Lectionary Commentaries for November 6, 2022
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 20:27-38

Kyle Brooks

“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Though the historical origins of this question aren’t exactly clear, a traditional explanation is that this question emerges from centuries-old theological debates. The apparent absurdity of the question is part of the point. One could argue, well, if angels are spiritual and not corporeal (or embodied) beings, then the answer is infinite. But why does it matter? Why is it relevant? When would I ever need to know this? Who even cares?

At face value, the question that opens this Luke passage is precisely the sort of ridiculous hypothetical you might expect while hanging out with friends. The bond of friendship often allows us to entertain frivolous, silly things for their own sake. Who doesn’t need a bit of silliness amid life’s seriousness? The Sadducees, however, are not close personal friends with Jesus. They are not companions around a campfire entertaining themselves with trivial banter. They are people of political and religious influence who are skeptical and concerned about Jesus’ provocative ministerial activity. To be clear: we should not make blanket assertions about the Sadducees, Pharisees, or any of the various Jewish religious and political groups. Nevertheless, the actions of this subset of interrogators invite us to consider their underlying intentions.

The whole of Luke 20 is a series of contentious encounters between Jesus and the various Jewish leaders in and around the temple. This setting is important because the temple represented the seat of moral and spiritual authority for the Jews. For Jesus to command a hearing and an audience in this space meant something. Namely, it meant that his rapport with everyday people was strong. He commanded respect not by virtue of title, but by way of his ability to communicate with deep wisdom and integrity. The ongoing questions presented to Jesus were direct attempts to undermine his credibility before the people. 

The layers of this dialogue are telling. First, the author intimates to readers that this group does not believe in resurrection. This sets them at odds not only with Jesus but also with the Pharisees, whose teachings supported this idea. Hence, there is a clear theological conflict at play. Second, the Sadducees appeal to the laws of Moses as written in the Torah. The insinuation is that their question is validated on these grounds. However, their ability to cite the letter of the law regarding Levirate marriage is simply a setup for an elaborate scenario meant to force Jesus into a compromised answer. 

Ironically, given their nonbelief in the resurrection, the Sadducees’ question suggests an assumption that resurrection is simply an extension of life as they know it. They anticipate a theoretical problem without realizing that resurrection implies a different set of priorities and concerns. Jesus’ response hints at this distinction. Marriage is a concern of the present world. But life in the resurrection is about a spiritual communion that surpasses earthly bonds. The Sadducees’ question reveals at least two things: 

1) their ability to imagine tricky theological situations, and 

2) their inability to visualize something beyond present interests. 

Their line of inquiry is a matter of temporal debates as opposed to ultimate concerns. Jesus’ response is masterful for the way he embraces the very prophet which the Sadducees revere. Jesus situates his message and meaning within the tradition of Moses, making a case that if the God of their ancestors is indeed the God of the living, then those ancestors are certainly alive in God’s presence. 

This dialogue also underscores an attitudinal difference about the power and purpose of the law. Jesus’ words demonstrate his profound respect for the law and the prophets. What makes him subversive is not a rebellious dismissal of Jewish traditions and customs. He values these no less than his opponents do. However, his actions, both in this passage and throughout the chapter, model a particular relationship to tradition. Jesus seems to perceive the anxieties and concerns that underlie these questions. He does not apply the law as a means of gaining leverage or ascending a moral high horse. Rather, his application of the law is oriented towards what is good, just, and beneficial. The law is not a tool at our free disposal, but a guide meant to enrich daily life. 

The famed African American poet Langston Hughes wrote a sublime piece that captures the richness of life’s matter. In “Note in Music,” he writes

Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.1

If life is like music, we could say there is more to it than simply hitting the right note. Music is about the relationship between the notes, the dance of the sounds in the air and across our ears. It is lively, moving, and beautiful. We might think of the law as sheet music, as the guide that provides structure and order to the musical piece. As a musician, I know the value of music theory for helping to clarify our understanding of what we hear and play. But when it comes down to it, you must play with your soul, not just with your hands. The Sadducees undoubtedly have a handle on the “sheet music” of the law. But Jesus reminds them to consider how the music lives and breathes, in this life and the resurrection. It is fair to ask, how can the law point towards a living God if it does not live?

What won’t be resurrected are the petty squabbles and theological quandaries of our times. They will be relegated to the realm of dead things, the notes unsaid. Resurrection does not come without death, but it leaves dead things in its wake. It does not fret over dead husbands and wives. On the contrary, it rejoices that the dead can die no more. May the God of the living continually draw our attention to this life beyond the limits of our imagination.


  1.  Langston Hughes, “Note in Music,” eds. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Classics, 1995).

First Reading

Commentary on Job 19:23-27a

Andrew Wymer

“Prevail” by Jessica Romano


Those who are never accused
Do not realize how it changes you
Even if exonerated, you are never really excused
Like the loss of the victim, you have lost too
The ache and the pain never end
Even when freedom is gained
The support and prayers help you mend
But somewhere the hurt still remains
We think of our justice system
As being fair and right
When jurors go home, it’s over for them
The innocent are left in the dark of the night
Away from your loved ones
All you can hope for is that one day, you won’t have to fight
That you will finally get to see the sun
Time lost, you can never get back
Let your hopes and dreams never fail
Don’t give up, you cannot crack
Always believe that the truth will prevail1

We live in a season in which society—and too often churches—continues to do harm along lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, or ability. The full humanity of some is questioned, even actively denigrated, and legal codes and even theologies continue to be written that argue that someone is less than God’s full divine image because of an intrinsic human characteristic—literally the way that God made them. This poem by Jessica Romano portrays the violence that is done and the resilience amidst suffering of those who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, and it portrays the harm that has been caused when the full weight of the “justice system” is used to criminalize racially minoritized people or the lower class—while the elite often commit crime with impunity. 

Within this season of so much injustice, we also find ourselves in the liturgical season of Season after Pentecost, Kingdomtide, or Ordinary Time—depending on your tradition. The infrequently practiced season of Kingdomtide emphasizes acts of mercy and social concerns. This passage falls near the end of the liturgical year as Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday approaches. This is a day on which many churches address the social implications of God’s ongoing ministry in the world. (Note the bold. Take care to not impose Jesus on this Hebrew scripture in ways that appropriate it as a Christian document or denigrate or exclude the Jewish faith or our Jewish siblings.)

These seasons in which we may find ourselves can inform how we read this passage. This is a passage laden with unfulfilled hope and the longing to be exonerated—not just personally but in an official manner—amidst the human toll of trauma and suffering. 

Much like the rest of the book of Job, this text presents challenges to the interpreter that render it difficult to arrive at tidy meanings. First, the issue of theodicy, while not mentioned in this passage, shapes the discourse and broader scriptural context out of which this passage emerges. Job is beset with an externalized and internalized theology which tells him that God is punishing him, doing violence to him and his entire family and household in a divine game between God and the devil. Yet in this passage we find Job resisting this theology, clinging onto another theological possibility, the possibility that God might exonerate him from these false charges and stand alongside him in solidarity. 

Second, we find Job in the aftermath of intense trauma and suffering which has been layered over with a long and dramatic argument with his friends who are wrongfully accusing him. The physical impact of this trauma and the subsequent targeting by those who had once been dear is fearful. This is an intense example of suffering. Third, there is a tension in verses 25-27 between a desire for exoneration after death when Job’s body has been destroyed and a desire that he will encounter God’s presence and solidarity while still in his body. Noting both is crucial in our current context in which theologies that imply or explicitly state that God’s justice is only possible or intended for after death can affirm the status quo and attempt to quell pursuit of social justice today. 

This ancient passage is a deeply personal utterance, but in these seasons of injustice and longing for the reign of God, it has the potential to speak more broadly into society. The longing for exoneration is paralleled in the legal system in the USA in which racially minoritized persons have long been the targets of racist laws, disproportionate policing, and wrongful convictions. Seemingly countless examples are available of wrongfully incarcerated persons seeking to be exonerated for crimes they did not commit, but for many, exonerations have come too late. In a broader sense, this also connects to the broader impositions of inferiority that occur in our society in which an unjust burden is placed on minoritized persons to prove they belong, to prove they are just as or more capable, to prove they too are worthy. Exonerations and vindications can occur on many levels and in a variety of ways. 

For those who—perhaps due to some insulating social privilege—have not experienced the need for exoneration, vindication may be a helpful entry into the desire for exoneration. “See, I told you so!” These are relatable words, but they are not enough. They should draw us into the experiences of human beings who desire to be formally exonerated—like Job and like so many wrongfully convicted and incarcerated today. 

Even exoneration has its limits. As was noted in the opening poem by Romano, exoneration does not repair. It may lead to repair, but it is only a first step. Exoneration cannot undo the harm for Job in this passage, nor can it completely undo the harm for those wrongfully convicted today. Attending to exoneration in these seasons, in which we find ourselves yearning for and working toward the reign of God, requires that we address the underlying systems of oppression that have created these situations of harm. A glimpse of the reign of God approaching calls us to imagine a world in which exoneration is no longer necessary, because racism and classism and all other systems of oppression have been dismantled and destroyed. 


  1. Jessica Romano, “Prevail” Innocence Blog, innocenceproject.org, https://innocenceproject.org/national-poetry-month-poem-of-promise-poem-of-despair/ (accessed on September 1, 2022).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Garrett Galvin

The prophet Haggai is a familiar figure from Sacred Scripture. He is mentioned in our passage under consideration as well as repeatedly in the Book of Haggai and twice in the Book of Ezra. He concerns himself with the remnant, the group of Israelites who were left behind during the Babylonian Exile when the leadership and highly skilled laborers of Jerusalem and Judah were deported to Mesopotamia. He uses that term in 2:2 and twice in Chapter 1. His language is reminiscent of the Prophet Jeremiah in particular. 

The Book of Haggai marks a clear departure from the Book of Joel and Habakkuk that have preceded this material in the last two weeks. Haggai’s concerns are much more closely related to the cult. The previous prophets could be seen as anti-priestly, but this material lacks that bias. The word “house” is used three times in reference to the Temple of Jerusalem in this passage, a reference that we never see in Habakkuk or Joel.

While all the prophets have a concern for the common good, we are more accustomed to them coming at it from an exploration of injustice such as the treatment of widows and orphans. This is what makes the prophet Haggai so abnormal. He comes at the common good through the lens of the Temple. This can be quite jarring for the contemporary preacher, but I believe we have to see the Temple as an institution at the center of Israelite life. Although we are accustomed to hearing the prophets criticize the excesses of cultic practice, we find ourselves in the opposite situation here. Many have returned to Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Book of Haggai, we hear how a small minority of them are prospering. While some enjoyed prosperity in their “paneled homes,” (1:3) the great majority suffered and the common good was neglected as symbolized by the Temple, “which lies in ruins” (1:9). I believe we can see in the Book of Haggai that the poor state of the Temple represents the poor state of the people.

The Book of Haggai is particularly apt for the society that those of us living in the USA encounter. We can think of the paneled homes in which those competing to journey to Mars live and compare it to the inexorable decline of the common good in our society. Renowned sociologist Robert Putnam has shown how we are living in a new Gilded Age with inequality increasing since 1980 to levels not seen since 1900. This has led to a deterioration of compromise in the public square, a fraying social fabric, and a descent into cultural narcissism. We can imagine that post-exilic Israel was dealing with similar challenges as the Temple, that symbol of solidarity, a strong social fabric, and cooperation lay in ruins.

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 lies at the chiastic heart of the Book of Haggai. In contrast to the scarcity and punishing climactic scenario described in Haggai 1, this passage offers hope for the future. Haggai can offer encouraging words by looking to the past as a sign of things to come. When Israel ordered its life in accordance with God’s wishes, God altered the balance of power and riches among the nations to the advantage of Israel. The oracle of Haggai highlights “the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt” (2:5a). The Hebrew here, especially by using the verb krth, brings to mind the covenant. In Leviticus 23:43, we also find allusion to bringing the people out of Egypt. As Israel was dependent on God in the wilderness for forty years and did not suffer, that same promise is being held out to the people in Haggai.

This promise starts in 2:4 when the civil and religious leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, are told to “take courage” and reminded by God that “I am with you.” This recalls the commitment of the LORD to their ancestors in Egypt (2:5). As the LORD provided for them in former times, the LORD will alter the balance of power and riches among the nations to the advantage of Israel once again. We are also reminded of the covenant loyalty that Israel has shown to God in the past and how prosperity will only follow if this becomes part of their future. The oracle of Haggai holds out restoration of former glories, but the individualism and independence that has left the Temple in ruins must be overcome by mutuality, solidarity, and compromise. The remnant of the people (2:2) and the elite who do not want to rebuild the house of the Lord (1:2) must compromise and work together.

Another essential presence in this passage is that of the “Spirit” (2:5). I believe we can connect this to the same spirit that led Israel through the wilderness. The Hebrew name for the Book of Numbers is In the Wilderness. We see the Spirit mentioned over ten times in this book primarily influenced by the priestly writer. The same spirit is called upon to help Israel restore its former glory. The promise rooted in the wilderness must be renewed in post-exilic Israel. If one looks at Psalms 51 and 104, we see even more explicit reference to the Spirit as instrumental in renewal. 

We find prominent discussion at the end of the oracle of treasure, prosperity, gold, and silver. In the proto-apocalyptic language of Haggai 2:6, a mighty act of God will violently transform the current world. This promise must be seen as connected to the common good rather than any sense of the Gospel of Prosperity. Haggai’s oracle is very clear that the gold and the silver belong to God rather than as rewards for covenant living. If Israel can live by the covenant as in former days, prosperity will follow. It would seem to be the prosperity of strong and stable institutions rather than the few who seem to be doing so well as the prophet writes.


Commentary on Psalm 17:1-9

James K. Mead

This is the tenth psalm lection on which I’ve commented for this website that contains only part of the canonical psalm in question. There will always be people in the pews wondering why we’re leaving out 40% of a scriptural prayer, in this case, verse 10-15. Perhaps it is the abundance of brutal, animalistic imagery for one’s enemies (verses 10-12) or the horrific curse invoked on them and their children (verses 13-14). I get it. We’re a month from advent and such sentiments fall short of the so-called “Christmas spirit.”  

However, treating only the more positive parts of a psalm is like telling the parable of the “Wheat and the Weeds,” without the weeds. After all, there is a fair amount of “enemy language” in verses 1-9 already, and a strong case can be made for the unity of the psalm based on its structure and the numerous repetitions across all fifteen verses. If you want to address the canonical psalm, Rolf Jacobson provides a helpful outline:  three sections of plea (verses 1-2, 6-9, 13-14) with supporting rationale for each (verses 3-5, 10-12, 15).1 Even if we don’t read or refer to verses 10-15, however, let us engage the topic of enemies as a means of confronting our culture’s “all or nothing” attitude toward most societal issues. This psalm and the larger biblical witness persistently remind us to leave judgment in the hands of the Lord and pray earnestly for an end to injustice. I’ll briefly return to this theme, but let me first identify two others that stand out to me based on the language and imagery of Psalm 17.

The boldness of prayer  

Psalm 17 is an individual prayer of lament/prayer for help, with an abundance of requests stated in the imperative or jussive forms. Consider just the first two verses: “hear,” “attend,” “give ear,” “let my vindication come,” and “let your eyes see.” The boldness comes through not merely in the direct address, but also in the motivation offered to YHWH for answering the prayer, namely, the psalmist’s blameless character and upright behavior (verse 3-5).  Christians who are well-versed in the psalms have probably made peace with the strong petitionary language of prayers for help, but we struggle with the pleas of innocence. I appreciate the wisdom in Artur Weiser’s comment: This is not “naïve self-righteousness” and certainly not “sinlessness”; it is about the psalmist “justifying himself in the face of unwarranted accusations … He knows that he himself is helpless … but he also knows that God will help him.”2 David Charney has compared the rhetoric of Psalm 17 to similar language in Psalms 7 and 22, to show that such first-person prayers are “deliberative arguments between Israelites and God.”3 The basis for much of the boldness, of course, derives from the appeal to God’s “steadfast love” (hesed, verse 7). Hesed is so much more than the “lovingkindness” of many King James psalm translations. It is grounded in God’s covenant loyalty to Israel, a reality that “is the fundamental theological assumption that hovers behind all of the psalms.”4   

The relationship of prayer  

This psalm brings a person’s complete embodied existence into view, with several nouns and verbs about the human body. There are “lips” that pray (verse 1), a “heart” that God can “test” (verse 3), a “mouth” that “does not transgress” (verse 3), and “feet” that take “steps” (verse 5). However, this imagery intensifies with similar sensory terms for God. YHWH can “hear” and “give ear” (verses 1, 6), has “eyes” to see (verse 2), a “right hand” to offer “refuge” (verse 7), an “eye” to behold petitioners (verse 8), and “wings” to hide them (verse 8). The physicality of the rhetoric conveys the intimate relationship the poet feels with God, and as Charney suggests, the “goal is to achieve his own intimate rapport with God.”5 

A Christian reading of the psalm cannot help but find resonance with the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and resurrection. The Triune God is committed to this material universe awaiting its ultimate freedom from bondage (Romans 8:21), and our hope for a resurrected body is grounded in the life of our incarnate and risen Lord. For those glancing at the other lectionary readings for this Sunday, Job 19:23-27a and Luke 20:27-38 build on this theme in their distinct ways (although the Job 19 passage is notoriously burdened with textual difficulties). My point is that the relationship of biblical prayer is not dependent upon the petitioner’s eloquence, feelings, or claims of innocence; it flows out of the church’s union with Jesus Christ, who also prayed “with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).

In conclusion, I return to the social context of the prayer we know as Psalm 17, for it has no energy apart from the psalmist’s intense physical, psychological, and spiritual experience of persecution. Although our communities may not be in such dire straits, there are denominational and global partners who face precisely those conditions. If only for the sake of solidarity with them, let us recognize and feel their desperation. Let us struggle with the temptation to curse the perpetrators of injustice and wrestle with the implications of retributive justice. But as we do, let us also recall that God has created the enemies and us alike. Is it possible to imagine a future of reconciliation with those we call wicked? Shall we ask that God, who renewed us while we were yet sinners, also transform them by the same amazing grace?


  1. Rolf Jacobson, “Psalm 17: The Embodiment of a Legitimate Prayer,” in The Book of Psalms, NICOT (Eerdmans, 2014), 183.
  2. Artur Weiser, Psalms: A Commentary, 5th ed., OTL (Westminster John Knox, 1962), 180-181.
  3.  David Charney, “Maintaining Innocence Before a Divine Hearer: Deliberative Rhetoric in Psalm 22, Psalm 17and Psalm 7,” Biblical Interpretation 21 (2013): 62.
  4. Rolf A. Jacobson and Karl N. Jacobson, Invitation to the Psalms (Baker Academic, 2013), 152.
  5.  Charney, 51.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Stephen Fowl

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Paul (let us call the author Paul, since that is what he calls himself) seems to refer back to a discussion that appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 concerning the return of Christ, when he will gather believers to himself. If one reads verse 2 as a reflection of the life of the Thessalonian church, then it seems to reflect a deeper, more existential concern than 1 Thessalonians 4. There the issues concern the order of events when Christ returns. In 2 Thessalonians the community seems to need reassurance and comfort that Christ’s return has not yet happened.  

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy go to great lengths to reassure the Thessalonians, urging them not to be “shaken in mind” or “alarmed.” They even seem to suggest that someone else may have sent a letter claiming to come from them. This might account for the emphasis in 3:17 on Paul’s signature. The message is quite clear: The Lord has not yet returned. 

This strong assertion, however, still leaves us readers with a host of unanswered questions: “Why might the Thessalonians have thought that the Lord had returned?” “Are there specific events that might have led to this view?” “Who might have claimed this?” “Someone inside the church? Other missionaries?” As much as we readers might want answers to these questions, there is little in the text to help us.  

The limited answers one might get need to be inferred from the claims in 2:3-12. Only verses 3-5 are part of the lectionary reading. They reveal that the “day of the Lord” will not come until the “rebellion” comes, until the “man of lawlessness” the “son of destruction,” is revealed. These are probably not two clearly distinguishable eventsthe rebellion and the revelation of the man of lawlessness. Rather, it seems that the “man of lawlessness” is the one who leads the rebellion. 

This rebellion led by the man of lawlessness is directed at countering the supreme lordship of Christ. This person sets himself up as superior to all other deities, even taking a seat in the Temple in Jerusalem in verse 4 (a Temple destroyed in 70 CE and still not rebuilt). (Perhaps this is the abomination of desolation referred to in Mark 13:14.) The rebellion is founded on delusions, falsehood, and deceptions (2:9-11). Even extending the lectionary reading to take the entirety of this paragraph, we learn little of the precise nature and character of this rebellion and even less about the concrete identity of the man of lawlessness. This is clearly a battle between the truth of the gospel and its opponents who deal in falsehoods and misinformation. The power behind the man of lawlessness is Satan (2:9) and Christ will ultimately defeat this rebellion (2:8). The rebellion seems completely parasitic. It has no strong assertions of its own, it defends no clear truth, there is nothing it aspires to other than resistance to God. 

For Paul to assert that this rebellion and the revelation of the man of lawlessness must precede the return of Christ seems to offer little by way of a timeline for the Lord’s return. There is no sense of how long the rebellion will last. It even seems unclear when it begins (it seems to already be underway in some limited and restrained ways based on 2:7). Moreover, the history of the church and its engagements with the world throws up a multitude of possible candidates for “man of lawlessness,” people opposed to God who use lies, deceptions, and misinformation to deceive the people of God from following the truth.

It is essential that believers bring their questions to the text of Scripture. In cases such as this text, however, it may be worth asking whether a text so resistant to our questions may in fact be inviting us to stop asking those questions and be content with the answers this text provides: The day of the Lord has yet to appear (we have no idea about how soon it may come). Now, as ever, believers must be attentive to the claims of leaders who may either directly or indirectly seek to usurp the Lordship of Christ. There are entities in our world eager to deceive and manipulate the truth of the gospel for unworthy ends. The grace of diligent attentiveness may be all that we can ask or hope for as we patiently await the coming of the Lord.

As chapter 2 comes to an end, Paul does begin to outline both his own confidence in the congregation and his hope and expectation that regardless of when the day of the Lord may occur, the Thessalonian congregation will remain as a faithful witness to the gospel.

As in last week’s reading from 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks about his obligation to thank God for the Thessalonians. They are beloved: they are the “first fruits” of those who are saved (this image of first fruits indicates that the Thessalonians were one of the early congregations to respond to the gospel); they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and by their faith in the truth (2:13).  his addition of the sanctifying capacity of the truth stands in contrast to those mentioned in verse 12 who are condemned because they do not believe in the truth. This recitation of God’s work in the Thessalonian congregations serves to remind them that however long they may need to wait until the day of the Lord, God has given them the resources they will need to remain faithful, obtaining the glory of Christ (2:14). These resources will allow them to stand firm and “hold on to the traditions they were taught” (2:15).

In many respects 2:16-17 sound as if they are the closing benediction for the entire letter. The beginning of 3:1 serves to make a transition to the actual closing of the epistle which concludes with a benediction in 3:16-17. Instead of closing the epistle, 2:16-17 concludes this discussion of the Thessalonians’ future hope and their anxieties about the return of the Lord. It asks the God of comfort to comfort their hearts. This is the ultimate aim of the discussion that begins in 2:1. If the Thessalonians are anxious, shaken and disturbed about the coming of the Lord, Paul’s discussion has been designed to comfort them. This comfort does not come from a precise timeline for the Lord’s appearing, but from the God of comfort who will establish and sustain them in Christ.