LEAven Blog


A Pericope Preview of the Gospel Readings for Sunday Services

Sunday’s Gospel Lesson

 When I started teaching, I found it beneficial to give my fourth graders a preview of the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday. It only took us a few minutes to read the Gospel text together, ask questions, and wrestle with the most Lutheran of all questions: “What does this (passage) mean?”[i] Here are some suggestions for helping students understand the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday.

 Since this blog is being published in January of 2023, I chose the Gospel reading for February 5, 2023, as an example of how you might go about previewing the “Gospel Lesson of the Week,” or for that matter, any of the pericopes found in the 2023 Church Year (see: Lutheran Service Book starting on the page xiv under “LECTIONARIES,”2 or go to https://www.lcms.org/worship/lectionary-series).

The Gospel for Epiphany Five – Please read Matthew 5:13–20.

 For the sake of space, let’s look at verses 13 through 16 that contain three metaphors that will need explanation to children.3 Here’s the text followed by some examples of how one might help children understand the passage’s meaning and how we might be salt, light, and a city on a hill.

The Salt of the Earth Metaphor

 Children need to know that in Jesus’ time salt was (and still is) an important commodity that was widely traded in the ancient world and that it was used for food preservation.4 The only way you could preserve meat in ancient times was to cover it in salt or soak it in a salt brine. Salt kills bacteria that causes food to spoil and is important for life; we all need salt but too much of it is harmful. In any case, just the right amount of salt makes food taste good. When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” he is comparing us to “good” salt – the kind of salt that is properly useful, helpful, and salutary.5 However, Jesus says if the “salt has lost its taste,” it’s useless! You might as well throw it out because it has no purpose. Therefore, we are to be the salt that makes people well, flavor, and nourish the world with the goodness and good news of the gospel.

The City on a Hill Metaphor

 Jesus said: “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” By implication, we are the city on the hill that can be seen by everyone. Some people can’t wait to get to the city, while others feel it’s intimidating. The metaphor implies that we are to be an attractive city where people want to go because we are the city that offers shelter, the prospect of a good meal, and a place to rest and stock up for their journey ahead. If we are a city on a hill, we can provide our visitors good things: shelter for the poor, food for the hungry, a place of comfort for weary travelers, and the courage to continue their journey in confidence that God is with them wherever they go. We are to be a city that proclaims the Good News to every person who comes to us for shelter, aid, comfort, and healing.

The Light of the World

 In the ancient world, light came from just a few sources: the sun, the moon, the stars, and fire. On a cloudy, moonless night, the only way you could see anything was if you had a torch, or a little clay oil lamp such as the one pictured.6

 Just as the city on a hill can’t be hidden, it makes no sense to light a lamp and hide it under a basket. The lamp is put on a stand so everyone in the house can see. Everyone knew exactly what kind of lamp he was talking about; they all had these clay lamps in their homes. If you’ve ever experienced a power outage, you know how even a candle can be a great comfort in the dark. Jesus calls us to be reassuring lights in the darkness of this world. We are God’s comforting, faithful light that draws people to Jesus, the True Light of the world.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Jesus: Master Poet and Storyteller

 Jesus was a masterful poet and storyteller who used powerful word pictures and parables to enlighten our spiritual imagination and cause us to think deeply about the meaning of his words. Yet children (and adults) more often than not need some help to, as St. Paul said, “…comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:18-19) This is especially true for children who find poetic imagery difficult to understand.

 I also hope this pericope preview for Epiphany 5 can help your children know the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” God bless you as you teach you students God’s teachings (see Ephesians 3:20-21).

End Notes:

1 Pericopes (per–ick–ō–pēz): Passages from the Bible read in each church service. Sometimes I used the Gospel

 lesson as memory work. More on teaching memory workin a future blog.

2 Go to the GLOSSARY on page xxiv of the LSB and to find the definition of LECTIONARY on page xxv.

3 A metaphor is a direct comparison, e.g. “You are the light of the world!” A simile is an indirect

 comparison using like or as.

4 Salt is still used to preserve food such as Lutefisk (Google it!) and salt pork.

5 Salutary: healthy, beneficial, or useful.See: PROPER PREFACE (LSB pg. 177): “It is truly good, right, and


6 See: Making a clay oil lamp video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmb2VEaWLOE

Dr. Jeffrey E. Burkart, former Associate Dean of the College of Vocation and Ministry and Coordinator of Lutheran Teacher Education, now serves in retirement as Emeritus Professor of Education and Artist in Residence at Concordia University, St. Paul, MN. He is a nationally known teacher, author, speaker, dramatist, poet and musician. Dr. Burkart has over 200 publications including 12 books, numerous professional journal articles, book reviews, chancel dramas, Christian musicals, hymns, poems, CD recordings, films and videos.

Before coming to Concordia, St. Paul, he taught in LC-MS elementary, junior high, and secondary schools in Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. He and his wife, Martha, have three grown sons (Jonathan, David and Andrew) who all are proud graduates of King of Kings Lutheran School and Concordia Academy, Roseville, MN.

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