Lectionary Commentaries for July 10, 2022
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Commentary on Luke 10:25-37
Jeannine K. Brown
Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 offers a hopeful ray of light and promise of joy amidst the dark and foreboding words of chapters 28-30 of Deuteronomy that are replete with curses and doom.
The primary theme of Deuteronomy is covenant, a binding promise made between God and God’s people as the Hebrews end the time of their desert wandering and enter into the land promised to Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants.
While Deuteronomy is primarily composed of legal material, such as the Ten Commandments in chapter 5, the pinnacle of the book is chapters 27-30 which present instructions for the ritual enactment of the covenant. In a gathered assembly of the people in Deuteronomy 27, Moses charges the people to ratify the covenant by building an altar of unworked field stones, offering sacrifices, inscribing large stones with the words of the commandments, and reading aloud a lengthy set of blessings, but mainly curses that would befall those who followed or violated the terms of the covenant oath.
The curses are described in great detail and serve a rhetorical purpose in the book of encouraging the people to follow the commandments so as to preserve the distinctive identity of the people of God when they enter the land of Canaan. This identity is of a people of law and justice.
In Deuteronomy 29:10-29, Moses forewarns that the people will violate the covenant, follow other gods, and suffer terrible consequences: “all the curses in this book will descend on them, and the LORD will blot out their names from under heaven.”
Yet, against this backdrop of curse doom, verses 9-14 offer a hopeful word of encouragement and look forward to a brighter future. Verse 8 encourages listeners that, even though the people will violate the covenant of God, they will again turn to their Lord to observe the commandments.
And in verse 9, the chapter takes a dramatic turn to dazzle the listener with promises of prosperity, abundance, and joy. The Hebrew adds emphasis to the excess of the promised abundance with the very first word: the verb y-t-r. The meaning of this verb is one of excessive abundance, having so much of something that there is extra, leftover, more than enough. The implication of the verb and the verse overall is that this blessing will be excessively rewarding and the prosperity abundant. It is twice repeated that YHWH will rejoice and take delight in this prosperity as YHWH delighted in the abundance of their ancestors.
The general feeling of 30:9 is of joyful exuberance, and blessing beyond what is needed. This is tempered by verse 10, which reminds the listener or reader that this promised blessing is for those who obey the voice of YHWH and keep the commandments. Verse 10 calls the people to continually return to YHWH with their heart and mind, a deliberate reference to the Shema prayer in Deuteronomy 6 that commands the people to love the LORD with all of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Deuteronomy 30:11-14 further emphasizes the conditional nature of the blessing and emphasizes the transparency of expectations of God’s people. Verse 11 states that the law is not mysterious or inscrutable (nifla’ot), and has been revealed to them in the plain sight and hearing of all so that no excuse remains for those that do not follow the law, that it was not plainly delivered to them. This emphasis on the transparency and accessibility of the law is also embedded within the ritual enactment of the covenant: Moses’ instructions include an oral recitation of “all the words of this law (torah)” before a gathered assembly of all the people and the inscription of the law on large stones.
Thus, all of Deuteronomy 27-30 emphasize the available, transparent, and plain nature of the covenant and its laws and statutes. The law is not meant to be mysterious or unattainable, but something practical that the people can do in ordinary life. It is meant to be implemented, it is meant to be lived in each and every moment of the life of the people. As Deuteronomy 7 commands: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”
The commands are not presented as a burden to the people, but as a source of life and prosperity in service to a God who rejoices over them. In Deuteronomy, the law is not a source of grievance or drudgery, but a way of ordinary life that would bring flourishing to the people and the community as a whole when they love God and love their neighbor. Moses repeatedly calls the people of God with heartfelt sincerity to abide and live by the covenant: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” (30:19).
Deuteronomy emphasizes the importance of human agency and the power of free choice that God has given us as humans made in the image of God’s own likeness. Our choices have consequences, for life and for death, and by God’s grace we will choose the abundance and flourishing that come by living according to the word of God. For, “the word is very close to you; it is in your mouth and your heart for you today, so that you might live for the good” (Deuteronomy 30:14).
Alternate First Reading
Commentary on Amos 7:7-17
Amos 7:7-9 describes the third in a series of four visions. After the first and second visions of destruction, Amos intercedes for Israel, asking for forgiveness, and appealing to God’s compassion for their smallness. God relents.
The third and fourth visions begin with less frightening sights than the first two. God shows the prophet an ordinary situation but a word in its description links the vision to God’s words of judgment. Amos reports seeing the Lord standing next to a wall, probably the defensive wall of a city. (Compare judgments on city walls and strongholds in Amos 1:7, 10, 14; 2:2, 5; 3:11; 6:8.) He gives no description of the Lord, other than the anak held “in his hand.”
This Hebrew word, anak, occurs four times in this passage and nowhere else in the Bible. It describes the wall—”an anak kind of wall”—and the object held by the Lord. Most scholars translate the word as “tin,” based on a cognate word in Akkadian with that meaning.
Most translations have interpreted anak as “plumb line.” The Lord measures the straightness of the wall with a plumb line, but when Israel is measured by the same tool, it is crooked, and deserving of punishment. Tin, however, is not heavy enough to work as the weight on a plumb line.
James Nogalski suggests that readers are meant to hear a wordplay on anahah “sigh, groan.”1 That word does not occur in verse 8, but it would make complete sense within God’s word of judgment. Perhaps the first hearers of this report of a vision and audition heard the foreign word, anak, and thought of the more familiar word, anahah.
The prophet doesn’t ask God to forgive Israel and God does not relent. The Lord’s word in these visions is cause for their greatest grief, “I will never again pass over them” (author’s translation), that is, “I will never again spare them” or “pardon them.”
Bethel and politics
Yahweh’s specific judgment on the sanctuaries of Israel and the royal house of Jeroboam (Amos 7:8) introduces the account of how Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, responded to Amos’ prophesying. Amaziah reports to the king and forbids Amos to speak.
Bethel’s significance to the people of Israel begins with their ancestors. Abram builds an altar near Bethel before he travels to Egypt, and eventually returns there (Genesis 12:8; 13:3-4). On his way into exile in the east Jacob has an encounter with Yahweh at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22). He makes a vow and sets up a pillar in response to God’s promise of blessing. The priest of Bethel summarizes God’s word of judgment through Amos as death for the king and exile for the nation of Israel, the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:11).
Following Solomon’s death, Jeroboam I established his sovereignty over the ten northern tribes of Israel (922 BCE). First Kings 12:25-33 tells of the measures that he took to secure his throne by erecting places of worship at Dan in the north and Bethel in the south, appointing a priesthood, and establishing a new festival for the worship of “your gods, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28).
Bethel’s exact location is disputed, but it was certainly near the southern boundary of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, approximately ten miles north of Jerusalem. A temple from this period has been excavated at Dan.
Amaziah calls Bethel “the king’s sanctuary, and … a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:13). In this political theology, the monarch supports the worship of the national deity and that god preserves the ruler’s power. These ideas have existed among Israel’s ancient neighbors and in countless nations since then. Yahweh’s relationship with David’s dynasty, promised in 2 Samuel 7:4-17, follows similar lines of thought.
Contemporary people recognize the many dangers of a nationalized religion. The kingdom of God preached by Jesus goes back to the expanded understanding of Yahweh’s sovereignty that had emerged from the ashes of the two Israelite kingdoms. God’s people can live faithful lives without government support and protection. They must be free to recognize fault in leaders, congresses, and military commanders.
Amaziah treats Amos’ prophesying in Israel, the northern kingdom, as political agitation by a representative of the southern kingdom, conspiring against Jeroboam the king. Earlier Israelite dynasties had been overthrown by the words of prophets, so his concern is understandable (for example, 2 Kings 9.) He orders Amos to cease prophesying at the royal sanctuary.
Amos’ answer to Amaziah is confusing. He denies being a prophet (7:14), but he claims that God sent him to prophesy (7:15). This apparent contradiction makes sense if Amos is using “prophet” in the way that Amaziah understands the title. Amos says that he does not earn his living as a royal official (a prophet or a son of a prophet), but in agriculture, as a herdsman and sycamore dresser.
Amos prophesies in and to Israel in obedience to God’s command. The order of the book implies that he continued to obey God rather than Amaziah, since further indictments and judgments follow in chapters eight and nine. This episode highlights Amos’ vulnerability, courage, and faith.
This portrayal of Amaziah the priest gives a face to the Israelites who refused to repent and amend their lives in response to God’s word. His family will suffer all the horrors of the Assyrian conquest (Amos 7:17). Bethel itself will not escape destruction (Amos 3:14).
Amaziah epitomizes a limited, parochial, nationalistic understanding of the function of the king’s sanctuary at Bethel as the temple of the kingdom and a narrow understanding of the character of God. The oracles against neighboring nations—including Judah—in chapters one and two and the hymn fragments scattered through the book (Amos 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6) point to a much broader view of the Creator’s sovereignty, justice, and compassion.
- James Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve, Hosea – Jonah. Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2011. Pages 339—340.
Commentary on Psalm 25:1-10
The first seven verses of Psalm 25 are, at the broadest level, a prayer for help. The psalmist calls upon God for relief from some sort of trouble involving unspecified “enemies” (2). As such, the prayer is far from unique—this is one of the more common types of text found in the Psalter. The challenge for the preacher is to identify and highlight some of the distinctive features of this particular cry for help and consider how they might inform and enrich the lives of the congregation, especially when the members find themselves in a position to call for God’s aid.
The psalmist asks that God might “not let me be put to shame” (2), that the “enemies might not exult over me” (2), and that the enemies might “be ashamed” (3). With no specific information about the identity or agenda of these enemies, there is little more to be said about the particulars of the psalmist’s situation. As the prayer continues, additional requests—or perhaps clarifications of the original request—are added. God is asked to instruct (4-5), to be merciful and forgive (6-7), and to remember (7). There are a number of potentially fruitful points of connection available here, and the preacher may choose to emphasize any of the elements of the prayer that seem congruent with the situation of the congregation. One such approach to the text could proceed along the following lines:
The psalmist’s prayer, like all the prayers of God’s people, is relational. When we pray for help, we are not merely summoning God to perform a service. Instead, we are placing our trust and hope in the relationship that exists between the Lord and us as his people.
As in all relationships, the relationship on which prayer is founded includes a role for both parties. In the case of the psalmist’s prayer for help, the role of God as the one who is to provide the help is obviously primary, but the role of the psalmist is also clearly defined: twice the psalmist claims to be one who waits for the Lord.
This waiting is not, and cannot be, simply a passive state of doing nothing until God takes care of everything. Instead, it might be compared to the state of an athlete, waiting to catch a ball. Such an athlete doesn’t just sit on the turf with closed eyes until the ball arrives. Instead, the player is attentively watching the ball and the deployment of the other players on the field and constantly adjusting position and stance, drawing on years of training and experience, all so that at the very instant that the awaited ball arrives, the athlete will be ready to explode into motion, making the very best possible use of the awaited opportunity.
Waiting for the Lord to manifest his power ought certainly to command as much careful preparation and attention, as much ordering of potential reactions, as fielding a ball. When the psalmist speaks of waiting on the Lord, it is a matter of preparing and being ready to act when the time of God’s deliverance comes, and the element of preparation, according to the Psalm, involves learning of the Lord’s ways and truth, under the instruction that God gives. For the church, this is a clear invitation to the study of Scripture as a necessary adjunct to the life of prayer.
Waiting, in this context, is also different from merely hoping. There’s a big difference between saying “I’m waiting for my ride to pick me up” and saying “I hope my ride picks me up.” It is the difference between confidence and anxiety. The difference between waiting for the Lord to answer prayer and merely hoping that the Lord will answer is of the same nature. It assumes confidence that God’s intervention on behalf of his people, while not entirely predictable in its timing, is inevitable. The classic cry of the Psalmist is not “Are you there at all, Lord?” but “How long, O Lord?”
We are of course also very interested in knowing what sort of divine help the psalmist is asking (and waiting) for. As noted above, the language of the prayer notes several aspects of the desired divine action, each of which offers an avenue for interpretation and connection. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the call for God to “remember” in verse 7. This divine remembering is not a matter of the Lord suddenly recalling that the psalmist exists, as if the fact has been forgotten. God’s remembering is more a calling to mind, a directing of the divine attention. The prayer of Psalm 25 asks God to call to mind not the psalmist’s imperfections and transgressions, but rather the psalmist as known only to God, the psalmist as claimed and loved in the primal moment of election as one of God’s people—one whose underlying relationship with God is sacred and unbreakable. Connections here to the thief on the cross pleading with Jesus to remember (Luke 23:42), or Noah adrift on the waters of the Flood until God remembers (Genesis 8:1) may be fruitful. According to the psalm, God’s remembering is sufficiently powerful and effective to include forgiveness, rescue, and victory over the schemes of the enemy. Such remembering is well worth the wait.
Verses 8-10, if included by the preacher in the text for the service, represent a sort of coda or afterward to the prayer, asserting that God is indeed the sort of God who does the things the psalmist asks for. The prayer, however, stands on its own as a viable lesson in any congregational context.
Commentary on Colossians 1:1-14
Scholars continue to debate whether the closely related letters of Colossians and Ephesians were written by Paul himself or by later Christian teachers who had been influenced by him. But all agree that these letters express a boldly distinctive theological vision, as though playing a familiar song, now in a new key.
“Paul’s letter to the Colossians is fundamentally about shaping the imagination of the Christian community,” write Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat.1 To this end, Colossians paints for its readers a vision of the cosmos breathtaking in scope, with Christ as firstborn of all creation (1:15), and Christ’s faithful saints in Colossae dwelling with him in the heavenly realm (3:1-4). The letter’s moral vision is a summons for this small group of believers to inhabit their newly exalted status as God’s holy, chosen, and beloved ones (3:12). In short, in Colossians living the gospel means knowing who—and where—you are.
Like many of Paul’s letters, Colossians begins with thanksgiving. Although generally broken up in translation, Colossians 1:3-8 is in fact a single, complex sentence expressing Paul’s prayerful gratitude for the Colossian believers and recalling their early experience of the gospel. Three key features stand out:
- “Now faith, hope, and love abide,” Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 13:13, his famous hymn to love. This same trio of virtues appears in Colossians 1:4-5, now with hope in the leading role. The addressees’ faith in Christ and love for the “saints”—a term that here designates all those made holy by Christ—are nourished by the newfound hope they have found in the gospel.
- The word “hope” has in this context a twofold sense. It refers to the addressees’ expectant posture toward the future, but also to good things that await them there, set aside for them “in the heavens” (1:5). Modern readers might be tempted to see here a reference to the afterlife, as though the Colossian believers hoped to be rewarded with good things in heaven after death. But that is not what this writer has in mind. In this letter’s vision, believers are already in the heavens, their lives “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3); for indeed they have, in an important sense, already died and been raised with Christ (3:1-3; see also 2:11-14). To be sure, believers continue to hope for the full unveiling of their glorious inheritance when Christ himself is revealed in glory (3:4). But this does not mean hoping that things will be different. It means hoping for more of a heavenly reality that in Christ they have already tasted.
- In recollecting the history of the Colossian Christ group, this letter writes them into the epoch-making story of a cosmos transformed by God’s good news in Christ (1:5-6). This would not be the only way to tell their story. To most of their neighbors in Colossae, the little cluster of Christ followers gathered by Epaphras (1:7) would probably have looked rather pathetic: no temple, no priests, not even a proper meeting place—just a rag-tag group of misfits caught up in a Jewish superstition they had learned second-hand. But here they are invited to imagine their place in the world quite differently, as the local vanguard of a movement cosmic in its scope. It is not just that the gospel is bearing fruit in the “whole world” (1:6), as the NRSV translation suggests. No, it is the whole universe, God’s entire created order (kosmos), that is being remade in the gospel of Christ (see also 1:16). And the Colossian believers are in on it.
After recollecting their past, the writer turns now to expressing his prayer for their future. Another sprawling single sentence, Colossians 1:9-14 begins with a reference to full, spiritual knowledge and ends on a note of thanksgiving.
We have all felt the difference between knowing something and really knowing something. It’s one thing to be able to parrot the facts—to say, for example, that the climate is changing. But it’s something else entirely to have felt the truth of it, to have watched with our own eyes as the forest burned or the floodwaters rose. It’s something else entirely to comprehend the truth as an aspect of our own lives.
Perhaps we can then appreciate what the writer is getting at in Colossians 1:9-10 with its series of apparently redundant references to “knowledge,” “wisdom,” and “understanding.” It’s one thing to know theoretically that we have been transferred from the power of darkness to Christ’s kingdom of light (1:12-13). But it’s another thing to feel it, to truly comprehend it.
And it is only this deeper comprehension—what Colossians calls “spiritual wisdom and understanding”—that bears fruit in a transformed life (1:9-10). The writer’s prayer, then, is that the Colossian believers will see beyond appearances to the full, Christ-shaped truth of things. And then, with the truth of reality unveiled, and confident of their own place in it, the believers will be remade in this image, which is also the image of Christ.
As we see in Colossians 1:11-12, this means living in joyful thanksgiving. This is the second reference to thanksgiving in our passage, and each has come in connection with prayer (see also 1:3). But by now this should be no surprise. For if prayer and thanksgiving converge in this passage, that is because the writer’s prayer is that believers will live into a reality with which they have already been gifted.
This, then, is the writer’s invitation: that with imaginations transformed by the “word of truth” (1:5), believers may now fully inhabit their calling as Christ’s holy and faithful ones (1:2).
- Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 84.
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well-known stories of Jesus. Many countries even have Good Samaritan laws, so-named to provide legal protections for those who act as “good Samaritans” to help others. The good Samaritan has become a paragon for going beyond typical expectations to care for others. So, we might think we know all there is to know about this parable that Jesus tells. Yet by taking another look, I hope that we can see not only a powerful example for Christians to follow but a renewed glimpse of the wide scope of God’s restoration of God’s people.
When Jesus is tested by a Torah expert about actions consistent with inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:25), Jesus responds by returning the question, asking “What is written in the Law?” and inquiring about this expert’s interpretation of the Torah on this specific point (10:26). When the man answers using the central Scriptural commands to love God and love neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18, respectively), Jesus affirms that his interpretation is correct and confirms that living in line with these covenantal expectations will result in life (10:28).
Here’s where Luke’s story takes an interesting turn. The Torah expert desires to “justify himself” and so asks the now-infamous question, “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29). Luke’s characterization suggests that this Torah scholar is hoping to limit the category of “neighbor” in some way. Doing so would certainly make adherence to the command easier, since the smaller the circle of one’s “neighbors,” presumably the easier it is to act in love toward them.
Jesus’ answer to this question comes in a parable about a Samaritan who rescues a Jewish man who had been attacked, robbed, and left for dead (10:30). The contrast to this Samaritan is provided by a priest and Levite, who both see the desperate man but “passed by on the other side” (10:31-32). At this point, Luke’s audience, as well as Jesus’ listeners, would have begun to feel the surprise of the story. The priest and Levite are the anticipated “good guys” of the story, while a Samaritan (10:33) would hardly be expected to stop and help a Jewish person in trouble given past conflicts between their peoples (see also John 4:9).
Jesus details the Samaritan’s acts of compassion (splagchnizomai; 10:33) for the man in trouble: attending to his wounds, bringing him to an inn, and paying for his care (10:34-35). These tangible actions are the authentic signs of what neighbors do. Jesus’ final question turns on its head his interrogator’s earlier question, “who is my neighbor?” (10:29). Jesus instead asks which of the three characters in the story fulfilled the role of “neighbor” (10:36). By being so concerned about who qualified as his neighbor, this Torah expert neglected to consider whether he himself was acting like a “neighbor.” We hear this discipleship value in Jesus’ final words, “Go and do likewise” (in other words, show mercy; 10:37). Those who follow Jesus are to take on the role of neighbor to others, especially those in need and in desperate circumstances. This is certainly a Lukan theme, as he highlights the importance of compassionate care for the marginalized (for example, 1:53; 4:17-21; 14:7-11). And this ethical expectation fits with Jesus’ own ministry of compassion in the third Gospel (for example, 1:72; 7:13; 18:35-42).
Yet Luke does not narrate this episode (unique to the third Gospel) for ethical purposes alone. Luke’s interest in Samaritans is well known and is characteristic in his travel narrative (9:51-19:27; see specifically 9:51-56; 10:25-37; and 17:11-19) as well as in his second volume, Acts (1:8; 8:1, 3-8, 9-25; 9:31; 15:3-4). Although it may come as a surprise to modern readers, Luke does not identify Samaritans as a distinctly separate ethnic category. Instead, they are a part of wider Israel—conceived broadly and as envisioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. So, Samaritans in Luke-Acts are distinct from Gentiles (in other words, they are not Gentiles by category). We see this in Acts 1:8, where Judea and Samaria are joined closely together in the scope of the church’s mission and are separate from “to the ends of the earth” (in other words, Gentiles; see also 9:31). Samaritans do, however, represent the contested boundaries of the people of Israel, especially given tensions between Jews and Samaritans in the first-century world (Chalmers). Yet they are an integral part of the people of God, and their inclusion in Luke’s story of Jesus indicates that God’s restoration of Israel has begun in earnest.
Jesus’ parable portrays a Samaritan as an exemplary neighbor to another member of Israel and intimates that Samaritans are a part of wider Israel. The parable demonstrates that God is enacting, in Jesus the Messiah, the restoration of the fullness of Israel, as a prelude to the offering of salvation to all nations (Acts 1:8). A surprising twist of the parable is that “the Samaritan who enacted mercy is not only an Israelite but functions in the parable as an ideal Israelite” (Brown and Yamazaki-Ransom, p. 245).
Preaching and teaching this captivating parable offers an opportunity to highlight God’s restoration of Israel—a project that includes both Jew and Samaritan and that will, after Jesus’ resurrection, reach to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The parable also offers an insistent call to the people of God to emulate this compassionate Samaritan as a way of living out their identity as God’s people in the world.