Lectionary Commentaries for November 13, 2022
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 21:5-19

Debra J. Mumford

The temple was beautiful. It had recently been refurbished by Herod the Great. And apparently, the work had been done very well. The rebuilding project had taken eighty years to complete and included new foundation walls through which Herod had significantly enlarged the temple. Sparing no expense, he had employed the most talented artisans to use the best materials for the project such as white marble that was up to sixty-seven feet long, twelve feet high and twelve feet wide. Blue, scarlet, and purple Babylonian tapestries made of fine linen formed a veil at the entrance.1 He had installed gold and silver-plated gates and gold-plated doors throughout. 

People who were interacting with Jesus in the temple were admiring its stones and the gifts that had been dedicated to God when Jesus delivered horrible news: the temple would soon be completely destroyed. How could that be? Imagine their surprise upon hearing this news. Why was something so beautiful, and that had taken so long to create, about to be destroyed? However, though the news must have been shocking to them, Jesus’ followers did not ask him how he knew about the temple’s imminent demise. They only asked him when the destruction would happen. This exchange between Jesus and his followers attests to their wholehearted belief that Jesus was sent by God. Therefore, if Jesus said the temple was going to be destroyed, it was a done deal. They just wanted to know when to expect such an event. 

While Jesus’ followers had unwavering faith in Him, Jesus did not want them to share that same unwavering faith in everyone who would come in His name. Some of them would be false prophets who would lead Jesus’ people astray. The preacher can remind the people that not everyone is who they claim to be. Though Jesus made this statement to help the people be wary of false prophets in particular, Jesus’ teaching can be applied to our relationships in general. Before Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, he sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide. The Holy Spirit can help us not only discern whether some people are false prophets, it can help us be much more discerning in all of our relationships. 

The preacher can also share that although the temple was indeed destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., neither Judaism nor Christianity was destroyed. The Spirit of God transcends buildings and structures. Both religions continued to grow and evolve over the centuries in new geographical locations, nations, and among people of many ethnicities and races. People can take heart that though Christianity seems to be declining in some denominations, through the Spirit and power of God, it will continue to live and grow in new forms and new places. Our task is to ask for discernment about what God wants us to do and then follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit to get it done. 

Jesus told his followers that before the temple was destroyed, they would be arrested and persecuted. Those who chose to follow Christ could expect to be persecuted by both Jews and Romans. Some were persecuted by Jews because some Jews felt that by following Christ, who did not adhere to the strict letter of Law, they were being unfaithful to the faith. We have only to look at the story of the Apostle Paul as an example. In Acts 7 and 8 we can read about Saul (Paul’s name before his conversion). Saul persecuted Christians because he felt they were not following the Law.

Followers of Christ were also persecuted by the Romans. Though the Romans tolerated the beliefs, lifestyles and worship practices of Jews, they had antipathy towards Christians. They believed that followers of Christ were renegades who abandoned Judaism while also refusing to worship Roman gods.2 Some Christians in the early church went even further. Not only did they refuse to worship Roman gods, they also characterized Roman gods as non-existent or demonic. However, no actions were taken by the Roman government against religious groups until or unless formal accusations of wrongdoing were made by people within those communities who would carry out the prosecution, such as some Jewish leaders in the first century. For both the Romans and these Jewish leaders, issues of power and control were at stake when new religious sects challenged existing beliefs and practices.

Today, Christianity in its many forms is one of the world’s major religions. However, people are still persecuted for their Christian beliefs when those beliefs contradict the will of people in power. Even in the United States where there are millions of Christians, those who dare to speak truth to power can expect persecution. Jesus went on to say that his followers would be betrayed and hated by those closest to them when they acted upon their faith in His name. Today, this persecution can take many forms. For example, Martin Luther King and other leaders and participants in the Civil Rights movement were persecuted for speaking truth to power and daring to challenge the practices of segregation and racial discrimination of a nation that professed to be a land of freedom and opportunity for all. They were challenging the nation to not only live up to its own written commitments, but to also live into the teachings of Jesus Christ that so many in this nation professed then, and profess today, to serve. 

King did his work in the name of Jesus. He truly believed that authentic Christian faith is about liberation of all of God’s people. Not all persecution leads to physical death. Sometimes, challenging the status quo can lead to being ostracized or marginalized. When we are being maligned, we can feel as if we have been abandoned by those we thought were our friends and allies. If and when we experience mistreatment because we are following the ways of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have only to remember that Jesus predicted it would happen. We can take heart that God will be with us even in our times of trial.


  1. Darrell Bock, Luke: Volume 2, 9:51-24:53, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 1996), 1661-1665.
  2. C. G. Kruse, “Persecution” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans, Stanley E. Porter (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 775-778. 

First Reading

Commentary on Malachi 4:1-2a

Andrew Wymer

On August 28, 1963, Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most profound speeches in twentieth century political discourse in the United States of America (USA). He proclaimed:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.1

As I read Malachi 4:1-2, I was reminded of Rev. Dr. King’s words. (Feel free to use verse 2b, because as any good farmer knows, you can’t leave the calves out!) 

We are now in a season in which Rev. Dr. King’s vision has not yet been achieved, and the victories of the Civil Rights Movement are under attack. Within this season of unfulfilled visions of justice, we also find ourselves approaching the end of the liturgical year. This passage falls on the Sunday prior to Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. In this time of the church year, we are anticipating the social implications of God’s ongoing ministry in the world today. (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.)

As Rev. Dr. King’s vision has been whitewashed over the years to soften his radical stance and to fit a white political agenda, so too the greatest challenge in effectively proclaiming this passage is communicating its radical nature without appropriating it into a powerless vision of the status quo. 

Malachi 3 grounds the vision of Malachi 4:1-2 in a concrete political discourse. There we find that the wicked who are overthrown in this passage are the religious and political elites who shortchange God and prey on the least powerful, all the while accruing wealth and power. There we also find that those whom God loves are the laborers, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners (3:5). 

This biblical context is crucial for determining the nature of this vision. We live in a time of a multitude of revolutionary movements, contesting the future of our society and the church. Without what can be interpreted in Malachi 3 as a preferential option for those most vulnerable to being targeted by oppressive systems, Malachi 4:1-2 is malleable to any theological or political conviction. If divorced from this broader context, it could even be appropriated as a theological vision of when God “make[s] America great again.” However, if treated with integrity, Malachi 4:1-2 is a radical vision of an altered religious, social, and political order in which “the least of these” are deeply valued by God. 

Who are the laborers, widows, orphans, and foreigners for whom God seeks justice? Laborers then had limited or no economic security and stability. In the present day, living conditions for the working poor are horrendous and further intensified by high inflation. Widows and orphans not only reflect a potential economic need, but in the Hebrew scriptures these categories often speak to persons who are vulnerable, having been severed from a secure position in the dominant social order. In the present day, this can speak to the status of women and children in our society as well as those who are widow-ed or orphan-ed by our society for not fitting neatly into dominant normativities of sexuality, gender, or ability. While the foreigner denoted cultural and ethnic difference, we live in a now racialized world in which race is interwoven with cultural and ethnic diversity as a means of exploiting and excluding. 

One of the challenges of preaching this passage then is the fact that it envisions a dismantling and a disruption of the status quo that, if effectively translated to our context today, will necessarily catch us up in it. For those who are socially privileged along lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, or ability, the dominating identities into which our society continually forms us (white, male, upper or middle class, CIS-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied, et cetera) and the systems that facilitate these formations are part of what is being burned. 

This passage envisions an intense dismantling and decentering through which space is joyfully and abundantly made in the very center of religious communities and society for those who have too long been held at the margins. The healing warmth of the sun of justice is rising! The calves are dancing! The economic, social, and political realities will be so altered that those who suffer oppression today will encounter sustained and accessible healing, and they will be nurtured, playfully full of energy and excitement as they live their lives. What changes are activists and advocates working toward in your community and in our broader society? Where can you locate the small inbreakings of justice through which we can witness glimpses of healing, abundance, and the unfettered joy of life for those targeted by systems of violence?

In your sermon itself, appropriately engage minoritized voices that help you and your congregation envision a more just world and a different way of being in society. Listen deeply. Learn. Let your sermon be shaped by this, and look for ways beyond your sermon that you can incorporate the vision of this passage in the programming, polity, and personnel that help shape your community of faith and broader civic context. 

Rev. Dr. King’s vision and this passage in Malachi are expressions of unfulfilled hope for justice. How are you and your community working to bring this hope to reality? Celebrate that which is being done. Name that which remains undone—and repent if needed. Move forward in solidarity and mutuality with attention to who is in the center.


  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream” August 28, 1963. https://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/122701268/i-have-a-dream-speech-in-its-entirety (accessed on September 1, 2022).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 65:17-25

Garrett Galvin

As we draw to the close of the church year, we traditionally begin to draw upon apocalyptic material. While Isaiah does not have full blown apocalyptic material like the Book of Daniel, Isaiah 56-66 is generally considered to be the predecessor of the full-blown apocalyptic material. Although there is not quite a scholarly consensus on the origins of Isaiah 56-66, most scholars see this material as reflecting the struggles of the remnant who remained in Jerusalem and Judah with the leadership who returned from the Babylonian Exile.

This particular oracle seems to represent the perspective of the remnant left behind in Judah. We have a general sense that conditions were difficult for them. They had to deal with the invading armies that colonized Judah. Then they had to adjust to the leadership who returned to Judah after two generations in Babylon, and we see a lot of conflict between them in these chapters.

This material would appear to demonstrate how the remnant community is trying to deal with all the conflict. They are trying to put the conflict and trauma behind them. They are not focusing on the world as it is, but as it should be. The Book of Isaiah here is quoting a speech from God to Israel. God promises to soon create a new heaven and a new earth, a promise that we often see in apocalyptic literature. The power of this promise comes in the second half of verse 17: “the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” This is a powerful promise to anyone who has experienced trauma. It may not be the way that modern health care professionals would encourage us to handle trauma, but it is easy to understand, especially in an age without the knowledge of mental health that we have today. 

We see much evidence in God’s speech of the trauma that Israel suffered while living under the oppression of their foreign conquerors. They know that their children have died of malnutrition on account of the injustices under foreign rule (65:20). They know that their labor has been exploited to build the homes of their oppressors rather than their own homes. In short, they live in a land without empathy. While foreign oppressors have been replaced by the leadership who returned home, they still live in a land without empathy. The prophet has to imagine what a land with empathy would look like for them: a land without violence and destruction where the wolf and lamb or the lion and ox will live peacefully together.

The key to this vision is a lack of vengeance. God does not call the remnant in Jerusalem to learn from their oppressors or adopt the way of their oppressor. Isaiah 65:24 alights on what is so badly needed in any society: the need to speak and be heard. Whether we call it gaslighting or prevaricating, few things are as maddening as to cry out in distress and see the situation remain unresolved (65:19). This oracle from Isaiah calls upon us to consider the situation in our country.

In her book Strangers in their Own Land, Arlie Russell Hochschild describes the empathy walls that have been built up in the United States of America. While we know that it is easier for foreign oppressors to construct these walls, the end of the Book of Isaiah is dealing with a situation in which these walls built by oppressors remain in spite of the return of the leadership to Jerusalem. As is so often the case with returning immigrants, things have changed. As Heraclitus told us so long ago, it is never possible to step in the same river twice. The returning leadership have both intellectual and monetary resources that allow them to try to reimpose their religious vision within Jerusalem, but things have moved on and the remnant are trying to hold on to what sustained them under the brutal foreign oppression. This is clashing with what sustained the returning leaders during the exile; hence, we are aware of the dearth of empathy. 

I believe we can see a similar situation in contemporary America. America has only become more polarized since Hochschild wrote her book, as evidenced by the Black Lives Matter Movement and MAGA Movement. Large groups of Americans support these movements, and large groups oppose these movements. We can see that people suffering from the growing and chronic inequality in the United States provide many of the greatest adherents of these movements. There is a desperate need to build empathy bridges between the polarized groups in the United States. That is exactly what we see happening in this oracle from Isaiah. Rather than declaring one group right and punishing the other group, this oracle imagines a world in which both these groups coexist peacefully. They still have their salient characteristics: a lion is still a lion as well as a lamb being a lamb, but they coexist.

We overcome polarization and hatred when we can see the world as God sees it. This oracle would seem to be in dialogue with Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 in which humans are not only made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) but “little less than God” (Psalm 8:5). This mindset unleashed the joyful view of the world found in this oracle and particularly in verses 17-18 where the verb bara’ (to create) is used three times, the same verb as in Genesis 1:1, 21, 27. If we see humans as God does, we will be able to live with the gladness, joy, and delight of verse 18. We will only be able to construct empathy bridges if we have that gladness, joy, and delight of a grace-centered view of the world. The world of sin constructs empathy walls, modern day Towers of Babel. Isaiah 65:17-25 is a clarion call to tear down these empathy walls so that we can see what another person feels.


Commentary on Psalm 98

James K. Mead

We read today’s psalm lection in light of two expectations: next week “Christ the King” Sunday celebrates his eternal, messianic reign; in two weeks, the first Sunday of Advent marks a new liturgical year with expectation of the coming messiah. Thus, Psalm 98—the scriptural basis for “Joy to the World”—invites our joyful praise with bookending rationale: the “marvelous things” King YHWH has done (verse 1), and the fact that YHWH “is coming to judge the earth” (verse 9).  It therefore fits well in the series of Enthronement psalms (Psalms 93-100).

Psalm 98 is a thing of poetic beauty. As I just noted, it is framed by two reasons for praise, marked with the particle, (“for”). Most commentators recognize a tripartite structure, typically divided around subject matter, such as Weiser’s headings: YHWH’s deeds (verses 1-3); call for the world to praise (verses 4-6); call for nature to praise (verses 7-9).1 Balancing these three sections, however, is a striking verbal precision. After the opening, imperatival invitation (“Sing to the Lord a new song”), there are eighteen verbs equally divided across the sections:

Six verbs in the perfect conjugation (verses 1b-3)

Six verbs in the imperative conjugation (verses 4-6)

Six verbs, comprised of four imperfects, one infinitive, and one participle conjugation (verses 7-9).2

Moreover, one of the more prominent repetitions is the word eres (“earth”), occurring once in each of the three sections. Finally, three uses of the root zmr (“sing/make music”) are clustered at the center of the poem within seven words of each other (verses 4-5), with a fourth use of that root being the single-term superscription, mizmôr (“melody”). The point of this description is to highlight the indissoluble union of a psalm’s poetic features with its message. Philosophically speaking, Psalm 98 is the integration of beauty, truth, and goodness.

As I reflect on the psalm’s contribution to our worship, three areas of study come to mind:  ecology, eschatology, and ecclesiology.


This is not one of the classic loci of Christian theology, but perhaps it ought to be. At the very least, the Bible offers a theological ecology. Psalm 98 is not alone in its concern for the earth or in its underlying assumption that God cares about this place of residence. The three-fold use of eres (“earth”) is tied to another repetition: tebel (“world,” verses 7, 9). Both are called to praise God (verses 4, 7) and both will be judged (verse 9). Nancy deClaissé-Walford explores the richness of the term tebel “as earth’s habitable space.”3 God’s intimate, creative relationship with the “world” demands that we embrace God’s intention for equity and justice for all creation. And this is not merely what we ought to do but what we were made to do, as Ellen Davis eloquently states: 

An ecological concept of praise has immense implications, for if indeed every one of God’s works is specifically designed for glorification, then the praise of God cannot be viewed as an activity in which human beings engage occasionally or even electively.  Rather, praise is woven into the very web of reality, as the primary mode of communication between Creator and creature, expressing their mutual respect and delight.4


Psalm 98 concludes with a positive outlook on the coming judgment of God. That should strike us as very strange, since we typically don’t think of being judged—by people or God—as a positive experience. Perhaps that is why Christian eschatology, the study of last things, evokes such ambivalence. I was not raised in a tradition that followed elaborate timetables based on the Book of Daniel, showed scary movies about the rapture, or evangelized people with the question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know that you would go to heaven?” Psalm 98 simply lays it out there with an open-ended participle: YHWH “is coming” (verse 9). One reason that YHWH’s coming is a cause for joy is his consistency across the psalm: the YHWH who reveals “vindication” (sedekah) in verse 3 is the same YHWH who judges with “righteousness” (sedek) in verse 9. This consistency reminds me of T. F. Torrance’s famous statement, “There is thus no God behind the back of Jesus Christ, but only this God whose face we see in the face of the Lord Jesus.”5  


The eschatological hope for God’s righteous judgment carries major implications for the church’s life here and now: “God’s righteousness aims [at] nurturing healthy, healing relationships within the faith community and between God and humanity.”6 Psalm 98 challenges the church that gathers for worship. Brueggemann and Bellinger aptly state that some churches have “considerable substance in their worship but little joy or enthusiasm. Others show great enthusiasm but little substance”7 The so-called worship wars, as David Lewicki rightly diagnosed, are a “trivial conversation until we can muster up the music locked inside that we were created to sing together.  Do we even know what that song sounds like?”8 Each congregation and congregant can feel both the claim of this psalm as well as its potential impact. Lewicki eloquently declares:  “If Psalm 98 demands anything of the reader, let it be a careful inventory of everything in this life that stirs song.  This psalm wants to take all of us to that kind of place.”9


  1. Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, 5th ed., OTL (Westminster John Knox, 1962), 637.
  2.  The last section begins with three of the imperfect verbs, used as invitations to praise (e.g., “Let the sea roar”), and the fourth imperfect verb (“he will judge”) is the last verb of the psalm.
  3. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sixth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-psalm-98-12
  4.  Ellen Davis, “Psalm 98:  Rejoicing in Judgment,” Interpretation 46 (1992): 175.
  5. Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons ( T & T Clark. 1996  ), 243.
  6.  Davis, 172.
  7. Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Psalms (Cambridge, 2014), 422.
  8. David Lewicki, “Psalm 98,” Interpretation 69 (2015): 210.
  9. Lewicki, 209.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Jennifer S. Wyant

In this short passage at the conclusion of 2 Thessalonians, Paul and his co-authors develop an argument about the importance of working hard just like they did while they were in Thessalonica. And while this seems straightforward enough, a halfhearted interpretation could lead a preacher to do some harm, particularly due to the phrase we find in verse 10: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” This pithy command, when taken out of the context of the overall passage, can and has been used to justify not supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, and has been cited in the public square to support policies such as work requirements for access to food stamps.1 

But are Paul and his coauthors thinking about public policy or even charitable giving when they make this statement here in 2 Thessalonians?

Almost certainly not. 

But they are making a very specific argument about how Christians need to behave within their community and the dangers of improper or disordered work.  

The context

To unpack this argument, we have to first place this passage in the overall flow of the letter. In chapter 2, the authors have warned about the “man of lawlessness” and encouraged their audience to not believe those who say that the day of the Lord is already upon them. It is still coming, even though it is near, and the believers in Thessalonica need to stand firm in their faith, just as they have received it.

Then in the beginning of chapter 3, we see a request from Paul that they pray for him as he spreads the gospel, and he again reiterates a prayer that they would continue doing the good they have been instructed to do, directing them to the steadfastness of Christ (3:5). It is after this that he turns to a warning, this time against those who have not held to what they have been taught and are not doing what they are supposed to do.

Idle busybodies?

In fact, Paul accuses some of the believers of living idly (3:6). The word here for “idle” in Greek is ataktōs, a strange little adverb that only appears here in this pericope in verse 6 and verse 10 along with its related verb form, atakteō, in verse 7. Outside of the New Testament, this word means “disorderly or irresponsibly” and is often found within the context of battle imagery, of men not being ready at their post or ready for the fight ahead because of their disorder.2 

In light of Paul’s continued claims in this epistle to stand fast in their faith and remain focused on the work Christ has placed in front of them, the imagery of this word makes sense. Certain people within the Thessalonian community have not stayed alert, and thus slipped into disordered work. Not only have they become idle or irresponsible, Paul claims, this subset of believers have actually become busybodies. And here we have another strange Greek work: periergazomai, which means “to meddle or interfere.” This word only appears here in verse 11 and nowhere else in the entire New Testament. Paul uses it to form a clever bit of wordplay with ergazomai (to work), and in doing so, he creates the idea that these folks are not only refusing to do their work, they are meddling in the work of others. 

Biblical scholars debate who these busybodies are in the community and what led them to their idleness, but for the preacher, I would argue there are two plausible options. First, the busybodies have been led astray by those who say that the second coming has already occurred. This mistaken eschatological belief has led them to live disordered lives. They do not need to hold fast to what they have been taught because the end is already upon them. They are no longer standing at the ready, standing fast in Christ because they see no point since Christ has already returned and they missed it. 

Second, these busybodies might not be “lay people” in the community, but rather they could be preachers and/or missionaries like Paul and his coauthors, and they have come into Thessalonica expecting to be supported in their ministries without having to work. This interpretation connects to Paul’s presentation of himself as an example of how to behave. He reminds the people how they worked day and night while they were with them, even though they had the right to ask to be financially supported. They didn’t do this, Paul argues, because they were trying to set the example of how religious leaders should behave within the community.  We know from other early Christian sources like the Didache, that there were those trying to make a profit from proclaiming the gospel and expecting the support of communities. To Paul, this sort of behavior would be disorderly work. 

The solution to disordered work?

So what is the solution to this disorderly work, whatever the root cause of it? Paul argues that it is to work quietly and eat one’s own bread (verse 12), a nice call back to his previous statement about how he did not eat anyone else’s bread when he was there. To avoid a life of idleness and meddling, one should simply and quietly do the work God has placed in front of them, and in doing so, support themselves. He then charges the church to not grow weary in doing what is right. 

It is with this point that Paul is able to tie his arguments from chapters 2 and 3 together with this reminder to stay the course, and stay steadfast in the love of God.  Know that God is faithful, is working for your salvation, and will keep you from evil. The end is not here yet, but it is coming. God will reign, so do not forsake your post.


  1.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/03/31/gop-lawmaker-the-bible-says-the-unemployed-shall-not-eat/
  2. For instance, both Heroditus and Thucydides use this adverb in this context in their historical works.