Lectionary Commentaries for May 8, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 10:22-30

Elisabeth Johnson

Throughout John’s Gospel, responses to Jesus vary widely.1

This is the case once more in chapter 10. Jesus has been in Jerusalem since his arrival for the Festival of Booths in chapter seven (7:10), teaching regularly in the temple complex. His teaching evokes much discussion concerning his identity, origins, and authority, and results in a division among the people. Some believe that he is the Messiah, and others believe that he is demon-possessed, or worse, a blasphemer who deserves to die (7:40-44; 8:48, 59).

After the first part of Jesus’ good shepherd discourse in John 10, there is a similar divided response: “Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’” (10:19-21)

It is not clear how much time has passed between that discussion and the discourse that begins at John 10:22, which takes place at the time of the festival of the Dedication (Hanukkah). Once again Jesus is at the temple complex, this time in the portico of Solomon (10:23). Some Jews gather around him and ask Jesus to put an end to the debate concerning his identity once and for all: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (10:24).

The problem, of course, is that regardless of what Jesus says or does, the debate does not end. Jesus responds that he has already told them, and that the works he has done in his Father’s name testify to him, but they do not believe, because they do not belong to his sheep (10:25-26).

The words and works of Jesus are open to many interpretations. The incident of the preceding chapter makes that abundantly clear. After Jesus heals a man born blind, the Pharisees see only that Jesus has healed on a Sabbath, and that therefore he must be a sinner, while others question how a sinner can perform such signs (John 9:16). The blind man gradually comes to realize who Jesus is and, in the end, worships him as Lord (9:38). Jesus says: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind” (9:39).

There is a tension between God’s initiative and human responsibility that is not resolved in John’s Gospel (or perhaps in the entire Bible!). It is only with the eyes of faith that one can see the truth concerning Jesus. Those who belong to Jesus, who hear and recognize his voice and follow him, have been given to him by the Father (10:29). Everything depends on God’s initiative. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (3:16-17). At the same time, the result of Jesus’ coming into the world is that those who do not believe are subject to judgment (3:18-19).

The preacher cannot resolve this tension. Neither can the preacher argue people into faith with convincing words. (Even Jesus could not do that!) But the preacher can declare the promise that creates and sustains faith—the promise of the Good Shepherd to give us eternal life, the promise that no one will be able to snatch us out of his hand (10:28).

The preacher can also help hearers discern the Shepherd’s voice amidst all the other voices that clamor for our attention, many of whom claim to speak for God. Those voices are legion, but we do not always recognize how contrary they are to the voice of the Good Shepherd.

For instance, there are many voices that tell us how to grow closer to God: by having a prescribed religious experience, by believing the correct doctrine, by reaching a higher level of knowledge or a higher level of morality.

By contrast, the Good Shepherd tells us that everything depends on belonging to him. Never does our status before God depend on how we feel, on having the right experience, on being free of doubt, or on what we accomplish. It depends on one thing only: that we are known by the shepherd: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:28).

The voice of the Good Shepherd is a voice that liberates rather than oppresses. It does not say, “Do this, and then maybe you will be good enough to be one of my sheep.” It says, “You belong to me already. No one can snatch you out of my hand.” Secure in this belonging, we are free to live the abundant life of which Jesus spoke earlier in the chapter: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The abundant life of which Jesus speaks is not necessarily about abundance in years, or in wealth, or status, or accomplishments. It is life that is abundant in the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, love that overflows to others (John 13:34-35). It is eternal life because its source is in God who is eternal (17:3), and in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (11:25-26).

Amidst all the other voices that evoke fear, make demands, or give advice, the voice of the good shepherd is a voice of promise—a voice that calls us by name and claims us as God’s own.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 17, 2016.


First Reading

Commentary on Acts 9:36-43

Raj Nadella

After introducing Saul to the readers, Luke quickly shifts his attention back to the ministry of Peter. This time, Peter goes to Joppa to raise Tabitha from the dead. But who is really the center of this story?

The story of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead parallels the story of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:40-56. While Jairus’ people advocated for his daughter in Luke 8, believers at Joppa advocate for Tabitha in this chapter. In both stories, the miracle occurs in a private setting. Just as Jesus sends everyone except Peter, James, and John out of the room prior to the miracle, Peter sends everyone out in this story. In both accounts, the deceased comes back to life after being ordered to get up. It is as if Peter, who was present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, replicates a similar miracle at Joppa. 

There is, however, a contrast between the apparent lack of faith in Luke 8 and the faith of the believers in this story. In Luke 8, people went to Jairus after the girl’s death and told him not to bother Jesus anymore. In this story, people send for Peter after Tabitha has already died and urge him to come immediately. People laugh when Jesus suggests that the young woman was simply sleeping, but in this story, people believe that Peter could raise Tabitha from the dead. 

The story of Tabitha comes immediately after the healing of Aeneas and shares a few similarities with it. Both Tabitha and Aeneas were at the margins of the society—Tabitha because of her gender and Aeneas because he apparently lacked any networks. Both stories feature miracles performed by Peter and describe the victory of God and God’s people over forces of death.1 Both miracles lead many to become believers. 

However, as Beverly Gaventa helpfully observes, Luke often juxtaposes a story about a male character with that of a female character (Luke 1:11-20//26-28; 2:25-35//36-38; 24:1-11//12) but places much more emphasis on Tabitha vis-à-vis Aeneas in this chapter.2 Luke offers many more details about Tabitha—her status as a believer, her name in Aramaic and Greek, her commitment to good deeds, and the community’s response to her death. The imperfect verb epoiei in 9:36 suggests that Tabitha was constantly involved in ministering to others. A literal translation of 9:36b reads like this, “she was full of good deeds and alms which she continually did.” The mention of alms possibly implies that she was a person of means. Luke’s suggestion that the widows showed Peter the robes and other garments Tabitha made for them also highlights her ability to care for them financially and her commitment to serving them.

In a culture where the wealthy often had a proclivity to hoard resources, Tabitha was guided by an ethic of care and compassion for others. She was especially committed to serving widows, who were at the margins of the society. Her compassion and care allowed her to build a beloved community that became her family. Whereas Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) lost their place in the community because of their insincere commitment to sharing wealth with the needy, Tabitha gained a beloved community by continually sharing her resources with others. Whereas Ananias and Sapphira’s deception resulted in their untimely death, Tabitha’s dedication to the community brought her back to life. The story in Acts 5 resulted in fear seizing the community, but the story of Tabitha led many to believe in the Lord.  

Tabitha became a prominent disciple not because of any familial connections, or even because of her apparent wealth, but because of the networks she built with widows, the most marginalized in the community. Her ministry reminds readers of the early Church’s commitment to ensure that no widow was overlooked in their everyday needs (Acts 6:1-6).3 In that account, the Church formally chose seven men, including Stephen, to oversee the Church’s ministry of caring for widows in Jerusalem. The Greek verb diakonein (6:2) suggests the seven men were appointed as deacons. Luke does not say if a similar arrangement was made at the church in Joppa, another major city, but Tabitha’s consistent care for widows suggests that she was engaged in a similar ministry. Her story is significant because of her gender and because she was never formally appointed as a deacon or into any leadership position but served them as an equal. 

Luke says nothing much about the effectiveness of the seven men appointed as deacons by the Church. Were they good at their job? Were they full of good deeds and alms which they continually did? Were they beloved by the widows? Did their work impact the lives of others? We hear a little about Stephen, but what about others? Luke does not provide many details about them, but explicitly notes in this instance that Tabitha was dedicated to serving widows and was well loved by them. Her story stands out because of the impact of her ministry, but also because she did not let her lack of formal leadership undermine her ability to serve the most vulnerable.

This is also the story of the women, widows in particular, whose community life was built together on a shared experience of loss of the beloved. It is important to note that it was the widows, the ones impacted by Tabitha’s work, who wept for her when Peter showed up and highlighted her contributions. Where were the male leaders in the church? Did they acknowledge Tabitha’s contributions to the church or weep for her? And why did Peter present Tabitha especially to widows after raising her from the dead? Apparently, it was the women who acknowledged and validated her ministry. Tabitha’s service to them and their subsequent advocacy for her challenges the necessity of hierarchical offices and suggests an alternative wherein believers operate as a community of equals focused on serving each other.

Tabitha never carried the title of a deacon but nevertheless served as one. Based on what Luke says in this story, and does not say in Acts 6, her work was more impactful than that of most men who were officially designated deacons. Tabitha’s story tells us that our work has value and impact even if those in power do not approve or acknowledge it. And the worth and value of our work is best determined by those whose lives it directly impacts.


  1. Willie James Jennings, Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 100.
  2. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 159.
  3. Gaventa, 160.


Commentary on Psalm 23

Jin H. Han

The ubiquitous Psalm 23 has enriched the lives of believers, both Jews and Christians. It is so frequently recited in Christian funeral and memorial services (whereas Psalm 90 is more commonly used in the Jewish services) that many may imagine it is a Christian prayer. The first line, which also serves as the title, says it all: “The Lord is my shepherd.” 

We may imagine a shepherd of the Middle East, who pays undivided attention to the well-being of the sheep. Such care preempts any sense of scarcity. “I shall not want” creates a gateway to superabundance, leading to the next scene of the sheep lying down in “lush meadows” (verse 2, Eugene Peterson’s The Message). Ordinarily, we think of people lying down on our backs, but most animals do not do that. Some animals may sleep standing or kneeling, but most of them sprawl. Perhaps we have a picture of exhaustion here—alternatively, a posture of repose. Thanks to the good shepherd, the sheep finds rest, sustenance, and confidence in the green pastures next to the water, where everything that the sheep may need or want has been provided.

In the next scene the poet is “beside still waters” (verse 2). For ancient Hebrews, water is often an image of primordial chaotic powers (see also Psalms 33:7; 74:13). Instead of the water that is a scare, Psalm 23:2 depicts quiet waters that present no threat. The poet has not come upon this place of peace by accident. The Lord’s gentle guidance (see also Isaiah 40:11) made possible what could have been impossible otherwise.

The poet continues dwelling on the shepherd, who leads the flock “in right paths” (verse 3b). Often, many of us assume that a right path is straight, but there are not many roads with no bend in nature. Even in the urban settings planned by the civil engineers, the straight street is more uncommon than common. Apart from the shape or condition of the track, a right path leads the flock where they need to be. Physically, the path may be crooked, but it is the right path for me. The poet recognizes that God does that for the sake of the divine name’s sake, making each crooked turn into a moment when God’s gracious involvement is recognized.

The poet makes no mistake about life that can take us to a dark time and pace. The KJV has made the “darkest valley” famous by calling it “the valley of shadow of death”—one of the most memorable examples of the early modern English Bible. Danger lurks in the dark, but the psalmist declares “I fear no evil.” Difficult situations cannot be avoided, and fear comes with a double punch: one with the threat of evil and the other the fear of it. With the Lord, the poet is confident that neither will grab him. The poet has no fear, not because of courage or a strong heart but because of the Lord’s accompanying presence. The proposition of divine companionship echoes the same in the name Immanuel.

The shepherd that walks with the sheep carries a rod and a staff. The former is a weapon to fight off hostile beasts and others. The latter guides the sheep that tend to go astray. The implements provide comfort—a word that conveys not only relief but also the recovery from grief (see Genesis 38:12; Jeremiah 31:15).

In the midst of the specter of terror, the poet imagines a feast. As long as one can eat, one can endure anything. Of course, one would not ordinarily plan to have a meal while facing those who may have hostile intent. Nor should one refuse to eat in comfortable situations. All provisions one may get is what the Lord has provided. Even in harm’s way, the poet names God’s anointing—the gift of abundance like the precious oil dripping down on Aaron’s beard and his garment in Psalm 133:2. And the cup overflows freely. The overage is not a picture of wastefulness, although celebration and frugality do not always make a fitting couple. Instead, it evokes an image of superabundance. Besides, the surplus may quench the thirst of someone random.

The poet concludes with a declaration of faith. In Hebrew, the adverb that heads the sentence (“surely”) speaks not only of certitude but also of confidence. The Hebrew can also translate as “only,” with which the poem anticipates nothing but “goodness and mercy” in the days ahead. Troubles may come and go, but God will always accompany us for all seasons.

Most modern translations state that God’s goodness and mercy “follow” the poet. This traditional translation is tolerable, but it hardly does justice to the drift of the poetry, for the Hebrew literally means “pursue.” The same verb is found in the description of Pharaoh’s army pursuing the people of Israel in Exodus 14:8, 9, 23. In other words, the poet speaks of God’s goodness and mercy in a vigorous pursuit like enemy forces pursuing their target. In Psalm 23, God comes after us and will not rest until we find goodness and mercy.

The dynamic life of being pursued is paired with one of settling down (literally, sitting down). The latter state of serenity comes with the fantastic time stamps “all the days of my life” and “my whole life long.” The poet wants to live all the time in the house of the Lord. One may be tempted to imagine that the poet goes to the temple in Jerusalem every day. Since the poet imagines being a sheep in the Lord’s fold, however, the poet probably means it metaphorically, referring to the house of the Lord as the location of God’s presence. There is no conflict here. Some early church itineraries to the Holy Land invite one to wonder whether the pilgrimage was imaginary or virtual. Many cannot make the trip but still can be in a state of worship before God for life. In a comparable manner, the poet of Psalm 23 also imagines being in the house of the Lord, even when the temple may have been beyond reach. After all, we can always be in the presence of God the good shepherd, no matter where we may be physically.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17

C. Wess Daniels

Revelation is a letter to 7 churches made up of poor and marginalized folks trying to survive, resist, and refuse assimilation into the Roman empire. It is concerned with unmasking the powers of empire, alternative liturgies that empire uses to shape and form its adherents morally, and those who, like the Lamb, stand in its way and refuse to worship the empire (Revelation 5 and 13). It is exacting in its assessment of the current state of Rome’s exploitation and oppression over the earth.

Revelation is also a visionary text. It sets out a vision of practices, images, liturgy, and economics that stand in contrast to Caesar’s empire and points its readers to a vision of humanity rooted in the anti-imperial image of the Lamb of Slain.

In Revelation 7, we see an alternative vision of community. Again, here is this pattern of John hearing one thing and then seeing another. John hears the twelve tribes of Israel being described, but then sees something far bigger, far more inclusive and global: the multitude. The multitude stands as an alternative to the tribal confederation, as Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther say,

“What had been the forming of an ethnically pure tribal confederation from out of Egypt and within Israel now is revealed to be a multinational, multicultural, multilinguistic multitude, defined simply as those “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.1

In other words, this is an image of the idea of “include and transcend”. What we thought was this thing is really just the start of this bigger broader thing. This has been the trajectory of the ministry of Jesus from the start, a broadening of inclusion and welcome to the neighbor, but also to the stranger and enemy.

The image that Revelation 7 paints is beautiful:

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

The multitude is countless and made up of “every nation, all tribes, all people, all languages.” This tells us that the vision is that the community formed around the lamb is not formed by borders, nation-states, militaries, ethnicities, or any other human category or distinction we put on others. The binding feature of this new community is that the people stand before the lamb, robed in white, holding palm branches.

Where the empire sorts and protects some while violating others, scapegoats, and casts suspicion on outsiders, the religion of the lamb is a community that has no need for “us versus them”. The multitude is not formed by antagonism, it is formed out of the freedom that comes from sacrificial love, nonviolence, and “patient endurance”.

I am struck by the increasing division in society, as I am sure many of you are as well. From the way social media can be used to divide and conquer with the goal of profit, to the way we develop and build neighborhoods, to politics, workplaces, public health, education, race, class, gender, sexuality, and even divisions within our denominations and congregations, there are so many factions within our modern life.

In his book, The Big Sort2, Bill Bishop writes:

“America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, but the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do. This social transformation didn’t happen by accident. We’ve built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood and church and news show most compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs. And we are living with the consequences of this way-of-life segregation. Our country has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred, that people don’t know and can’t understand those who live just a few miles away.”

I cannot help but think that this is largely by design, a furthering of segregation, or “sorting” in all parts of life are a form of social formation in our culture and society. That it is happening tells us something of the “theology of empire.” Rome had its ways of sorting people out as well through imperial cult, the imperial myth, imperial economics, and imperial force.

John understands that the empire has its own mode of social formation, its own “vision” of community. This sense of community in the empire comes by way of “us versus them” categories. Empire needs concepts of borders and boundaries to exist. And it needs to continue to reinforce them at every step of the way. If you want what is good about the empire you must comply. If you do not comply you will be removed.

The image of the multitude, on the other hand, subverts this subdivision of humanity. The multitude is rooted in a vision of “all” and holds out the possibility of a way of being community that does not need to be over and against others in order to exist. As I stated earlier, I see the multitude here being rooted not in antagonism but in nonviolence and anti-imperial practices like sacrificial love.

We see this more clearly if we continue reading in Revelation 7. The image of the slaughtered lamb, victim of imperial violence, continues to permeate this text. His blood, poured out through nonviolent resistance and sacrificial love, “washes” over and baptizes all victims of empire. This lamb is at the center of the multitude who gather around this “new kind of leader.” The multitude are made up of those who have been faithful to his call to come out of empire even if it cost them their lives.

But I think there is even more than that in this text. Look closer; who else is centered with the lamb in this new community? Rather than border or boundary, the multitude is seen as a community that both centers the Lamb as well as all other victims of empire.

Revelation 7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”

Revelation 7:14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

Revelation 7:16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

Revelation 7:17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The lambas a symbol of resistance against empireis the center of the church’s liturgy, offering an alternative to what Rome sought to reproduce in its subjects. The multitude, as a new vision that stands in opposition to empire, centers those crushed by its forces. 

What a powerful image meant to shape the first-century Christian imagination. I see this as a perfect illustration of the quote widely attributed to Quaker and Civil Rights Activist Bayard Rustin:  

“We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers. Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. The only weapon we have is our bodies and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn!”

They hold palm branches, not just a symbol of peace, but a symbol of an entirely different way of living and being in the world. A radically different religio that binds people together not by force or scapegoating but by following the lamb and centering the victims of empire.

This reminds me of something Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II once said,

” ‘We’ is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary. The issue is not what we can’t do, but what we CAN do when we stand together. With an upsurge in racism/hate crimes, criminalization of young black males, insensitivity to the poor, educational genocide, and the moral/economic cost of a war, we must STAND together now like never before.”

Imagine the church today, standing together against these evils of empire, refusing to be sorted out, but sharing in a larger vision of the multitude with the lamb and victims of empire centered in its liturgy, theology, and practice.


  1. Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now. p. 210
  2.  Bishop, Bill. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Mariner Books: 2009.