Lectionary Commentaries for May 15, 2022
Fifth Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 13:31-35

Elisabeth Johnson

As is the case with many lectionary texts, something is lost when this passage is not read in its literary context.1

The context of this passage, of course, is John’s account of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.

In this account, we hear that about many things that Jesus knows, and about how he responds to the knowledge that he has. He knows that his hour has come to depart from this world and go to his Father (John 13:1a). How does he respond? “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1b). He knows that the Father has given all things into his hands, and that he has come from God and is going to God (13:3). How does he respond? He gets up from the table and takes on the role of a slave, washing his disciples’ dusty, dirty feet.

Jesus also knows who is about to betray him (John 13:11), and he is very troubled by this knowledge (13:21). How does he respond? He announces the imminent betrayal to his disciples, and then proceeds to feed the betrayer: “So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot” (13:26). Judas then leaves to do his dirty work, and the narrator adds, “and it was night” (13:30).

It is at this dark moment that our text begins, “When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said… ” We might expect a speech about how evil Judas is and how awful the consequences of his actions will be for him. But Jesus instead focuses on his mission and preparing his disciples for what is to come. He speaks of being glorified and of glorifying God (John 13:31-32), which in Johannine language is a reference to his elevation on a cross (3:14; 12:23-28). Then he tells his disciples in tender words (“little children”) that he will be with them only a little longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come (13:33).

This conversation continues after our lectionary text, with Peter asking, “Lord, where are you going?” and Jesus responding, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (John 13:36). Peter responds, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (13:37), to which Jesus responds by predicting Peter’s denial of him (13:38).

Yes, Jesus also knows that Peter, one of his closest companions, will deny him. Yet his parting words to his disciples focus not on blame for their past and future failures, but rather on preparing them for what is to come, promising that although he will no longer be physically present with them, they will not be abandoned.

In the coming chapters Jesus will talk about the Paraclete, the Advocate who will teach and advise and comfort them. Now he focuses on the need for his disciples to live in community, to love one another as he has loved them (John 13:34).

This “new commandment”—“that you love one another as I have loved you” — is in parallel with what Jesus has already told his disciples: “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (13:13-15).

The “new commandment” is also paralleled in John 15:12-14: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

These two parallels to John 13:34 help to flesh out the meaning of “loving one another.” On the one hand, loving one another as Jesus has loved encompasses the mundane; it means serving one another, even in the most menial tasks. On the other hand, this love encompasses heroic acts of great risk; it extends even to the point of giving one’s life for another.

The love of which Jesus speaks, then, and which Jesus demonstrates in his life and death, is a love which extends from the mundane to the heroic and encompasses every kind of self-giving act in between. Jesus tells his disciples that it is by this kind of love that everyone will know that they are his disciples (John 13:35).

It is often noted that John’s Gospel focuses on mutual love within the community of disciples, and does not speak of love for those on the outside, or of love for enemies. It is true that Jesus commands his disciples to love one another. Nevertheless, he also declares God’s love for the world (John 3:16), which surely includes those outside the community of faith. Jesus demonstrates the depth of God’s love for this often-hostile world in his death on the cross.

Here in chapter 13, Jesus demonstrates his love for the same disciples who will fail him miserably. Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.

We disciples of Jesus have continually fallen far short in our love for one another as well as in our love for those outside the community of faith. Theological and ethical arguments often descend into personal attacks and name-calling; personal interests often trump the common good of the community; those in need of compassion find judgment instead.

Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts—acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 24, 2016.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 11:1-18

Karl Kuhn

Since much in Acts 11:1-18 repeats what has already occurred in the preceding narrative (10:1-48), we may be tempted to consider the report as simply demonstrating Luke’s thoroughness as an historian. But this would be a mistake. A characteristic feature of Luke’s writing is his use of direct and indirect discourse—or “character speech”—to focus his recipients’ attention on critical moments in the narrative and to draw out their key implications. 

Relatedly, Luke also uses these instances of character speech throughout his account to amplify central dimensions of the Kingdom’s arrival in the ministries of Jesus and his followers. Here, Peter’s recounting of the visions he received and the events in Cornelius’ home emphasizes the boundary-breaking character of God’s redemptive work and the necessity of abandoning those ideologies which are ill-suited to God’s realm.

A watershed moment for the early Church

Luke has been preparing his recipients for the reality that God’s salvation would extend to the Gentiles (for example, Luke 2:29-32; 24:47; Acts 1:8). In the immediately preceding chapters, Luke has brought this dimension of the Kingdom’s arrival squarely into view: the ministry of Philip, Peter and John in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25); Philip’s witness to the Ethiopian eunuch (if the latter is to be seen as non-Israelite; 8:26-39); and Jesus’ description of Paul as “one whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (9:25). What makes the Cornelius episode a notable intensification of this motif is its remarkable length (spanning Acts 10:1-11:18), the detail in its narration, the occurrence of multiple visions from “the Lord,” and the controversy it sparks among the believers in Judea. It is a watershed moment in the expansion of the Church’s ministry and the shape of their community.

Controversy ignited and resolved (for now)

Luke frames this episode and Peter’s speech to focus our attention on contrasting understandings of who belongs in God’s Kingdom, and to show how the controversy created by these contrasting understandings is resolved among the early believers, at least for now. The preceding passage culminates with those in Cornelius’ household believing the good news, receiving the Holy Spirit, and being baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah (10:44-48). Yet while recounting these remarkable events, Luke hints at the conflict to come. The “circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (verse 45). Then, Luke informs us that Peter and the circumcised believers stayed with Cornelius and his family for several days (verse 48).

That concluding statement may strike us as a rather benign detail—one that simply speaks to the newly expanded community Luke often shows resulting from the proclamation and acceptance of the gospel. But Israelites communing with Gentiles—even those who have received the Holy Spirit? That transgresses long-established boundaries deemed fundamental to the vocation of God’s people, Israel. That Gentiles would be gifted with the Holy Spirit, and thus be granted a place in God’s new age, was itself an astonishing development for these Israelite believers! But even more unfathomable to some was the notion that Israelites would share the table with Gentiles.  

For as we transition to our passage, news of Gentiles accepting the word of God reaches the believers in Judea (verse 1). We would think this would be cause of both wonderment and celebration! But then Luke shares the almost expected response: “So, when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?!”

Peter’s careful, deliberate reply, recounting “step by step” his vision from God and the events to follow, lead to the key point of his defense: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that could hinder God?” (verse 17). When Peter’s critics hear this, Luke tells us, “they were silenced.” And then the celebration that we might have expected back in verse 1 erupts: “And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”

Miraculous transformation

It may strike us as odd that the “circumcised” believers, including Peter (“By no means, Lord!”), would invest so much importance in distancing themselves from Gentiles. But such purity norms reinforced for Israelites their identity as a people set apart to serve God, to honor God’s Torah, and to receive God’s deliverance. Purity codes for many Israelites, including these circumcised believers, emerged from and reinforced Israelite understandings of how creation, humanity, and daily life were to be ordered, or “mapped out.” In short, purity is about things (objects, food, times, people) in their proper place, as ordained by God.1 The concerns of the uncircumcised believers were not trivial legalisms. They reflected essential elements of their worldview that defined their role and place as the people of God.

And so, what we see depicted in this narrative, at this watershed moment in the church’s young history, is “repentance that leads to life” not only among Gentiles in Cornelius’ household, but also among their circumcised fellow believers in Judea. We witness a miraculous change of heart, inspired by the Lord, that will now infuse the early believers with a radically transformed sense of the kind of community that is possible in God’s new realm. This transformation is far from complete. 

Both within and beyond the pages of Acts, the church will continue to struggle with the Spirit’s calling to reframe their sense of who belongs, and how Israelite and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, are to serve and share the table together. These parts of our history call us to join our ancestors in the struggle to map our worlds, ourselves, and others in ways that lead us all more fully into God’s life-giving realm.


  1. See Karl Allen Kuhn, “Purity: Things in their Proper Place,” Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Reading the Bible in the 21st Century; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018) 89-122.


Commentary on Psalm 148

Bobby Morris

The wording of the Proper Preface for Holy Communion varies a bit as we move through the church calendar, but it always ends with these or very similar words:

“And so, with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:”1 The unending hymn that follows in which participants are invited to join is the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which derives from the call vision of the prophet Isaiah who sees God enthroned and surrounded by praise.2 Taken together, what an all-encompassing call to join in a creation-wide praise of God! Such a call is precisely what we have in Psalm 148.

That praise of God is the overwhelming emphasis of Psalm 148 is unmistakable—the plural Hebrew imperative occurs ten times3 in the psalm’s thirteen verses. Hymns of Praise such as this one generally consist of two formal parts: a summons to praise, and a basis for the praise. The basis tends to lack the specificity found in Thanksgiving Hymns, and is usually either God’s steadfast love/compassion/faithfulness, or, as in the case of Psalm 148, God’s sovereignty and majestic power.

The summons dominate Psalm 148 through the ten imperatives, although they address two distinct choral locales: voices from the heavens (verses 1-5a) and from the earth (verses 7-13a). The first section carries a strong creation motif, with calls for praise from the angels, host,4 sun, moon, stars, highest heaven, and waters above the heavens.”5 Following the jussive summary command to all the aforementioned to praise, verses 5b-6 gives the basis for calling them to praise: It was God, who through command, created them and established them, with their bounds, forever and ever. In other words, praise is due to God for God’s immense creative power on display in, and even “above,” the heavens.

The call for praise from the earth includes an even more extensive inventory of participants: sea monsters, all deeps, fire, hail, snow, frost, stormy wind, mountains, hills, fruit trees, cedars, wild animals, cattle, creeping things, flying birds, kings, all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth, young men, and women, old and young. While the basis for praise is no longer explicitly creation, it remains at least implicitly in verse 13b—you simply can’t overlook God’s glory over earth and heaven, so the earthly invitees could do no other but praise the name of the Lord. Further, in verse 14, the psalm speaks of God raising up a horn for his people Israel.6 Still, the emphasis remains on the awesome power of God and how that must evoke praise from all of creation.7

There are a number of ways the preacher may theologically weave this psalm into the proclamation on the Fifth Sunday of Easter. First and most generally, there is the obvious call to praise. What would our worship be, on this Sunday or any other, if it were not praise? So the psalm reminds us of why we gather.8

Further, and in relation to this point, the psalm reminds us with whom we gather. Much as with the Holy Communion Proper Preface, and as experienced by Isaiah in his call vision, we realize that our voice is invited into quite the chorus—one consisting of literally all of creation, both on and above the earth and the heavens.9

And perhaps most powerfully implicit, this psalm declares that praise necessarily involves gathering! All the Hebrew imperatives to praise are in the plural. Praise may not be impossible as an individual, but it reaches an apex otherwise beyond achievement and experience in the gathered worshiping community.

The reading from Acts for this Sunday offers the opportunity for a more precise textual weave. We learn that Gentiles are becoming believers. Peter even received grief for associating with some of these uncircumcised ones. The pericope goes on to recount Peter’s vision experience in Joppa that would eventually lead him to Caesarea and the literal beginnings of the Gentile church. 

If the church is about anything, it is about the abundant all-inclusive love of God. Yet, to this day, we remain plagued by slanted views of who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Even when not actually present, this perception of the church from those who are literally on the outside all too often prevents them from ever approaching the doors. 

Psalm 148 speaks to this situation by reminding us that while kings and princes are summoned to praise the name of God, so too are “creeping things and flying birds!” (verse 10). It’s a little more difficult to become haughty when we hear that a worm and a crow have a place in the praise of God just as we do. The suggestion made here by the psalm rings similar with Paul’s declaration that there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, etc.10

Finally, we should return to the creation motif that is so prevalent in the psalm. In this regard, the reading for this day from Revelation is a helpful partner. John of Patmos speaks of seeing a new heaven and a new earth (verse 1) and of all things being made new (verse 5). These are all highly reminiscent, perhaps even directly drawn from, the prophecy of (third) Isaiah which was one of the appointed options for Easter Sunday.11 In both cases, there is a creation motif on par with that in Psalm 148. 

To be more precise, there is a re-/new creation motif. The praise that Psalm 148 invites us into is not just for creation “in the beginning”, it also is for God’s ongoing creative acts—certainly to include, from a Christian perspective, the expansive recreation of covenant and our resulting recreation in Christ. Liturgy, including praise, is not play acting.12 When the Proper Preface is read, when we join the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” when the words of Holy Communion or Holy Baptism are spoken, we are both declaring and experiencing something of the new creation that God is in that very moment bringing about.

One of the characteristics of that new creation, when it is brought to completion, is that nothing will prevent any members of creation from doing what Psalm 148 calls upon us to do. None among wolf, lamb, lion or ox will be in pursuit or fear of the other.13 Their only pastime, and ours as well, will be to praise the name of the Lord. It is the very purpose given to us by Psalm 148. It is the purpose toward which the whole book of Psalms, whose Hebrew name means “praises,” and whose final five chapters are all hymns of praise, points us. Indeed, as the first answer of the Westminster Catechism instructs, the chief end of humankind is to glorify and enjoy God forever.


  1. The Easter Preface adds specificity to those who join the choir: Mary Magdalene, Peter and all the witnesses of the resurrection, earth and sea and all their creatures, angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim.
  2.  See Isaiah 6, especially verse 3.
  3.  Twelve if we include the two third-plural imperfects of this verb used as a jussive commands in verses 5 and 13.
  4. The Hebrew word here typically means “armies”, which is the translation Alter prefers. He notes that in the heavenly realm, the word sometimes refers to the stars, although here it may be an elaboration on angels/messengers God’s “battalion” of messengers. Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation With Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 509.
  5. This reference to “waters above the heavens” points to the ancient concept of the clear dome which is the sky pushing back and holding at bay the primordial waters in the midst of which God created the earth. See Genesis 1:6-8.
  6. The reference to a “horn” such as we have here is usually a symbolic indication of strength, although we are not told how God has thus given strength to Israel. Many commentators see this verse as a later addition to the psalm.
  7. In other ancient Near Eastern creation stories, the primordial waters (or the sea) are deified and must be defeated by a rival god to establish creation (such as in the Babylonian Enuma Elish where the god Marduk defeats the great sea monster Tiamat). That the “sea monster” is here subdued and part of the chorus of praise to God is further indicative of the incomparable creative power of God.
  8.  Our consumerist culture has caused even worship to be viewed as something that is supposed to “please” us as paying customers. While worship should be a pleasant and nourishing experience, it is not the place where one should come always expecting to “have it your way.” Burger King will be happy to satisfy that inclination.
  9. This is a powerful theme to emphasize on All Saints’ Sunday.
  10. Galatians 3:28
  11. Isaiah 65:17-25
  12. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary  (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 144.
  13.  cf. Isaiah 65:25

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 21:1-6

C. Wess Daniels

In 1968, poor people traveled across the United States in caravans to D.C. in order to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign, a new campaign that Martin Luther King, Jr. imagined the year prior after witnessing devastating poverty in Marks, Mississippi, and which represented his turn towards “human rights.” The goal was to try and force the government to improve conditions for the poor in the United States. 

The caravans brought with them an “economic bill of rights” that even today seems pretty radical, seeking guaranteed income, employment, and better support around low-income housing. When the people arrived in D.C., they built “Resurrection City” on the national mall. Resurrection City lasted six weeks and was meant to be the home where people could live while they lobbied and protested in the hopes of passing the bill. While Resurrection City floundered under the pressures of daily life the people faced, and the weight of torrential downpours that created horrible flooding, the vision remains of a city that stood as a witness to the powers of an led by and for the poor and marginalized. King’s life work was one that was able to diagnose the problem as well as provide vision for moving forward.

“The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.” 

– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Not all prophets have a vision to share with their people. Sometimes the diagnosis is enough. Sometimes all the prophet is given is to name the thing that needs to be addressed and bring it to light.

John’s Revelation would not be complete without the end of the letter. It is a fierce diagnosis of the disease of empire and that diagnosis is potent enough to guide even our own conversations around empire today. I see in Revelation analysis of social relations (the use of scapegoating and the multitude), liturgy as formation (all the various scenes of worship), critical economics (Revelation 13 and 18), and even the importance of the “more-than-human” world in both the resistance to empire (12:14-16) and in its redemption (21-22).

But as we have seen, John’s Revelation, like King’s work, does contain visionary elements as well. Here at the end of the letter, as well as in Revelation 7 with the multitude, John is putting forward a vision for a new society and world rooted in the image of the lamb that was slain.

Revelation 21 is a visionary weaving together of the old and the new in the face of what has been unmasked; this is not some gradualist approach. A new city, a new kind of “empire” overtakes the old; one not only where God is present among the people but “where he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (See also Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

This is the empire of God that is seen replacing the empire of Rome. John shows the contrast: in the new city, God dwells. In Babylon, demons dwell (Revelation 18). Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza points out that: “The new Jerusalem [is] the anti-image of the great city Babylon/Rome. [John] contrasts the splendor and power of the Roman Empire with that of the empire of God and Christ in order to encourage readers to resist the murderous power of Rome.1

This new dwelling place of God is likened here to a city but weaves into the scene, a new Eden (Revelation 22). The tree of life, “on either side of the river,” producing fruit is a new garden, an image that reminds us of the original garden as well as the first day of the resurrection in the Gospel of John, chapter 20 where Jesus appears to Mary and she mistakes him for a gardener. What follows in the Gospel of John are appearances and teachings from the risen Jesus forming a “resurrection community” that will go on to resist empire and embody the teachings and Spirit of Jesus in the world. In both images, we have anti-empire images of community and city.

Another interesting aspect of this text is the promises from the Hebrew Scriptures being fulfilled in this new “resurrection” city (see also Exodus 6:7 and Jeremiah 31:33). Like a good DJ, John remixes the Hebrew tradition here into his vision for what is taking place in his current context, showing the weight of his tradition coming to bear not just on the prophetic critique of empire but also the promise of God’s reign (Fiorenza).

The vision is derivative, not in a way that detracts, but in a way that enlivens the tradition at this time, in the face of empire. This is the power of remix; it pays homage to the past by leveraging its power within new contexts. In Revelation: Vision for a Just World, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza points out that the vision of the New Jerusalem is built upon Ezekiel 37-38 with parts of Isaiah 54, 61 and 62, but John demonstrates knowledge of many apocalyptic traditions.2

These are images and stories that the people know, and are most likely embedded in their hearts and prayers. John is connecting their tradition to the work of Jesus against empire in their time and place, helping them see that the weight of the prophetic tradition is with them in this struggle.

One last thing worth mentioning in this text is that the new city comes to earth, to where the people are. Revolution and redemption do not happen someplace else, they take place right here with the material of the world we live in. This not only undercuts the folks whose ethic betrays a view that “it’s all gonna burn anyway,” it also challenges the popular “evacuation theology,” that many within the church have subscribed to over the last 100-150 years.

This vision is powerful because it is a vision of a liberated world, a new reality marked by all things being made new here among the anthropos (the mortals, human beings, creation). This echoes Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Revelation shows us that the new city is brought to earth rather than some who are special being evacuated.

Importantly, this anti-imperial vision is not just for humans but for all of creation and the redemption that it groans for. I take note of how important the natural order is here in the last couple chapters of Revelation and see how “the religion of creation”—mentioned in an earlier essay—is truly about abundance for both humans and the more-than-human world. I take note of how creation and the natural world shows up frequently in Revelation on God’s side against empire (see, for instance, Revelation 12:13-16)

Revelation gives us a blueprint for what we might call “authentic resistance.” That is, a resistance that is both deconstructive and constructive. Dismantling the powers by exposing the lies and wickedness that underlie while also seeking to build a more authentic community and society that reflects who we are called to be by Jesus who is present in our midst.

What does it look like for our churches, meetings, and communities to embrace this form of resistance? If we are to read Revelation seriously today, then we will wade into the difficult questions about how we can be both victims and victimizers of empire, what the ways are in which we are subject to and have become complicit with the “five interlocking injustices,” and what it means for our practice, theology, and liturgy to center those who are victims of empire. Revelation also invites us into imagining how the church can continue to pursue “Resurrection Cities” wherever we find ourselves—committed to hope and a new vision for the world where there is enough for all people and all creation.

I think these words from civil rights leader and historian Vincent Harding said to and about Quakers can be applied to all of our communities and feel very apt to close our reading of the Book of Revelation.

Vincent Harding said in an interview with the American Friends Service Committee:

“You know something about building a Quaker community, you can see it. The vision that you have is not meant to be kept to yourself, it’s meant to be expressed, to trouble some people, to push some people, to embrace some people, but for you to keep saying, “I see a Quaker community that does not yet exist and I am absolutely committed to its coming into being.” The easiest way is to say, because it doesn’t exist, “I am getting out of here.” People will come around and rub your head and say, “What’s wrong?” What you are doing is opening the breath of God and offering to others to see the Quaker community that does not yet exist. What is considered in one generation becomes possible because of the seers. We need you to keep seeing, brother, and stay as sane as you can. Find as many accompanying insane Quaker folks to walk with you on this one, find all kinds of allies. Once you keep holding on to your vision, it will rise up out of the darkness and we will begin to know what that word Light that we use so much really means. We need you.


Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, Fortress Press: 1993.

Wess Daniels, “Revelation is Remix” in Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance (Barclay Press, 2019)


  1. Revelation: Vision of a Just World, 111
  2. Zechariah 12:1-13:6; Tobit 14:4-7; 4 Ezra 8:52; 102-7; 44:54-55; Apostle Daniel 5:4-13; 1 Enoch 85-90 and more