Lectionary Commentaries for June 26, 2022
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 9:51-62

Jeannine K. Brown

This week’s lectionary text provides a range of responses to offer to our congregations as we preach about God’s benevolent kingdom and the call to follow Jesus. The Samaritan village that does not receive Jesus provides a foil to true discipleship, although, as we will see, this is not Luke’s last word on the Samaritans. James and John furnish a different kind of negative example, in their desire to see judgment come upon this Samaritan village. Jesus affords the contrast to their vengeance. He continues on his journey without even a word against those who do not receive him. The passage concludes with discipleship sayings of Jesus that stress the cost of following him and the singular allegiance expected. 

Luke 9:51 signals a change in direction in Luke’s narrative and in Jesus’ itinerary. Jesus moves from ministry in Galilee (4:14-9:50) to begin traveling to Jerusalem. This passage begins the extended “Lukan travel narrative,” which runs from 9:51 to 19:27 or thereabouts. This section of Luke’s Gospel features Jesus’ teaching about God’s kingdom and Israel’s restoration and includes many of the uniquely Lukan parables. Luke highlights the movement of Jesus and his followers toward Jerusalem, with frequent references to that destination (9:51, 53; 13:33-34; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11). 

But this change of direction from Galilean ministry to Jerusalem mission is no whim of the moment. Luke makes clear Jesus’ intentionality to go to Jerusalem by using the idiom “set his face” (NRSV) to communicate this fixed purpose (“resolutely set out” in the NIV). Jesus has already predicted that he will be rejected by “the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (9:22; see also 9:44). Jesus will encounter this group of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (for example, 19:47; 23:10), and he ties Jerusalem to his missional death. His death will lead to his “exodus” or “departure” (9:31), as well as to his ascension when he will be “taken up” (analēmpsis; see also the related verb analambanō in Acts 1:11).

As Jesus travels from Galilee toward Jerusalem, the first stop along the way is a Samaritan village (9:52-56). Luke narrates that Jesus sent ahead some of his entourage to prepare for his arrival, but that this particular village did not receive Jesus. The lack of welcome is explained by Luke: “because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (9:53). While brief, this explanation is telling, especially given the deep division between Samaritans and Jews over worship sites. While Jerusalem was understood as the only proper location for Jewish worship, Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim (see also John 4:20). Tensions over this distinction would have been even more pronounced after the Jewish destruction of the Samaritan sanctuary at Mount Gerizim in 128 B.C.E. 

The rejection of Jesus by this particular Samaritan village focuses on their negative response to Jesus’ Jerusalem destination. Yet this negative response seems not fully anticipated, since Jesus has sent messengers to prepare for his arrival. “The response of these Samaritan villagers goes against the implicit expectation [for hospitality] and so would seem to be a non-representative response for Samaritans to Jewish travelers” (Brown and Yamazaki-Ransom, 239). In Acts, Luke will highlight that Samaritans receive the good news of the Messiah (8:6, 14), a direct reversal of this initial Samaritan scene in Luke (with dechomai used in both places; Luke 9:53; Acts 8:14) and a sign of the restoration of all of Israel, including Samaritans (Brown and Yamazaki-Ransom). 

The perspective of Jesus toward these Samaritans is clarified in his response to James and John, who are keen to see God’s judgment enacted: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (9:54). Their sentiment evokes 2 Kings 1, where Elijah calls fire down on King Ahaziah’s troops: “let fire come down from heaven and consume you…” (1:10, also 1:12). This connection was certainly made within the scribal tradition of the New Testament, since one scribal reading of Luke 9:54 adds the words “as Elijah did” (see NRSV footnote). 

In contrast to James and John, Jesus shows no desire for judgment to come upon these Samaritans. Instead, he rebukes these two disciples for their perspective. Luke has already highlighted the divine mercy that surrounds the arrival of Jesus (1:50, 54-55, 72, 76-79). And Jesus’ Isaianic mission focuses on proclaiming the good news and “the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:18-18), with Luke leaving off the final reference from Isaiah 61:2 to proclaiming “the day of vengeance of our God.” The present tense of Jesus’ ministry in Luke is about restoration, not vengeance. So, it is not surprising that Jesus rejects this idea of enacting judgment. Instead, the group moves on “to another village” (potentially another Samaritan village).

This passage concludes with dual emphases on discipleship and kingdom (9:57-62). Three potential disciples interact with Jesus, and Jesus calls each of them to singular allegiance to his own person and to the arriving reign of God. In his first response to an eager follower, Jesus warns of the hardship of an itinerant life. In the second case, Jesus issues a call to follow him, but the would-be disciple raises a family obligation. Jesus responds with a riddle (“Let the dead bury their own dead”) and a second exhortation, this time to proclaim the kingdom. Finally, a third person commits to following Jesus but with the proviso of saying goodbye to their family. Jesus’ warning echoes as a final word on discipleship in light of the kingdom: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (9:62). 

Works Referenced

Jeannine K. Brown and Kazuhiko Yamazaki-Ransom, “The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Narrative Portrayal of Samaritans in Luke-Acts.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 15/2 (2021), 233-246.

First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

L. Daniel Hawk

The text assigned for this week begins midway through a conversation that Elijah is having with Yahweh. Elijah has arrived at Mount Horeb, exhausted and discouraged, after receiving a death threat from Jezebel. When Yahweh asks him what he’s doing there, Elijah launches into a litany of complaints: he has been zealous for Yahweh; Israel has abandoned the covenant, broken down Yahweh’s altars and killed Yahweh’s prophets; and he is the sole survivor (verse 10). Yahweh responds to the complaint with a remarkable self-disclosure that comes not through the powerful sounds of wind, earthquake, or fire, but rather, with a faint whisper.

When Yahweh questions Elijah a second time, the prophet reiterates his complaints, suggesting that the experience has done nothing to change his outlook or his mood (verse 14). This time, however, Yahweh ignores the prophet’s complaints and tells him instead to get up and get going. Yahweh, in short, no longer permits the prophet to wallow in woe, nor does Yahweh allow Elijah to retire from prophetic ministry. Instead, Yahweh gives the prophet a new assignment. (For background, see my comments on the Second Reading for the previous week.)

The new assignment portends a momentous upheaval. Yahweh intends to instigate regime change in Israel and in Damascus, Israel’s sometime ally and sometime adversary. Furthermore, Yahweh has selected a prophetic successor to be God’s voice to the new regimes. Yahweh’s command that Elijah anoint Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha therefore signals nothing less than a profound reordering of the religious and political life of Israel and of its powerful neighbor. The Israelite regime that Elijah confronts is characterized by abuse of power and aggressive programs to champion Baal as Israel’s god. Its demise has been signaled by Yahweh’s victorious display of sovereign power over Baal and his prophets on Mount Carmel, and its destruction will soon be decreed by Yahweh (1 Kings 21:20-26). Elijah, Ahab, and Ben-hadad thus represent a religious and political ordering that will soon end, while Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu represent the new religious and political configuration that Yahweh will bring to pass. 

Elijah sets out toward the desert of Damascus, as if to anoint Hazael, but he ends up anointing Elisha instead. The narrator makes a point of reporting that Elisha is plowing with twelve pairs of oxen when Elijah encounters him. The report reveals that Elisha is wealthy. Arable land in Israel was at a premium, and only the wealthy had enough of it to sustain oxen. Twelve yokes of oxen, therefore, indicate opulence, while alluding symbolically to the tribes of Israel. 

The brief call narrative suggests three trajectories for proclamation. The first derives from the contrast between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah is the quintessential outsider. He hails from a group of settlers across the Jordan in Gilead, and much of his story takes place within the geographical and social margins of Israel. He leads a meager existence, subsisting on food brought by scavenging ravens and on the scant resources of a destitute widow living outside the boundaries of Israel. Elijah is a solitary figure by his own account, who stands in resolute and unwavering opposition to the principalities and powers of his time. Elisha, on the other hand, possesses considerable wealth, and much of his ministry will take place at the center of power. Jehoshaphat of Judah respects him, the kings of Jehu’s dynasty seek his advice, and he heals an Aramean general of leprosy. He holds considerable esteem over prophetic groups as well (2 Kings 2:1-15; 6:1; 9:1-4).

Elijah and Elisha therefore occupy opposite ends of the social spectrum. Their disparate personalities and social locations confirm that God’s calling is no respecter of persons. God chooses Elijah the loner to oppose arrogant power and chooses the well-connected Elisha to guide Israel’s kings through complicated times. Consistent with other prophetic call narratives, Elisha receives his calling when he is not looking for it. He responds immediately and decisively, however, leaving the oxen and running after Elijah, asking only that he may kiss his father and mother. 

We hear echoes of this account in Jesus’ admonition that no one who looks back while plowing is fit for the Reign of God (Luke 9:62), suggesting that Elisha’s request expresses a certain reservation. We may then be tempted to view Elijah’s brusque “What do I have to do with you?” as a rebuke. Yet, Elijah’s question is ambiguous, and Elisha does not in fact follow immediately. Instead he slaughters a yoke of oxen and hosts a communal meal, perhaps as a ritual of transition through which he honors his relationships and says his goodbyes.

Secondly, we note that the account ends with the report that Elisha served Elijah. The Hebrew verb employed here (sharat) also signifies Joshua’s relationship with Moses (for example, Exodus 24:13; 13:11; Numbers 11:28; Joshua 1:1), intimating a mentoring relationship along similar lines. Like Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha guide God’s people through a momentous and transformation, the transition from nomadic existence to settled life in the land in the case of the former and a comprehensive reordering of the religious and political landscape in the latter. In both cases, the mentoring relationship forges the continuity and stability necessary to navigate turbulent transition. As with Joshua, Elisha’s ministry will be shaped by example and instruction. He will be ready when the time comes.

Finally, we note the curious discrepancies in the way that Elijah carries out the command that God gives him at Horeb. He never anoints Hazel or Jehu as Yahweh directs, and he designates Elisha as his successor by throwing his mantle over him rather than by anointing him. Whereas Elijah has been a zealous servant earlier in the story, he now appears to obey selectively and in his own way. We are left to ponder why. Whatever his attitude, there is no word of recrimination. Yahweh seems to accept Elijah’s selective obedience, and subsequent episodes will reveal that Yahweh still values and uses this servant, despite his less than meticulous obedience.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

L. Daniel Hawk

Two prophets journey together to the Jordan: the hard-bitten spiritual warrior who turned Israel from Baal back to Yahweh, and the prophet-in-waiting who will champion Yahweh’s supremacy over Israel and the surrounding nations. Their journey together takes the two to places that evoke deep associations with Israel’s past. They travel first to Gilgal, a shrine that marks two portentous beginnings, the united Israel’s crossing into the land Yahweh promised (Joshua 4:15-24) and the inauguration of the Israelite monarchy (1 Samuel 11:14-15). They then travel to Bethel, a royal sanctuary located near the southern border of the Northern Kingdom and a symbol of fractured Israel (1 Kings 12:26-33). A third stop at Jericho brings together the conflicted threads of Israel’s story to date. Jericho represents national unity, obedience to Yahweh, and Yahweh’s power and faithfulness (Joshua 3:1-6:20): Yet, Jericho also represents the arrogance of Israel’s kings, exemplified by the villainous Ahab, under whose reign the city was rebuilt, despite being cursed by Joshua (Joshua 6:26; see also 1 Kings 16:34). The journey ends at the Jordan River, a boundary region, a crossing place, and the site of transitions.

The symbolic architecture of the account reveals that there is more going on than a report about prophetic succession. The episode, in short, marks a pivotal moment that inaugurates a wide-ranging reordering of Israel’s life and faith. Elijah represents a past defined by Israel’s on-again, off-again loyalty to Yahweh, recently demonstrated by Jezebel’s war against Yahweh and his prophets, and by Ahab’s determination to wield royal power apart from the claims of God. Elisha represents a significantly-reconfigured future that, as yet, has only been glimpsed through Yahweh’s command that Elijah anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor, Jehu as the new king of Israel, and Hazael as the new king of Damascus.

The crossing from past to future occurs when Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind, leaving Elisha alone to step into the future that God is making. The moment is framed by two instances in which each prophet, respectively, strikes the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle, sees the water part, and then crosses the boundary. In the first instance, the narrator notes that Elijah and Elisha together cross “on dry ground” (verse 8). The phrase alludes powerfully to two other instances in which parting and crossing signified a profound transformation in the nation. At the Red Sea, the act of crossing transformed Israel from an enslaved nation under the dominion of Pharaoh to a liberated nation united by covenant to Yahweh. Likewise, the parting of the Jordan, when priests entered bearing the ark of the covenant at the direction of Joshua, changed wilderness Israel from a nomadic people roaming a trackless wilderness to a settled people inhabiting a land given by God.

The narrator tracks the transformation from Israel’s past to its future through the interaction of the two prophets and thus the worlds they represent. Elijah and Elisha together cross the Jordan from the west to the east and into the space associated with Elijah, who hails from Gilead in the Transjordan (1 Kings 17:1). Yet, only Elisha makes the crossing back to the west, his own space (Abel-meholah, in the west, probably near the Jordan valley). Two prophets cross the Jordan. One is taken up. One is left. With Elijah’s departure, the past he represents is closed. Elisha is left, and the future he represents begins when he strikes the water and asks pointedly, “Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?”

Where is God amidst the turbulence of change and transition? The narrator’s skillful rendering of this remarkable story draws contemporary readers into the in-between space of profound change and to ways to find our way through it. 

First, the advent of the new does not necessarily entail the rejection or disappearance of the old, but rather its reconfiguration to meet the challenges of changed circumstances. The episode reinforces the continuity of past and future within the transitional moment. Elijah, the central prophetic voice of a soon-to-be bygone time, journeys to the Jordan with Elisha, who will speak God’s new word in a new time to a new people. Elijah intends to make a clean break by journeying to the Jordan alone. He repeatedly directs his protégé to stay put, but each time, Elisha refuses emphatically. Together at the Jordan, the last miraculous work of Elijah becomes the first miraculous work of Elisha; Elijah strikes the water before being taken up, and Elisha does the same afterward. The mantle itself symbolizes the continuity of God’s work in what has been and what will follow. 

The incorporation of the past into the future, finally, is affirmed in the larger literary context. Elijah has left work undone, namely, the anointing of Hazael and Jehu, which will be Elisha’s to finish. And the fiery imagery associated with Elijah—the fire from heaven on Mount Carmel, the incineration of the king’s men, and his departure in the proverbial blaze of glory—makes a cameo appearance later in Elijah’s story (2 Kings 6:17).

Finally, the episode reminds faithful readers that God is present and active amidst profound change. Indeed, God has already gone ahead of the transitional moment and is making a way through it; Yahweh has spoken directly into the future by directing Elijah to authorize new political regimes (1 Kings 19:15-17). A new prophet has been called, mentored, and stands ready, ensuring that the prophetic voice that challenged Ahab and Jezebel will speak with redoubled power to future kings and future challenges. God’s mighty acts of power at the Jordan reveal that Yahweh is not detached or apprehensive as the old yields to the new. On the contrary, God continues purposely and actively through servants and agents, into a future only dimly glimpsed in the present.


Commentary on Psalm 16

James Howell

People are not sure what to think when they are asked questions like, “Do you want to be close to God?” or “How will you grow in trust and intimacy with God?” The answer sounds too simple to be true: read the Psalms. Over and over. The language, and the mind and spirit behind the language, creates just this closeness, this tender intimacy. 

Psalm 16 can do this work for us, as the Psalm itself is witness to that work having been done in someone, and in the many someones who’ve prayed, sung, chanted and pondered these words for centuries. The words of our final verse are unmatched when it comes to simple eloquence, the single-minded articulation of the benefits of sticking close to God. Pray repeatedly that 

“You show me the path of life 

In your presence there is fullness of joy 

in your right hand are pleasures forevermore,”

 and you begin to experience that joy. You’re on the right path.

From various angles, the Psalm explores this life lived close to the heart of God, asking “What is good? With whom do you hang around? Where is your trust placed? Are you content?” Our society, perversely, describes the “good life” as precisely what the Church has warned us are the “seven deadly sins”: envy, greed, sloth, anger, gluttony, pride, lust. But they are still trouble, leaving you hollow. Our Psalm, like Psalm 73, knows that our only good is God. Oversimplifying things? The great saints have taught us what they learned: gradually shedding other goods until there’s nothing left but God is the fullness of life, the experience of complete joy.

What company do we keep? Verse 3 names the holy, noble ones. We might think of a friend as someone like me, someone I enjoy. In ancient times, Aristotle suggested that a friend is someone who makes you wise. St. Augustine said a friend is someone who helps you to love God. As I try to pray, what impact do the people around me have on my praying, and my life?

Verse 4 warns against adhering to false gods. If we recall that a god is whatever we cling to, whatever we think will deliver and bring the good life, then we begin to notice many gods clamoring for our attention, crowding out the one true God. Fawning after what isn’t God is the “multiplication of sorrows.” We have plenty of sorrow anyhow, without augmenting it by the sneaky griefs we bear when chasing after what promises to alleviate sorrow but cannot. Surely we hear an echo here of Genesis 3: Adam and Eve seize the fruit, and then God explains the struggles and pains that will ensue, not as God retaliating against them for sinning, but as the inevitable outgrowth of what life at odds with God the creator will be like.

These “boundary lines” that have “fallen in pleasant places” aren’t about luck or good real estate investments. It’s all about being content. When Israel entered the promised land, the property was divided up by lot, as they perceived that God was giving the whole nation enough land— and here’s your part. Not wishing for the other guy’s plot of land, but accepting what you have, only then do you realize you do have more than enough. Desire and envy are nothing but fear of insufficiency. But God is always sufficient. Even if you only have a little.

Verse 7 envisions a benefit of proximity to God as having excellent “counsel” or “guidance.” Most Christians err by not having all that much to do with God until they are in a pickle or have to make a tough decision—and then they dial up God for some guidance. But if you’re close to God all the time, you may not get in as many pickles, and the guidance isn’t a one-off bit of advice for what to do in a challenging situation, but a constant moving forward in sync with God. One so close to God isn’t blown about like autumn leaves or a small ship in a storm. “I shall not be moved” is a regular declaration of being on solid footing with God.

In religion courses or seminary, we learn that there’s no eternal life, no individual resurrection in the Old Testament. But is there a glimmer of such hope in this Psalm? Could it be that by letting the remarkable, overreaching words of this Psalm come down to us, we see God affording a peek behind that curtain of death—maybe seeing through the glass not so darkly after all? What the Psalmist experiences is knowing God face to face, up close, personally, intimately. Isn’t this what eternal life really is all about? Not the reward for a good life, or the prize for believing, or the payoff for accepting Christ as savior. Eternal life is this, or nothing: that God loves, that we have a relationship with God that is so very precious, not just to us, but to God, that death isn’t strong enough to sever it? God’s intense, relentless love for you is such that, even if you die, God’s not done; God wants, even needs it to continue.

As mentioned earlier, verse 11 doesn’t need to be exegeted. We just hear the words, immerse ourselves in the thought, letting it take on its own lovely reality in the soul and body. Cross-stitch this and hang it on the mantle. Get a tattoo running down your arm. Memorize, and make it your mantra. You may hear Mick Jagger singing “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and in that moment, you respond, with no smugness but only humble joy, “I can.”

Second Reading

Commentary on Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Carla Works

Through Christ, we have been set free to serve one another in love. Though Paul’s metaphorical use of slavery is jarring, there is truth behind the metaphor. The cross teaches us what love looks like, and the work of God’s Spirit in us is the only way that we are ever going to be free from our own selfishness to exhibit a fraction of that kind of love toward anyone—let alone people whom we do not like.

At this point in Paul’s passion-filled letter he is deep in his argument against his opponents. After Paul has left the region, other teachers have come to the area, preaching the need for the Galatians to follow the law as the first sign of obedience in their newfound faith in Christ.  Most likely, the opponents are promoting food practices and circumcision, since those are the issues mentioned explicitly in this letter (2:11-21; 5:2-12; 6:12-15).  

Apparently, the teachers have claimed that the law is the vehicle of God’s Spirit (3:1-5). The law, according to Paul, however, has another function—to point out transgressions (3:19). If the law could have been created that guaranteed life, then God would have created that law (3:21). To submit to the “yoke of slavery” in 5:1 is to return to a system in which one places trust in obedience to the law. It is also a distortion of thinking about what the law can do.  

For Paul the law is a guide in the darkness, a path toward justice in the “present evil age” (1:4).  The holy, just, and good law (Romans 7:12), though, cannot defeat the power of sin. To trust in the law to do so is misguided. Sin has tarnished all—even God’s good creation. In 5:16-25, it is clear that there is a constant battle between the flesh that has been corrupted by this superpower of sin, and the Spirit that is at work transforming and redeeming. The vice list associated with the flesh is fairly typical of vice lists of the day and, while not intended to be exhaustive, is overwhelming. The flesh is “under the realm of the law” (5:18). The law exists because the flesh has been corrupted by sin.  

The realm of the Spirit, though, is the realm of God’s new creation. It is “the kingdom of God” (5:21), a phrase rarely used in Paul’s letters but common to the Gospels. It is the inbreaking of God’s reign into life in the present. Again, the fruit of the Spirit is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but it is impressive nonetheless—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

Why does Paul mention these tangible markers of the Spirit’s work in this letter? The Galatian believers are eager to take the next faithful steps in their faith journeys. They have welcomed these opposing teachers and their message—a message that Paul has labeled a distortion of the gospel, but that the church did not have enough training to discern as harmful. Adult men wanted to be circumcised to show their faith in Christ. People were willing to adopt new food practices to show their piety. They wanted tangible markers of their new existence in Christ.

Choosing circumcision is a big commitment, and a one-time act. It would publicly link the Galatians to the Jewish people and to their God—to the same God of their beloved leader Paul.  It would be tempting to have a public marker of one’s faith journey. On the other hand—if the Galatians remain true to Paul’s gospel, the Spirit’s work is a process. 

Paul is reminding them that the Spirit is at work transforming them into a new creation—into people who are more loving, gentle, and kind. Their transformation is tangible, and it is holistic—not confined to genitalia or table practices.

We often place the list of 5:22-23 into a spiritual gifts inventory, but that grossly misses the point. Paul uses the word “fruit” in the singular. In other words, the result of the Spirit’s work is all of the above and more. We don’t get to pick and choose and neither do the Galatians.  

So how will the Galatians know that they are indeed a people being transformed—a people of the promise, children of God, clothed in Christ? Because they are a people who bear one another’s burdens, love one another, as Christ has loved them. They are a people whose actions are marked by the shape of the cross rather than their own selfish desires. They are fulfilling the intention of the law—to love their neighbors.

Is there a place for the law then in this new faith in Christ? For Paul, Christ has fulfilled the law by embodying what the love of neighbor looks like. In Galatians 5:14, he writes, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Thankfully, neither the Galatians’ salvation nor our own rests on our ability to fulfill that commandment. We are called, however, to follow in Christ’s footsteps—to love one another.  

Paul will end this letter with a reminder that new creation is everything (6:15). God’s work of renewal through the resurrected Christ is the good news—not the law, and the Spirit is the very vehicle of that renewal. And the great news is that God’s Holy Spirit—that Great Change Agent—is at work among the Galatians even now. They are part of God’s new creation. They do not need to go back and place their trust in the law as an entry ticket to God’s cosmic salvation. They have nothing short of God’s Spirit at work among them, and as evidence of that Spirit, look at all that the Spirit has already managed to accomplish … just look at this fruit! The Great Change Agent is still working and still transforming. 

Two thousand years later, God hasn’t given up on us. There is evidence of the Spirit’s work all around us in these days of Pentecost. Praise be to God.