Lectionary Commentaries for June 11, 2023
Second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Cleophus J. LaRue

Jesus typically calls busy folks. He was not known for recruiting lollygaggers. Throughout the scriptures he comes upon people in the daily routines of their lives and calls them to discipleship. In Matthew 4:18-20 he calls the first four disciples—Peter and Andrew while they were casting a net into the sea, and James and John in the boat with their father mending their nets. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus takes the initiative once again and calls Matthew, a toll/tax collector to follow him. Jesus sees him working at a sheltered counting desk or booth placed strategically near the route out of the area of Galilee where fishermen would transport their catch.1 Jesus calls people out of the ordinariness of their lives. It is not that they don’t have anything else to do, it is that they don’t have anything more important to do than to hear and heed the Savior’s command. The call makes a compelling, life-altering claim. It says in effect “Since there is nothing more important for you to do, drop what you are doing and follow me.” The most fitting response to such a command is: “And he got up and followed him.”  

It is important to note that Matthew did not choose Jesus, Jesus chose Matthew2. And Jesus did not ask him if he would take some time to think about the possibility of considering going along with him. The call to follow is in the imperative mood, which is the mood of command.  At the command of Jesus, Matthew got up and followed him. The German title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s much beloved book, The Cost of Discipleship, considered to be a classic of Christian thought, consisted of one word in its original 1937 publication: “Nachfolge.” Translated into English, nachfolge literally means “following after.” The Germans understand the word to mean “discipleship.” The four-word title, familiar to most Americans, was a later addition to the English translation. Jesus calls Matthew to “follow after” him (nachfolge). In a simple act of obedience, Matthew obeys. He calls us to do the same.    

The call from Jesus does not involve a multiple-choice test. The command is simple, yet profound and the answer is: “yes, I will” or “no I won’t”. The import of the call is what compels us to answer immediately and obediently. The call is action-oriented, for it requires us to live now as if the rule and reign of God had come upon us in its fullness. It requires us to live now as if the lion and the lamb were already lying down together. To live now as if adversaries had already  beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. To live now as if justice had already begun to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). Prep time to heed the call is minimal. On the job training is the preferred modus operandi. 

There are benefits and burdens to obedience. Tryggve Mettinger’s In Search of God,3 speaks of two different types of call narratives in the Old Testament. In the first type of call narrative, the one who is called accepts their commission without objection and answers immediately and obediently, for example, Isaiah. In the second type of call narrative, more typical of Moses, the person protests against the call, choosing instead to engage God in a dialogue. In every call one has to count the cost; one has to measure the benefits and the burdens. There are those who can never bring themselves to say yes to God’s call and claim on their lives for they, even at first blush, consider the costs of the call to be too high. The rich young ruler is a case in point. He rejected the command of Jesus to follow after him “for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22).

Jesus calls this man of unacceptable status and he gets up and follows after him. Implied in Matthew’s following of Jesus is the leaving of his desk, the symbol of his profession and the root of his sinfulness.4 God never calls us to something, without first calling us away from something. Some people will never fully come into discipleship because they find themselves unable to let go of commitments in which they are oftentimes legitimately engaged before the call of God comes into their lives. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). To answer the call, Abraham must leave his past behind and trust God for his future. But before Abraham can get to that place yet to be named by God, he must let go of where he is and march forward into God’s promised future. You can never get to the next thing that God has for you until, in an act of simple obedience, you let go of where you are and follow after him.

The call of God is a far ranging, far reaching call. Jesus calling a tax-collector is a controversial call. In far too many churches there are still those who tell us, and apparently also God, who can and cannot be called. Tax-collectors were despised for they were often believed to cheat the people whose taxes they were instructed to collect. They were considered to be no better than swindlers and murderers; they were believed to be guilty of flagrant moral offenses. It is likely that Matthew was indeed a customs official, counted among those of such ill repute.5 Yet Jesus extends the call to him. It is not so much what Jesus sees in us that makes us worthy, but rather what he puts in us when we obey his command. Follow me, Jesus often said, and I will make you become fishers of people. “Yes, I will,” or “no, I won’t”! 


1. Mullins, Michael. Gospel of Matthew (Columbia Books: 2007) 237
2. Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 8-20: Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001) 31
3. Mettinger, Tryggve. In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 22
4. Mullins, Michael. Gospel of Matthew (Columbia Books: 2007) 237
5. Snow, R, and Ermakov, A. Matthew: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition: New Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2019) 142

First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 5:15-6:6

David G. Garber, Jr.

Like almost every other passage in Hosea, 5:15-6:6 should come with a warning label for preaching and teaching: “Handle with Care.”1 Continuing the theme of broken relationships personified by the marriage metaphor in Hosea 1-3, this passage presents us with a poetic dialogue—a melancholy duet—between the two parties in the covenantal relationship. God plays the role of a broken-hearted, but powerful and punishing, authority figure. The people play the role of the prodigals who have betrayed God, but who also know that only God has the power to rectify their current distress.

The lectionary text includes Hosea 5:15, where we first hear the voice of a despondent and punishing God in retreat, waiting for the response of the human community he has both chided and claimed to love. This transition verse points backwards to God’s wrath upon Israel, likened to a deluge that crushes a population (5:10), maggots that rot the nation to the core (5:12), and a lion that tears apart its prey (5:14). Now, God will remain silent until the people realize their distress and beg for divine forgiveness.

Chapter 6 introduces the voice of the despairing people who see their only salvation in the hand that has dealt them this punishment. In the radically monolatrous theological perspective of Hosea, God both causes the calamity and is the only one with the power to reverse it. In an amazing leap of faith, the people’s voice boldly proclaims that after a brief period of two days, YHWH will resurrect them.

Ironically, the final statement of hope by the people here involves storm-God imagery. How will God rescue the people? God will become like sunshine and rain that revive a withered plant. This language is reminiscent of the theology of Ba‘al, the Canaanite storm god whom Hosea repeatedly condemns. By claiming this imagery, the people’s song identifies YHWH as the real Ba‘al. YHWH alone provides both sunshine and rain and has the potential to revive a decimated Israel.

If we were to stop reading in Hosea 6:3, perhaps we might be able to forget about the problematic divine abuse in verse 1. We could suggest that God has punished in the past, but now God has forgiven and will revive. We could live in the hope that once God restores us in mercy, we could return into a right relationship and worship God once more in spirit and truth.

This passage will not allow us to do so, however. In verse 4, the song switches singers again and God laments the fleeting nature of the people’s love that dissipates like the morning cloud and evaporates like the dew. God uses the same storm-imagery the people use with these two metaphors, but reverses it to highlight the community’s untrustworthy nature. 

As if to explain his violent actions, God again claims to have “slain” the people by the words of the prophets, announcing judgment. The conclusion of this strange passage focuses on ethics over empty ritual, a theme we see elsewhere in the prophets of this era (see, for example, Micah 6:6-8). God desires covenant loyalty instead of a well-being offering and knowledge of God rather than a whole burnt offering. God does not want a show. God wants the people’s love.

Such is the way that Hosea explains the relationship between a punishing/forgiving God and a wayward Israel in the eighth-century BCE. But what are we to make of this passage with our congregations who embrace God’s mercy so thoroughly through the life and deeds of Jesus Christ? It would be easy for us to focus on the resurrection language of Hosea 6:2 and slip into a Christological reading of this text. It would also be easy for us to dwell on the hope of verse 3, likening God to the nourishing rain and sunshine. This melancholy duet, however, does not let us do that.

Instead, this passage confronts us with a major theological problem prominent in the book of Hosea: the God who heals is also the God who punishes. In an era where we understand relationship dynamics and the cycle of violence in abusive contexts, this theological perspective is difficult to embrace.2 We must remember, though, that in the eighth century BCE, the Israelites had a very different notion of how God interacts in human history than does twenty-first century Christianity. This prophecy likely foreshadowed the Assyrians’ conquest of the northern nation of Israel, culminating in the destruction of Samaria in 722 BCE. In the theological understanding of the ancient Near East, military defeat either meant that your god was angry with you or that the foreign nation’s god had defeated yours. While the former may seem harsh, it was certainly preferred to the idea that God was dead, powerless to save. The theology of God as the punisher still left room for the hope of redemption.

Only by realizing this historical-theological context can we begin to make sense of this passage or the book of Hosea as a whole. Perhaps we must stretch our understanding of biblical authority and what the prophets have to teach us as Christians in the twenty-first century CE. While it might be tempting to set this passage aside and turn to the other texts in the lectionary for this week, we can still learn from it. By understanding the circumstances that faced the powerless in Israel, we might begin to comprehend the plight of those suffering around us, those who often blame God or themselves for their circumstances. In thinking of Hosea’s reward and retribution theology descriptively, perhaps we can help move our communities towards the healing.



  1. This commentary, originally commissioned and written in 2015, is just now published on this site because of a lectionary miscalculation. Thanks to the author for his patience in waiting for Ordinary 10A to reappear on the RCL lineup.
  2. See, for example, my commentary on Hosea 1:2-10 and Gale Yee’s book, Poor Banished Children of Eve: Women as Evil in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 12:1-9

Carolyn B. Helsel

Have you or your family ever moved because of a call from God? If you are reading this as a preacher, the chances are pretty high that the answer is “yes.” Most likely, you have moved to attend seminary, and then you likely moved again when you began full-time ministry. You may know well the experience of moving for a call from God. You, like Abram, have had to leave behind the neighborhood, the friends, perhaps even the family that you lived close to, in order to go where God sent you. 

People in your congregation may be less likely to identify as having moved because of a call from God, but they probably have experienced having to move in order to pursue an education and/or a career. Think about the high school students you may have in your congregation: how often are they asked where they are going to college, assuming that they will leave their families behind to pursue their education? Once students graduate from college, they may not find a job in their hometown or where they attended school, but most likely will have to move again to relocate to where they can find employment. While they may not name explicitly that this is God’s doing, perhaps as their preacher you can help them feel empowered by a God who travels with us to new and unknown places.

This passage may also help you name for your congregants the experience of moving for a spouse’s career. While remote working can enable some employees to work from home, many companies still expect their employees to be local, which may mean a move if the company relocates or the employee is assigned to another location. This is a common experience for military families as well.

Abram, after all, is not moving by himself. He is relocating with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, as well as enslaved persons who had to move with him. There is no question of a sit-down family discussion prior to this move taking place. God tells Abram to go, and he goes, taking all these other people with him.

For families who move for a career of one of its members, it can be challenging to accept that this move will be for everyone’s benefit. Children may be moved during the school year or at an age when they feel it’s harder to make friends. Spouses may leave behind their support networks and their own careers.

This text does not speak to their experiences. Instead, it is a text of silenced voices. We do not hear how Sarai felt about moving, nor do we see God talking to Sarai about the promise God just made to Abram about a child. As a preacher, it is important to attend to these silences, because it may be that members of your congregation have felt silenced. When kids have to move because of their parent’s career, or spouses move for the other’s job relocation, they need a preacher who can see them and listen for their silenced perspectives.

While Abram is lifted up as the hero of faith, his family gets ignored. When a family member moves for a job, they are beginning something new and exciting, where people have been waiting for them to arrive. The rest of the family and their stories can feel like a backdrop to the story of the one with the new job.

How can preachers honor these other stories? 

First, by listening attentively to the stories within your congregation. If a new family joins because of a relocation, make sure to learn about what the various family members left behind. Take time to offer pastoral care to the whole family, expecting that not everyone may feel excited to have moved to a new place.

Secondly, invite the congregation into imaginative listening, a process of empathizing with the characters in the text whose voices we do not get to hear. Suggest what you imagine Sarai might be going through as she prepares to leave her family, home, and country behind. 

In the book The Flawed Family of God: The Imperfect Families of Genesis, which I co-authored with biblical scholar Song-Mi Suzie Park, I practiced this kind of imaginative listening by writing out letters between Sarai and a friend, describing what I imagined her experience to be like and her mix of complicated emotions. These letters could serve as templates for a similar imaginative exercise you could include in the sermon.  

Thirdly, include the stories of others who have migrated as part of your sermons. The world is full of people who are on the move—some by choice, and others because of life circumstances. Are there refugees in your area? Are there persons who have had to leave their home countries because of war or gang violence? 

By sharing in your sermons the stories of persons who have had to move, you are also giving voice to those whose stories we may not have heard from our scriptural text, as well as to those who may be sitting in your congregation. 

Yes, Abram was a man of faith who left everything he had to follow God’s call. But it also takes faith to see God at work when you are having to move for someone else’s sense of calling. Let the silences in this text inspire you to accompany those who are trying to find faith in their own time of transition.


Commentary on Psalm 50:7-15

Rolf Jacobson

This is a commentary on the middle section of Psalm 50—Psalm 50:7-15. The psalm can be divided into three sections:

  1. Psalm 50:1-6—Introduction (See my 2021 commentary on these verses)
  2. Psalm 50:7-15—God speaks to his people
  3. Psalm 50:16-23—God speaks to “the wicked” (this section never occurs as a whole in the RCL; 50:1-8, 22-23 do occur in the semi-continuous option in Year C)

So, it is a little strange to be commenting only on the middle verses. It feels sort of like trying to eat a peanut butter sandwich without either the top or bottom slice of bread. But here goes …

Let’s start with a fun fact about Psalm 50:7-15. Many preachers loved the Revised Standard Version translation of Psalm 50:9a: “I will accept no bull from your house!” Many a preacher could have been caught thinking these words when the head of some household was offering unsolicited sermon feedback.

Here’s another fact about Psalm 50—it isn’t as funny, but it’s probably more relevant: Psalm 50 is a festival psalm. More precisely, Psalm 50 is considered one of the three great festival psalms—psalms that were composed for and used during one of the three festivals of the Israelite liturgical year: Passover, Pentecost (Weeks), and Booths. (The other two are Psalms 81 and 95.)

The reason that this is important is because at these festivals, the faithful people of Israel brought their tithes and first fruits offerings to the Temple (or another religious site) in order to fulfill the law. This law is laid out in several places in the Pentateuch. Deuteronomy 16 is one place:

[Passover] “Observe the month of Abib by keeping the passover for the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. You shall offer the passover sacrifice for the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, at the place that the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his name (Deuteronomy 16:1-2).

[Weeks/Pentecost] You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the festival of weeks for the LORD your God, contributing a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

[Booths] You shall keep the festival of booths for seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your wine press … (Deuteronomy 16:13).

[Summary] Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed; all shall give as they are able … (Deuteronomy 16:16-17a).

Note two things. First, each of the festivals was an agricultural festival at which worship was commanded. Second, a specific offering to God was commanded of each family.

  • The spring festival of Passover included the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest. The offering commanded was a “sheaf” or “armful” or barley.
  • The summer festival of Weeks or Pentecost marked the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. The offering commanded was bread made of choice flour, along with seven lambs, one bull, and two rams.
  • The fall festival of Booths marked the harvest of the fruit of the orchards—olives, grapes, and the like. Numbers 29 outlines the tremendously large offering expected from the people: 189 animals and more grain and produce!

What is the point of all of this context? That God commanded offerings be offered at these three festivals.

Also note that Psalm 50 is a liturgy. In this liturgy, God speaks directly to the people. Liturgy is here not “the work of the people,” but rather “the Word of God.” In 50:3-4, the psalm says, “Our God comes and does not keep silence … He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people.”

Imagination plays a huge role in biblical interpretation. So imagine this psalm in the ancient world. As you imagine this psalm being used in ancient Israel, imagine being a worshiper who has come to worship and to bring the offerings that God has commanded: maybe a bull, maybe a ram, maybe a goat. Maybe some wheat, or barley, or wine, or olive oil, or a pair of doves. And then, when you bring forth your offering, rather than being greeted with the offering ritual laid out in Deuteronomy 26, you instead hear these words from God:

I will not accept a bull from your house,
or goats from your folds.
For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats? (Psalm 50:9-13)

At the basic level of meaning—what does the text say?—the psalm seems to reject everything commanded in the Pentateuchal laws. God does not—contrary to what you’ve read in the Torah—desire you to bring a bull, or a goat, or birds, any animal as an offering to God.

At the middle level of meaning—what does the text mean?—the psalm seems to be a fairly straightforward critique of the primitive notion that animal sacrifice in some way feeds God or the gods. God does not actually eat. God is not fed on the sacrificial, animal offerings of the people. God does not eat animal flesh, drink animal blood, or in any way subsist on sacrifices.

We can go further. Offerings are not in any way actual gifts to God. You can’t give anything to the person who already has everything. God made everything and all that exists already belongs to God. As Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” And as Psalm 50 adds, with more than a fair amount of sarcastic wit, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.” You truly cannot give anything to the one who literally has everything.

So what, then, does this text mean at a still higher level of meaning: What does the text mean for us? The last two verses of the assigned text tell us:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

What God wants and what, in fact, God needs are these things: our gratitude, our confessions of faith, our prayers for help, and our praise. God does not need these things for God’s own self. But God does need these things for God’s mission. And, God needs our offerings for God’s mission, too. God does, in reality, desire that we be generous—for the sake of God’s mission to love, bless, and be reconciled to the whole world.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 4:13-25

Joel B. Green

Romans 4 is a short but dense essay concerned especially with Abraham and Abraham’s God. Concerning Abraham, Paul focuses on his role in God’s promise and, then, on his trust in God in the face of humanly insurmountable obstacles. Concerning God, Paul emphasizes God’s faithfulness to God’s own promise and God’s ability to bring life where only death seems to reign. As a result, Abraham’s unwavering trust in God serves as a paradigm for God’s people, both Jew and gentile. Trusting in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, believers participate in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Romans 4:9–15

These verses form the conclusion to the first half of Romans 4. First, Paul insists, Abraham was made right with God before he was circumcised (4:9–12). Second, Abraham was made right with God before Moses received God’s Instructions (or Torah) (4:13–15). In other words, neither circumcision nor following God’s Instructions generate life. This does not diminish the importance of either circumcision or obedience as responses to God’s graciousness, however. Paul’s concern lies elsewhere, in declaring that, all along, Abraham was to become the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5; cited in both Romans 4:17 and 4:18)—that is, both Jews and gentiles who share Abraham’s faith would be numbered among Abraham and Sarah’s offspring (4:11–12).

Romans 4:16–18

Paul brings onto center stage God and God’s promise, on the one hand, and Abraham’s exemplary faith on the other. He first summarizes his preceding argument by underscoring the impotence of human activity to give life, then insists that God’s promise depends on and is actualized through God’s grace and power. Pivotal, then, is the apostle’s depiction of God—the one who “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (that is, the God who creates) and the one “who gives life to the dead” (that is, the God who resurrects) (4:17). In this way, Paul sets the stage for the next stage of his argument: The realization of God’s promise depended on resurrecting Abraham and Sarah from death.

Romans 4:19–22

The desperate paradox in which Abraham and Sarah found themselves lies at the intersection of two realities: God’s promise of numerous offspring and the state of their bodies. God’s “promise” (4:20–21) has just been articulated, twice: God will make Abraham “the father of many nations” (4:17, 18). As to their bodies, the NRSV reports that Abraham was “as good as dead” and Sarah’s womb was barren, but Paul’s language is even more stark. Paul twice uses the language of death: Abraham was “already dead” (nekroō, “to be dead”) and Sarah’s womb, likewise, was “dead” (nekrōsis, “death”). The situation is hopeless. Accordingly, the fulfillment of God’s promise lay outside of human efforts, requiring God to perform acts of resurrection. Even so, in the face of death, Abraham did not waver but rather grew strong in faith (4:20), believing that God could transform Sarah’s body and his own in the service of life. On account of Abraham’s trust, then, God gave Abraham (and Sarah) life in the midst of death.

Romans 4:23–25

Given Paul’s reading of the story of Abraham and Sarah, we should not be surprised that he develops their story’s ongoing significance with reference to those “who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24). God’s saving acts, then, generate human transformation in order that people might participate in (new) life. Abraham thus serves as a kind of prototype of the Lord Jesus whose death and resurrection restore those who believe, to right relations with God.

Intertwining in this way the situation of Abraham and Sarah with God’s promise and power, Paul declares:

  • God’s promise is God’s and is enacted through God’s grace. It cannot be actualized through human efforts.

  • God’s gracious act centers on bringing life in the midst of death. This entails God’s intervention to restore human beings to relationship with God and involves a transformation of human beings to new life.

  • Those with a claim to being Abraham and Sarah’s offspring are those who follow in Abraham’s footsteps. This entails an Abraham-like trust in God’s ability to bring life in the midst of death.

  • God’s promise of life is for everyone who exercises faith in the one “who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24)—for Jew and gentile.

  • The story of Abraham anticipates the story of the Lord Jesus, whose death and resurrection both display God’s restorative power and bring to decisive fruition God’s promise.