Lectionary Commentaries for April 30, 2023
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 10:1-10

Angela N. Parker

John 10 opens with Jesus saying the words, “Very truly, I tell you.” These words occur in the Gospel of John as a rhetorical device to alert the readers that the words which Jesus is about to utter are significant. Continuing his thoughts, Jesus begins to teach his disciples about how one entering a sheepfold by climbing or entering another way is a thief or a bandit. Jesus is speaking metaphorical language.

At verse 6, the gospel writer states that Jesus uses paroimia which is a Greek term that translates into “figure of speech.” However, I would highlight the notion of a “veiled saying” or “lofty idea” may be a more appropriate translation. In some lexica, authors highlight that the use of paroimia signifies “lofty ideas” are concealed, veiled sayings that occur often in John’s Gospel. Comparing such language to parables in the synoptic Gospels, many Johannine scholars then equate paroimia with parables in the Synoptics. I do not believe that such a comparison is necessary because it does not read John’s Gospel as its own entity before comparing it to the Synoptics.

While I am not totally against the comparison to the Synoptics, I do not believe such a comparison may be warranted. As I read the Gospel of John, I argue that the greatest connections may occur between John’s Gospels and the Wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is prominent from the beginning of John’s Gospel. For example, in Sirach 39:3, one of the activities of the scribe is to preserve the sayings of the famous and penetrate the subtleties of parables. The word “sayings” is the translation for paroimia, while “parables” is its own word later in the verse. There seems to be something slightly different in the Wisdom traditions that indicates interpreters should think about paroimia in a different and distinct way.

What are the purposes of “veiled sayings” or “lofty ideas?” Lofty carries the significance of elevation. Elevated ideas demand that a reader think deeply about the metaphors and the variety of ways in which they can be applied. In the past, the metaphors found in John 10 have been superficial. For example, some interpretations of the strange voices in verse 5 and of the “thieves and bandits” in verse 8 have been interpreted to signify the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ time only. The problem with this interpretation is that if interpreters only see “thieves and bandits” as the Jewish religious leaders, anti-Semitic thought can creep into the interpretations. Such ideas would lead to supersessionist readings of scripture that believe Christianity supersedes Judaism. Such belief has led in the past to the attempted extermination of the Jewish people which ended with the murder of nearly 6 million Jewish people during the Shoah which began in 1933 and ended in 1945 at the conclusion of World War II.1

However, scholars such as Warren Carter ponder what it looks like to think of the shepherds as an image for political leadership. The idea of political leadership definitely occurs in Ezekiel 34, the text which the Johannine author seems to reference regarding shepherds. If Jesus is the “good shepherd,” could an implicit reading occur of “bad shepherds?”2 In thinking about what the Gospel writer is leading readers to in John 10:11 and 14, I note that in Greco-Roman literature, writers such as Homer, Plato, and Aristotle depict political rulers as shepherds. Specifically, in The Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle (circa 382-322 BCE) describes the king as a “benefactor of his people, inasmuch as he devotes his whole talents to their welfare, and tends them as a shepherd does his sheep.” While literal shepherds were not recipients of high esteem in Greco-Roman culture, high esteem was given to political figures (as metaphorical shepherds) while actual, literal shepherds were described as “the laziest … who lead an idle life, and get their subsistence without trouble from tame animals; their flocks wandering from place to place in search of pasture, they are compelled to follow them, cultivating a sort of living farm” (Aristotle, Politics).

My point is that readers cannot only see Jewish leaders as “thieves and bandits” within the oppressive system in which Jesus was crucified. Readers must also recognize that connecting interpretation to the Greco-Roman political leaders is important so that Jerusalem’s leaders are not the only ones interpreted as problematic. Pondering the loftiness of Jesus’ words can expand that interpretation to also include Roman leaders, who were actually lords over the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus’ ministry.

Another lofty idea may come from thinking deeply about our Western concept of “eternal life.” Oftentimes in our church settings, we equate having abundant life to a life that can only occur in the hereafter. However, it is imperative to expand that interpretation to include what abundant life would look like in Jesus’ time. In order for expansion to occur, we have to remember that both Roman and Jewish leaders are presiding over the world. Further, both are endangering the immediate lives of Jesus and his followers through food shortage, decreased economic security, and diminished healthy opportunities. Accordingly, it would not be far-fetched to actually decrease the superfluous and lofty ideal of life after death to contemplate life in its immediacy. In comparing himself to the gate, Jesus provides protection and relationship to the sheep of the sheepfold. Abundant life is not just for eternal life but may also mean life in the present age. For this reason, I appreciate Warren Carter’s translation of “eternal life” into “life of the age.” I think that our current task in today’s contemporary society is to blend the ideas of living towards eternal life while working to be part of Jesus’ sheepfold. As a part of the sheepfold, Jesus provides a present “life of the age” to those who are denied life-giving opportunities in today’s society.

Every person has to make a choice. Do we uphold an idea of “eternal life” that prepares Jesus followers for a life in the hereafter with no concern for what life in the present age looks like? Or do we decide to inhabit this world and hope beyond hope that a “life of the age” is present for all of those who follow Jesus? The choice is ours.


  1. As an aside and because I do not have space to address the subject, I would highlight that more than 2,000 Black Germans were killed in the Shoah as well. In other writings, I highlight how anti-Semitic thought is often traced to White supremacy.
  2. While I understand that Jesus does not specifically call himself the “good shepherd” in our particular pericope, he does use this language immediately following in John 10:11 and 10:14.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 2:42-47

Sharon Betsworth

The reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter stretches into the days following the Pentecost experience. Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14–36) has moved a vast number of people to be baptized, about three thousand in all according to Luke. 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. Briefly, while verse 14 seems to refer to free Judean men and men in Jerusalem, both our passage from last week, Acts 2:36–41, and today’s reading makes it clear that the crowds present on the day of Pentecost include a mixed group of people, of various ages, genders, and nations (see also my Third Sunday of Easter post).

While some modern versions of the Bible (for example the New Revised Standard Version) place a subject headings before verses 37–42, and 43–47, and the lectionary breaks the latter portion of Acts 2 between verses 41 and 42, from a literary perspective the Pentecost narrative extends from Acts 2:1–2:47. The next clear break in the story is found at 3:1, when the scene shifts to an unspecified “one day.” Thus, Acts 2 describes the events of the Holy Spirit coming upon the people gathered in Jerusalem fifty days after Easter. Peter steps forward to explain what has come to pass, beginning with God’s actions as recounted in the Hebrew Bible and then through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He calls upon the crowds to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Those who heed this call shape themselves into a new community of Christ-believers.

This Christ community forms themselves through the apostles’ teaching of the Gospel, that is, the message of Jesus; they share fellowship with one another, and sit together for common meals, and they pray and worship with one another. This description draws upon another significant theme from Luke’s Gospel: table fellowship. Throughout Luke, Jesus eats with a variety of people in a variety of settings: with tax collectors (Luke 5:27–32), with Pharisees (7:36–50, 14:1–14), in the home of strangers whom the disciples rely on for hospitality (10:1–12), a Passover meal (22:14–30). These meals raise questions for the reader, such as “Who eats? What do you eat? Where do you eat? With whom do you eat? How do you eat? Why do you eat?” For Luke, meals become an opportunity for social critique and revealing barriers to social interactions. By resurrection day, a new kind of meal interaction takes place. In Luke 24, meals are shown to be the place of revelation, a defining point in the life of the community.

Acts 2:44-46 then describes how the community handles their property: “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Luke’s vision is of a Christ community where all members have their basic needs met; where there will be enough food for all and the basic needs of life will be available for all. Some modern Christians are offended by this sharing of goods: “You’re teaching socialism,” they tell the minister. No, this ancient story is referring to an even older story: it is, in a sense, a return to Eden, where the first humans had their food and needs for life provided for by God. The apostles’ signs and wonders continue the healing ministries of Jesus. It is the dawning of the “year of the Lord’s favor,” as Jesus proclaimed early in his ministry (Luke 4:19). It is as Zechariah prophesied “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet to the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

The community of believers remains in Jerusalem, worshiping in the Temple, then returning home to share meals with one another. Joy and gladness mark their days; their abundant joy is contagious, and others continually join their fellowship. Even as verses 43-47 close out the Pentecost story, they function as a transition into the next segment of the story of Acts which stretches from 3:1—5:12. The new Christ Community, led by Peter, John and the other apostles remain in Jerusalem and continue to teach, preach, and do signs and wonders. Acts 4:32-35 reaffirms the ideal of the community holding all possessions and property in common, and it provides the specific example of Barnabas, who sold all of his property and gave the proceeds to the apostles.

However, just like the stories in Genesis, where the goodness given by God does not last, and the frailty of human existence breaks through paradise, soon this ideal community is marred by sin, in this case greed, power, and prejudice. Sapphira and Ananias sell some of their property, but instead of laying it all at the apostles’ feet as Barnabas did, they keep some for themselves (Acts 5:1-11). Their punishment is swift. Each is confronted by Peter and struck dead by the Holy Spirit (a story to remind parishioners of, when they complain about the wrath of the “God of the Old Testament”). The apostles begin to be persecuted (Acts 5:17-40), and divisions begin to arise among the community—some of the Greek speaking members of the community were not receiving the same share of food as some of the Aramaic speaking members of the community (Acts 6:1-6).

But before the brokenness of human life swoops down upon the fledgling Christian community, there is a glimpse of the new creation; a glimpse of the new birth given through the resurrection of Christ. These glimmers of the reign of God seem so far off in our days, but they are as near as our worship, prayer, and fellowship can take us.


Commentary on Psalm 23

Kelly J. Murphy

Even audiences largely unfamiliar with the Bible’s contents are likely to know phrases from Psalm 23 (though whether or not they know what they are hearing is biblical is another question!).

Used in countless television scenes and movie shoots, often as protagonists stumble toward their inevitable death or as mourners huddle around a graveside, the invocation of 23:4 in popular culture has lead many to associate this psalm of trust with death and mourning.

From the perspective of form criticism, Psalm 23 is a “song of trust,” as are Psalms 4, 11, 27, 16, 62, and 131. Songs of trust have two things in common: a perceived calamity of some kind and trust that the calamity or disaster shall pass and all will be well. In fact, as scholars often note, in these songs of trust it is the very crisis that instigates the psalmist to cry out in trust— and not, as one might expect, in despondency or dejection. For example, in Psalm 27, trust comes even when standing in the midst of flesh-devouring evildoers and with armies encamped all around (27:1-3).

Yet what crisis was Psalm 23 addressing? And was that crisis one that centered on death, as is so often the case when the psalm is invoked today? Psalm 23 is quiet on the crisis that led to its composition. Rather it functions to remind its audience of the relationship between God and God’s people—and, perhaps most importantly, the psalm reminds readers about the beauties of living life in the here and now even amid the usual darkness that accompanies day-to-day life. The psalm begins with a faithful and hopeful claim, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” As scholars often note, the Hebrew verb haser, translated in the NRSV as “want,” is same verb found in Deuteronomy 2:7, “Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing” (compare Nehemiah 9:21, “Forty years you sustained them in the wildness so that they lacked nothing”). The invocation of two passages related to the forty years of wandering following the Exodus is noteworthy: God took care of the people then as they wandered through the desert. To be sure, life wasn’t always easy—but it was life. Those forty years might have seen a lot of grumbling and complaining, but they also saw manna free from heaven, the birth of a new generation, and eventual progress to the Promised Land. God cared for the wandering people—and they lacked nothing. The benefits of the relationship are clear: have faith in the God who shepherds you through the wilderness, for history tells you that this God will not let you lack what you need. This God will lead you to the Promised Land, providing you green pastures (food), still waters (drink), and a straight path (protection).

The shepherd metaphor continues, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Though the King James translation—the “valley of the shadow of death”—is most famous, the more appropriate translation from the original Hebrew is likely something more akin to “darkest valley” (NRSV) or “deepest darkness” (New Jewish Publication Society). In fact, a number of interpreters over the years have understood the passage more in line with these recent translations, which shift the focus away from the only possible mention of death in a psalm that otherwise focuses on a shepherd sustaining the life of the flock. For example, Martin Luther noted how odd it was that the beginning of the psalm—which claims that God provides and the psalmist does not want—is followed by the well-known passage in v. 4. Nevertheless, those in the know recognize that God is nevertheless shepherding them through these dark experiences, keeping them safe and guiding them (even if, per Luther, “the world cannot see this rich, splendid comfort of the Christians, that they want nothing” [Luther, Psalm 23:4]). Despite how perplexing it might be while we stumble our way through the darkness, hope and trust are appropriate responses; they keep us moving toward life.

The final two verses of the psalm move to the second metaphor: God is a gracious host who prepares a banquet table for the psalmist (see Psalm 92:11). This table is spread “in the presence of my enemies,” who seem to watch from the sidelines as God anoints the head of the psalmist and fills the psalmist’s cup to overflowing (23:5). The psalm continues, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow (radap) me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word translated in the NRSV as “follow” is also found in a number of verses scattered throughout the larger biblical text that deal with enemies, but always as “pursue.” A few examples: “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue (radap), I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them’” (Exodus 15:9); “then let the enemy pursue (radap) and overtake me, trample my life to the ground” (Psalm 7:5); “For the enemy has pursued (radap) me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead” (Psalm 143:3); “Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue (radap) him” (Hosea 8:3). Playfully, Psalm 23:6 turns the image of an enemy who pursues—a frightening image to be sure—into something wonderful, good, and life-affirming. Accordingly, a more accurate reading might be, “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” The psalm ends with yet another nod toward life and living: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long”; here the “house of the Lord” refers to the Temple (see Psalm 27:4).  Again, the psalm emphasizes life in there here-and-now, and the ways in which life in the here-and-now can be joyous and banquet-filled, especially if one trusts in guidance and protection of the shepherd and the benevolent provider of the banquet.

Psalm 23 reminds readers that God sustains, provides, and cares for his flock not once but time and time again—fleeing from Egypt, returning from Exile, and as we walk through darkness.  Psalm 23 reminds readers that goodness can pursue them as well as travails. Moreover, in this Easter season, Psalm 23 serves a reminder to live—in the face of danger and misfortune, even in the shadows of darkness that might surround us, and to know that in living we will be sustained.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Peter 2:19-25

Karl Jacobson

“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering.”

This is difficult.1 But probably not difficult in the way you might think. The truth is that for most of us—at least for most of us living in the United States—living the Christian life and being “aware of God” are less than likely to bring us suffering. Suffering, abuse, threats of physical violence; these are not the barriers to the life of faith that many of us will ever face.

The old saw that “the greatest trick the Devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist” (attributed variously to the French poet Charles Baudelaire, or Verbal [Kevin Spacey] from The Usual Suspects [1995]), may be amended a bit along these lines:

The greatest threat to the Christian faith is indifference. It can seem, at times, that we just don’t matter that much. Let me be perfectly clear at this point: I am not suggesting that physical danger is to be desired, nor am I pining for the good-old-days of persecution. But does the current state of affairs, at least in North American culture, render a text like 1 Peter 2:19-25 almost irrelevant?

“For this you have been called. Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.” Is this a call that we need to answer? Can it be answered? Perhaps the call to suffering or even martyrdom will not be sounded for us, at least not explicitly. But we can follow in Christ’s steps, in a figurative sense. Following 1 Peter 2:22-24 here is an attempt to chart the course of following Christ’s example.

Verse 22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in him,” is an allusion (in the form of a quotation) of Isaiah 53:9, “They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” To take this as an admonition never to sin would be to ask the impossible, but honesty—as a way of life, in our confession not only of sin but of Christ, in our living out of the calling to which we have been called in Christ. This can be within our grasp.

In verse 23 there is another allusion (this time not set out as a quotation) to Isaiah 53, this time verse 7. The author of 1 Peter writes, “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” This calls to mind the suffering servant as Isaiah imagines him, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”

Here too is an example that is within our reach: to stay our lips when we are abused (lied about, insulted, defamed), to refrain from responding in kind when we suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” to entrust ourselves—in every situation—to our God … these are things that we, like Jesus, can do.

These may not be the sufferings of legend, but they are real. And we are called to look to the Christ, and follow his example. This may be a difficult word to preach, but it is one we do well to consider. In a culture that often is given over to a word-based revenge, to foul, lowest-common-denominator rebuttal, to name-calling, the need for some sacrificial silence may be long overdue. This might also be an opportunity for the preacher to exercise some silence.

1 Peter 2:21 is an invitation: “For this you have been called. Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.” Is this a call that we need to answer for our audience? Or is it best left to them—or better opened up for them—to answer for themselves?


  1. Commentary first published on this site on May 11, 2014.