Lectionary Commentaries for April 23, 2023
Third Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 24:13-35

Greg Carey

Only Luke gives us this story: on Resurrection Sunday two disciples encounter the risen Jesus while walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. If it were possible, the passage gives preachers too many options. How can it happen that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16)? They still fail to recognize Jesus even after, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (24:27). How may we avoid the same fate? And who could overlook the Eucharistic moments in their shared meal, “how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (24:35)? “If we can’t preach this,” some say, “maybe we should consider a more lucrative vocation.”

This may be the Sunday to indulge. I still hear Thomas Long’s textbook1 demand: preachers should identify one clear focus and one focused intention for every sermon. Thirty-odd years on, and I generally write down single sentence declarations for both focus and function. But it’s still Easter! Why not play all the chords?

One line provided by Jesus’ two friends holds these threads together: “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (24:21). I offer this not as an obvious literary claim to which all should assent. Instead, this line helps me imagine why the disciples might not recognize Jesus, why a review of biblical messianic principles is in order, and why the breaking of the bread can offer a resolution for their shattered hopes.

A messiah absolutely should redeem Israel. We do not know how many ancient Judeans and Galileans were expecting a messiah. We lack survey data concerning what folks thought a messiah’s arrival would entail. But our ancient Jewish sources, among which stand the Gospels, suggest that any decent messiah would repair the world, starting with Israel.

If that’s what people thought, we can understand the disciples’ dismay. We professors sometimes overstate things in order to focus students’ attention. I often declare to seminarians and church folk, “If Jesus was the messiah, he wasn’t very good at it.” I do worship Jesus the messiah, but I mean to address precisely why the two disciples and other contemporaries would have experienced distress. They awaited Israel’s redemption. Let us remember the aged Simeon, who encountered the infant Jesus and declared,

My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Matthew 2:30-32).

Yet after Jesus’ death, the Romans remained in charge and the poor still needed good news. Even in Acts, when the disciples know Jesus is risen, their hope remains constant: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

In response to the two disciples’ hope—and to their disappointment—the Risen One lays out “all that the prophets have declared” concerning him (Luke 24:25, 27). “Was it not necessary” for the Messiah to suffer all the things these disciples have described before attaining glory (24:26)?

To the modern reader/hearer, Luke advances an unsettling biblical hermeneutic, and for two reasons. First, the Scriptures just don’t say what the risen Jesus purports them to say, not on any pre-Jesus reading. Scholars have long discussed the Gospels’ “post-resurrection perspective,” how the experience of and conviction about Jesus’ resurrection transformed their understanding of everything. Paul, for example, persecuted the church until he received his own revelation of the risen Jesus. Luke’s post-resurrection perspective generates a certainty that “Moses and the prophets” were speaking about Jesus. We moderns cannot find the details of healing, exorcism, crucifixion, and resurrection in the text of Israel’s Scriptures. That information would not have dissuaded Luke.

Second, Luke’s hermeneutic can be dangerous. Very early on, Jesus’ followers developed the notion that Jews who did not worship Jesus had failed to understand their own Scriptures. That has been the traditional Christian view through the centuries. In my experience it prevails in most churches. And it still nourishes anti-Judaism, most commonly kept among ourselves. Yet theological anti-Judaism also motivates those moved by hate to commit violence. Preachers bear the obligation to dismantle anti-Judaism from the petty to the most despicable.

Only in the breaking of the bread are the disciples’ eyes opened to recognize Jesus (Luke 24:31). But what prevented them this whole time? Many interpreters understand Luke’s use of passive voice—“their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (24:16)—as a divine passive. That is, they credit God with preventing the disciples’ comprehension. That is certainly possible. I find it more compelling to believe it is the disciples’ expectations that prevents their recognition. This is not the context they expected for an encounter with Jesus.

One note: Wise preachers will minimize the metaphors of “seeing” and “perceiving.” This language can marginalize people whose vision is impaired, persons who have likely developed modes of “perception” the rest of us have not.

The meal redefines the disciples’ understanding of Jesus. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread to them (Luke 24:30), the same sequence of actions we recall from his final meal (22:19). The pattern also recalls Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand (9:16). Meals so characterize Jesus’ ministry that Robert J. Karris2 concluded, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” Meals will shape Christian gatherings in Acts and on to today precisely because believers recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (24:35).

We should not alienate ourselves from Jesus’ disciples. We have our own misconceptions about what a messiah should be and do. Easter preachers may well name some of those, for too many Christians entertain a Jesus who grants us political “dominion,” shows us how we can succeed in love and in work, or wants to “bless” us with wealth. These two disciples have something to teach us. Jesus the messiah offers blessings far deeper than any we can imagine on our own. Luke sets the terms for this messiah by handing down a story.


  1. Long, Thomas. The Witness of Preaching, Third Edition. (WJK Press, 2016).
  2. Karris, Robert J. Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel. (Liturgical Press, 2006).

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Sharon Betsworth

The reading for the Third Sunday of Easter continues Peter’s speech on the Day of Pentecost. See my Second Sunday of Easter post for background information on the Acts of the Apostles and the first verse of the reading, Acts 2:14a. In the first portion of the speech in Acts 2:22–35, Luke continues his practice from the Gospel of firmly rooting the Jesus story in the context of God’s plan that unfolds in the Hebrew Bible. Like the first portion of the speech, themes which are present in the prologue in Acts 1:1-11 come to the fore in this passage, particularly baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In verse 36, Peter declares to the “entire house of Israel,” that God made Jesus both “Lord and Messiah,” (or Christ). Here, Luke draws upon post-resurrection titles for Jesus which he also used in the Gospel (Messiah: 2:11, 26; 4:41; 9:20; 20:41; Lord: 2:11; 10:1, 40, 41; 11:39; 12:42; 22:61). Once again, the culpability of Jesus’ own people in his death is cited (see my Second Sunday of Easter post for more on this topic). The people’s response to Peter’s sermon is immediate: “What should we do?” Their words mirror those of the crowds who went out to hear John the Baptist at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). To that crowds’ question, John demands acts of mercy: provide clothing and food for those who have none; to the tax collectors’ and soldiers’ inquiry, his response calls them to conduct their business honestly: tax collectors should collect no more than they are required to and soldiers should not exhort money (Luke 3:10-14). John’s admonitions are concrete examples of repentance, which is “a change of mind and action.”1

While Luke does not inaugurate Jesus’ ministry with a proclamation to repent as Matthew and Mark do (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15), Jesus does preach repentance throughout his ministry (5:32, 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 17:3). Then in the final scene of the Gospel, immediately prior to his ascension, Jesus issues the call for “… repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in my name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. You are my witnesses to these things” (Luke 24:47-48).

Peter’s words to the crowds in his audience echo the preaching of both John the Baptist and Jesus, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you … so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38). Repentance is one of the main themes in Acts, and indeed is a hallmark of Jesus’ community of followers. It is the precursor to the forgiveness of sins, another characteristic of the Jesus following community. In his sermon before Agrippa, Paul defines more clearly what it means to repent, “turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance” (Acts 26:20). It is changing our mind and actions to reposition our lives toward God and to align our actions more closely with the will of God.

Two factors distinguish the baptism that Peter declares from John’s baptism. First, this baptism in the name of Jesus is required for sins to be forgiven, and second, this baptism imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit (though see 8:15 for a story of some Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit subsequent to their baptism in the name of Jesus). The Holy Spirit plays an active role throughout Luke–Acts. The Holy Spirit was invoked in the birth announcements of both John and Jesus (Luke 1:15, 35 respectively). John the Baptist declared that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (3:16).

The Spirit guides both Jesus’ ministry and the growth of the Jesus community after the resurrection. In his book on the Apostles’ Creed, Brother David Steindl-Rast states that “The Holy Spirit creates Holy Community,” 2 which is the story that Acts will turn to following Pentecost. Drawing again upon the words of Jesus from Luke 24:47 to preach to “all nations,” Peter expands who is included in this community. It is no longer just those persons gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival, but all of their descendants, both male and female offspring. Even beyond that, those who are far away from Jerusalem in the Diaspora are included as well. Indeed, anyone who calls upon the name of God, Jew or Gentile, will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.

Much in this passage evokes for me the last stanza of the Apostles’ Creed, which traditionally reads, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Just as Luke wrote Acts as a catechesis for new believers, so too is the Apostles’ Creed a concise summary of what the church believes. Brother David writes that the “Holy Catholic Church,” does not refer to the Roman church (though he himself is Roman Catholic), but to “a living community inspired by a living God.” The “communion of Saints,” is a community of sharing manifested by the Spirit. I find his description of the “forgiveness of sins” particularly helpful. Brother David focuses upon the singular form of the word, “sin,” (as the Apostle Paul generally does in his writings as well). Sin is alienation, “from who we really are, our authentic Self.” It is a condition rather than an action. Although we often focus upon sin as wrong deeds and actions, a much deeper understanding of sin is this sense of alienation. Brother David concludes that “the opposite of alienation is belonging. Forgiveness reestablishes belonging on all levels.”3 All of this, he writes, is within the context of this holy community founded by the Spirit; it is part of who the Spirit is.


  1. Barbara Reid, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible ed. Walter J. Harrelson (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 1960.
  2. David Steindl-Rast, Deeper than Words: Living the Apostle’s Creed (New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 2010), 138. Brother David’s book makes a great Lenten study. It is accessible and concise.
  3. Quotes in this section are from Steindl-Rast, Deeper than Words, 139, 144, 149 respectively.


Commentary on Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 116 is fourth in a group of psalms known as the “Egyptian Hallel” psalms (Psalms 113-118), the psalms recited at the Passover meal on the eighth day of Passover.1

Psalms 113 and 114 are read before the meal; Psalm 115-118 are read at its conclusion, while drinking the fourth cup of celebratory wine.

Psalm 116 is classified as an Individual Hymn of Thanksgiving, in which a psalm singer praises God for goodness to or on behalf of them, usually for deliverance from some trying situation (oppression, war, sickness, etc.). The great psalm scholar Hermann Gunkel describes the occasion on which these songs would have been offered: “A person is saved out of great distress, and now with grateful heart he brings a thank offering to Yahweh; it was customary that at a certain point in the sacred ceremony he would offer a song in which he expresses his thanks.”2

Individual Hymns of Thanksgiving typically consist of three elements:

  1. Introduction in which the psalmist declares the intention of giving thanks and praising God.
  2. Narrative in which the psalmist tells what has happened to the psalmist and what has prompted the words of praise.
  3. Conclusion in which the psalmist praises God for all that God has done on the psalmist’s behalf.

In Psalm 116, verses 1 and 2 are the Introduction, declaring the psalmist’s intentions. Verses 3-11 are the Narrative, telling what has happened to the psalmist and what has prompted the words of praise. And verses 12-19 are the Conclusion, the psalmist’s praise to God for what God has done. In this commentary, we will examine the Introduction, a portion of the Narrative, and the Conclusion.

Verse 1 has a seeming interpretational difficulty that leads modern translators to emend the Masoretic (Hebrew) text from: “I love because the Lord hears my voice … ” to “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice …” (perhaps on the model of Psalms 18:1 and 31:23). Does the psalm singer love (in general) because God has heard the singer’s voice or does the singer love God because God has heard the singer’s voice? This commentator opts to leave the Masoretic text as it stands: “I love (in general) because…”

Verse 1 continues with the notice that God hears the psalmist’s cries for favor or supplication [tahanun] before God. The word “favor” is derived from the verbal root hanan which carries a basic meaning of “an aesthetically pleasing presentation or aspect of someone or something” or “the pleasing impression made upon one individual by another.” The singer of Psalm 116 is able to love because God hears the “requests to show favor” from the psalmist. In verse 2, the psalmist declares that because God has “inclined God’s ear [to the singer] therefore I will call upon God as long as I live.” The phrase “inclined God’s ear” is a wonderful picture in Hebrew—it literally says “to stretch out the ear.”

In verses 3-11, the psalm describes the events in the psalmist’s life that precipitated the Hymn of Thanksgiving. Verses 3-4 tell us that the psalmist was inflicted with great distress, including the threat of death, and then cried out in the name of the Lord. “Name” was an important concept in the ancient Near East. Names reflected the natures and characters of the persons who bore them and were conceptually equal to the very essence of being. To know someone was to possess some part of that person; to speak a name was to speak into being.

In Genesis 2, God brings the animals one by one to the first human and we read, “and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Here we have a wonderful picture of humanity working together with God as co-creator. Naming brings the animals into being — an ibex becomes an ibex; a hippopotamus becomes a hippopotamus; an eagle becomes an eagle.

In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God at the burning bush. In that encounter, Moses replies to God’s command to return to Egypt, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (3:13). God replies with self-naming words of existence, “I am that I am.” From the Hebrew words ‘ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh  the Israelites derived the personal name of God, Yahweh. And the book of Deuteronomy tells us that God’s name will dwell in the place of God’s choosing in the land (12:5, 14:23-24, 16:2).

The final section of Psalm 116, verses 12-19, contains the psalmist’s praise to God for deliverance and protection. Two refrains divide it at verses 14 and 18: “My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people.”

In verse 12 the psalmist asks what may be given to the Lord for all the goodness that the Lord bestows. Verses 13 and 14 answer the question: “a cup of helps” and ” completion of vows.” In the context of the “Egyptian Hallel” psalms, the “cup of helps” can refer to the fourth cup of celebratory wine drunk at the Passover meal.

Verse 15 has puzzled commentators for millennia. Most English translations follow closely the translation of the 1611 Authorized Version: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” But, one Hebrew word in verse 15 is an interesting study.

The word usually translated as “precious” comes from the Hebrew root yaqar, which means “be dignified, honorable, heavy, valuable.” It occurs nine times in the book of Psalms, and is translated variously in the NRSV translation as “precious,” “glory,” “honor,” “costly,” “pomp,” and “weighty.” The use of yaqar to describe the death of the Lord’s (faithful) hesed ones indicates that God does not happily accept the death of any faithful one, but considers life the better alternative and counts each death as costly and weighty.

Verse 16 returns to the praise of God for deliverance and protection, as we see in verses 3-4. The psalmist states, “Indeed, I am your servant … a child of your maidservant; you have unleashed my bonds.” The psalm singer’s words in verses 17 and 18 echo those in verse 14, “I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice … I will pay my vows to the LORD.”

The Passover celebrants raise a cup of wine to God in remembrance of all of God’s goodness to their ancestors and to them in the Exodus from Egypt. Psalm 116 is recited at each Passover as an individual recounting of God’s goodness and deliverance to each celebrant.

Psalm 116 is recited also in Christian tradition during the celebration of communion on Holy Thursday. As in the Passover celebration, so Christians raise a cup of wine in remembrance of all of God’s goodness to their ancestors in the faith and to them.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 30, 2017.
  2. Hermann Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967), 17.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Peter 1:17-23

Richard Carlson

In this letter’s opening (1 Peter 1:1-12), the author has focused the audience’s attention on their present and future identity and reality as members of God’s family, which has been decided by God and established through Jesus Christ. In the transition to the body of the letter (1:13—5:11), the author now focuses the audience’s attention on their proper conduct as a result of their God-established identity and reality. Indeed, through the use of the initial “Therefore” in 1:13, the author is essentially explaining to the audience that because of who and whose you have been made by God, here is what your conduct is to entail.

When it comes to the opening of the lectionary’s boundaries in 1 Peter 1:17, the translation of the New International Version (“Since”) is to be preferred over the translation of the New Revised Standard Version (“If”). The author is presuming that the audience does indeed call upon God as Father in prayer (building on the familial relational identity of God as Father in 1:2, 3). In addition, because God is both the inclusive and impartial eschatological judge, the audience is commanded to live in awe and reverence (“reverent fear,” New Revised Standard Version and New International Version) in the midst of their exile. As in 1:1, their exile involves their status as resident aliens amidst the pagan cultural realities in which they reside.  

In 1 Peter 1:18-19 through the use of charged imagery, the audience is reminded how they were liberated from their former pagan reality (with its principles, ideals, and norms) through the death of Christ. The use of the word “ransomed” (1:18 by the New Revised Standard Version) is potentially fraught with difficulties because almost inevitably contemporary readers and listeners will shift their focus and wonder to whom such a ransom was paid (Satan? God?). A better contemporary translation of the Greek verb lytroō could well be “liberated” because this verb is used regularly in the Septuagint to depict God’s act of liberating Israel from both its bondage in Egypt (Exodus 6:6; 15:13; Deuteronomy 7:8; 9:26; 15:15; 21:8) and its exile in Babylon (Isaiah 44:22-23; 45:13; 51:11; 52:3). Here in 1 Peter the divine liberation accomplished through Christ’s death is not from sin but liberation from their former reality and conduct depicted as “the futile ways inherited from your ancestors” (1:18; New Revised Standard Version). In the context of 1 Peter, such “futile ways” would include the expected values, standards, actions, and attitudes anticipated of people by the pagan, dominant culture. In saying these were “inherited from their ancestors” the author is tipping such values upside down. Normally such an ancestral inheritance would be highly valued and honored in their society, but in the context of 1 Peter, this type of inheritance is deemed worthless and useless (on their imperishable inheritance see 1:4).  

Another esteemed cultural value which is being rejected involves the means by which their liberation was accomplished. In that culture, as in most cultures, silver and gold were very highly valued and coveted commodities, but here the author dismisses them as subject to decay (“perishable” in New Revised Standard Version, New International Version). Ironically, in and of themselves silver and gold are not subject to decay, which is a property ensuring their great and continued worth, but in the divine economy they are utterly useless. Instead, their liberation has been accomplished by means of that which has extreme value, the blood of Christ (recalling 1:2). This imagery for Christ’s death is metaphorically described as “that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (verse 19b; New Revised Standard Version). On the one hand, the comparison of Christ’s death to a lamb is most likely an echo of “suffering servant” imagery from Isaiah 53:7 (see subsequent “suffering servant” links to Christ in 1 Peter 2:22-25). On the other hand, the imagery of an unblemished lamb echoes Israel’s sacrificial system in which the divinely sanctioned sacrifice of an unblemished lamb has significant beneficial effects for the lives of God’s people.

In 1 Peter 1:20, Christ is now placed within the overarching, divine span of time. Christ was part of God’s plan prior to creation (verse 20a), and (using an implicit divine passive) Christ was revealed in what is now the end of the ages (recalling 1:5, 7). The emphasis in verse 20, however, is ultimately on the final phrase of the verse, “for your sake”. In other words, the author of 1 Peter does not theologize on God’s actions through Christ just to tell the audience about Christ. Rather, he presents God’s actions in and through Christ in order to tell the audience about themselves; about their new reality; about their new conduct as a result of such divine activity which stretches across the span of time. The author concludes the single, long sentence of which 1:17-21 consists by reminding the audience that their own trust/faith and hope in God are through Christ, the very one whom God both raised from the dead and exalted (verse 21).

In 1 Peter 1:22, the author returns to the implications of the audience’s reality of being holy which he had first depicted in 1:15-16. In those verses he called for their holy conduct based on the holiness of God who first called them into their new reality. Here, he reminds them that their holy reality (in other words, their purification of their souls, verse 22a) was a result of their obedience to the truth (in other words, to God’s word in verses 23, 25) and has been for the purpose of generating deep, genuine, mutual love for the each other. In 1:23 the author returns to the theme of their being born anew (first introduced in 1:3). Their new birth did not occur through perishable seed as did their original, physical birth. Rather, it occurred through the imperishable seed which is the living, enduring word of God, and in 1:24-25, Isaiah 40:6-8 is quoted to give scriptural warrant regarding the enduring nature and results of God’s word.

That which holds this text together is the divine act of liberation accomplished through the sacrificial death of Christ. God planned such deliverance prior to designing creation itself, and at the same time this act of liberation ushers in the end of the ages. On the one hand, liberation is realized in an individual’s existence through the proclamation of God’s word. On the other hand, its goal is to birth each individual believer into a communal reality in which deep, mutual love is a core characteristic. The divine liberation through Christ’s death is both alienating and empowering. Those born anew now live as resident aliens in their pagan environment so that their former ways and values are worthless. At the same time, their new reality empowers them to manifest their new God-reflected conduct within and for the members of the family of God.