Lectionary Commentaries for August 7, 2022
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 12:32-40

Jerusha Matsen Neal

The movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) is a puzzle of shifting espionage identities and double agents. What one sees is rarely what one gets. This week’s passage is full of shifting identities, as well. How else to explain a reading where a thief is described as both a threat (verse 33) and creation’s salvation (verses 39-40)?1 How else to account for metaphors that keep shapeshifting from verse to verseparticularly in relation to the Divine? One might call this week’s reading: Shepherd, Master, Servant, Thief.  

It is not just the timing of God’s apocalyptic appearance that remains mysterious. It is the function and character of that appearanceand the identity of God’s very self. Is God’s arrival to be longed for or dreaded? Wakeful readiness is key in either scenario; that much is clear.  What is unclear is the mood of that hair-trigger anticipation. What is at stake? And who is this divine Mysterythis shepherd who breaks into homes, this master who returns from weddings to serve food to bleary-eyed servants?2 

Everything hinges, of course, on who readers imagine themselves to be. Our identities shift in the passage as well. We are frightened sheep, and we are heirs of a kingdom. We are keepers of treasure, and we are slaves. We are either owners of a house or accomplices to a great heist. One could read verses 39-40 as if we were trying to keep a Holy Thief from plundering our possessions. But the command to be “ready” makes us sound complicit in this divine capercreating a disturbance in the kitchen perhaps or turning a lock when we hear a soft knock. It makes us sound like we have a part to play in the Son of Man’s stealing back of creation.   

The passage plays out in two movements. The content of the first relates to verses 22-31 and deals with wealth and possessions. The content of the second is related to vocation and what it means to live awakewhat it means to give oneself entirely to the purpose for which one has been created. It speaks of “being ready for action and having your lamps lit” (verse 35). One might think the lectionary has combined the two sections roughly if it were not for the prescience of their combined description in describing the dangers of contemporary consumption. In the recent Broadway musical, Hadestown (2016)3, Hades commands the shades of the underworld to build a wall. These dead souls “keep their heads low” and no longer remember their names or identities. In a call and response chorus, they repeat the catechism that Hades has taught them. They build the wall to keep out the enemy of poverty, to keep what they have from those who “have not.” It is a chilling description of the fear that Jesus works to dismantle in verses 32-34. But what is most chilling is the song’s final stanza. “What do we have that they should want?” Hades asks. And instead of pointing to possessions or pleasures, the shades point to the endless cycle of their work. “We have a wall to work upon.  We have work and they have none.” The fear of poverty has driven a false vocational obsession; and the false vocational obsession has made Hades’s legions forget who they are.  

Preachers and biblical commentators can approach these passages with an embarrassed sophistication, apologizing for the text’s economic idealism from the start. “Jesus certainly doesn’t mean to sell all one’s possessions; he doesn’t even say the word ‘all!’ A little wealth does no harm. Balance in all things!” I think these approaches miss the passage’s urgency and foreclose a powerful preaching opportunity. There is a thief who steals and destroysand there is a Thief who saves. In the words of Alyce McKenzie, God’s Holy Thief is a “burglar…[who] returns to steal our false priorities and overturn our unjust structures.”4 When he breaks into our house, we will never be the same.  

Jesus, with the wisdom of a patient shepherd, diagnoses the key factor in discerning one thief from the Other: fear (verse 32). More than this, he tells his little flock how fear can be overcome. “Sell your possessions” and “give alms” (verse 33). Don’t let your congregation off the hook with rationalizations here. Wake them up to themselves. Press the point. They have not sold all they have? Fine. When is the last time they have sold anything of genuine value and given it away? When is the last time they lived unafraid, slaves to a God who serves rather than an empire that destroys?  

Hadestown is also about a thief. It is the story of the poet-musician Orpheus, who breaks into hell to free his love. The Greek myth ends in tragedy. But the Son of Man is on a similar rescue mission, a mission to wake the world and free the dead. His story has a different ending. Dress for action, and light your lamps. He’s coming. 


  1.  A “thief in the night” is a recurring New Testament image to describe the anticipated parousia (for example 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Peter 3:10Revelation 3:316:15).
  2. Luke 22:23 echoes this theme of a master who serves.
  3.  Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown: Live Original Cast Recording, London: Parlophone Records, 2017.
  4.  Alyce McKenzie, “Mise en Place: Reflections on Luke 12:32-40,” Patheos, August 1, 2013.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 15:1-6

Christopher Davis

In Genesis 15, Abram has not yet achieved the status of father of the faith. He has the label but has yet to achieve the lineage. He’s had some significant achievements but has not yet fulfilled his assignment. One author has suggested that at this point in his life, Abram was a man of good values, but not yet a man of good faith.

The text starts off by saying, “after these things … ” That phrase suggests that there is always a story behind the story. There are always previous practices that shape our present. There are things that happen, events that unfold, situations that occur, people we encounter, that shape what happens next in our lives. And we don’t always remember the who, what, when or how, but they become the filters through which we see life.

And so, God comes to Abram and says, “Fear not.” Now, to fully understand the text, you’ve got to get the context. The text opens with the statement, “After these things …” and God then says to Abram, “Fear not”, so the question must be raised, what are the “these things” that happened that might have caused Abram to fear?

In chapter 14, Abram has just been in a battle.  He has fought off a nation to rescue his nephew, Lot. And scholars suggest that perhaps Abram is afraid of his enemies coming back after him for revenge, and this time, he might not be able to withstand the onslaught. So, God assures Abram that He will protect him. He says to him, “Abram, do not be afraid. I am your shield, your exceeding great reward.” In other words, you don’t have to be afraid of anything or anybody, because as your shield, I stand between you and every enemy that would harm you. God says, I am your shield, but then God says, I am your exceeding great reward. In other words, what I will bless you with, will be far beyond anything you could have imagined.

Now, here’s the tension in the text. Abram has all of this. He’s gotten his nephew back. He’s been victorious in battle. He’s got this promise that God will be his shield and exceeding great reward. And even with all of this, Abram is still not settled. Something is missing. Abram knows that something else should be happening based on the promise that God made to him. Abram has all this stuff, but something is missing. God has increased him rapidly. God has promised to continue to bless him. God has promised to be his protector and provider. But notice Abram’s response to God, he says, “I’m grateful for all You’ve given and all You’ve done, but I don’t have the key thing that the promise is based on. I don’t have a child. How can I be the father of many, and I presently don’t have any?” In the Hebrew, Abram basically says to God, all that you’ve given, all that you’ve done, all that you’ve promised is fine, but none of it means anything if I don’t have someone to be the propagation of the promise. Abram says to God, “You promised a nation, but I don’t even have a namesake.” It’s not ingratitude. It’s not a poor attitude. It’s not entitlement. It’s frustration.

That’s what’s going on in the United States, where I live. The protesting, the marching, the rioting, Black Lives Matter, Pride Month, the John Lewis Voting Act, a living wage … it’s frustration. People are still waiting on what they were promised. The founding fathers said, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons were created equal … that we have been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People are frustrated because they’re waiting on what they were promised.  

Well, here’s what you need to know: God has a remedy for your frustration. If you’re going to move from frustration to fulfillment, you’ve got to learn to trust the process. Abram has grown impatient. Hear what he says: “God, all that you’re saying is good, but none of it changes the fact that I don’t have a child.” And watch this, his patience has led to amnesia. He’s clearly forgotten who he was and where he was when God picked him. He’s forgotten how far the Lord has brought him. He’s forgotten about the progress he’s made in this process.

There comes a place in the process where your trust is put on trial. And the reason for this is because if you’re going to move from frustration to fulfillment, you must develop an intentional liking of waiting. The prize isn’t always finally getting what you wanted, but rather what you learned while you waited. That’s what we learn from the text, because verse 6 says that Abram started to believe in the Lord. The inference in the Hebrew suggests that up until now, he’s been trying God, to see if God could really do what He said. But in verse 6, he’s gone from trying God to trusting God. In other words, he has evolved. He has grown. He has matured. And, that’s the portable portion of the pericope. The process isn’t just about what you do, but also about who you grow into.  

The process of waiting is not just about what you get in life, it’s about who you become in life. So, don’t get so focused on the destination that you miss the development. Trust the process!

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Michael L. Ruffin

This week’s reading from the book of Isaiah invites us to ponder the relationship between worship and ethics. But before we examine that emphasis, we need to consider the audience to which the book addresses the reading. 

The addressees

The first chapter of Isaiah progressively narrows down the intended audience of our passage. 

The superscription (1:1) says that Isaiah was active in Judah, and particularly in Jerusalem, during the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. The contents of the book indicate that his ministry took place primarily during the years that Ahaz and Hezekiah ruled. So, we have a general idea of when Isaiah engaged in his prophetic ministry.

The verses leading up to our passage narrow the addressees down further by reflecting a setting in which Judah has suffered great devastation. While many scenarios could fit that description, the best candidate is the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BCE during Hezekiah’s reign. We can read about that invasion in Isaiah 36-37 (which largely reproduces material found in 2 Kings 18-19). We also have Sennacherib’s account of the campaign on the Stele of Sennacherib in which he says he conquered forty-six cities in Judah and shut Hezekiah up “like a bird in a cage” in Jerusalem. Isaiah 1:7-8 depicts a similar scene: “Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.”

Isaiah 1 has thus far narrowed the audience addressed by our passage down to the city of Jerusalem that has been left standing but isolated following Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah. Our Scripture passage narrows the addressees down even further to “you rulers of Sodom” and “you people of Gomorrah” (verse 10). These designations are here used symbolically to refer to the leaders and people of Jerusalem. This address immediately follows the statement, “If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah” (verse 9). This juxtaposition implies that the leaders and the people of Jerusalem risk destruction if they do not change their ways. Later verses make the needed changes and the looming risk explicit.

One question the preacher needs to ask is how the words of the lectionary text address our listeners today. How do the people of the church need to hear the challenges presented in the words of this week’s reading? 

The challenges (verses 11-17)

We can divide the challenges of the text into two related and connected categories.

  1. Worship with integrity (verses 11-15)

Isaiah calls his listeners (and eventually his readers, including us) to carry out acts of worship in ways that reflect genuineness and integrity. On a first reading, Isaiah seems to say that God rejects the entire worship system. He says that God disregards and dismisses every type of worship act in which the people engage, ranging from sacrifice to prayer. 

But the keys to Isaiah’s meaning are embedded in his words. First, the prophet quotes God as saying, “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity” (verse 13). Second, he says that God declares, “Your hands are full of blood” (verse 15). So, it is not worship per se that God rejects. It is rather worship that is carried out with no regard for ethics. Acts of worship, even if performed correctly and abundantly, cannot compensate for the mistreatment of people, especially of the weak and oppressed. 

In the next section, Isaiah spells out what kinds of unethical behavior his audience is guilty of. In doing so, he challenges them to practice justice. 

  1. Practice justice (verses 16-17)

Isaiah has told his audience that their hands are full of blood (verse 15). On one hand, this may recall the many sacrifices that the people have been offering and that God has rejected (see verse 11). The people’s hands are indeed filled with the blood of sacrificed animals. But that is not the point that the prophet is making. The people’s hands are full of blood in the sense that they have been mistreating people. They have not been practicing sound ethics in their dealings with the oppressed and vulnerable.

Isaiah’s summons to the people to wash themselves means more than that they are to cleanse themselves ceremonially. They are rather to wash the blood of injustice from their hands. The prophet first names general ways in which the people can do this. They can “cease to do evil” (verse 16), which has the sense of something that can be done immediately. They can also “learn to do good” (verse 17), which has the sense of something that takes place over a longer period of time. The prophet then names more specific ways that the people can “seek justice”—they can “rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (verse 17).1 In so doing, they will turn away from the sin of Sodom (verse 10), which the prophecy of Ezekiel defines as having “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease” while failing to “aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).

The invitation (verses 18-20)

Isaiah has already summoned his audience to turn away from their unethical dealings and to turn toward justice. He now invites them to accept the good that can come to them if they repent. The verb translated “let us argue it out” in NRSV is rendered elsewhere as “let us settle the matter” (NIV) and “let’s settle this” (CEB). Those alternate translations seem to better capture the sense, since what needs to happen is not up for debate or negotiation. The prophet calls the people to agree with and accept God’s evaluation of their situation, and to change in light of it. The imagery of sins that “are like scarlet” and that are “red like crimson” could reflect the previous statement that the people’s “hands are full of blood” (verse 15). Their sins becoming “like snow” and “like wool” (verse 18) could be the result of the people’s washing themselves (verse 16). Despite the fact that Judah has been devastated and Jerusalem has been left isolated, the people’s repentance can lead to their experiencing the blessings of the land that God intends them to have. Failure to repent, on the other hand, will lead to further judgment. 


We have been dealing with our Scripture passage by trying to understand how Isaiah’s original listeners might have heard it. In that context, Isaiah addresses the people in light of their situation of recently experienced devastation and of possible further future devastation. He summons them to repent, offering them the possibility of restoration marked by the undertaking of ethical treatment of the vulnerable and oppressed. We might also approach the text in light of how the exilic and post-exilic audiences of the book of Isaiah might have heard our passage. Having experienced the devastation and exile brought about by the Babylonians, that audience may have heard our passage as an ongoing call to repent and as offering an ongoing hope for corporate restoration and ethical renewal. 

Chances are good that our listeners need to hear the same calls that all of Isaiah’s audiences needed to hear. What kinds of corporate devastation has the church experienced? What kinds of renewal do we need? What ethical failures do we need to address?


  1. Patricia K. Tull, Isaiah 1–39, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 62-63.


Commentary on Psalm 33:12-22

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

Several years ago, David Tracy summarized his rather complex systematic theology and his work as a theologian as follows: “What is the nature of ultimate reality? And the answer: God. And more explicitly, God is love. That is an extraordinary thought . . . this great mysterythat love is the basic reality. And that is what my work is all about.”1 In a real sense, this is also what Psalm 33 is all aboutthe affirmation “that love is the basic reality,” along with praise for the God whose steadfast love fills the earth (Psalm 33:5b), as well as an invitation to trust this God.

Unfortunately, the lection omits the first eleven verses of Psalm 33 that begin with an extended invitation to praise God (verses 1-3), followed by reasons for praise (verses 4-11). This is the typical structure of a song of praise, and it forms the background of verses 12-22, which Gerald Wilson labels an “Exhortation to Trust Yahweh.”2 What we miss by the omission of verses 1-11 includes the “stunning affirmation”3 that “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD” (verse 5b; see Psalm 36:5-6 for a similar affirmation). The rest of the psalm is fundamentally an explication of this verse. In short, God is to be trusted, because divine love is all-encompassing. Not surprisingly, both the “Exhortation to Trust Yahweh” (verses 12-19) and the concluding expression of trust (verses 20-22) include the Hebrew word hesed, “steadfast love” (verses 18, 20).

By the way, another drawback of reading snippets of psalms in isolation is thisin this case, we miss the likelihood that Psalm 33 is an expansion upon the affirmation at the end of Psalm 32 that “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD” (32:10). An intentional link between Psalms 32 and 33 is all the more likely since Psalm 33:1 appears to be a direct response to 32:11, the final verse of Psalm 32. When Psalms 32 and 33 are heard together, the affirmation is that the divine grace offered to sinners (Psalm 32) is the same power that lies behind the creation of the world (33:6-7, although verse 7 may also be an allusion to the exodus), the events of history (verses 10-12), the supervision of humankind (verses 13-15), and the unmasking of so-called worldly power (verses 16-17). All this is evidence of God’s steadfast love, which is the sure hope of those who “fear” God (verse 18). “Fear” here, of course, connotes not fright, but rather those who fear God are those who “align themselves with YHWH’s rule in the world.”4

The courage to trust

The rehearsal of how God’s steadfast love is active in the world (verses 4-19) leads to an affirmation of hope and trust in verses 20-21 and a final prayer that God’s steadfast love would continue to be present (verse 22). Praise and trust are inextricably connected. As James L. Mays concludes, Psalm 33 “praises the God whom the righteous trusttherein lies their rightness, that they trust the LORD.”5 In this regard, Psalm 33 recalls Psalm 49, the psalm for last Sunday.  In Psalm 49, what sets the impoverished psalmist apart from the wealthy and oppressive opponents is the matter of trustthe opponents trust themselves and their wealth (Psalm 49:6) while the psalmist entrusts life and future to God (49:15).

Praising God and trusting God rather than self or wealth is an act of courage, because we live in a culture that encourages self-assertion and acquisitiveness as a measure of maturity and success. As Brueggemann and Bellinger put it, as a song of praise and invitation to trust, Psalm 33 is “a powerful antidote to every temptation to autonomy and self-sufficiency.”6

Believing is seeing

The pervasive secularity of our culture also presents a difficulty when it comes to seeing the world as the sphere of God’s steadfast love. Take, for instance, verses 16-17 where the word “great” occurs three times to describe armies, fighting forces, and weaponry. Despite what verses 16-17 say, the fact of the matter is that almost everyone in the United States believes that our national security is based on a strong military that is equipped with the latest and most powerful weaponry. This is why we spend $778 billion per year on national defense, more than the next eleven countries combined (including China and Russia). Anyone who would propose that our foreign policy should involve trusting God rather than the implements of war would be quickly dismissed as out of touch with reality.

Even so, what our self-reliance prevents us from seeing, or even considering, is the possibility that our amassing of weaponry is actually making us and the world less secure rather than more secure. This possibilityor better, this realityis what Reinhold Niebuhr identified years ago as the irony at the core of U.S. history.7 We fail to see how trusting God rather than ourselves and our resources might help us to envision a more secure world based on diplomacy, cooperation, and friendship among nations. By believing, praising, andtrusting, we might even begin to see that “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD” (verse 5b).


  1. David Tracy, quoted in Eugene Kennedy, “A Dissenting Voice: Catholic Theologian David Tracy,:  New York Times Magazine (November 9, 1986):31.
  2. Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, Volume 1 (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 558.
  3.  Konrad Schaefer, Psalms (Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry; Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2001), 81.
  4.  Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 165.
  5. James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 148. 
  6. Brueggemann and Bellinger, Psalms, 164.
  7. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952). 

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Christopher T. Holmes

Hebrews 11 is rightfully known as the “hall of fame of faith.” The chapter is an intricate, carefully structured, and sustained reflection on the nature and function of faith, highlighting exemplars of faith from Israel’s history.

The first three verses introduce the topic of faith. These verses introduce faith as the quality by which “our ancestors received approval.” The passive voice of the verb, emartyrēthēsan, can be understood as a divine passive, which would imply that the ancestors received approval from God (see also 11:4, 5, 6, 16). As the rest of the chapter will make clear, however, those included in the list of faith are both approved by God and celebrated by subsequent generations.

We are told that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). The Greek word translated as “assurance” (hypostasis) has a wide range of meanings, and its significance in verse one is disputed. The word denotes something real, tangible, or objective, in contrast to something illusory or intangible. In this sense, hypostasis provides the basis or actualization of hope. 

The second phrase in verse one, “the conviction of things not seen,” stands in apposition to the first and functionally repeats or expands it. Here the Greek word elegchos (“conviction”) has the sense of presenting or proving as true that which cannot be seen. English translations struggle to bring out the emphatic position of the main verb (estin) in verse 1, which calls for something stronger than the “to be” verb. Given the syntax of verse 1 and the examples provided in the verses that follow, we might offer a more dynamic translation: Faith rests in or taps into the really real of hoped-for things; it leads to conviction and action in the visible world, even though it is rooted in things that cannot be seen.

The reference to “what is seen” being made “from things that are not visible” connects verse 3 with the earlier verses. Here, though, a new element is added: the word of God. God’s powerful and creative word brings into existence things that previously were not visible. Despite the plural “worlds” (see the plural form in Hebrews 1:2 as well), this seems to be a clear allusion to the Genesis creation narratives. The Greek word translated as “prepared” in 11:3 can have the sense of restoration or repair (see Matthew 4:21, Mark 1:19, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Galatians 6:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, 1 Peter 5:10). The author’s choice of this word here may support the idea of God’s creation, not as a one-time act at the beginning of time, but as God’s ongoing effort to uphold and even restore the world. 

The lectionary reading moves from the introduction to faith in verses 1–3 to the example of Abraham, skipping over earlier figures like Abel (11:4), Enoch (11:5–6), and Noah (11:7). Abraham’s example highlights the active or dynamic nature of faith. Faith is an orientation that leads to decisive action, even and especially when there is no tangible or visible support for that action. Verses 8–10 allude to Abraham’s migration from Ur, the familiar land of his ancestors to an unknown land, the land of God’s promise. Even though he did not know where he was going (verse 8), he went out. His active response made him into a foreigner or sojourner, a fate shared by Isaac and Jacob as well (verse 9). 

The author modifies the biblical tradition in a small but important way. Rather than seeking the promised land, Hebrews 11:10 says that Abraham was looking forward to or expecting a promised city. While a city with divinely-built foundations can be understood as a reference to the earthly Jerusalem (Psalm 87:1), the remaining chapters in Hebrews make this sense unlikely here. Instead, the city that Abraham seeks is the same as the homeland mentioned in 11:14 and the “better country” mentioned in 11:16: it is a heavenly one. The author identifies God as the architect (technitēs) and builder (dēmiourgos) of this city. 

In verses 11–12, Abraham and Sarah’s acceptance of God’s promise of an heir is an additional example of faith. People familiar with the story in Genesis and its interpretation in early Christian literature can understand the point the author is trying to make: despite all evidence to the contrary—the fact that Sarah was barren and beyond the normal age for childbearing (verse 11) and the fact that Abraham was “as good as dead” (verse 12)—they trusted God’s promise. Their faith rested in a reality that existed beyond their infertility and old age. 

The way the story is presented in Hebrews 11, though, is complicated by certain grammatical and theological problems. The latter are more concerning. The account in Hebrews focuses almost entirely on Abraham. Beyond the mention of her barrenness, Sarah is regarded as little more than a vessel for the promise of God and the miraculous virality of Abraham. In fact, the text claims that it is “from one person,” namely Abraham, that innumerable descendants are born. The preacher must make hard decisions about how to engage the androcentric nature of this text and the near elimination of Sarah’s experience and her agency in the story.

In verses 13–16, the author draws a conclusion from the examples surveyed in the earlier verses. We might expect a “…and they lived happily ever after” sort of conclusion. Instead, the author insists that, although the models demonstrated faith, all of them died without receiving what was promised. Of course, this is not fully true of the biblical traditions. Many of the exemplars did receive what was promised, at least in part. This tension highlights the author’s theological, rather than historical or literal, treatment of earlier traditions. What should be clear is that their deaths didn’t threaten or invalidate God’s promise.

Next, we learn that the heroes of faith experienced estrangement as a result of their faithful response (verse 13). This estrangement, however, only proved that they were seeking a heavenly homeland (verse 14) and the city that God had prepared for them (verse 16). Here the author offers a perspective that will continue to the end of the writing: there is an anti-social, dislocating nature to faith. Those who faithfully respond to God’s call and who seek the city that God prepares make themselves alien to the world around them. This is part of the author’s pastoral response to those who had experienced discord and even violence because of their connection with the gathered community (see 10:19–39). Their faithful response led to social, cultural, and religious estrangement. But the author insists this was true of the heroes of faith as well.  

For those reading and preaching on this text in the American context, the author’s words in verses 13–16 offer a poignant counterargument to the rise of Christian nationalism in parts of our country. At the very least, it should neutralize any notions of American exceptionalism or any attempt to equate God’s promised city with the machinations of either political party. In addition, these final verses invite reflection and contemporary illustrations of how Christian faith today may demand estrangement from American ideals and values, as it caused estrangement from the pax Romana and the imperial cult in the first century.