Biblical Commentary

Frequently I write commentary on biblical passages that the Revised Common Lectionary assigns to be read in church services on a given Sunday. I write this commentary with preachers in mind, trying to take them into the Bible so their sermons might more meaningfully interact with scripture. At the same time, these short essays can be useful to anyone who wants to study a particular biblical passage.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Working Preacher
February 25, 2009
Jesus warns against practicing piety in public, to gain the approval of others. The lectionary assigns this passage for Ash Wednesday.

Mark 1:9-15
Working Preacher
February 22, 2015
Jesus’ public ministry begins with a test, one that gives us hints to suggest God is in the process of reorienting the whole created order. Everything is changing. The time is right for inaugurating the kingdom of God, but it remains a time in which risk hangs in the air.

Mark 1:21-28
Working Preacher
February 1, 2015
In Mark’s first extended glimpse into Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus teaches in a synagogue and is confronted by a man possessed with an unclean spirit. Right away, we learn that this story will concern itself with themes of contested authority and Jesus’ power over the things that resist the inbreaking of God’s kingdom.

Mark 1:29-39
Working Preacher
February 8, 2015
Jesus demonstrates his power over illness when he heals Simon’s mother-in-law from a fever. At the same time, Mark’s Gospel prompts us to consider what true service looks like, who gets to perform it, and how.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Working Preacher
September 2, 2012
Jesus names the source of evil and impurity: the human heart.

Mark 7:24-37
Working Preacher
September 9, 2012
A woman, named as a Syrophoenician, with a demon-possessed daughter persuades Jesus to heal the girl. As a result, Jesus’ ministry moves in new directions with a new urgency toward an increasingly broad “audience.”

Mark 8:27-38
Working Preacher
September 16, 2012
When Jesus and his disciples talk about who people think he really is, Jesus begins to describe what it means to follow him. The instructions he gives, to deny oneself and take up a cross, are not easy.

Mark 9:2-9
Working Preacher
February 15, 2015
Jesus’ Transfiguration draws us to him, even as the event makes statements about God and what God will accomplish through Jesus, God’s beloved child. This Transfiguration makes promises about unseen things becoming visible, about God’s love, and about the possibility of our sharing intimacy with God.

Mark 10:2-16
Working Preacher
October 4, 2009
In response to a question put to him by a group of Pharisees, Jesus teaches about divorce and remarriage.

Mark 10:17-31
Working Preacher
October 11, 2009
A rich man comes to Jesus with a question about eternal life. Jesus tells him to sell what he owns and distribute the money to the poor.

Mark 10:35-45
Working Preacher
October 18, 2009
Two of Jesus’ followers, James and John, ask to be seated at Jesus’ right and left in his glory. Jesus responds by teaching about living as a servant, in contrast to the domination and tyranny perpetuated by those who seek power.

Mark 10:46-52
Working Preacher
October 25, 2009
Jesus heals Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who encounters him along the road not far from Jerusalem. Bartimaeus responds by becoming one of Jesus’ followers.

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Luke 13:1-9
Working Preacher
March 7, 2010
In response to the mention of lives lost as results of a massacre and a random accident, Jesus tells a parable about an unfruitful fig tree and implores people to repent. The parable holds out the hope of grace in the midst of existence’s all-too-vivid precariousness.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Working Preacher
March 14, 2010
Responding to those who complain about him keeping close company with “sinners,” Jesus tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son (and His Brother and Father). The parable describes a wayward son who is warmly welcomed home, as well as another son who never left home but remains wayward in his own way.

Luke 22:14-23:56
Working Preacher
March 28, 2010
This is the story of Jesus’ passion, as told in the Gospel according to Luke. The lectionary assigns this passage for Palm Sunday (also known as Passion Sunday).

John 8:31-36
Working Preacher
October 25, 2009
Jesus promises that “the truth” will set people free. People know the truth (which, in John’s Gospel, refers to the knowledge of God that Jesus reveals) when they dwell in his word—in him and his message. The lectionary assigns this text for Reformation Day (October 31).

John 12:1-8
Working Preacher
March 21, 2010
Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus with costly perfume. It’s a gift of lavish, extravagant devotion that sets a foreboding yet fitting context for Jesus’ impending death.

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John 20:19-23
Working Preacher
June 12, 2011
Having risen from the dead, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his followers and commissions them. The lectionary assigns this passage for the Day of Pentecost.

Acts 1:6-14
Working Preacher
June 5, 2011
After giving final instructions to his followers, the resurrected Jesus ascends into the sky. His followers respond by returning to Jerusalem, where they wait and pray.

Acts 2:1-21
Working Preacher
May 23, 2010
During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fills Jesus’ followers. Peter attempts to make sense of this remarkable event by appealing to the Prophet Joel and emphasizing the Spirit as a Spirit of prophecy. The lectionary assigns this passage for the Day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Working Preacher
March 30, 2008
Continuing along in the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, Peter’s sermon tells about Jesus, tying together his death, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Working Preacher
April 6, 2008
Continuing along in the Pentecost story in Acts, Peter’s audience responds positively to his sermon. Peter instructs them to “repent and be baptized.”

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Acts 2:42-47
Working Preacher
April 13, 2008
Concluding the Pentecost story in the book Acts, the gift of the Holy Spirit also creates a community of believers engaged in mutual care and worship.

Acts 7:55-60
Working Preacher
May 22, 2011
The book of Acts describes the grisly death of Stephen, traditionally known as the church’s first martyr, the first person to die as a consequence of professing faith in Jesus.

Acts 10:34-43
Working Preacher
March 23, 2008
Peter tells the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household about Jesus, emphasizing that the news about him is good news for all people. The lectionary assigns this passage for Easter Sunday.

Acts 17:22-31
Working Preacher
May 29, 2011
In Athens, Paul preaches in front of the city leaders (the Areopagite Council). His sermon draws on understandings he shares with them before turning to an issue many in his audience find incredible: the idea of God raising someone from the dead.

Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-28 [29-31] 
Working Preacher
June 1, 2008
Paul speaks about God’s “righteousness,” which is God’s activity to bring about salvation and justice. Jesus reveals and accomplishes this righteousness in his death and resurrection, and Paul offers a pastiche of images to express as much.

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Romans 9:1-5
Working Preacher
July 31, 2011
Paul launches an extended discussion (spanning Romans 9-11) about what the message about Jesus means for Jewish people who do not receive it. The apostle expresses great commitment to his fellow Jews and emphasizes their longstanding identity as people blessed by God.

Romans 10:5-15
Working Preacher
August 7, 2011
Continuing along in the discussion of Romans 9-11, Paul enters into an abstruse conversation with biblical texts to argue that God’s salvation is near and available to all through Jesus Christ.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Working Preacher
August 14, 2011
Concluding the discussion of Romans 9-11, Paul declares that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. God therefore has certainly not rejected the Jewish people. Paul cannot finally explain why the Jewish people have, for the most part, not turned to follow Jesus Christ. Still, he leaves the matter up to God and is confident that God will show mercy to all.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Working Preacher
May 25, 2008
Paul speaks of himself and his associates as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” We do not belong to ourselves but live seeking to be faithful to God. Only God can know our success and failure at doing so.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Working Preacher
May 11, 2008
The Apostle Paul describes the Holy Spirit as the source of a variety of gifts given to support the ministry and corporate good of the people of God. The lectionary assigns this passage for the Day of Pentecost.

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2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Working Preacher
May 18, 2008
Paul concludes a letter to the church in Corinth with a benediction that—among other things—names Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks about God as deeply involved in the lives of the people of God. The lectionary assigns this passage for Trinity Sunday.

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Working Preacher
October 6, 2013
Second Timothy opens with attention to the letter’s central themes: imitate Paul’s example in enduring suffering and shame, and preserve the faith.

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Working Preacher
October 13, 2013
The letter poses the question of how we best carry old convictions and confessions into new, uncertain, and sometimes unsettling settings. It answers: remember Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Working Preacher
October 20, 2013
Once again, Timothy is encouraged to persist in his faithfulness and carry out his ministry. Remembering where he came from and who formed him will help.

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Working Preacher
October 27, 2013
Timothy’s faithfulness finally depends on God. As the letter comes to a close, we’re reminded that it’s not about Timothy’s resolve or the effectiveness of Paul and other people’s example.

Titus 2:11-14
Working Preacher
December 24, 2010
The Letter to Titus refers to the life (and future manifestation) of Jesus in language describing an epiphany, a revealing of the Divine. The lectionary assigns this passage for Christmas Eve.

Titus 3:4-7
Working Preacher
December 25, 2010
God saves us through Jesus, according to the Letter to Titus, because of God’s “goodness and loving kindness.” The lectionary assigns this passage for Christmas Day.

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