Lectionary Commentaries for October 30, 2022
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 19:1-10

Lis Valle-Ruiz

Zacchaeus’ body has gone up in importance in the political system, with the results of economic gain and religious loss. Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector and wealthy but his job renders him lost to his own religious community. At least the gospel of Luke is constantly putting together sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors as lost ones. Jesus enters the scene to change his audience’s gaze upon this Jew who works for the Roman empire. Using a Practical Theology hermeneutical methodology in which marginalization is the entry point to identify a correlation of social locations, it is possible to locate recurrent scenarios in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.1

Familiar scenarios

Zacchaeus is a jíbaro (peasant) who became chief tax collector and wealthy. Jesus is a poor jíbaro (peasant) whose popularity is on the rise. From the perspective of a person born and raised in a present-day colony such as Puerto Rico is, Zacchaeus today would be a regional chief of the IRS or the Secretary of the Treasury Department of Puerto Rico. Imagine one of these Puerto Rican jíbaro officers of the United States of America, the present-day empire, climbing a tree to see an impoverished person, raised in the rural areas of the archipelago, and followed by crowds. Zacchaeus, the once jíbaro, became well-known and now wants to know: Who is this other jíbaro, becoming well-known?

This story confronts us with our embodied knowledge. In US Society, as well as the Puerto Rican society, it is acceptable for a kid to climb a tree, but not for a grown man, and definitely not for an officer of the state. But what if there is a physical disability? Zacchaeus is a person of short stature, thus he might have been a person with dwarfism.2 In that case, it would have been a quotidian experience to use anything available, in this case a tree, to accommodate physical needs.3 Either way, Zacchaeus’ behavior was outside of social expectations, not readily acceptable. Zacchaeus embodies contradiction, upward mobility and inerasable marginalization.

The plot is a (hi)story that repeats itself across places and times. It is the story of a person who belongs to an oppressed people by birth but joins the ranks of the foreigners/oppressors by trade, resulting in gain for the person and their family while contributing to the oppression of the community. Were there government officials stealing the aid for the victims of the hurricanes?4 Have there been former governors and presidents searched or arrested for stealing public funds or being corrupt?5 Do we assume that all politicians and people in office are corrupt? How could Zacchaeus be a tax collector and live up to the standards of piety of his religion?

Focusing on the body: action words in the text

It is easy to join the ranks of those who look down on Zacchaeus. From a prophetic standpoint, it is necessary to condemn the behavior of these politicians and tax collectors. It is easy for us to identify with Jesus, the hero of the synoptic gospels, and vilify Zacchaeus. But Luke 19:1-10 is there reminding us that high ecclesial officers vilified Jesus by association. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is the glutton and drunk that eats and drinks often with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Here he goes again. Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house and I’m thinking, “you gotta have some nerve to invite yourself to the house of the Secretary of the Treasury!”

This reading focused on the body zooms in the words, “looked up,” “come down,” “stood there.” It took Jesus to look up to Zacchaeus and ask him to come down, for Zacchaeus to stand. Jesus physically looked up to a person of short stature who was used to other people looking down on him. Hearing Jesus’ call to come down, Zacchaeus complied and eventually stood there asserting or announcing the practices of charity and of reparations.6 The orientation of the bodies in the story provide points of contact to establish correlations. This story calls the Church to look up to those who the systems looked down upon, to treat them with respect and honor their efforts to accommodate their own shortcomings, which are caused by the same systems. These systems may be political, social, economic, and religious. This story calls the pious to come down from the hierarchical systems because the right thing to do is to eat with peasants and host our own people. This story calls the pious to stand there and proclaim that we will begin or continue the practices of charity and reparations.

Focusing on the body: our actions for today’s world

How is this different from what we are already doing? As the body of Christ, the Church, institutions and people, should emulate Jesus’ actions. Jesus looked up but we keep looking down on the receivers of our charity. We are the pious ones sharing tables with people experiencing poverty and homelessness and we look down on them as if our own wealth and lifestyle had nothing to do with their situations. We feel good about the church’s pantry ministry when today what Jesus wants is for us to look up to those who are climbing the systems and have established themselves in higher socio-economic locations and ask them to come down. Wait! Is that us?! Is Jesus looking up at us and asking us to come down and host him? Is Jesus expecting us to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him? Is our job then to finally stand because we have been sitting down at the tax collecting table or at the dining table with Jesus? Is our job to stand up to proclaim individual piety, personal salvation, and/or our commitment to reparations? Are we supposed to be like Jesus? … like Zacchaeus? … like both?


  1. This approach to biblical interpretation draws on the hermeneutical methodology in Justo L. González and Pablo A. Jiménez, Púlpito: An Introduction to Hispanic Preaching (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005), 44-45; method of correlation in Richard R. Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008); and scenarios as episteme in Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).
  2. Understanding Dwarfism, “Basic Facts About Dwarfism,” Accessed August 14, 2022, http://understandingdwarfism.com/basic-facts/
  3.  Dwarfism factsheet (for schools), Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD, Accessed August 14, 2022,  https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/dwarfism-factsheet.html
  4. Francisco Arguello, “Roban las ayudas para unos 26.000 damnificados por el invierno colombiano,” El Mundo.es, Neiva, Colombia, Actualizado 29 de abril de 2011, https://www.elmundo.es/america/2011/04/29/colombia/1304096340.html
  5.  The Associated Press, “Arrestan a Wanda Vázquez, ex gobernadora de Puerto Rico,” Al Día, San Juan, Puerto Rico, August 4, 2022, https://www.dallasnews.com/espanol/al-dia/noticias/2022/08/04/puerto-rico-wanda-vazquez-arresto/, BBC News, “Trump search warrant: FBI took top secret files from Mar-a-Lago,” United States and Canada, August 13, 2022.
  6.  See, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., “Zacchaeus (19:1–10),” in The Gospel According To Luke (X–XXIV): Introduction, Translation, and Notes by, 1218–1227 (New Haven & London: The Anchor Yale Bible, 1985), Accessed August 14, 2022, http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9780300261653. See also, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation, Kindle edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 637.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 1:10-18

Callie Plunket-Brewton

Isaiah 1:10-18 is the central portion of a covenant lawsuit with which the book of Isaiah begins (1:2-20). The charge against the people and their leaders in this lawsuit is that they are corrupt and unjust in their treatment of the vulnerable (verses 4, 16-17), but that is not the most awful aspect of this charge. What is so appalling to the prophet is that the people have been disciplined for their neglect of God’s commands already, but they are persisting in their rebellious state (verses 5-8). 

Despite their continued offenses, the prophet still has hope for the continued relationship between God and the people. In verse 19, God extends the invitation to the people to turn back to the right way and assures them that restoration and renewal can be theirs again: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” Of course, a failure to return to the right path will result in their destruction (verse 20), and that destruction could be as complete as that of Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 9), two cities that were thoroughly destroyed by God in response to their wickedness (Genesis 19:24-29; see also Deuteronomy 29:23).<sup>1</sup> At this point in its history, Jerusalem has not been razed, but the threat inherent in the prophet’s mention of these two cities remains: “If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom…”

The historical events that provide the context for this reading are most likely the events of 701 BCE when the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, besieged Jerusalem and harassed the towns and villages of the countryside. The terrible state of the nation is described in verse 7: “Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence, aliens devour your land.” This is the desolate terrain and the looming threat that is the background of our lectionary reading. 

A closer look at Isaiah 1:10-18 

Verses 10-18 take God’s lawsuit against the people in a somewhat unexpected direction: God’s rejection of the people’s religious observances. The list of offensive worship practices is comprehensive: burnt offerings of rams, bulls, lambs, and goats; incense offerings; festivals, sabbaths, new moons. The very gestures of prayer are objectionable (“when you stretch out your hands … ” refers to the traditional posture of the prayer in ancient Israel, verse 15). This theme is not unusual in prophetic literature—see Amos 5:21-25 and Isaiah 58:1-9—but what is striking is the thoroughness of the catalog of sacrifices and assemblies and offerings in these verses. The long list seems to function poetically to create a sense of just how burdensome all these endless, empty practices are to God. Their volume is an oppressive weight, and God says, “I am weary of bearing them” (verse 14).

The key to what makes the quantity of devotions so obnoxious to God is found in verses 15-17. Notice how artfully verse 15 is arranged. In its center, we find that the multitude of prayers that the people offer will not have the desired effect. God’s response to these prayers is: “I will hide my eyes … I will not listen.” Enclosing the verse are two lines of poetry, 15a and 15c, that both refer to the hands (using two different Hebrew words). The first line describes hands in the gesture of prayer: “When you stretch out your hands … ” The verse closes: “Your hands are full of blood.” Through the structure of this verse the prophet intimates that the problem with the worship of the people is not the worship itself but the corruption and injustice of the people who offer it. Of course, God’s reaction to blood-stained hands reached out in prayer is fury. 

The point of verse 15 is further clarified in verses 16-17, “Remove the evil of your doings … cease to do evil … ” Any hope for the future lies only in the restoration of justice for the defenseless, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed (verse 17). 

In these powerful verses in this first chapter of Isaiah, we see a major theme of the entire book: the special status of God’s people confers both rights and responsibilities on the leaders and the people. When they fail to meet their responsibilities—primarily in the form of justice and protection for the vulnerable—God’s holy presence is roused against them. There is no religious practice that can conceal the corruption of their ethical behavior from God’s eyes. Until their practices are reformed, their future is in jeopardy. Will they become like Sodom, or will Zion be restored? 

And there is still hope. The close of this reading that has so effectively communicated the corruption of the people and God’s disgust contains these beautiful and memorable lines: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (verse 18a). Red was associated with sin, probably because it’s the color of blood, but the sin of the people can be removed. The promise in verse 18 is that God seeks a new beginning for their relationship and that such a thing is still possible. In fact, that is the desirable outcome. But the bloodstained hands must be cleansed. Ethics and worship must again be linked. 

Important themes for Christian preaching are present in this reading: sin and forgiveness, God’s call to us to seek justice and to protect the vulnerable, and the meaninglessness of our worship when it is not matched by ethical action. My thought is that this text might present us with the opportunity to consider what our worship and our prayers ought to be and ought to accomplish within us. Isaiah 1:10-18 reminds us that our religious observance is incomplete when it keeps us comfortable and shut off from the needs of the rest of the world. The purpose of prayer is to put us in touch with the heart of God, and God’s heart is attuned to the broken places of the world. An old saying puts it more succinctly, “Never pray in a room without windows.” 


  1.  A wickedness illustrated by their utter disregard for the hospitality and just treatment that they owed the strangers who arrived in Sodom one evening. Sodom and Gomorrah were both wiped out as a result.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Garrett Galvin

Our reading from Habakkuk concludes with words that had a profound influence on New Testament writers. The reader hears the observation that the righteous live by faith. We can see in this complicated reading drawn from two different chapters within Habakkuk that faith does not consist of blind obedience, but rather it is a call to discernment and dialogue, which leads to trust in God.

The book of Habakkuk describes a difficult time within the life of Israel. Although we cannot be sure of the time when it was written, it certainly describes a setting that is not unlike the Fall of Jerusalem (587) and the subsequent Babylonian Exile. We can know very little about the prophet Habakkuk, but he serves as an intermediary between God and Israel. This passage depicts this role as Habakkuk is described as speaking in the first person repeatedly and then receiving an answer from God through a vision.

As is so often the case among the Minor Prophets, we see Habakkuk bring up the question of theodicy repeatedly. In 1:2, he wants to know: how long will he cry for help and God will not answer? He raises a similar problem in 1:3, “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?” These are difficult questions, which reflect an honesty in Habakkuk’s relationship with God. No questions are inappropriate. Habakkuk can only ask these questions if he has a trusting relationship with God. 

Habakkuk reflects a traumatic episode that Israel faced, but the questions and complaints of 1:2-4 are rooted in the conduct of Israel before the Babylonian invasion. Habakkuk does not mince words. Part of a prophet’s job is to reflect on the world as it is rather than predicting the future, as is so often misattributed to prophets. Verse 1:4 demonstrates Habakkuk facing up to the challenges of his time. The one who lives by faith must encounter many others who choose to live by a different standard. The necessity of living by faith does not always produce a comfortable life. In fact, discomfort would seem to be the price of a meaningful life for the prophet Habakkuk. He tells us here that “the wicked surround the righteous … ” It is so important to see how biblical faith will challenge the Gospel of Prosperity. When we are in right relationship with God like the Prophet Habakkuk, we will not always find ourselves in our comfort zones. We will experience the discomfort of seeing much wickedness or feeling no support by challenging the status quo, feeling surrounded by wickedness.

The section between 1:4 and 2:1 makes explicit that God is going to use the Babylonians (biblical Chaldea in 1:6) to rectify the situation of injustice and violence that Habakkuk is lamenting in 1:2-4. In 1:16-17, Habakkuk complains bitterly about this remedy in which the cure appears to be worse than the disease. These verses describe a truly perplexing and disturbing situation of which the prophet cannot make any sense. While it is disturbing, it is probably not much more disturbing than many of our contemporary situations. In the past few years, we have seen extreme antisocial behavior answered by even more antisocial behavior. As Israelite society crumbles, no easy narrative emerges to explain it. God offers a vision rooted in the future to help Habakkuk sustain himself in the troubling and confusing present in which there is no relief. 

We skip over many verses to get to 2:1, but there is a continuity to the reading. We can see Habakkuk persevering in his vocation. Rather than retreat to safer and more comfortable ground, Habakkuk vows to remain in his “watchpost” and “keep watch.” I believe this perseverance begs the question as to why this should be done. Discomfort should not be sought, but a meaningful life will find it. Habakkuk can delay his comfort and live into the questions that he is asking. We live in a time when our churches and society are asking many questions; we can attempt to answer them too quickly or even run away from them. These are the safe and comfortable things to do, but they are not the prophetic things to do. They do not witness to trust in God. 

The end of the lection would seem to resolve some of the questions from the beginning of it. Habakkuk, and we readers as well, must be sustained by a vision from God. This is God’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions. While the vision is never articulated, it is something that will sustain Habakkuk in spite of the difficult things that he sees. I believe we can assume that this is a vision of a world in which Torah and justice prevail.

Although we await the fulfillment of this vision, Habakkuk 2:3 promises that fulfillment in the “appointed time.” When this verse was translated into Greek, it was translated as kairos time and 2:3 references the end of time. As we consider a vision of the end, it will be influenced by our understanding of the beginning. One’s eschatology should be influenced by one’s protology. Genesis 1 offers us a vision of blessing, goodness, and mutuality that must be part of any vision that will sustain us. We see no injustice or chauvinism within the vision of Genesis 1, and I believe this is the vision that sustains Habakkuk and us as we confront injustice and violence.

Habakkuk is rooted in reality. The proud still seem to be prospering at the end of this reading, but it is clear that they are not in right relationship with God. Habakkuk receives a saving answer in 2:2 that he has pleaded for in 1:2-3. Habakkuk must be sustained like Abraham and the prophets before him by a vision of the future and a promise of a kairos time to come. The proud are still there, but their pride and prosperity are neither in accord with the promises to come or the vision of true blessing, goodness, and mutuality from the beginning.


Commentary on Psalm 32

W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

Verses 3-5 of Psalm 32 articulate the simple story of forgiveness. The key is found in the move from concealing sin to confessing sin, and divine forgiveness comes to the fore. These verses reflect the reality that “silence kills” with the associated difficulties the text narrates in the denial of sin: the body wasting away, groaning all day, an ever-present oppressive presence that dries up the person the way severe drought and heat waves dry up land and vegetation in a day of global warming. Unconfessed sin gnaws at a soul in a debilitating and devastating way. The unconfessed sin brings two negative consequences. 

It is, however, the verb “acknowledged” in verse 5 that marks the sudden shift that brings hope. The speaker of this poetic narrative has now acknowledged this sin to God. The change is sudden and the speaker suddenly speaks their admission of sin and guilt. The sin is no longer hidden (verse 5), the same word for “covered” in verse 1. To acknowledge is to say out loud, to speak clearly of the sin, to say what this soul has been experiencing as deadly. The third line of verse 5 includes a self-quote: ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’. It is notable that “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgressions” are all used to identify the wrong doing.  

Such a full vocabulary of sin suggests the readiness of the speaker to blurt out the whole of this distorting and death-giving sin. Concealing the sin has brought death and brings great weariness. Acknowledging the sin to “you,” the emphatic pronoun for YHWH, brings immediate forgiveness or lifting of the guilt that comes with the transgression. There is no divine punishment or discipline; there is simply the unvarnished telling of the truth.The poetic story is of the falsehood of silence that is radically changed to truth telling, and the God of all mercy is at the ready with forgiveness.  

Readers/hearers would do well to pause and remember the story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah, often associated with Psalm 51, and how this simple narrative of Psalm 32 is reflected in 2 Samuel 12:13 with David’s confession to the prophet Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replies: “Now the Lord has put away your sin. You shall not die.” David has remarkably defied YHWH, the Torah, and the prophet! And yet the prophet announces forgiveness.  

In contrast to the brief narrative of confession and forgiveness in Psalm 32, however, note that the 2 Samuel text goes on to identify the death of the son from this oppressive violation of Bathsheba as the deadly result of this transgression (verse 14). The story of Saul and Samuel in 1 Samuel 15 is also relevant. Saul confesses sin and seeks forgiveness but remains unforgiven. Psalm 32 provides one remarkable account of confession and forgiveness, but it is not the whole of the complex proclamation about sin and forgiveness in the Older Testament.  

The striking drama of confession and forgiveness in Psalm 32:3-5 is then surrounded with teaching material in verses 1-2 and 6-11. The shapers of the psalm find it crucial for the community to learn wisdom from the basic narrative of sin and forgiveness. Out of experience the one who has been forgiven teaches others, not in a prideful way, but with an emphasis on God’s forgiveness. God is the one who forgives; the task of persons of faith is to confess, tell the truth in the relationship with God and other persons. God forgives and restores wholeness. Others are invited to confess their sin and depend on divine mercy.  

The opening verses of the psalm take the form of beatitudes, wise reflections on whole living here focused on divine forgiveness. Forgiveness is central to full living, and essential to forgiveness is the absence of deceit. The wise person of faith does not hide transgressions but acknowledges them to the God of grace. The contrast is between dependence on divine mercy and sufficiency of the self to hide and manage the sin and guilt. 

The verb “impute” in verse 2 is significant. God assigns “no iniquity” to one who has sinned and is forgiven, not to one who is sinless. The person who stands before God as forgiven is whole. For contemporary readers, I do not think the rendering “happy” communicates the significance of the text. The term begins a beatitude with the wisdom reflection of life walked in a whole, healthy path, a life in faithful relationship with God and others. 

Two additional uses of the verb “impute” are worth mentioning. Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans 4:7-8 to suggest that forgivenessand not circumcision or any other qualificationis the basis for new life. In that same passage, Paul refers to Genesis 15:6 and Abraham to whom God assigned righteousness“imputed.” Forgiveness before YHWH derives from divine mercy.  

Verses 6-7 invite readers/hearers to trust in YHWH and to pray at times “of distress, the rush of mighty waters.” The distress is chaos; it may come from guilt, but not necessarily. The narrative of forgiveness in verses 3-5 has taught that the safe place for persons is in YHWH. The psalm urges an open response to YHWH, in this psalm characterized by turning to YHWH in confession of sin. YHWH freely offers forgiveness and that is the hope for humanity, not some misguided sense of sinless autonomy.  

Psalm 32 is listed among the Penitential Psalms in Christian tradition. There is not, however, any sense of what is commonly considered penitence in the psalm. The psalm is rather about the amazing forgiveness of YHWH rather than some discipline or work of penitence. God restores life through forgiveness. The emphasis in Psalm 32 is upon divine hope to forgive and on the human capacity to tell the truth in a direct way. Truth telling—confessionmakes possible forgiveness. Silence kills. This wisdom lesson in poetry fits well with modern psychology’s concern to deal with denial and self-deceit which harbor guilt. The ancient psalm understood that silence kills. Contemporary studies of such silence have often been conducted by women in the face of authoritarian societies led by men, societies often built on deadly silence.

Psalm 32 begins with the wisdom teacher commending confession and forgiveness as crucial to fullness of life. The poetry then narrates the deadly effect of silence contrasted with the true and direct confession of transgression to the God of all mercy who forgives. The remaining verses call readers and hearers to the faithful life of prayer with YHWH who forgives and who preserves. The psalm is a teaching psalm about sin and forgiveness calling faithful readers and hearers to prayer of confession. 

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Stephen Fowl

Most will know that scholars dispute Paul’s authorship of 2 Thessalonians. We should also note that, with few exceptions, decisions about authorship seem to have little impact on the interpretation of specific texts. For homiletical purposes, it seems wise to assume that the author is, or wants to be understood as if he were, Paul.

In so many ways the language at the beginning of this epistle is conventional. That is, it follows the conventions of ancient letter writing. We miss a lot, however, if we simply treat these verses as the New Testament’s version of boilerplate language. 

For example, both 1 and 2 Thessalonians identify the recipients of the letter as “the church of the Thessalonians.” This is different from Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Philippians, which all address believers “in” a specific location. Even Galatians addresses the churches of Galatia, not of the Galatians. Paul does locate this church of the Thessalonians. They are located “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The course of the entire letter makes it clear that the Thessalonians are very much rooted in a material situation. Paul cannot, therefore, be urging them to think that their spirits are in God, although their bodies are in Thessaloniki. 

At the same time, it is also clear that this community of believers is undergoing persecution. The persecution of the church would have altered the material conditions of its members. This material situation might have led their persecutors, and even members of the believing community, to question whether God was truly with them. In that light, this slight variation on Paul’s standard greeting could be a way of helping them frame their understanding of their own context. Despite material appearances to the contrary, God is with them, they are in God.

As is typical, Paul moves on to offer thanks for the congregation in 1:3-4. In this case, Paul’s thanks is focused on their “faith,” their mutual love, and their “endurance.” The construction in verse 3 is unusual and worthy of comment. Paul says “we are obligated always to give thanks to God … ” Some English versions translate this phrase as “we ought always to give thanks to God … ” The New Revised Standard Version says, “we must always give thanks to God … ” This unusual construction can give the impression that Paul’s thanks is grudgingly given. Alternatively, one might look at the prayer offered in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 that the Lord may cause the Thessalonians’ love for each other to grow and increase. In that light 2 Thessalonians 1:3 could simply reflect the fact that Paul’s prayer has been answered and thus, he is bound to give thanks.  A further alternative is that the growth in the Thessalonians’ faith in God and mutual love for each other is so extraordinary and evident, that the growth itself compels Paul, and any other observer, to offer thanks.

Likewise, Paul and his companions are obligated to boast in the ways in which the Thessalonian believers have endured in the face of persecution. Perhaps as social media has grown, developed, and taken root in our lives the idea of “boasting” has come back into fashion in ways that it would have been in Paul’s day. In Paul’s world “boasting” is a perfectly acceptable form of communication for free people. It helped to properly situate someone within the highly stratified social world of the first century. Accurately knowing someone’s social status and accomplishments increased the prospect of acting justly toward them, of giving them what they are due. That Paul boasts is not at all remarkable. That he boasts in the persecution of believers would have horrified many non-believers. It would have reflected a value system radically at odds with their own. Strikingly, Paul’s boasting is among the churches of God. This served to underwrite a distinctly Christian value system, one decisively at odds with the value systems of the surrounding cultures.  The very fact of the Thessalonians’ persecution is testimony to the quality of their faith and love.  Their endurance in the face of persecution is a sign that they are “worthy of the kingdom of God” (1:5).

Verses 5-10 focus on God’s ultimate vindication of the Thessalonians’ fidelity and endurance and on the ultimate judgment of those who persecute them. When the reading picks up in verse 11 Paul shifts from giving thanks and boasting to praying. Paul prays that God will continue to form them to be worthy inhabitants of the kingdom into which God is calling them. In the course of such formation, God will cause all of their “desires for goodness and works of faith to be powerfully fulfilled.” The end result of this is the mutual glorification of the name of Jesus in the Thessalonians and the glorification of the Thessalonians in Jesus. 

Paul’s prayer seems to imagine a type of circular process here. The course of becoming worthy to inhabit the kingdom requires the shaping of faith and desire so that the outworking of the Thessalonians’ desires and faith forms them more and more to be worthy inhabitants of the kingdom. This, in turn, generates greater, deeper, desires for goodness and works of faith. This culminates in lives that give glory to Christ and are in turn glorified because they are in Christ. 

Through thanksgiving, boasting and praying Paul is able to reflect a complex set of assumptions and expectations about the course and focus of the Christian life, including its requirement of mutual love.