Lectionary Commentaries for May 1, 2022
Third Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 21:1-19

René Such Schreiner

My commentary on last week’s passage explained how the resurrection appearances in John 20 served to build trust between Jesus and his disciples after his crucifixion. But chapter 20 leaves us hanging … Did the disciples trust Jesus enough to leave the locked house and “go out” wielding the Holy Spirit as he commissioned them to (20:21-23)? Well, sort of…

Peter announces that he will, indeed, go out: to fish! The other disciples declare they will go with him and, “They went out…” (21:3). We discussed last week the inherent risk in leaving the house, and how Jesus nurtured the disciples’ trust so they could take this action. But fishing? 

Peter: From inept fisherman to consummate shepherd//trusted leader 

The nascent Jesus-following community is in crisis and in need of a leader after Jesus’ death.  Peter has been ambiguously portrayed throughout John’s gospel—a potential leader rather than Jesus’ heir apparent (6:66-69; 13:6-11, 22-25; 18:15-27; 20:2-10). This may reflect questions the community harbored regarding Peter’s fitness to be their leader. Peter’s reputation is in shambles after denying Jesus three times. How could the disciples be expected to trust Peter to lead them, especially since Peter had pledged to follow Jesus to his death, even promising to die for Jesus’ sake (13:36-38)?  

John 21 addresses Peter’s trustworthiness, and three key components of trustworthiness (ability, integrity, and benevolence) can help us see how Peter is appraised.1

  • Ability, best judged by personally witnessing the skill: Is Peter capable of leading the community?
  • Integrity, conventionally judged via a reputation built by testimonies, user reviews, etc.: Will Peter actually do what he promises?
  • Benevolence, the most difficult to judge, is developed relationally over time: Will Peter act for the benefit of the community above his own

The gospel passage itself narrows the questions about Peter into even more specificity:

Ability: Does Peter possess the ability to hear and follow Jesus’ directions?

Why a fishing story to talk about leadership? Given that Peter is known to be a fisherman (Mark 1:16; Matt 4:18), you would think his fishing ability could be taken for granted. But our passage highlights the failure of Peter’s ability to fish. In doing so it serves as a foil to demonstrate a more highly valued ability: hearing and following Jesus’ instructions. This ability was first identified in the Good Shepherd discourse (John 10:1-5): The sheep hear and know the shepherd’s voice and follow him. In chapter 21, Peter and the disciples hear and obey Jesus in verse 6; Peter acts in concert with the other disciples and does not direct them otherwise. 

Later, when Jesus instructs them to bring some of their fish, it is Peter that does so (21:10-11). Then, after Jesus’ trifold commission to Peter, the final scene of the gospel depicts Peter following Jesus, with the “disciple whom Jesus loved” following them (21:19-20). Amid the risks of persecution and death (15:18-19; 16:33; 21:18-19), hearing and obeying Jesus was the primary and indispensable ability that would mark a capable leader of the threatened community.2 

Integrity: Will Peter follow Jesus and fulfill his promise to “lay down his life” for Jesus? 

In hearing John’s gospel, the community hears from Jesus himself that Peter will, indeed, fulfill this promise. Verse 18 delivers the very poignant foretelling of Peter’s debilitation and death. Verse 19 makes it clear that this is, indeed, the “laying down” of Peter’s life that Peter had earlier professed (13:37). Acknowledging that this will not be much easier than the first time Peter was in such a situation, Jesus describes it as “where you do not wish to go”. The profound fulfillment of such an extravagant promise indicates that Peter will fulfill all the smaller (less consequential, but still important) obligations that will arise during his leadership. The only way for the community to know this is via Jesus’ intimate foretelling of Peter’s death; in this way, Jesus is “vouching” for Peter’s integrity.  

Benevolence: Will Peter do this for Jesus’ sake and, by extension, the benefit of the Jesus-following community?  

Benevolence is essential to trustworthiness: someone may be able and willing to do something, and actually do it, but knowing why reveals interests and values; benevolence reflects an alignment of interests and values.  

Because John sees love (love of Jesus, leading to love of others) as the root of profound risk-taking benevolence (15:8-13), our final question could be put this way: Does Peter love Jesus enough to lead the community? Hence, the three love interrogations from Jesus: motive matters! Will Peter act out of self-interest, or love of Jesus and other? This component is so important that Jesus interrogates the depth of Peter’s love (21:15-17) before he “vouches” for him via his prophecy (21:18-19). Out of love for Jesus, Peter’s self-interests will be overcome, and he will “go where he does not wish to go” in suffering death for the life of the community.  

Doing the work

At a time when the trustworthiness of churches and their ministries is no longer a given, the resurrection narratives provide a warrant, even a mandate, for self-appraisal. Trustworthiness is the indispensable base upon which organizational trust is built, and the effectiveness of our ministries is at stake. How do we rebuild trust in our churches? This requires judging the trustworthiness of others, but also cultivating our own trustworthiness. 

For a practical tutorial on these skills see Charles Feltman’s The Thin Book of Trust (Thin Book, 2021), and notice the Johannine ethos (15:10-11) echoed in his opening quote from Walter Anderson: “We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.”3 Following the risen Jesus is a trust-based act of vulnerability (rather than self-preservation) that, paradoxically, emboldens us to “go out” with joy and renewed vocation.


  1. 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): 717-724. Online: https://doi.org/10.2307/258792.
  2.  See 1, 2, and 3 John, written amid conflict and schism: “Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God…” (2 John 1:9); also 1 John 1:1; 2:3, 7, 24-25; 4:6; 2 John 5-6. 
  3.  https://brenebrown.com/podcast/trust-building-maintaining-and-restoring-it/ Accessed 20 January 2022

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Raj Nadella

The story of Saul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus is remarkable for many reasons. Luke explicitly states that Saul’s intense dislike for members of the Way drove him to seek the high priest’s permission to pursue and extradite them. Considering the fact that Herod alone likely had the power to extradite people, Luke’s suggestion that Saul approached the chief priest for such permission is puzzling.1Luke, however, seems much more interested in highlighting Saul’s conflict with members of the Way and his determination to pursue them. But it is the unexpected turn of events—the dramatic encounter with Jesus and its impact on Saul—that stands out in this story.  

The story is often interpreted as one that signifies Saul’s conversion. Since Saul and members of the Way represented two groups within the same religious tradition in the first century, Luke likely would not have seen the turn of events on the road to Damascus as a conversion in the modern sense of the term. And Christian interpreters must be careful not to present it as a story of Christian triumph against a Jewish persecutor. But what might be the significance of Saul’s encounter with Jesus that radically changed the course of his life? Was it a conversation of a different sort? Perhaps. Let’s explore the event a bit further.  

Saul’s experience in Acts 9 shares a few similarities with the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:3; 19:16-22) where Moses has his own life-changing encounter. Some of the similarities between the two stories include: appearance of fire/light, divine voice calling out the human name twice, and the humans seeking to know the name of the divine and eventually being sent by the divine. Both stories turn out to be life-changing events for Moses and Saul respectively. A key similarity in both stories, however, pertains not to anything or anyone present in the scene, but to those who are not. 

In both stories, the divine voice identifies with those who have been “otherized” and subjected to suffering by those with more power. In both stories, the divine sees the suffering of the people and advocates on their behalf. In a striking moment in this story, when Saul asked to know who confronted and addressed him by name, the voice responded saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In locating itself in and with the victims of Saul’s violence, the voice was not just expressing solidarity with them, but was also asking Saul to see the divine in those he was targeting. In identifying with the people, the voice was suggesting to Saul that inasmuch as he was targeting them, he was targeting Jesus himself. For Saul, the site of encounter with the divine transforms into a site of encounter with the humans he was persecuting. The profound encounter had a vertical dimension, but it also had a horizontal dimension.

Saul might have had theological differences with members of the Way, but it was his inability to see past those differences and relate to their humanity that engendered his hatred for them. In confronting Saul, the voice from heaven challenges him to see them through new eyes as people worthy of respect. 

Saul was certain of how he wanted to see Christ and insisted that others see him the same way. Luke tells us that Saul lost his sight for three days and regained it after his encounter with Ananias. An interesting detail in the story is that Saul’s scales fell off allowing him to see again. Saul does not merely see again; rather his loss of sight and regaining it has the metaphorical significance of ceasing to see members of the Way as he had gotten accustomed to—as enemies—and learning to see them as people deserving of acceptance despite any theological and ideological differences. 

Luke’s detail that Saul fell to the ground before eventually getting up again also has the metaphorical significance of a fall from his certainty that insisted that others see the world as he did. Saul, who had been breathing out threats against them, now enters into communion with them. He gains a new vision of things that allows him to see and relate to the theological other as people deserving of respect. 

One can discuss at length if the story can be characterized as a conversion experience, but if there is conversion in this story, it is Saul’s new way of seeing others and relating to them. When the voice confronted Saul, it was for him a moment of realization of his own proclivity toward violence in interacting with others. Saul eventually joins the Jesus movement, but what stands out in this story is not theological or doctrinal, but the profound ways in which people can be transformed when they acknowledge the pain and damage of forcing others to see the world as they do. On that note, this was a story of Christophany that turns out to be Saul’s epiphany about relating to others with whom he disagreed.

Saul’s epiphany raises questions of how we treat, or ought to treat, those with whom we might have theological differences. It suggests that we treat them with respect not because we share a common theological or ideological space but simply because they deserve respect. This is not to suggest that any view, however extreme it might be, should be condoned, but to highlight that treating the theological other with respect entails “unseeing” them as enemies, letting our scales fall off and seeing them as fellow humans with whom we can be in conversation even as we disagree.

It is important to ask how Saul ended up relating to those he was targeting. A more important question for us might be: How do we relate to those with whom we disagree theologically or ideologically? The text tells us seeing others through new eyes and falling from our certainty before getting up again become foundations for a relationship of respect with the theological other.


  1. Luke Timothy Johnson, Gospel of Luke: Sacra Pagina. (Liturgical Press, 2006), 162.


Commentary on Psalm 30

Jin H. Han

Having been rescued from foes, the poet lifts up the Lord in a jubilant praise. If the Lord had not been there for the poet, the foes would have prevailed, causing grief and even possibly death. One need not read hatred into the term “foe,” for the word covers all situations of opposition. The poet does not dwell on details of the dangerous situation that transpired. Only in sight is the thanksgiving for God’s intervention that saved the poet. The life-threatening situation is no more. Neither is the fear of death.

The poet’s praise is not just for the reversal of fortune but for the fact that this has taken place through God’s gracious act. The poet needed God’s help and cried to the Lord. The Hebrew expression for crying out involves a raw outburst, conjuring a desperate situation. In reply to the plea, God provided healing. Whether it was a serious disease or another life-threatening situation that left him all but dead, the Lord removed the specter of death from the poet’s path. 

For the poet’s report of deliverance, the Hebrew Masoretic Text preserves two strands of tradition. One is known as the written tradition, which has the poet report the restoration of life “from among those gone down to the pit” (adopted by the NRSV). In the other, known as the reading tradition, the psalmist says, “that I should not go down to the pit” (preserved in the marginal note of the NRSV). According to the former, the poet marvels at the extraordinary measure of grace God provided, for the poet recognizes that not everyone has experienced being snatched from the clutches of death like that. The latter signals a self-reflection of the poet as the recipient of God’s salvation. Either way, the poet underscores that God’s saving action is a special deal. It inspires gratitude.

The poet invites others to join in thanksgiving. In the Hebrew text, the command of praise is clearly marked in the second person plural verb. The poet calls upon the “faithful ones” to praise the Lord (verse 4). The poet cannot and will not reserve God’s salvation to a private celebration. The community ought to know how gracious God is. The poet shares the story of salvation for communal celebration.

The poet compares God’s favor with God’s anger. The latter is momentary, whereas the former lasts for life. The sense of divine displeasure can provoke an all-night weeping with persistent tears, but no sorrow is eternal. The poet testifies to joy that returns with the rise of the sun. The poetic image may also speak of the passage of time that turns and mends steadily (compare with “the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” in Proverbs 4:18). Likewise, joy may take time in coming but is sure to come. The poet is aware of this, calling it God’s “favor” (30:5)—the Hebrew that also signifies that is what God desires. With the joyous morning, the poet bursts into celebration. The Hebrew for joy (rinnah) in this verse conjures happiness—like the sound of delight in the popular Jewish song, Havah Nagilla, which includes the refrain of nerannanah (“let us rejoice”).

The poet acknowledges that there had been a time of prosperity that provided confidence and fortitude (verse 6). In retrospect, the poet realizes that it was none other than God that sponsored the time of wellness. In those days, thanks to God, the psalmist was as sturdy as “a strong mountain”; by contrast, without God there was nothing but fear and confusion (verse 7). 

In spite of present trouble, however, the poet realizes that there is no reason to remain in despair. The poet is confident that God will certainly grant audience for the poet’s petition for deliverance, for the poet’s death will be a great loss for God. God would not want to lose such an important member of God’s choir (verse 9). With a hint of humor, the poet reminds God that the dust has no capacity to praise God. Nor can the inanimate object tell the truth of God’s faithfulness. Singing requires a live voice. Once the living turn to dust, as the Israeli singer Shiri Maimon sings in Shir lashalom (“Song of Peace”), not the purest prayers can bring back the dead. The poet of Psalm 30 presents a strong case for his deliverance.

Based on the experience of God’s rescue, the poet offers a compelling picture of God as “helper” (verse 10; see also verse 2). In the common usage of the word, a helper customarily takes on the meaning of an auxiliary or assistant. The common cultural presupposition results from the failure to recognize the critical role of the service providers who make life possible for the world. More importantly, God is prominently known as the helper in the biblical tradition (for example, Psalm 115:9, 10, 11; 121:2). With God the helper, despair gives way to dancing, and grief to joy (30:11). God removes the mourner’s sackcloth, signaling the end of the time to grieve. The time to rejoice has come.

The poet concludes with a vow of paise: “I will give thanks to you forever” (verse 12). Every instance of a mortal speaking of eternity may be a hyperbole, but it is the language of worship that enables the poet to speak of the grand things beyond experience, but not beyond imagination. The poet’s promise is not something “which alters when it alteration finds” (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116).

In the present form of the text, Psalm 30 comes with an obscure superscription that designates it as “A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.” It is commonly recognized that while the superscription belongs with an ancient tradition, it is most likely that it was not part of the original form of the psalm. Since it is before the construction of the Solomonic temple of Jerusalem, the heading seems to refer to an earlier place of worship. Wherever it may take place, the prayer of Psalm 30 finds its home in the sanctuary where a thanksgiving for healing is offered in company with others who have gathered to praise the Lord.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 5:11-14

C. Wess Daniels

In Wes Howard-Brook’s important book, Come Out, My People: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond, he shows that the root of religion, religio means to “bind again,” suggesting that we can see religion as being about “the attitudes, beliefs, and/or practices that bind individuals together as a people”.

This is important because, as Howard-Brook argues, we can see empire functioning like a religio with practices, beliefs, liturgies, and even narratives (or myths) that keep it together, just as much we find in more typical religions like Christianity.

Following this, Howard-Brook demonstrates throughout Come Out, My People the ways in which there is a “religion of empire” and a “religion of creation” present within the Biblical text. Each religion has its own ways of articulating the source of divine power, where God’s home is, places of sacred encounter, basic social and economic structures, relationship to land, strangers, and enemies. They each have their theologies, their practices, and their liturgies.

The religion of empire is bound up by protecting power, monopolizing violence, casting suspicion on the other, focusing on destroying enemies, and stockpiling resources for the few even if it means the rest must go hungry. The other religion, the religion of creation, is rooted in an economy of gift, set on making strangers into neighbors, peace, and laying the groundwork for love of all: enemy, neighbor, stranger, and even love for the more-than-human world.

Opening Revelation is like unfolding a map to these two religions, charting the imagery, practices, and systems that make them up. Revelation seeks to expose the confrontation between these “religions” in the hopes of keeping the early church from assimilating any further into empire and calling people back to faithfulness in resistance to the religion of empire. Knowing this much can transform the way we approach Revelation. Anything that marks death, violence, fear, “beastly economics” (Revelation 13 and 18), and other critiques of wealth, are likely stand-ins for the religion of empire. Those standing in faithfulness, with patient endurance, often standing alongside the lamb victimized by empire are stand-ins for the religion of creation.

For John, faithfulness is to refuse cooperation with the Roman Empire no matter the cost. Here in Chapter 5, we see why and how. The early ekklesiai, stands as an alternative to the Roman city in that it stands in the witness, memory, and Spirit of Jesus Christ. That witness was nonviolent resistance in the face of empire, symbolized by the “lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.”

The Lamb refused assimilation

The image of the lamb that was slain is central to Revelation, appearing 30 times throughout the book. John uses strong language to paint a memorable picture of Jesus as a lamb in this predominantly oral culture. Here, at least two things are important about this text:

First, the nonviolent nature of Jesus’ own resistance to empire was the very tactic that undermined imperial violence and the religion of empire: the lamb is still living and is honored by God for his faithfulness. The lamb refused assimilation, resisted the ideology of empire and was killed but is still living.

The juxtaposition of 5:4-6 is important. Here, pay attention to the difference between what he hears and what he sees. John is overcome with emotion when he recognizes the scrolls cannot be opened by anyone on earth or in heaven. No amount of exercising the right belief, abiding by the law perfectly, having the right lineage, demonstrating wealth and power can break the scroll open. The usual points of power and authority break down in the face of the divine. John is struck by the inadequacy of everything.

Then the elders spoke to him saying:

“Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

He is first comforted by these words. What would John have imagined in his mind’s eye when he heard these words spoken? I imagine that he would have heard what we hear, a mighty warrior who is fierce and courageous coming to slay and conquer God’s enemies.

But then he sees. I don’t know if he doesn’t see at first and then turns around or if things just come into focus for him but what he hears from the elders and sees creates great dissonance:

“Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered…”

John hears the elders say a powerful lion, a great warrior, but then all he sees is a tattered lamb that looks as if it had been slaughtered. I don’t think we can downplay this. John would have been shocked. It is indeed a striking image: a slain lamb living and standing at the throne of God. The one with power and authority to break open the scrolls is the weak one, the small one, the innocent victim of empire lifted up and honored by God.

The religion of empire crushes the lambs and small ones in its midst. Here is Jesus the lamb not just symbolizing the nonviolent death and resurrection of Jesus, but symbolizing all those who have been and continue to be crushed by empire. When God had a chance to reveal the leader of this alternative, revolutionary ekklesiai, God chose a broken lamb for that imagery.

“A man considered a nobody set it off by showing radical love and revolutionary compassion and by speaking truth to power. Jesus turned the world right-side up. The empire thought it had just Jesus down by lynching him, but all it did was plant a seed.” (Erica N. Williams in We Cry Justice: Reading the Bible with the Poor)

The scapegoat mechanism

The second point I want to draw out here is the importance of the scapegoat mechanism. Empires need scapegoats in order to exist; the scapegoat mechanism is one of the main ways that empire creates social control. The constant need to maintain borders that distinguish between us and them, the constant push against difference, aliens, immigrants, and the other all reveal the religion of empires “theology of order.” Furthermore, when we scapegoat someone or some group, we sidestep the real issues (conflict, racism, class, gender, religious differences, etc) and provide a sense of “psychological relief” so things can be swept under the rug without being dealt with. We found someone to blame, we feel better, and now we can move on.

Revelation 5 unmasks the scapegoat mechanism as a system of the religion of empire, one that Jesus unmasked with his own life. But even more potently, Revelation demonstrates that the scapegoat is innocent. The victim of empire, who was used to create social order, who was blamed and cast out, is the innocent victim lifted up and honored by God. And the underlying issues remain unresolved with the way religion of empire functions in the world. What did the empire get from killing Jesus, an innocent poor Jew? Nothing, but it did mobilize a movement of people who in his memory would continue to resist empire through their own faithfulness to the God of creation.

Contemporary scapegoats

When reading this passage, I cannot help but identify so many in our communities, country, and world who have been scapegoated by empire in an attempt to create social order and psychological relief for some groups of people in America.

Among our most horrendous examples in America was the lynchings of African Americans. Those lynchings, often taking the form of Christian services, attended by Christian parents and their children, clergy and other religious leaders leading the charge. This “liturgy of empire,” functioned as physiological and social relief for White Supremacy, but also as a tool for spiritual and moral formation.

James Cone, in his tremendous book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, demonstrates how lynching was itself a form of scapegoating that Christians participated in, refusing to see that Jesus himself was lynched by empire. The loss of ability to see this connection between Jesus’ lynched body and all victims of empire throughout human history, may in large part be what keeps many Christians today from being able to see what Revelation is trying to unmask: the religion of empire is pervasive, adaptive, and seductive to us all and convinces us that scapegoating and murder is necessary for order. However, if we follow the lamb that was slain, we will come out of empire and refuse to turn strangers into victims, and instead, create alternative, revolutionary ekkelsiai where there is no need for us versus them or antagonisms against our “enemies.”

“This lamb that was slain is central to shaping the first century Christian imagination: it is about patience rather than effectiveness; it is about subverting and resisting the wiles of empire, trusting that to follow the cross is about sacrifice rather than by the exploitation that is at the root of the religion of empire. If the cross is not about getting our way or taking the upper hand, then the orientation toward one another, the world, and even ourselves begins to shift. It is very hard to get to Constantinianism, the Crusades, colonialism, chattel slavery when driven by these principles rooted in the lamb that was slain.” (Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance).


  1. Wes Howard-Brook, Come Out My People: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond (Orbis, 2010) 
  2. James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2013)
  3.  Liz Theoharis, We Cry Justice: Reading the Bible with the Poor People’s Campaign (Broadleaf, 2021) 
  4. Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now (Orbis Books, 2005)
  5. C. Wess Daniels, Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance