Lectionary Commentaries for April 16, 2023
Second Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 20:19-31

Gennifer Benjamin Brooks

For too many, the major focus of this text has been the reaction of Thomas, often called the doubter. But this is a resurrection text. The theme of resurrection is predominant throughout this passage. John is not satisfied with narrating the events of the morning, the message of the risen Christ travels through the day and here, he gives an account of the events of the evening as experienced by the disciples.

Once again there is a juxtaposition of themes, this time of fear and peace. The disciples are huddled together in fear behind locked doors and Jesus comes into their midst with a word of peace. Shalom! The word itself has multiple meanings, one of which can reflect a simple hello. However, the writer of John’s gospel and the modern-day interpreter must consider Jesus’ greeting as the much stronger word of peace, offered in his greeting to the disciples. The greeting is said twice, perhaps for emphasis, or perhaps because the disciples were so awe-struck that they could not respond to Jesus’ first salutation.

This word of peace from the resurrected one is necessary to calm the disciples’ fear, to settle their hearts and minds that are still caught in the grip of doubt and unbelief, first at the unexpected outcome of Jesus’ ministry: his crucifixion, then at the still-unbelievable story told by Mary Magdalene. Those human events were sufficient to erode any sense of security or peace they might have felt as disciples of Jesus and instead instill fear into their hearts. The text says that they are in fear of the Jews, and it is important that this notation is not over-emphasized to support an antisemitic bias.

In the midst of their naturally unsettled state that resulted from or caused their fear, they are overwhelmed by Jesus’ appearance. D. Cameron Murchison notes that for the gathered disciples on that first Easter evening, “Without explanation, Jesus is among them speaking directly to their fear: ‘Peace be with you.’ Not once but twice Jesus gives the greeting (verses 19, 21), inevitably recalling the words of comfort that he had spoken at the Last Supper.”1 Caught in the grip of fear, the disciples and all people need to experience the peace of Christ in their hearts in order to set aside the paralysis that holds them bound. Regardless of the messages brought by Mary Magdalene, the disciples cannot be at ease, but instead cower in hiding, needing desperately to experience a sense of peace to overcome their fear. It is a situation that is common to all of us as human beings, that when fear takes hold of us, we can do little or nothing to overcome it ourselves.

Peace not only brings calm, but it also brings light where darkness once reigned, it helps to restore order when there has been disruption in our lives. Clayton J. Schmit writes, “The human mind searches for order: to make sense of things, to understand the world, to organize all the data that comes to our awareness.”2 The gathered disciples and Thomas are caught in the vortex of events that are out of their control, while having a great impact on their lives and their well-being. This results in turmoil that affects their hearts and minds, and fear is the natural, human result. Jesus’ words of peace are necessary and critical to the disciples on that Easter evening. And in the same way that he offers a word of peace to the disciples, so too Jesus offers peace to Thomas when unbelief and turmoil takes hold of him as he is confronted by the account of Jesus’ resurrection that seems totally unbelievable. In some readings of the text, Thomas’ unbelief has been applied to Jesus’ resurrection itself. However, what Thomas is questioning is the story offered by his friends. Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to have the proof that he said he required, but once Jesus speaks, Thomas pays homage to Jesus’ divinity. Jesus recognizes the human failing for what it is: seeing is believing. In effect, Jesus questions Thomas’ faith.

The reality for our lives as Christians is that too often, we are confronted by questions of faith and we make promises of future faithfulness to Christ, if only Christ will provide the proof of his presence. When we are overcome by fear, we are wont to look to the world for the peace that we need. Referring to this Johannine text, Murchison notes: “The peace that is not offered by the world is the peace that comes from the knowledge that, in spite of all the hurt and harm the world can and does inflict, God’s compassion and care embodied in Jesus stands again in their midst, the crucifixion notwithstanding.”3 That is what Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and to Thomas brought into being.

Many individuals, avowed Christians, look to sources outside of Christ for the peace that they require for their lives. We live in a world that is rife with turmoil and there are upheavals globally, nationally, socially, in the church, in our homes and in our lives. Many of the challenges that confront us in life cause fear to arise in our hearts and we try to bring order by our own strength. The answer to all our fears lies with Jesus. Upheavals and disorder are a natural part of life, but with the peace of Christ in our hearts, we can face the disruptions to our inner peace, and by faith in Christ we can receive again and always the word that comes directly from the risen Christ: Peace be with you.


  1. D. Cameron Murchison, “Theological Perspective of John 20: 19-31” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 Lent through Eastertide, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 396.
  2. Clayton J. Schmit, “Homiletical Perspective of John 20: 19-31” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 Lent through Eastertide, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 395.
  3. Murchison, 396.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Sharon Betsworth

The lectionary readings for the Sundays after Easter contain passages from the Acts of the Apostles rather than a reading from the Hebrew Bible. In particular, the passages for the Second and Third Sundays after Easter come from Peter’s Pentecost speech. The main themes—resurrection, baptism, and the Holy Spirit—are introduced in the first eleven verses of Acts, which will not be read until the Ascension of the Lord. The Fourth Sunday after Easter narrates the life of the new community immediately following the Pentecost event. Acts 1–2 are an extended prologue for the rest of the book. In Acts, Luke instructs Jesus’ followers, especially new Gentile believers, in the foundational stories of the tradition. The history of God’s relationship to Israel arises as a major theme just as it does in Luke’s Gospel.

The reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is Acts 2:14a, followed by 2:22-32. Verse 14a will reprise in each of the next two Sundays as the introduction to the reading. Depending upon the translation, this opening verse seems to indicate that Luke was speaking primarily to men: “Men of Judea …” The Greek word aner, man, applied only to free, adult males in the Roman world. Indeed, in Acts, Luke uses the term aner more than it is used anywhere else in the New Testament, some 100 times. This is where an understanding of Luke’s literary context is imperative. Luke is drawing upon writing conventions of his world, in which historical speeches were addressed to men. Despite this apparent bias, we must imagine that women and children as well as enslaved persons were present in Peter’s audience. In the Gospel, Luke describes whole families traveling to Jerusalem for the holy days and festivals (Luke 2:41-44). Moreover, when we reach the end of the speech in Acts 2 verses 41 and 47, Luke uses a masculine plural form for “three thousand were added,” and “those being saved” (New Revised Standard Version respectively), indicating a group of mixed gender, age, and status.

Peter’s speech begins with a quotation from Joel 2:28-32, which connects the events of Pentecost to God’s actions declared by the prophet. This history of Israel is then connected to the story of Jesus. Peter emphasizes Jesus’ human origins, as a person from the outlying region of Galilee, but nevertheless mighty in deeds of power, signs, and wonders, all made possible through the power of God. Even the crucifixion was according to God’s plan, the intention and direction of God throughout human history, which encompassed the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. God’s plan also included “raising him up, having freed him from death” (2:24, New Revised Standard Version). The Greek in this verse has a slightly different spin from the New Revised Standard Version translation: Jesus is freed from the “pangs of death.” “Pangs” is usually used to describe child birth in Greek, thus in this description, the death of Jesus also inaugurates new life.

Turning again to the Hebrew Bible, Peter’s speech connects Jesus to his ancestor David. Verses 25-28 draw upon Psalm 16:8-11 in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which Luke used as his Bible and quotes from. As with the quotation from Joel, Luke is demonstrating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. However, unlike David, who remained bound to death in a tomb, God raised Jesus to new life. This portion of the sermon concludes with another theme that takes us back to the opening verses of Acts and will continue throughout the book: witnessing, which is the proclamation of the story of Jesus.

As we preach and teach these stories from Acts, we have to take care that the good news of God’s actions of raising up Jesus to new life, do not become bad news for the descendants of Jesus’ own religious community: our Jewish neighbors. The hearers of Peter’s speech in Luke’s telling of the story of Pentecost are first century Jews who are in Jerusalem for the festival of Shavu’ot (a Hebrew word meaning “weeks,” a Jewish harvest festival, also known in the first century as Pentecost). Thus, when Peter uses the plural form of “you” in this speech, “you crucified,” (verse 23), he is speaking to the Jews of his day in Jerusalem. Luke lays a share of the culpability for Jesus’ death at the feet of Jesus’ own people.

However, as Barbara E. Reid explains, Acts of the Apostles is not an historical account, but represents fifty years of theological reflection on the meaning of the death of Jesus. It is influenced by the historical contexts and questions of the Christian communities that comprised Luke’s audience. Both Romans and Jews in the early first century bore responsibility for the death of Jesus. Jesus antagonized the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, while Rome had the mechanism and laws by which rebels could be put to death. While ultimately Jesus did not pose a significant threat to Rome, Caiaphas, the high priest, may have convinced Pilate that it was best to remove Jesus from the scene. Caiaphas and Pilate likely had a relationship that was mutually beneficial, and Jesus’ fate may have succumbed to that relationship.1

In our twenty-first century context, the good news is that God’s plan for humanity’s history—the trajectory that began in the Hebrew Bible and moved through the story of Jesus and the witness of the apostles, continues in our own time. But again, a word of caution, this is not an “all things happen for a reason” theology (see Kate Bowler’s writings for more on this topic), but is as Reid states, “God’s will for all persons to be freed and reconciled.”2 The passages for the coming weeks make it clear that “all means all,” and our worship and community life are the nexus for God’s actions.


  1. This follows Reid’s excursus on the death of Jesus in “The Acts of the Apostles,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible ed. Walter J. Harrelson (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 1959.
  2. Reid, “Acts,” 1959.


Commentary on Psalm 16

Karl Jacobson

In the context (wake, aftermath, light) of Easter, Psalm 16 proposes a contrast of sorts, between “the holy ones” (verse 3) and “those who choose another god” (verse 4).1

This contrast is set within the opening and closing verses of the psalm; the opening verse is a call for help, “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge,” while the closing verse is an affirmation of trust, “You show me the path of life…” This contrast lies between the “present” reality of need (Protect me!) and the hoped-for reality of deliverance (in your presence there is fullness of joy), and implies a decision of sorts: to say of the Lord, “you are my lord,” or to choose some other God.

The psalmist’s answer is clear. Verse 2 offers her declaration of intent, “I say to the Lord, you are my lord.” Here again we have “Lord” and “Lord.” The word “Lord,” capital “L” with “ord” in small caps, is the Hebrew name for God: Yahweh, and “Lord,” capital “L” with lowercase “ord” is the translation of the Hebrew word adonay, which means lord, or master. The psalmist’s theological declaration of intent pairs these words to say, absent any confusion, that Yahweh is her Lord and God.

The bulk of the body of the psalm that follows is an exploration of what it means that God, Yahweh, is my Lord. The key word there is “my.” Four more times the word “my” is used in the psalms to expand on theology at work. The Lord is called:

“my chosen portion,” “my cup,” and “my lot,” in 16:5

and is described as being “at my right hand” in 16:8. To claim God as “my Lord” brings an intimacy, a closeness, and a provision, that is entirely dependent on God. The lot of the psalmist is cast entirely with the Lord. “Portion” and “cup” are also found together in Psalm 11:6, in which the “portion of their cup,” “their” being the wicked, shall be “a scorching wind.” Portion and cup, in both of these cases, Psalms 11 and 16, are relational; one gets in kind what one deserves in these psalms, and this is used to call upon God to deliver the pray-er by providing the portion and cup of one who is in right relationship with God.2

Another striking element of Psalm 16 is just how much of the psalmist is given over to, and then influenced by calling the Lord “my Lord,” and, again, the word “my” is key.

In contrast to those who “choose another god,” our psalmist will not “take their names upon my lips.” The antecedent of “their” is ambiguous, and may mean that the psalmist will not speak the names of the unrighteous who have turned away from the Lord. But in the context of the comparison which the psalm sets up I am inclined to take “their” as referring to any other god than the Lord.

“My lips” will not speak their names; “my lips” will not speak any other name than that of the Lord. The psalmist argues that the confession of lips has an effect on the rest of the body:

“my heart instructs me,” because of the counsel of the Lord, in 16:7,

which leads to “my heart” being “glad,” “my soul” rejoicing, and “my body” resting secure in. The fundamental claim of the psalm is that in the Lord, there is security, joy, comfort, deliverance, and protection. When one says to the Lord, “you are my Lord,” the lot is cast, and the inheritance is ensured. The confession of faith and that which is trusted are bound together. And so, the aim of the psalm is the same as its claim; to invite all who read/hear it to join in claiming the Lord as God, to say to this God “you are my Lord,” and so be one with our God.

Easter Sunday provides a certain sort of context for this contrast, and this invitation. Will we choose a God who suffers and dies? Do we trust that it is to the cross and through the grave that the path of life runs?  Shall we believe this unbelievable counsel—that in Christ Jesus God has chosen us, and shown us the way? Can we “drink his cup”?


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 23, 2017.
  2. It is interesting to note that in Psalm 63:11 the word translated as “portion” here is translated in the NRSV as “prey”; those who seek the life of the author of that psalms are going to “be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for the jackals”; i.e. their “portion” is to be lunch.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9

Richard Carlson

These verses are part of this letter’s opening section (1:1-12). 1 Peter 1:1-2 is the salutation (identifying the sender and the intended audience of the letter) while 1:3-12 comprises the thanksgiving. Though 1:1-2 is not within the lectionary’s boundaries, they establish a foundational perspective for 1:3-9 and so should be investigated prior to examining the lectionary’s verses.

1 Peter 1:1a names the epistle’s authorized sender, the Apostle Peter, while 1c establishes the audience’s geographic location (five Roman provinces in western, modern-day Turkey). More important is the identity given to the audience in 1:1b. They are described as the “elect exiles of diaspora” (literally in the Greek, but rephrased in most English translations). By using the term “elect” (or “chosen”) the author draws upon Israel’s unique status in the Old Testament as chosen by God (for example, Deuteronomy 4:37; 10:15; Isaiah 41:8-9; 45:4; 65:9,22; Psalm 106:5) but applies such chosen status directly to the letter’s Christian audience. Their election (described in more detail in 2:4-10) is based on Christ’s own election (1:20; 2:4). In depicting them as “exiles of diaspora,” the audience are essentially strangers in a strange land so that God’s chosen are resident aliens in the pagan culture and society in which they reside.

1 Peter 1:2 ties their election to the activity of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. Their election is rooted in God’s predetermined plan accomplished by the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit (verse 2a-b). The source of their election involves Christ’s obedience to God’s predetermined, salvific plan which includes Christ’s bloody death (drawing upon the covenant-sealing ceremony depicted in Exodus 24). Thus, in this short salutation, the audience is being reminded that they do not belong to the pagan reality in which they dwell. Instead, they belong to the God who chose them before the foundations of creation as the Spirit has made them God’s holy people through Christ’s obedient, sacrificial death.

1 Peter 1:3-12, one long sentence in the Greek, comprises the thanksgiving which celebrates God’s merciful actions impacting Christians’ past, present, and future transformed existence as members of God’s holy family. Christians have been born anew (literally “born again” in the Greek of verse 3; so English Standard Version). Here it is important to recognize a number of aspects of our “new birth” (New Revised Standard Version; New International Version). First, it is generated by God’s enormous mercy rather than by our faith decisions (version 3a). Second, it is not simply something that happened in our past. Rather through the use of the perfect tense in the Greek, the author is stressing that new birth is part of our ongoing, transformed reality in the present. Third, through Christ’s resurrection our new birth reality has three results which intertwines our present God-generated transformed reality with our God-promised future destiny.

The first result is that we have a living hope (verse 3) instead of a dead, illusory, or transitory hope. Hope is not wishful thinking that our life circumstances will soon change for the better. Our hope lives and breathes both from Christ’s resurrection and God’s promise of eternal life. The second result is that we have an inheritance whose permanence is stressed through the triple adjectives “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (verse 4, New Revised Standard Version). This is quite different from the Old Testament promise of land in that our inheritance is in heaven and eternally protected by God’s power (verses 4-5). Thus, our eschatological inheritance is already a heavenly, divine reality which we do not yet experience in our present time. Instead, we trust not only in God’s protective power, but we also trust that God will realize God’s eternal plans. This, in turn, involves the third result of our ongoing, new birth reality: a salvation which will be revealed at the end of time (verse 5). Salvation, then, is a “not yet” for us in the present but an “already” for God.

In 1 Peter 1:6-9, there is a shift regarding the tension of Christian life in the present as it moves from the not yet/already tension of salvation to the tension between our joy and our suffering in the present as well as the tension between faith and sight. We rejoice in all aspects of the transformation God has accomplished according to God’s own preset plan for our salvation (the “in this you rejoice” of verse 7a as referring to the whole of God’s work enumerated in verses 3-5). At the same time, because Christians exist as transformed, resident aliens in hostile, pagan environs, they can expect to suffer at the hand of those environs. In other words, suffering comes with the territory of faith (verses 6b-7a). This note of suffering in the thanksgiving sets the stage for the subsequent emphasis on Christian suffering (see 1 Peter 2:19-20; 3:13-1; 4:1,12-19; 5:8-9,10 which is grounded in Christ’s suffering; see 1:11; 2:4,7,21-24; 3:18; 4:1,13; 5:1). Not only is there a cause of our suffering in the present (albeit a temporary one, verse 6b), there is a purpose to it. Our suffering is a testing ground to manifest the proven nature of faith in and faithfulness to Christ (verse 7a) which will result in our receiving divine accolades of praise, glory, and honor at the eschatological revelation of Jesus Christ (verse 7b).  

This reference to the eschatological revelation of Christ at the end of verse 7 sets up the present faith/sight tension explicated in verse 8. While Christians currently do not physically see Christ, Christians do love and believe in Christ.  Our loving and believing in Christ despite our not seeing him is an additional springboard for Christian rejoicing that abounds “with an indescribable and glorious joy” (verse 8b, New Revised Standard Version). Finally, the text goes further to link our loving, believing, and rejoicing in the present with the reality of our future salvation which is the very goal of our believing in the midst of our current transformed and yet suffering reality (verse 9).

1 Peter is a letter that is brimming with imperatives (35 in all) which call forth particular actions and attitudes on the part of the letter’s Christian audience. Yet in this, the letter’s opening (1:1-11), there is not a single imperative. Instead, this text builds a foundation for the letter’s upcoming command, and this foundation involves the divine decisions and actions of the past, present, and future which give shape to our reality and our identity.