Lectionary Commentaries for September 3, 2023
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 16:21-28

Richard Ward

The gospel now recalls some teachings that the disciples will find hard to swallow. Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” elicits Jesus’ blessing. Now a stern warning from Jesus echoes in their ears, “don’t tell anyone that I’m the Messiah!” Why? Because Jesus is about to shatter their image of what this Messiah was sent to do. What Jesus “begins” here in verse 21 is a deconstruction of the disciples’ messianic expectations. He tells them that death—not glory—will be shadowing them all the way to Jerusalem where there will be a final confrontation. Lest they forget, he will remind them again (Matthew 17:22-23). What’s ahead is not a throne, but a cross. There won’t be an army of zealots ready to make Jesus their king, there will only be a mocking mob calling for his death. 

This is just too much for Peter. His first act as leader-in-waiting for the Jesus movement is to say “no” to Jesus. Saying “no” to the way of Jesus will become a habit for the Church. Too often when Jesus says “Cross!” the church votes “Crown!” In the background of this scene is the time Jesus spent in the wilderness when he said, “No” to the temptation to imperial power. “All the kingdoms of this world and all their splendor” were his for the taking (Matthew 4:8) if Jesus would just bow down, not to God’s way but to Satan’s. Now in this scene with Peter pulling Jesus aside to “counsel” him, Jesus thinks, “I’ve been through this before!” and responds with such force that Peter has to step back. He actually calls Peter “Satan”! 

One is reminded of a scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov An important part of that novel is the section “The Grand Inquisitor,” a kind of parable told by Ivan, one of the brothers. It takes place at the height of the Inquisition and Jesus has returned to Earth to the Italian city of Seville. He is arrested by the leaders of the Inquisition as he is performing miracles and is sentenced to be burnt to death the next day. The Grand Inquisitor himself visits Jesus in his cell as he awaits execution. He explains to Jesus why the Church voted “yes” to imperial power. “The Church no longer needs you” he says. “You were wrong to refuse the power to feed the poor, perform a miraculous leap from the Temple, and grab rulership over the world. We picked up where you left off and improved on what you started. In fact we corrected your mistake. Yes, it was necessary to use the devil’s principles to do so but we do it in the name of God. What you don’t understand,” says the Inquisitor, “is that humanity cannot handle the free will you gave them. We gave them what they really need, security from want.” 

Jesus doesn’t respond except to listen in silence throughout the interrogation. When the Inquisitor’s diatribe is finally spent, Jesus silently kisses him on his “bloodless, aged lips.” The Inquisitor is startled by this gesture and is even moved by it perhaps, but is not converted. He does, however, let Jesus go with a warning: do not return again.  

The parable of the Grand Inquisitor brings into bold relief the stark differences between the ways of Crown and Cross to usher in God’s realm. Because the Church says no to Jesus’ way far too often, we need, like the disciples, to be reminded of the differences. Cross-bearing is for “losers” in societies like ours. The “winners” are those who know how to master the game of life and have the goods to prove it. One of those goods might even be a gilded cross hanging around the neck to be displayed to admirers at church services! Winners might explain that the cross represents something that Jesus did for them. The text explains that cross-bearing is what disciples are called to do in Jesus’ name. 

What does self-denial really mean? Frankly, the text from Matthew is pretty vague. Left as an abstraction, it becomes wide open to misinterpretation. What it certainly does not mean is to remain in an abusive situation and valorize it as one’s “cross to bear.” It does not mean hiding out from life’s joys and blessings and responsibilities, enclosing oneself in self-righteousness, and calling that “self-sacrifice.” It does not mean becoming one of life’s doormats and playing some victim card. 

What it does mean is explained better in another of today’s readings from the lectionary. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12 and verses 9-21,  he offers a long list of virtues that characterize cross-bearing in the best sense of the term. The list is punctuated with actions and attitudes that make life meaningful: genuine love for others, tenacious goodness and perseverance even as evil encroaches, patience in suffering, blessing even those who persecute, cultivating empathy and rejecting opportunities for retribution and so much more. The list bubbles over with divine energy. 

Cross-bearing does mean for some what it meant for Jesus: the price is paid for in blood. History’s road continues to pass by scenes of martyrdom in Jesus’ name. For most of us, cross-bearing means serving others with compassion. All cross bearers are God’s allies; they often set aside their own agendas for personal advancement in favor of meeting human need. They hold, by their witness, keys to a kingdom, though not one of human design. Embedded in this ironic view of authentic human existence is a promise. Those who have imprisoned themselves in  service to one’s Self have their own reward. Those who have carried crosses of compassionate service to others have not only gained a meaningful life, but have also caught a glimpse of God’s eternal realm.


  1. F. Dostoyevski. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: Vintage Books (1950)

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 15:15-21

Alphonetta Wines

The Bible is the world’s #1 bestselling book of all time. Its influence in the West (and in the world for that matter) cannot be overstated.1 

One of the reasons why the Bible remains an all-time bestseller is its willingness to tell the good, the bad, and the ugly of human endeavor.

Any visions that the Bible is all “peaches and cream” are quickly dispelled when the reader encounters passages such as Jeremiah 15:15-21. The idea of the flawless prophet who can do no wrong are immediately dashed to smithereens when the reader stumbles on this passage. Stunned, the reader might wonder, “Really, Jeremiah, really? Surely my eyes deceive me. This could not be the same Jeremiah that God called from the womb. Surely, this is not the same Jeremiah who fearlessly stood against the externals of temple worship. There is no way this could be the same Jeremiah who declared God’s promise of a new covenant written on the heart.” Resigned to the truth, even as the reader ponders these questions, he/she knows that this is indeed the same Jeremiah.

The writer lets the reader in on what otherwise is a private conversation between God and Jeremiah. After years of living in isolation (God told Jeremiah not to marry, have children, or even socialize at funerals and celebrations), preaching an innovative message of individual (not just communal) responsibility for sins, and having to deal with insults, persecution, and rejection (who wants to hear a message that failure to repent and change its ways means certain destruction?), Jeremiah is weary. He pours out his heart to God.

Jeremiah comes straight to the point in verse 15. He begins by asking God not only to remember him, but also to bring retribution on his persecutors. There is no subtlety here. Jeremiah has had enough. After all, earlier in Jeremiah 7:16, it seemed that even God had enough for God said, “As for you, do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.”

Like the psalmists, including David, who called for God to take action against their enemies, Jeremiah longs for justice on his own behalf. Confident that he has answered God’s call and done what God asked him to do, Jeremiah reminds God that he suffers insult from others on God’s account. Though God’s words were a joy and a delight, he also experienced much hurt because of them. He tells God that his is a life lived alone, not by personal choice, but by God’s command.

Jeremiah’s pain can be characterized by an “unsettled ache … [a] war within.”2 He poignantly describes the ache as “unceasing, incurable, and refusing to be healed.” Portrayed as “a deceitful brook” and as “waters that fail,” even relationship with God provides no relief. With no comfort, divine or human, Jeremiah stands alone. Jeremiah is committed to God and to the task that God has given him. Yet, his struggle with the call to ministry is an ongoing issue; later in Jeremiah 20 the prophet will again express his anguish, denouncing his detractors and protesting God’s role in his life. Though there were times when he would rather not preach, he clearly could not stop. In 20:9, Jeremiah complained, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

Jeremiah’s petition for God to bring retribution on his persecutors is part of the Bible’s imprecatory corpus — a body of writings that the church would rather overlook and dismiss. While the imprecatory corpus can be hard to stomach, its connection to Jeremiah the prophet is even more difficult to understand. Surely, a man of God would not feel this way, would he?

Jeremiah’s words confirm that ministry is not an easy job. Ministry is not simply one task after another. Rather, the work of ministry touches the core of a minister’s being. While Jeremiah’s words may be surprising to the casual reader, ministers know that Jeremiah’s words are not empty words. Jeremiah’s words speak of the anguish that sometimes accompanies life in church leadership — and not just church life, but many times life in general as well.

Repeatedly throughout the Bible, imprecatory words help the utterer work through and find healing even in the most difficult situations. Suppression and denial of such feelings allows feelings of bitterness, even actions that harm others, to take root. Acknowledging these types of feelings in front of God allows God to step in and heal the woundedness and release the giftedness that lies beneath the hurt.

Unlike those who may try and  talk others out of their feelings, God neither silences Jeremiah nor attempts to convince him otherwise. Instead God’s response is a call to repentance. Just as Jeremiah warned of destruction and called on the nation to repent, God instructs Jeremiah to repent. With the commandment for Jeremiah to repent comes the promise that God will restore him to his work as a prophet, to his work as God’s mouthpiece. Moreover, God assures Jeremiah that God will strengthen him to be able to withstand any and everything people do to oppose him. God promises to uphold Jeremiah and redeem him from any hostility that he might face.

The Bible does not record Jeremiah’s repentance, but his 40-year ministry implies it. While this complaint appears in chapter 15, the biblical record of his ministry does not end until chapter 52. The story of his life and message speak as powerfully today as in his day. The ability to acknowledge and repent of one’s feelings is part of the journey of faith. We, as ministers, would do well to follow Jeremiah’s example.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 3, 2017.
  2. Tony Evans, The Power of God’s Names (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2014), 101.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 3:1-15

Kimberly D. Russaw

In 1990, the multi-talented Bette Midler released an album entitled, Some People’s Lives. The seventh track on that album was a cover of Julie Gold’s song, “From a Distance.” In the midst of global conflicts like the genocidal Rwandan Civil War, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and the Cold War, the ecological disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the deathly HIV/AIDS epidemic, Midler’s “From a Distance” reminded listeners that God was not distant, but was invested in all of creation. Listeners were encouraged by the notion that God sees—even if from afar.

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance.

The same watching-from-a-distance God Midler sang about is a major actor in the book of Exodus. Often referred to as “the call of Moses,” the popular Exodus 3 passage signals a turning point in the life of an important biblical figure. Indeed, Exodus 3 is important, but its value becomes more significant when considered in context. Telescoping out a bit, readers may remember the Israelites are in Egypt because they sold themselves into Egyptian slavery in exchange for grain during a famine (Genesis 47:19). At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Israelite hero Joseph dies, and “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). This new pharaoh fears the fruitful and prolific Israelites will overtake the Egyptians, so he encourages his people to deal harshly with the Israelites. Ruthless Egyptian taskmasters oppress the Israelites and ultimately the new pharaoh initiates a genocidal program focused on killing Israelite boys at their birth (Exodus 1:16). An Israelite boy named Moses’ life is spared, and he helps lead his people away from oppressive Egypt.  

In the third chapter of the book of Exodus, adult Moses has a theophany while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep. The word “theophany” is derived from two Greek words meaning “God” and “to show.” A theophany, then, is a manifestation of the deity.¹ Moses’ encounter with the burning bush in Exodus 3, Jacob’s wrestling with “a man” in Genesis 32, and Job’s interaction with the divine who speaks out of a whirlwind in Job 38 are all examples of theophanies. According to the writer(s) of Exodus 3:7-10, the Lord explains to Moses that as a result of observing the misery of the Israelites, this god will deliver them from the Egyptians and relocate them to a better place.  As the story continues, Moses miraculously leads the Israelites out of Egypt, they enter the land of promise, and eventually establish themselves as a vibrant monarchy.

Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey …” – Exodus 3:7-8

The Hebrew found in Exodus 3:7 is the infinitive absolute of the verb r’h (English “see”) with a first-person singular suffix. Of the two infinitive forms in Hebrew, the infinitive absolute expresses intensity, emphasis, or certainty of verbal action. Therefore, this phrase may be translated as my really seeing or my observing. The New International Version, Jewish Publication Society, and Common English Bible translate the phrase as, “I have indeed seen,” “I have marked well,” and “I’ve clearly seen,” respectively. In Exodus 3, God is not caught off guard, blindsided, taken aback, or startled by the condition of the Israelites who are living under pharaonic oppression. God has decidedly been paying attention. Importantly, even if God’s engagement has been beyond what is perceivable to the Israelites, God has been watching.

When the famine struck and the Israelites feared their demise, God was watching. When the Israelites exchanged their money for grain, traded their livestock for food, relinquished their land for nourishment, and eventually surrendered their very lives for sustenance from the Egyptian storehouses, God was watching. When the new pharaoh arose in the land and enacted policies that resulted in the Israelites suffering under harsh taskmasters, God was watching. When Pharaoh sanctioned the deliberate killing of Israelite boys, God was watching. God observed the misery of the Israelite people and took action. In all of this, God was watching … from a distance.  

What might it mean for God to observe us from a distance? How might we live if we understood God was close enough to observe and act, but somehow far enough to remain out of our reach?  We might not support policies and politicians that favor certain members of the citizenry at the expense of others, if we knew God was observing. We might spend our money differently if we believed God was watching us. We might not say hurtful things about one another if we believed God was at a distance. Moreover, how might we respond to the reality that the Lord is always at a distance? We might even pray differently and for different things if we earnestly believed God would hear our cries and act on our behalf. We might live differently if we understood God was watching just beyond our grasp.

At some point in the music video, Bette Midler sings, “God is watching us from a distance,” looks up towards the skies, smiles, and waves. It is as if she recognizes God in the distance.  God is watching us. God is watching us, from a distance.

From a distance, there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man (every man)

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

And God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

Oh, God is watching us
God is watching
God is watching us
From a distance


  1. “Theophany,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1998), 857.


Commentary on Psalm 26:1-8

Eric Mathis

Psalm 26 is a sturdy prayer that can be prayed by any individual at any time.¹

The morally upright citizen can echo the psalm’s claims of integrity with confidence. The hopelessly accused sinner can voice the psalm’s willingness to be probed by Yahweh and found innocent. The words of this psalm can be spoken aloud before worship, yet they are equally valid when whispered in the marketplace. No matter who prays this psalm, how they pray it, or where they pray it, its words convey an immensely active desire to act with integrity and enjoy a covenantal relationship with Yahweh.

Psalm 26

Psalm 26 begins with themes of integrity, trust, and a request for vindication. These themes are not unlike the opening and closing of Psalm 25 (verses 1, 21). After the initial request for Yahweh to act on the individual’s behalf (verses 1-2), Psalm 26 makes bold assertions about the moral integrity (verses 3-5) and religious integrity (verses 6-8) of the individual. A confident statement of faith and a commitment to worship Yahweh (verse 12) follows a second request for Yahweh to act on the individual’s behalf (verses 9-11).2

The whole psalm can be divided into the five movements outlined above.  However, this week’s lection (26:1-8) focuses on the first three: the opening plea, evidence of moral integrity, and assurance of religious integrity.

An Opening Plea (verses 1-2)

The opening words of Psalm 26, “Vindicate me, O Lord,” petition Yahweh to act on behalf of the suppliant. Confident in personal integrity and unwavering trust in God, the suppliant anticipates Yahweh will render a verdict of innocence rather than guilt (verse 1). The suppliant’s appeal to integrity does not presume a perfect life. Rather, “it means a life of committed relationship of dependence on God alone and full participation in all the accepted means of restoration God offers.”3

The opening plea is substantiated by the suppliant’s willingness for Yahweh to search everywhere for integrity — inside and out (verse 2). Even the suppliant recognizes that some people can appear righteous yet be involved in evil activity. Instead of fearing contamination, the suppliant expresses confidence that Yahweh will find integrity in both outward actions and inward disposition. The suppliant hopes Yahweh will grant the plea for vindication once Yahweh accepts the invitation for examination and finds the individual above reproach.

Evidence of Moral Integrity (verses 3-5)

Using human actions of looking, walking, sitting, and consorting the suppliant presents evidence of moral integrity. First, the suppliant sees the love of Yahweh continually, not occasionally (verse 3a). Yahweh’s love is present no matter what happens, and Yahweh’s commitment becomes the impetus for the suppliant to craft a journey around faithfulness to Yahweh (verse 3b).

Because the suppliant is walking in faithfulness to Yahweh, the suppliant is not sitting with the worthless (verse 4a) or the wicked (verse 5b). The verb for sitting found in the outer phrases of verses 4-5’s chiastic form means “long-term, settled residence — the kind of dwelling in which one becomes a citizen and adopts the customs and language of the land.”4 This infers that while the suppliant does not have lasting and potentially harmful relationships with the wicked, cursory or redemptive relationships are not negated. Relationships the suppliant kept with liars and deceivers may have imitated those Christ maintained with sinners in his epoch.

Just as the suppliant rejects sitting with the worthless and wicked, so does the suppliant reject consorting with hypocrites (verse 4b) and the company of evildoers (verse 5a). The double rejection of the wicked in verses 4-5 creates a strong statement that the suppliant not only walks with Yahweh, but “runs in the opposite direction rather than sitting down with them.”5

Assurance of Religious Integrity (verses 6-8)

Verses 6-8 shift this psalm’s focus from moral integrity to religious integrity.  In verses 3-5, the suppliant created distance from the evildoers. In verses 6-8, the suppliant creates further distance from the outside world — this time through worship. “We have moved from the everyday world with its moral challenges to the religious world, the world of altar, proclamation, and Yahweh’s dwelling.”6 The former was construed negatively, but the latter is now construed positively.

Washing hands with water was a rite of purification that symbolized innocence (verse 6). It prepared the worshiper to enter the presence of Yahweh and join the assembly in worship. In worship the suppliant did what was right before Yahweh: sing a song of thanksgiving and tell of Yahweh’s wondrous deeds (verse 7). Presumably, this included thanksgiving for Yahweh’s involvement in the suppliant’s personal life as well as recounting Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel.

Before returning to pleas that close Psalm 26, the suppliant makes one final statement of love and dedication to the place where Yahweh and Yahweh’s glory reside. Surely Yahweh’s abode is more pleasant than the abode of the wicked.

Preaching the Psalm

This week’s Old Testament, Gospel, and Epistle readings hold the everyday world in tension with God’s world. Exodus 3 is the narrative of the Israelites under oppression in Egypt, and Jeremiah 15 requests Yahweh’s retribution on persecutors (verse 15). Romans 12 contrasts the lifestyle of the world with Christian principles, and Matthew 16 foreshadows the suffering of Christ wrought by a corrupt government. In each of these passages, however, we are reminded that vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19) and the Son of Man will repay everyone (Matthew 16:27).

Psalm 26 focuses attention away from the everyday world and on our covenant relationship with God. Through this prayer, we are confronted with the reality that we bear responsibility for our moral and religious integrity, and we are challenged to extend God an invitation to test that integrity. Although anyone can pray to God, this Psalm gently cautions that trusting God is an easier exercise when one can claim integrity.

This week’s lectionary texts call us extend God’s love to the faithless while simultaneously walking, sitting, and acting differently. The tension already stated is that we cannot follow the ways of humanity and claim to serve God fully. However, Psalm 26 reminds us that we can follow the ways of God and serve humanity confidently, with moral and religious integrity. May this be our prayer, and may we learn to pray it with the humility and conviction it requires.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on August 28, 2011.
  2. See John Goldingay, “Psalm 26,” in Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41, ed. Tremper Longman, III, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 379-388.
  3. Gerald H. Wilson, “Psalm 26,” in Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 113.
  4. Wilson, 114.
  5. Goldingay, 383.
  6. Goldingay, 384.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 12:9-21

David McCabe

“Love is (to be) unpretentious!” (hē agape anypokritos, Romans 12:9). This is the opening salvo of Paul’s stage-direction to the Roman believers living the improvisation of divine faithfulness as a troupe of “saints” (Romans 1:7) in the heart of Rome’s Empire.  

Some translations render this verse as “Let love be without hypocrisy” (for example New American Standard Bible, Christian Standard Bible). The adjective is a negation of hypokritos, which is related to the noun often used for actors, ones who wear masks: hypokritēs. There are connotations of pretentiousness in the term, notions of “play-acting” or “charade.” In our age full of distractions and easily kindled social media spats, we are bombarded with versions of our “selves” and of our communities that run the gamut across a spectrum from flattered fantasy to sociopathic villain. In this arena, it becomes easy for us to compartmentalize our intentions from the outcome of our actions and to demonize those folks who don’t “color within our lines.” When we assume the best for ourselves and the worst for others, our “love” can tend towards a pretentious showcase of a smoke screen for our own self-congratulating indulgence. 

If the world is our stage, then our temptation is to sprout into self-authored superheroes and cast our enemies as world-wrecking wretches. “We” make the world a better place; “they” are destroying this place and corrupting all that used to be good. “We” know the right course for the best outcome; “they” are holding us back with their prejudices and naïve nostalgia. 

  • If this president isn’t the worst to ever hold the office, then it was the last one
  • I hate driving through that neighborhood of slobs! 
  • Why can’t my sibling give as much to this family as I do? 
  • If that co-worker undermines my progress for the team one more time …! 

Rarely would any of us admit these mental flitters out loud. Instead, we strive to curate a public image of our best selves, presuming that everyone ought to assess our actions based on our best intentions. After all, we are certainly just adhering to Paul’s next words: “loathe what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9b), right?

Up to this point in Paul’s argument, love (hē agape) is something that only God or Christ has performed (Romans 5:5, 8; 8:35, 39). In this shift toward the redeemed vision of humanity, it is something that the followers of Jesus will perform as the fulfillment of Torah (Romans 13:10) or the accompaniment of communal hospitality (14:15). This “unpretentious love” will be the rule—the standard—by which the community can enact proper worship and straight-thinking according to God’s desire (Romans 12:1–2). Each piece of the following exhortational ensemble will make for the full presentation of “put[ting] on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). 

Here, we see Paul engaging in the work of community formation and performing the work of theological-moral imagination. With one eye to the “inner” life of the believing community and the other eye toward interaction with “outsiders,” Paul addresses several general and concrete situations that pertain to “real life” in “the real world,” albeit one that now distinguishes between life in “this age” (see also 12:2) and the experience of the life of believers in light of what God has accomplished for them in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

This new creational community ought to be marked by such practices as “brotherly love” and “familial devotion” (philostorgoi, 12:10), service, celebration, endurance (12:11–12), caring for the needs of “the saints” and pursuing hospitality (“love of strangers,” philoxenia, 12:13). 

Sometimes, this section is outlined as Paul’s exhortation for the faithful to live oriented toward their own community (12:9–13) and then how to respond to those “outside” (12:14–21). However, things are not so clearly delineated. Furthermore, it would be naively idealistic to presume that persecution, mistreatment, and causes for vengeance occur only outside the boundaries of Christian fellowship. In fact, as recent stories about abuse and misconduct from prominent church leaders indicate, these appeals from the apostle are as relevant for Christians experiencing trauma from fellow believers as for those suffering attack from outsiders. 

Loving like God-in-Christ comes in the form of self-sacrificial giving and solidarity with those who may have welcomed it the least. God modeled the purest form of love given to those who were weak when Christ died for the impious (Romans 5:6). God’s love was expressed like this: while “we were yet sinners; Christ died for us” (5:8). God’s reconciling love came to us even while we were enemies (5:10)! It is from God’s very example that Paul can urge his audience to “bless those who persecute” (12:14), to “not repay evil in return for evil” (12:17), and to not be “avenging yourselves” (12:19). When the community inhabits the divine economy of gift (3:24; 6:23b), there is freedom to join both those who celebrate and mourners (12:15), and to readily embrace those who are designated by societal currents as “lowly” or of poor status (12:16). Secured by the divine embrace of the Spirit going to God on our behalf (8:27), and the crucified and risen Christ who advocates to God for us (8:34), we can respond to the commission: “Do not be conquered by evil, but rather conquer the evil by the good” (12:21; see also 8:37–39). That “good” is rooted in the divine righteousness—the God-performed justice (dikaiosynē) of the gospel (so 12:19–20). 

Divine justice has been the core movement of this drama, which has resulted in salvation for the audience, reconciliation with those who were hostile to God and to one another, as well as the establishment of a peace which has accomplished healing and wholeness.  Much surpassing a mere decision-driven ethics that can only respond to moral dilemmas, the script for this theo-drama holds the promise to be a truly transformative display of what God wills: that which is good, delightful, and accomplished (12:2). Only when we perform out of God’s love will we be able to identify our love as “unpretentious.”