Lectionary Commentaries for April 7, 2024
Second Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 20:19-31

Michael Joseph Brown

Fear can be paralyzing. We often associate fear with the fight-or-flight impulse, but paralysis is typical for humans responding to feeling overwhelmed. In this case, the disciples are hiding in a house because of “the fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). They hid behind “shut,” maybe locked, doors. It was the evening of the “first day of the week” (20:19). This was after Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene at the tomb much earlier that day (20:1). She was the first to proclaim the resurrection (20:18).

Reassurance is an antidote to fear. It serves as a way for humans to confront the unknown in a way that moves them from paralysis to action. The presence of Jesus among the disciples provides the reassurance they need. In the middle of their fear, Jesus speaks of peace. “Peace be with you” is his address to his followers (20:19). It is rooted in the Jewish concept of shalom, an attribute often associated in Hebrew literature with God (Judges 6:24). 

The Greeks and the Romans associated the idea of peace with the inner nature of human beings frequently connected to the absence of conflict or war. The Hebrews, by contrast, tended to use the term primarily for interpersonal or social relations, where it comes very close to meaning justice. When justice is done, it is seen as God’s gift to the people, and prosperity comes to the people when they live faithfully under the divine covenant.

In early Christian literature, peace (eirēnē) is often used as a greeting, as in this text. It can also be used as a word of departure (for example, Mark 5:34). Here, it is intimately connected to Jesus. Peace is used sparingly in this Gospel. It is related to the commission to forgive sins (John 20:23). Before his crucifixion, Jesus promises his disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, the kind of peace the world cannot give” (14:27). This peace is meant to enable them to overcome their fear and move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit (20:22). 

Unfortunately, the difference between Jesus’ peace and the world’s peace is never really explained in John. The closest we may come to understanding John’s idea of peace is found in 16:33: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Roman peace (pax Romana) was enforced by violence. It was the absence of conflict through military conquest, surveillance, and oppression. Christ’s peace comes from the victory over evil through the absorption of suffering.

Reassurance also comes through revelation. Christ shows the disciples his wounded hands and side (20:20). It is an intimately personal experience. In the preceding pericope, the resurrected Jesus reveals himself to Mary one-on-one. In this text, he shows himself to an unnamed number of disciples in a private residence. Through the presence of the risen Christ, the disciples are empowered to continue Jesus’ ministry through the reception of the Holy Spirit (20:22).

Thomas is a curious figure. He appears in four passages in this Gospel (11:16; 14:5; 20:24-28; 21:2). In three passages, he is called the twin (11:16; 20:24; 21:2). The Greek word for “twin” (didymos) was widely known as a form of designation for individuals. John, however, tells us nothing about Thomas’ twin, and does not tell us how he acquired this title. His declaration to the other disciples that until “I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” over time garnered him the distinction of being a doubter (20:25). It may be an unfair designation, given that John portrays Thomas as representative of the disciples generally.

Thomas is chosen from among the disciples to dramatize the group’s disbelief. This refusal to recognize the reality of the resurrection is a common feature of the gospel tradition (Matthew 28:17; Mark 16:11, 14; Luke 24:36-43). In today’s text, Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples on that evening eight days earlier. They tell Thomas they have seen the risen Lord, but Thomas demands physical proof.

Jesus appeared to the disciples, who “were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). Later, in the same house, Jesus satisfies Thomas’ request for proof but says to him, “Do not be faithless, but believing” (20:27). Thomas’ response is a confession of faith. Jesus goes on to encourage those who believe without experiencing the presence of the resurrected Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit substitutes for the presence of the risen Jesus.

In an interesting twist to the story, Thomas’ confession is the only declaration of the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel. He serves as a bridge between the past of experiencing the presence of Jesus and the future of living with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Thomas should have believed because he heard the testimony of the other disciples. He, however, demands physical reassurance of the resurrection. He then serves as a foil for those who believe without the benefit of an explicit revelatory experience. Jesus praises them: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29).

The Gospel then provides a preliminary ending following Thomas’ confession of the risen Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (20:28). Unlike the disciples and Thomas, who experience the presence of the risen Christ, future believers are encouraged to believe because of the written word and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of his disciples (20:31).

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 4:32-35

Michal Beth Dinkler

For a long time, Americans called the Sunday after Easter “Low Sunday”—a reference to how, the week after Easter, churches were notably low in attendance, low in energy. The season of Lent has come to completion; the mountaintop has been summited, the stone rolled away. What do followers of Jesus do after Easter, after all the preparations and celebrations? Why does Easter Sunday matter every day?

Many Christians are not aware that in the liturgical calendar, Easter Sunday is the kickoff to an entirely new season—the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost known as Eastertide. Catholics and Anglicans traditionally light a white Paschal candle each night of Eastertide to thank God for the resurrection.

Of course, the liturgical calendar had not yet been established at the time of the apostles, but Acts 4:32–35 gives us a glimpse of what some of Jesus’ earliest followers were doing after his resurrection and Pentecost. At this point in the story, the apostles are facing opposition from the Jewish authorities. In Luke’s Gospel, the Pharisees and Sadducees oppose Jesus, but in Acts, the main opponents are the Sadducees (whom the Jewish historian Josephus describes as the aristocratic temple priesthood.1

Peter testifies before the Jerusalem Council (4:1–22), thereby fulfilling Jesus’ promise that he will give them the words they need to defend themselves (Luke 12:11–12). The apostles’ prayers are immediately answered (4:23–31), in a clear echo of Pentecost (see also 2:1–4). The apostles are depicted fulfilling Jesus’ command to testify as his witnesses with “great power” (4:33; see also 1:8), and they voluntarily share possessions (4:33–37), implementing Jesus’ commands from the Gospel (for example, Luke 12:33; 18:22). The phrase “heart and soul” may draw upon Deuteronomy (4:29; 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 26:16), and/or echo traditional Greek proverbs that extolled generosity and friendship using the same phrase.

This passage and Acts 2:42–47 are most cited as evidence that although contemporary Christians are divided, the earliest followers of Jesus enjoyed an uncomplicated, harmonious koinonia (fellowship: a praised virtue across ancient Jewish and Greek literature).

Many have heralded the community in Acts as a paradigmatic example of Christian love and unanimity. But other passages in Acts indicate that this nostalgic, romanticized image of the earliest Christian community was not the whole picture. For one thing, this idyllic communal portrait does not last: the very next chapter in Acts offers a counter-example in the greed and deception of community members (insiders!) Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11).

I do not mean to refute the beauty of the community depicted in Acts 2 and 4, nor do I deny the aspirational ideals of generosity, unity, and sharing we find there. I only want to caution against the perception—common among many Christians today—that the earliest Christians were uniform and/or somehow “better” than we are. Like all humans, they were limited in understanding and ability; like all humans in community, their efforts to live and serve together did not always go smoothly. The book of Acts as a whole and, indeed, the entire New Testament attest that the communities of early Jesus-followers disagreed about many things, and that Christian communities were characterized by diversity of many kinds from the start.

This is, in fact, good news, because it connects us to them. Though many aspects of the apostles’ world do not sit well with us (slavery is but one example), we can still relate to the existential and practical challenges that always arise when humans are “human-ing” together.

For instance, this passage can invite us to ask about resource allocation in our community. How do we spend our resources (monetary or otherwise), and why? Does our community tend to agree or disagree about how we give and receive, about who “deserves” to give or receive, and why? How can we handle disagreements when they inevitably arise, without using this passage to shame our community for not being unified?

Verse 34 says there was not one “needy” person among them (the Greek term endeēs only occurs here in the New Testament; etymologically, it comes from en + deo, to be in need of, or lacking). How do we define “needy”? Correct use of possessions is a common Lukan theme, though different passages appear to send different messages.

In the Gospel, Jesus’ concern for the poor is evident in his pronouncement of beatitudes for the poor and woes for the rich (6:20–25), and stern warnings about the perils posed by wealth and possessions (for example, 12:13–21, 16–21; 16.9–15, 19–31). These teachings fit well with Acts 2 and 4, where believers sell all they have in order to provide for others. But we also have the example of the tax collector Zacchaeus, who only gives away half of his wealth to the poor (Luke 19:1–10, especially verse 8).

Which of these biblical examples do Christians today follow, and why? Do those who claim private ownership in our community usually sell everything and give the proceeds to those in need? Obviously, most American churches do not work this way. Capitalism honors individualism and wealth; for many today, the specter of communism lurks behind the references to communal ownership in Acts 2 and Acts 4, raising suspicion and encouraging a speedy jump to more comfortable verses. Americans might teach our children to share, but only within limits. Is this why so many American Christians understand this passage in Acts as metaphorical instead of literal?

Historians agree that most people in the first-century Roman Empire lived at or below subsistence level; their lives required a literal sharing of material resources. Ancient philosophers such as Cicero and Aristotle also praised the virtues of communal ownership in their teachings (even if actual practice was different). Still, most Christians today do not seek to recreate those conditions when talking about emulating the earliest Christians.

All of this raises larger questions about the ethics of biblical interpretation. How and when do we consider historical contexts relevant or irrelevant for our particular contexts, and why? Should we always take narrative descriptions like the one we find in Acts 4:32–35 as instructions for how Christian communities ought to relate to each other today? Why or why not?



  1. Antiquities 13.297-98


Commentary on Psalm 133

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 133 is 14th of the 15 “Songs of Ascents” in Book Five of the Psalter.1 These “songs” were most likely sung by pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate a number of annual religious festivals, including Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

In three short verses, the singer of Psalm 133 summarizes the goodness and pleasantness of kindred living together in unity and likens that goodness and pleasantness to two powerful metaphoric images—oil and dew. A number of scholars suggest that Psalm 133 was formed by combining a traditional proverbial or wisdom saying with worship or liturgical images from the life of ancient Israel. The proverbial saying would have gone something like this:

Behold, how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard.

It is like the dew of Hermon.

And the worship additions would have been:

… on the beard of Aaron

… which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

The two simple images of oil and dew, combined with the images of oil on Aaron’s head and dew on Jerusalem, transformed the proverbial saying into a celebration of the goodness and pleasantness of pilgrims coming together in Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place.

In its proverbial setting, the wisdom words of verse 1—“How good and how pleasant”—recall the exclamation of blessing uttered by a traveler or visitor upon entering the home of another in ancient Israel. The word translated “good” is tob, a word that recalls God’s assessment of creation in Genesis 1.

In Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, and 21, the creation story tells us that “God saw that it was good.” At its conclusion, “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good” (verse 31).

In the Genesis 2 creation story, however, God declares, “It is not good [lo’ tob] for the human to be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (verse 18). The word “good” in Psalm 133:1 reminds the reader/hearer of God’s provision of community and relatedness for humanity.

The word translated “pleasant” in Psalm 133:1 is na’im. Its meanings include “lovely, good, attractive, friendly, joyous.” It frequently occurs in parallel to “good,” tob (Genesis 49:15; Psalm 147:1; Job 36:11; Proverbs 24:25). In ancient Israel, extended families lived together in small communities and shared responsibilities that were common to their communities.

Verse 2 compares the goodness of kindred dwelling together to the “good oil” on the head. Although the NRSV translates the word “precious,” here we have the same word, tob, that is used to describe kindred dwelling together.

Oil from the olive was an important commodity in the dry environment of the ancient Near East. Olive oil was mixed with sweet-smelling spices and used for hair and skin care. The oil was poured over the head and, for men, ran down into the beard. A basic act of hospitality when visitors entered the homes of others was to wash the visitors’ feet and pour soothing and refreshing oil upon their heads.

The oil in Psalm 133 is poured upon the head of Aaron, and the oil runs down into his beard and onto the collar of his garments. In Leviticus 8, Moses anoints his brother, Aaron, as high priest of ancient Israel. We read:

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. … He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. (Leviticus 8:10, 12)

Verse 3 continues the metaphor of soothing and refreshing moisture. Mount Hermon, located some 125 miles north of Jerusalem, was known for its abundant dew. And in Palestine, which saw little rainfall between the months of April and October, dew was an important commodity. Without the nightly accumulation of dew, the land would be parched and dry for many months out of the year.

In Psalm 133, the dew that soothes and refreshes the land comes down, not on Mount Hermon, but on Mount Zion, and Jerusalem, the center of worship for ancient Israel, is soothed and refreshed.

The verse continues with words of confidence that from Zion, where the God of the ancient Israelites dwelled, the people sought and found blessing—barak. The word reverberates throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible: God says to Abram, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3); after Jacob’s long night of wrestling, we read, “And there he blessed him” (Genesis 32:29); and Moses says to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, “Surely the LORD your God has blessed you in all your undertakings” (Deuteronomy 2:7).

The oil and the dew are metaphoric symbols of blessing that celebrate the goodness and pleasantness of those who dwell together in unity.

In its position in the book of Psalms, then, Psalm 133 is a proclamation of delight, sung by pilgrims traveling up to Jerusalem. We have here, I think, a picture of the sincere and simple pleasure of people who are bound together by their covenant with the Lord and who, having come from a great distance, anticipate with joy standing together in the courts of the temple and sitting down together at the feast table.

The ancient Israelite singers of Psalm 133 would most likely have remembered the proverbial wisdom saying upon which the psalm was based—kindred who dwell together in unity being likened to good oil and dew. They still would have celebrated the joy and goodness of dwelling together as brothers and sisters. But the words of the whole psalm reminded the people that their family relationship was established not by blood, but by their mutual share in the community of God, a community that received blessing from its God.

Psalm 133, as one of the Songs of Ascents, prepared the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to celebrate together as family, as kindred living in oneness, the festivals of the Lord their God. The celebrations of festivals at the Temple in Jerusalem transformed pilgrims coming from different places into a family that for a holy time ate and dwelt together. Psalm 133 was a song of greeting, of anticipation, and of celebration of that holy time.

In the Christian tradition, Psalm 133 is often used as a text for the observance of the Lord’s Supper, which calls the whole people of God to a family table where all are welcome. St. Augustine boldly claimed that Psalm 133 inspired the foundation of monasteries, since its words paint a picture of the ideal of brothers, fellow pilgrims in the faith, dwelling together in unity.

We each have our own “kindredness” based on blood ties, but we also share in a covenant community with God in Jesus. We come from kindred families from different places and times, but our ultimate kindredness is assured through our mutual share in the promises of God.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 12, 2015.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 John 1:1—2:2

Alicia D. Myers

First John begins mid-thought, caught up in the exuberance of proclamation that is often obscured in contemporary English translations. Many interpreters consider 1 John to be more of a sermon than a letter—in fact, it doesn’t have any of the components of a normal letter that we find elsewhere in the New Testament (namely, an opening or closing greeting). 

Instead, our author simply jumps in to emphasize the importance of “the word of life” that was revealed; that the author claims to have heard, seen, and even touched (1:1); and that they are now proclaiming to the audience. Overall, this opening section of 1 John encourages its readers (and hearers) to remember this message of eternal life and to hold fast to their confession of Jesus’ life and resurrection so they might continue having fellowship both with God and with other believers (1:3–4). 

Our passage proceeds in three main parts and contains a number of repeated words and phrases. The first four verses are often called the sermon’s prologue and are regularly compared to the opening verses of John’s Gospel. Yet, 1 John 1:1–4 also differs in significant ways from John 1:1–18, indicating this sermon’s differing focus. 

Unlike the Gospel’s biographical focus, 1 John 1:1–2 shifts our attention to “the word of life” in ways that remind many readers of Jesus’ resurrection, and which has encouraged the lectionary to include this passage on the Second Sunday of Easter. Our author claims to have heard, seen, beheld, and touched this word of life, perhaps in reference to the disciples’ interaction with the Risen Lord (John 20:10–29). According to this reading, the author of 1 John grounds their authority in a personal connection to a witness of his resurrection. 

At the same time, however, these opening verses do not describe Jesus’ resurrection directly, but rather emphasize the larger message of life the author proclaims. The focus on the message fits with the larger goal of 1 John to encourage its audience to remain faithful to the traditional teachings of the community instead of leaving with the “antichrists” (2:18–19; 4:1–6; see also 2 John 7). Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection is a crucial part of the author’s message. The description of a physical encounter with the “word of life” in these opening verses, therefore, prepares us for the challenges and encouragement that follow in 1:5–2:2.

The second section of our passage spans 1:5–10. In 1:5, our author summarizes their message with a short proclamation: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (my translation). Starting from this foundational claim, the author explores what it means to be in fellowship with God despite human failings that draw us into darkness. Although any darkness threatens one’s fellowship with God who is entirely light, all interactions with darkness are not the same. The conditional statements in verses 6–10 rotate between negative and positive examples, each of which highlights the need for our words to cohere with our behavior. 

Verses 6, 8, and 10 give negative examples and describe types of deception that come from denying our mistakes with ever-increasing severity. We may start by simply living as hypocrites (verse 6), but eventually we deceive ourselves (verse 8) and finally deceive others by calling God a liar (verse 10). This final assertion is perhaps surprising to us: How can anyone make God a liar? The logic of verse 10 comes from the two positive examples in 1:7 and 1:9. Rather than denying our sins, 1 John encourages us to confess and trust in God’s means of cleansing and delivering us from them: that is, Jesus Christ. 

If we claim that we have never sinned, then we proclaim God’s sending his Son as our means of forgiveness to be unnecessary. Thus, God lies by stating that we need any cleansing at all! The absurdity of such a statement draws us to the author’s point of view; we know that believers have sinned and continue to do so. Rather than a lie, God shows us the very definition of love by rescuing us from our sins by sending Jesus Christ (4:7–10). 

Our pericope ends in 2:1–2 with a reminder not only of what Jesus has done by living on earth and dying on the cross, but also of what he continues to do on our behalf before the Father. In this way, the author builds on the image of Jesus’ ongoing ministry described in 1:7 and 9. 

Look closely at the language in the Greek, and you find that Jesus’ blood is “cleansing” (present tense) believers who continue to confess and to trust in him (1:7). This use of the present tense continues in 2:1–2, which claims that “we continue having an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ, righteous one.” Moreover, this advocate “is the means of forgiveness for our sins” and for those of the “whole world” (my translations and emphasis). In other words, Jesus’ work continues long beyond the moment of his death upon the cross. 

As our Risen Savior, he stands before the Father, cleansing us with his blood and interceding so we might continue having fellowship with God despite our mistakes. Such a reality is not a warrant for believers to sin without thought, but it is a comfort for believers who recognize their mistakes and continue relying on a living Jesus. For 1 John, therefore, confessing Jesus’ resurrection is a vital part of how we continue to have fellowship with God and one another. As we remember Jesus’ resurrection in this Easter season, let us reflect on his continued ministry on our behalf. 

Risen and advocating on our behalf, Jesus still shows us the depth of God’s love and the victory of God’s light in a world often shrouded in sin’s darkness.