Lectionary Commentaries for July 31, 2022
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 12:13-21

Niveen Sarras

Fighting over inheritance is a common problem in all societies and cultures. It stresses people out and divides families. In this pericope of Luke, a man comes to Jesus asking him to intervene with his brother to give him his inheritance. Jesus refuses to take the role of the divider; he begins to talk about greed and supports his teaching with the parable of the rich fool. What is wrong with the man’s request? Why does Jesus talk about greed? Is it wrong to ask for your inheritance? How does the parable apply to the man’s request?

It was common in first-century Palestine for Jews to ask rabbis for a legal ruling.1 The man thought of Jesus as a respected rabbi who influenced people, and could convince his brother to give him his inheritance. By calling Jesus a teacher, he acknowledges his “authority to render a decision in his case. 2

The man seems to be the younger brother because, according to the Law of Deuteronomy 21:16-17, the firstborn son receives a double portion of his father’s main estate. The eldest brother is also responsible for keeping the estate intact or dividing it among his brothers. Therefore, younger brothers initiate when asking for their inheritance. Take, for example, the prodigal son/father parable in Luke 15:11-16, where the younger son asked for his inheritance, and his father gave him one-third of his estate (the oldest son received a double portion). The eldest brother wants to keep the land intact, while the younger wants his share. To achieve a settlement, the younger brother asks Jesus to play the role of “an arbitrator, expert, reconciler, in order to settle the dispute.”3 Jesus refused. Why? 

Jesus refuses to act as arbitrator or divider of inheritance because he knows the younger man’s inner thoughts and evil intentions. Jesus exposes the younger man’s desire to covet his brother, “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’” (verse 15). Jesus indicates that the young man’s claim on inheritance is not just, otherwise, the laws of inheritance (Numbers 27:5-11, 36:5-9; Deuteronomy 21:16-17) would have taken care of the request.4 As a wealthy farmer and landholder, this younger brother wants to obtain more wealth and a more advanced status within his community at the expense of his older brother.

Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool to teach against greed. He emphasizes that secured life does not depend on possessions, but on entrusting one’s life to God. The scenario that Jesus depicts is a vast wealthy landholder who had an abundant harvest and decided to tear down his current storage facilities to make room for larger ones. This rich man is a shrewd businessman, but his shrewdness is very evil. By building colossal storage, the rich fool decides to hoard his harvest and not contribute to the market with his surplus. His intentions affect the food supply and create a sacristy of grain, ultimately driving the price up. This farmer is only interested in his well-being, ignoring the needs of the poor peasants around him who will be affected by his decision.5 Jesus describes a self-centered farmer who makes an unethical profit and harms the economy. By hoarding his grain, the rich fool “secures his economic power and position of status in the village as others are made more and more dependent on him.”6 The rich fool wants to control the market at the expense of his neighbors.

The wealthy farmer is a fool because he assumes that his security depends on his possessions and wealth, not God, the source of all gifts and security. God summons his soul when the rich farmer invites his soul to be merry and enjoy wealth. In a single moment, all his hopes vanished. God asks him a rhetorical question, “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (verse 20). God’s question means that he cannot take his hoarded grain to the grave, nor does he know whose they will be. His children or his poor peasants, whom he withheld his grain, may take them. 

Jesus tells his audience, So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (verse 21). Jesus means that the rich fool lost his soul to gain earthly possessions that will not benefit him in the afterlife. The wise person is the one who is “rich toward God,” which means generous towards others in need.7 Jesus further instructs his disciples about greed, trusting God to provide for their needs, and not to worry about life (verses 22-35). 

Greed is the moral antithesis of generosity. It makes us worry about the future instead of trusting God, who holds the future. Greed destroys us, but generosity blesses us. This pericope invites us to reflect on what we do with our possessions. Do our possessions give us security for the future? All our possessions are God’s gift to us, and as Christian stewards, God calls us to share the gifts with those in need. 

This pericope also invites our political leaders to be faithful stewards in managing our national wealth and serving the underprivileged, not themselves or their allies. The rise of gas prices and inflation result from greed and unfaithful stewardship. Companies are jacking up prices by more than is necessary to gain unethical profit. These companies and political leaders act as the rich fool who is concerned with his earthly life, not his poor neighbors or his afterlife. This pericope reminds me of Proverbs 11:24-25…

“Some give freely yet grow all the richer;

    others withhold what is due and only suffer want.

A generous person will be enriched,

    and one who gives water will get water.”


  1. Henry Mugabe, “Parable of the Rich Fool: Luke 12:13-21,” SAGE 111, no. 1 (2014): 69.
  2. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (W B Eerdmans Pub Co, 1997), 488.
  3. Bovon François, Helmut Koester, and Donald S. Deer, Luke 2 a Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 9:51–19:27 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 195.
  4. Mugabe, “Parable of the Rich Fool,” 69
  5. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 490.
  6. Ibid, 491.
  7. Mugabe, “Parable of the Rich Fool,” 72.

First Reading

Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

J. Blake Couey

“What is this doing in the Bible?” my students frequently ask after first encountering Ecclesiastes. It is a probing book that despairs of finding persistent meaning in a world overseen by an inscrutable God.

Today’s lectionary reading consists of three selections from Ecclesiastes 1-2. They make two claims about the nature of human life: everything is ephemeral, and work cannot provide meaning. In our current cultural moment of cynicism and despair, these claims will resonate with many readers. (This would come as no surprise to the author, who said, after all, “There is nothing new under the sun” in Ecclesiastes 1:9). Whether one finally embraces Ecclesiastes or dismisses it in favor of other biblical perspectives, its compelling description of our contemporary malaise is worth taking seriously.

Ephemerality of ephemeralities

Ecclesiastes is the collected wisdom of an ancient sage called the “Teacher.” His first words in 1:2 are perhaps the best known from the book: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” 

Most readers understand the verse to describe life as meaningless, but the point isn’t that everything is inherently absurd in a nihilistic sense. Rather, the Hebrew word translated “vanity” is hebel, which means vapor or breath. (It’s the basis for the name “Abel” in Genesis 4, perhaps foreshadowing his brief existence in that story.) The Teacher is saying that everything is transient and impermanent. “Ephemerality of ephemeralities,” one might translate it, or “perfectly pointless” (Common English Bible). Nothing that one does will last. It’ll just be done again—if not by us, then by a future generation, as verses 3–11 make clear. 

It’s hardly an encouraging opening for the book! And, unfortunately, the Teacher’s reflections turn even more pessimistic before offering any hope.

The great resignation

From 1:12–2:17, the Teacher recounts his life’s pursuits: wisdom, pleasure, wealth, monuments. All of these turned out to be “vanity and a chasing after the wind,” a delightful phrase describing a pointless endeavor. Nothing one does will be remembered, and everyone dies in the end. When the lectionary picks up again at 2:18, the Teacher deems work itself to be futile. Everything one acquires will ultimately be left to someone else who didn’t earn it. Anyone who suffers from anxiety will appreciate the Teacher’s description of the emotional toll of excessive work: “All their [mortals’] days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest” (2:23).

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, workers quit their jobs in record numbers. Although many reasons lie behind this “great resignation,” for many people it resulted from realizing their jobs did not bring fulfillment, even as they worked longer hours under increasing pressure. In such circumstances, quitting a job is an act of protest and radical self-care. I think the Teacher would approve. There’s no virtue in stressful, exploitative work for its own sake.

Unfortunately, the lectionary reading ends just before the Teacher offers his first words of hope: “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24–25). He revisits this theme throughout the book. In 9:7–10, he lists a variety of small pleasures that offer some fulfillment: eating bread, drinking wine, wearing nice clothes, having sex with one’s partner. The goal of work should not be wealth, power, or prestige. These are all hebel. Rather, fulfilling work supports a simple life of measured pleasure—something that anyone should be able to aspire to. It’s a modest but meaningful take on the popular slogan YOLO (“you only live once”).

The teacher’s reflections invite us to rethink our priorities. Are we working ourselves to the point of exhaustion and thereby robbing ourselves of the possibility of true pleasure? Do we demand excessive, thankless labor from those who work for us? Do our consumer habits support exploitative work conditions? Or do we allow ourselves and others to balance work with the pleasures allowed us in our fleeting lives?

Leaving a world for our children

The Teacher cautions against worrying about the future. We have precious little power over our own lives, and practically no ability to shape what comes after our deaths. Such acceptance of one’s mortal limitations is healthy and appropriate. It rightly acknowledges God’s control over the world.

Still, the Teacher’s pessimism can be taken too far. His disregard for future generations is especially troubling. We don’t know if those who come after us will be foolish or wise, he argues, so why spend one’s life working only to leave it all to them (2:18–19, 21)?

More than ever, we have good reason to think about the kind of world we’re leaving for our children. In recent years, extreme climate events have become alarmingly frequent. Last week saw record-setting heat waves across the United States and Europe. Experts warn that we’re quickly running out of time to mitigate the worst outcomes of climate change. 

The Teacher believed in an unchanging world, which was one of the sources of his pessimism: “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. All things are wearisome, more than one can express” (1:7–8). Yet with rapidly rising sea levels—Greenland lost 18 billion tons of its ice sheet in just three days last week—the sea is now in danger of becoming too full! The world is changing in ways that threaten the well-being of all of creation, human and non-human alike.

Averting further disaster will require significant changes in our consumption habits, at the individual and especially the corporate levels. Such changes are consistent with the Teacher’s admonitions to work less and embrace a life of simple pleasures. The stakes are even higher now than when he first penned his advice millennia ago.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 11:1-11

Pamela Scalise

God’s identity as “Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2) provides the foundation for understanding Hosea 11:1-11. Egypt represents the past of oppression and bondage, the threat of annihilation, and the alienation of Jacob’s descendants from the land and life promised to their forebears. God delivered them from Egypt to become “My people” and to claim their exclusive worship and service (Exodus 20:2). 

Desiring to return to Egypt, wishing they had never left, or seeking help from Egypt constitute rejection of God’s salvation, repudiation of their covenant relationship, and refusal to trust God for their survival. Exodus and Numbers tell of several occasions when the Israelites wanted to return to Egypt rather than continue to follow Yahweh (for example, Numbers 14:1-4). When Mesopotamian powers attacked the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Egypt appeared to be a surer source of help, but the prophets warned kings to rely on God rather than on alliances with Egypt (for example, Isaiah 31:1; Deuteronomy 17:16). 

During Hosea’s ministry in the eighth century B.C.E., the threat of captivity came from Assyria. King Hoshea of Israel attempted to stave off the Assyrian advance by paying vassal tribute to Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17:3). Hosea 5:13 describes the futility of this ploy (Hosea 7:11). Israel “returned to Egypt” by turning to foreign alliances, and their punishment was a “return to Egypt” when Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and took much of its population into exile. They had refused to return to the Lord, who had brought them out of Egypt (Hosea 11:5-7).

The Exodus is also the foundation for hope. God will call them out of the “Egypt” of exile. They will not be carried on eagles’ wings this time (Exodus 19:4) but fluttering and trembling like shy doves or small sparrows. The land of Israel is on the flight path for millions of migratory birds. The avian image also suggests great numbers of people. A dove proved to Noah the end of the great flood in Genesis 8:8-14. Although Israel had “returned (shwb) to Egypt” God will cause them to return (shwb) to their homes in the land. 

Bringing young Jesus out of Egypt signaled that God was working salvation again (Matthew 2:15).

Out of love

The metaphor of Israel as God’s precious son first appears in the Bible in the context of the Exodus (Exodus 4:22-23). Allusions to God as father or mother are rare in the Old Testament, and the child or children represent the people. Individuals do not address God as “my Father” or “my Mother.”  Jesus spoke of God as “my Father,” but taught his disciples to pray “our Father” (Matthew 6:9).

In Hosea 11:1-11 God speaks in the first person singular, except for verse ten. First person forms in Hebrew are “common gender,” neither masculine nor feminine. Interpreters disagree about whether to characterize the actions of God toward the son in Hosea 11:3-4 as motherly or fatherly. The precise meaning of the Hebrew text in these verses and others in the passage remains uncertain; every translation relies on some textual emendations.1

God initiated the relationship with young Israel by loving and choosing them. Immature, vulnerable, small, and weak, God called them out to raise and care for them. (Compare Ezekiel 16:6-7; 23:2-3.) God recalls teaching Ephraim (Israel) to walk, giving them a hug, healing their ills, binding and leading them for their own good, and feeding them (Hosea 11:3-4). 

God also recalls how Israel resisted God’s loving care (Hosea 11:2b, 3c, 7). God kept calling, but Israel did not stop “sacrificing to the Baals and offering incense to idols” (11:2b). They violated the first commands of the Decalogue in Exodus 20:3-6. Further, they did not acknowledge that Yahweh had healed them (11:3c). These acts of rebellion epitomize the indictments against Israel in this book. 

Their persistence in turning away (shwb) from the Lord will have consequences (11:5-7), as detailed throughout the book of Hosea: conquest and exile by the power of Assyria. They deserve to suffer under the curses for covenant breaking (Hosea 8:1). Hosea 11:8 refers to scorched earth annihilation like that of Admah and Zeboiim. Deuteronomy 29:23 also cites the destruction of these cities along with Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of God’s wrath. But when Yahweh contemplates this judgment on the son, Israel, compassion swells to prevent Ephraim’s destruction (11:8). God has a change of heart, literally, “my heart turns over upon me.” In Hebrew the heart is the organ of one’s mind and will. God will not carry out the verdict. 

Lest we think that God’s mercy and kindness have won out over the demands of God’s holiness, Hosea 11:9 makes a bold and nearly incomprehensible assertion—because Yahweh is God, not a human man, and is the Holy One in their midst, Yahweh will not destroy Ephraim. God is no less Holy when God chooses not to act in wrath against the unfaithful people. Yahweh’s leonine roar that signals judgment in Amos 3:8 and Hosea 5:14 is the voice calling the exiles of Israel home (Hosea 11:10).

Out of gratitude

God desires to be known and acknowledged, heard and obeyed. The Old Testament includes numerous spiritual and societal practices that would enable Israel to remember and commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. The story of the Exodus is told repeatedly in poetry and in prose, using imagery designed to capture imaginations and stir up hearts. The intimate portrayal of God’s love and anguish in this passage is unforgettable.

Know God as holy and tender. Acknowledge God’s gifts of undeserved salvation, constant sustenance, and open arms of invitation. Hear God’s will and walk faithfully where God leads. 


  1.  For a thorough discussion of the textual and translations issues, consult Hans Walter Wolff. Hosea, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Hermeneia. Trans. Paul Hanson and Gary Stansell. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1974. Pp. 190-204. The discussion above follows the NRSV.


Commentary on Psalm 49:1-12

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

As Brueggemann and Bellinger say about Psalm 49, “The psalm is particularly important and surely pertinent in a contemporary society that is ‘rich in things and poor in soul.’1 As they suggest, Psalm 49 has something to teach us. We shall return to the lesson(s) to be learned, but note at the outset that Psalm 49 intends to teach. Verses 1-4 are full of the vocabulary of Israel’s wisdom tradition: “wisdom,” “understanding,” “proverb,” “riddle” (see Proverbs 1:2-7). It is clear why Psalm 49 is categorized as a wisdom psalm. Whether it was a part of Israelite/Judean worship is unclear, although the mention of “the music of the harp” makes this a possibility (see Psalms 33:2; 150:3). What are the lessons to be learned?

We are mortal

The most obvious lesson is that everyonewise or foolish, rich or poorwill die. Verses 5-12 make this point, and it is reinforced in verses 13-20, which are not included in the lection. Verse 12 summarizes the lesson: “Mortals . . . are like the animals that perish.” In fact, we can infer that this line may reveal the riddle (verse 4) underlying the psalm: How are humans and animals alike?

This lesson is not unique to Psalm 49. Ecclesiastes, another product of the wisdom tradition, makes the same point (see Ecclesiastes 2:14-23; 3:18-22), as does Psalm 90 (see especially verses 3-6, 9-10). The reality of mortality is sobering, but it is not necessarily an occasion for despair. In Psalm 90, the reality of mortality draws the psalmist more fully into life: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” or better translated, “So teach us to make each day count . . .” The same can be said of Ecclesiastes, who, in the final analysis, invites his student to live fully and faithfully within their allotted time (see 2:24-26; 3:22; 5:18-20; 12:13-14). As for the psalmist of Psalm 49, who is the impoverished victim of wealthy oppressors (verses 5-6), they may derive some comfort from the fact that their wealthy opponents will die and cannot take their riches with them (see verse 17). But this could be cold comfort, for the psalmist will die too!

So, what is the advantage of the faithful? It seems to be that they accept their mortality and entrust life and future to God (verse 15), whereas the wealthy opponents seek to deny their mortality and to compensate by acquiring more riches, even at the expense of the psalmist and others in the psalmist’s position. From this perspective, the issue becomes one of trust (see verse 6).

Trusting God or trusting self and wealth

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that “No one can serve two masters; . . . You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). This verse clarifies the issue in Psalm 49. The psalmist’s opponents serve wealth; they “trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches” (verse 6). In short, they trust themselves, and they fail to trust God. So they have no qualms about getting ahead by persecuting the psalmist (verse 5), possibly even blaming the impoverished psalmist for being poor while congratulating themselves that God has blessed theman ancient form of the Prosperity Gospel, perhaps?

What sets the psalmist apart is that they trust God. That the psalmist trusts God, rather than self or wealth, is evident in verse 15, even though it is not clear exactly what is meant by the affirmation that God “will receive me” (see Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 73:24). In any case, this trust in God enables the psalmist not to fear (or envy perhaps) the wealthy (verse 5; see also verse 16). 

The final verse of the psalm also suggests the difference between the psalmist and the wealthy opponents. The Hebrew of verse 19 differs slightly from that of verse 12. The NRSV translates the two verses identically, but the NIV captures the difference: “A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish [emphasis added].” All will die, but the significance of death will differ. Those who trust themselves and their wealth die without understanding, like the beasts. The implication is that the psalmist and all the faithful die with understanding, unlike the beasts in the final analysisthat is, they die trusting God and entrusting life and future to God (verse 15). The implication too is that this manner of dying will affect one’s livingthat is, one will live wisely and faithfully, knowing that life consists of serving neither wealth nor self, and thus refusing to exploit and oppress others for one’s own benefit.

Back to contemporary society

James L. Mays suggests that Jesus had Psalm 49 in mind when he taught about truly saving one’s life: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mark 8:36-37).2 Jesus could also have had Psalm 49 in mind when he said, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23), and when he told the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). I suspect that most readers of this essay live in and benefit from perhaps the wealthiest society in the history of humankind, and wealth easily distracts us. It’s easy for greed to become routine, even virtuous. It’s easy to idolize wealth and the wealthy, and to conclude that life does indeed consist in the abundance of our possessions (see Luke 12:15). It’s easy to overlook the way that our wealth is attained at other people’s expense. It’s easy to trust ourselves and our wealth instead of trusting God. We need to hear the lessons of Psalm 49 that Jesus incorporated into the proclamation of the good news of God’s realm.


  1. Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 229.
  2. James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 191.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 3:1-11

Ryan Schellenberg

Colossians 3 begins with a glimpse into God’s heavenly throne room, where, after his rout of rebellious powers on the cross, Christ is now seated in triumph at God’s right hand (3:1). 

This was a common motif in early Christian texts. It reflected the widespread conviction among early Christians that Christ had fulfilled the opening words of Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’” (see also Mark 12:36; Acts 2:33; Hebrews 1:3; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). But to this traditional image the writer of Colossians has made a startling addition. Peering into God’s throne room, the Colossian believers now see themselves there too, their lives hidden away in Christ.

When Colossians urges believers to set their minds on things above (3:2), this is the scene it invites them to ponder: Christ ruling in triumph, and believers hidden away in him, secure in the heavens. To fix their mind on things above is to let these unseen truths shape their visible reality.

Living hidden truths

One basic assumption of early Christian apocalyptic and revelatory literature is that the truth of things cannot easily be seen. Appearances deceive, and human perception cannot on its own pierce through to the reality that underlies them. Hence evil masquerades as good, slavery disguises itself as freedom, and to the human eye God’s victory looks like defeat. God rules the cosmos, yes, but the reality of God’s rule is veiled. From where humans stand, the forces of death and destruction look overwhelming, even invincible. The world, it appears, is ruled by greed and fear, by vengeance and the raw pursuit of power.

To truly understand God’s world, then, requires more than just our senses. It demands seeing with eyes of faith, illumined by God’s revelation.

In the literature of the New Testament, this often means being offered a glimpse into heaven. For if on earth the truth is veiled, in heaven it is clearly seen. Or, to put it more precisely, if, under the sway of sin and death, earthly reality is for the moment misaligned with God’s truth, what God reveals in heaven is the ultimate reality which is also earth’s destiny—“what is, and what is to take place after this” (Revelation 1:19).

So when Colossians invites believers to set their minds on things above, not on earthly things (3:2), this is not a summons to neglect material reality and focus on what is spiritual. It does not mean abandoning the physical realm for the metaphysical, as the distorting lens of later Western thought might suggest. On the contrary, setting one’s mind on things above means viewing all of God’s reality in light of God’s ultimate truth. It means seeing past deceptive appearances, past the false pretenses of those “powers and authorities” that would claim our allegiance (2:8–15), and dwelling instead on the truth of Christ’s reign and the promise of new life in him. 

“When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (3:4). The point here is not that God will one day make believers new. It is, rather, that God has already done so, and that this hidden truth will soon be plainly seen. 

The task in the meantime is for believers on earth to align their lives with this heavenly reality.

Clothing the self

One way the letter depicts this realignment is with the metaphor of clothing. Believers, we read, have “stripped off (apekduomai) the old person” and are urged to “put on” (enduomai) the new—a new self that bears anew the “image” of its Creator (3:9–10; see also Genesis 1:26–27).

Modern readers may stumble over the details of the metaphor. We tend to think of the self not as something to be worn but rather as an essence that lies deep within. In our prevailing narratives, the true self emerges when we peel off the various layers that otherwise suppress it. “Just be yourself,” we often say, as though to live authentically would mean to shrug off societal constraints and the expectations of others. From this perspective, the true self is the naked self. To clothe the self, as Colossians urges, could only be to mask it.

Clearly, Colossians presupposes a different understanding of the self. In this letter’s vision, when the old person is stripped away, what is left is not the authentic self, but only, as it were, a skeleton. To live anew, believers must clothe themselves with a new self that is also a divine gift (3:10). 

As Susan Grove Eastman demonstrates in a fresh study of Pauline anthropology, the Pauline letters manifest not a “first-person” but a “second-person” understanding of the self. From this perspective, which challenges the individualism of Western patterns of thought, “persons are relationally constituted beings from the very beginning of life and are never ‘free’ agents, if ‘freedom’ is understood in terms of individual autonomy; they are from the beginning selves-in-relation-to-another”—more specifically, selves in relation to one another and to God.1

With this in view, it is not surprising that the letter’s vision of thriving is deeply relational, centered on the habits of body and mind and heart that sponsor unity and peace among believers (3:11–17). Love, compassion, patience, forgiveness—these are not individual characteristics. They are rather divine gifts that are only received in the difficult work of relationships. They are garments for the body of Christ.


  1.  Susan Grove Eastman, Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 177.