Lectionary Commentaries for May 12, 2024
Seventh Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 17:6-19

Veronice Miles

The power and necessity of intercessory prayer immediately sprang to mind when I read John 17:6–19. Not only is intercession an expression of agapeic love. It is also effectual when fervently offered by a righteous one, as James 5:16 asserts. And so, my heart is flooded with gratitude that Jesus, God’s righteous servant, loves us so much that he interceded on our behalf, even when death loomed large before him.

Bookended by Jesus and his disciples’ final dinner and foot-washing ritual in chapter 13 and his arrest in chapter 18, chapter 17 culminates a rather lengthy preparatory discourse on post-resurrection discipleship. Having identified his disciples as co-sharers with him in chapter 13, Jesus reveals his impending death and issues a new commandment, preparing them to embrace his ministerial vision as their own and commit themselves to bringing that vision to fruition (33–34).

The chapters that follow (14–16) reveal Jesus’ multilayered preparatory approach. In chapter 14, Jesus assures his disciples that he is going to “prepare a place” for them and will return someday to take them to his “Father’s house,” a grand edifice with accommodations enough for all (verses 1–14). And lest they grow weary of waiting or fall prey to fear, Jesus promises to send them “another Advocate” (Greek paráklētos), “the Spirit of truth” who will forever aid and sustain those who love him by keeping his commandments (verses 15–31).

In chapter 15, Jesus encourages his disciples to abide or remain (Greek menōs) in him as he abides in us. For he is the “true vine,” the source from which we gain the sustenance necessary to bear much fruit to the glory of God—that is, to keep God’s commandments as revealed in Jesus, and to love one another (verses 1–17). Jesus also forewarns his disciples that the world’s powers and principalities (Greek kósmos), whose ideologies and mores are inimical to his ministerial vision, will persecute them because of the power of his name and the countercultural timbre of his vision (verses 18–25). The journey, in other words, will be perilous.

With the goal of shoring the disciples up so they “will not fall away,” chapter 16 reiterates several themes from the preceding chapters: the difficulty of the journey (verses 1–3), Jesus’ impending departure (verses 4–6), the Advocate’s role in prosecuting the world (verses 7–11), and the joy that awaits them (verses 16–27; see also 15:11). Hearing this, the disciples finally believe that Jesus came from God (verses 29–30). But Jesus knows what they cannot yet perceive: that the next few days will threaten their security, safety, prosperity, and overall well-being (Greek eirḗnē = peace) as never before (verses 31–33).

After such weighty words of encouragement, assurance, and love, Jesus “looks toward heaven” and prays (chapter 17). The Revised Common Lectionary omits verses 1–4, but wisdom suggests holding them in mind to contextualize the chapter. Also consider including verses 20–21, as they extend Jesus’ intercession into the present.

The first four verses in chapter 17 reveal Jesus’ personal petition as he anticipates the end of his ministerial journey. This is important because, though images of Jesus’ crucifixion may have dissipated for many today, Jesus is unambiguously aware that “his hour has come.” Jesus approaches that hour, confident that he has extended eternal life to all whom God has given him and that he has glorified or made known God’s presence (doxázō) “by finishing the work [God] gave [him] to do” (17:4).

Two ideas are worth further investigation. The first is John’s use of the word “glory” or some derivative thereof. “Glorification,” explain Gail O’Day and Susan Hylen, “is John’s way of describing the revelation of God’s love that takes place in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. By glorifying God, Jesus makes visible the presence of God; thus Jesus’ glorification also glorifies God.”1 To glorify God or to glorify God in Jesus Christ is to make known in word and deed God’s vision for the world.

The second idea is the Gospel of John’s understanding of “eternal life.” In John’s Gospel, eternal life is not about immortality or the afterlife. Rather, it is how John speaks about the kingdom of God, a God-infused reality taking shape in the present.2 Verse 3 makes this point explicit when Jesus asserts that eternal life encompasses knowing the only true God as revealed in his life and ministry. And what was his ministry? To make God’s name known to those whom God gave him, to all who endeavor to live in accordance with God’s word (17:6–7).

The intercessory portion of the prayer begins in verse 6. Jesus has made God’s name known to those who believe and has given them God’s words. They are eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry; to how he taught, advocated, and demonstrated what it means to make evident God’s presence in the earth. And now they know (Greek ginṓskō) that Jesus embodies divine truth. Yet they do not know what it means to take up Jesus’ ministerial vision and bear such truth as their own—a vision that will place them at odds with the powers and principalities of their day. So Jesus fervently prays that God will protect, delight, secure, and sanctify them.

Jesus is more explicit about the subjects of his prayer than may be comfortable for some. He specifically prays for “those whom [God] gave [him] from the world” (16:6). He is equally explicit that he is “not asking on behalf of the world” (16:9). Uncomfortable, yes. But wisdom counsels us to resist drawing too sharp a dichotomy between “the world” and Jesus’ disciples, especially as regards God’s love. As John 3:16 reminds us that God loves the entire “world.”

In John 17, Jesus intercedes for those who know him because their proclamation and practice will very often negate the ruling social and religious ideologies and mores of the day. In this respect, “the world” (Greek kósmos) refers to principalities and powers, whether civil, religious, or socio-cultural, that promote and propagate division, hatred, discord, or other attitudes and practices that are inimical to Jesus’ ministerial vision.

In verses 14–16, Jesus intensifies his prayer, noting that the world will hate those who propagate God’s word because they “do not belong to (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition) or “are not of the world” (King James Version). The Greek preposition “ek” denotes a point of origin or point from whence something proceeds. Those who have come to know Jesus are not “of” the world because their worldview or view of what can and ought to be originates from Jesus’ vision of a world in which love reigns supreme.

Therefore, Jesus appeals on behalf of those through whom he has been glorified, commending them to God’s care as his ministerial journey ends (verses 9–10). Jesus views himself as no longer in the world; his journey is complete. But his disciples are in the world, and upon their shoulders lies the future of Jesus’ ministerial vision (verse 11a). So Jesus commends them to God’s care (verses 11b–12).

Jesus’ intercession includes four interrelated requests. First, he asks God to protect them from fragmentation so that they will remain one in heart, purpose, and intent (verse 11b); and that they will come to know themselves as one body, one communion, one fellowship despite their many differences, nullifying the impulse toward division and discord.

Second, he prays that the joy (Greek chará) he has known will be made complete or full (Greek plēróō) in those who know him (17:13; see also 15:11). He desires that they will experience such delight and joy in doing the work of the ministry that it fills every hollow space, so that worldly enticements will no longer hold sway over them.

Then, in 17:15 Jesus asks God to “protect them from the evil one” (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition or “keep them from the evil” (King James Version). I concur with O’Day and Hylen, who say, “Much like the ‘ruler of this world’ … the evil one is the embodiment of all that is opposed to God.”3 This idea aligns with the perspective that eternal life entails knowing God as revealed in Jesus Christ (17:3). Jesus is asking God to protect his disciples from all that opposes God.

Finally, Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17). Reiterating verse 8, Jesus asks God to set them apart (Greek hagiázō) for the work of the ministry, to embolden and empower them to bear witness to the word of truth they have received even as the world seeks to negate and inhibit their proclamation and practices of faith. For Jesus himself was set apart, or sanctified, for this ministry.

Those of us who know Jesus today can take solace in verses 20–21, as they remind us that Jesus’ prayer extends into the present moment. We are recipients of those first disciples’ testimony. We also endeavor to keep Jesus’ ministerial vision alive. Therefore, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus’ intercessory prayer from long ago remains effectual for our lives today.


  1. Gail O’Day and Susan Hylen, John (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 162. Emphasis added.
  2. See also O’Day and Hylen. John, 45.
  3. O’Day and Hylen, John, 164.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

F. Scott Spencer

Amid all the joy and promise of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Judas remained a problem for Jesus’ movement. Though less well-known than Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, Spy Wednesday—the day “Satan entered Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve,” driving him to deliver Jesus up to malevolent temple authorities (Luke 22:1‒6)—also haunts Holy Week.

Along with injecting intrigue into the Passion story, the villainous secret agent Judas also engenders dissonance among faithful Christ confessors. It’s unsettling to accept that one of Jesus’ chosen confidants betrays him and facilitates his execution. A crisis of trust erupts. Can I trust you not to turn against Jesus? Can I even completely trust myself? (“Surely, not I [or is it]?” Mark 14:19). Couldn’t God or Jesus or another disciple have seen through Judas and stopped his nefarious scheme? 

While the Passion narratives indicate that Jesus knew about Judas’s plot (and let it unfold), it remains uncertain how long he had suspected Judas and what all motivated his treachery: disappointment with Jesus’ nonviolent messianic strategy? cutting his losses as Jesus faces increasing opposition? While Judas accepts payment from the priestly authorities (Luke 22:5‒6; see also Acts 1:18), simple greed seems insufficient to account for his callous betrayal.

So, what to do about the Judas problem? Filling Judas’s vacated place among the 12 apostles is the first item of business taken up by Jesus’ followers after his departure. Amazingly, Peter takes the lead. Recall that Peter himself was no model of loyalty. As surely as Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter repeatedly disavowed all knowledge of Jesus at Jesus’ trial before the high priest (Luke 22:54‒62). Though not in league with Jesus’ adversaries, Peter was, in his own way, a co-agent of Satan with Judas (see 22:31, 34). 

Yet their fates could not differ more starkly: Peter gets a second chance, a special appearance from the risen Christ (24:34), and reaffirmation of his leadership position (see also 22:31‒32); Judas dies horribly in disgrace (by bizarre disembowelment, according to Acts 1:18; by suicidal hanging in Matthew 27:5). No rehabilitation, no redemption for Judas—only replacement—supervised by the same Peter who thrice repudiated Jesus. This is yet another facet of the Judas problem the New Testament leaves hanging.

Peter attempts to explain the Judas affair via predestinarian logic, following Jesus’ pronouncement: “For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22). Woe be to poor Judas. Very sad indeed, but small comfort to Judas or thoughtful readers seeking a fuller explanation. Peter buttresses the deterministic plan with scriptural prophecy: “The scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Spirit foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16). Luke believes that scripture “must” be fulfilled by all means “necessary” (see also 22:37; 24:26, 44; Acts 17:2‒3).

Peter stretches the point, however, in claiming that the poet-king David specifically addressed Judas’s case in two hymns: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his house become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’ [Psalm 69:25]; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer’ [Psalm 109:8]” (Acts 1:16, 20). These are general references Peter cobbles together regarding the plight of anyone who attacks God’s righteous agents. Peter infers their application to Judas and interprets them to fit the present situation. 

Thus develops the dynamic (not formulaic) practice of searching, probing, and processing the Jewish Scriptures to understand God’s work in Christ (see Acts 8:30‒35; 17:11), an engaging, rewarding—yet challenging—hermeneutical venture we continue today in all due diligence and humility.

If Peter’s appeal to Scripture provides a less-than-satisfying answer to why Judas betrayed Jesus, it offers sage guidance concerning what should be done to move forward. Judas did what he did (for whatever reasons). He brought terrible harm to Jesus, but it was not terminal. The crucified Jesus lives, and his work must go on through his Spirit-empowered emissaries (1:8). “Let another” veteran disciple “take [Judas’s] position” among the 12 and “become a witness with us to his resurrection” (1:21‒22). The temporarily broken apostolic circle must be quickly restored.

Judas’s loss marks a tragedy for himself as well as for Jesus and his movement. Judas had been “chosen” by Jesus (Luke 6:12‒15) and given a full “share [or lot, klēros] in this ministry” (Acts 1:17). What a grievous waste of opportunity and shirk of responsibility. But “shares” in God’s realm are not exclusive to any individual or group. They are held in communal trust, shareable in the commonwealth of Christ. 

Though the 12 may appear to be (and sometimes aspire to be) a ruling oligarchy under Jesus’ Lordship, they are in fact a representative body of God’s whole people configured as 12 tribes of Israel. Thus, replacing the 12th apostle after Judas’s defection signals the restoration of the entire Jerusalem congregation (numbering “about one hundred twenty” [1:16], a multiple of 12) and Israelite realm (see also 1:6). 

Peter and John have prominent roles in the early part of Acts, but the other 10 apostles—including Matthias, who fills Judas’s slot (1:26)—are never named beyond the first chapter. The Holy Spirit soon engulfs all believers, regardless of age, gender, and social class (2:1‒4, 17‒21). Outside the 12, Barnabas, Stephen, and Philip the evangelist (not apostle) emerge as key servant-ministers (diakonoi, 4:36‒37; 6:1‒8:40; 11:22‒26). 

In due course, unnamed missionaries spread the gospel outside Jerusalem (11:19‒21), Saul/Paul is transformed from arch persecutor to chief proclaimer of Christ, and women like Tabitha, Lydia, Priscilla, and Philip’s four daughters become leaders, teachers, and prophets in local congregations (9:36‒42; 16:13‒15, 40; 18:2‒3, 18, 24‒26; 21:8‒9).

As for replacing Judas, the very process of nomination and selection stresses cooperative involvement by the apostles and assembly—with God! Peter moderates the meeting and guides the congregation to propose two candidates and pray together, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these you have chosen”—which God proceeds to do through the casting of lots (like throwing a die, 1:24‒26). An odd mechanism, to be sure, for such a significant election (never used again in the New Testament). But maybe not so strange considering the linguistic link between this “lot” (klēros) revealing Judas’s successor and the “share” (same term) of ministry lost by Judas. 

That’s the main point of this incident and main purpose of the risen Christ’s community: restoration by cooperation, common (koinos) good enacted through shared (klēros) service.    


Commentary on Psalm 1

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 1 opens the Psalter with words that echo much of the book of Proverbs. Life offers us two paths, and it is up to us to choose which path we will take—the path of the righteous or the path of the wicked, the sinner, and the scoffer (verse 1). On this seventh Sunday of Easter, the psalm is an apt companion reading to the lectionary readings found in Acts 1 and 1 John 5.

The opening word of Psalm 1, ashre’ in Hebrew, is most often translated as either “blessed” (King James Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version) or “happy” (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition, Common English Bible). It is the Hebrew word that is paralleled by the Greek makarios, “blessed,” in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

The Hebrew root word of ashre’ means something like “to walk in a certain way, to follow a certain path.”1 So how do we understand a translation of “blessed” or “happy”? The sense that one is walking in the right direction in life, is doing all the right things, conveys a sense of deep contentment, a great peace of mind. I might not be doing everything perfectly, but I am confident that I am pursuing the direction in life that God wants for me.

How can I be sure of that? How do I know that I am walking in the right direction? Verse 2 answers that question: “But that person’s delight is in the law [the torah] of the LORD, and on the law [the torah] that one meditates day and night.”2 The torah is often understood as the “law” we find in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but the extent of the torah is much larger. It encompasses the stories of creation, of God’s calling of Abram and Sarai, and God’s good provision for our ancestors in the faith—from the stories of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel and Bildad and Zilpah, Joseph, Moses, the wilderness wanderings, and the exiled people.

Psalm 1 invites the person who chooses the right path in life to meditate on these wonderful provisions of God. But what does it mean to “meditate”? The Hebrew word is from the root hagah, which means “to muse, to mutter, to recite.” The word conveys the idea of always having the torah at the forefront of one’s thinking, musing over it, reciting its words, and so forth.

Verses 3 and 4 are an extended metaphor. The one who meditates on the torah is likened to a tree planted by streams of water. Trees were a powerful image in the ancient Near East and in the biblical text of strength, wisdom, and longevity. Genesis 2 introduces us to “the tree of life” and “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (verse 9). The book of Proverbs extols the “tree of life” as a source of wisdom and right actions (3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4).

In verse 4 of Psalm 1, the wicked, who are likened to chaff that the wind drives away, are contrasted with those who are like trees planted by the waters. The one planted by water is supple and flourishes; it produces fruit and its leaves do not wither. What the tree yields is helpful and nourishing for the next generation, and it keeps on producing. The other is dried up and driven away by the wind, no longer useful for any nourishment or ongoing production.

The closing verses of Psalm 1 summarize and explain the metaphors of verses 3 and 4. The wicked and the sinners, those who do not meditate on the torah but follow their own inclinations, will not “stand in the judgment” or “in the congregation of the righteous,” but the Lord will watch over the way of the righteous (that is, the path, the way that one is walking about).

J. Clinton McCann reminds us that happiness (ashre’) is not found in self-fulfillment but in praising God. He writes, “Prosperity does not involve getting what one wants; rather, it comes from being connected to the source of life—God.”3

Thus the opening words of the book of Psalms invite the reader/hearer to choose to meditate on the torah, on God’s good provisions to God’s people during their history. The Psalter then proceeds, in Psalms 2–150, to rehearse the history of Israel from the time of the reign of David (Books 1 and 2) to the divided kingdom (Book 3), then the exile in Babylon (Book 4), and finally the return from Babylon and the restoration of worship in Jerusalem (Book 5). But none of that history would have been possible without the background provided in the torah, the stories we read in Genesis through Deuteronomy.

As we reflect on the scripture readings for this seventh Sunday of Easter, may we always keep in mind that we are offered two choices, two paths in life: the way of the righteous, with the torah constantly in mind, or the way of the wicked, the sinners, the scoffers, who prefer to follow their own way through life.


  1. The word ashre’ occurs 25 times in the Psalter and eight times in Proverbs.
  2. The author’s own translation. The Hebrew addresses a single person (‘ish), rather than a plurality, as the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition indicates. The message of the psalm is to each individual person.
  3. J. Clinton McCann Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4, ed. Leander A. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 687.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 John 5:9-13

Nick Elder

John 5:9–13 presents one of the central tenets of Johannine theology, which is in turn also a central tenet of Christian theology at large: that there is an essential connection between belief in Jesus and possession of eternal life. In these verses, we find four terms prominently repeated: believe, Son, life, and testimony.

The passage begins with the last of these. In 1 John 5:9, John claims that divine testimony is greater than human testimony. While he will directly indicate what that divine testimony is in verse 11, there are hints earlier, beginning in verse 7. Here John states that there are “three that testify” and then in verse 8 provides the identities of the three: the spirit, the water, and the blood, which he notes are in fact one.

Human and divine testimony

The testimony of the three that are one in 1 John 5:8 is also the testimony of God mentioned in verse 9. These are not two different testimonies. Further, the conditional clause in verse 9a, “if we receive human testimony,” is not negated by the next clause in verse 9b, “the testimony of God is greater.” Because in Johannine literature, inclusive of the Gospel of John and 1–3 John, dualism features prominently and there is frequently a clash between what is of God and what is of the world, it is easy to read the first condition as something that ought not to be accepted. In this line of thinking it is as if John is saying, “Do not receive human testimony; receive the greater testimony of God!”

However, the grammar does not suggest this. It is what is called a “simple” conditional. In this specific form, the truth of the first clause is supposed in order to indicate that the second clause is also true by extension. “If this is so, then that is so.” If we receive the human testimony, all the more should we receive the testimony of God, which is greater than human testimony.

The prominence of testimony

There are eight different words related to “testimony” in 1 John 5:9–13, and 10 if the two preceding verses (in other words, 1 John 5:7–8) are included in the count. Both noun (“testimony”) and verb (“to testify”) forms appear, and they use the same Greek root, martyr, from which the English word “martyr” derives.

Both the noun and the verb appear throughout the New Testament, but are especially prominent in Johannine literature. Over half of the occurrences of both noun and verb in the New Testament are found either in the Gospel of John or in 1–3 John. The terms do not simply imply having an experience of or seeing a thing. Rather, they indicate attesting to the truth of a thing or offering testimony and, in some contexts, refer to testimony given in court proceedings.1

In this passage the term carries the sense of “affirmation” or “approval.” God the Father affirms the Son, and those who believe in the Son have that affirmation in their hearts (1 John 5:10). The prominence of “faith” or “belief” language in 1 John 5:10 is a natural corollary to the testimony language, insofar as one believes or disbelieves one’s testimony or affirmation. It is no surprise, then, that “belief” is another prominently Johannine word.

The content of the testimony

First John 5:11 directly states what the testimony is that God gave and that one ought to believe: “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” The verse has strong parallels to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The constellation of God giving something, belief, and eternal life in God’s Son is distinctly Johannine. Possession of the Son by the individual believer is the mechanism by which eternal life is received. John indicates as much in 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” For the author of 1 John, as for the author of the Gospel of John, there is a direct connection between life, the Son, and belief. Belief allows one to possess the Son, which in turn allows one to possess the life that is intrinsically bound to the Son.

Indeed, this is one of the very reasons John has written the letter, as he states in the passage’s final verse, 1 John 5:13. Yet again, possession of life eternal and belief in the Son of God are recapitulated, and John states the reason for which he has written “these things,” which refers to the letter in its entirety. This is the same reason Jesus’ deeds are written in the Gospel of John: so that we may believe and have life in Jesus’ name (John 20:31).


  1. Walter Bauer and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. μαρτύρεω; μαρτυρία, 617–19.