Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Luke 16:1-13

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently September 2016.

Summary:
The Greek for this week does nothing to improve the harshness of the text. Quite the opposite! According to the Greek, the manager (literally the economist) is praised for being shrewd, but Jesus point blank calls him αδικια (adikia), which means unrighteous. Furthermore, the eternal homes of the wealthy are σκηνας "skenas" or tents, the word used for the tabernacle in Exodus or the tents on the mount of Transfiguration.  Finally, we are commended, not simply to use "worldly wealth" but actually -- "unrighteous mammon." What is going on!?!

In spite of the bizarre metaphor of the shrewd manager, I think this parable reflects a few consistent themes of the Bible relating to money and possessions: 

- All our money and possessions ultimately belong to God
- Money and possessions are scarce and so we are called to be good stewards -- good economists!
- Money and possessions can become a god, a god who cannot prevent death; a god who will only demand more.

I think what is unique is this:
- We are eternal beings; our life on earth is somehow connected to our life in heaven.  How we use our money has eternal consequences.  This is most challenging for me conceptually to consider the relationship between heaven and earth.  In terms of preaching, it makes me ask -- where is the grace in this passage?  Where is the cross and resurrection in the midst of this?  I feel like we must push this parable to its breaking point to get to the cross -- all of us worship money and none of us would have an eternal home without Christ. 

Key words:
Relating to heavenly things:

σκηνη (skenas, meaning "house", 16.9):   This word does not simply mean house.  The word literally means "tent" or really "tabernacle."  It is used in both the OT as the word for Tabernacle (think Exodus) and then in the NT when Peter wants to build tents during the transfiguration. People no longer lived in tents by the time of Jesus, so this term is clearly used to suggest something other-worldly.

This is especially true when it is combined with αιωνιους, meaning eternal.  To give you a sense of the power of this word, consider 2 Corinthians 5:1 "For we know that if the earthly house (οικος) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal (αιωνιους) in the heavens."  Humans does not make eternal things.  Only God does!

δεχομαι ("welcome" or "take" 16,4,6,7,9):  This word appears more in Luke then any other verb. Look where else it comes into play:
2:28 Simeon "receives" the baby Jesus
18.7 Children "receive" the kofG as a child
22.17 Jesus "took" the cup and gave thanks...
There is something central about welcoming in Luke's Gospel!  The reason I include this verb is because welcoming someone into an eternal tent is a beautiful and wonderful thing. 

Relating to earthly things:
οικονομος; οικονομια ("oikonomos" or "oikonomia", meaning "manager", 16:1,2,3,4; other cognates appear in this passage):  This word comes into English as "economics" or "economist." BDAG translates it as "estate manager" and "steward" or "treasurer."  In my first economics class as an undergrad, we learned that economics is about the allocation of scarce resources.  This person is shrewd with his scarce resources, that is for sure.

αδικια ("adikia " meaning "unrighteous", 16;8,9):  This word is often translates in this context as "dishonest" or "shrewd."  The word does not mean dishonest.  It means unrighteous or evil.  (Like in Genesis 6, God sees that the world is full of αδικια and decides to flood the whole thing).  δικαιος - the root word here - means righteous.  What is also striking is how Jesus uses this word specifically. 
οικονομος της αδικιας:  economist of unrighteousness

It if makes you feel better, the owner never praises the man for being dishonest, but does call him shrewd, φρονιμος (16.8)

εκλιπη (from εκλειπω, meaning "fail", 16:9)  I think the whole passage rises and falls on this verb.  The money always runs out...money always fails too.  As does living on this earth.

μαμωνας (mammon, meaning "wealth", 16.9,11,13):  The word used by Jesus toward the end of the passage is not simply possessions but "mammon."  This could possibly refer to an ancient Syrian deity of wealth.  This may or may not be the case, but it is certainly true that Jesus is personifying money here.  We have seen this in our lives where money becomes a thing to be loved, feared and trusted above all things.

At one point Jesus refers to "μαμωνας της αδικιας":  mammon of unrighteousness.  I think that Jesus would maintain that all mammon is unrighteous.  But is all money unrighteous?

οφειλω (opheilo, meaning "debt", 16:5,7): This word can used in all sorts of beautiful ways (Lord's prayer, Matthew 6:12). Here it is more straight forward in its use. A reminder that this passage is very real; debt is as old as currency. For many in the Bible -- and today -- debt is also a massive problem. What if Jesus really meant cancel your literal debts each time we pray the Lord's prayer! That might be easier than forgiving others our sins. Now, you might say, wait, nobody owes me anything. Really? If you own business stocks or an investment accounts, somebody, somewhere, however indirectly, owes you something.

 Greek grammar concept:  Circumstantial participle.
The thing that causes most Greek readers to stumble is the circumstantial participle. While some are very tricky, probably 50% are very easy. Let's look at one. In verse 16.2 the sentence starts out with one:
φωνησας
Bible Works parses this as "verb participle aorist active nominative masculine singular"

Scary, right? Well, look, there is no "the" near by it, so its not an adjectival or substantive participle; there is no form of "is/was/to be" nearby, so its not supplementary. So its going to be circumstantial. Which means we need to figure out three things: What happened? Who did it? And how does this connect to the rest of the sentence?

What happened: Get the BW translation of the verb, or just pull it from your memory: phone...means hear. So, what happened, well, someone hears/got heard

Who did it? Well, your brain probably figured this one out already -- the rich man. But if you need help here, you need to break down what BW tells you into two buckets. First bucket is "aorist active." That relates to the action. The second bucket is "nominative mas...singular" which relates to who does the action. Who is the nominative, masculine, singular? Well, it is the single man subject of the sentence, who is, as your brain knew already, the rich man.

And how does this connect? Well, in this case you first got to put the verb in its tense. Which is here an aorist: "Heard" Now you add in the what and who + the phrase "under the circumstance"
"Under the circumstance of the rich man heard"...
Yuck. Make it English:
"After the rich man heard" or "When the rich man heard."

It sounds like a lot of work, but your brain probably pulled out "heard" and "rich man" right away. See how you do with the second word in 16.5.

Sentence break down:
εγνων τι ποιησω ινα οταν μετασταθω εκ της οικονομιας δεξωνται με εις τους οικους αυτων
NRS Luke 16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

εγνων: I know. Just looks funny. Simple verb.

τι ποιησω : Notice the direction of the accent on "ti" Indicates it is a question. The verb poihso can be either future or aorist subjunctive. In this, does not matter. What will vs. what shall I do.

ινα οταν: Double whammy of conjunctions. Both demand subjunctive verb: "In order that whenever..."

μετασταθω: Verb conjugated based on conjunctions

εκ της οικονομιας: ex takes genitive. Not sure what kind this here. genitive of separation?? Doesn't really matter: "Out of this administration."

δεξωνται με: Here the "me" is the object and not the subject. Question -- how does one know this? Why could, in this infinitive phrase, this been a question at all?  [Because in an infinitive phrase the subject is also in the accusative case]

εις τους οικους αυτων: 2nd week of Greek: Into his house.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Luke 14:25-33

Summary:
Regardless of the great imagery used in Jesus passages, the word "hate" is the stumbling block to this passage. BDAG suggests a softer translation, as in "disregard." I think this is better than "hate" but this doesn't really save the day! Jesus words to disregard our family is difficult to understand. Let's assume for a second though, that Jesus really means some sort of emotional aggression. What should we then do? Well, Jesus teaches us to do good to those who hate us (6.26). Trying to do good for people is actually a fairly exhausting activity which is why Jesus reminds us that bearing our cross is not a one-time activity but a continuous one. In fact, all the verbs in this passage are in the present tense, suggesting that renouncing our possessions, disregarding our loved ones, bearing our cross and following Jesus are on-going, life-long activities. That sounds difficult. Good thing the most gracious chapter in the entire Bible is next!

Key word:
μισεω: (14.26; "hate") Hate may not be the best translation here. BDAG puts it, "depending on the context, this verb ranges in meaning from 'disfavor' to 'detest.' The English term 'hate' generally suggests effective connotations that do not always do justice, especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μισεω (שנא in Hebrew) in the sense 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for.' In fact, BDAG even suggests translating it "disfavor, disregard" in contrast to preferential treatment"

Some other intersting words:
* οχλοι (14.25; "crowds") This word does not mean leaders or elite, but really the everyday mass of people; can also mean 'mob'

* ψηφιζω (14.28; "calculate") I don't think it is important for this passage, but this is the verb that is used in Revelation to indicate it is time to "add" up the number values for a word such as "KASER NERON" (666).

* εμπαιζω (14.29, "ridicule") In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is the only one mocked (18:32;22:63, 23:11, 23:26)

* αποστασσω (14.33, "give up") This word means basically "say good-bye." This is a fun image, saying good-bye to one's possessions.

Grammar concept: present tense
A number of verbs in 14.25-27 are in the present tense. Greek does not distinguish between present progressive (I am running) and present like English (I run). Generally the present tense connotes present progressive. When I was taught Greek, I was taught to even add the adverb "continually" to present tense translations, "I am running continually." I am not sure if this is as helpful in all cases, but the basic point of my teacher bears itself out in Greek. The present tense generally signifies an action that is on-going. In this case, the verb of carrying the cross, following and (gasp) hating are all in the present tense.

Sentence break-down: 14.33

Greek: ουτως ουν πας εξ υμων ουκ αποτασσεται πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν ου δυναται ειναι μου μαθητης
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

ουτως ουν: "Thus, therefore" or "Likewise." Two little words here. Don't change much; they appear a combined nearly 2000x in the NT/OT so its good to recognize them for that they are, namely, fill-in words that don't alter too much!

πας εξ υμων: "All of you" This you can literally translate word for word. The pronoun is in the genitive, but your brain figured this out automatically.
ος : hos is a relative pronoun. They behave a lot like in English. Relative pronouns start a relative clause, like, "I love the one whom I married." Whom I married is the relative clause here. The relative pronoun, like in English, is in the case that it functions within the relative pronoun. Back to my example, this would not be correct English: I love the one who I married. Who must become a whom because it is not behaving as a subject in the relative clause. This happens in Greek too. Greek relative pronouns behave a bit differently, or perhaps one could say, a bit more advanced. Because the nouns (and thus pronouns) have a gender, you can connect the pieces a bit more clearly in Greek, because the pronoun contains more information that will link it back to what it refers. In English, it is considered poor writing to move the "antecedent" (the thing to which the relative pronoun refers) far away from the pronoun. Greek has less of a problem doing this. Moreover, Greek can build massive sentences that continue to add relative sentences.

ουκ αποτασσεται: "is not saying good bye." Reminder here -- the verb is in the present tense. This suggests Jesus is not talking about a one time action.
πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν: "all your possessions." A couple of things here. First, it is all in the dative, because it is the object of the verb "αποτασσεται." This is a case where the dative takes the direct object (normally accusative). Don't ask why. Just accept that some verbs take a direct object in the dative! If it helps, think about it this way. To translate the dative, you often can add the word "to" in front of the word. In this case we add in, "say good-bye TO all your possessions." The only word here not in the dative is "εαυτου " which here is a genitive of possession (ie, belonging to you.). It is slightly out of order for our English eyes. Literally you get here: "to all the belonging to you possessions." Or more eloquently: "All your possessions."

ου δυναται ειναι: Not able to be! This is a case where to describe what is happening is complex (helper verb taking an infinitive) but translation is easy: "not able to be." (normally to translate an infinitive in English (from Greek) you need to add "to" in front of the verb).

μου μαθητης: Like with the word "εαυτου " we have a genitive possessive occur before the noun: "my disciples."

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Luke 14:1;7-14

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently on September 1, 2019.

Summary:
At first glance, this passage seems practical moral advice with a heavenly reward. Jesus' use of δοξα (doxa) and δοξη (doxe) suggest something deeper is going on. δοξη is a fairly uncommon word meaning "banquet." In fact, in the OT, the people who throw such banquets are normally Persian kings! Also unusual is the word δοξα, or glory. Although it is a fairly common word, here it is translated unusually as "honor." This is possible, but really stretches it. The word is not really a word one would associate with mortals. In fact, the last time we heard the word in Luke's Gospel was when the angels announced Jesus birth. These two words, in other words, are fairly out of place for a typical meal. Which suggests that what is at the stake (and not steak) is hardly a common meal, but the feast of the humbled yet exalted one! He is the one to whom glory will be given.

Key Words:
δοξα (14.10; "honor"): Normally we think of δοξα as glory (Think OT and the "glory of the Lord"). Here, however, it is translated as honor...ςell, maybe. Luke only uses this word three other times. When Jesus is born and the angels sing (2.9 and 14) and when the people cry out during Jesus' entry in to Jerusalem. The context permits translating δοξα as "esteemed." However, it has such divine implications that it points us back to Christ, to the one to whom glory is given.

δοξη (14.13; "meal"): This word is very rare in the New Testament; only used twice. The other time it is in Luke when Levi, the tax-collector, invites Jesus to his house. When this word is used in the OT, it normally refers to banquets put on by Persian kings. In other words, this is a big, rich party that few can actually host.

If you put these words together, you get a very surprising twist at the end of the story:  Who is invited to this feast of glory?  Jesus commends us to invite those on the outside.  Jesus here is introducing table fellowship to the unthinkable.

Other words worth pondering:
ταπεινοω (14.11; "humble"): This word is often paired with exalts (υψοω).  In Philippians 2 and Hebrews 12, we are reminded that Jesus humbles himself that he might be exalted.

μακαριος (14.14; "blessed"): This is the word Luke (and Matthew) use for the beatitudes, "Blessed are..."

καλεω (14.7; used 7 times in this passage!; "invite") This word is used virtually very sentence. It means invite and call.

αισχυνη (14.9; "disgrace" or "shame"): One would expect to find this word quite frequently in the NT, especially given the 'fuss' about honor/shame societies. While this word appears quite frequently in the OT, it is rather rare in the NT. This might be an avenue for more reflection. Is Jesus neglecting this dynamic in his society?  Is it so much a part of the world that the writers do not need to mention it?  In this case, Jesus seems to be appealing to people's sense of honor and shame, telling them that seeking honor is itself shameful.

Aside: One of the places "shame" (αισχυνη) is used in the NT is Philippians 3:19 -- "their glory is their shame." Classic line.

Sentence deconstructed:
και εγενετο εν τη ελθειν αυτον εις οικον τινος των αρχοντων των φαρισαων σαββατω φαγειν αρτον και αυτοι ησαν παρατηρουμενοι αυτον

14.1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

και εγενετο : This is a typical way to begin a sentence. It simply means: "And it happened." It is unnecessary.

εν τη ελθειν αυτον : Technically this is an "articular infinitive with preposition." This means a couple of things. It combines a preposition (in) with an article (the) with an infinitive (coming). Literally: "In the coming." You have to translate the preposition as an adverb: "While he comes..." The problem with an infinitive is that it is, well, infinite. This means it is un-conjugated. You don't know who is doing the action. So, to indicate this, they stick the subject of an infinitive clause in the accusative. In this case, auton, or he.

εις οικον τινος των αρχοντων των φαρισαων: "into the house" is fairly straight forward. The rest is a genitive where we just put in a lot of "ofs": 'of one of the leaders of the pharisees.'  Worth contemplating that the Pharisees had leaders.  Those seeking holiness found a way to hierarchy very quickly...

σαββατω : The sabbath here is in the dative; here this is a dative revealing when something happens, ie, "on the sabbath." So you can combine this with the earlier infinitive (we are still in the infinitive phrase here): "When Jesus went on the sabbath into the house of one...pharisees...

φαγειν αρτον: Here we have another infinitive, which completes the other verb, "went" as in, "he went to eat." Oddly enough, the object of this infinitive phrase is also in the accusative, "arton" or bread. In an infinitive phrase, both subject and object can be in the accusative!

και αυτοι ησαν παρατηρουμενοι αυτον: Let's take care of the "autoi"s here. The first is plural, they; the second is mas. sing, him. 95% of "auto"s are not going to be translated as "self" or "very" but are simply pronouns.

ησαν παρατηρουμενοι: A really complex way of making a verb in the imperfect -- put an imperfect for of "to be" with a perfect tense participle. Used quite frequently with middle/passive verbs. But simple to translated: "were watching."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Luke 12:49-56

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  Typically this passage occurs late in the summer, when pastors are on vacation or in the midst of a summer preaching series.  In short, no one likes to preach on this passage.  Most recently it occurred: August 18, 2019

Summary:  This is my 4th time seeing this passage.  Each time I cringe, especially in our current political environment.  I've included some thoughts about how we might understand Jesus difficult words about division.

Key words:
πυρ ("fire", 12:49)  Throughout the Bible, fire is associated with God's judgment.  Here are few verses that put them together, but you can find this over and over.

  • Isaiah 66:16 For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.
  • Amos 7:4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land.
  • Revelation 18:8 therefore her plagues will come in a single day-- pestilence and mourning and famine-- and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
  • Hebrews 10:27 but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

The dominant and most natural interpretation here is the reminder that Jesus has come to bring judgment.

While this may seem strange in our society, which seems on the verge of civil war, I wonder if we too quickly throughout the baby with the bathwater.  Judgement is necessary, even for the ultimate goal of unity.  For until all realize that they have fallen short of God's glory, that the only line in the sand is those who have sinned and those who have not, we will always find ways to create other divisions in our culture.

διεμεμερισμενοι  (from διαμεριζω, meaning "divide", 12:52, 53).  Divide can mean divide like Rome: Divide and conquer.  But maybe divide has a different Biblical sense.  Especially when connected with fire.
Fire is not only used for judgement, but also commissioning, specifically the call of Moses (burning bush, Exodus 3:2), Isaiah (burning coals, chapter 6) and the call of Ezekiel (firey chariots, chapter 1).  In each of these cases, the fire produces a division, but this division is more of a setting aside.  The fire indicated a holiness that transforms the one who experiences it.  

This really comes full circle in the book of Acts, where the tongues of fire, divided (same word) rest on the apostles.  In this case, the early followers of Jesus have been divided from everyone else, but for a purpose, to share the good news.

Could we read this verse here as Jesus is saying he has come, not simply to judge, but to divide us from the rest, to call us into a new way of being?  This initial division will produce further division, but ultimately it serves a broader and unifying goal.

Lastly, I find it noteworthy that this whole section of Luke begins with a question about division, namely two brothers fighting over how to divide an inheritance (12:13).  Perhaps Jesus is reminding us that the real division isn't over money, but over loyalty to him.  Just like all other allegiances, this will cause division.


βαπτισμα 50

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

This passage occurs in the RCL Year C, most recently in August 4, 2019.
 
Summary:  I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus does not make a distinction between "needs" and "wants."  So much of my Christian and cultural upbringing taught me to distinguish between "need" and "want."  God gives us what we need; not necessarily what we want; we can keep what we need and given to charity the things we "only" want.  I wonder if it is time for us to explode this distinction and say God gives us all we have; all we have is a gift to be shared!  All possessions, at some deep level, are simply wants.  All we truly need is God, a God who provides us with daily bread and who gives us his eternal Kingdom.

If you are preaching this after Luke 11:1-13 (the Lord's prayer and praying; the RCL's previous week's Gospel passage), this passage becomes a great way to build on what we mean by daily bread and "yours is the Kingdom"!

Key words:

οχλου (genitive of οχλος, "ochlos", meaning "crowd", 12:13)  It is someone in the crowd who calls to him;  The word here for crowd is οχλος, a fairly common word in the NT. It refers to the uneducated  mass of citizens; Jesus is among "the people."

κληρονομια(ν) ("kleronomia", meaning "inheritance", 12:13)  Breaking down this word explains the trouble people had and continue to have with it. The word is literally "portion-law."  κλερος means portion (or lot, as in cast lots); νομος means law (the ending has an "a" because it is a feminine word, but this doesn't change the fact that its root it still νομος).  An inheritance is meant to be a gift, a blessing to future generations.  Due to sin, we cannot leave a gift a gift, but we have to "protect" it with laws until the point where it no longer becomes gift.  It is interesting too that the people want to make Jesus, the savior, into a law-giver.  Again, due to sin, we cannot embrace a gift, but must install law!

πλεονεξια ("pleonexia", meaning "greed" or "coveting", 12:15)  Jesus warns them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."  The word here for "greed" is πλεονεξια.  This word, whenever it appears in the NT, has a negative connotation, most often used in laundry lists of obvious sins.   Most interesting, however, is the connection that Colossians 3:5 (the RCL's NT reading for this week) provides.  Paul writes that coveting, πλεονεξια is, in essence, idolatry.  Wow!  Greed as idolatry is in itself a great sermon (Walter Bruggeman gave a fantastic sermon on this at Luther Seminary in 2008).  One tidbit he shared is that as Paul connects coveting/greed and idolatry, he connects the last commandment (do not covet) to the first (one God; no idols).

υπαρχοντων (genitive participle of υπαρχω, meaning "possessions", 12:15)  Jesus warns of an excess of possessions.  It is worth reminding ourselves that the word for possessions, υπαρχοντων, does not simply mean toys or things.  It includes: means, resources, the things which one can claim for existence. In fact, the word is a substantive participle, literally meaning "the things that exist to him."
Two examples of where this word shows up:
Luke 8:3  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 19:8  Zacchaeus says to Jesus:  Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor.

In other words, Jesus here is not distinguishing between needs and wants.  Perhaps this is really helpful for as American Christians who are told we can have what we need, but not what we want.  Our tendency is to greatly exaggerate what we need!  Jesus here points out that our only need is God and God alone.

αναπαυου (command form of αναπαυω, meaning "rest"; 12:19)  We are a world hungry for relaxation -- stress relief from our anxieties.  The word for relax here is αναπαυω.  This word is used in Matthew 11:28, when Jesus promises us rest (Come to me all you who are weary and heaven laden for I will give you rest."  The parable asks us a haunting question:  Where do we seek our solace?  Where do we seek out rest?  Possessions inevitably require maintenance, rules and effort...and do not bring us the profound solace we had hoped for.

*** A little addendum on Luke 12:22-34)
τρεφει (feed; 12:24), αμφιεζει (clothe; 12:28)  I put these two verbs together.  They appear in these verses:
Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds (τρεφει) them.
 Luke 12:28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe (αμφιεζει) you
In both of these cases, the verb is in the present tense, indicating an on-going action.  God will continually feed and clothe us.  This is not a one-time action to start the human story in motion, but a continuous creator!

προστεθησεται (future passive form of προστιθημι, meaning "add", 12:31)  What is significant here is that this verb is in the passive voice, meaning that the subject (us) is not the agent (the one doing the work.)  If these things are to be added, it is not because of us, but because of God.  If you did not catch that God has agency, not us, in the next verse Jesus says that the Father gives us the Kingdom.

Two little grammar notes:
12:16 "A certain rich man..."   The literal translation of the clause is: "of a man certain rich produced good crops the field." The fact that the first three words - man, certain, rich - are all in same case shows they are related.

12:17/12:18   The verb ποιησω appears in both 12:17 and 12:18.  Even though both spellings are the same, it is conjugated (and therefore translated) differently.  The first time it is translated as an aorist subjunctive: "What shall I do?" In the other it is future indicative: "This I will do." Context determines the correct translation

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Genesis 18:20-32

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (recently on July 28, 2019)

Summary:  There is a lot of great material in this passage to consider regarding prayer, especially as it is paired with Jesus teaching the Lord's Prayer to the disciples in Luke's Gospel.  But I want to look at the question:  What is the sin of Sodom?



חטאת (meaning "sin", 18:19)  The sins of Sodom are "grave" (כבך meaning "to be heavy") in Hebrew).  There are a lot of potential sins in the Bible.  So what are the sins of Sodom?  

It is often assumed that Sodom was punished for its sexual sins, specifically homosexual lust.  The book of Jude in the New Testament supports this:
- "Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."  Jude 1:7 


This possibility runs into some difficulty, namely, that the story involving sex comes after God has heard the outcry against Sodom; furthermore, the story involving sex involves gang rape of two men (actually angels) visiting Lot's home and then Lot offering his virgin daughters in their place.  In addition, one must consider the culture's overwhelming value of hospitality, as displayed by Abraham earlier in chapter 18.  Sodom represents total moral depravity; there are multiple moral failures in the gang-rape scene, well beyond sex. 

In fact, in 2 Peter, Sodom (and Gomorrah) get mentioned as THE example of ungodly behavior:
 "by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly." (2 Peter 2:6)  The writer associates this ungodliness with sexual misconduct in that God:  "rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless" (2 Peter 2:7).  However, the writer/Peter concludes this section by concluding that they "They have hearts trained in greed." (2 Peter 2:14)*  It seems that for Peter, sex is a problem, but not THE problem.  Again, sexual sin goes hand in hand with other sins.

Furthermore, God declares in Genesis 18.19 that he has known/chosen/singled out Abraham so that Abraham may do "righteousness" and "justice" (צדקה and משפת).  These two concepts will be paired again and again in the Old Testament (Psalm 33.5; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1, Amos 6:12).  It is fair to wonder if the problem in Sodom is about basic righteousness.

We do not have much evidence in Genesis prior to chapter 18 of what is happening in Sodom.  However, the prophet Ezekiel gives voice to the Lord's judgment against them:  "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.   They were haughty and did detestable things before me."  (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

To put it another way, the sexual sins of Sodom are not the problem in themselves, rather they are manifestation of a culture in which people put themselves first, objectify others, and justify their greed.  Sound familiar?  I've read a number of commentators who want to ignore the sexual sins, totally focusing on hospitality, likely as a reaction of those who use this passage in sexuality debates.  I think as a whole, the American church struggles with sexual sins, either obsessing over them or ignoring them.  Perhaps this story reminds us that yes, sexual immorality is a concern to God, but it likely arises alongside of other problems.

Most haunting may not be what happens to Sodom, but the words of judgment that God has in Ezekiel.  Especially when heard with the words of Peter, as he concludes his argument:  "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them."  (2 Peter 2:19) 


Admittedly, Peter is referencing the story of Sodom and other passages within a section in which he is critiquing the behavior of members of his church who have gone astray.  It might be difficult to ascertain when Peter is offering commentary on the Biblical characters versus his piers.  That all said, the overall impression Peter gives is that there is sexual sin, but this is more a manifestation of others sins, rather than the problem in itself.



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Luke 10:38-42

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C.  It occurred most recently in summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is a powerful contrast to the previous passage of the Good Samaritan.  The work of the church (or of Christian individuals) cannot be service to neighbor alone but also worship of Christ.  Perhaps the two are more connected than we think though.  Jesus commends the rich lawyer to show mercy.  In this passage Mary is praised for attentive listening.  Maybe in our culture of sound bites and tweets, active listening is one of the most powerful displays of mercy we can give someone.

Key words (and use of language):
For Martha:
υπεδεξατο (from υποδεξομαι, "hypodexato", meaning receive; 10:38).  The Liddell-Scott offers a tremendous number of variations on the meaning of this word.  It literally means, "to receive beneath the surface."
It also means, among other variants:
A)  to receive into one's house, receive hospitably.
B)  to give ear to, hearken to
C)  to take in charge as a nurse
D)  of a woman, to conceive

I commend this list (truncated) because all of these are good things.  They are powerful ways to think about hospitality to strangers or ways in which we can "receive beneath the surface."  Martha seems on the right track!

διακονια(ν) ("diakonia", meaning "service", 10:40).  The word diakonia means originally "table service" but came in the Christian tradition to mean acts of ministry.  Long-complicated development of this word that is still debated today.  Regardless, to describe oneself as doing diakonia on behalf of Jesus is a very good thing, something in fact, every Christian is called to in their baptism.

So what's the problem?
επιστασα  (from εφιστημι, ephistemi, meaning "stand over", 10:40)  Mary gets so frustrated she goes over to Jesus and is literally looking down on him (and her sister).  We can get so busy doing the work of the Lord that we lose sight of the Lord and develop an unjustified sense of our own importance.

Imperfect tense:  The words to describe Martha's worries: περισπαω (40), μεριμνας (41) and θορυβαζη (41) are all imperfect/present tense verbs, suggesting an on-going action.  She was consumed and continually worried.  All this said, I have a lot of compassion for Martha.  In my family (both of origin and current) people put a lot of effort into welcoming our guests.  It is hard for me to hear Martha criticized.

For Mary:
παρακαθεσθεισα (from παρακαθεζομαι, meaning "sit along side of"; 10:39)  Mary seats herself along side of Jesus, giving him attention.  How often do we have people simply sit alongside of us, without any agenda but to focus on us?

ηκουεν (ακουω meaning "listen"; 10:39) She listens.  In fact, the verb ακουεν is in the imperfect tense, showing this is an on-going action.  As I wrote earlier, I think this is profound.  She listened.  In our culture that wants to blog, livestream and tweet, she actually took time to listen.  Not for one or two sentences, but for a long time.  Maybe she loved it.  I am sure she did.  (Most times when I actually listen and truly give someone my focus, I love it too!) 

Note -- This past year I went to Tanzania.  I was quite struck by how much of the day is spent procuring food, water and fire (for cooking and heating).  It is worth pointing out that in all likelihood, Mary listened to Jesus for hours!!  Imagine listening to anyone for hours!

The worship of Jesus is ultimate.  I am not trying to refute the basic meaning of the story.  I wonder though, if here on Earth, in this time and cultural space, listening may be a profound way to love our neighbor.