Lectionary Commentaries for June 18, 2023
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 9:35—10:8 [9-23]

Cleophus J. LaRue

Matthew 9:35-38 provides a succinct summary of Jesus’ ministry to this point and paves the way for the commissioning of the twelve and the missionary discourse that follows in Chapter 10. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them for they were “harassed and helpless”. This imagery out of Ezekiel 34 suggests exploitation at the hands of the leadership. After considering the condition of the people, Jesus says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). The almost continuous presence of the crowd when he teaches and heals means that the harvest is ready. Consequently, Jesus admonishes his disciples to ask the Lord of the harvest to meet this great need by sending out workers into his harvest field. Jesus does not ask them to pray for more shepherds but more workers. The disciples will carry on Jesus’ mission to these sheep.1

Although Matthew elsewhere uses the harvest as a metaphor for the last judgment, here it refers to missionary outreach. Up to this point, Jesus has been the sole missionary, but in  chapter 10 he will commission his disciples to become his partners in the work of preaching the gospel, teaching, and healing. Matthew is also sending a signal to his readers: they too are challenged to pray that the work delegated by Jesus to his followers may involve more and more of those who acknowledge him as Lord.2 The needs are great and the workers are few. Thus, no time for the unprepared, trying to get the unready to do the unnecessary. All hands are needed for the missional tasks so essential to the work of the Savior. We are not simply to pray for more workers, but we are to pray for the right kind of workers. They must be people sent by God, not people who are self-appointed, because the harvest is God’s harvest, and God is its Lord.3 

Too many in our day are inclined to act as if they believe the reverse of this statement from Jesus, in other words, that the workers are plentiful but the harvests are few. Why do we find the pronouncement of a plentiful harvest so difficult to believe? Maybe it is the harvest imagery that we find so difficult to grasp, considering that so many of us now live in cities and suburbs as opposed to rural America. Maybe a new metaphor is in order to bring home the truth of what Jesus is attempting to convey. Maybe a sports metaphor: This game is winnable, but the really good players are few. Therefore, ask the coach to send more good players onto the field. Maybe we need a metaphor out of the familiarity of present-day urgencies. This burning house is salvageable, but the able firefighters are few, therefore ask the captain of the fire station to send more firefighters into the burning rubble.

Maybe it is not the datedness of the harvest metaphor, but rather the imagery that it conjures up that continues to give us pause. Some say the harvest is a frequent symbol for eschatological judgment. Usually when harvest imagery appears in scripture, it is a reference to that time when God and God’s angels shall gather the elect at the end of the age, when time that has been shall be no more. Such imagery does little to inspire more participants in the work. In this particular passage I do not believe that the harvest imagery refers to eschatological judgment. The passage is clearly missional in its intent.4 This is not to dismiss judgment completely from this text, for there is a sense in which the merciful shepherd and the Lord of judgment stand in juxtaposition throughout the whole of Matthew’s gospel. 

Even if one accepts the missional intent, the sending forth must be received and heard in faith. The God who called you is now ready to send you forth, for the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. In truth, the sending forth that really matters can only come from God. Help wanted? Yes! Now hiring? Yes! But God wants there to be no doubt about the origin of the employment. God is the Lord of the harvest. Not only its owner, but the one who controls its entire management. God has put the harvest and its ingathering into the hands of Jesus. It is his great mission to bring in the harvest and we are to work under his direction and at his command. There is plenty of work to do and not a whole lot of people to do it. The time is ripe for the ingathering of souls into the kingdom. It is ripe for those who are receptive to God’s inbreaking activity. It is ripe for the harvesting of all of those in whom the work of God’s grace succeeds. 

The needs are great. The workers are few. The world cries out for those who are willing and prepared to share the good news of the gospel; the good news that this is God’s world, and in spite of all evidence to the contrary, one day it will conform to God’s will and to God’s way. We are partners with God and our most ardent prayers ought to be for more workers to join us in this great calling.



1.  Snow, R, and Ermakov, A. Matthew: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition: New Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2019) 153
2. Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993) 109
3. Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom, Matthew 1-17. (Baker Books, 2006) 165
4. Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993) 109

First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 19:2-8a

Kristin J. Wendland

This pericope can seem almost incidental, falling as it does between the “big moments” in this section of Exodus. It comes after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the LORD’s provision of food and drink as the Israelites traveled through the wilderness (Exodus 14-17). Likewise, it comes before the giving of the law atop Mount Sinai (Exodus 20-23). Exodus 19:2-8a recounts the arrival at Mount Sinai and an initial meeting atop Mount Sinai between Moses and the LORD. It’s a settling in, so to speak.

These transitional moments, though, often have much to say about identity and character. In this passage from Exodus, these emphases appear across a timeline describing who God has been and who God will be as well as who the Israelites have been and who they will be.


The structure of the passage highlights the passage of time, with verses 2-3 and 6b-8a forming an inclusio around the central speech of the LORD in verses 4-6a. The outer ring focuses on the present moment. In verses 2-3 the Israelites are camping at the foot of Mount Sinai, resting after their journey. In response to God’s call, Moses heads up the mountain. In verses 6b-8a Moses recounts what the LORD has told him, and the people affirm that they will do these things.

The location at Mount Sinai recalls Moses’ experience with the burning bush prior to his taking leadership over the Hebrew people. The people’s arrival at Sinai (called Horeb in Exodus 3:1 and in other Old Testament traditions) signifies God’s faithfulness at having fulfilled the pronouncement that the people would worship on this very mountain. The present moment, then, recalls their past rescue from Egypt, even as they move toward their new future.


The central verses, consisting of God’s speech to Moses for the people of Israel, focus on the past and the future. In just three lines, the LORD captures the recent past and, in doing so, shares something about divine identity and character.

The relationship between Israel and the LORD has been marked by the Exodus from Egypt. In verse 4 the LORD first reminds the Israelites about the power shown against the Egyptians. While the type of power shown through the plagues and the drowning of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea can be disconcerting for contemporary audiences, for the Israelites it was nothing less than salvation. The LORD is their savior.

This salvation is exemplified with the analogy of an eagle carrying little ones on its wings. While the eagle here is likely a vulture, the image of a bird soaring up above the fray, carrying the vulnerable Israelites out of danger paints a beautiful image of care and salvation—even if the reality of wandering through wilderness didn’t feel exactly like soaring above the fray. The accompanying line reminds us that God did not act only to bring the Israelites out of Egypt but also was drawing them close to accompany them into their future. 


Verses 5-6a describe who the people of Israel will be as they move with God toward a new future. As those saved by the LORD, carried as on wings of eagles, the Israelites will be in covenant relationship with the LORD. They shall keep this covenant, the stipulations of which will be recounted in coming chapters. Being a keeper of the covenant, though, is as much about identity as it is about obedience. As keepers of the covenant, the Israelites shall be God’s own treasure, valuable as nothing else is, the chosen of all peoples. As we just read, the LORD did not only bring the people out of Egypt but also brought them to God’s own self.

In verse 6 the people are also given the role of priest, holy and set aside for a particular purpose. One recalls the words spoken to Abram that through him, all the peoples of this world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Now Abram’s descendants, this chosen people, take that vocation on their own shoulders. 

Our present, past, and future  

These words in Exodus are addressed to a particular people in a particular situation, but they also function as an ongoing description for all heirs of the covenant. This offers possibilities for preachers to consider the past, present, and future of a congregation in light of God’s words. More broadly but no less personally, the “you” in this passage may be extended beyond a congregation or those gathered to all whom God has carried, all whom God has brought near. 

The question of what it is to be a priestly people, to show God in the world, is a challenging question and one ever in need of revisiting. First is the danger of being overly insular, as if being a priest means God will only ever work through a particular people or group. Moses’ own experiences with his Midianite wife and in-laws put that idea to rest. More productive is the question of how the Church might live into this vocation of being a holy priesthood. 

This moment at the foot of Mount Sinai—after experiencing gracious salvation but before receiving the law—is a moment of tremendous opportunity. We know that there were times when this role of being a holy priesthood was interpreted in an overly narrow and even dangerous manner, and that continues to be a danger. But the present moment also remains a moment to revel in the relationship between God and those whom God loves, to hear words of promise and chosen-ness while imagining a future shaped by them.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 18:1-15 [21:1-7]

Carolyn B. Helsel

In the lectionary, this text follows the original calling of Abram, now Abraham, to follow God to a new country and home, with the accompanying promise of making him a great nation (Genesis 12). This text jumps straight to the promise of a male heir to Abraham through Sarah, six chapters later (Genesis 18), and her conception of Isaac another three chapters after that (Genesis 21). In the span of one week in the lectionary readings, we go from the story of God calling Abram, to God promising that Sarah will bear Abraham a son, to the birth of Isaac from Sarah. 

Missing, of course, are the intervening chapters of stress and angst about how this “great nation” will come about if Sarah cannot bear Abraham a son. God has promised Abraham many descendants three more times in the intervening chapters (13:16, 15:5, 17:5-6), and Abraham has complained to God that he has no heir (15:2-3). 

Notably, in chapter 16, Abraham’s wife Sarah tells Abraham to conceive a child with the enslaved woman Hagar, who gives birth to Ishmael. Hagar will receive more attention next week in the lectionary, when we read about the second time she escapes her captivity. 

For now, to understand this lectionary selection from chapters 18 and 21, it is important to remember that it is only after Hagar bears Ishmael that God informs Abraham that his heir will be born to Sarah (17:16), at which point Abraham laughs (17:17).

I highlight this larger context because traditionally, this story of Sarah laughing and the way the text presents her as disbelieving and untrusting, sets her up as the character foil to the faithful Abraham. But in Sarah’s defense, there are several reasons why this is an unfair reading:

First, there have been many intervening years between God promising Abraham a great nation and when Sarah conceives Isaac, giving her plenty of time to wonder how God will accomplish this feat. Infertility was seen as a woman’s problem, and the text suggests this by describing God “opening the womb” of the woman. When these strangers say to Abraham that Sarah will conceive a child, perhaps it is her own self-image as a “problem” that leads her to doubt this miraculous possibility.

Secondly, Abraham himself laughed (17:17) at the idea of Sarah bearing him a child in her old age, but his laughter was not called out as was Sarah’s. Why is Sarah’s laughter seemingly a bad thing, but Abraham gets to laugh and no one mentions it? This points to the double-standard the text often has for men and women. Abraham can push his wife off as his sister to Pharaoh and foreign kings, but Sarah laughs and gets in trouble.

But the greatest sense of injustice comes from the way this text has been used to gloss over the experience of infertility experienced by many couples in our congregations. 

If this text is simply one stop on the ultimate route to Abraham’s heir, then we miss the larger story connecting it to the countless women and men whose stories also include infertility, whether or not their story ends with a child. Plenty of couples today struggle to conceive, and even with the availability of infertility treatments and assistive reproductive technologies, these families may still walk away without a child and thousands of dollars poorer. 

How does the church address these experiences? Mostly by remaining silent. For a chapter in The Flawed Family of God: Stories about the Imperfect Families in Genesis, I interviewed a friend of mine from college who struggled with infertility and who also struggled with the church’s silence on the issue. This is a painful struggle in which a couple may get their hopes up time and time again, only to have those hopes go down the drain. My friend pointed me to a resource available from the National Infertility Association entitled RESOLVE, available online.1 This resource gives tips for family and friends for how to support their loved ones experiencing infertility. 

It is important for the church to not shy away from conversations deemed uncomfortable; the people in our pews may need our support. While the lectionary goes quickly over this fraught period in the life of Abraham and Sarah, it is important that the church not make the same mistake. Talk about the struggles of infertility in the pulpit; name it as an experience of suffering seen and known by God. Help couples to experience the presence of God with them in their struggle.

Sometimes, this means preaching a more gracious God than what we may read about in this text. Whereas God in these stories seems to disregard Sarah’s feelings, preachers need to proclaim that indeed God does care about the feelings of women experiencing infertility. As my co-author Suzie Song-Mi Park writes: “Infertility, in the biblical text, therefore, can feel, at points less like a real problem that these female characters face and more like a theological conundrum, easily resolved when God intercedes and miraculously ‘opens’ these women’s wombs. This vision of infertility as mainly a women’s problem, which is easily fixed as soon as God intervenes…sets a rather problematic precedent for modern readers of the Bible, especially women who struggle with similar problems today.”2 

What kind of image of God will you paint with your words as you preach from this text? Will you try to squelch the laughter of Sarah and minimize her sufferings? Or will you sympathize with her situation and that of others like her? Let this be a Sunday in which the stories and experiences of those who live with the pain of infertility feel their stories are heard and honored.


1. https://resolve.org/support/for-friends-and-family/
2. Carolyn B. Helsel and Song-Mi Suzie Park, The Flawed Family of God: Stories about the Imperfect Families in Genesis. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021), p. 59.


Commentary on Psalm 100

Joel LeMon

Psalm 100 tells us to shout it out.1

Many of us were brought up being told to do just the opposite: “Keep your voices down.” “Keep it under control.” “Don’t raise a ruckus.” Maybe you’ve told your kids—or the kids in your Sunday School class—the same thing.

Make a joyful noise

But when it comes to worshiping Yahweh, Psalm 100 claims that it’s very appropriate to turn up the volume. These five verses roar with praise, employing a series of imperative verbs: shout (verse 1), worship (verse 2), enter (verses 2, 4), praise (verse 4), bless (verse 4). Taken together, these commands compel the community to participate in a high liturgical activity, namely, singing in a grand procession into God’s temple.

Throughout Christian history, this psalm has been employed to summon the community together in robust praise. A famous example is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of “The Old One Hundredth Psalm Tune,” the processional hymn for the coronation service of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953. It’s a big, bold, and stunningly beautiful piece of music well worth a listen.2

When the choir processes singing “All creatures that on earth do dwell,” one gets a sense of the type of ritual that Psalm 100 depicts. A cathedral full of voices along with organ, brass, and percussion have a palpable effect. As the procession moves forward, our emotions are carried along as well. The psalm and Vaughn Williams’s arrangement of it witness the power of sound and movement working together to glorify God.

Know that the Lord is God

Amidst the summons to the procession, the psalm presents another imperative verbal phrase, “know that the Lord is God” (NRSV, verse 3). At first gloss, this command “to know” seems out of place. We typically understand “knowing” to be an internalized mental process rather than a specific action to which one can be summoned. Yet the Hebrew word “to know” (yd‘) actually suggests something more. This term is used in several contexts (Genesis 4:1 and 1 Kings 1:4) to describe an embodied mutual awareness that comes through sexual intercourse. To be clear, a sexual knowledge is probably not in view in this context. However, the larger usage of the verb “to know” in the Hebrew Bible suggests that the people’s knowledge of Yahweh’s identity is not merely intellectual assent. It is a deep and intimate awareness of God’s identity as revealed to a particular people. The community embodies this understanding of God through the ritual of the procession, through shouting, praising, and entering God’s holy places together.

The sheep of God’s pasture

This worship of God shapes the community’s identity. After the first volley of imperative verbs (verses 1-3a), the psalm pauses for reflection on the nature of the people who are praising God. Because God has formed them, they belong to God. No one outside the community can claim such authority. And no one within the community can claim that authority, since the community didn’t create itself (verse 3b).

The psalm describes God’s people as “the sheep of God’s pasture” (verse 3c). This particular metaphor draws upon royal ideology from the ancient Near East, wherein the king is depicted as shepherd. Those in his kingdom are his sheep. From Egypt to Mesopotamia, kings constantly styled themselves as shepherds.

Yet in this psalm, God appears as the divine monarch, the one who created the people and the one to whom the people owe their identity. When considering the way that the psalm reappropriates royal imagery for Yahweh, we realize the deep irony of the use of Psalm 100 in a coronation service. Psalm 100 orients the community toward the authority of God alone.

The pastoral imagery (verse 3) gives way to a description of the constructed space of the city (verse 4) along with a renewed summons to continue the procession: “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (verse 4). The ritual of praise moves through all places, from the fields to the metropolis with its complex architecture. All of these places are appropriate to worship Yahweh, for God is king everywhere.

Yahweh is good

The psalm ends with a simple justification for the repeated call to praise: Yahweh is good (verse 5).

The word tov, translated “good” here, has a wide semantic range in the Hebrew Bible. So we must explore the immediate context to clarify the sense of this word in this psalm. Yahweh’s goodness is seen through the longstanding relationship that Yahweh has with the people. The characteristics of God’s “steadfast love” (chesed) and “faithfulness” (’emunah, verse 5) appear frequently in tandem in the Psalms to describe God’s enduring commitment to God’s people (36:5; 40:10; 88:11; 89:1-2, 24, 33, 49; 92:2; 98:3). What makes Yahweh good is that Yahweh has been reliable for a long time. Thus we can continue to rely on Yahweh into the future.

In a time where Christian communities are increasingly fractured and contentious, it is difficult to imagine a throng of faithful witnesses moving together as one in praise to God. It is precisely at this difficult time, however, when Old One Hundredth should come to our lips.

Whenever we sing this psalm, we join a vast community of praise throughout the course of history. As we bear witness to God’s goodness, we step into a procession that stretches across time and place. We celebrate God’s enduring commitment to the redemption of the world and reaffirm our common identity as God’s people. Our loud shouts of praise announce the coming of God’s kingdom.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 18, 2017.
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj9w7IUQ5AU

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 5:1-8

John Frederick

“Peace sells, but who’s buying?” asked Dave Mustaine, the heavy metal minor prophet and leader of the band Megadeth in the 1986 breakthrough album of the same title. Well, I’m not sure who was looking for peace in the ‘80s (I was only five years old) but whoever was pursuing it probably did so in epic style, rockin’ some tube socks and a hair style so big that a small family of birds could comfortably nest in it. I can tell you this: in 2023 the pursuit of peace—and especially inner peace—is at the forefront of a post-Covid push to combat mental health decline and a rampant uptick in anxiety disorders resulting from years of social disruption and distance. Given the advertisements for mindfulness apps and psychological services on my social media, these days peace sells and everyone’s buying.

And yet, as helpful as meditation and apps that play ocean sounds can be in this chaotic time in which we live, and noting the important health outcomes that can be achieved through therapy, the peace that Romans 5 offers us is something altogether different. Gospel peace does not provide us with an escape hatch from human suffering. The peace of the gospel is not a way of eliminating the difficult realities of life so that they don’t harsh our christological mellow. Rather, the peace achieved and offered to us through Jesus often comes to us alongside affliction (verses 1-5). Furthermore, instead of attempting to erase or avoid affliction, Paul instructs us to “boast in our afflictions” (verse 3). So, what is going on here, and how can we make sense of a peace that inseparably coexists with suffering, and that even uses our present catastrophes as catalysts for growth in character and hope?

First, we must note that the apostle Paul is continuing an argument in Romans 5 that has been going on since the beginning of the letter. He draws an inference here from his prior focus on justification by faith to state that “since we have been declared ‘in the right’ on the basis of faith” (New Testament for Everyone), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Some commentators will argue that this should be translated as a hortatory subjunctive, “Let us have peace with God.” The Greek could be taken either way, though almost all contemporary translations render the verb in the present tense and as a statement: “we have peace with God.” Either way, the reality remains the same: because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we are no longer at enmity with God. 

It is essential to recognize in our post-Sergeant Pepper culture that peace is being spoken of here not as a feeling but as a relational reality. Prior to our justification, our minds were “set on the flesh” and were “hostile to,” that is, at enmity with God. Since we have been “justified by his blood,” Paul argues in Romans 5:9, how much more “shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” The peace that justification brings, then, is less about the pacification of stress and more about the reconciliation of enemies. This is evident when we look a few verses later and discover that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10; see also Colossians 1:21-22). The word rendered “enemies” here is the Greek exthros. It refers to those who “hate” or “are hostile to” God. In our sin, we hated God, we were at enmity with God, but the other side of our forensic justification is our relational reconciliation. If justification declares us righteous in God’s courtroom, reconciliation invites us to take a seat at God’s dinner table. Justification is the restoration of right legal status; reconciliation is about the restoration of friendship. 

The second notable aspect to Romans 5 is the fact that this right legal status (justification) and right relational reality (reconciliation/peace) allows us to boast in both “the hope of the glory of God” (verse 2) and in our afflictions (verse 3). The relationship between these two realities is parsed out in verses 3-5. We can boast in God’s glory and our afflictions because, surprisingly, our afflictions by way of endurance “produce” hope (verses 3-4). Therefore, the ability to boast in our ultimate hope in “God’s glory” is contingent upon a boast in the formative sequence of perseverant affliction on which hope depends for its paradoxical cultivation (verse 3). 

Reading Romans 5 in light of Romans 8 allows us to peer more intently into the perfecting pattern of suffering that is a penultimate prerequisite to glory. In Romans 8 we learn that, our present afflictions “are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (verse 18) and that those whom God predestined “he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (verse 30). Paul speaks here in the past tense about our future glorious reality because the basis of our future hope has already been fully accomplished in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus on our behalf. As Romans 5:1-2 makes clear “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have access by faith” into the grace of salvation. 

Verse 5 reminds us that even though we suffer in the present, the result of this suffering will be doxa, that is glory (which also means “honor” or “respect”) rather than shame. Paul then provides the ground for such a paradoxical statement: suffering leads to glory and honor rather than shame and dishonor “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (verse 5). This is the language, not of our love for God, but God’s own love—a theological virtue that exceeds our natural human limitations and lifts us up beyond our own finite capabilities to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) by an infusion of God’s love.