Lectionary Commentaries for June 4, 2023
Holy Trinity

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 28:16-20

Osvaldo Vena

The setting is a mountain in Galilee, and the occasion is Jesus’ great commission: the sending out of the disciples to preach the gospel to the nations. The group of disciples has mixed feelings: some still have doubts, but some worship him. Besides, it is a group that has been shaken and broken by Judas’ treason. A pep talk is in order …

On authority

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” recalls Daniel 7:13-14, where one like a son of man (a human being), a heavenly figure who represents the persecuted people of Israel, receives authority from God so all nations should serve him. They receive the encouraging message that one day their oppressors will serve them. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is described as the Son of man and like the Son of man in Daniel 7 he has also received authority (edothe, from God, suggested by the verb in the passive voice). This is not an authority that demands people’s submission but rather an authority that empowers and liberates

In Matthew the word “authority” (exusia) is always used in connection with Jesus’ acts of healing and forgiveness. People celebrate Jesus’ deeds and words because they recognize that he is acting not authoritatively but with authority, which is different (7:29; 8:9; 9:8). But the religious leaders question it. They are blind to God’s action in history through Jesus’ liberating acts. And so, they ask him: “Who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)


On the mountain the disciples receive the command to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey. This sounds very authoritative, even forceful, to me. And what is it that the nations should obey? Everything that Jesus has commanded them, a reference to Jesus’ teachings in the gospel of Matthew, which are contained in five sermons that come to a literary conclusion in Matthew 26:1.  

Obedience to everything that Jesus has commanded them is more than accepting a certain dogma or doctrine. It is a call to pursue a style of life that is based on love and justice, a command to be doers of the word that Jesus has spoken from God, and not simply hearers (7:21-28). It is a call to a common praxis, not to a common religion. The judgment of the nations in chapter 25 is perhaps the best example in the gospel of Matthew of the relationship that God expects between doctrine—or faith—and praxis. To God, a liberating praxis carries more weight than an orthodox doctrine. 

Making disciples

But making disciples of all nations talks also about the multicultural and diverse aspect of the early church, an initial inclusiveness that was later lost. Both the ethnocentric understanding of the Messiah in Israel, as well as Jesus’ initial ministry directed to the “lost sheep of Israel” (10:6), are replaced now by a new and more inclusive program in which all nations are in view. Living on the other side of Easter, these early followers of Jesus are encouraged to envision, to conceptualize, a mission that will reach everybody regardless of ethnic or cultural differences. The book of Acts testifies to the diversity and the growth of the early church as being two sides of the same coin.

If growth is what we are looking for in a church, we should pay attention to the missionary strategy of the book of Acts: there can be no growth unless we are willing to think outside the box of racial, economic and gender prejudice.

Baptizing them with the Trinitarian formula implies their incorporation into a community that acknowledges and confesses a relational Godhead. God relates to us as parent, sibling, and creative force, to mention just a few ways. Also, the Trinity speaks of the diversity that exists in the Godhead, which is the reason why the mission must be carried out among the diversity of the many nations. If the Trinitarian formula has contributed anything to the understanding of God, it is that God is relational and diverse, but at the same time maintains a basic unity of being. There is unity in diversity, told Paul to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12, and in his final benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 he says farewell with the Trinitarian formula: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Unity in a diverse church can only be assured by the presence of a diverse, “Trinitarian” God.


If the authority that Matthew 28 talks about is interpreted as an authority to dominate, to reign, to subjugate, something like what we find in Daniel 7, then the goal of Christian discipleship is to conquer the world for Christ. This way of understanding the mission of the church reflects a patriarchal and imperialist model that characterized the conquest of America as well as the missionary enterprise of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is based on a mistaken interpretation of passages such Matthew 28 and Philippians 2, where the exalted Christ receives the adoration of all the peoples, like the Son of man of Daniel 7.

But if authority in Matthew 28 is interpreted as authority for service, as the use of exusia in Matthew seems to suggest, then the goal of Christian discipleship is not to conquer but to liberate the world for Christ’s sake. The power or the authority that is given to Christ, and the power that in turn he conveys to his people, is a power to do justice. It is only in Matthew that Jesus says: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13 quoting from Hosea 6:6 and Micah 6:6-8). The liturgy for the Sabbath at Beth Emet: The Free Synagogue of Evanston, Illinois, paraphrases Psalm 99:4 in this way: “Your power is your love of justice.”  

Unlike the Lukan Jesus, who ascends to heaven, or the Markan Jesus, who banishes into the Galilean mission front, the Matthean Jesus never leaves. He stays with the church and launches a mission that is really a commission (mission with). By his presence amid his people, the Risen Christ is announcing that today, as it was at the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God is creating a new reality where people are being called to serve the world beyond racial, ethnic, and religious differences. A diverse God is calling God’s people to be diverse, putting into action the authority for liberation that God has given them.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 1:1—2:4a

Vanessa Lovelace

The writer of Genesis 1:1–2:4a presents the readers with a well-choreographed ancient cosmogony that describes the sovereignty of God over creation.

The Hebrew Bible opens with the first of two creation stories in the book of Genesis. The creation story in Genesis 1 is differentiated from the account in Genesis 2 by its liturgical style, vocabulary, and order of events, among other features. Its seven-day structure of creation has been noted by scholars as not only unique to the Hebrew Bible but also among other mentions of creation within it (for example, Psalm 104). While some readers attempt to reconcile the six-day creation story recorded in Genesis 1 with scientific evidence as proof that the biblical account is literal, such efforts miss the focus of the story as a confession of faith in the sovereign God. 

When God created

Genesis 1 begins “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” (New Revised Standard Version). A translation issue raised in verse 1 is whether it should be translated as an independent main clause such as, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (for example, New International Version) and thus should be read as a superscription, or as the temporal antecedent to verse 2 (or verse 3), which refers to the state of affairs prior to creation, with the conjunction “when,” God began to create as in the New Revised Standard Version translation above or “When God began to create the heavens and the earth” (Jewish Publication Society; New Revised Standard Version updated edition). 

According to verse 2, the earth, as yet unformed, is a “formless void” (New Revised Standard Version), “complete chaos” (New Revised Standard Version updated edition), or as one translation put it “jumble and disorder” surrounded by an impenetrable darkness. Completing the image is a wind from God (also translated “spirit of God”). This is not some tranquil breeze, but a mighty wind sweeping over the depths of water. For a Star Wars fan like me, Genesis 1:2 reminds me of the scene in Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) when Jedi Master Yoda lands on planet Kamino, a watery planet surrounded by swirling, stormy oceans. The view that nothing existed before God began to create (creatio ex nihilo) belies the imagery depicted by the writer of the presence of a dark, uninhabitable, inhospitable, churning, primordial watery deep that God subdues and turns to order from chaos.

The first six days

The seven-day creation schema is noted for its skillful symmetry that divides God’s creative work into two three-day acts that culminate in God resting on the seventh day. On the first three days God establishes the realms of creation. In the same sequential order, God populates the realms according to their category. Thus, on day 1 God calls forth light from the darkness and separates the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:3–4). The light is called Day and the darkness is called Night. On day 4 God creates the sun, moon, and stars that give light to separate day from night. They serve to mark time as evenings turn to mornings, which become days, which become seasons, which become years (14–19). 

On day 2 God commands a dome to appear in the middle of the waters which causes the waters above the dome to be separated from the waters below it. God called the dome Sky (6–8). On day 5 God calls forth the winged birds to fly across the dome of the sky and swarms of living creatures in the waters beneath the dome. On day 3 God commands the waters under the sky to be gathered to one side so that the dry land would appear. God named the dry land Earth and the rest of the waters Seas. The earth produced seed-bearing trees and plants upon God’s command (9––13). On day 6 God creates the land animals and humankind (24-27). 

A day of rest

On day 7 having looked upon God’s handiwork and declaring that it was indeed very good, God ceased from working and blessed the day. Thus, what God began on day 1 reaches its conclusion in Genesis 2:1. The verb “to cease” or “to rest” in Hebrew is shavat. This is distinct from the noun shabbat or sabbath. The image of God needing to rest after creation may seem incompatible with our ideas of needing to rest from physical exertion but for a God who creates by divine fiat, to rest is to declare that God has completely subdued chaos and rules over all creation. Thus, God blessed the creatures of the sky and sea (verse 22), God blessed humankind (26–27), and God blessed the seventh day after resting from all work that God had done (2:1) and sanctified it.

The act of sanctifying or consecrating the seventh day is to “set apart” this day from ordinary space and time and to place it within sacred space and time. Despite our inclination to observe the Sabbath as a day of worship in synagogue or church, the fourth commandment in the Decalogue does not instruct Israel to build an altar and worship God. Instead, it is an invitation to imitate God, as those who are made in God’s image and likeness, in setting one day aside as holy and to rest (Exodus 20:8–11) and remember (Deuteronomy 5:12–15) God as sovereign over the created order. Of course, the etiology of the Sabbath in Exodus 20 harkens back to Genesis 2:1–4a. The creation account concludes where our creation account began with a summary notice of all that God had created as now completed. 

The God portrayed in Genesis 1:1–2:4a is transcendent and far from reach but in a world of much turbulence and chaos, it is good to worship a god who is sovereign, blessed us, and declared that we are good.


Commentary on Psalm 8

Shauna Hannan

“Who am I?” is one of those questions I’ve asked of God on numerous occasions.1

“Who am I, God, compared to all this beauty that you have made?” This was my question some years ago while driving through the Canadian Rockies … alone … in a blizzard … in a white car … with no cell phone reception. (I’ll spare you the “up hills both ways” line.) Who am I compared to all of this majesty and wonder? I knew I could get swallowed up by the strength and power of all that surrounded me. My cry was one of desperation as well as awe. What are human beings that you are mindful of them? The response was loud and clear: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”

Moving from feeling so insignificant to recognizing one’s significance even in the face of such grandeur was very powerful. The mystery of it all invited me to affirm this God as my God all the more. What a faithful objective for a Trinity Sunday sermon! That is, to move the hearers to proclaim God as their God.

The Psalmist’s question that became my question (and, indeed is our question) is not only existential, but profoundly theological, and therefore fitting for Trinity Sunday.2 So, preachers, before getting to the proclamations of the scripture readings from  2 Corinthians and Matthew, considering lingering in the mystery expressed in Proverbs 8 and especially Psalm 8. Linger for a while in the question, who are we? I, for one, would welcome a sermon on Trinity Sunday that doesn’t sound like a cropped confirmation lesson that explains away the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Instead of boiling it all down, open it all up! That is, open my world to the awesome mysterious claim that our God, the creator of the majesty that surrounds us, gives us the awesome responsibility of caring for such majesty.

As usual the structure of the Psalm itself can assist preachers with the sermon form. Consider a sermon which progresses in a chiastic form just as the psalm does.

A – Doxology

B – God’s work

C – Who am I?

B1 – God’s work

A1 – Doxology

A and A1: Doxology

I can think of no better way to begin (and end!) this sermon than with a doxological claim that God’s name is majestic in all the earth. How is God’s majesty evident in your congregation’s life? Is there a phrase that your congregation has used to reflect this? What difference does it make that this majestic one is not just any Lord, but our Lord? The relationship indicated in these opening and closing words is key: “O Lord” itself suggests a relationship, but then there is the added, “our Lord.” The repetition and emphasis are worth … well, repeating and emphasizing!

B and B1– God’s work

Psalm 8 is the first Psalm categorized as “hymn of praise” in the Psalter. It is unusual in that it consists completely of direct address to God (other hymns of praise include a call to praise which is directed from the Psalmist to the people3). These leads me to wonder if a sermon could be offered with a similar direction of address. One possibility might be to invite congregation members to submit images of God’s handiwork in their midst. Have these images rolling throughout the sermon as a kind of collective offering of affirmation and praise.

C and C1 – Who am I?

God’s heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars, for example, prompt the Psalmist’s (and our) question: Who are we that you are mindful of and care for us? Or, as the Hebrew suggests, who are we that you remember and visit us? Even more, who are we that you would give us a job? trust us with such a responsibility? Mays reminds us that “human beings have an office in the world … the generic human being is an official in the administrative arrangement of the kingdom of God.”4 In Levenson’s words, “The human race is YHWH’s plenipotentiary, his stand in.”5 (Since plenipotentiary is not a word I would suggest using from the pulpit, I’ve been playing with the word understudy.)

Just when the spotlight for this Trinity Sunday sermon seems to be undeservedly on us, we are reminded that even the reflective segment of this Psalm (section C in verses 3-4) “is voiced in the idiom of worship.”6 The very human question “Who are we?” is ultimately asked to praise the Lord.7

If I were to draw this Psalm, I would place section C and its question “Who are human beings … ?” in a center circle. I would encircle that inner circle with another and include in that layer sections B and B1. The outermost layer would then contain sections A and A1. The result would be a kind of sermonic rebus, which would suggest that our very human questions are lovingly surrounded by God’s magnificent handiwork and our commitment to care for it. All of this is then enveloped by the proclamation of trust in the majesty of God’s name. This is what got me through that drive in the Canadian Rockies, and it will carry us through as we stand at the precipice of another long season of Pentecost.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on May 22, 2016.
  2. Jacobson, Rolf A. “Psalm 8.” In Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary, edited by Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn, 64-67. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  3. Mays, James L. “Psalms.” Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994, 65.
  4. Ibid., 66.
  5. Levenson, Jon D. Creation and the Persistence of Evil. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988, 114.
  6. Mays, James L. “Psalms.” Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994, 66.
  7. Ibid., 68.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Joel B. Green

First-century writers were not thinking in terms that would occupy theologians of the third and fourth centuries, so it would be a mistake simply to read those later debates and credal formulations back into the New Testament writings. Even so, New Testament materials occasionally bear witness to the Triune God. This happens sometimes in less-well-developed ways, such as the narrative trinitarianism of Mark’s prologue, with its disclosure of the agency of God (the Father), of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and its exploration of relations among these three (Mark 1:1–15).1 We easily recall Jesus’ directive in Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matthew 28:19). Paul, too, can speak in ways that point toward belief in the Three-One God,2 so the benedictory reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 13:13 finds a comfortable home in Paul and in the New Testament as a whole.

The lection set for today comprises the conclusion of Paul’s letter, with these three verses recapping the apostle’s overarching message to the Corinthians. His summary emphasizes especially two concerns: (1) the patterns of thinking, believing, feeling, and behaving that should characterize community life; and (2) the divine resources on which they should draw for faithful life. Of course, these are closely intertwined. The former is possible only because of the latter.

Life patterns

Staccato-like, Paul names the life patterns the Corinthians should pursue:

  • “Rejoice!” The NRSV translates Paul’s opening word of encouragement (chairete) as “farewell.” This is possible, but he has just used the term with its sense of “rejoice,” and it has appeared several times earlier in the letter.3 Accordingly, there is every reason to think the apostle is summarizing by calling the Corinthians to rejoice. Typically, this term identifies the expected response to God of those who receive and participate in God’s saving work. Irrespective of his sometimes-critical instruction in this letter, then, Paul clearly regards his audience as members of God’s redeemed people. Note, too, that he begins his conclusion by referring to the Corinthians as “brothers and sisters” who (according to Greco-Roman notions of siblingship) would seek to avoid conflict by refusing judgmentalism and overcome conflict through practices of compassion and forgiveness.
  • “Be restored!” This rendering by the NRSV could also be translated as “set things right” or even “reconcile.” Clearly, the apostle is asking his Corinthian family to respond to his letter by taking action to correct problematic dispositions and practices.
  • “Encourage each other!” Paul’s language is clipped, so his directive could be “Listen to my appeal” (NRSV) or “Encourage each other” (NRSV note). If we take the former translation, then Paul is summarizing the letter by urging reconciliation among the Corinthians (see 5:20). If we take the latter, Paul would be calling the Corinthians to express their siblingship through other-oriented encouragement.
  • “Agree with one another!” More woodenly, Paul urges the Corinthians to think the same thoughts (see Philippians 2:2; 4:2). This speaks to the status of these Christ-followers as “brothers and sisters,” people whose lives are conjoined and interdependent, and for whom typical notions of structured hierarchy are replaced with commitments to mutuality.
  • “Live in peace!” As the consequence of reconciliation, peace is more than the absence of strife. Rather, it refers broadly to well-being and human flourishing, thus signifying human wholeness and health in a thriving community. This is what Paul desires of these Christ-followers.
  • “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”4 Paul calls for a practice of such theological significance that it serves as a fitting summation of a letter concerned with reconciliation. In the Roman world, a public kiss on the cheek, forehead, or hand generally served as a visible, physical, practical indicator of inclusion, honor, and kinship.5 A “holy kiss” of greeting moves people into a space defined by familial relations made possible through reconciliation. Practices like the “holy kiss” are embodied theology—they not only exhibit but also construct the reality they represent.

Divine resources

We would be badly mistaken were we to imagine that Paul concludes by saying if the Corinthians were to embrace these dispositions and practices, then “the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:12). Here and, indeed, throughout Scripture, God’s love and peace precede and fuel human response. God’s presence is already and always “with you,” establishing the context for and enlivening human responses of reconciliation with God and with each other.

Paul’s tripartite blessing has the feel of a liturgical formula (13:13). He speaks of the grace that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, the love that comes from God, and, most probably, the fellowship that the Holy Spirit creates and nourishes. (It is possible that Paul refers in this last instance to fellowship with the Holy Spirit, though it is also possible to hear both readings.) On the one hand, this blessing provides a précis of God’s liberative action, whereby human beings are reconciled to God through Christ’s graciousness and so experience God’s love and receive the Holy Spirit who works among them to cultivate siblingship and flourishing (see 5:11–6:10; 1:22; 3:3, 6, 17–18; 5:5). On the other hand, it provides a strong reminder that Paul’s expectations for these Christ-followers are not based on his confidence in human capacities but on the active presence of Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit.



1. See now Hallur Mortensen, The Baptismal Episode as Trinitarian Narrative Proto-Trinitarian Structures in Mark’s Conception of God (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020).
For example, Romans 1:3–4; 1 Corinthians 12:4–6; Galatians 4:4–7. See Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).
3. 2 Corinthians 2:3; 6:10; 7:7, 9, 13, 16; 13:9.
4. See Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; compare 1 Peter 5:14.
5. See, for example, Luke 7:45; 15:20; Acts 20:37.