Lectionary Commentaries for May 29, 2022
Seventh Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 17:20-26

Meda Stamper

The liturgical season of Easter draws to a close with Jesus’ final words to his friends before his arrest. In John 13-17 Jesus has been comforting, instructing, and preparing “his own” (as his friends are called in 13:1) for what is to come and for what they are to become in the world. Now, in the text for today, he prays for them. 

In these concluding verses of the prayer that makes up John 17, Jesus says that the purpose of all he has asked for in the preceding verses is this: that all disciples of all time may be one in the specific sense in which Jesus and the Father are one, the mutual indwelling of love that has defined that relationship not only in the life of Jesus but also in the oneness of God and the creative Word from before the foundation of the world. Jesus prays for his own, the ones present and those who will believe in him through them (which means we can read it as a prayer for us), to be drawn into the love of the Father and Son-Word-Jesus.

Already Jesus has promised dwelling places in the house of God (14:2) and has promised that he and God will make dwelling places in us (14:23). Now Jesus speaks of and requests this oneness and refers to the mutual indwelling of himself and God, and of us with him and with God, 10 times in five verses. The word translated “completely” here in the NRSV is a verb form meaning that we are to be made perfect in oneness. 

The purpose, he says, of this perfection of oneness is not only an experience of divine love for us in our communion with God and one another. The purpose is beyond us. This being perfected in oneness is so that the uncomprehending, sometimes dangerous world (1:10; 16:33; 17:25) may also believe and know God’s love in the sending of the Son (17:21 and 23; 3:16).   

The oneness of the Father and Jesus is synonymous with love in John, and what the world is to see in our display of that oneness is the love of God miraculously made manifest.  Our love for God and one another becomes then an offering in and for the world to experience the love through which all creation has come into being.

Like the love for one another in 13:34-35, which is a way for other people to see that we belong to Jesus, and like our oneness as branches nurtured by the vine and tended by the gardener God for our own fullness of joy and love, but also to bear fruit (15:1-11), the oneness Jesus asks for here among those who believe in him is not an exclusive club, but an invitation to the world—an invitation as open, loving, joyful, and fruitful as we can allow ourselves to be.

The Greek word translated “believe” also means “trust.” Believing in Jesus and in God (for example, 17:20; 1:12; 14:1) is presented in John not as an intellectual exercise but as being in a trusting relationship of love with someone who embodies God’s love for the world and who calls us friend. It is trusting him that love is the lodestar of life.

To understand what this looks like, we may look at how Jesus manifests God’s love for the world in himself—in what he does, what he says, and how he is—and also listen to what he says it means for us to love him, and by extension, one another and the world. As Jesus tends, feeds, bears witness to, and breaks barriers for love, Jesus’ own are called to do the same thing (15:27; 21:15-17).   

The Gospel also explains how love is possible. This love clearly cannot depend on feelings of attraction, desire, affection or even liking. It is a behavior-shaping attitude toward the world, which is both a gift we cannot manufacture and a choice to live into the promises of that gift that is already given. We cannot paste it onto ourselves. Like branches of a vine, we live in something larger than ourselves, in which we are nurtured to bear fruit by the Spirit dwelling in us (about which we read in the Pentecost passage for next week). But because we are more than vines, we also become more loving by choosing to follow Jesus’ model and teachings (13:14-15) about what love is: tending, feeding, bearing witness, and breaking barriers for love—societal barriers and also barriers we set up for ourselves, including some that we may think make us rightly religious but which do not make us loving.  

This love is the substance of Jesus’ glory. And it is what he wants us and the world to know.  

Oneness and love are linked throughout the passage with knowledge, and that is where it concludes. To know God is to have love in us and to have Jesus in us. This also takes us back to where the prayer began, glory and knowledge. To know God in 17:2-3 is eternal life, and now we find that eternal life will be an extension of the love of God stretching back before the foundation of the world, forward to us, and beyond us to the communion of the saints and to those who may be able to experience God’s love through us.

And so the Easter season culminates where the Gospel began: with Jesus making God known so that the world may know that every soul and all creation has come from and has a place in the creative love of God.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 16:16-34

Jerusha Matsen Neal

Project TURN courses (Transform, Unlock, Renew) create spaces in theological education where incarcerated people and full-time seminarians learn from and alongside each other. Sarah Jobe is a prison chaplain who has administered the program for over ten years. Her recent review of Ryan Schellenberg’s Abject Joy: Paul, Prison, and the Art of Making Do asks a seemingly simple question: why was the apostle Paul in prison so often? Drawing on Schellenberg’s argument, Jobe suggests that the frequency of Paul’s imprisonment is not descriptive of a heroic political prisoner. It describes someone “poor, homeless, and of an ethnicity that marked him as part of an occupied people.” Jobe notes that, in these ways, Paul “looked a lot like those who get overpoliced and thrown in jail today.1

The story of an imprisoned Paul and Silas, singing songs and praying at midnight, is a beautifully familiar story for those in the church. It is a frequent metaphor for the power of worship to shake the foundations of despair. I once heard a powerful sermon on this passage that recounted a preacher’s debilitating stroke. He remembered lying in a hospital bed, unable to move certain limbs or find words to form the sentences in his head. But he was able to sing. Familiar hymns flowed from his lips, even when he was unable to speak his name. It was precious testimony.

But Acts 16:16-34 is about more than the freeing power of worship. It is about powers and principalities, about economic interests and prejudice. It is about the power of God—and it is about prisons. When I was invited to teach preaching through the Project TURN program, this text was a recurring conversation partner in the sermons of the incarcerated preachers. It was no metaphor for them. It offered astute analysis of interlocking injustices that they knew well.  

The economic roots of slavery and violence are explicit in the text. The unnamed slave-girl who tells fortunes by a spirit of divination “brought her owners a great deal of money” (verse 16). The words she speaks about Paul and Silas are technically true. They are “slaves of the Most High God who proclaim … a way of salvation” (verse 17). Her words might have even been useful to the apostles, drawing a curious crowd. But Willie Jennings notes the dangers of “mindless praise”—particularly praise couched in religious language—that “masks demonic activity.”2  Paul’s exorcism of the young woman is the first example of exorcism in Acts, and it actively rejects the benefits that may have accrued from this woman’s bondage. 

When the slave-girl’s owners realize that their revenue stream has been disrupted, they go to the magistrates with a complaint that seems unrelated. They accuse Paul and Silas of “disrupting” the peace. They name them as “Jews,” cultural outsiders who are “advocating customs that are unlawful for Romans” (verses 20-21). Oddly, economics comes nowhere into their argument.  Jobe’s point, however, is on full display. Acts 16 narrates a leveraging of cultural superiority and social fear for the preservation of an economic system that grounds the status quo. The torture, beatings, and social isolation of prison are powerful technologies in that mechanism. Paul and Silas are not imprisoned because they break a law. They are imprisoned because they are imprisonable people—vulnerable people—who threaten the bottom line of the powerful.

This unmasking of the moral posturing of carceral systems would be subversive enough. But the narrative has a more subversive thread. Structurally, it is introduced by the fortune-teller’s words, describing Paul and Silas as “slaves” to God. Her description raises a question that hovers throughout the text: who is a captive and who is free? The magistrates and town populace have the power to commit violence, but they are manipulated by the slave owners like puppets on strings. When Paul reveals his Roman citizenship in the verses that follow this passage (verse 37), the fear in magistrates’ responses makes explicit the shadow of Roman power that circumscribes any definition of “freedom” in Philippi. The powerful are afraid, and the powerless have more power than supposed.

This inversion is clearest in the interaction between the jailer and his prisoners in the text’s “midnight hour” (verse 25). When the earthquake comes and the chains of his prisoners fall away, the jailer’s fear of dishonor and death overwhelms him, and he is ready to take his life. But Paul and Silas and their fellow prisoners do not run. They offer a message of salvation, and before the night is over, a meal is shared, wounds are washed, and the jailer’s household is baptized.  

On this seventh Sunday of Easter, this text provides a powerful opportunity to speak to your own church’s response to incarceration and incarcerated people. I encourage preachers to move away from imprisonment as a metaphor and be concrete. How does this text illuminate the carceral system in the U.S.? How does our system fuel fear and violence—even as it promises to create safety and order? How might your church better respond to persons newly released from prisons? How might the church outside prison walls better attend to the preaching, singing, and prayers of carceral congregations? How might we bind up wounds, share meals, and receive instruction for our salvation? 


  1. Sarah Jobe, “Why was the apostle Paul in prison so often?” Christian Century, March 23, 2022, https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/why-was-apostle-paul-prison-so-often.
  2. Willie Jennings, Acts (Louisville: WJK Press, 2017), 160.


Commentary on Psalm 97

Matthew Stith

The exposition of Psalm 97 need not be overly complex. The structure of the text defines a clear, three-part structure of which the preacher can make good use.

Part one (1-5): the Lord reigns in unmatched and inconceivable power

The assertion of God’s kingship should ring familiar to even occasional readers of the Psalter. The images that this psalm in particular marshals to depict the sheer power of the Lord’s rule are, however, quite striking. The Lord is so supremely mighty that he wears thunderstorms like human kings might wear fine robes. Where an ordinary king might employ a herald, or possibly some troops to go ahead of him and announce his presence, the Lord sends forth fire that consumes all that might oppose the divine will. God is, in fact, so blazingly, transcendently powerful that the creation itself, the earth and the mountains, cannot stand the force of God’s presence—the earth quakes and trembles, and the mountains dissolve like overheated candles. The preacher can certainly highlight this segment of the text to good rhetorical effect, possibly exploring connections to other texts recounting the dramatic appearances of God in similar storm imagery. 

The note in the second part of verse 2 must not be overlooked, however. Amidst all the pyrotechnics surrounding the Lord’s presence, the psalm remarks that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” In other words, the divine kingship that is so graphically illustrated in this passage has its basis in the complete rightness that makes for wholeness, peace, and goodness, and in the actions that are taken in order to pursue and advance such righteousness. Ultimately, then, the first thing that Psalm 97 has to declare is that the Lord is the almighty king whose reign is based on and acts in favor of what is good and right.

Part two (6-9): creation responds to the presence of the Lord

The coming of the Lord in such power irresistibly calls forth a response from both the inanimate creation and the human community. They see and acknowledge both the magnitude of God’s power and the righteousness that defines and directs it. Next, the text focuses on those who are not worshipers of the Lord, and declares that their dependence on and allegiance to their idols is revealed to be ludicrous in light of the Lord’s transcendent glory. Finally, Israel, as God’s particular people, is described as responding to the Lord’s superiority over all other powers with celebration. 

The preacher may find here numerous points of connection with the congregation. The church ought to feel the impulse to respond to God’s glorious and powerful works with witness and proclamation. All people need the reminder that dependence on any other power is ultimately futile. The church as a body of God’s covenant people is called to celebrate God’s mighty acts as a central feature of their common life and worship. Psalm 97 makes and illustrates all of these claims.

Part three (10-12): individuals are called to respond

The final segment of the psalm considers the question of how an individual ought to respond to such a God. Verse 10 is the crux of that response, and, unfortunately, the RSV and NRSV make an unnecessary change to the underlying Hebrew text that obscures the point. It is best to read the opening line of this verse, along with most translators, as an imperative: “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (ESV). This is, fundamentally, the hallmark of a life lived in proper response to the power, righteousness, and justice of the Lord: the rejection and abhorrence of evil, which is to say, of any thought, word, or deed that runs contrary to righteousness. This done, the worshiper of the Lord is free to enjoy the benefits of his reign: light, joy, and thanksgiving.

Clearly, the preacher’s principal task here is to acknowledge and deal with the fact that human beings are, to put it mildly, not all that good at hating evil and rejecting all unrighteousness. Indeed, when the thorough and consistent unrighteousness of human conduct is considered, the psalm’s presentation of God’s thunderous power and his absolute opposition to evil is unnerving. That point being made, a move to the Lord’s gracious work of overcoming human sin is in order. Depending on the preacher’s particular setting, this can come by way of prophetic passages like Jeremiah 31:31-34 or by moving directly to New Testament texts treating forgiveness of sin and God’s reconciliation with humankind. Either way, the point is to offer the congregation permission and encouragement to strive in good faith to follow the psalmist’s exhortations and to rejoice, give thanks, and await the dawning of light and joy with good confidence.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

Israel Kamudzandu

When caught in between waiting and pain, human souls long for either a word of hope or a song in the Lord’s land. With suffering comes the forfeiture of witnessing and mission on the part of a believer. Revelation 22:12-14 seems to be that song or word needed in times of hopelessness, suffering, and pain. Many times, and in many seasons, people don’t think that their intentions, actions, and thoughts can lead them into an alien space. Christianity and those who practice and claim it as a source of their being and faith can at times lose their bearings. Instead of doing the will of God, desperation leads to hopelessness. But the Word of God in Revelation calls on Christians to always remember the power of the Gospel. 

The world is not supposed to understand Christians, but Christians are called to understand the empire and never to bow down to Caesar. When one leans into a space of longing, pain, and sorrow, the sense of sharing those with others who are not walking at your pace becomes impossible. Those are the moments when Christ steps in to walk with us and speak with us in heavenly melodies.  

Jesus reminds believers in Revelation 22:12-13, he is not far distant but close to where they live, walk and work. The one who has come to die for the redemption of the world, promises us that he will come again to be the judge of the world. The word soon complicates our hearing and longing because we want a Jesus we can touch and laugh with, but for reasons oblivious to human hearts, we forget that Jesus Christ came to us already, and he did this in his Death and Resurrection. 

Jesus is already in us and around us, but we miss his voice because at our very best we are practical human beings. Yet the Holy Spirit speaks through our faith, and faith is an everyday song. The “here and not yet” message of Revelation summons believers to live with a deep sense of the urgency of Jesus’ second coming, a teaching rarely heard in most Christian Churches. Yet, Easter is not complete without reminding people of the second coming of Jesus Christ.  

The reward Jesus brings is for those who have suffered on behalf of their faith in Jesus Christ, and the punishment is for those who have not aligned their lives with the teachings of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of chapters, readers are admonished to worship only God and not Caesar, and John himself is shown the vision of heaven where angels and elders are falling in adoration, worshiping God who is in the center (1:5-6; 4:1—5:14). Hence, the declaration words of the Risen Christ clarifying or perhaps repeating all the titles aligned with him are a reminder to readers that the world, creation, and its creatures are all sandwiched by God. Nothing is out of God’s purview, and hence the warning is appropriate as it calls on believers to be sensitive to the spirit. 

In this eschatological reality, Christians are called to embody the values, practices, and virtues befitting of a Church. In other words, Christians are called to live a counter-cultural way because their lives reflect the Jesus way. Believers’ words and actions should honor God, the one who came in the form of Jesus to redeem and rescue the human soul. In line with this, readers of Revelation 22 are encouraged, exhorted, and assured that God is real, that Jesus died and rose from the dead, and at any moment, Jesus is going to come back. While Christians have built wealth and come to believe in Wall Street’s financial determination, Revelation warns believers of a false paradise. Instead, the real paradise is the one we find in Revelation 22:1, which in similar ways is portrayed in Genesis 2:10.  

In a season of COVID–19 variants, HIV/AIDS, and many political upheavals, Christianity becomes a lonely voice of hope, and a means to access where God resides. This proclamation of hope and living according to it is done by focusing on mission, prophetic preaching whereby powers of darkness are silenced and confronted, and worshiping God so that honor is given to God and not political parties and their leaders. 

In a time of hopelessness, the redeemed ones are referred to as “those who wash their robes,” meaning those who witness to Jesus Christ will lead others into the city of God. The metaphor of the city refers to a transformed place where humanity celebrates reconciliation in all its forms, health, love, joy, peace, trust, and security. The wicked ones who remain opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ will remain out of the city and will not have access to the blessings of God. In our empire worldview, the rich and the politically privileged have in many ways become enemies of the Gospel, and consequently enemies of God. It is painfully hard to see and experience the presence of God when people are hard-pressed with economic, political, sociological, social, and climatic pressures, yet the promises of God in Revelation propel believers to remain faithful and serve God’s mission. 

The language of steadfast or enduring faith is not welcomed in societies such as North America because our source of comfort and definition of faith is determined by affluence, political and economic security, as well as financial savings. Revelation’s message counters false forms of security and summons Christians to transfer their lives to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

While John is the voice through whom Jesus speaks, the message of Revelation 22:16-17 is inclusive of the entire eschatological community. Angels, miracles, signs, and wonders are revealed to believers on a daily basis. Each believer should have the sensibilities to discern God’s miracles and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit (verse 16). The invitation message in verse 17, seems to be a double calling to those who have come to doubt and even lose faith. Yet, each Lord’s Supper celebration, we echo these words as we are invited to come to the Lord’s table to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There is a mystery in these words because the invitation to come is perhaps not an individual, but a communal summoning. In a world of great individualism and individual salvation, Revelation’s message lifts up a God who is communal and invites believers to hope together as one family. 

John’s vision, God’s prayer, and Jesus Christ’s cry are all communal and the metaphor of the Church as a city illustrates that the Church should at all costs maintain unity, diversity, inclusion, and love of all people, including the ones we may not like. The message of Revelation unfolds as it summons the Church to see the world from the perspective of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Hence, the testament of Jesus in Revelation 22:20-21 encloses the evangelical, spiritual voice, and Gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who speaks through John. The ending part of verse 20, where we read the words “Come, Lord Jesus,” signaling perhaps that other divine angels accompanied Jesus as he was speaking through John. 

The ones who witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection are also with him in Revelation, and as a witnessing team, they too sing a hymn of hope when they say “come, Lord Jesus,” in verse 20b. In response to this hope-filled acclamation, John, who is one of the witnesses, gives a grace-filled blessing to the witnesses then and now. 

In each context, Christians are summoned to witness to the faithfulness of God, and witnessing manifests itself in giving hope, comforting, and loving others when you yourself are in the furnace and storms of life. Like in the days of John, witnesses are rare in the 21st century, the Church has been silent about teaching believers to embody their faith through witnessing. In the context in which John and his audience lived, living one’s faith and bearing witness to Jesus was costly, but it is what they were called to do, and it is God’s expectation on us living in the 21st century.