Lectionary Commentaries for June 25, 2023
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 10:24-39

Cleophus J. LaRue

Jesus’ language is terse and provocative. It is almost the equivalent of our modern day “Now hear this!” He states emphatically and upfront that he did not come to this earth to bring a political rebellion against Rome, or to settle inner individual struggles in people. His work is at once deeper and broader than those two extremes. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” says Jesus (Matthew 10:34). This applies to the powers of the world as well as the powers of the inner heart. God’s inbreaking activity attested by the presence of Jesus on earth, will not usher in a messianic era of peace when the hearts of parents will be turned to their children and the hearts of children will be turned to their parents.1

Jesus boldly proclaims that with his coming the ultimate age of peace has not yet dawned, but instead the last struggle for the salvation of humankind has broken out. This is not a time of peace, but rather a time of confrontation; a time of dispeace, in other words, dissention, strife, and turmoil.2 The beginning of the end is here. His coming will bring about actual altercations and conflicts within the closest circles of the family. Why? Because the coming of Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God are at odds with familial societal ties, and takes priority and precedence over all such loyalties and devotions.3 No human relationship must be allowed to come between the follower and Jesus Christ, not even the parent-child relationship, the love of son and daughter or father and mother. 

It is quite likely that the community for which Matthew wrote had experienced such family divisions and that some followers had even been turned out of their families. His coming calls forth decisions every day of our lives as to whom we will serve. A person’s family could well become the enemy if familial love seeks to replace the love of Christ. Even the disciple who wished to go and bury his father is told to let the dead bury their own dead4 (Matthew 8:21). Following Jesus takes priority even over the filial responsibility of burying one’s father. Inherent in the command to follow him is a requirement of unwavering loyalty. The claims of the gospel can and will split families. 

His coming among us will not be viewed as an occasion for celebration by everyone. It is not a time for party hats and gift bags. Not everyone will be glad to see Jesus or to have his presence as the center point in their lives. His coming initially stokes division. Peace? Not yet! Quite the contrary, it will be a time of heightened tensions and disagreements when people will have to declare whether they are for or against Jesus. These deep divisions and fissures will be felt most intently in one’s own household. Will all households be glad to see Jesus? Not according to scripture. When the time came for the baby Jesus to be presented in the temple according to the law of Moses, Simeon blessed him and said, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed” (Luke 2:34). His very presence will be opposed by some, and cause others to stumble, and this sometimes in the same family.

America is rife with divisions—political, economic, social, racial, ethnic and gender included. The fabric of our society is torn asunder. Most certainly in our communities but even in our families. Some families can no longer celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays owing to divisions that rend them apart. Some divisions come as a result of family members who refuse to own Jesus as Lord in any sense of the word. Some come because other members hear his words differently and thus march to the beat of a different drummer. Oftentimes young people clash with parents on matters of faith when their generation sees things differently from their parents: kindness to strangers, duty and responsibility to others, the fair and just treatment of all God’s people, a healthy concern for the environment, or a more progressive understanding around issues of human sexuality. Trying to heed the commands of Christ and live faithfully around these issues often causes tensions and uncertainties among loved ones.

Some think the divisions are little more than a family squabble, while others see in them a struggle against the cosmic powers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12). His coming challenges us to put him first and seek his will above and beyond all familial ties and claims of loyalty in every sphere and every arena of our current existence.  We are engaged in a daily struggle for God’s rule and God’s way on this earth. The Christ whom God has sent among us does not come to usher in an era of peace but rather an era of engagement and challenge where convictions will be tested and decisions made about the things that matter in this life even as creation, along with humanity, groans for redemption. The struggle is not an easy burden to bear, so every day we must find ourselves praying earnestly to God: Dear Lord, strengthen us where we are weak, build us up where we are torn down, and prop us up on every leaning side.


1.Davies, W. and Allison, D., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, Vol 2. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991) 216-19.
2.Davies and Allison, 216-19.
3. Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 8-20: Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001)112
4. Mullins, Michael. Gospel of Matthew (Columbia Books: 2007) 273

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 20:7-13

Tyler Mayfield

Lament. Complaint. Confession. Weeping. 

These words are typically associated with the prophet Jeremiah. People are perhaps aware of his propensity to weep and complain.   

Our Scripture lesson for this Sunday provides an excellent example from this lament tradition. This poem is the last in a series of confessions in the book, and the rhetoric is the most provocative. The complaint concludes uniquely with a statement of praise.

The prophet speaks boldly and honestly to God about his dire situation and feelings of anguish.  

A collection of confessions 

Scholars have typically isolated six first-person poems in the book that resemble certain lament psalms: Jeremiah 11:18-23; 12:1-6, 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:19-23 and 20:7-13. These poems describe the prophet’s suffering (a symbol of the people’s misery) in personal and poignant language. 

“It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” (Jeremiah 11:18-19a)

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16a)

“Yet you, O LORD, know all their plotting to kill me. Do not forgive their iniquity, do not blot out their sin from your sight.” (Jeremiah 18:23a)

These are not the prayers of the timid.

Jeremiah does not suppress his feelings about his prophetic call and treatment from various adversaries. Preachers may find it helpful to read these poems and consult them as context for Jeremiah 20. However, we must be careful not to import a modern understanding of complaining or whining into this ancient context. Complaints can be legitimate. 

Faithful people are likely not accustomed to such raw, honest speech addressed to God. The prophet becomes a model for faithful conversation and authentic sharing of feelings. 

Are we bold enough to offer our lament to God?

Quarreling with God (verses 7-9) 

The prophet complains to God. In an extraordinary move, Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving him. The language used in verse 7 is intentionally suggestive. The verb translated as “enticed” in verse 7 may have the sense of being persuaded or even beguiled. And what might it mean for God to overpower and prevail against him? 

Does the prophet have a choice here? 

Does Jeremiah have agency in this call?

Next, Jeremiah admits that his message of violence is not well accepted by his audience. He is mocked and derided. Therefore, God’s word has become a disgrace. When he tries not to speak of God, he feels an internal passion within hima fire shut up in his bones. 

One can feel the anguish of the prophetic role in these verses. 

Jeremiah feels compelled and repelled by God’s message to the people. As Jack Lundbom notes, “This is his dilemma: Damned if he speaks; damned if he doesn’t. There is no solution; no way to achieve peace.”1

Quarreling with oppressors (verses 10-12)

Next, the prophet turns his energy toward his enemies, who are eager to condemn him. His friends are waiting for him to stumble. He does not appear to have the support of those around him. But he does have God! These persecutors will all be put to shame because of God. Jeremiah evokes the image of a divine warrior as his protector. 

Jeremiah’s complaint against God earlier in the poem does not take away from his ability to see God as his vindicator. These two parts of the poem are not in theological tension. 

Concluding with thanksgiving and praise (verse 13)

“Sing to The Living God! Praise The Living God!
For God has saved the life of the oppressed from the hands of evildoers.”
(Jeremiah 20:13, my translation)

Notice the profound way this passage ends: verse 13 is a brief hymn of thanksgiving. It is a surprising but common way to conclude a biblical lament. For example, we look to Psalms 6, 13, 22, and 35. 

Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (verse 1) but concludes, “For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (verse 28).  

We may not be as comfortable with the combination of these two theological statements, but the psalmist and Jeremiah seem to be able to hold them together. 

How are we called to an honest articulation of our feelings toward God and thanksgiving for God’s work in our lives? 

Can we hold lament and praise together?


1. Jack Lundbom, Jeremiah 1-20 (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1999), 858.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 21:8-21

Carolyn B. Helsel

Hagar and Ishmael are two of the greatest underdogs in the patriarchal narrative. Among the patriarchs, Abraham, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob, the multitudinous nations of the people of Israel emerge. Yet God promises to Hagar here in this text, “I will make a great nation of [Ishmael]” (21:18). God even comforts Abraham with these same words, so that Abraham is not distressed at the second and final departure of Hagar and his eldest son, Ishmael. 

For this is indeed Hagar’s second leaving—the first occurring soon after she conceives her son Ishmael with Abraham (16:6). In that first story, Hagar is treated so badly by Sarai that she runs away into the wilderness. It is there that God meets Hagar and speaks to her—indeed, before the text reports of God speaking to Sarai—and God comforts Hagar with the first promise that her son will be the father of multitudes (16:10). Hagar names God “El-Roi,” the God Who Sees (16:13).

So while Hagar has been mistreated, God sees her and brings her comfort and strength to go on. For her own protection, and for the safety of her unborn child, Hagar needed to return to Abraham and Sarah in order to benefit from the security of living within a larger clan. She would not have lived long giving birth to a baby by herself in the wilderness. God saw her, and so she named God “El-roi,” the God Who Sees.

In this Sunday’s lectionary text, God hears (21:17). While it is Hagar who lifts up her voice in verse sixteen, it is her son Ishmael whom God hears: “God heard the voice of the boy” (21:17). And turning to Hagar, the angel of the Lord inquires of her, “What troubles you, Hagar?” God calls Hagar by name; God has seen Hagar again, and God has heard the voice of her son, whom Hagar fears will die. But God reassures Hagar, just as God did on her first escape, and the angel of the Lord tells her: “Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation from him” (21:17-18).

When my colleague, Song-Mi Suzie Park, and I co-taught a course based on our book The Flawed Family of God: Stories about the Imperfect Families in Genesis, one of our seminary students preached on this text. Kailen Soncksen pointed out how the Hebrew word for “hear” in this text, as in “when God hears Hagar,” is not a word that connotes passive listening. The word is shema, which may be familiar if you know the passage in scripture known as the Shema: “Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Shema is a prayer within Judaism, and it is called so because of the first word of the verse: shema

As Kailen preached to us from her study of the text, this word for “hear” is not about simply passively taking in, but actively listening and following through with action. This kind of hearing is associated with obedience. The call to “Hear O, Israel” is a call to hear-and-obey. 

So when God hears the voice of the boy, God is obeying what that voice is crying out for: acting on the cries of the child and coming to the rescue. 

And yet Kailen also pointed out that God does not seem to hear Hagar: God hears her son, but not her. This is the last we hear about Hagar; her son’s story continues, but the last we read about Hagar is that she got her son a wife. 

As is the case with many marginalized groups, we only see them in their stereotypical roles: mothers as caregivers, perhaps matchmakers, but not history-makers. There are many people whose stories continue to go unheard in our society. We may see them, but do we hear what they are trying to tell us? Do we hear and actually feel moved to act and obey? 

The story of Hagar has long been seen by women descended from enslaved Africans as a story they can relate to; the forced surrogacy of Hagar is not unlike the experiences of enslaved women living in the antebellum South or the modern underpaid childcare jobs of women of color caring for white women’s children. Perhaps the most famous of these reflections is by Delores Williams: Sisters in the Wilderness.1

God continues to reassure women who are marginalized: God sees them. 

The question remains, do we hear them? And are we as a church willing to support them in the ways they need? To fight for greater equity in the healthcare system, where women of color have much higher rates of maternal mortality than their white counterparts because staff discount their complaints and ignore their concerns? To work for greater access to childcare and better public schools, so that their children will have a greater chance of success? To challenge the school-to-prison pipeline where children of color are disproportionately targeted for stricter punishment in schools and viewed as “delinquent”? Can we hear the weeping of the mothers of Black and brown boys and girls when their children are victims of police brutality?

If we hear them, then we must not remain passive, but must act accordingly. We must not only listen, but truly hear-and-obey, living out our faith in the world.


1. Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), 1993.


Commentary on Psalm 69:7-10, [11-15], 16-18

Paul K.-K. Cho

In Psalm 69, a servant of God (69:17) suffers for no fault of his own, but rather for his devotion to God (69:9).1

He is an innocent sufferer, even a righteous sufferer, and the servant claims that he suffers “for God” (69:7). For these reasons, Psalm 69 is a profound meditation on suffering comparable to the great Isaianic passages about the “servant of YHVH,” especially Isaiah 52:13—53:12, and that devastating book called Job. Suffering, in our psalm, is not the consequence of sin but of piety, and it is suffering that benefits God.

The reality of suffering

Psalm 69 readily admits the reality of suffering and that suffering is an undesirable experience for the righteous. The psalm does not glorify suffering as an opportunity either for education or for demonstrating the virtue of patience, even if suffering can be those things. The psalmist simply decries his suffering and petitions God for a swift deliverance:

I am in distress—make haste to answer me (Psalm 69:17b).

In short, the psalmist does not glorify suffering but complains effusively, honestly, to God. Complaint, then, is presented as a righteousness and faithful expression of hope in God.

The cause of the suffering in the psalm also deserves note. The psalmist, from among the wide palette of painful experiences, lifts up the suffering caused by the human tongue. The psalm mentions enemies (69:4, 18), they do not approach with bow and arrow but with words—a very human approach and arguably humanity’s most potent weapon. Thus, the psalmist complains of insults, gossip, and the mocking song and describes them in the powerful, if typical, language of chaos waters:

I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
And the flood sweeps over me (Psalm 69:2).

The suffering caused by human words is palpable to the body, as the rush of words suffocate the psalmist. That is why the prayer for deliverance found in the psalm is no less urgent than the prayers of psalms in which military threat is in view. Suffering caused by human words—typically of family and neighbors (69:8)—is every bit as real as that caused by the arrow and the fang. Words, even when they are false, can kill.

Innocent suffering

Also important is the observation that the psalm admits of innocent suffering. More than that, it describes the suffering of a pious, even righteous, person. The psalmist suffers, not for some uncharacteristic peccadillo—for “looking upon a virgin” or ignoring the complaint of a slave against him” (Job 31)—but because of his “zeal for [God’s] house” and for earnest fasts (69:9, 10). Was the enthusiastic piety of the psalmist an affront to the easy religiosity of his contemporaries? Whatever the perceived offense, from the perspective of the psalmist, he suffers because of righteousness. His is innocent suffering.

It is important, in this light, to note that suffering is not, within the world of the Bible, necessarily a sign of sin. This lesson, of course, is at the heart of the Book of Job. Job’s three friends, no doubt learned and respected men not unlike Job himself, interpret Job’s suffering as the fitting consequence of sin and, out of genuine concern (which admittedly turns acerbic), advise Job to agree with God’s judgment (i.e., the plain meaning of the suffering) and repent. Repentance, they propose, will cause God to turn away from his righteous anger and restore Job to blessedness.

Our psalmist entertains no such possibility. Far from repentant, he stands certain in his righteousness before God (69:5) and looks, not to repentance as the path toward restoration, but to lament and complaint. The psalmist does not obfuscate the reality of his suffering, which includes verbal bullying and social ostracism (69:8)—experiences not uncommon among youths and adults, then and now. Rather, he openly laments and complains that God, to whom he has directed his prayers, has been too slow in responding:

Do not hide your face from your servant…
Draw near to me, redeem me… (69:17a, 18a).

The psalm, then, presents lament and complaint as fitting responses of the righteous to suffering, especially when the suffering is innocent. Does the Bible claim that punishment follows sin? No doubt. But it also admits that the innocent suffer. And the prescribed response, in such cases, is lament (the full acknowledgment that suffering is evil) and complaint to God, who appears too distant and all too silent in the midst of suffering. Lament and complaint are prayer based on the hope that the Holy One can be moved.

Vicarious suffering

The Bible refuses to believe that human suffering is without meaning. And the commitment to an understanding of suffering as meaningful becomes an acute theological problem especially with innocent suffering. This is the case in our psalm, as it is in Isaiah 53. And the psalmist makes perhaps an outrageous claim for his innocent suffering: he suffers “for God” (69:7).

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
That shame has covered my face…

The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (69:7, 9b)

Psalm 69:9b identifies those who disparage the psalmist as the very persons who disparage God. The unstated claim is the identification of the psalmist with God.

The psalmist makes perhaps a grander claim in 69:7. The force of the Hebrew phrase translated “for your sake” is unclear, but possibly is an interpretation that includes a dimension of benefit. The phrase might indicate that the psalmist’s suffering benefits God; that is, the psalmist may be saying that he suffers in the place of God, for God: the insults directed to God falls instead on the psalmist so that God is spared the affront.

The suffering of which the psalm admits, then, is more than innocent suffering. It is more than even righteous suffering. It is vicarious suffering that is not only effect—caused by the psalmist’s piety—but also cause, whose effect is a benefit, in some mysterious way, to God. In short, the psalmist, in his suffering, honors God—glorifies God.

Salvation from suffering

Given the special character of the psalmist’s suffering, it is no surprise that the petition for salvation takes on elevated meaning. The psalmist argues that his deliverance from suffering signifies an affirmation of all who hope in and seek God (69:6). Why? Because the psalmist, in his suffering and salvation, stands before God and his fellow human beings as an icon of all the servants of God. The suffering servant has become the representative of all God’s servants.

Is it any wonder, then, that New Testament authors saw Christ in the light of this psalm?


  1. Commentary first published on this site on June 25, 2017.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 6:1b-11

John Frederick

A typical cheap shot against those who drink from the cup of Luther’s Reformation is that justification by faith alone leads to antinomianism, a salvation that consists of a legal fiction without an interest in moral formation. And yet, a fair reading of the totality of Luther’s works evidence a completely balanced attentiveness to both justification by faith as the ground of our salvation in Christ alone, and good works as the fruit of the faith of the one who is justified. I would concur with one of Luther’s finest literary points, namely that those who disagree are “like [a] mouse-dropping in the pepper.”1 

In Romans 6:1-11, Paul, after several chapters in which he expounds the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law, asks: “Shall we continue in sin in order that grace might abound?” His response in verse 2 is, of course, me genoito, “By no means!” Paul goes on to ground this rejection of antinomianism and ethical libertinism in the reality of our union with Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism (verses 3-5). This concept is similar to what we find elsewhere in the New Testament in Colossians 2:12, where we are said to have been “buried with [Christ] in baptism” and “raised with [Christ] through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Thus, the coherent and consistent biblical teaching here is that through baptism and faith we participate in the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. The reality of our union with Christ and our participation in the efficacious benefits of his saving actions, leads not only to hope for eternal life in the future but the expectation of holy living in the present (verse 4). Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ exists in order that “we also might walk in newness of life.”

Coming off of the heels of a focus on justification, this teaching indicates that whoever is declared righteous is empowered by the resurrection life of Christ to live a righteous life in accord with their righteous status. In other words, our right status (justification) and our right relationship with God (reconciliation) leads to right living (sanctification). That Paul has the full orb of salvation (including election, calling, justification, sanctification, and glorification) in mind is evident here if we look a bit ahead in Romans 6 to verse 19. 

In verse 19, Paul instructs the Roman Christians to “present [their] members for the purpose of righteousness which results in sanctification. The argument is very straightforward here with the Greek eis hagiasmon indicating the result of living in accord with righteousness, namely, that it leads to or results in sanctification. What’s more, if we fast-forward to the tail end of Romans 6, we can see the final result of sanctification. There in Romans 6:22 Paul asserts that since we have been “freed from sin” the fruit that we have “leads to sanctification, and the end is eternal life.” 

This is highly significant for the articulation of a complete Pauline understanding of salvation. Far from the “mouse dropping pepper” propaganda against justification by faith alone, a comprehensive reading of Romans reveals that salvation incorporates sanctification, not merely justification. While justification in Romans is declarative and forensic—courtroom language, not moral language—the totality of Paul’s understanding of redemption cannot be encapsulated solely with the orb of justification. Rather, justification provides the ground for God’s complete renovation of human beings—both legally (justification) and morally (sanctification and glorification). The “end” or “result” (Greek telos) of sanctification is eternal life (Greek zōēn aiōnion). 

In fairness to critics of Protestant understandings of the gospel, it probably isn’t completely off-base to level the charge of libertinism against many contemporary followers of Luther whether they are from progressive, mainline, or evangelical camps. While very few would intentionally adopt a position of “sinning so that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1), this is the inadvertent result of many implicit Protestant theologies—to both the left and the right—that lop-side all of salvation into the singular category of justification. It is certainly an overstatement to conceive of justification as a mere “subsidiary crater” as Albert Schweitzer famously did in his monograph The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle.2 Yet, viewing the foundational doctrine of justification within its larger context as one of several aspects of salvation through our incorporation into union with Christ, can help to course-correct our inadvertent tendencies towards brushing off good works so that grace may abound. 

When Romans 1-4 is read in light of our sanctification through baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6), our election in Christ (Romans 9-11), and our eventual (and we might say, inevitable) glorification (Romans 8), then we are setting salvation in the concord that comes through the comprehensive soteriological category of union with Christ, rather than in the monotone ethically-devoid droning dirge of justification—not merely apart from works as the basis of salvation but devoid of works as its fruit. While Paul would certainly have us rigorously avoid the “mouse-dropping in the pepper” of justification theologies based on meritorious works of any kind (whether Jewish works of Torah or generic works of religious performance), he would also resist a theology in which our justification by faith alone is not seasoned with the pure salt of sanctification that leads to eternal life.


1.On the Councils and the Church,” p. 56 of Luther’s Works, Volume 41
2. Schweitzer, Albert. The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (A&C Black, 1931), 225