Lectionary Commentaries for July 2, 2023
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 10:40-42

Cleophus J. LaRue

There is a reciprocal nature to how you treat other people: What you do for others you will see it again in your own life. This admonition also applies to those who are involved in the work of the Lord. One finds this observance in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament it is “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15). In the New Testament it is found in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.”

Jesus also provides a ritual for failure, to shore up his disciples and to encourage their hearts when they are not well received. Matthew 10:14 says: “If anyone will not welcome you, or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” There is nothing miraculous in the ritual, it is just a way to put bad experiences behind us and move on.  

Jesus concludes his missionary discourse with this Spirit-filled pep talk about rewards for those who receive and treat well his disciples and apostles, who go forth and proclaim the gospel. Anyone who extends even the least kindness to one of Jesus’ own will not lose their reward. The language here is ambassadorial. Jesus says whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me. To receive the ambassador or apostle is to receive the potentate that sent him; to reject the ambassador is to reject the one that sent him.1 The word “welcome” refers practically to the willingness to offer support and shelter to those who represent Jesus. Underlying this response is their positive attitude to the disciples and what they stand for.2

The reward envisioned in “Whoever welcomes a prophet …” is entry into the kingdom of God at the end of the age. It is also possible that what one receives is the benefit of hearing the prophet’s words, which come from God.3

Suffice it to say that in our day the discouragements that come to those who go out in Jesus’ name are real and the cords that bind them to the people to whom they are sent to minister are easily broken. Some denominations report that over 50% of their clergy leave ordained ministry within five years of their ordination. Others stay out of necessity but lose much of the joy that initially filled their hearts for Christian ministry. 

This one who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquity has a sense of the toughness and unyielding demands of congregants on their ministers and servants of the work of God. Jesus promises that those who bless them along the way will not lose their reward. Something as innocent and simple as a cup of cold water given to those who serve will insure that the givers of such will not lose their reward.

In all too many congregations there are people who are hurting and feel they need to pass their pain on to others, especially paid staffers over whom they believe they can exercise some control. The followers of Jesus have been sent to minister especially to them. Earlier Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). In my many years of teaching in the seminary, I have seen countless students head out for their ministries with great joy and anticipation, only to return a few years later for a campus visit with diminished hopes and dashed expectations about what ministry would be like.

A dear faculty colleague told me when he graduated from seminary many years ago he felt pretty smug and secure, for he knew exactly where he was going. He already had his assignment in hand the day he graduated. But his joy was not to last long, for within a year of going to his ideal assignment the church fired him and sent him packing. That ordeal so early in his young ministry threw him into crisis about his future. Another pastor in the Midwest, near the end of his ministerial career, told me he was so sick and tired of his congregation that he couldn’t wait to retire. He mused that he often wondered why he went into ministry in the first place. In the twilight of his pastorate he felt mostly regret over all the “stuff” church people had put him through. 

All too many in ministry, on both sides of the equation, unhappily yoked, are made to feel that they are put in a position of “fight or flee.”  All need to hear Jesus’ words and trust his promises. The prophets and disciples who go out in his name must know that he has promised to be with them and never to leave them alone. Those to whom they minister must remember that the Lord promises to reward those who find a way to bless the ministers among them. And that they will not lose their reward, be it now or at the end of the age, for something as simple as a cup of cold water to those who minister among them in Jesus’ name.


  1. Evans, Craig A. Matthew: New Cambridge Bible Commentary. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 230.
  2. France, R.T. The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2007), 412.
  3. Evans, Craig A. Matthew: New Cambridge Bible Commentary. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 231.

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 28:5-9

Tyler Mayfield

Few stories begin with the word “then.” With verse five, we are entering the scene mid-conversation. We need the whole chapter to understand the selected verses for today’s reading. So, when we read in worship this Sunday Jeremiah’s response without the introductory verses, it may feel like a random prophetic oracle with little relation to realityancient or contemporary. Why is Jeremiah shouting “Amen”?

The proclaimer will need to provide some context to Jeremiah’s speech; we may even need to read Jeremiah 28:1-4 also. 

Prophetic conflict during Babylonian control

The prophet Hananiah prophesies peace in the summer of 594 BCEafter the first deportation of Israel’s leadership to exile in 597 BCE, but before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. This moment in the nation’s life is one of intense loss and worry as they look into an uncertain future. What will happen to their country in the face of this overpowering empire? What might God be trying to communicate to them through these atrocities? 

Jeremiah 28 mentions that these prophecies were spoken at the Temple in the presence of the priests and people. One can imagine that, in their anxious state, they wish to hear a word of God. The prophetic voice is a trusted oneeven if a harsh oneduring times of trouble. Instead of one word, however, the people receive two conflicting words from God. Dueling prophetic voices. Clashing understandings of their reality. 

Hananiah foretells that the exiles in Babylon would be back home within two years. His optimism is likely due to the plans for a rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. He reassures the people and priests that all the looted temple vessels will be returned. Worship will return to normal. Babylon is only a temporary nuisance, not an enduring threat. 

Jeremiah responds first by noting that he wishes Hananiah’s prophecy would come true: may it be so! Jeremiah does not, of course, want to see Babylon’s continued devastation of the land and people. Prophets may frequently deliver bad news, but they do not delight in the suffering of their people. But Jeremiah states that prophets often in the past have prophesied about upsetting topics such as war, not comforting ones such as peace. He further suggests that a prophecy of peace will need to be tested over time to see if it comes true. 

(The cordial conversation escalates in Jeremiah 28:10-17 into dueling sign-acts and confrontation. Then, abruptly, Hananiah dies that same year, a commentary on his prophecy.)

The preacher might profitably pursue several issues with Jeremiah 28.

Prophecy is contextual

First, Hananiah sounds like Isaiah from a century before. Isaiah speaks of the yoke and rod being shattered (Isaiah 9:4, 10:27; 14:25). Prophecy is deeply contextual. The content of a particular prophecy is not eternal truth for all situations. What is an authentic, appropriate, and helpful prophecy in one moment and place can be false, inappropriate, and obstructive in another setting. 

The preacher might then inquire about the prophetic call and message for us today. 

How do we hear a prophetic word anew for our moment? 

What was prophetic for one community or one time that needs refreshment?

Prophecy includes judgment and promise

Second, Jeremiah’s response to Hananiah mentions that prophets in the past (“from ancient times”) talked about war, famine, and pestilence. Jeremiah is likely thinking of Amos, Micah, and Isaiah. These prophets delivered oracles of judgment against the people, calling them back to God during times of national crisis. As you can imagine, these were disturbing messages to pass on to the people. Yet, this is not the only prophetic message. And Jeremiah acknowledges that truth in this chapter. Prophets can also deliver oracles of hope and promise to the people. In fact, the same prophet can deliver judgment messages at one point in their ministry and hope messages at another. 

To be prophetic is not merely to speak of doom and gloom. 

Prophets do not only predict dire futures. 

Prophecy is speaking on behalf of God. 

To be prophetic is to be connected to God to bring God’s message to the people. 

False prophets

Third, interpreters sense that the real issue behind this story of two prophets concerns false and true prophecy. How do we know the difference? What’s the test to determine whether a prophet is foretelling the truth or not? 

How do we discern the voices of truth today? Both prophetsHananiah and Jeremiahuse typical prophetic language such as “Thus says the LORD.” But one is not speaking the truth. Both claim the name of God. Hananiah is probably known to the crowd; no one seems to question his authority. So, he is not an outsider to the community.

A brave proclaimer may want to ask this Sunday about the Hananiahs of our day, those leaders who deliver an accessible message of hope and positivity amid trouble and despair.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14

Mark S. Smith

Genesis 22:1-14 really stands out. It is a shocking story, showing God commanding the deadly sacrifice of Isaac. This story is also unique: it has no parallels in the Bible or ancient Near Eastern literature.  

For Christian tradition, it is a central story foreshadowing Jesus’ crucifixion. In discussing Genesis 22, Hebrews 11:19 alludes to Christ “figuratively.” Isaac and Jesus were parallel sacrifices for early Christian writers, for example, Saint Augustine: “just as the Lord carried his cross, so Isaac himself carried to the place of sacrifice the wood on which he too was to be placed.”1 For Christians, the divine characterization of Isaac as “your only son … whom you love” (verse 2) resonates in the similar divine characterization of Jesus as “my beloved son” (for example, Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:22; see also Hebrews 11:17).  

Genesis 22 has been a central story also in Jewish tradition, which calls it “the binding of Isaac” (based on verse 9). A moving Jewish retelling characterizes Abraham and Isaac as “one to bind, the other to be bound.”2 The Qur’an (Surah 37:100-111) emphasizes the “virtuous” Abraham, also calling him “one of Our [God’s] faithful servants.”3

These religious traditions identify important elements in the story. But what did the story’s components evoke for audiences in ancient Israel? It was written at a time when child sacrifice was practiced (2 Kings 16:3, 21:6; see also Exodus 22:29). In particularly dire situations, the radical offering of a human rather than an animal might have seemed more capable of moving the god to help (for example, warfare in 2 Kings 3:27; see also warfare and plague reported among Phoenicians).4 But this is not the situation with Abraham. With child sacrifice lurking in the background, Genesis 22:1-14 is burdened with a terrifying inexplicability.  

The story’s beginning, “God tested Abraham” (verse 1), serves to “explain” the story. This information is not told to Abraham, much less to Isaac, or even to Sarah (who is absent). The story’s characters don’t know God’s purposes. This “unknowing” compounds the specter of child sacrifice: Why does God command this? Is it really going to happen?  

Abraham is to take Isaac “to the land of Moriah” where he is to “offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains” (verse 2). The name of Moriah puns on two of the story’s verbs, “to see” (from the word-root *r’h in verses 4, 8, 13, 14 [2x], “provide” in New Revised Standard Version) and “to fear” (*yr’ in verse 12). The place is also called “the mount of the Lord” (verse 14). The only other biblical information about this place is “the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah” in 2 Chronicles 3:1, a verse that seems to assume that Genesis 22 was a founding story for the Temple, itself located on God’s “holy mountain, beautiful in elevation … the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2; see also Psalms 15:1, 24:3). Israelites would make joyful pilgrimage (Psalm 84:5-7) to Jerusalem: “I was glad when they said to me: ‘Let us go to the House of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:1-2).  

The Genesis narrative indicates that the journey takes three days (verse 4). The amount of time that it would take many Israelites to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to “celebrate a festival” (Exodus 5:1) involved “a three days’ journey” (Exodus 5:3; see also Numbers 10:33). To “celebrate festival” in Exodus 5:1 is related to the Hebrew noun ḥag and Arabic ḥajj, used for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The endpoint and highpoint of this joyful journey is the worship of God (see also Genesis 22:5) in the divine presence in the Temple, elsewhere characterized as “seeing God,” “seeing the face of God,” or the like (Psalms 11:7, 17:15, 27:4, 42:2, 63:2, and 84:7). These biblical parallels suggest that Genesis 22 presents the “test” of Abraham in terms of the three basic components of ancient pilgrimage: journey, sacrifice and vision of God.  

The story also reverses these elements. Abraham and Isaac are accompanied by two servants, not the “multitude keeping festival” (Psalm 42:4); and Sarah is absent (see also Hannah’s pilgrimage in 1 Samuel 1-2). The journey is marked not by “glad shouts” (Psalm 42:4), but by spare conversation. The sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple involves an animal, while the sacrifice here is Isaac, reversed only at the crucial moment with the divine provision of “a ram caught in a thicket” (verse 13). Overall, Genesis 22 is an electrifying “anti-pilgrimage,” grim not celebratory, terrifying not joyful. And yet: God speaks to Abraham at the journey’s beginning and at its end, but not in the meantime.  

Sometimes it might seem God is asking us to enter situations, perhaps even new situations in life, which we think we are not ready for; do we go or not? The divine call may seem wrong. We may also expect God to be responsive to us on our journeys. What are we going to do, what is our journey, how is God with us?


  1. Saint Augustine, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson, Penguin Classics (London/New York: Penguin, 2003), 694.
  2. The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, ed. H. N. Bialik and Y. H. Ravnitzky, trans. William G. Braude (New York: Schocken Books, 1992), 42-43.
  3. Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary, Qur’ān Translation by Ali Quli Qarai (New Haven/London: Yale University, 2018), 680-82.
  4. See Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven/London: Yale University, 1993).  For this Phoenician practice as reported by Philo of Byblos, see Harold W. Attridge and Robert A. Oden, Jr., Philo of Byblos. The Phoenician History: Introduction, Critical Text, Translation, Notes, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 9 (Washington, DC: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1981), 57 and 63.


Commentary on Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Walter C. Bouzard

The assigned verses are a portion of a much larger psalm that concludes book three of the psalter.1

The context of both the verses and the psalm are interpretively significant.

Verses 1 to 4 introduce two themes that will be further expanded in the psalm. Verses 1-2 celebrate the LORD’s steadfast love, linking divine faithfulness to the solidity of the heavens and thus to the created order (see Psalm 34:4-9). Verses 3-5 introduce the LORD’s covenant with David, a relationship that is declared to be eternal.

Verses 5-18 return to the subject of the LORD’s majestic rule over the created universe. The LORD rules not only over the heavenly council (verses 5-8) but also over the raging forces of the chaos waters and the sea monster Rahab. The psalmist asserts the LORD’s sovereignty over the heavens and the earth in verses 11 to 13 and over the worshiping congregation in verses 14 to 18.

The preacher may want to include verse 14 in the reading on grounds that the righteousness and justice of the LORD mentioned in verse 14 serves as the foundation of the congregational exultation (verse 18). There is, moreover, an implied link between the divine ability to control the more unruly aspects of creation celebrated in verses 5 to 13 with the congregation’s security (verses 17-18).

Verses 19 to 37 revisit the subject of the LORD’s covenant with David. The LORD established a perpetual covenant with David (verses 19-21) for which reason David and his line can be certain of protection from all foes (verses 22-24). David’s intimate relationship to the LORD as son and as God’s “firstborn” (verses 26-27) was such that David even enjoyed aspects of the LORD’s regal authority over chaos (verse 25).

Verses 28 to 37 underscore the declarations of verses 3 and 4. A reference to the eternal quality of the relationship brackets this section; “forever” (Hebrew le’olam) appear in verses 28 and 37 (see verse 4). The promises to the Davidic line are guaranteed by the LORD’s own oath and holiness (verse 35). Not even sin could undermine the covenant (verses 30-34) which was, in any case, as enduring as the creation (verses 36-37).

The psalm pivots dramatically at verse 38. With the exception of the unoriginal, appended verse 52, the balance of the psalm consists of unrelieved lament. The circumstances are clear. The LORD’s oath notwithstanding, the king’s enemies have outwitted and humbled him (verse 22). Rather than the LORD crushing the king’s foes (verse 23), the reverse has transpired; the LORD oversaw a dramatic military defeat of David’s descendent, wresting the scepter from his hand and leaving him humiliated (verses 40-45).

The psalmist plaintive questions, powerfully expressed under any circumstances, are particularly poignant following the extended praise in verses 1 to 37. This is, after all, the sovereign regent of all creation who has sworn, in the strongest conceivable terms, that the divine promises to David and his descendants will never, under any circumstance whatsoever, be revoked. What then, could the LORD possibly say to the question of verse 49 with its latent accusation:

LORD, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?

The problem cannot be that the LORD lacked the might to sustain the king. This is the God who rules over even the chaotic elements of nature. Nor could there be any mistake about the eternal, unconditional qualities of the covenant. So what excuse might the LORD possibly offer? What answer might the Almighty conceivably give?

The psalmist — whether he be the king or, as seems likely, someone speaking on his behalf — has no answers to these questions. The poet does not know how long the LORD will remain conspicuously absent (verse 46) or what has become of the covenant. And so the original poem ended simply with a plea that the LORD might remember the plight of the king, God’s anointed (verses 50-51). Indeed, the plea for the LORD to remember concludes this portion of the psalter and thus “closes the book.”

I suspect that the poet is not the only one left dazed and confused by the collapse of institutions and relationships that provided order, stability, and security. We have trusted the LORD of creation in whose arms the stars sway. Many Christian worshipers who “know the festal shout” (verse 15) — or the more subdued mainline Christian equivalents! — gladly join the faithful affirmations of verses 15 to 18. It is, therefore, all the more surprising when bodies fail, when marriages collapse, when the boss says you are being “let go,” when unanticipated change comes to a congregation, when churches are scandalized, or when a precious loved one dies — to name but a few of those sacred solids we assume are guaranteed by the strength and power of the LORD.

The preacher dare not offer facile explanations or answers for those who experience such “ambiguous loss.” The psalmist’s guidance is better: in our distress, whatever its shape, we implore the LORD to remember us in our anguish. In so doing, we place ourselves in good company. Another petitioner put it this way: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). If we are not assured that our institutions or our relationships are eternal, we are promised this: Jesus the Christ remembers us in our darkness. Jesus holds before us the hope that resurrection and life will again be ours.


1. Commentary first published on this site on June 29, 2014.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 6:12-23

Mary Hinkle Shore

Imagine that you quit a job, and then you keep going back to work there. You return to your locker, or your parking space, your cubicle. You log into your computer. You begin answering email and managing projects. 

But wait. That wouldn’t work, would it? Your coworkers would be confused. Your password wouldn’t work anymore. Your boss would wonder if she should engage you in conversation before or after she called security. It makes no sense to go back to a job you don’t have anymore. 

Likewise, it makes no sense to go back to a slavery you are not subject to anymore. 

In Paul’s letters, sin is an enslaving power. Paul does not imagine sin as separation, or brokenness, or as moral imperfection. Sin is that power that vies with the Creator for control of creation to such an extent that Paul can speak of humanity’s having been “enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).1

One of the hallmarks of slavery, ancient or modern, is that slaves do not have control over their own bodies. The enslaver may force the enslaved into labor, inflict corporal punishment at will, or assault the enslaved sexually with no fear of prosecution for a crime. To be enslaved to sin is to be appropriated, body and soul.

In Romans, Paul argues that sin’s mastery over humankind has been broken by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who had been enslaved by sin have been buried with Christ in baptism. While death is a drastic form of escape, it is an effective one. Paul says simply, “whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). In the cross of Christ, sin is shown to be capable only of destruction, and after Christ is destroyed, sin has no cards left to play. Its hold is broken, as testified to by the resurrection. 

Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been freed from slavery to sin. Why, then, would we ever go back to the old job? “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:15).

Romans 6:12 is a plea to leave the bondage of the past in the past. Just as Paul appeals to readers in Romans 12:1 to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” here Paul urges us to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). A professional athlete who has been traded to a new team does not keep playing for their old team. Likewise, those who have been brought from death to life do not keep playing on death’s team.

The text presents us with two potential challenges for preaching. First, many contemporary Christians cannot hear good news in Paul’s characterization of our new lives as “freed from sin and enslaved to God” (Romans 6:22). It is much easier for many of us to think of ourselves as belonging to God rather than being enslaved to God.  Still, the preacher needs to sit with the harder metaphor on behalf of hearers. True, those of us who are temporarily able-bodied and financially stable have a love affair with our perceived autonomy (“we have never been slaves to anyone”), but might that love affair itself be a symptom of enthrallment to sin and denial of death? Maybe the Hymn of the Day for this reading should be Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” 

The second challenge for the preacher is the propensity of Christians to keep playing for the old team, even after we have been traded—or bought—by Christ for God. “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15). “By no means!” Paul exclaims. And yet continued fear, love, and trust of things that are not God—continued idolatry—threatens us daily. 

Paul’s answer is not to deny the problem of sin’s continued enthrallment for his readers (Romans 7, with its concern over doing “the evil that I do not want” follows this reading). In the face of temptations to live in the old life, Paul proclaims the new one. Yes, we continue to be threatened by sin, but we do not belong to sin any longer. We have been baptized into Christ. It is not in the nature of our identity in Christ or our destination—eternal life (verse 22)—that we should linger with that which leads to death (verse 16). To preach this text is to proclaim hearers’ new identity and destination in Christ, and to invite them to show up in the new workplace rather than return to the old one.

I once heard a presiding minister invite a congregation to Holy Communion by saying, “Receive what you are. Be what you receive.” The assembly would receive the body of Christ at the table in order to be the body of Christ in the world. Romans 6:12-23 does not use eucharistic language, yet the call to be what we have received echoes that to which Paul is here calling his readers.


1. For more on Paul’s understanding of sin, see Beverly Gaventa, “Watch the Horizon,” 23-46 in When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel according to Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016) and “The Cosmic Power of Sin in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Toward a Widescreen Edition” Interpretation 58/2 (2004): 229-40, reprinted in Our Mother Saint Paul (Louisville: Westminster John Knox), 125-36.