Lectionary Commentaries for November 20, 2022
Christ the King

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 23:33-43

Debra J. Mumford

“Save yourself!” These were the words of Roman soldiers who were mocking Jesus. They must have been perplexed to witness someone known by others as King of the Jews hanging on a cross and being crucified. First of all, Roman crucifixion was only perpetrated on people of the lower classes and who were not Roman citizens. People of the higher classes were not treated as severely and certainly not reprimanded or punished publicly.1 If Jesus was true royalty, he would not have been crucified on a cross. Secondly, even if Jesus somehow ended up on a cross, as a person with authority in those days, He would have had the power and influence to secure his own deliverance. So, they likely mocked Jesus because it was obvious to them that Jesus could not have been the person some claimed him to be. 

While we can certainly critique the Roman justice system for its class bias, we should not stop there. We should employ that same critique on our own justice system. People with power in our nation are not prosecuted as severely as those who are poor. People who are white, middle class or wealthy are not convicted as often and sentenced as severely as are Black and brown people and those who happen to be poor. If we believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all and is a God of justice, we should allow this text to remind us of the many disparities within our own justice system. May it serve as motivation for all of us to change it. 

Jesus asked God to forgive without naming for whom he was praying. It is easy to see that he was likely praying for forgiveness of the Roman soldiers who were carrying out his persecution. He knew they were only cogs in a larger system and power structure that was ultimately responsible for his death. But Jesus the Son of God was also born and raised as a Jew in the Greco-Roman culture. He knew how the Roman legal system worked. He knew that in order for him to be crucified, there had to be cooperation with others who were willing to carry out his prosecution.2 Ultimately, Jesus was executed by the Roman government. However, select Jewish leaders cooperated by bringing charges against him. Since Jesus knew well and understood the systems and structures at play, his prayer for forgiveness was for everyone who in any way participated in his crucifixion. He asked God to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. They did not know that he was the Son of God. They did not know that his death would fulfill a greater purpose.

Preachers can remind their congregations that just as God forgave those who crucified Jesus, God will forgive us. God knows we are all products of interrelated webs of power and influence. God knows that we are each socialized into structures and social mores that form our beliefs about race, whiteness/white supremacy, class, gender and gender identity, ethnicity, class, nationality, and religious beliefs. God knows that our actions are influenced by our beliefs and our beliefs are often flawed. However, being products of our environments does not exonerate us of responsibility for our actions and from experiencing the consequences thereof. Being forgiven does mean that God forgives us and will give us the strength and determination to repent and live up to our obligations to live life anew.

In the same way that Jesus was mocked by the Roman soldiers, he was also mocked by one of the criminals. It was ironic that a criminal mocked an innocent man for being under a sentence of condemnation. While one criminal mocked Jesus, the other criminal confessed his sins and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.

We know that Jesus promised to give the second criminal, the one who confessed his sins instead of mocking Jesus, a place in paradise. What we do not know is what the second criminal believed Jesus’ kingdom of God actually was. What did it look like? What did it feel like? Was it earthly or heavenly? Would Jesus have to die to attain it or did the second criminal expect Jesus to defy death even as he suffered on a cross? We cannot know what the second criminal had in mind when he mentioned the kingdom. We do have some idea of Jesus’ conception of the kingdom. 

In Luke 4:43, Jesus told the crowds who were following him that he was sent to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Earlier in the fourth chapter, Jesus stood in the synagogue and read from the scroll of the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:


18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 

because he has anointed me 

to bring good news to the poor. 

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives 

and recovery of sight to the blind, 

to let the oppressed go free, 

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor3

The kingdom of God for Jesus was a world where those on the bottom of society in His day would find liberation from the systems and structures that bind them. Those who were captive, like the two criminals with whom he was crucified, would be released. Preachers can remind their congregations that as followers of Christ, we should seek to embody the kingdom that Christ proclaimed. This includes forgiving and advocating for those who are caught up in the web of an unjust justice system.


  1. C.S. Wansink, “Roman Law and Legal System” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans, Stanley E. Porter (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 984-987.
  2. C. G. Kruse, “Persecution” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans, Stanley E. Porter (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 775-778.
  3.  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Lk 4:18–19.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 23:1-6

Andrew Wymer

While the term “shepherds” is a particularly agricultural term to us today that we also might more readily interpret in relationship to religious leaders, this passage is intensely political. If you believe that preaching isn’t or shouldn’t be political, you might want to look elsewhere in the lectionary readings for this week. Jeremiah 23:1-6 is an intense theo-political discourse in which God calls the political leaders of Judah—kings—to account for injustice and betrayal of the common people. (Theo-political here references the theocratic political system of Judah in which religion and politics were interwoven as well as contemporary discourse about the relationship of religion and politics.)

A review of the previous chapter is crucial for interpreting these verses. Chapter twenty-two is focused on denouncing the acts of wicked kings. What made them “wicked?” These leaders had forsaken justice, disregarded oppression, and had abandoned those most prone to being targeted in society—foreigners, widows, and orphans (22:3). There is even more detail (22:13) about failure to adequately pay persons and accruing massive amounts of wealth at the expense of those whom the kings had made poor. These kings had blood on their hands (22:17). Amidst these negative images, there are also positive images of what God expects from a ruler, namely doing what is right and just and caring for the poor and the needy (22:15-16). 

Biblical and contemporary exegetical work around the categories of foreigner, widow, and orphans is also necessary to understand God’s condemnation in 23:1-6. While foreigners would have been those who were nondominant in ethnicity and culture, we must now also bring to bear the issue of race, which in our contemporary world is interwoven with issues of ethnicity and culture. Who are nondominant persons today in relationship to ethnicity, culture, and race? Widows and orphans not only likely experienced emotional trauma and economic instability, but in the Bible these categories often speak to persons who have been rendered vulnerable because they have been severed from the dominant social order. Who are widows and orphans today? Here we might speak to the status of those whom society isolates due to age, ability, sexuality, or gender. Whom does our society—rendering as verbs—orphan and widow? 

The second portion of this passage envisions a different political environment—one in which God has gathered God’s people and installed just leaders. God is going to bring about justice not just in a personal sense, not in a distant eternity, but in a material and concrete way in the systems and offices of this world. 

Be very careful here. Jesus is nowhere to be found in this passage. Full stop. This is sacred Hebrew scripture, and we need to be careful to not appropriate it as Christian scripture or to preach it in a way that denigrates or excludes the Jewish faith or our Jewish siblings. While this passage has a long history of being interpreted within the Christian tradition as a prophecy about Jesus, it is more than sufficient to speak about the longing for a messiah, God’s chosen one who will lead God’s people to justice. If you feel you must engage Jesus as part of your sermon on this passage, make it clear that this is a Christian interpretation that is only one perspective and not intrinsic to the text itself. In other words, be transparent about your interpretive work in ways that treat this Hebrew passage with integrity and hold as beloved our Jewish siblings. 

Within our contemporary political discourse in which some Christian extremists argue for the installation of a theocracy in the United States of America (USA) and in which the Supreme Court seems willing to look anew at blurring the dividing lines between religion and the state (see Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District), this passage should be treated very carefully. Indeed, this passage emerges out of a theocratic context, and it envisions a more just theocratic fulfillment. Note however, that the concerns of the biblical text for the centering the wellbeing of the foreigner, widow, and poor are not paralleled in the political agendas of those who seek to reestablish something akin to a contemporary theocracy in the USA. 

For those who long for leaders today who will lead us to God’s justice, this passage reminds us of God’s character and agenda. God preferentially cares for those who are targeted for violence by systems of oppression. The elite and powerful who disregard God’s values should beware! Amidst the unfolding of excessive inequality, ecological degradation, and the violent systems that do violence based on race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, or any other reductive human characterization, we can call out to God who is just, who is our savior!

It is important to note whenever preaching Jeremiah—to whom this book is attributed if only in the title and some portions of the text—what happens to those who call out for justice for those targeted by violent powers. Jeremiah died in exile. For those who carefully preach this passage in a manner that avoids mealy-mouthed generalities and evokes Jeremiah’s prophetic word reimagined for our context, expect to meet with resistance. Too frequently communities of faith and the finite human beings that comprise them have vested interest in the perpetuation of dominating social orders. Consider your calling to proclaim the Gospel—the good news of God’s liberating work in us and in the world. Also consider the capacities of your congregation. Can you find ways to affirm your congregation while also stretching their awareness of God’s expansive love and justice and their own sense of their place within that? Can you give thanks for the good in your congregation while also repenting of that which yet remains undone and recommitting to pursue God’s justice more fully?


Commentary on Luke 1:68-79

Lis Valle-Ruiz

The idea of Christ as King may have been subversive in a context when/where to call someone king other than the Roman Emperor was against the law, but today it sounds like reiterating imperial logic, a logic that anticolonial theologians reject. Consequently, let us turn to the logic of Beauty. “Outside Beauty there is no salvation,” said Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves in Transparencies of Eternity.1 Luke 1:68-79 is about salvation, judging by verses 69 and 77. When we look at the text in search of beauty in it, we can locate beauty in the adoption and adaptation of old songs and in God birthing light / sprouting seed. Let us use the Benedictus, the song or prophecy of Zechariah, to look to the periphery.

New generations adopt and adapt old songs

Zechariah’s song, also known as the Benedictus, finds the antecedents of verses 68–74 in liturgical contexts. Many scholars agree that except for verse 70, the song is not original from the author of the gospel according to Luke, but rather a composite of citations, allusions or fragments from old songs of praise, psalms from the Hebrew Bible, the song of Hannah, and a Jewish blessing meant to be recited daily. 

Based on her linguistic analysis of the text, María del Carmen Oro in her essay “Benedictus de Zacarías (Luc 1,68-79) ¿Indicios de una cristología arcaica?2 concludes that the structure of the Benedictus is twofold. The first part is a praise song about past salvation, in verses 68-75. The second part is divided between the mission of the forerunner, in verses 76-77, and the mission of the dawn (which can also be translated as dayspring or rising sun) from on high, in verses 78-79.3 Oro demonstrates, and other scholars agree, that “dawn” is a reference to the Messiah. Oro interprets that the Messiah is Jesus. In her analysis of this structure, and the sources for each section, Oro concludes that the song in verses 68-75 was born in the first Christian community of Jerusalem drawing on old messianic psalms and modifying them to use them in their liturgy.4 

If Oro is correct, the practice of assigning new tunes or music to old lyrics, or modernizing old lyrics to make them appealing to new generations, is not new. It is as old as Christianity or older. If that is the case, Christian churches should encourage younglings to do the same. It is a beautiful thing for new generations to adopt and adapt the songs of their ancestors in the faith!

God births the Messiah

Oro explains that the noun translated as dawn (anatole) in verse 78b refers to the Messiah. She also explains that said noun is derived from a verb which refers to the emergence or dawn of the Messianic era. The verb also bears the double meaning of: to bring out-sprout-germinate / to shine-shimmer. Oro does not want to choose one or the other in this instance. That is a very queer and hybrid move of her part: to keep both/and, to embrace the ambiguity, to honor what/who lives in the slash or hyphen. 

Oro’s analysis of verse 78a reveals that the preposition translated as “because” in the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition can indicate the means by which salvation is accomplished or has a causal function. She chooses, as the NRSV translator did, the causal function.5 What if the translators had chosen the means option? 

Following queer and postcolonial/decolonial/anticolonial thought that embraces ambiguity as well as both/and, when I imagine the verse stating that the dawn from on high, that is, the Messiah / the light / the seed of God, will break upon us or sprout through the tender mercy of our God, I associate God’s entrañas with a womb (more on this Spanish term below). I can envision how through the inner parts of God, that is, the seat of God’s compassion, the Messiah as the seed/light sprouts/shines upon us. 

The original word translated as “tender” means bowels, which was regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of passions, and of more tender affections, especially kindness, benevolence, and compassion.6 Compassion and mercy are visceral and point to the connection between body and emotions. In English, we can think of gut and intuition but in Spanish, the word is translated as “entrañable.”7 Las entrañas are not only our gut, the seat of our intuition, or like for the Hebrews, the seat of our emotions. Las entrañas is what we have inside our bodies, and that includes the uterus, the womb. Thus we say, “hijx de mis entrañas” (child of my womb [gut/tenderness]). 

In Spanish, the preposition in verse 78b is translated as “por” which also bears the double meaning of cause or means. Yet, it reads very different to state, “A través de la entrañable misericordia de nuestro Dios, la aurora (el surgir de la era mesiánica) nos visitó.” “Through the womb [gut/tenderness] mercy of our God, the dawn (the inbreak of the messianic era) will break upon us.” Plants sprout out of the earth. Las mujeres dan a luz bebés (Women bring babies into the light [give birth]). The Messianic era sprouts out of God’s womb. Dios da a luz al Mesías (God brings the Messiah into the light [or, makes the Messiah shine on us; God births the Messiah]).

When we look around John the Baptist, we find beauty in the community that crafted the song that became our text, and the metaphors in the text that make possible new visions of the Divine. May we expand our gaze to find more beauty beyond what we have always known. May we adapt the tradition and sing new songs. May we see the Divine in new ways. 


  1.  Rubem Alves, Transparencies of Eternity, Translated by Jovelino Ramos and Joan Ramos (Miami, FL: Convivium Press, 2010), 119.
  2.  “Benedictus of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79): Signs of an archaic Christology?”
  3. María del Carmen Oro, “Benedictus de Zacarías (Luc 1,68-79) ¿Indicios de una cristología arcaica?”, Revista bíblica, 45 no 3 1983, p 145-177, 154.
  4. Oro, Benedictus de Zacarías, 163.
  5. Oro, Benedictus de Zacarías, 155
  6. Bible Study Tools, “Splagchnon,” https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/splagchnon.html
  7. Reina Valera 1960, Lucas 1:78b.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 1:11-20

Jennifer S. Wyant

This is a tough passage to unravel. Like most of the letter to Colossae, it is theologically rich (and dense). It layers multiple ideas and themes one on top of the other to create a full picture of who exactly Paul believes Christ to be and what Christ has accomplished. And certainly here, near the end of his thanksgiving and prayer section of this letter, we see Paul passionately describing the exalted and victorious Christ, first in all things and over all creation. This makes this passage an excellent choice for Christ the King Sunday, even if a preacher might be tempted to skip over it, due to its inherent complexity and fairly unique vocabulary within the New Testament. 

In this first part of this pericope, we see Paul reassure the Colossian church that they can be confident in the fact that Christ has already secured the victory over all the powers of evil. They will inherit the kingdom of God, like the “holy ones in the light” (verse 12). No matter what things might happen in the present, no matter what they will have to endure, they can do so joyfully, because the cosmic battle against the darkness has already been won (verse 13). 

The reason Paul can make this claim with such confidence is rooted in who he believes Christ to be, which leads us to 1:15-20. These verses contain some of the highest Christology in the whole New Testament. Within biblical studies, this passage is believed to contain an early creedal statement of some sort, or maybe even an early Christian hymn, as the passage seems to be a recitation of who Christ is and what Christ did for the Church, and it contains vocabulary and imagery that is not found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus. For instance, there are two hapax legomena in these verses: prōteuō (to be first) in verse 18 and eirēnopoieō (to make peace) in verse 20. In fact, that whole phrase in verse 20, “to make peace through the blood of his cross” supports the argument that is an inherited creedal statement because Paul only refers to the blood of Jesus when discussing traditions that he inherited about the death of Christ (see Romans 3:25; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:25, 27; see also Ephesians 1:7; 2:13).1

By including this section, Paul offers his original readers comfort in who Christ is but he also offers us modern readers a powerful insight into what the earliest Christians believed about who Jesus was and what he accomplished. It also allows us to see that even in the earliest days of the Church, Christians were already developing core shared beliefs about Jesus that contained a fairly high Christology.2 

In fact, we find here the powerful claims that Christ is unequivocally the Creator, as well as the firstborn of all creation. He is also the head of the church and the one who has reconciled all things to God. These two roles, Creator and Reconciler, are crucial to Paul’s entire argument in Colossians and to what he understands the good news of Jesus Christ to be. Through Christ, the all-powerful creator who is over all things and through whom all things hold together, the Colossians (and all who hold fast to the good news), are reconciled to God and forgiven of their sins. It is this image of Christ as Reconciler that Paul picks up and interprets in greater detail in the rest of chapter 1. 

But as we return to this passage and its connection to Christ the King Sunday, there is one particularly interesting detail about this text that should be noted. In 9 verses, the word “all” (pas in the Greek) is used ten times. In verse 11, it is used twice as Paul prays that the Colossians would be able to endure all things with all the strength that comes from Christ. And who is this Christ? He is the one in whom all things are created, who is before all things and in whom all things hold together. He is first of all things and all the fullness of God dwells in him. And all things are reconciled to God through him. 

The repeated use of pas creates a nice rhythmic pattern to this passage (fitting for an early hymn) but also creates a deep sense of confidence in who Christ is. Nothing is outside of Christ. There is no situation that the Colossians might face that Christ is not already there. It is the reason they can have endured joyfully. Nijay Gupta argues that Paul does this intentionally and in fact he is “tenaciously emphatic that, whatever the problem, Christ is the solution.”3

And so over and over again, we see Paul assure this congregation: 

Christ is in all.

All has been forgiven.

And all will be well. 



  1. For more on the nature of this creedal statement and more in-depth analysis of the Greek, see Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon: a Commentary On the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1971), 40-42.
  2.  There is a great affirmation of faith based on this passage and 1 Corinthians 15, another early creedal statement that can be found in the United Methodist Hymnal p. 888. This could be a good resource for worship planning if your faith community usually recites an affirmation of faith during the service.
  3.  See Nijay K. Gupta, Colossians. (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2013), 51