Lectionary Commentaries for January 15, 2023
Second Sunday after Epiphany

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 1:29-42

Jillian Engelhardt

As we journey through ordinary time, our lectionary turns to passages that reveal who Jesus is and lead us into deeper discipleship. The text chosen for this week, John 1:29-42, makes some striking claims about who Jesus is and how his disciples, then and now, can relate to him.

Jesus’ identity

The Gospel has already made clear that Jesus is pre-existent and one with God, in the prologue.  But, it becomes clear, there is more to Jesus’ identity. In thirteen short verses we are told that the Spirit of God descended and remained upon Jesus and we are provided four titles for understanding Jesus’ identity: Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.

John the Baptist makes the first two declarations of Jesus’ identity. The Gospel tells us that John the Baptist was questioned by the priests and Levites from Jerusalem regarding his identity: Is he the Messiah or Elijah or “the prophet”? John tells them he is not, but instead that he is the one preparing the way for “one who is coming after me” (1:26).  When John sees Jesus the next day, he proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29) and the Son of God (1:34).

Lamb of God

“Lamb of God” evokes the Passover lamb from Exodus 12:1-13. There the Hebrew people living in Egypt are instructed to slaughter a lamb, put some of its blood on their doorposts, and eat the lamb. Those who do this will be spared the final plague of the death of the first born that God brings down on the Egyptian people. To be clear, this is not a sacrificial lamb, at least not in the same way that lambs sacrificed as sin offerings were. 

Another reference point is Isaiah 53:1-12 in its description of the Suffering Servant who was “like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (53:7) and whose life was made “an offering for sin” (53:10). The gospel seems to be evoking both Exodus and Isaiah in its depiction of Jesus. Thus, Jesus is understood to protect God’s people, mark one as chosen by God, provide sustenance, and provide some sort of atonement for sin. Jesus, then, is an avenue for God’s intervention in the world on behalf of God’s people.

Son of God 

John the Baptist witnesses that Jesus is the Son of God because he “saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on [Jesus]” (1:32).  For the evangelist, this is incarnational language. It recalls the closing line of the prologue, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18b). To describe Jesus as the Son of God is to highlight his special relationship with God. 

While others have also been said to have been sons of God (for example, Israel in Exodus 4:22-23 and Deuteronomy 14:1, among other texts), the prologue adds nuance: The Son of God is God. The evangelist further implies this equality with God at 5:19, 10:30, and 14:7 as well as through Jesus’ various uses of the formulaic statement of divine revelation “I am.” The Gospel seems to be saying, then, that Jesus is not only an agent through whom God is acting in the world, but is literally God acting in the world.

That these confessions come from John the Baptist is important as the first two followers of Jesus (1:35-37) are initially disciples of John. When John, again, refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God (1:36), the two disciples, one of whom is Andrew the brother of Peter, both begin following Jesus. These disciples call Jesus Rabbi and the Messiah. 


Jesus’ first words in the Gospel are a question asked of John’s disciples: “What do you want?” The two disciples (unnamed at this point) reply with a question of their own, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” On the surface this might appear to be a disjointed conversation. Jesus asks a question that could be taken a myriad of ways and the disciples’ response is a question that is, on the surface, not in any way related to Jesus’ question. However, when one understands that Rabbi means teacher (which the evangelist kindly spells out), then it becomes a bit more obvious what the disciples mean; they want to learn from Jesus.  

Jesus invites them to “come and see,” an invitation that Jesus will make in various ways to many people throughout the Gospel. As a rabbi, a teacher, Jesus does not just speak (although he certainly does plenty of that in John), he invites disciples into participation. 


The fourth title for Jesus in this passage is Messiah. This revelation by a disciple occurs early in John (compare to Peter in Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20). Further, it is not Peter who makes the confession, but Andrew, his brother. Andrew tells Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (1:41) which seems to be enough for Peter to come to Jesus. 

As the evangelist helpfully reminds us, “messiah” is a Hebrew word meaning anointed (by God). In the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition, kings, high priests, and (possibly) some prophets were anointed. Over time, especially during and after the Babylonian captivity, some Jewish folk began anticipating a future messiah that would be an heir to King David and fulfill God’s promises to Israel. The evangelist picks up on these hopes in their depiction of Jesus. 

An invitation into participation

What is particularly poignant to me about this passage is that these markers of Jesus’ identity are not used to elevate him above everyone else, making him unapproachable. Instead, Jesus invites his new disciples into participation with him. He invites them to follow him further to discover what they seek to know. The rest of the gospel provides us with deeper insights into Jesus’ identity if only we will “come and see.”

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 49:1-7

Cory Driver

Is the second Sunday of Epiphany too early for disappointment and frustration? In a new year, just after celebrating Jesus’ birth and then baptism, we are confronted with prophetic frustration and impatience. As the Book of Isaiah continues to develop the idea and mission of God’s servant, chapter 49 opens with a juxtaposition of an expanding audience for God’s work, and the servant’s dissatisfaction at a lack of progress in that work. Our reading concludes with God taking seriously the servant’s exasperation and providing encouragement for a discouraging ministry.

In the previous chapter, God commanded the Holy Community to flee from Babylon, and while they were on their way, to sing joyfully to the ends of the earth that God had redeemed his servant Jacob (Isaiah 48:20). In the beginning of Chapter 49, the servant orders the islands and the far-away peoples to hear the song of freedom that the redeemed community has begun to sing. In chapter 49 and after, Babylon and Cyrus are out of the picture. The good news of the redemption song has expanded beyond the salvation of Judahites from captivity and exile. Now, the song will be good news for all the world, not just those who were captured by Babylonians generations earlier. But who is leading the song? 

In the previous chapter, the servant was identified as Jacob, and here, the servant is identified as Israel (Isaiah 49:3). But does that settle the matter? Unsurprisingly, interpreters differ on this point. Many commentators, (for example, Oswalt, 1998, following Delitzsch, 1969 and Westermann, 1969) argue for a single human as the servant, reading against the appositive identification of the servant as Israel in the text. They argue that God knowing the name of the prophet before birth (Isaiah 49:1) supports a reading of the servant as an individual. Indeed, the naming of a special individual before birth is not unique, even in Isaiah (7:14). Rashi, the 11th century French sage, argues that the servant in view here is Isaiah, and that God named him “Isaiah”in order to prophesy “salvations” to the people. Christian interpreters will see deep continuity between the description of the servant and the pre-birth naming of Jesus (Matthew 1:21-23). Nevertheless, Israel as a unified people were also thought of as God’s singular child (Exodus 4:22) whom God knew before they, as a people, were born (Isaiah 44:1-2). Thus, this passage could speak of an idealized Israel who works through national and international redemption, or an individualIsaiah, Jesus or someone elsewho announces God’s salvation to those near and far. The most useful prophecies are always polyvalent, and the number of the one(s) who sing(s) freedom can certainly be multiple. Indeed, I hope it is!

Whoever the servant is, in Isaiah 49, the servant’s mission and identity seem to be somewhat concealed by God, who is waiting for just the right moment to deploy the chosen one. The servant’s mouth is like a sharp sword, but it is hidden in the shadow of God’s hand. The servant is like a purified/chosen arrow that remains concealed with all the rest of the less-than-chosen arrows in the quiver (Isaiah 49:2). 

This intentional delay of God deploying the servant to maximum effectiveness causes frustration and even despair for the servant. God’s servant laments that the labor and strength that could have been used to fulfill the promises of God have only resulted in vanity, nothing and ephemerality (Isaiah 49:4). What good is it if the servant has been named before birth if the song of freedom dies on their lips? If the worldwide choir does not join the song chorus of redemption, of what use have the servant’s exertions been? The servant knows that God holds the just outcome and rewards for the servant’s work. As in the Psalms, Isaiah’s expressions of lament and despair are followed by confessions of trust and hope.  

It is at this moment that God steps in to redirect the servant’s attention away from the fruitlessness of previous efforts and toward the call of God on the servant’s life. First, the speaker re-identifies God as the one who selected the servant from before birth to receive God’s honor and strength for their mission. 

Then God clarifies the task of the servant. The servant’s task will not be limited to only the restoration and raising up of Jacob, so that all of Israel will be gathered together. Rather, as if that were too small a thing, the servant will be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation will reach the ends of the earth. God’s song of freedom and redemption will indeed reach the islands and peoples far away after all. God’s words are to be an encouragement to the servant, whose lonely singing of the song of salvation thus far has been a solo act. And yet, God wants the servant to know that it is not time for the big finale just yet.

God’s success through the servant will not be unalloyed. Verse 7 points to a deeply unhappy situation of the servant. The servant despises his own soul (or is despised by others), is abhorred by a mass of people, and is a servant to rulers (not just kings). Again, this situation was endured not just by Jesus (though it certainly was), but also by Isaiah himself, and repeatedly throughout history by the people Israel. The identity of the servant does not have to be singular for this passage to be deeply meaningful. 

Despite all the suffering, God promises vindication. Kings and princes will pay homage to the despised one, because the faithful, Holy God has indeed chosen the servant. Failure or delay in the song of freedom catching on in the Holy Community and beyond will only delay, and by no means prevent, the spreading of the good news. In the meantime, God encourages God’s servant(s). 


Commentary on Psalm 40:1-11

Jerome Creach

The lectionary selection from Psalm 40 includes ten verses that express thanksgiving (verses 1-10) and one verse of petition for help (verse 11).1

The shift from thanks to plea represents a major problem of interpretation in this psalm. In Psalm 40:1-10 the psalmist recounts being delivered from trouble, established securely, and given reason to praise the Lord. Scholars typically classify this first portion of the psalm as a song of thanksgiving.2

Verses 12-17, however, have all the characteristics of an individual lament. This leads many to conclude Psalm 40 consists of two originally distinct psalms. Adding to this perception is the fact that Psalm 40:13–17 appears again in the Psalter as Psalm 70. Thus, it seems logical to conclude the psalmist borrowed Psalm 70 to form the present ending of Psalm 40 with verses 11-12 linking the two sections.

Whatever the history of Psalm 40’s composition, it makes sense to treat the psalm as a unity and verses 1-11 make sense as a lectionary selection. The subject of verse 11 is the Lord’s steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (aman) for which the psalmist gives thanks in verse 10: “I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” The Old Testament presents “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” as central features of God’s character (see Exodus 34:6; verse 11 also adds “your mercy” [raham] that also appears in Exodus 34:6). The psalm gives thanks for these gifts and also pleads for more.

In verses 1-3 the psalmist recalls a past petition and the lord’s gracious response. The testimony, “I waited patiently for the Lord,” indicates the psalmist did what numerous psalms encourage (Psalms 25:3, 21; 27:14; 37:34; 39:7).3 “Waiting” is an expression of trust and reliance on God. For the psalmist, this faithful waiting leads to God’s salvation.

Through the experience of salvation, the lord puts a “new song” in the psalmist’s mouth, a song of praise that testifies to the lord’s goodness. By singing this song, the psalmist leads others to trust in God’s salvation (verse 3). The next two verses contain a beatitude (verse. 4-5) that exhorts trust in God as the way to live that yields blessing and contentment.

Verses 6-8 raise a question about appropriate worship. The thanksgiving section of the psalm (verses 1-10) could have provided liturgy to accompany a thanksgiving offering (see Psalm 30; Leviticus 3; 7:11-18). But verses 6-8 seem to reject such an offering: “sacrifice and offering you do not desire” (verse 6). The Old Testament elsewhere critiques sacrifice, but never rejects it outright (Psalms 50:7-15; 51:15-17; 69:30-33; Amos 5:22; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 7:22).

Verses 7-8 may intend to present an alternative to the sacrifice, namely, the psalmist’s written testimony in gratitude for deliverance: “in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is in my heart.” The “scroll of the book” is somewhat obscure, but it may refer to the psalmist’s testimony in written form, presented in the temple. The psalmist essentially presents himself as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2).4 Verses 9-10 advance the claim of this testimony in the congregation gathered for worship.

Verses 7-8 are important in the larger context of the book of Psalms. The word for “delight” (hapas) in relation to torah is the same word that appears in Psalm 1: 2 which says of the righteous that “their delight is in the law of the lord.” This combination of words occurs only in these two places in the Psalter.  Thus, Book I of the Psalter (Psalms 1-41) begins and ends (or nearly so) with this distinctive emphasis on torah-obedience as a sign of faithfulness to God. The one who speaks in Psalm 40:1-11 is one of the righteous, one who Psalm 1 describes and whose way of life it commends.

What about the shift to petition in verse 11? We should note that this kind of rhetorical development appears in numerous other psalms (see Psalms 9-10; 27; 44; 74; 89). The move from thanksgiving to petition is a reminder of the context of suffering that shaped the Psalter. Clinton McCann says it well: “whether individually or corporately, we always pray out of need, at least in the sense that no deliverance is final in this mortal life.”5 Indeed, the thanksgiving for God’s steadfast love in verses 1-10 appears appropriately in a context in which the psalmist still needs to call for hesed.

The Irish rock band U2 provides an artistic expression of McCann’s point about the move from thanksgiving to lament. On their 1985 album “War” they included a song called “40,” the lyrics of which they took from Psalm 40:1-3. The song begins with an adaptation of verses 1-2 which recount the psalmist’s wait for salvation (“I waited patiently for the Lord”) and Lord’s deliverance (“He drew me up from the desolate pit;” “he set my feet upon a rock”). It then goes to a chorus influenced by verse 3 (“He put a new song in my mouth”).

But then the song includes a line that is not part of Psalm 40: “How long to sing this song?” These words echo a line in the first song on the album, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” which laments a horrific day of violence during “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland.6 The album ends in thanksgiving spoken with the awareness of continuing pain and suffering. This rendition of Psalm 40:1-3 is true to the psalm as a whole and to the Psalter as a whole. It is a song of thanksgiving that recognizes the ongoing trouble in the world and the need for salvation.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Jan. 15, 2017.
  2. Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Continental Commentary (trans. Hilton C. Oswald; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 423–424.
  3. J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (ed. Leander Keck; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996): 4:842.
  4. James Luther Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), p. 168.
  5. McCann, NIB, 4:884.
  6. U2, “War,” Island Records 262051CID112, 1983, Album.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Nancy Lammers Gross

If preachers follow the Revised Common Lectionary religiously, they will encounter this passage twice: this week and on the first Sunday of Advent in Year B. If preachers pass up the Year B opportunity to preach from the Advent themes represented in the Old Testament and Gospel lessons, they will see today’s passage once in three years, the last time, therefore, being January 2020. Furthermore, the second through the fifth Sundays after Epiphany offer one of the few four-week continuous readings from the epistles, I Corinthians 1:1-2:12 (13-16).  

What is Paul doing in these two chapters that testify to what God is doing in the world?

Four themes are offered for consideration as a sermon series; preachers might focus on any one or two of the themes or use the four consecutively on the second-fifth Sundays after Epiphany.

Called to be saints together

How is Christ made manifest in our midst when we are called together with those who practice the faith differently, or who make theological claims we strongly disagree with, or live out their faith in ways that offend us? The last three years have caused and revealed divisions not only in the body politic, but in the church as well. Where can we begin to have conversation and build bridges with other expressions of the Christian faith in order to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)?

It is not to one cell in Corinth in the body of Christ that Paul addresses this letter. It is together with all those in every time and place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, both their Lord and ours. In traditional use of the third person plural pronoun, an “us-them,” “ours-their” dynamic is often created. Paul uses “their Lord” to unite us, not divide us, with all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. This puts us squarely in the same boat as those with whom we vehemently disagree. Disagreement leads to fear, specifically fear of losing one’s way of life. We hang onto tiny churches that are no longer viable, and we cling to the dominance the Christian, if not Protestant, tradition once had in American culture. We confuse, if not blend, Christian faith and discipleship with politics, we vote our fears, we tire of clinging to a way of life that is slipping from our grasp. We attribute our human limitations to God. And we talk about “we” here because “we” cannot separate ourselves from anyone else in the body of Christ. This passage refutes our fear of one another. We are them.

Together we lack no spiritual gift

That we are called together with all those in every time and place makes clear it is not simply one cell in the body of Christ that has received every gift needed. We need other cells not simply in our town or our tradition to fulfill the ministry of Christ, that we might be found blameless on the day of his coming.

Beyond the obvious difference of time and place, most of our churches differ from those in Corinth in another important way. We typically do not compete for whose spiritual gift is greater or more important. That is not to say we do not compete. We do. But it isn’t over gifts of the Spirit. Many of our churches, people in the “pews,” and those who never cross the threshold of the church need to be encouraged that they have received gifts of the Spirit the body needs to fulfill the ministry. Rather than correcting pride in spiritual gifts, we may need to identify and encourage the gifts of our people that are needed by the body of Christ. If we identify and encourage the gifts given to everyone called by God, perhaps our spiritual fatigue will be relieved.

It’s not about you

Even if we have identified our spiritual gifts and exercise them faithfully, we cannot control outcomes. We cannot control world events or even the gospel message, but it is tempting to think that if we can maintain control over the little things, perhaps we can determine the outcome of the bigger things: church growth or congregational stability or financial security. We can apply our spiritual gifts to outcomes. The focus becomes we ourselves, our congregational life.  Perhaps we can control that.

On a recent visit to my aged parents in Illinois, a scrolling bank sign caught my attention.  Driving back and forth between my parents’ two living facilities, more memory care for my father and more physical assistance for my mother, I passed this bank multiple times a day. Time, temperature, and then this message, “you are in control.” Time, temperature, you are in control.  I began to feel mocked. I felt control over nothing but an effort to safely handle my car. You are in control. I began to feel my parents were being mocked. Both experiencing that slow decline that testifies to the reality that death is the last enemy to be conquered and no one dies from good health, they were not in control. Once masters of logistics, detail-oriented efficiency experts, my parents now relied on others to do less well the things they used to do exceedingly well. And in that slow decline, we were unable to control for them the pop-up fear of the future that crept in to defy faith.

The theme that it is not about “you” (or me or us) is established here as the focus is on the gifts given by God to do the ministry of Christ until he returns. This means we do not have to fear failure; after all, it’s not about us.

God is faithful

Whatever faithfulness we manifest is simply an expression of the faithfulness of the God who called us, who saved and sanctified us, who enriched us with gifts of the Spirit, who strengthens us, who binds us together. God is faithful. 

This passage refutes our fear, fatigue, and failings. The unmistakable overarching theme is the faithfulness of God not only to the Christians in Corinth, but to all those who, in every time and place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.