Lectionary Commentaries for September 4, 2022
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 14:25-33

Carolyn J. Sharp

In Luke 14:25–33, Jesus’ teaching takes a sobering turn as he underlines the demands of discipleship. Preparing to engage this from the pulpit, preachers may wish first to render vividly the crowds’ joyous amazement at witnessing Jesus’ power over demons, diseases, and disabilities. Since his first public healing, the exorcism of a man subjugated by “an unclean demon” (4:33–37), Jesus has been sought by throngs of people yearning to hear his wise teachings and be healed of their afflictions (5:15; 6:18; 7:21). 

The Gospel of Luke is crowded with crowds (oxloi) who are “filled with awe” (5:26) at Jesus’ words and deeds. Multitudes hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (6:17–49); a large crowd watches as Jesus raises a widow’s son at Nain; they glorify God, praising Jesus as “a great prophet” (7:11–17). A captivating teacher and wonder-worker, Jesus is acclaimed and followed by thousands (9:14; 12:1). Seasoned believers, seekers, and skeptics will benefit from a compelling reminder that what Jesus is doing is utterly astonishing. Those in the pews who have never studied Scripture will need to be told that Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18; 10:21), an agent of unparalleled importance in the Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. What God is doing in Jesus is nothing short of spectacular.

In our passage, Jesus warns that following him will require that disciples “hate” (miseō) their family members and “even life itself” (14:26), choosing instead the path of the cross. The Matthean version of this shared tradition is milder: Jesus says those who love family members more than they love him are not worthy of him (Matthew 10:37). The Lukan saying is shocking, and preachers should address it, not least to steer hearers away from the misunderstanding that violent antagonism could be the will of God. 

In Jewish traditions, “hate” is used regularly of the animosity between actual enemies, to be sure. But it is also used in binary wisdom aphorisms employing “love” and “hate” as paradigmatic responses of discernment: the wicked are said to hate discipline, justice, and knowledge, while the righteous hate wickedness, falsehood, and gossip (for example, Psalms 45:7; 50:17; 97:10; 119:163; Proverbs 1:29; Sirach 19:6). Preachers should help their congregations understand that Luke 14:26 is not advocating intense hostility toward kin and life, but, rather, is promoting the steadfast refusal to allow something less valuable to displace something more valuable. John Carroll observes that in Luke, “the priority of the realm of God is pictured in the most extreme terms imaginable … Jesus is challenging listeners to embrace a singular commitment and allegiance to him.”1 Preachers can remind their congregations of Jesus’ avowal in 8:20–21 that his true kin are not blood relatives but “those who hear the word of God and do it.” On this, the preacher might teach about the new household of faith (Galatians 6:10; see also Ephesians 2:19) sustained by the invincible love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35–39).

Elucidating the challenges of discipleship, Jesus draws comparisons to two other initiatives: building a tower and undertaking a military campaign. Both of these require advance assessment of available resources and capacity. Per Jesus’ pedagogy, builders dare not begin structures they cannot finish, and a ruler should yield before battle if the adversary enjoys an overwhelming advantage. Yet judicious decision-making in these cases is not truly analogous to calculating the costs of discipleship. Concerning the illustration of building a tower: how could any disciple assess in advance whether they have the resources to stand firm in the face of social ostracization, incarceration, torture, or the threat of execution? Remember that in all four Gospels, Peter learns in advance about an upcoming moment of betrayal—his threefold denial of Jesus—and nevertheless will prove unable to avoid that heartbreaking renunciation of allegiance to his Lord. Concerning the illustration of battling a stronger adversary: how could Jesus’ followers hope to overcome the legions arrayed against them, whether the enemy be imagined as Roman imperial troops or malevolent spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:11–12)? 

Luke has crafted a brilliant paradox here: the building project is no measurable structure of clay and timber but the kingdom of God, and the battle, already underway, is being waged on no earthly battlefield. Would-be disciples must acknowledge at the outset that following Jesus will cost them everything, and they cannot know what lies ahead until they take up the cross and follow their Lord. Jesus’ followers have been given the sternest warning Jesus can deliver—yet it spurs only eagerness for the journey. Those who choose the way of the cross after this will be joyful to persevere daily, for their Lord has already exhorted them to take up their cross “daily” (kath hēmeran, 9:23). That adverbial phrase, absent from the Synoptic parallels (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34), matters for the Third Gospel. Preachers can emphasize that the daily choice to follow Jesus is vital for Luke’s perspective on discipleship. When facing adversity, disciples must look daily neither to kinship networks nor to some other resource or power to save them. They must look only to Jesus.

Jesus concludes with a powerful statement epitomizing what he has just been saying: those who follow him must be ready to give up everything they have (14:33). In view here are “possessions” in the fullest sense: not simply discrete objects, but all the holdings that entangle Jesus’ disciples in the business of securing their families’ flourishing, all the things they tend and over which they exercise managerial obligations, everything for which they plan and work and negotiate. Following Jesus must be at the heart of all that a disciple undertakes. Here, preachers can offer meaningful examples of following Jesus in all things daily. From the pulpit, they might share the inspiring stories of martyrs and saints, then invite hearers’ reflections on simple ways to live wholeheartedly into love of God and neighbor. 


  1. John T. Carroll, Luke, New Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 307.

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Sara M. Koenig

When my children were small, I read parenting advice about how it was helpful to present choices to them by holding my hands out, and asking them to physically touch the hand that represented the choice: “Would you like to wear your red sweater (left hand) or your green jacket (right hand)?” The idea is that it is empowering for children to be given a choice, and they can be more confident when they connect their intellectual decision with a physical embodied action. I think of that when I read this pericope, because the choice Moses gives seems utterly obvious: “Would you like to choose life and prosperity (left hand) or death and destruction (right hand)?” 

If it’s not inherently obvious that the choice for life is better than the choice for death, Moses adds motivational clauses: if you make this choice, you will live and multiply, you will enjoy many years in the land, God will bless you, your children will live. And in addition to the positive reinforcement, Moses includes the negative consequences for choosing poorly: you will be destroyed, you will not live long in the land. Why would anyone voluntarily, willingly, or consciously choose death?

While Moses presents this (obvious) choice in a simple way, it turns out that it might not be that easy. After all, simple is not the same as simplistic. The choice for life gets spelled out in verse 16 and also in verses 19-20, with two sets of triads. Deuteronomy 30:16 explains that “life” involves 1) loving God, 2) walking in obedience to him, and 3) keeping his commands, decrees and laws. Deuteronomy 30:20 describes the choice for “life” as 1) loving God, 2) listening to God’s voice, and 3) holding fast to him. Love gets repeated in both verses, as love of God is the biblical fountainhead from which our obedience to God flows.

Immediately after Moses gives the first set of three explanations about what it means to choose life in verse 16, Deuteronomy 30:17 contains an “if” that could precede a choice for death in two ways: first, your heart turns away and you are not obedient; second, you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them. 

Regarding the first, the “heart” is the same word as “mind” in Hebrew; it includes our emotions as well as our thoughts. The “heart” can also be understood as the human will or the place from which our decisions are made. Therefore, a heart that turns away from God would be related to the person’s emotions, thoughts, will, and decisions. It would be a choice, whether deliberate or a more gradual process. As Deuteronomy 30:17 indicates, one’s choice to turn one’s will and motivation to or away from God certainly affects obedience to God and ultimately that choice affects our choice for life or against it. 

The second way to choose death in Deuteronomy 30:17, “being drawn away,” occurs in a passive verbal form. That is, the grammar suggests that someone or something else would be the active agent in drawing a person away to worship other gods. In Deuteronomy 4:19, the same word occurs in the same passive form when Moses warns against a person who sees things in the heavens—the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the heavenly host—and consequently is “drawn away” to worship those things instead of God. It remains true today that so many other things (social media, 24-hour news coverage, et cetera) are vying for our attention and allegiance, and ultimately, for our worship. And yet, even when it would appear that those things are the active agents, even when we feel passive or even powerless to resist, there is at least some implicit choice to be made.  

The simple choice is not as easy as it appears. It is hard to love God. It is hard to be obedient to God. It is hard to listen to God’s voice with all the distractions and competing voices around us. It is hard to hold fast to God when we are tempted to cling to other things. Therefore, it is hard to make the obvious, right choice for life. It is also the case that a choice for death may not be intentional; we may not realize that we are obviously choosing death instead of choosing life. 

More practically, it can be hard to choose life in everyday situations: in a meeting, when having a conversation with someone, while parenting children or making decisions for elderly parents, in traffic, when being criticized, while doing errands, et cetera. Even if it is simple to choose life over death, the choice still requires wisdom and discernment, and even guidance from the Holy Spirit. 

As with children, though, it is empowering for us to be given the choice for life. Also, as with children, when we reach out to choose life we can embody that choice for life not only in what we believe, but also through our physical actions. We can choose life by hugging a neighbor who is grieving. We can choose life by falling to our knees in prayer. We can choose life by sharing a meal with a neighbor who is homeless. We can choose life by loving God. We can choose life for ourselves, for other people, for the vulnerable and marginalized, for those we love and those who are hard to love. We can choose life by being obedient to God, by turning to God and holding fast to God. We can choose life by seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. We can choose.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 18:1-11

Melissa Ramos

What is the purpose of prophets and prophecy? This question is at the forefront of Jeremiah 18:1-11 and is explained using a metaphor of the potter’s wheel.

Chapter 18 of Jeremiah begins with the prophetic pronouncement, “The word (ha-davar) which came to Jeremiah from YHWH, saying … ” Jeremiah receives instructions to enter the potter’s house where he sees the potter working at the wheel, shaping a clay vessel. Yet, the vessel that the potter was crafting became misshapen, and so the potter reworked the clay into another pot that was smooth and rightly-shaped (yashar). 

In a prophetic oracle, YHWH then explains that what Jeremiah has just seen is a metaphor for God’s interaction with God’s own people. The wheel of the potter is a metaphor for YHWH’s divine sovereign will that shapes the experiences and future of the people. Yet, the metaphor also gives room for the will of the people to shape and decide their own future as the clay. In this metaphor, God works with the clay toward a desired outcome, yet the clay may resist that shaping and so become misshapen and, ultimately, rejected and re-shaped into another vessel.

The metaphor of the potter’s wheel comes in the midst of a series of prophetic pronouncements of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem, and of coming disaster. Some of these oracles of judgment involve physical objects as metaphors. For example, in Jeremiah 13, the prophet is instructed by YHWH to hide a dirty loincloth in the cleft of a rock until it is ruined. The loincloth serves as a prophetic symbol of the pride of Judah and its refusal to listen to the voice of God which would lead to its ruin. The imagery of the potter’s wheel functions in the same way as a prophetic vision and the ruined clay as a symbol of the destruction that is to come against Judah. YHWH says that if the house of Israel “does evil in my sight” and does not obey, then it will be smashed and destroyed like the first vessel that the potter judged to be deficient and misshapen.

Yet, in the midst of these prophecies of coming destruction, there is a note of hope that is plainly stated in Jeremiah 18:8. YHWH declares that “if a nation turns away from evil which I have proclaimed over it, then I will change my mind (n-ḥ-m) about the disaster which I intended to bring on it.” This verb n-ḥ-m carries a wide semantic range of meaning, such as “relent,” “comfort,” “have compassion,” or “be grieved/sorry about something.” In this chapter from Jeremiah, the force of this verb is clear in its meaning that YHWH would change the course of action in response to a change in behavior from the people.

We might think of prophecy, generally speaking, as an oracle of doom or a fate already determined by God that is immovable and already-determined by God. There are passages in the Scripture that align with this understanding, such as the prophecy given by Huldah to king Josiah in 2 Kings 22:15-20. Yet, this chapter of Jeremiah presents the function of prophecy in an entirely different manner. Prophecy in Jeremiah 18, and indeed in most of the prophetic literature, has more of a rhetorical function of persuasion. The purpose of prophecy most frequently is to convince those receiving the prophecy to change their behavior and to follow the commands of God by enacting justice. Jeremiah 18:8 plainly states that, if the people will follow the law of God, then the disaster will not come and the course of their future will instead be a bright one.

In Jeremiah 17, just prior to the passage about the potter’s wheel, a list of curses and blessings are given, similar to those in Deuteronomy 28-30. While the curses are stipulated for those who violate the covenant oath, blessings are promised to those who trust in YHWH: “They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.” 

The specific sins of Judah and Jerusalem that are mentioned in Jeremiah 17 are the worship of other gods, and gaining wealth through unjust or oppressive means. These two accusations of guilt are intertwined. For example, Jeremiah 5:26-28 accuses Judah of becoming rich by taking the goods of others, of failing to care for those who are economically and socially vulnerable in their society, such as orphans and the poor. Since covenant law makes specific provisions for care of these individuals (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18), abandoning the God of Israel to worship other gods likely also meant abandoning the laws of the covenant that were intended for community and individual flourishing. Living according to the law of God involves the economic well-being of those in the community as an issue of moral integrity.

Yet, Jeremiah 18 appeals to the people to change their ways and to return to YHWH. The purpose of the prophetic pronouncement is to bring about change, to restore justice, so that a bright future might arrive rather than the dark one that is looming on their horizon. The purpose of prophecy in Jeremiah 18 is to avert disaster, and the prophetic pronouncement is an invitation for the people to change God’s mind so that blessings might rain down on them.


Commentary on Psalm 1

Yolanda Norton

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm that serves as the preface to the psalter, sharing literary and theological relationship with the Torah.1

Torah—the first five books of the Hebrew Bible—is traditionally translated as the “law” but may be more accurately read as “instruction” or “guidance.” Torah is God’s guidance for God’s creation about how best to live both individually and communally. So, it is fitting that the Psalms—this collection of praise begins with some guidance about the possibilities of life. The author offers two ways, mostly often understood as the “good way” and the “wicked way.”

The good way

Psalm 1 begins with happiness. But, this concept of happiness is commonly misunderstood in contemporary contexts. Our understandings of happiness are often warm, fuzzy, and without complication. In  contrast in Hebrew, happy is ‘ashre, which derives from the verb, ‘shr, meaning to go straight or to advance.2 Such an understanding of the emotion evoked by the psalmist suggests that following the instruction of God allows the individual to move forward, to develop, to grow in life.  The “good way” is not devoid of problems, anxieties, or heartache. However, this way in relationship with God, grants us the freedom to evolve as human beings.

Further, the author suggests that the imperative for God’s faithful is to “delight in the instruction…and meditate [on it] day and night.” Historically, Christians have read this command as God’s requirement for blind obedience and acquiescence to God’s word. However, here, rather than meditate, the Hebrew word, hgh3, can be translated as “to groan, utter, speak, or plot.”

The spiritual practice commonly outlined by Psalm 1 has commonly been read as a kind of silent, solitude practice of meditation. However, for this to be true of the author’s context it would presume that the author’s audience had someone else tending to their basic needs for survival. Such readings create a classism around the text and around God. Very few people in the ancient world, or today, have the luxury of sitting in solitude with Torah all day.

However, reading hgh as plotting, moaning, and speaking suggests that rather than passive reception of God’s word, our call is to act meaningfully and intentionally towards God’s guidance. In this context, our relationship with torah or instruction should be to read, question, discuss, engage the text in ways that impact our daily living. Meditation then becomes active participation in the world in ways that demonstrate God’s presence in the world.

The result of such nuanced reading of God’s instruction should be a reality where we are not so easily moved and not devoid of spiritual life. Here, the author describes fruit bearing trees with deep roots that have a constant water source. Ancient Israel was a largely agrarian society that understood prosperity in terms of agricultural production and weather.

Water is commonly understood as a biblical metaphor. In various texts (Psalm 32, 69, Lamentations 3) water is understood as a source of trouble visited upon human beings. In Exodus 14, water is a barrier to freedom that is removed by God for the Hebrews coming out Egypt before consuming God’s enemies—the army of pharaoh. In Proverbs (18, 20) water symbolizes depth and purpose for humanity. Here, water is a constant source of nourishment for the tree—which symbolizes humanity and life. It is important to note that the water never consumes or moves the tree, but instead establishes roots and bears fruit.

The wicked way

In contrast to the stability established in Psalm 1:1-3, here the psalmist compares the wicked to chaff. Chaff is the unusable material separated from wheat during the threshing process. Again, the author uses the agricultural context of ancient Israel to establish a metaphor. Threshing floors were spaces often on the periphery of a community where farmers would create a circular space in which to gather recently harvested grain. Here they would beat the grain against the ground with a winnowing fork and the light chaff would be carried away by the wind while the grain would call to the ground and remain on the threshing floor. Thus metaphorically, threshing floors often mark a point of transition for biblical characters who encounter them. They are spaces where they are separated from the chaff of their life.

In this text the author establishes the wicked as those who are without substance or weightiness. They are the people from whom the primary “good group” should be separated. The author’s language is somewhat ambiguous about who constitutes the wicked. Wickedness is not defined in direct correlation with goodness. Thus, we should be careful to define the wicked as those who have different theologies, opinions, or lifestyles as others.

Instead the wicked “will not stand in the judgement … nor … in the congregation of the righteous” (verse 5). We might connect the depiction of the wicked in verse 5 with the author’s description in verse 1 of those who “sit in the seat of scoffers.”  Unlike the righteous who are advancing, the wicked are stagnant. They are the ones with no opinion, no belief, nothing for which they are willing to live, grow, evolve, or fight. The wicked are those who live outside of community and/or accountability. Wickedness here may be equated to stagnation.


The psalms include a variety of forms to encapsulate the range of human experiences and emotions. The wisdom from which this body of work begins should not focus on establishing an invisible enemy so much as it reminds us of our capacity to be skeptics who scoff at the desire for meaning in life. The author offers an alternative path that propels us down a path of discovery alongside God.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 8, 2019.
  2. Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1907), 80.
  3. Brown-Driver-Briggs, 211.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philemon 1:1-21

Israel Kamudzandu

Paul’s letter to Philemon is an invitation for the Church to be mindful of people who have been rejected and dehumanized by imperial forces. It is also an altar call for people of faith to free themselves through self–liberation. In every one of us, there is a Philemon and an Onesimus. When one is rejected by society and the world, the ripple effects of that can translate into feeling cursed and rejected by God. 

Ethnic wars and conflicts between neighboring nations are on the rise. Some are being exiled and placed under refugee status, and all such experiences are brought to light in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Exile and perhaps being in a state of wilderness help one to realize his or her calling. For Paul, being incarcerated and in chains for Christ allowed him to see the woundedness and pain of others. Philemon is a letter written when Paul was imprisoned in the Roman Empire, and he addressed the letter to a powerful slave owner. His aim was to help Philemon realize that Onesimus needed hope and dignity. 

Slavery Then and Since

Living in and within the Empire, Philemon, a Christian, was deeply comfortable enslaving another brother. This raises profound questions for both Philemon and we who are Christians squarely located in the heart of the Empire: How can we be so comfortable, yet there is human brutality around us? How can we study the evils of the Roman Empire, and yet we refuse to study the brutality perpetrated against Native Americans and African-Americans? Under his own chains, Paul’s consciousness about the suffering of other prisoners was profoundly altered for the common good. 

The 21st century Church will surely experience organic and authentic salvation if it can acknowledge its own history of evil, wickedness, and brutality against other human beings. In other words, witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being in service to God cannot be done when other people are in chains of injustice. In the prisoner Onesimus, Paul saw a double-chained child of God. While little is known about what Onesimus shared with Paul about his own experiences endured under the slave house of Philemon, we can surmise that what Paul heard was heart-wrenching and it is from that experience, that the tone of the letter was framed.

Paul understood his chains to be serving the purpose of advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In verses, 4–5, it is evidently obvious that Paul and Philemon were not strangers but brothers in Christ, and carefully chosen insights, as well as nuances in this letter, underscore a message yet to be proclaimed in our pews. That message is about social justice, a call to erase human social distinctions, and an urgent critique of the 21st century Church’s comfort with wickedness. Globally speaking, time is overdue for the Church to call out the oppressive, powerful human entities. Human beings have legal rights, but any right that violates the divine right of the other is indeed a dangerous ideological weapon meant to silence and make others invisible. 

The dehumanization and enslavement of other human beings continues to be practiced, not recognizing that such actions are the enslavement of God-self. In each of us, the image of God is imprinted, yet slavery from the ancient world and empires that followed had a total disregard for human life. Hence, Philemon is a catalog of human misery, for which the apostle Paul provides love as the basis of reconciliation and peace. 

While race-based slavery has been abolished, the Church and many nations where it was practiced have not even designed a liturgy to name the wrongs to open channels of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this case, Paul is probably a theological resource and a dialogue partner on sustainable approaches for meaningful reconciliation. Relationships among human beings continue to rupture and the need for reconciliation is urgently needed. The 21st-century world has lost the “I – Thou,” insight propounded by the philosopher Martin Buber. Our present world is being defined by an “I – It,” approach, in which other human beings are regarded as objects to be easily discarded. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a call to repentance, calling humanity to live and serve with the love of the other (also see Mark 12: 30–31). 

A Love Letter

In theological and doctrinal terms, Philemon is a love letter. Love, as Christianity teaches, is the totality of one’s being. Hence, Paul’s letter is a Christian appeal, writing on behalf of Onesimus based on love as the only way to draw Philemon into the ever-stretching net of love. When hope is lost, and one’s identity diminished, Philemon’s letter is an ocean of resources for Christians to humbly talk about the dehumanization of people as an evil practice, one that should be regretted and never allowed in all areas of human life. 

The triangle formed with Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon is ours to occupy as we seek to live in peace, love, and reconciliation. While we have turned Christianity into a religion of self-gratification, Paul’s letter to Philemon is about focusing on Jesus Christ and the other. When the apostle Paul calls himself “a prisoner for Christ Jesus,” we see a transfer of identity from personal to a new identity of being possessed by Christ. Bounded against his own will and purpose, Paul makes it clear that his work and living are in service to Jesus Christ (verse 1). This shift in identity entreats a poignant question to 21st-century clergy: Is our ministry for God or simply for self–aggrandizement? 

Ministry is not based on tolerance, but on human dignity. As such, based on human love and dignity, Paul pleads with Philemon to accept Onesimus, who was once useless but now has become useful as a fellow kinsman in Christ (verse 16). While slavery was practiced even by patrons in the Greco-Roman world, Paul seems to be asking Philemon and others to abandon the practice of slavery. In some ways, membership in the household of God brings an equal status between slave masters and their slaves. It seems ambivalent what the apostle Paul is up to, but we can infer from Paul’s theology that the gospel is at the heart of all Paul’s reconciling exercises. Philemon, a Christian brother, is being asked to live out the Gospel, through accepting and forgiving Onesimus (verse 10–16). The triangle being formed around Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon is perhaps a Trinitarian construction of family bonds through which the Holy Spirit becomes the glue holding Christian relations together (verse 18-19). It is not just an appeal that Paul invokes, but rather it is a cross-shaped appeal, one in which the sacrifice of Jesus is retold in a manner that calls for solidarity with marginalized people. 

Hence, reconciliation involves self-sacrifice; it is the way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and is a reciprocal exercise (verse 19-21).