Lectionary Commentaries for May 26, 2024
The Holy Trinity

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 3:1-17

Holly Hearon

The Gospel of John is rich with language exploring the relationship between God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It should probably come with a warning sign: “Multiple interpretations possible.” Its goal, however, is not to establish doctrine; it is to tell a story about God’s love for the world. In the story of Nicodemus, the language of God, Son, and Spirit reveals unity of purpose in the full expression of God’s interaction with the world.  


The story of Nicodemus hearkens back to the Gospel’s prologue, where it says that the world came into being through the Word, but the world did not know (in other words, recognize the significance of) the Word (1:10; 3:11). This is exactly what we find illustrated in the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus says to Jesus, “We know you are a teacher who comes from God,” but Jesus responds in a way that turns what Nicodemus thinks he knows on its head, leaving him in a state of befuddlement. 

It is helpful to keep in mind that John often uses irony to underline a point. This is the case here. Nicodemus has, in fact, said something that is true, but without recognizing fully the significance of what he says. That he will, later, come to the tomb bearing spices to assist Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body for burial (19:39) suggests that his insight increases over time. In the Gospel of John, insight is rarely immediate; it comes through the raising of questions, or through later remembrance and reflection (16:4). 

The world

The “world” (kosmos) is the all-encompassing object of God’s concern in the Gospel of John. Despite having been created through the Word, it has come under the sway of a ruler (12:31) who is described as the devil (8:44): one devoid of truth and thus the antithesis of Jesus, who embodies truth (1:14, 17; 14:6). The world is a place where evil thrives (3:19–20). Ultimately, the ruler of the world will be cast out (12:31; 16:8, 11). Yet even while the world is under the control of the ruler, it is possible for people to be in the world but not of the world (17:14–15); to become children of God (1:12). 

Kingdom of God 

While there are more than 57 references to the world in the Gospel of John, the phrase “the kingdom of God” appears in only two verses (3:3, 5) which describe the kingdom as something that can be seen and entered. A third reference to “kingdom” occurs in 18:36, but here Jesus speaks of “my kingdom” (rather than the kingdom of God), a kingdom that is not from this world. The more common referent in the Gospel of John is to “heaven”—a place that Jesus descends from and to which he ascends (for example, 3:13, 31; 6:33, 38, 50–51). 

The emphasis on “place” underscores that the kingdom of God/heaven and the world constitute separate, although not wholly unrelated, spheres. The world came into being through the Word. (Note: “Word” has a triple referent: to Genesis, where God speaks creation into being; to Jesus, who speaks the word of God [14:24]; and to Jesus as Wisdom, who was in the beginning with God [Proverbs 8:22-31].) While Jesus can descend from heaven to earth, the ruler of this world cannot ascend to heaven because no one can enter God’s realm without having been born of the Spirit (3:3). 

The Spirit

Just as John distinguishes between the kingdom of God and the world, so John also distinguishes between the Spirit and flesh (3:6; 6:63; see also 3:31). Flesh is not necessarily negative, but it belongs to the world. The Spirit, in John, is described in three ways:

  • Like Jesus, the Spirit comes from above, the realm of God, and it blows where it will (3:8); in other words, it belongs to God. 
  • Like Jesus, the Spirit is truth (14:17; see also 4:23–24; 16:13). 
  • The Spirit is an Advocate, whom Jesus asks God to give to the community of faith (14:16), to teach, testify to, and remind them of what Jesus has said to them (14:26; 15:26; cf. 8:26).   

The Son 

Nicodemus describes Jesus as a teacher who has come from God; in other words, who stands in the presence of God (3:2). As noted above, Nicodemus’s words are true, but what he does not yet comprehend is more important: 

  • First, Jesus is not just a teacher, but has seen God (6:46), speaks the word of God (8:26), and is one with God (10:30). 
  • Second, Jesus has been sent into the world by God (for example, 1:9; 3:13, 16–17; 6:14, 51; 10:36; 11:27; 16:28; 18:37) in order to:
    • Be the light of the world (for example, 1:9; 8:12; 9:5; 11:27; 12:46) 
    • Save the world (for example, 1:29; 3:17; 4:42; 12:47) 
    • Give life to the world (3:14–16; 6:33, 51; see also 14:19)

Jesus is the means by which God reaches out to the world, entering into the world as flesh so that what is flesh may receive the Spirit of God.

The Triune God

Neither the Spirit nor Jesus can be separated from God. Both come from “above,” and both are manifestations of God’s truth and articulations of God’s purpose. God loves the world beyond measure. God “gave” (didōmi) the Son to save the world (one could say “from itself”)—an expression of generosity, not a “handing over” (as in 19:11, paradidōmi). The unity of purpose is highlighted in 10:18, where Jesus says that he lays down his life of his own accord (see also 17:23: “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”). The Holy Spirit, as Advocate, both testifies that the words of Jesus are from God and eternally advocates for the community of faith in the world so they may continue to abide in God’s love forever.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 6:1-8

Julián Andrés González Holguín

Isaiah 6:1–8 stands as a foundational passage in the book of Isaiah. It unveils a pivotal moment in the life of the prophet. He encounters the glory of God and receives a commission to speak to a people who hear but never understand, who see but never perceive (see verse 9). This passage delves into a divine revelation that shapes Isaiah’s identity, his mission, and the timeless nature of divine encounters with humanity. 

This unit, presented as a first-person report, is a personal account of a momentous event in his life. It is a story with a plot and characters. The main ones are the prophet and God, but there are others, including the seraphs, the heavenly court, and “these people” who receive Isaiah’s message. 

The opening verse sets the stage with a specific historical context: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” This temporal marker highlights the timing of Isaiah’s vision, coinciding with a significant moment in Judah’s history—the passing of a long-reigning king. This deliberate framing emphasizes the critical juncture in which Isaiah’s encounter with the divine occurs, suggesting a connection between the earthly political transition and the revelation of God’s sovereignty.

The vivid imagery highlights God’s majesty and sovereignty. The depiction of God as “high and exalted” portrays God’s unshakable authority, transcending earthly limitations. God does not die as King Uzziah did. The king’s death signaled the end of an era, but God’s reign stands forever. The imagery of God’s robe filling the temple conveys a sense of encompassing presence, signifying that God’s glory permeates all spaces, even transcending physical boundaries. This portrayal emphasizes God’s supreme position and underscores the idea that God’s sovereignty extends beyond the confines of the temple, involving the totality of creation. God is simultaneously present in the heavenly realm and within the fabric of the world. 

In this presence, seraphs proclaim ceaselessly, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The repetition of “holy” accentuates God’s divine perfection and absolute sanctity. It is the powerful presence of the one who is radically other. Although the hem of God’s robe fills the temple, God’s glory fills all creation. Even the seraphs who attend the Lord must cover their “feet,” a euphemism for their nakedness, and their faces. No one can appear naked before the Lord, and no one can see God directly and live, not even the supernatural beings that guard the throne. 

Isaiah’s response to this awe-inspiring theophany is profound humility and self-awareness. The text conveys the sense that Isaiah fears for his life. He becomes conscious of his unworthiness in the presence of the Holy One, exclaiming, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (verse 5). Isaiah’s declaration is similar to a confession of sin and an expression of mourning both for himself and for the people. This sharp awareness of personal and communal inadequacy in the face of God’s holiness accentuates the disparity between human frailty and divine perfection.

In response to Isaiah’s acknowledgment of his unworthiness, one of the seraphs takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, symbolically purifying him and declaring, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (verse 7). This act of purification appears elsewhere in Isaiah (1:25–26). It signifies God’s grace and forgiveness, cleansing Isaiah’s impurity and preparing him for the divine call. 

The seraph pronounces Isaiah free of guilt and sin. Guilt is not a feeling but a state of being brought about by wrong behavior. Therefore, for sin and guilt to have “departed” or to have been “blotted out” means that the purification removes the effects of wrongful actions. However, the ritual cleanses the prophet but does not address the second part of Isaiah’s confession: that he lives “among a people of unclean lips” (verse 5). This suggests that Isaiah has been set apart from the people. 

For the first time God speaks, and the voice reverberates through the temple. God does not speak directly to the prophet but to the heavenly court. This story climaxes when the prophet overhears the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah, transformed by the purifying touch and encouraged by God’s grace, says, “Here am I. Send me!” (verse 8). His willingness to be sent demonstrates a transformation from a sense of inadequacy and unworthiness to a readiness to heed God’s call and serve as God’s messenger.

This passage carries significance in comprehending the nature of God’s holiness, humanity’s response to God’s glory, and the divine commissioning of prophets. It unveils the paradox of God’s transcendence and immanence, God’s holiness juxtaposed with God’s redemptive grace extended to the repentant.

Isaiah 6:1–8 encapsulates a divine encounter and commissioning that shapes Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. It unveils God’s awe-inspiring holiness, the prophet’s humility in acknowledging his unworthiness, and the transformative power of God’s grace in equipping and sending forth God’s servants. 

Isaiah’s vision serves as a template for those called to serve God—a call marked by an encounter with God’s holiness, leading to a profound awareness of personal inadequacies, followed by divine purification and a willing response to God’s commission. It challenges individuals to be receptive to God’s call, despite inadequacy, trusting in God’s grace to equip and empower them for the tasks set before them. 

Although at the critical moment, Isaiah shows no hesitation, there are two points of resistance. He confesses his unworthiness (verse 5) and intercedes for the people. Resistance does not come so much from individual personality or weakness as from the experience of standing in God’s presence. Finding one’s vocation in the Christian journey requires verifying that God calls us. Following Isaiah’s example, we can resist, disagree with, and challenge even the God whose glory fills the whole earth. 

This passage remains a timeless testament to God’s call and human response, inviting all to heed the divine commission with readiness and surrender. It is a reminder that in our divine-human encounter, questions are always welcome. 


Commentary on Psalm 29

Cameron B.R. Howard

Though it is impossible to know what tune accompanied Psalm 29 in its original recitations, the rhythms of its many repeated phrases convey a sense of musicality on their own.1

Repetition remains an effective musical and poetic device today, in sacred and secular contexts alike.

Michael Jackson’s classic pop song “Beat It” has several verses, but even though I can hum the whole tune, the only words I can ever remember are, “Beat it, just beat it …” Those words are repeated throughout the song in both verses and refrains; their frequency and their rhythm make them especially memorable, even when all the other words recede from my consciousness.

In a similar way, Psalm 29 is punctuated by prominent, memorable repetitions that emphasize the main ideas of the poem, ideas that stick with us even if the details fade away. The style of these repetitions, along with thematic similarities to Canaanite poetry, provides evidence to many scholars of the antiquity of this psalm, possibly one of the oldest in the Bible. Even more so, though, the repetitions remind us modern readers of the musical roots of these prayers. Each duplication of a particular phrase serves as a mini-refrain, a catchy lyric that helps us remember the “tune.”

The psalm divides neatly into three sections, each with its own key repeated phrase that summarizes the main idea of the section.

Verses 1–2: “Ascribe to the LORD”

No heavenly being is more glorious than the Lord. Verses 1 and 2 are governed by imperatives directed toward the “heavenly beings,” literally “sons of gods.” In the polytheistic context of the ancient Near East, it was common for religious literature to assert the superiority of one group or region’s favored deity over other gods and goddesses. The psalmist borrows this strategy, taunting other heavenly beings to worship the Lord as the strongest and most glorious deity.

When English translations use “LORD” in capitalized letters, the Hebrew text uses the tetragrammaton, the name of God, rather than the more generic term “God” represented in Hebrew by “Elohim.” In nearly every line of Psalm 29, the name of God appears. This preponderant usage of “LORD” especially makes sense when we consider that the psalmist is naming this particular God as superior to any other claims. God’s name runs like a red thread through the center of the poem, tying together each of these three sections.

Verses 3–9: “The voice of the LORD”

God controls creation. The bulk of the psalm consists of declarations of the might of the voice of the Lord. Three powerful elements of creation—waters, woods, and fire—are pitted against the voice (or, translated more generically, “sound”) of the Lord. God is unmatched by the might of any of them.

In Canaanite religion the god Baal was envisioned as a storm-god, a “cloud-rider,” and this psalm is clearly indebted to that description. The images of power and destruction here recall post-tornado landscapes that we see all too often in the news: the cedars break, fires rage, the wilderness shakes, the oaks whirl. In this psalm we are not, however, to see God as the cause of such destructive natural forces; rather, in order to understand the totality of God’s power, we observe the world around us. When we have noted the most powerful forces we can see, we know: the voice of the Lord is all of this together, yet even more.

God’s power as manifested in the confrontations with elements of creation in verses 3–9 goes hand-in-hand with God’s dominion. Not only is God as powerful as all of these; God controls all these. The “voice of the LORD” stanzas provide evidence for why God should be praised. At the end of verse 9, then, having been presented with this evidence, there is nothing left but for all in God’s temple to say, “Glory,” just as verses 1–2 have implored.

Verses 10–11: “The LORD sits enthroned”

God is king. The idea of God as king encompasses, particularly in the ancient context, the pinnacle of power and might. Just as earthly power-plays leave one ruler besting the rest, so too is God superior to any other claim to authority on earth or in the heavens. The Lord’s subjects—that is, those who worship God and recognize his supreme authority—look forward to God’s benevolent rule.

In the context of Trinity Sunday, Psalm 29 can serve as a meditation on the first person of the Trinity: God as creator, sovereign, king.

The appointed Old Testament reading for the day, Isaiah 6:1–8, is a dramatic description of just the kind of worship scene that the opening lines of Psalm 29 imagine. The seraphim cry out with their own threefold repetition, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (verse 3). God, enthroned, is worshipped by heavenly beings who ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name.

Even without music, the musicality of this psalm, underscored by the poetic technique of repetition throughout, helps us hear the psalm’s main theme: God’s glory and majesty are unmatched on earth or in the heavens. We human beings, along with the universe in its entirety, are subjects of the sovereign Lord.



  1. Commentary first published on this website on June 3, 2012.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 8:12-17

Nick Elder

In Romans 8:12–17 Paul elaborates on what it means to live in the new realm of the Spirit. Previously, in Romans 7, Paul had conveyed the individual believer’s inner struggle of navigating life between two different realms, especially with respect to the law. On the one hand, there is the old realm of the flesh characterized by sin and death. On the other hand, there is the realm of the Spirit characterized by grace and life. Paul emphatically assures his audience that their allegiance lies with the latter, as conveyed in Romans 8:9–11.

However, allegiance to the new realm doesn’t imply immunity from the persistent influence of the old realm. Paul’s emphasis in Romans 8:12–17 is twofold: first, to reassure believers of their secure belonging to the new realm, and second, to encourage them to beware of the encroachment of the old realm.

From the indicative to the conditional

It is often said that Paul moves from the “indicative” to the “imperative” in the overarching structure of Romans. The indicative is a statement of how things are. As its name implies, the indicative indicates. The imperative is a command. It states what must be done—what is imperative. Romans 1–11 supposedly outlines Paul’s theological content, while Romans 12–15 encourages the reader to live differently.

While it is true, grammatically speaking, that chapters 12–15 of Romans contain more commands and exhortations than do chapters 1–11, there is no shortage of admonition peppered into the “indicative” chapters of Romans 1–11. In Romans 8:12–17, Paul encourages the reader to live as is fitting in the realm to which they belong, namely the realm of the Spirit that is characterized by grace and life.

However, this encouragement does not come in the form of direct commands (in other words, imperatives). Rather, it comes in the form of two contrasting conditional sentences in Romans 8:13: “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

These are “simple conditional” statements. With a simple conditional, the action in the first clause is thinkable or realistic. These are not hypothetical situations. Paul acknowledges the real possibility that one might continue to live according to the flesh. He then presents the action that ought to be taken in the second “if” sentence of verse 13: killing the deeds of the body in order to live.

Surrounding the two conditionals are indicative statements reminding the audience to which realm they belong, using various imagery that involves allegiance and obligation. In Romans 8:12 Paul uses financially oriented language, claiming that those who are in Christ are not “debtors” to the flesh. In verses 14–17 he uses familial language, insisting that being led by the Spirit makes one a child of God, not a slave of fear.


The term “debtors” can assume a financial dimension of obligation, as illustrated in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:24. In the parable, a slave owes the king 10,000 talents. He is literally “a debtor of 10,000 talents” (opheiletēs myriōn talantōn). Yet, the term extends beyond financial implications to convey a moral or social indebtedness as well.

Paul uses the term two other times in Romans. In Romans 1:14, “debtor” takes on the social connotation, signifying Paul’s obligation to “Greeks and barbarians, the wise and the foolish.” In Romans 15:27, where Paul uses it to indicate that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to contribute to Paul’s Jerusalem collection, it carries both the social and financial dimensions.

The connotation of the word in Romans 8:12 varies between English translations. Some emphasize the financial aspect, using the term “debtors” (New Revised Standard Version, King James Version, English Standard Version), while others soften the financial sense, using “obligate” or “under obligation” (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition, New International Version, Common English Bible).

Considering the other kind of imagery Paul uses in the passage, the word leans more toward the social realm rather than the strictly financial. It pertains to the motivation behind one’s actions, highlighting internal compulsion rather than being driven solely by an external, financial imperative.

Children and slaves in the family

In Romans 8:14–17 Paul uses familial and household imagery to further indicate obligation and allegiance. He contrasts being a “son” (huios) and “child” (teknon) with being a “slave” (doulos). The phrase “sons of God” had resonance in both Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts. In the former, emperors and heroes were labeled as such. In the latter, the people of Israel are regularly referred to as “sons of God.” Paul uses the masculine gendered term “son” in verse 14, probably to maintain these resonances, but then switches to the gender-neutral “child” in verses 16–17 to indicate that being a child of God is not a gendered affair.

Being a son or child, in contrast to being a slave, afforded one a different, privileged status. Children, even adopted children, were afforded intimacy, status, and freedom in high-status Roman households. Their social relationships were ordered by free, not forced, obligation. This intimacy is indicated by the fact that believers are able to cry out “Abba! Father!” “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “father,” which, while indicating familial closeness, was not a childish way to refer to a male parent, contrary to popular belief. The word was used by both children and adults. “Daddy” is not necessarily the best English equivalent to “Abba.”1

Both “Abba” (abba) and “Father” (patēr) would have been inappropriate terms for an enslaved person to use with respect to the head of the household. While one who was enslaved held an obligation to the house, it was a different kind than that of a child.

As James Dunn puts it with respect to children, “Filial concern can be assumed to provide the motivation and direction for living.” An enslaved person, in contrast, “must live within the terms of a code which restricts him firmly within servitude, and who as a slave is divided in status from members of the family by an unbridgeable gulf.”2 Both roles, child and slave, carried obligation, but one form is granted and positive, while the other is forced and negative.

The simultaneity of advantage and obligation continues through verse 17. Being an allegiant child means being an heir to the household, but it involves obligation. The mechanism by which believers are adopted as children is the death and resurrection of Christ, who is the joint heir. Being a joint heir with Christ also means jointly participating in his suffering and glorification.


  1. James Barr, “’Abbā Isn’t ‘Daddy,’” Journal of Theological Studies 39 (1988): 28–47.
  2. James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8 (Waco: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 1:459.