke 4:16-21), and was himself crushed by empire, he is the faithful one, the ruler of all the kinds of the earth, who calls his people out of empire in Revelation.

Another striking phrase is “the firstborn of the dead,” possibly a nod to the end of the Gospel of John (20:1-18) where the resurrection takes place on the “first day of the week,” that revelation taking place in a garden, and Jesus appears to Mary as a gardener (hint hint wink wink: new creation). Revelation sees Jesus as the firstborn of the dead inaugurating a new creation, a new social order, a new ethic, a new way of relating not only to one another but to imperial powers as he did in the Gospels and as he does (in the form of the lamb) in Revelation. That Jesus is the one who appears victorious in Revelation 1, ready to lead his people.

There is much more to explore here, even in just a few short verses. Help your congregation hear this text in a new way, not about the end of the world but as a letter or handbook for how the early church resisted the empire. I’m reminded of another letter sent out from the prison walls of Birmingham, Alabama. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Prison. A letter calling the church to be faithful and not assimilate in the face of the siren song of empire. What are the ways in which Jesus’ faithfulness against the empire challenges our own comforts and positions we take today?


  1. A word of introduction to the author’s approach on Revelation:
    I’m not trying to make light of trauma when I say Revelation may be “triggering” for folks. The book of Revelation is not just a book that has scared children for generations; scary things have been said and done by Christians in the name of Revelation for a long time. Well-known atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called it the most rabid outburst of human vindication he’d ever read. The Evangelical authors of the
    Left Behind series turned Revelation into a pop-cultural icon and cash cow, featuring eternal torture and punishment of the many, while the few of God’s chosen got to experience all the luxuries of heaven.
    I used to joke that my New Testament canon ended one book short. It was easier to just pretend Revelation was not there. Recently, that has all changed for me. Spending time with folks at the Kairos Center, at Union Theological Seminary, and the likes Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis (Director of Kairos and co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign), Aaron Scott, Willie Baptist, John and Colleen Wessell-McCoy, and many others, my interpretative framework for understanding the Bible, not just Revelation, has dramatically shifted. As Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis has said,
    “[The Bible is…] a collection of stories of poor people uniting across differences to build a social movement, and winning.”
    Another reading of Revelation is possible and necessary. What if instead of reading it as predicting end times, we read it from the perspective of those who were poor and oppressed by the Roman Empire? Preaching Revelation today provides not only an opportunity to address the spiritual violence done by those misusing this text, but also provides a very real, historical example of how the early church critiqued empire and what they understood God’s liberating alternative to be.
  2. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Visions of a Just World (Fortress Press, 1992).
  3. David Dark, Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons, (Brazos Press, 2002), 6.
  4. Dark, 7.
  5. Daniel Berrigan, The Nightmare of God (Wipf and Stock, 2009), 4.