Lectionary Commentaries for May 5, 2024
Sixth Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 15:9-17

Karoline Lewis

The Gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter extends the image of Jesus as the vine and the disciples as the branches. And like any good discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus can’t let the metaphor go after only one take. While it may be a bit frustrating for us readers and interpreters as Jesus seems to go on and on, it’s worth it to stick with Jesus. One hermeneutical key to the Johannine discourses is to look for the subtle shift Jesus makes that invites a deeper engagement with the image/metaphor.

For example, in the “Bread of Life” Discourse, Jesus modifies “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) to “I am bread that came down from heaven” (6:41). These deeper levels of engagement are not simply further explanation of the metaphor or symbol but reflect narratively the grace upon grace that is the Word made flesh. Like the signs Jesus performs which are abundant, all over-the-top in their meaning and results, the symbolic levels of the imagery reflect the abundant love Jesus has for believers. Remember how this Gospel ends—words cannot contain grace upon grace (21:25).

Considering 15:1–17 as a discourse similar to the “Bread of Life” and “Good Shepherd” Discourses is a helpful strategy toward appreciating the nuances Jesus makes as he unpacks the meanings of this metaphor for the disciples. The second section of what we shall call the “Vine and Branches” Discourse has Jesus moving the image to a new stage of depth and meaning. Whereas Jesus has previously invited the disciples to abide in him as he does in them (15:4, 7), he now asks them to abide in his love. The vine and branches imagery is yet one more depiction of the love shared between God and Jesus, into which the disciples are assured.

The disciples will desperately need this love in the face of the world’s hatred to come (15:18), and they will experience the same rejection as Jesus when they testify to his love in the world. Jesus predicts that they will be put out of their synagogues and be killed (16:2). Abiding in Jesus’ love is the sustaining force that will make possible their witness. Without it, they will most certainly wither and die.

John 15:12 is a restatement of 13:34–35. Love is the hallmark of discipleship in the Gospel of John, and the disciples are to mirror the love that God has for Jesus, that Jesus has for his Father, and that Jesus has for his disciples. This love, however, is not an abstract commandment but has already been embodied in Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

As Jesus experienced abundant love when Mary anointed his feet, he then takes that love forward into Jerusalem (12:12–19), into the hour (13:1), and is able to wash the feet of his betrayer, Judas, and his denier, Peter. Jesus takes Mary’s love with him to the garden, his arrest, trial, the cross, and into the darkness of his tomb.

By loving one another, the disciples will carry their love forward in their own loss and grief ahead. It is the love that they have for each other that will get them through not only Jesus’ absence but what is to come once they leave the house, cross the Kidron Valley, and enter the garden. The community of the disciples is commanded to do works of love, but loving one another makes possible loving the world God loves. God cannot love the world without the love they take into the world. And they will do this embodied love together, just as Jesus has embodied limitless love.

This is what it looks like to lay down one’s life for one’s friends: to be present for each other in times of threat and crisis.1 Note that Jesus does not say, “Lay down your life for me” but “for your friends.” To be Jesus’ friend is to be loved by him and then to love as Jesus has loved. “Jesus’ words about laying down his life articulate the very real choices that he makes for his own life and that guide his relationships in the world.”2

The disciples will have to make real choices for each other in the hours to come and in the days following Jesus’ resurrection. The love shown to one another is the love Jesus has shown as he has accompanied his disciples. He loved them to the end, to the full extent of love (13:1). In their love for one another, they hold on to and keep experiencing Jesus’ love for them. What a friend we have in Jesus.


  1. Gail O’Day, “Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 58,  no. 2 (2004): 150.
  2. O’Day, 151.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:44-48

F. Scott Spencer

Last week’s text culminates with the Ethiopian eunuch’s exclamatory query to Philip the evangelist, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent [kōlyei] me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Answer: Nothing—not his “foreign” Gentile ethnicity, not his physical debility as a eunuch—stands in the way of full fellowship with God’s people. 

In today’s text, the apostle Peter uses the same Greek verb in posing a similar rhetorical question in the Caesarea home of the Roman centurion Cornelius: “Can anyone withhold [kōlysai] the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (10:47). Answer: No one should deny baptism to the devout, God-honoring Cornelius (and his household)—notwithstanding his identity as an uncircumcised Gentile and Roman military officer (see 10:1‒7, 30‒33). To do so, Peter iterates to his home Jerusalem congregation, is tantamount to resisting God: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder [kōlysai] God?” (11:17).

Notice that same key verb (kōlyō)—variously rendered “prevent,” “withhold,” “hinder”—and consistently nullified: nothing and no one impedes God’s embracive outreach to all people across conventional physical, social, and territorial boundaries. This inclusive theme extends to the end of Acts, which doesn’t so much end as cue an ongoing, open end

Though Paul is confined under house arrest in Rome, his gospel mission continues as he “welcome[s] all who [come] to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:30‒31). “Without hindrance” translates akōlytōs (“unhinderedly”), a negated adverbial form of kōlyō. It marks the very last word in Luke’s double-volume work, punctuating a bold theological vision of God’s gracious saving purpose for the world, which Christ’s witnesses are called to propel—not prevent!—forward and outward. 

Peter’s response to the Spirit’s interruptive outpouring on Cornelius’s household (“while Peter was still speaking,” 10:44) not only echoes the recent eunuch incident and adumbrates the wider Gentile mission but also reaches back to the Spirit’s infilling of Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Peter’s signature point is that “these people”—these uncircumcised Gentiles in Cornelius’s home—“have received the Holy Spirit just as we [Jews] have.” In the mighty gust of the Spirit, God has swept away “we/they, us/them” distinctions (see also 11:12).

The first Spirit “rush” comes at Pentecost in Jerusalem, enabling Jesus’ Galilean Jewish followers “to speak in other languages [tongues, glōssais], as the Spirit gave them ability,” so they might praise God in “the native language [dialektō] of each” group of Jewish pilgrims “from every people [ethnous] under heaven” (2:1‒6). 

When asked by the stunned audience, “What does this mean?” (2:12), Peter responds by (1) announcing that this event fulfills the prophet Joel’s eschatological vision of the Spirit’s outpouring on “all flesh” (2:16‒17); (2) attributing the source of the Spirit’s outpouring to the crucified-risen Jesus of Nazareth whom “God has made … both Lord and Christ” (2:22‒36); and (3) inviting everyone to be baptized in Jesus’ name so they may also “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”—and not only they but their children and those who have drifted “far away” (makran) from God (2:37‒39)—including Gentiles (see also Luke 15:13, 20; Acts 22:21).

Everything is set from the “beginning” (11:15) for God’s inclusive, expansive, “unhindered” saving mission in Christ through the Spirit. But Peter’s preaching exceeds his practice. Accepting fellow “devout Jews” (2:5) is one thing; accepting other people is another matter. He needs more than Pentecost for that. 

As it happens, while Peter takes a noontime prayer and lunch break on a seaside rooftop in Joppa, he suddenly has a dramatic vision in which Christ plays the role of table-waiter projecting a menu on a sheet-like screen lowered from heaven, featuring numerous “unclean” animals. But instead of taking Peter’s order, Christ gives the order, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat,” three times, each one drawing Peter’s strong objection. But Christ drives home the divine principle: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane [or common, koinou]” (10:9–16). 

The point is not to expand Peter’s diet and palate but rather his mind and mission to embrace all people—including “unclean” Gentiles. The point, as the Spirit clarifies (10:19), is to persuade Peter to go and minister to the God-fearing, uncircumcised centurion Cornelius and his Gentile household. (And messengers from Cornelius just happen to be at the door ready to escort Peter to Caesarea! [10:17‒23].)

Cornelius happily welcomes Peter, eager to hear his words. Peter cuts to the chase: “I truly understand” (after considerable heavenly persuasion) “that God shows no partiality, but in every people [ethnei] anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him” (10:34‒35). This broad-based acceptance crystallizes in the reconciling gospel of Israel’s Messiah “Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all” (10:36). Peter further roots this good news in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (10:37‒43). 

But he doesn’t get to finish the sermon. Enough has been said and done for the Spirit to suffuse these faithful, uncircumcised Gentiles in Caesarea just as the Spirit filled the Jewish believers in Jerusalem at Pentecost (and Samaritan believers across the Judean border, 8:14‒17). In sum: the Spirit fuses God-worshipers and Christ-believers into one common (koinos) body, one communal fellowship (koinōnia). 

Water-baptism in Jesus’ name functions as a major ritual of this Spirit-baptized community: the Spirit-baptism sometimes experienced before water-baptism, as in the present case (10:47‒48), and sometimes after (2:38‒40; 8:14‒17; 19:1‒7); sometimes with accompanying glossolalia (2:1‒4; 10:45‒46; 19:6), sometimes not (4:31; 8:14‒17). The Spirit is too free, too “unhindered,” to be locked into a rigid order of events and array of phenomena. Best to “go with the flow,” to use a trite but apt streaming image of the Spirit’s dynamic operation across traditional ethnic, social, and religious lines and networks. 

To attempt to block the saving, embracing, impartial God and dam the freeing, flooding, boundary-busting Spirit is foolish and ultimately futile. Just ask Peter. But unfortunately, in the meantime, “we” often continue to hunker down in our “us”-protecting, “other”-suspecting trenches to fight senseless wars against perceived enemies (foreign and domestic). May God help us, may the Spirit interrupt and overcome our discriminatory ways—and may we diligently preach and practice “peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all” (10:36).  


Commentary on Psalm 98

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

Psalm 98 is an extraordinarily important psalm. Along with the similar Psalm 96, it anchors the collection of YHWH-mlk (“the LORD reigns,” or “the LORD is king”; see verse 6) psalms, or enthronement psalms, that many commentators view as “the theological ‘heart’”1 of the book of Psalms. Furthermore, it is likely that Psalm 98 has been sung over the past 250 years as much as or more than any other psalm. This is due, of course, to the popularity of Isaac Watts’s metrical version of Psalm 98, “Joy to the World.”

Psalm 98 at Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter

We sing “Joy to the World” as a Christmas carol, and Psalm 98 is the psalm for Christmas Day in all three years of the Revised Common Lectionary cycle. But this essay is for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (note that Psalm 98 is also used during Easter Vigil in all three years of the lectionary cycle). What is to be noted is the fundamental message of Psalm 98 that makes it appropriate for Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter—that is, God is present in the world for the purpose of establishing justice and setting things right on a world-encompassing scale, including “equity” among “the peoples” (verse 9; see below).

The origin and ancient setting of Psalm 98

In terms of origin and ancient use, it is likely that Psalm 98 originated in the exilic or early postexilic era as a response to the crisis of exile. For instance, Psalm 98:3 sounds like a direct response to the lament of an apparently deposed and exiled Judean king in Psalm 89:49. Plus, there are several similarities between Psalm 98 and Isaiah 40–55, the portion of the book of Isaiah that proclaims that God is leading the people out of exile in Babylon in what amounts to a new exodus (see “new song” in verse 1 and Isaiah 42:10; “salvation” in verses 1–3 [New Revised Standard Version: “victory”] and Isaiah 52:7; “holy arm” in verse 1 and Isaiah 52:10; “all the ends of the earth” in verse 3 and Isaiah 52:10).

In this regard, it is to be noted that Psalm 98:1–3 is full of vocabulary that recalls Exodus 15, the song that celebrated the exodus from Egypt (see “song” in verse 1 and Exodus 15:1; “marvelous things” in verse 1 and Exodus 15:11 [New Revised Standard Version: “wonders”]; “right hand” in verse 1 and Exodus 15:6, 12; “salvation” in verses 1–3 [New Revised Standard Version: “victory”] and Exodus 15:2; “steadfast love” in verse 3 and Exodus 15:13). The message? Just as God’s presence was known in the exodus from Egypt, so God’s presence is to be discerned in the return from exile, a new exodus that invites the singing of “a new song” (verse 1). Or, as Isaiah 40:9 puts it in proclaiming an end to the exile, “Here is your God,” or perhaps better, “Your God is here” (my translation).

Psalm 98:9

It is unfortunate that commentators have often failed to discern Psalm 98’s proclamation of God’s presence in the world as a current reality. Rather, the conclusion has frequently been that Psalm 98 portrays God’s coming into the world as a future event. At issue here is the translation and interpretation of verse 9. The New Revised Standard Version and other major translations render the Hebrew verb ba’ as “is coming,” which sounds in English like a future event. To be sure, there is some ambiguity here. The verb form can be properly identified as an active participle, in which case “is coming” may be understandable (but the participle could still indicate a current and ongoing event).

But the verb form can also be properly identified as a Qal perfect, third-person singular—that is, “he has come.” I prefer the latter, and thus I translate verse 9 as follows:

… at the presence of the LORD, for he has come to establish justice on earth.

He will establish justice in the world with righteousness,

and among the peoples with equity.

     (see also the Common English Bible)

In short, God is currently present in the world, and God has come to do what God characteristically wills and works for—justice, righteousness, and equity (see Psalm 72:1–7, where the king is to enact the justice and righteousness that God wills; Psalm 82, where the God of Israel indicts the gods for failing to do justice and righteousness; and note that each of Psalms 96–99 contains the vocabulary of justice and righteousness, and “equity” is mentioned in 96:10 and 99:4).

Psalm 98, then and now

In its original setting and use, Psalm 98 proclaimed God’s presence at a moment when the reality of defeat and exile had led many among God’s people to conclude that God was absent (see Isaiah 40:27). The state of the world today leads many contemporary folk to the same conclusion. So it is all the more urgent that we people of faith proclaim God’s loving commitment to and presence in and with our world. We are invited to proclaim boldly that we see the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in continuity with the exodus and return from exile, God’s marvelous doings of old.

The liturgical use of Psalm 98 at Christmas, at the conclusion of Holy Week, and during the season of Easter represents the good news that God steadfastly and faithfully loves the world (see verse 3) and is present as an active force for setting the world right. And note well: Psalm 98 suggests that God intends not only the “salvation” (verses 1–3)—that is, the life and well-being—of the human community that extends to “the ends of the earth” (verse 3), but also the “salvation” of the entire creational community. The sea, the floods, and the hills join the song of praise that acknowledges and celebrates God’s presence in the world (verses 7–8). In our day when the creation is under duress, the ecological implications alone are paramount!


  1. Gerald H. Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms at the ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter,” JSOT 35 (1986): 92.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 John 5:1-6

Janette H. Ok

Sometimes I wonder if the author of 1 John ever had any children when he makes the generalization, “Everyone who loves the parent loves the child” (1 John 5:1). As a mother of three, I find it entirely possible that a child could love a parent without loving his or her siblings. Even when siblings are close and feel deep bonds of affection, they may still fight and experience conflict and rivalry. What is the basis for and extent of our commitment to fellow Christians who are not our blood relatives but whom we are to regard as brothers and sisters?

In 1 John 5:1a, the author returns to the topics of being begotten (gennaō) of God (2:29; 3:9; 4:7) and believing in Jesus’ identity as the Christ (3:23; 4:9–10, 14–16; see also 2:22) but makes a much closer connection between them. Belief that Jesus is the Christ confirms that one has been born of God. In 5:1b, he reverses the logic of the preceding chapter that our love for fellow believers confirms our love for God (4:7–21) when he explains that our love for God confirms our love for fellow believers. The author’s emphasis on faith is evident by the fact that he uses the verb “to believe” (pisteuō) six times in chapter 5 (verses 1, 5, 10 [3 times], and 13).

We know when people are children of God by the way they entrust themselves to Jesus as the Christ and love God’s other children. Our belief that Jesus is the Christ joins us inextricably with those who share the same christological convictions and entrust themselves to Jesus. Thus, what binds and unifies believers is our shared confession, not our shared affection.

Our shared love for God forges us into a cruciform fellowship (1:3, 6–7) that affirms the spiritual impact and also the human, physical, and fleshly reality of Christ’s death and resurrection (1:7–9; 2:22; 4:2, 9–10; 15; 5:13). This means that our love for fellow believers does not depend on our natural affinities, racial-ethnic background, cultural heritage, shared histories, interests, political views, or bonds of affection, but is based on our status as children of God.

The author does not assume that children of God instinctively know how to love God and fellow believers. He is aware that we are capable of inflicting harm and pain on each other (3:12). So, in 1 John 5:2–3, he assures us that we can know that we love God and his children through our obedience to God’s commandments (3:23; 4:21).

Although he does not specify which commandments (entolai) we are to obey, he may have John 14:15 in mind (“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”) and the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”). In 1 John 3:23, he associates God’s “commandment” in the singular with belief in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love for one another (see also 4:21).

Obedience in the form of commandment-keeping or, more specifically, loving fellow children of God communicates and confirms our love for God. Although our status as God’s children remains secure because of God’s prior and perfect love for us (4:10, 19), the practice of loving others demands a dogged commitment. We are to care for our brothers and sisters in need (3:17–18) and remain firm in our genuine faith in Jesus Christ without being led astray (2:19; 3:7; 4:1–3). First John, however, reassures us that “[God’s] commandments are not burdensome” (5:3), evoking Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:30: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Freedom from the onerous weight of sin makes obedience light by comparison. Christ sets us free from the burden of our sins. This means we are set free to love others rightly as defined by God in Christ.1 We are set free to give God pleasure, and when we make it our aim to please God, we do what God loves (3:22).

The 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” has a famous line that I think helps convey a critical motivation the author of 1 John seeks to offer his readers. Eric Liddell, the Scottish 1924 Olympic runner, explains that while God created and called him to be a missionary to China, God also made him to be a runner. His most famous line in the movie is this: “When I run, I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt … to win is to honor him.” I offer my paraphrase that relates to our passage: “When I love, I feel God’s pleasure. To give up on loving others would be to hold God in contempt … to love is to honor God.”

Jesus, the Son of God, has already destroyed the “works of the devil” that keep us in an oppressive cycle of sin (1 John 3:8). In 1 John 5:4, the author connects being born of God with overcoming (nikaō). Although the language of overcoming “the evil one” occurs in 2:13–14 as a characteristic of “young men” and in 4:4 in reference to overcoming false teachers, here the author refers to the victory of all believers over “the world.”

When 1 John uses the language of “the world,” which he repeats three times in 5:4–5, he is not speaking generally of the physical universe or the people around us, but rather of what can be described as “an entire network of Powers” that “have become integrated around idolatrous values” and “have betrayed their divine vocations.”2

Belief in Jesus as the Christ (5:1) and the Son of God (5:5) must not be reduced to intellectual consent to christological ideas and verbal confessions of the creeds. Faith has power. Faith confirms our identity as God’s children and forges our familial bonds. Faith enables us to love one another and prevail over the forces that defy God and distort God’s love. It is through our commitment to our shared faith and love for one another that we love the parent and give God pleasure.


  1. Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, and 3 John, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 210.
  2. Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 27.