Lectionary Commentaries for October 15, 2023
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14

Yung Suk Kim

After the parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-46), Jesus gives another parable of the Wedding Banquet in 22:1-14. In this parable, the kingdom of God is compared to a king who invites wedding guests for his son. But what can we learn about the kingdom of God since this king is hard to understand, given his violence against the invited guests who rejected his invitation and his harsh treatment of a wedding guest who did not wear a wedding robe? 

Before we begin to explore this parable, one caveat is necessary. A parable is not intended for literal interpretation. It is not a real-life story but a fictional, subversive story that surprises audiences. While the allegory may be seen in a parable, it should not control its meaning because the parable employs subversive language that reverses traditional thinking or systems. Allegorical interpretation is easy to understand but loses its pungent critique of traditions or myths undergirding society. We do not have to make arbitrary links between textual elements and external references. For example, while the king is like God in some sense, he is not the same as God. Likewise, his son is not Jesus. His slaves who went out to call the invited guests are not prophets, and invited guests are not Israel. The king’s violent response is not the same as the fall of Jerusalem. Allegorical interpretation is not wrong but has limitations because it tones down the deeper, radical, urgent message of the kingdom of God in everyday life. 

Indeed, the allegorical interpretation cannot explain the complexities in the parable of the wedding banquet. For example, the question is, Why did the king not invite everyone on the main streets, both good and bad, to his banquet from the beginning? Why did he discriminate against those marginalized people because he did not invite them initially? How could the invited guests reject the king’s invitation? Such rejection is unreal and social death in a traditional society where a patron-client system is prevalent and unavoidable. Furthermore, the king’s extreme violence against the refusing guests and harsh treatment of a guest who did not wear a wedding robe can hardly make sense if he is compared to God. 

Then, going back to the question raised at the beginning of this commentary, what can we learn from this parable even if the kingdom of God is compared to a king? What is the radical, subversive message of this parable? One possibility is to focus on the literary context of this parable where Jesus challenges the uncaring work of the chief priests and the elders. In other words, this parable is a continuation of the earlier two parables, Two Sons and the Wicked Tenants because nothing is more important than doing the will of God. Even though they were called/invited by God to do his work, they neglected it, making themselves busy with their own businesses. But God does not give up on his work of saving people and calls others for that task. The subversive message is that the position and authority of religious leaders/elites will not last forever because God will open a new door, break traditions into pieces, and continue his work through other people. The way of God is radical and revolutionary in that regard. So much so that the initial invitation extends to all others, whoever they are. Tests are fair and given to all. Nothing is taken for granted. One must prove faith in the work of righteousness as Jesus said John showed it: “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him, and even after you saw it you did not change your minds and believe him” (21:32). Those who respond to God’s invitation and do his work are worthy of God’s kingdom and the eschatological banquet.  

In Matthew’s context, this parable challenges the community members to do the work of God because they were called and invited by God. If they do not continue to do so, they will lose their seat at the ultimate banquet. As God’s servants, they should not discriminate against anyone; rather, they must invite everyone from the beginning, both the good and bad. In this sense, the king’s behavior in selecting wedding guests is not prudent. The proper conduct of the king is shown in his second action: he sends his servants to everyone on the streets. Of course, as we saw before, the king’s selection of guests may be understood in a good way, that they are given special tasks for him. At any rate, the king’s later action is clear and consistent with Matthew’s theology that God’s love extends to all. God “sends rain on both the righteous and on the unrighteous” (5:45). He also “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (5:45). The ultimate moral demand is to “love your enemies” (5:44). No one is excluded from the community of the beloved. This line of thought is also observed in the parable of Wheat and Weeds (13:36-43) and also in the parable of a Net (13:47-50). For Matthew, no judgment is possible until the end. 

Also, Matthew puts this parable in the context of eschatology, that everyone must be ready for it by living the present wholeheartedly. Urgency or priority matters for faith. The former is seen in the parable of Treasure Hidden in the Field or the parable of Pearls. The latter is discussed in 6:25-34 where Jesus asks his disciples not to worry about worldly things. They must “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (6:33).

Lastly, Matthew puts this parable in the daily ministry context in which those who are called must prove their identity with the work of God. The title/position of a person or tradition of any sort is not a guarantee to please God or to serve people. God calls Jesus: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am pleased.” God’s voice confirms his baptism, his title, and his later work because we know Jesus the beloved Son did the work of God until he died. The wedding robe as a metaphor may allude to the provable Christian life for the kingdom of God. Otherwise, the harsh treatment of the guest who did not wear a wedding robe should not be understood out of context. For Matthew, final judgment is inevitable. But he does not feed fear to the members of the community. Rather, the desirable moral code is a positive one. Because God is loving and perfect, they must be also an imitator of him. 

In the end, Matthew’s conclusion is in 21:14: “For many are called (klétos), but few are chosen (eklektoi).” “Called” is an invitation, and “chosen” means God’s approval of that call because of good outcomes. Jesus is called the beloved Son and pleases God. If one does not respond to God’s call by doing the will of God, such an invitation is futile and not realized in one’s life. Those who respond to God’s call are the chosen. 

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 25:1-9

Dale Coulter

This chapter juts out of the bleak landscape of judgment and destruction depicted in the previous twelve chapters (Isaiah 13-24). It returns the reader to the theme and object of worship that opened up the section on the nations (Isaiah 12). In chapter 25, the narrative departs from a temporal perspective, with its sequencing of events, and turns toward a heavenly perspective. 

Medieval exegetes would have identified chapter 25 with anagogic interpretation because the reader is carried or led (agōgē) above (ana). Eschatology offers a different angle on history. Texts that speak of the end lift us up to look down upon the moments of our lives and see them as part of a more expansive and interconnected landscape. 

These verses burst upon the night sky of humanity’s exilic existence by reminding the reader of the God who delivers and what that deliverance will mean. Like all texts that bring to bear a vision of the end upon the present, it marks a call to hope against hope because “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

God of wonder

The chapter opens with a call to exalt and praise the name of God. While YHWH is the name of God, Isaiah’s favorite elaboration of this name is “Holy One of Israel” (see for example, Isaiah 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6). To invoke the name is to call to mind the vision of God as the thrice-holy one whose holiness breaks forth in justice and righteousness. For Isaiah, justice and righteousness are a manifestation of God’s holiness, which is refracted through the glory of creation. 

God’s name does not point to something abstract. God reveals God’s name in the concreteness of history through acts of deliverance. God is praised “for wonderful things” (Isaiah 25:1). The term translated “wonderful” refers to a wonder. It has in view the miraculous deeds of God. The term stems from the Song of Moses after God has destroyed Pharaoh’s army (Exodus 15). Moses sings out, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11; see also Psalm 77:15). The holiness and splendor of Yahweh comes through the wonders He performs in the midst of delivering the people of God. 

This God of wonder evokes wonder in his people. Like the Psalmist declares after the return from exile, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream” (Psalm 126:1). The wonder of things alters our vision, which, in turn, changes our affections and emotions. As we are caught up in the wonder of God, we find ourselves changed.

God of peace

The second part of the passage recounts a kind of reversal of fortune. The mighty are brought low while the poor and downtrodden are raised up. At first glance, this seems like a violent overthrow of the perpetrators of violence as the earthly city is brought into ruin in preparation for the establishment of the city of God (Isaiah 25:2). Yet, even the strong come to glorify God (Isaiah 25:3). The point is that the rage and ruin perpetrated by the earthly city does not mean God will abandon the nations. Instead, God strips the strong. God destroys the false idols that give rise to a false identity.  

The image of God as a refuge and shade evokes an image of peace. In this passage, the shelter does not remove the violence of the nations but preserves and protects in and through the violence. Israel does not escape the violence, she endures and overcomes in the midst of the violence. To be a refuge and a shade means that God himself is absorbing the violence of the earthly city. These images point back toward the “prince of peace” upon whom the Spirit of the Lord will rest (Isaiah 9:6; 11:1-2) and who will cause the lion to lie down with the lamb. They also point forward to the suffering servant whose chastisement brought about this peace (Isaiah 53:5). 

God of all

The first five verses of Isaiah 25 build to a crescendo when YHWH becomes the God of all (Isaiah 25:6). The text makes it plain that God will invite all to the rich feast He prepares on his mountain. The text layers adjectives to evoke a lavish banquet filled with food and drink. One finds an echo of Jesus’ invitation to come and feast with him at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Matthew 22:1-14; Revelation 19:6-8). The Eucharist is but a foretaste of this final feast for the nations. God invites all to come and dine. 

The image of eating is not exhausted by the feast. Humanity feasts at the table of the Lord because the Lord has swallowed up death itself (Isaiah 25:8). In the final analysis, it is not Israel or even the nations that are the enemy. It is death that must be defeated. To swallow death is to invoke the idea of God absorbing the blows of death. We return full circle to the idea at the beginning of the passage. Israel’s view of God does not come from abstraction but from God’s concrete actions of deliverance. God becomes the God of all because God enters into death and absorbs it. God is a death eater. 

Isaiah 25 compels the reader to view life from a different perspective. Its view from the end lifts up the reader so that the moments of history can be seen in light of a divine plan to wipe away all tears. The faithfulness of God with which the text begins unfolds in the concrete actions of deliverance in which God brings peace by swallowing death and so demonstrating that He is the God of all. As the creator of all things, God will not see his handiwork destroyed. He will redeem the creation by absorbing the violence and bringing to ruin the very mechanisms individuals utilize to perpetrate that violence.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 32:1-14

Zina Jacque

Wait one minute! Readers of this text, stop throwing Aaron under the bus as the easy solution to the people’s problems of hubris and idolatry.  

If we consider this scripture differently, Aaron’s life might offer us lessons from more than the failed leader. It might show us powerful “mirror moments” for our own souls. Let’s consider the text and Aaron’s part in it. He is surrounded by fearful people who make demands on him. Amid his distress, he does what many have done before; he bows to peer pressure. And because we have been taught to read this story as Aaron’s failure, we cease being curious about how his actions might be instructive to us and those who hear our sermons. Today, just for the next few minutes, let’s stop being so angry at Aaron.  Let’s admit that we, too, have bowed to peer pressure. Let’s use this to examine not Moses, the great negotiator, but his older brother Aaron, because most of us will bow to peer pressure well before we successfully negotiate with God.  

When the people of God realize Moses has been gone a long time, fear overtakes them, and they panic. Fear prevents our brains from functioning fully. Gripped by fear, it isn’t easy to regulate emotions. In the middle of a moment of panic, we do not read nonverbal actions accurately or process environmental clues well. And, when we are frightened or anxious, we react before considering the options available or the consequences that might follow. All of this leaves us susceptible to being ruled by emotions, impulses, and the desire to survive the source of the fear. This was Aaron’s predicament.

Now enter the people of God in Exodus 32:1. When we meet these fugitives from Egypt, they are scared and skittish. They confront Aaron, surround him, and demand a quick solution. The people suggest fashioning a “god” to go before them. Aaron, cornered and outnumbered, bows to peer pressure and hatches a plan to satisfy the people.

Next, the people, not Aaron, announce, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  Hearing the people’s blasphemous declaration, Aaron attempts a work of repair. He builds an altar and declares that on the upcoming day, there will be a festival to the Lord (Yahweh). But, the festival does not seemingly speak to the people’s hearts or settle the matter of Israel’s rightful God; instead, it turns into a time of feasting and revelry.

Now what, Aaron? Now what, reader of Working Preacher? What do we do when those around us pressure us and we find ourselves in a situation similar to Aaron’s; on the wrong side of right, absent the presence of mind to adhere to an ethical standard, and wordless in the face of wickedness?  

Given our contemporary culture, this is no rhetorical question. We are living in a time when peer pressure gathers around us, surrounding us with “facts” that have no basis in truth, shouts meant to drown out reasonable discourse, revisionist history that calls chattel slavery good for the enslaved, and division that seems to tear at the soul of our nation. Peer pressure would have you take a side and stand there, even when you recognize that the side on which you stand is based on falsities of all kinds. Peer pressure would have you deny the humanity of those who do not make the choices you make. It invites you to draw a line in the sand and stay on your side at all costs, and I mean all costs. We live in a time when peer pressure calls out to her partisan folk and demands that whoever is on the other side be demonized, dehumanized, and destroyed. Working Preacher reader, the closer we come to our national presidential elections, the more critical Aaron’s lessons about the power of and the prophylactic against peer pressure become.

Before continuing, let’s admit that peer pressure is real and not limited to the teen years. Pressure to conform your actions, reactions, and interactions to someone else’s standard is present in the workplace, the church, and the bytes of social media that inhabit our days and devices. This pressure warps relationships and undermines cohesiveness. It creates anxiety and competition and causes depression. And it divides us into camps of people who no longer attempt to cross bridges of compromise. Peer pressure twists us out of shape, just like it contorted Aaron.

However, despite the ubiquity of peer pressure, Aaron did have choices, and so do we. How do we make wise choices when it comes to peer pressure? How do we withstand this force and still stand firmly in the place of one who follows Christ? What if we began by asking ourselves what other options were available to Aaron and what might those options teach us when we are surrounded and hounded by the pressure of our peers? Using the chapters of Exodus as our source, Aaron might have:

Rehearsed God’s word 

As early as Exodus chapters 6 and 7, God speaks to Moses and Aaron and promises them the land and a safe journey to it. This word was known to Aaron. In the face of peer pressure, our brother had a solid place to stand if he had chosen to do so, assuming a position based in God and not in fear.

Reviewed God’s miracles

Whether one considers delivery from the plagues (chapters 7–10), the crossing of the Sea (chapter 15), the manna and quail (chapter 16), or water from rocks (chapter17), the book that holds today’s pericope is full of the miracles of God. Aaron was present at each of these miracles. He saw it all. The same God who held sway then held sway in chapter 32, if only Aaron had remembered God’s faithfulness to a stubborn people. 

Remembered God’s promises

Exodus 19:5-6 reminds God’s people that their future is assured if they obey God’s voice. This promise is throughout the biblical story. If Aaron’s heart had been secure in this promise, the people’s approach might have been rebuffed, and the whole golden calf thing avoided.   

Those who take up residence in your pews this weekend may be laboring under the forces of peer pressure and seeking ways to withstand it. Aaron’s story is a cautionary tale worth telling. If your people are facing peer pressure, offer them the opportunity to steady themselves before responding by rehearsing God’s word and its application in their lives. When others gather around them and demand action contrary to the nature of Christ at work within them, call them to ask what would shift if they remembered not only the miracles in the biblical word but the ones that have kept them from hurt, harm, and danger. And assure them that there is a powerful force opposing this pressure; it is the force of the divine promises God offers.  

Aaron and the golden calf story may be one of the best heuristic moments in the text. If we stop being angry at Aaron and take his story in, we can use it to imagine new options for Aaron and, in so doing, for ourselves. May we go and do likewise.


Commentary on Psalm 23

Joel LeMon

Many of us can only hear the first line of the Psalm in the King James Version (KJV): “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.1

With a simple metaphor in a concise and elegant line, this verse expresses the message of the entire psalm: Yahweh satisfied every need. The images shift throughout the poem, but that central idea remains constant.

Indeed, Psalm 23 delivers some of the most beautiful and deeply comforting images in the whole Bible. As such, this psalm is a favorite — indeed, the favorite — of many.1 But the imagery in this psalm is also full of surprises. So our reading and preaching of this text should not be sentimental, but bold, always keeping in mind the ways that its radical claims confront our experiences of suffering, fear, enmity, and alienation.

The enduring appeal of Psalm 23

The pastoral metaphor at the outset of Psalm 23 resonates so deeply with Christians because of texts like John 10:11 and John 21:15-17. The history of Christian art has played its part as well, reinforcing and developing this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd through countless iterations. Having encountered all of these images of Jesus holding and caring for sheep, it’s hard for us not to associate Jesus as the shepherd in v. 1.

We can also attribute the psalm’s popularity to its happy ending. With rhetorical flourish, the psalm describes a blessed present and a blessed future, filled with the enjoyment of God’s presence: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long!” (v. 6, NRSV). The venerable KJV, which so many of us know, in fact, seems to suggest that a beatific afterlife is in view: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Preaching such a popular text is dangerous, for sentimentalism can easily supplant exegesis. When that happens, our well-worn readings tend to mute the fresh word from God to the contemporary community. Thus we proceed with caution in mapping the structure and imagery of the text.

The journey of the Psalmist

The pastoral images that dominate the beginning of the psalm (shepherd, the verdant fields, and the waters of repose) actually work together to describe a journey that Yahweh oversees and guides. The rest in green pastures is in fact but a temporary repose (v. 2a). This psalmist is on the go, walking beside the water, along paths, and through valleys (vv. 2-4).

After the description the blessing that awaits the psalmist in the house of the Lord (v. 5), the text again pictures the psalmist in motion: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” (KJV). The word “follow” here (radaph) is better translated “pursue,” a surprising verb given that it is usually the enemies that are pursing the psalmist with an intent to overtake and destroy (e.g., Psalms 7:1; 35:3; 143:3). Furthermore, in this same verse, the word “surely” (’aq) is better translated “only.” Thus it’s not the enemies in hot pursuit. Instead, “only goodness and mercy will be chasing me down.”

The imagery of the final line of the psalm (v. 6b) also deserves another look. For most readers, the end of the psalm provides a picture of an unending bliss in the house of the Lord. The KJV is the basis for the NRSV translating the word shuv as “dwell” here. Some scholars reckon this to be a unique usage of the word shuv, claiming that it indicates a “return with the desire to stay where one ends up.” So, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (NRSV). Yet others rightly understand shuv here in its most simple sense: “to turn” or “return.” Given the prevalence of images of travelling throughout the psalm, it is most appropriate to read the last line this way: “I will continually return to Yahweh’s presence, my whole life long.” Thus the journey does not end at the end of the psalm. Rather, seeking after God’s presence is a lifelong enterprise, a long-term journey.

This journey consists of the “paths (ma‘galim) of righteousness.” Interestingly, when ma‘galim appears in the rest of the Hebrew Bible, we find it translated “tracks” or “entrenchments,” or even “ruts” that are made by the wheels of an ox-cart — the word ma‘galim is in fact related to the word for young cow, ‘egel. Thus, the “paths of righteousness” are more like ruts in the ground, groves for the wheels of your ox-cart. So, walking with Yahweh is finding your groove, and a righteous groove at that! To get into the righteous groove is to live in a way that promotes and sustains right relationships all around you, with the community and with God. To live this way glorifies the name (or the reputation) of God: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Jesus as shepherd and trailblazer

As Christians who read and preach this text, we must consider Jesus not only as the good shepherd of John 10, but also as the trailblazer of the paths of righteousness (see Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus tends us and guides us into right relationships with each other and with God. In the psalm, the paths of righteousness do not lead directly from the green pastures to the house of the Lord. No, those righteous ruts go through the very darkest valley (v. 4). In Jesus’s case, the paths of righteousness lead all the way to the cross. Jesus has shown us that way (see especially 1 John 3:16-24) and calls us to follow him. The good news of Psalm 23 is that when we walk these paths of righteousness, we walk with God (v. 4).


Commentary first published on this site on April 26, 2015.
2 For an extraordinary discussion of the ascendancy of Psalm 23 in American culture, see William Holladay, “Epilogue: How the Twenty Third Psalm Became and American Secular Icon” in The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 359-371.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 4:1-9

Jane Lancaster Patterson

The beautiful, poetic language of Philippians 4:4-9 has become a familiar touchstone for many. But if this passage is separated from the conditions in which the words were first offered as consolation, the meaning can become a shallow assurance of God’s answers to prayer. It is important to remind your congregation that these words were written by a person chained in a Roman prison, wondering whether he will be sentenced to death for his socially provocative Gospel, writing to a community under related social and economic duress. Both are experiencing extreme pressure to back off from their proclamation of the crucified and risen Messiah. This is the kind of message that inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s own “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” words written to strengthen a community under siege for their proclamation of God’s justice and concern for all people.

In our own time, many people express anxiety about not just their personal well-being, but for large-scale national and global issues. The preacher is confronted with exactly Paul’s concern: how to give their hearers both hope and practical advice for making it through genuine threats with an underlying foundation of joy, peace, and community, grounded in the power of God to bring fullness of life in all circumstances.

4:1 “My joy and crown”

While 4:1 is actually the summation of what comes before it, it also lays important groundwork for what follows. Everything Paul has to say to the Philippians has deep roots in the quality of their relationship, a combination of deep and genuine affection and respect. The Philippian congregation is both a source of personal joy and a sign of the power of the Gospel, and thus the “crown” of Paul’s ministry. Their willingness to offer Paul financial support (4:15-16) and to risk the life of a personal emissary (2:25-30) during Paul’s imprisonment are signs of their mutual regard and compassion.

4:2-3, Practicing the mind of Christ

The practice of the mind of Christ (Christ’s practical wisdom) is spelled out in 2:1-5. It means participating in the uniting love and compassion of Christ, as those qualities spell themselves out in very concrete and diverse patterns of concern for each person in the community. The directionality of concern, as elucidated in 2:5-11, is always toward the most vulnerable, a move from power and status toward those without it.

It should be no surprise that a community under as much pressure as the Philippian church would be experiencing fractures in its leadership. No doubt, there were decisions they needed to make together that were confusing and risky. In 4:2, Paul addresses two leaders of the community, Euodia and Syntyche, who appear to be struggling with how to move forward together faithfully; and Paul appeals to other leaders to come beside them in their conflict, reminding everyone of the history of courageous faithfulness of the two women. Paul doesn’t tell any of them what to do, he only reminds them of the pattern of “the mind of the Lord” and trusts them, once again, to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling—for it is God who is at work among you” (2:12).

4:4-9, Practicing our faith, as the Lord is near

It is no surprise that 4:4-9 informs the texts of many hymns and songs. It seems clear that these verses were intended as a memorable and inspiring sequence of practices for a community of faith to engage when they feel overwhelmed by opposition and anxiety. It offers preachers today a chance to give the same practical help in an anxious age.

  • Rejoice: Don’t just expect joy to arrive on its own, but commit yourself to practices of godly joy every day (4:4).
  • No one is at their best right now, including you, so be gentle to absolutely everyone (4:5).
  • Christ is near (4:5). Take moments to experience the reality that you are surrounded by transcendent compassion that is larger and deeper than you.
  • Don’t obsess over your worries, but don’t brush them under the carpet, either. Share them with God, all the worry and all the gratitude together (4:6).
  • This conversation with God is a source of peace beyond our capacity to understand (4:7).
  • Commit yourself not to simply obsess over all that is going wrong, all the evil and destruction you  see in the world. Turn your attention to things that really matter, to where you see action that is worthy of respect, to places where justice is being done, to goodness in all its forms. Make a list of them if you have to (4:8, literally “tally up these things,”; New Revised Standard Version, “think on these things”).
  • Paul gives similar wise advice, in simpler wording, in 1 Thessalonians: “Test everything; hold fast to what is good; distance yourselves from every form of evil” (5:21-22). This is excellent advice for times when we feel overwhelmed by negativity and falsehood.
  • Pay attention to the truly remarkable people around you who will show you how to walk this path (4:9).

Philippians 4 is so beautiful, and so important for the times we’re living in right now. 4:1-9 could also inform other parts of your Sunday service, such as the prayers of the people, or an opening or sending prayer, or blessing. Finding ways that the people themselves might say the words during the service could be powerful. There is a sense here in which we are being assured by those who struggled long before us, that they came to know for certain the strengthening nearness and power of God with and through them.