Monday, November 13, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

This passage occurs during year A in the Revised Common Lectionary season, most recently November 12, 2017

Summary:  This is a tough passage to preach on!  I am still wrestling with this passage so I offer you some Greek insights that hopefully allow you to build a message!

Note:  Because this parable involves a group of women (a bit unusual), the endings on words might be a bit unfamiliar!

παρθενοις (plural of parthenos, "virgin" or "young (unmarried)" woman; 25.1)  In our culture we hear the word virgin with all sorts of other connotations, related to sexual purity, as opposed to unmarried state.  Furthermore, I wonder if translating this as bridesmaids (see NRSV) makes the most sense.   First, there is no ceremony that includes the bridegroom marrying these women.  Second, Jesus doesn't advocate/project/encourage for polygamy anywhere else.  Third, the new testament presents the whole church as the bride collectively, not individually.  Finally, there is an alternate reading, "Bridegroom and bride."  The textual evidence is much stronger for "bridegroom" alone, but significant (western) manuscripts have both included.  In this case, I do not think one should add back in the words; they don't seem in the original.  But I think this textual problem, along with the other problems, suggests this word should be translated at least as maidens, if not bridesmaids, instead of the loaded term virgin. 

μωραι ("mooria" meaning "fool"; 25.2) The word for fool is "mooria" moron, or like "foolishness to Greeks."

φρονιμοι ("phronimoi" meaning "wise"; 25.2)  Again, a huge connection here with Paul's letters to the Corinthians.  Furthermore, this word will be turned upside down by Paul in many ways, as he fights against the notion that wisdom/wise thinking was being unmoved (ie, stoic), but instead argues that wisdom is about taking on the Christian character of being moved to suffer for others (Philippians 2).

ηγερθησαν (from εγειρω meaning "arise"; 25.2)  This is from the word stand/raise up that also means resurrected.

εκοσμησαν (from κοσμεω, like cosmos, meaning "trim"; 25:7)  The word for "trimmed" lamps here is actually "adorned" perhaps recalling for you the hymn: Soul adorn yourself in gladness.  To trim the lamp is to adorn the lamp, the light of Christ!; to adorn the soul!

εκλεισθη (from κλειω, meaning "close"; 25.10)  I don't like this image.  It suggests people that want to get into the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven cannot.  A silver lining?  Jesus is the one who opens up the doors (the word for the tomb's entrance is also "door" in Matthew 27:60).  The only one with the power to open the door is Christ, not us with our lamps.

γρηγορειτε (from γρηγορε, like the name gregory!, meaning "watch out"; 25:13)  This verb is in the present tense, suggesting this is to be an on-going activity.  My sense is that we have lost this sense of watching out for the coming of Christ in our churches today.  If we are to regain this though, we must offer people what the Bible offers them about Christ's return:  both fear and hope.

For those reading this with the Thessalonians text:
25:1 The word 'meet' in Matthew is similiar to the word meet that is found in the Thess. text for this week (απαντησις vs. υπαντησις). What a contrast of the meetings -- one of a king in power and the other of bridegroom.

25:5 The words here for 'sleep' are different from those in 1 Thess. (This does not mean one can/should not make a comparision; just pointing it out)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Matthew 22:34-46

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently October 2017.
Summary:  I suppose one could go to great lengths to parse out the Greek meaning of the words, "heart", καρδια, "soul," ψυχη, and "mind," διανοια.  After discovering that they mean different things in Greek than in English you learn that Jesus wants us to...drum roll...Love God and love our neighbor with everything we've got.  This is probably not much for a sermon, but I find it comforting that Jesus wants us to love God with our minds.  In my formation and candidacy, I was often made to feel guilty about my intelligence as if somehow, I just needed to be a big ball of emotions to serve God.  One of my professors, Dr. Henrich, pointed out that in this passage, we are called to love God with our mind.  This was an incredible word of Gospel to me.  Intellection exploration of God's Word is okay too!  Funny how law can be heard as Gospel sometimes...

Key words:
διδασκαλε ("Teacher", 22:36)  Thanks be to God Jesus wasn't simply a teacher, but also the savior.  However, let us not dismiss the idea of Jesus as teacher.  The word teacher appears throughout each Gospel a total of 48 times.  What can we learn from Jesus this week?
αγαπαω ("Love" 22:37)  One can parse the word love a number of ways.  What is interesting here is that αγαπη, which is often thought to refer to divine love, here refers to neighborly love.  A reminder that in the kingdom of God, love doesn't remain on heaven, but comes to earth.
καρδια ("heart", 22:37)  In Greek, the heart is NOT the center of emotions, but of will. 
ψυχη ("soul", 22:37)  BDAG points to the broad nature of this word.  The soul is, perhaps best said, that which makes flesh alive.  The Bible will use the word ψυχη to mean more than simply "the ghostly blue vapor" of our existence.  Perhaps another way:  our essence?  Hard to nail down...
διανοια ("Thoughts" or mind, 22:37):  As I stated in my summary, I want to point out that Jesus wants us to love God with our mind.  Also interesting is that God admits fulfilling this is impossible.  In Genesis 8:21 God says that all our thoughts (διανοια) are bent on evil.  Eph 2:3 and 4:18 are similiar.  Interestingly, in Jeremiah 31:33, God says he will put the law into our minds.  All this points out that not simply our "hearts," but our minds, are also a battle ground for God, a place that needs rebirth.  (In fact, this word is often translated from the Hebrew word that means "heart" because the Jewish thought located thoughts in the heart).
χριστος ("annointed" 22:42).  This is a very common word in the NT.  The reason why I bring it up here is because most of our thoughts about the word "Christ" are not what the listener's in the OT would have heard.  They would have expected someone to replace David as a true king over Israel.  The spiritualization of his role was a NT development.

Grammatical review:  "Hendiadys"
A Hendiadys is a very fancy way of saying "using two words to mean one thing."  Literally from the Greek:  "One through two."  An example of this might be from Genesis 1:  "Formless and void."  They both essentially mean the same thing.  Put them together and you get:  "A whole lot of nothing." 
In this particular passage, we have a hendiadys typical of the New Testament: 
ο νομος και οι προφηται (22:40)

The law and the prophets.  This is the NT way of refering to the Old Testament.  Sometimes they will include the Psalms, but more often, just these two sections.  So Jesus isn't simply saying, "All of the commands and words of the prophets hang on these two commandments" he is saying, "the whole Bible that you know of depends on this."

John 8:31-36

This passage occurs on Reformation Sunday (last Sunday in October).
This passage lays out the fundamental convictions of the Reformation:  That the normal human condition is bondage to sin; that in Christ, through faith, we are freed and Christ abides in us.  Worth noting in the Greek is the word μενω which appears throughout the Gospel of John; justification is not here seen as simply forensic (ie, Jesus died for your sins) but as ushering in the new creation:  Jesus abiding in us.  Worth also considering is the household nature of δουλος, or slave; not simply the worker, but also the lower member of the family.

Key Words 
μενω: (8:31; 35, meaning “abide.”)  This word is translated here as “belongs” or “stays” which are probably fine, but the important thing to remember is that this word appears throughout the Gospel of John repeatedly; “abide in me…”  One might argue this concept of "abiding" is the most important in the Gospel.  Furthermore, when Jesus says, in this passage, that the "son abides forever" (vs. 35) this son-ship ultimately will include us, who are invited to also abide in the Father's house forever (basically, all of John 14 and 15).  

Some more theological commentary on verse 31 for Reformation:  The Reformation idea of "Justification" is often presented in "forensic" terms, i.e., a courtroom metaphor.  God is judge and in Jesus Christ we are declared innocent, regardless of the content of our deeds, which inevitably fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23).  While this metaphor has Scriptural warrant (see John 8:50) and preaching power, it also has its limits.  Both Paul (in Romans) and Jesus in John's Gospel move beyond simply forensic justification to new creation.  We are not simply declared free of our sins, but we are made new in Christ.  While other passages in John's Gospel delve more into this, in this passage in John's Gospel, we are "disciples" (vs 31) who receive a new status in the family (vs 35; see rest of John's Gospel). 

I realize I am stepping into a 500+ long inter-Lutheran argument about justification.  My point is to invite preachers to give at least a second thought to preaching only about forensic justification on Reformation Sunday, as if this is only what Paul, John and Luther taught.  Luther himself talks quite a bit about the new creation and when talking about justification, also describes it in terms of marriage or love between the believer and Christ.  As he writes in the Small Catechism:
"all order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true." 

Some more grammar commentary on verse 31.
Vs. 31 is a conditional phrase.  Greek can set up conditional phrases in a variety of ways, often with ει or εαν.  They mean different things.
εαν is really the Greek word for “if."  If is the case we learn that "ει" means "if" when we memorize our first Greek words, but actually ει simply sets up a conditional sentence.  In other words ει can me "if" but also "since" or even "In fact, not in this case."  εαν leaves “the probability of activity expressed in the verb left open.” (BDAG).  In this case, abiding in Jesus' word may or may not happen.

δουλος: (8:34;35, meaning “slave”) Slavery provided the gas of the Greco-Roman economic engine. People became slaves through various means: captivity from war, kidnapping by slave hunters or debt. Slaves existed in all parts of the empire.

Slavery could be quite brutal, especially for slaves that engaged in mining. However, slaves often were attached to households and gained a certain amount of responsibility. Such slaves often helped raise the children (even educated them in manners), administer property, earn money and even sign legal contracts. Some slaves even owned other slaves. Even after manumission, the freed person would often pledge themselves to the former master or to a patron.

The slave was not simply the bottom of the macro social and economic structure, but the bottom of the micro social and economic structure, the household. This afforded some degree of comfort, security and even opportunity for advancement. However, there was nothing glorious about slavery. Regardless of their particular status in the house, the slave did the work that allowed the masters of the house to participate in civic life.
Side note, when the audience with Jesus says they have never been slaves, this is not true historically (see Exodus!); but it may be true theologically in that they never were slaves to God in they way they should have been.

ελευθερος:  (8:32;36, meaning “free”)  My sense of the Greek word for free is that it aligns itself with the idea of being unencumbered, not so much the freedom “for” as the freedom “from.”


Sentence breakdown:  John 8:35

The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.
Greek:  ο δε δουλος ου μενει εν τη οικια εις τον αιωνα, ο υιος μενει εις τον αιωνα
First step is to divide up the sentence into smaller parts:  divide at the comma!  
Second, look for the verb in the first part of the sentence.  In this case the verb is μενει.  You have to work a little hard because here you have the negative particle, “ου”.  So you have your verb: ου μενει which means “does not abide.” 
Then you look for your subject.  How to find a subject?  Look for nominative definite articles:  ο, το, η.  In this case, again, you have to take it one step further because you have the word δε in front of δουλος.  But now you have your subject (you can ignore “de” for now):  “ο δουλος” which means “the slave”
So now you have:  “The slave does not abide.”  The rest of the sentence until the comma are two prepositional phrases:  “εν τη οικια” and “εις τον αιωνα” which mean “in the house” and “into forever.”  Test yourself:  Why is the first example in the “dative” and the second example in the “accusative” case?

Do the same with the second half of the verse:  First, find the verb; then the subject (hint:  Look at the articles.)  Once you’ve done this, you can plow right through:  The son abides into forever.
When Greek doesn’t have participles or subjunctive phrases, it’s really a matter of finding the subject and verb; figuring out what the small words mean; conquering the prepositional phrases…and then presto, you’ve got English

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Matthew 22:15-22

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently October 2014.

Summary:  One does not find the Greek words for church and state in this passage, as much as this passage is used to justify all sorts of behavior and relationships between church and state.  What is mentioned though is the word "εικον" meaning icon, or image.  The temptors of Jesus, forgetting Genesis 1, say that the coin bears the image of Caesar.  They answer the truth, but not the whole truth.  An image of man is still an image of God.  Money, whether it says, "In God We Trust" or "Caesar" or anything, isn't exempt from God's creation.  It still has to do with humans and how we live in this creation, and thus it still belongs under God's dominion.

Freedom note:  I am using this passage to launch a Reformation 500 series on the Freedom of a Christian.  I pick this passage because Jesus discusses that even those of us free in Christ still have responsibilities before other people.

Key words: 
παγις ("hunter's trap", used as a verb, 22.15) The word for ensnare comes from the root for trap. What a cruel image of the pharisees trying with metal jaws, to trap Jesus. 

αποστελλω ("send" 22.16).  The literal phrase here is that his enemies "apostled their disciples," a reminder that Jesus is not the only one with apostles and disciples...

υποκριτης ("actor/hypocrite", 22.18) The word for hypocrite means actor, or one who plays a part.  (He answered above the others from stage.)  This is not necessarily a negative word, but in the NT it is used exclusively that way.  Jesus isn't interested in actors, but real people with real sins that need real forgiveness.

εικον (image/icon, 22.20) The word here for "head" or "portrait" here is literally "eikon," which means image. So the question is whose image? If it is a human head, the answer could just as easily have been "God." (See Genesis 1!)

Translation/Grammar review:  Idioms
Some things in a language are simply impossible to translate literally.  This week Jesus is told, "You do not look into the face of people."  This doesn't sound so nice.  It simply means, "You don't look at exterior things."  (Which is a positive assessment).  He is also told he doesn't care about nothing.  Missing from this idiom is the word "opinion."  Jesus doesn't care about the opinions of others, in the sense that he acts free from petty judgments of others.  You could take them literally, and perhaps derive some meaning; that said, with idioms, it is often best to let professional translators do the work...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Matthew 21:33-46

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A; Most recently October 8, 2017.

The meaning of the parable is clear:  Ancient Israel rejected prophets of old; they will reject and kill Jesus.  Somehow God will rebuild on the rejected Jesus.  How do we find a Gospel message relevant for people's lives?  While there is some really interesting stuff in verse 34 about sending and bearing fruit, I sense myself drawn to verse 42 and the proclamation that God will rebuild on the rejected stone.  This verse points toward the faithfulness of God, who rebuilds on Christ.  I think we can apply this to people's lives: even through we again and again reject God's commands and even love in our lives, God rebuilds us on Christ.

Key Words in verse 34 -- which sets up the whole thing
ηγγισεν (from εγγιζω, meaning "approach", 21:34)  This word, meaning "approach" or "come near", appears at turning points in the Gospel:
3:2  John Baptizes Jesus (John the Baptist say the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching/near)
4:17 Jesus begins ministry (Jesus says the KoH is approaching/near)
10:7 Jesus sends disciples (He instructs them to proclaim KoH is approaching/near)
21:1 Jesus is approaching/near Jerusalem
26:45/46  Jesus is betrayed (The hour is near/approaching)

What is interesting is that each time the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching, these is movement of Jesus and arguably a movement of the Spirit.

καιρος (kairos, meaning "season", 21:34)  This word means 'season' or 'ideal time.'  In this case, it describes the harvest season.  It is always a reminder that in Jesus there is the fullness of time!

απεστειλεν (from αποστελλω, meaning "send", 21:34)  I am amazed at how many times in Jesus' parables in Matthew we have (the character representing) God sending out people.  I think we often think of this as a concept in John's Gospels, but it is really crucial to Jesus' ministry.  We are sent out, certainly if and when the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching!  This word is important because it reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven, while principally about the movement of Jesus into this world and toward the cross (see discussion on ηγγισεν) it involves our movement too.

καρπος ("fruit", 21:34)  Again, we find a word that appears throughout scripture to describe the impact of the Spirit and the Kingdom of Heaven in our life:  We bear fruit.  In this case, workers are sent to gather the fruit.  What a beautiful image of ministry -- gathering the fruit that God has already created.  As the word αυτου ("of him") remind us, the fruit belongs to God.

Other interesting words
οικοδεσποτης  (oikos - despot, meaning "owner of the land", 21:33)  This is a fun word in Greek.  It is built on two smaller words that we can recognize: oikos and despot!  It is interesting that Jesus would refer to God as an οικοδεσποτης, which was unlikely a favorable comparison for working-class listeners.  It is a reminder that first, these are parables and not allegories; second, it all belongs to God.

υστερον (meaning "last," 21:37)  The word here for "last" is used 4 times in Matthew 21 and 22; and also in Matt 25 and 26, but rarely ever appears elsewhere in the NT...Matthew is starting to emphasize the final nature of things and of his Gospel.

εντραπησονται  (future passive of εντρεπω, "respect", 21:37)  The word for "respect" means more like short, they will be embarrassed enough to show respect.  In the rest of the New Testament, it is always used within a context of shame rather than respect.  Perhaps this is a reminder that respect within an honor/shame culture has a different meaning; perhaps it is a reminder that Jesus ends up shaming the pharisees and religious leaders.  Ironically their attempts at shaming Jesus (killing him outside of Jerusalem) only lead to his glory!

οικοδομεω (meaning "build" "erect" or even "rebuild", 21:33 and 21:42)  The word here for builder is the same as in vs. 33. God built something.  People messed it up.  God will rebuild.  God is always at work revising the mistakes of our bad construction, relaying the foundation of our lives on Christ that we may bear fruit!

εθνει (ethnos, meaning "gentiles", 21:43)  The word for "people" here is "Gentiles."  Interestingly, Paul will talk about how he has a harvest of Gentiles in Romans 1:13, a case where Scripture is fulfilling itself!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

This passage occurs in both the Narrative Lectionary (Year 1) and the Revised Common Lectionary (Most recently October 15, 2017).

Summary:  It is all about the right clothing.  The only clothing that can work at the heavenly wedding banquet is our Baptism.  I suspect there is a bunch of historical criticism that would help make sense of this parable, but I am not sure if that makes a good sermon.

Apologetic note:  Just because someone is thrown out doesn't mean they can't be invited a second time; or that we have permission not to care for them.

Key Words/Grammar insights:
καλεω (kaleo, "call" or "invite"; 22:3, 4, 8, 9 (14 as adjective)).  The word here for invited is simply the perfect of καλεω which means to call/invite. This word is used in various forms throughout the passage.  Jesus calls us to invite those willing to come because many of those invited were not interested.  A reminder that in all Gospels, but truly in Matthew, Jesus cares for people the world does not; the b-list people, so to speak.

τεθυμενα (tethymena, perfect participle of θυω, "slaughter" or "kill", 22:4).  This word can mean sacrificed.  If one were to go this route, then this parable could be interpreted within the paradigm of the conflict between Jews and early Jewish converts to Christianity:  Jesus has died (been sacrificed); many early Jews are not accepting him.  The temple is destroyed and that nation has fallen, perhaps as punishment for lack of conversion. This may be way to explain the passage, but I am not sure if this insight makes for a good sermon.  If one wants to go this route, one can also look at
εφιμωθη (aorist passive form of φιμοω, phimo-oo, "silence"; 22:12) Jesus will silence the Sadducees later this chapter (22:34).  This parable is not intended simply as a myth, but as a description, I would argue, of how Jesus' was and is being received.

ενδυω/ενδυμα ("clothe" as verb; "clothing" as noun; 22:11, 12).  Matthew's Gospel talks about clothing a few times (more than any other Gospel, incidentally).  We learn that John the Baptist is clothed in Camel's hair (3:4); we learn not to worry about our clothing (6:25-28); we meet the angels wearing white (28:3).  Which leads to the question -- what should one wear to the heavenly banquet?

To get at this, I did a word search on ενδυω ("clothe/wear" to find examples of people wearing stuff in the New Testament, especially as it would relate to the heavenly banquet.  I've included them and underlined the word as the NRSV translates as ενδυω:
1 Corinthians 15:54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
Romans 13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Luke 24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Matthew 27:31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Ephesians 4:24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
1 Thessalonians 5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
Revelation 19:14 And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
Galatians 3:27    As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

To me, the only thing that can meet all of these criterion:  the gift of Jesus Christ in faith, love and righteousness, eternally pure and immortal yet also ready to die to the world, is our Baptism.

υβριζω (hubrizoo (rough breathing over υ), meaning "mistreat"; 22:6)  The word for mistreat here is "hubriz-oo," literally, have hubris.

Tiny little grammar note.  22:5 shows both ways that Greek can show possessive; his field and his business)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Philippians 2:1-13

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014.  It also occurs at other points in the Lectionary, including Palm Sunday.

This is a very rich passage. By itself it stands as one the most powerful description of Christ and his work.  Worth pointing out though is that Paul continues to build off the imagery the rest of his letter to discuss not simply Christ's work on the cross, but also Christ's work on us.  He changed his shape (μορφη) into humility but will co-shape (συμμορφος) ours into glory, not simply through his suffering, but even our own.

Key words:

μορφη ("shape" or "form"; 7, 8)  If you look up this word, you will find it appears twice in Philippians, once in verse 7 and once in verse 8.  Jesus had the form/shape of God; took the form/shape of a human.  Sounds good.  However, later on in Philippians, Paul comes back to this word, but using it with the prefix συν (the -n becomes a -m...see note below) .  First, in verse 3:10 where he says that he is being συμμορφιζομαι-ed into Christ's death and later when he is  being συμμορφος with Christ's resurrected body (3:28).  Paul moves from talking about the form of Christ to the co-formation of the believer, both into suffering, death and then resurrection.  I think the word μορφη can be used to guide one's reflections on the whole letter:  The transformation of Jesus creates the transformation of the believer.  To put it another way, I see Philippians as Paul's personal exposition on his line in Romans 8:17:  If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

εκενωσεν and κενοδοξια ("emptied" from κενω, 7; conceit, 3)  Much is made from κενω, which means to empty.  I find it interesting that Paul gives warning just a bit earlier about conceit, literally false glory.  The only way to true glory, for Christ and for us, is through suffering and death.

κατεργαζομαι ("work out", 2:12; from kata (intensifier) and erg-oo (to work))  One possible meaning for this verb is simply "achieve" but another one is "to work up," ie, to make use of; fields, for example, are worked on to make them ready for harvest.  This verse can be problematic in that it makes it sound like our salvation is our responsibility.  However, Paul's never verse, 2:13, makes it clear that God is the author of our salvation.  I think in this case, Paul uses salvation (σωτηρια) to describe our entire relationship with God in Jesus Christ, specifically the process of dying and rising.  It is worth noting that the verb here (and also for "co-form" (see above) are in the present tense, suggesting this an on-going process.

Grammar/translation:  The morphing "n"
When someone learns Hebrew, they learn verbs like n-t-n, which means to give.  They then try to read these in the Bible and discover it hardly ever exists in that form and most often the "n"s drop out in conjugation so that words like y-t-l-m mean he gives or something like this.  This is true in Greek, but in a different way.  The problem is not Hebrew, but the letter "n" which has a soft sound.  It tends to morph into other sounds.  This actually happens in Latin.  For example, con is the prefix for "with"  But notice how often that "n" disappears or morphs:  communication, cooperation, combat, comfort, command, corroberate.  This happens in Greek, especially when verbs add the prefix συν.  The weekness of the "n" sound is also shown in the fact that its moveable (ie not very necessary).