Lectionary Commentaries for May 14, 2023
Sixth Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 14:15-21

Angela N. Parker

This week’s pericope begins and ends with love. What is interesting about how Jesus begins is the connection to the apocryphal work the Wisdom of Solomon. Many Protestant Christians do not read Wisdom, but I would argue that engaging with the Gospel of John and its relationship to Wisdom invites readers to read John’s Gospel not only with the echoes found between the Wisdom of Solomon and the Gospel of John but also with the invitation to “queer” our standard interpretations of John’s Gospel.

First, regarding echoes, scholar Richard Hays has been instrumental in providing a framework for thinking through echoes of scripture both in the Gospels and in Pauline literature. Specifically, echoes can be shouts, whispers, phrases, or songs that demonstrate intertextuality between New Testament texts and texts that would have been in the cultural milieu of the writers of the New Testament. While Christian interpreters find echoes of text within the Old Testament, they oftentimes ignore the apocryphal works that were also influential at the time of the writing of the Gospels. Wisdom of Solomon is one of them.

Second, Johannine scholar Lindsey S. Jodrey approaches texts in the Gospel of John from their socio-cultural location as a queer person. While I identify as a cis-gender womanist New Testament scholar who is married to a man, I take seriously the approaches of my queer colleagues and recognize the power of reading the Johannine text outside of the norm. Historically, heterosexuality has been framed as the normal viewpoint that assumes a binary model of gender. As such, biblical interpretation has become heteronormative with attention to masculinity ruling the day. What does it look like to read John 14:15-21 with a queer approach, that bucks against the rule of masculinity? I would argue that the action of love, which serves as an inclusio that brackets this pericope, would be even more inclusive and participatory.

Let us begin to hear the echoes and queer the text for an expanded understanding of love in John 14:15-21. First, I begin with a re-translation of John 14:15-21 as follows:

If you love me, you will guard my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. She is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because the world neither sees her nor knows her. You know her, because she abides with you and she will be in you.

Already, dear reader, I know that you can ascertain that I have translated the Spirit as “she.” The Greek language is a gendered language. There are masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns. The Greek word pneuma is a neuter noun. Accordingly, a more accurate pronoun regarding the Spirit would be “it.” In essence, the Spirit in the New Testament is non-binary but we have made the Spirit “he.” Translators have masculinized the Spirit in translation. I am opting for “she” as a way to queer the “normal” translations that masculinize the Spirit.

Continuing from his dialogue in John 14:1-14, in 15-21, Jesus opens with the phrase “if you love me, you will hold fast (or keep) my commandments.” The interesting aspect of this verse is that it shares echoes with Wisdom of Solomon 6:18. Jesus echoes the words of Lady Wisdom in 6:18. The writer of Wisdom of Solomon (which pre-dates the Gospel of John) states that loving Lady Wisdom is “the keeping of her laws.”1 Hearing these echoes in the Gospel of John is not unusual as scholars have also compared Wisdom 7:22-30 with John 1:1-14. The Johannine Jesus as described in 1:1-14 portrays many similarities to Lady Wisdom as outlined in Wisdom 7:22-30. Accordingly, one must ask: why do such strong echoes occur?

I would argue that these echoes act as markers of binary crossings. As Hays discusses echoes, he argues that metalepsis occurs. Metalepsis is a literary device that shifts figures within a text from one narrative level to another, thereby marking some crossings of borders or binaries. Metalepsis is used as a valuable instrument that produces vividness of character. Readers begin to understand characters based on echoes of other characters. In the imagery of Jesus as Lady Wisdom, one could argue for a bit of “feminization” of Jesus as we compare him to Lady Wisdom.

Transgressing boundaries and binaries from one text to another is a queer experience. Boundary and binary crossings remind readers that there is less distance and more connection between figures within a text. Moreover, these figures share similarities while also performing similar duties. I would argue that Lady Wisdom, Jesus, and even the Spirit share connection and duties.  Now, what do these connections mean for love?

John 14:15 begins with Jesus stating that those who love him will keep his commandments. What has been the greatest commandment that Jesus has espoused? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”2 Loving your neighbor as yourself means inviting them to participate in the full inclusion of unity between Father, Son, and Spirit while Jesus also unifies with his disciples: female and male. Hearing the echoes of the Wisdom of Solomon and queering our reading of John 14:15-21 invites full participation and full inclusion into the family of God without the gender hierarchy that still permeates many ecclesial spaces today. Love means taking action to ensure that all members have access to be loved by the Father, loved by the Son, and live a full life with the help of the feminine Spirit.


  1. As an apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon is generally understood to have been composed in Greek between 1 BCE and 1 CE. Although bearing Solomon’s name, this text was written by someone else who wanted to honor Solomon in the naming.
  2. Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 17:22-31

Jeremy L. Williams

As Paul stands in the midst of the Areopagus or Mars Hill, he speaks to the people of Athens, an intellectual capital of the Roman Empire. Acts intentionally locates this scene here to present the intellectual and philosophical legitimacy of the movement (hē hodos) of Jesus followers. In Acts, Paul can stand toe-to-toe with the most sophisticated thinkers in the Mediterranean world. The gospel is indeed simple enough that unlearned fishers in Galilee can comprehend it, but it is also mentally stimulating enough for lovers of Greek literature to appreciate. Moreover, Paul tells these erudite Athenians that they are ignorant. This is a bold statement to make in the place that had been home to Socrates and Plato, and Paul uses this trope of ignorance to present his message. Below we will examine the promise and pitfalls of this trope, and we will discover strategies for engaging this text to engage wonder, justice, and inclusion.

After Acts has Paul note the religiosity of the Athenians, he brings attention to an altar (bōmon) with an inscription dedicated to the Unknown God (Agnōstō Theō) (Acts 17:23). Paul’s statement about the Athenians’ worship practices is certainly pejorative. It would not be unfair to translate his statement as saying that the Athenians are very superstitious (hōs deisidaimonesterous) in an unflattering way (Acts 17:22). They are so bad, to him, that they even worship what they do not know. He uses this as an entry point to launch his message.

There are a few admirable points from Paul’s engagement with the Athenians and there are some that are dangerous especially if people emulate them in contemporary times. It is admirable that Acts portrays Paul as paying attention to that which mattered to the Athenians. He observes their practices and, in his message, he even quotes their poetry (Acts 17:28). In this way, Acts presents Paul as cosmopolitan and worldly.

It is also admirable that Paul understands his God as synonymous with the Unknown God. Although for Acts, God is not unknown to Paul, which becomes clear after he gives his interpretation of the god to whom the altar is dedicated. Before moving too swiftly into Paul’s exegesis of the altar’s inscription, it is significant to linger with the idea of Paul’s God, Jesus’ God, Acts’ God as being unknown. It is worth considering what the Athenians had right in seeing the divine as in some ways unknowable. The transliteration of the Greek behind “to the unknown” (agnōsto) is etymologically connected to agnostics, who affirm that they have questions about God, God’s role in the world, and God’s role in their lives. This passage affirms that Unknown God is indeed a name for the God of Acts.

Acts’ Paul at once accepts the moniker of Unknown God and rejects it; that rejection can be dangerous. A dangerous aspect of Paul’s speech is that he caricatures the practices of the Athenians. He assumes that they are ignorant and that he possesses knowledge that they do not have. He explains that God as the maker of the cosmos is incapable of living in temples made with human hands (cheiropoiētois). This is the same critique and wording that Stephen raises against the Jerusalem Temple in Acts 7:48. In both instances, Acts diminishes the worship practices of others in order to elevate the message of the Jesus movement (hē hodos).

Uncritically accepting Acts’ representation of others’ practices flattens the experiences of those practitioners, and it misrepresents their faith as facile and immature. Jewish people understood that God could not be confined in the temple, and clearly the Athenians understood that the divine was larger than one place, which is why they had so many. Systems of logic that ignore such realities have vicious afterlives—afterlives that have claimed that Jewish people deserved their temple to be destroyed and afterlives that Christian colonizers used for compelling people from other nations (ethnē) to abandon ancestral practices. One can avoid these dangerous afterlives by focusing on other aspects of the message. The message does not have to put others down or diminish their practices to still be persuasive.

Paul’s message about the Unknown God does not deny the Athenians’ wisdom nor does it call for a destruction of their ways of knowing. It acknowledges that from one, God made every family (ethnos) of humans to inhabit the face of the whole earth (Acts 17:26). Each family and group of families has its own knowledge and quest for God, the God in whom we all live, move, and exist (Acts 17:27,28). This God who is knowable yet ultimately unknown is close to everyone. From this vantage point, the next part of Paul’s message should be read less as an indictment on difference and more about the value of all humans.

In quoting the Greek poet (either Aratus or Cleanthes), Acts’ Paul demonstrates that all humans are a part of God’s progeny (genos), which provides a glimpse for us into what divinity looks like. Divinity does not look like gold, silver, or stone. It looks like people. Missing God’s closeness and God’s resemblance to humanity is the foundation of ignorance (agnoias, Acts 17:30). This type of ignorance is different from the ignorance connected to the unknowability of God. This type of ignorance is linked to not recognizing other humans as family members.

The solution in Paul’s message for those who do not see and treat other humans as divine siblings is to repent (metanoein; Acts 17:30). Repentance refers to a change in mind, which leads to a change in behavior. For Acts, humans must change their mind, because God has selected the resurrected Jesus as the one who will judge people by the standard of justice (dikaiosunē). Justice is the bar. The assurance or reason that one can trust (pistin) that justice is God’s goal is evidenced by how God responded to Jesus the Just One, who was executed unjustly. God raised him from the dead. The Unknown God made Godself a bit more known through favoring fairness over physics.


Commentary on Psalm 66:8-20

Joel LeMon

God makes the whole world shout “Hooray!1

It’s just this sort of shout, hari‘u, that begins Psalm 66. Hari‘u is an imperative verb meaning: “(Hey, all of you) make some noise! Shout!”

The verb appears in a number of contexts, with the most common being celebrations (Isaiah 44:23; Zephaniah 3:14) and descriptions of conflict and victory, where it is often translated “raise a war cry” (Joshua 6:10, 16, 20; 1 Samuel 17:20, 52). In Psalm 66, this gigantic “hooray!” from the whole earth (verse 1) expresses joy to be sure, as many translations have suggested: “Make a joyful noise” (NRSV); “Shout joyfully” (CEB). Yet the verb also signals that everyone and everything should participate in God’s victory. The psalm suggests that God has won and God is winning throughout the whole world.

The opening shout of hooray (verse 1) initiates a string of imperative verbs, “sing … give praise … say” (verses 2-3). “All the earth” experiences God’s victorious power and responds to it with exultation (verses 2, 4). In fact, the power of God is evident to everyone. While enemies “cringe” (verse 3) before a victorious God, faithful communities rejoice as they bear witness to God’s saving acts throughout history.

A narrowing focus on God’s actions

As the psalm progresses, its focus narrows. The psalm begins with a summons for the whole world to praise God (verses 1-4). Yet the psalm soon shifts to describe God’s interactions with a particular people (verses 5-12) and ends with a meditation on God’s relationship with a particular person (verses 13-20), the unnamed “I” of the psalm.

The rhetorical effect is akin to a camera zooming in from a wide angle to a tightly cropped frame around the psalmist. God’s overall victory throughout the world means that God intervenes for communities. Likewise, God’s actions for communities have implications for individuals.

The complexity of God’s actions

But how does the psalm understand God’s activity? The psalmist gives a very complicated portrayal of God’s relationship to the community. God is the source of salvation to be sure (verses 8-9). Yet the community also attributes its hardships to God’s action, God’s inaction, and the community’s own actions.

The community begins by describing an experience of God leading the people into dangerous and difficult places (verses 10-12). To be tried “as silver is tried” (verse 10) evokes a vivid image of being heated to the point at which metal liquefies. At these temperatures, impurities float to the surface and can be skimmed off. The community thus imagines some suffering to have pedagogical or purgative effects.

Other forms of suffering seem to be less clearly motivated by some positive outcome. It is hard to imagine the justification for God actively ensnaring the community or laying burdens on their backs (verse 10). It is also difficult to understand why God would allow suffering to befall the community in the form of oppression: “you let people ride over our heads” (verse 12a). It seems that the community suffers sometimes from God’s inactivity.

There is still one other form of suffering described, where the primary agents seem to be the people themselves. It is the community itself that goes “through fire and through water” (verse 12b). Indeed, it is quite common for the psalmist (and the Bible more broadly) to describe suffering in this polymorphous way, where suffering can be understood as (a) divinely ordained testing, (b) the result of divine inactivity, and (c) the result of human activity.

According to Psalm 66, the experience of suffering defies easy categorization. It frustrates all our attempts to explain in a definitive way how or why suffering happens.

While the psalmist presents a complex picture about the causes of the suffering, there is a clear and unambiguous source of salvation, namely, God’s action: “you have brought us out to a spacious place” (verse 12b). Put differently, though psalmist praises God from whom all blessings flow, these verses complicate any simplistic assertions about the source from which all sufferings flow.

Human response to God’s actions

On the heels of celebrating God’s actions for the community (verses 8-12), the psalmist suggests the appropriate individual activities in light of God’s victory (verses 13-20). It turns out that shouting “Hooray for God!” (verses 1) is only part of the human response to God’s victorious power.

The reality of God’s power means that human life is oriented toward obedience and worship. The psalmist brings to God that which is costly and precious: sacrifices and offerings (verses 13-15). This sort of language is difficult for modern Christians to understand. But at its heart, this sacrificial system shows that God’s activity makes the psalmist think differently about what matters, what holds value. Items of great value (like livestock in the ancient agrarian cultures) take on new value when they are dedicated as a sacrifice in God’s service.

Indeed, the psalmist’s life itself takes on a new value. Like the sacrifices that attest to God’s power in the world, the psalmist’s words and actions provide a testimony. Evidence for God’s power emerges from the words of the psalmist. The cries of praise and the cries of petition (verse 17) all bear witness to God’s power.

Can we shout “Hooray”?

Many of us find it difficult to see God’s victory on clear display in our messy, violent world and in the chaos that often threatens to overwhelm our communities and our personal lives. Into these places of suffering and sin, Psalm 66 calls us nevertheless to recognize God’s victory.

This psalm affirms that suffering eschews any easy explanation, even as it insists on shouting about God’s final triumph. That triumph demands that we orient our lives around the reality of God’s victory.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the divine victory of God in Jesus Christ changes how we think, act, and speak. God changes the value of everything we have, enabling us to see ourselves as a living witnesses to God’s power.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on May 21, 2017.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Peter 3:13-22

John Frederick

The contemporary church can often be quick to apologize on behalf of the gospel but slow to be apologists for the gospel. An offended crowd protests: “the exclusivity of Jesus Christ is not inclusive enough for our pluralistic, multi-faith world.” “We apologize,” says the church. The crowd continues, “The ethical demands of Jesus and the Bible are out of step with the dominant views of our political parties, our sophisticated post-Enlightenment societies, and the favored theories of our academic elites.” “We apologize,” says the church.

Apologies, it turns out, are thoroughly biblical, even if they come in a very different form than the cultural capitulations and theological equivocations of the contemporary church. Our impulse to apologize, though often well-intentioned, usually comes from a desire to rebrand Jesus so that he might perform more successfully within the parameters and preferences of the present day religious free market. “If the church were just a bit more ____________, then people would be interested in Jesus.”

Such an approach, however, is the contemporary equivalent of attempting to smooth out the stone that the builders rejected so that it doesn’t prove to be such a “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:7-8).  The problem, of course, with an attractional apologetic in which our primary aim is to present a well-behaved Jesus who looks a lot like us, is that by chipping away at the uniqueness and offense of the solid rock of the gospel, Jesus inadvertently becomes less like a cornerstone and more like a common seaside pebble. Great for collecting, alongside the countless thousands of other stones you might find on the shores of religious pluralism. But it’s not a stone that would function suitably as a foundation for saving faith. After all, when the cornerstone has become so smoothed over that the “builders” would no longer reject it, is there really anything left to the gospel that would even require an apologetic?

In 1 Peter 3:15, giving an apology (gk. apologia) is not about maintaining a perpetually penitent posture toward the culture and instead about being ready to give a “defense” for the reasons that we hope in the gospel. Peter’s apologetic exhortation comes in the context of Christian suffering “for righteousness’ sake” (verses 13-14). Instead of responding in like manner to harsh treatment, Christians are to sanctify—to set apart or consecrate—Christ in their hearts as Lord (verse 15). This consecration empowers Christians to be ready to give a defense for their faith. Apologetics in 1 Peter comes not in the midst of a neutral, cordial, ecumenical coffee shop conversation that is relatively warm to the things of Christ; but in the context of religious persecution, perpetrated by people who are inclined to belittle believers and reject Christ.

Peter’s apostolic instruction here is profound. He insists that our response must be to contend for the gospel in hostile situations like these, with “gentleness and respect” maintaining a “good conscience” even when we are “maligned (verse 16). The logic that follows, however, would be surprising to a good many Christians today. We might expect Peter to say: ‘be gentle and respectful, because your persistent, Christlike good conduct will eventually win over your detractors to Christ.” Yet, the logic of Peter’s apologetic does not follow such a clear and rosy path. For Peter, the purpose of Christlike behavior in the midst of suffering is that those who abuse believers for their good conduct in Christ “may be put to shame” (verse 16). Before glory there will be suffering (1 Peter 1:11; 4:13; 5:1,10), and before salvation must come an awareness of sin and shame. The initial grace of an apologetic carried out in the crucible of cruciform suffering will therefore be a kind of efficacious gospel shock; the shock of having one’s sin exposed by the power of the pattern of non-retaliation expressed through a good conscience that is governed by and consecrated to Christ. In that sense, Peter’s is an apocalyptic apologetic: it unveils the previously hidden futility of the flawed pseudo-power of human persecution, unrighteousness, and sin.

Verses 17-18 then provide a sequence of clauses that ground this apologetic approach. To suffer for the good is rooted in the reality of Christ’s suffering and death for the unrighteous—ourselves included. In verse 18, Christ is portrayed as having been put to death in the flesh and made alive by the Spirit, a reference, of course, to the inseparable saving couplet of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Peter points us to the purpose for Christ’s death in verses 17 and 18, namely, that “he might bring us to God.” Just as the death of Jesus on the cross was a saving act that brought us to God, so too an apologetic that embodies the cross functions as an instrument—not of defeat—but of salvation. Verses 19-20 extend the reach of Christ’s saving work even further, to those humans (and perhaps also angels) who had perished before the coming of Christ.

Finally, in verse 21 Peter concludes by linking baptism with salvation, noting that its effect is generated “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (verse 21). While surely focusing on the salvation of individuals, the sacramental function of baptism as “an appeal to God for a good conscience” is a fitting soteriological bookend to the earlier missional marker of a “good conscience” as an instrument for the winsome defense of the faith (verse 16).

Apologetics that exist for the sake of others will reveal the shame of sin by embodying the cross and it will defeat the wages of sin by baptizing new believers into the power of the resurrection. The perplexing, redemptive power of the cross of Christ embodied in our gracious defense of the gospel speaks a better word than the most astute apologetic argument delivered in the retributive spirit of the Roman crucifiers. The true power of conversion resides in an apologetic marked not by vengeance but by sacrifice.