Sunday, August 21, 2016

Luke 14:1;7-14

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year C, most recently in August 2016.

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.

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"): 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?  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.'
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."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Luke 13:10-17

This passage occurs in the RCL year C, most recently August 2016.

Summary:  I do not think our culture needs to hear words encouraging us to ignore the Sabbath.  Clearly we are in the entirely opposite place than the Jewish world of 2,000 years ago.  What is the consequence?  We are bound by our exhaustion, our stress and our love of our works.  Jesus comes to free this woman from Satan's chains and evil spirits.  I argue that if Jesus were around today, he would seek to free us from the chains that our lack of Sabbath structure imposes on us.

Key words of interest for this passage:
λυω (luo, "free"; 13.15;13:16): "...untie his ox; should not this set free."  This word appears in two consecutive verses, however, we likely miss this.  First because the English translators translate the word differently in verses 15 and 16.  Second, it appears in a slightly more difficult form as λυθηναι in 13:16.  The verb, which many of us know from all sorts of conjugation charts, means "to loose, to set free." Jesus makes a play on words here: You set free your animals; I set people free. 

This passage puts this illness in terms of binding and releasing in two other places.  We are told in verse 12 that Jesus απολελυθαι the woman.  This word, essentially a linguistic sibling to λυω means "release."  Jesus even says that the woman was in δεσμος (chains, 13:16; also used as verb in this sentence).

ανωρθωθι (from ανορθοω, "straighten", 13.13): "...she stood up straight"  This verb comes from the prefix/preposition "ana" which means upright or again and the adjective "ortho" meaning straight. It simply means straighten up or restore. It is not an especially common word in the Bible, but it recalls the Psalms to mind: "The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down (146:8)." [Technical note:  The Psalm translation is in a slightly different order.]

παντελες (13.11): "could not straighten up at all..." The word builds "pan", meaning "all" and "teles" meaning complete together for a 1-2 punch, like a baseball announcer shouting "it could...go...all...the...way."  The woman was bound up over herself so she did not have the power to stand up into her full measure.

Other words worth reflecting on:
αγανακτων (aganakton, meaning "indignant", 13.14): "Indignant because Jesus..." The word here has its root in "agony." The people watching are in agony over Jesus performing a healing!  How easy it is to get upset about mercy!

εθεραπεθσεν (from θεραπευω, "therapy", meaning "heal", 13.14): "healed" The word began in Greek by meaning service to the Gods; almost like worship! It became to mean, it seems, service that the Gods could render, namely, healing.

υποκριται (hypocrites, 13.15):  This word came right into English!  (The rough breathing mark over the υ means it is sounded hy.)  The word literally means "down judge-er/answer-er." It comes from theater, where the person has to speak to the people from a different height than the others. It came then to mean someone who pretends.

Total breakdown of 13:11
και ιδου γυνη πνευμα εχουσα ασθενειας ετη δεκαοκτω και ην συγκυπτουσα και μη δυναμενη ανακυψαι εις το παντελες

NRSV Luke 13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

The sentence begins with "και ", typical for a Greek sentence and essentially translatable by either "and" or a "period."  It can also mean but, even, more, also, etc...

The next word is "ιδου " This word, like the Hebrew hennah means "pay attention!" It does not describe what happens in the narrative, but it is a direction for the reader.

"γυνη πνευμα εχουσα ασθενειας" Before we parse this, let's just stick in the word-for-word translations: "woman spirit having weakness." The specific cases (accusative verses genitive) help here, but one can probably deduce this reads: "a woman having a spirit of weakness." For modern readers we'd like to take out the word "having a spirit" and replace it with "illness" but this limits the connection we will make later when Jesus says that Satan had this woman bound.

The participle "εχουσα" looks like an aorist because it has an "s" toward the end, but this is a feminine marker! Sigh! How does one translate this participle? Because there is neither a "the" (definitive article) nor a helping verb anywhere near by, you can assume it is a circumstantial. If we then use the formula "A woman, under the circumstance of having, an ill spirit" we see we can toss out the formula and just roll with it, "A woman having a ill spirit."

"ετη δεκαοκτω" 18 years.

και ην συγκυπτουσα ; Here we come to a supplementary participle. You will come to love these because your brain in English already thinks this way.  If you see a form of a "to-be" verb (ie, ην) next to a participle, you can read it like in English -- just stick in the basic translation of the words -- "The woman was bent over." This is the very complex way in Greek of forming the imperfect tense!

και μη δυναμενη ανακυψαι: This is a train wreck by Luke! He basically continues to leave the helping verb, here δυναμενη (to be able) as a participle. This means he must use "μη " for a negative instead of "ou" (all non indicative no-s should be μη and not ou). He then connects it with an aorist infinitive. Ouch.  At the end of the day: "was not able to stand up"

εις το παντελες: This use of εις here basically makes the adjective, παντελες, an adverb because it now describes the action of standing up straight.  The way Luke writes this little tidbit here though leaves a very poetic end to the sentence:  "She was not able to stand up into completeness."  Her not standing up had an impact in her life beyond simply being hunched over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (most recently August 2016)

Summary:  The writer of Hebrews focuses on the reality of trials and tribulations of a faithful life here on earth.  The Christian life is not one of avoiding suffering, but embracing it as Christ embraced his own suffering.  We follow Christ who suffered before entering glory.  Along the way we have our faithful brothers and sisters to inspire us.

Key words:
πιστει (pistei, dative of πιστος , meaning "faith", throughout chapter 11).  I discuss this word and its use in my last week's post for Hebrews 11.

μαρτυρων (genitive form of μαρτυς, martys, meaning "testimony"; 12:1)  As I've written about 100 times before the word μαρτυς simply meant witness in a legal sense.  However, so many Christians died giving their witness, that the meaning of the word changed.  Here in Hebrews 12 we already see the shift in the meaning of this word, in that suffering is clearly connected with witnessing.  While we may not have modern martyrs in the same sense of direct persecution for faith, most of us have received a powerful witness from someone whose faith endured suffering and obstacles.

αγωνα (agona, meaning "race" or "struggle"; 12:1) The word is essentially agony!  We are invited into agony for Christ.  This word appears in another verse in relationship to witness:
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight (αγωνα) of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Translating it as race makes sense given the verb "run" used in 12:1.  However, this may seem like a competition against others.  The focus here is on the struggle against sin.

This word can also mean "heat" like run a "heat." Or life on earth is like a heat!

αρχηγον (archegon, meaning "pioneer"; 12:2)  The word comes from two basic Greek words:  αρχη meaning first or primary; ηγον a derivative of αγω meaning lead.  Jesus is the first leader!  Moving beyond word games, this word appears twice in the letter to the Hebrews.  In 12:2 but also 2:10
Hebrews 2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer (αρχηγον) of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer (αρχηγον) and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Both verses speak of Christ attaining perfection and pioneering our faith.  But both also clearly go via the way of the cross.  Christ leads the way, but it is always through Calvary.

Some fancy word play:
The writer of Hebrews plays on some words here in a way impossible to detect in English.
περικειμενον  vs ευπεριστατον:  In 12:1 the writer says that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses; sin is clinging to us.  Both words have a similar root: περι (peri, around).  The cloud of witnesses is abiding around us; sin is also standing around us.  The word describing sin is quite interesting:  ευπεριστατον which breaks down into ευ-περι-στατον:  Pleased-around-standing.  Sin is happy to stand around us!

Sermon connection:  How we can be reminded of the cloud of witnesses, that they may be ever before us as much as sin is?

περικειμονον vs προκειμενον.  Both words have at their root:  κειμον from κειμαι meaning "lie around."  περι (peri) means around vs προ  (pro) means before.  The cloud of witnesses surrounds us for what lay head of us.  And what does lay ahead of us?  Agony here but glory later.

Sermon connection:  What challenges do you have before you?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hebrews 11:1-3;8-16

This reading occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  The Roman Catholic church includes slightly different verses, including either  Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12.

Summary:  The writer of Hebrews uses an advanced style of Greek that makes reading it more difficult.  I have included a number more technical notes than usual if you want to dig in.  The big picture is this:  Faith is a mighty, hard and costly matter.  A good preacher should be able to extol the power of faith.  A better preacher should help the people see that their faith is not their own, but a gift from God, that comes to us by the Spirit and the Word.  A great preacher, dare I say it, preaches in such a way that people hear the Word and by the Spirit have this faith.  As Jesus says in the related Gospel passage:  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (12:32)."

Key words and grammar insights:
υποστασις (hypostasis, meaning "confidence"; 11:1)  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the word from all of the Trinitarian debates:  One ousia and three hypostases!  First, let's break down this word:  It comes from υπο- meaning "under" and -στασις meaning "a standing."  The hypostasis is the thing that settles to the ground; the foundation.  This becomes understood metaphorically then as the base of confidence.  The thing upon which you can stand, not just literally, but emotionally.

This is an interesting way of looking at the Trinity -- we have one substance (God) but we have means of confidence, three bedrocks of our life: the creation, the cross and the community of faith.  Okay, I got a little cute there...

ελεγχος (elegchos, meaning "testing; 11:1).  Liddell-Scott defines this word as "a cross-examining, testing, for purposes of disproof or refutation."  Three facts that seem useless:
- It is only used once in the New Testament;
- Old Testament it is found almost exclusively in translations of wisdom literature;
- It has a different meaning if it is declined as a neuter instead of masculine noun. 
What is important here:  It is really hard to figure out what this word actually means because you cannot get many similar uses as the one here.  The other meaning of the word is "rebuke" which makes no sense in this context.  If anything, faith is the rebuke of things seen!

ελπιζομενων (participle form of ελπιζω, meaning "hope"; 11:1)  How to translate this participle?  First, it does not have any article, which would seem to rule out a substantive or an adjective participle.  Second, it is in the genitive case and there are no other nearby words in this case, making it difficult to translates as a circumstantial participle.  The word that helps us know how to translate this participle is πραγματων.  This word is also a genitive neuter plural word meaning "things."  There is a parallel structure in the sentence now genitive plural object - nominative singular subject.  I would argue to translate ελπιζομενων as a genitive substantive participle

ελπιζομενων υποστασις assurance of things hoped for
πραγματων ελεγχος:  proof of things (unseen)
You could argue that ελπιζομενων modifies πραγματων; in this case the above translation (and how everyone translates it) does not change.

βλεπομεν (participle form of βλεπω, meaning "to see"; 11:1;3) This word appears in both verse 1 and 3 in different participle forms.  The point is that faith and sight are often not connected.  The other point is that God can bring about things that we cannot yet see.  Who would have predicted that Africa would be the heart of Christianity over a century ago?  Who would believe in life after death when sitting with someone as they die in suffering?  Who would believe in forgiveness when they have seen the pain that people cause?

εμαρτυρηθσαν (from μαρτυρεω, martyreo, meaning "testify"; 11:2)  As I written about before, Christians changed the meaning of this word.  Because so many Christians were killed for their witness, the word martyr came to mean to die for one's witness!  The sentence literally reads "the elders were martyred in this faith."  In this case, the word means "be well spoken of", like a "we can say about them now" kind of thing.  But the most literal translation should shake us up.  Faith has a cost!

πρεσβυτεροι (presbyter(oi) meaning "elder"; 11:2)  This word can mean ancestors but also simply elders.  In the early church this became a position of leadership and is still used today in various churches to designate leadership.!

πιστει (dative form of πιστις, meaning "faith"; 11:3 and then throughout the passage).  The writer of Hebrews will begin using the word πιστει repeatedly.  It is the word for faith in the dative case.  The dative case can have many meanings, most likely in this case the "instrumental" idea.  (By means of faith...)  In English, we almost always have to have words with prepositions to show how they fit together.  Greek can simply "decline" them in cases so show their meanings.

κατηρτισθαι  (form of καταρτιζω, meaning "restore", 11:3)  This is fascinating. Typically translators understand 11:3 to refer to creation -- the old creation.  This would make sense in that the writer of Hebrews is going to begin a retelling of the Old Testament.  But the writer intentionally chooses restore (as in Galatians 6:1:  If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently).  I wonder if the writer of Hebrews here is connecting the old and new creation:  God is restoring the new creation -- at his word -- having made the seen from the unseen.  My sense is that belief in God's work in making the new creation takes more faith than belief in God's work in making the old creation!  I don't think translating this in terms of the old testament creation is wrong (in fact the verb tenses later in the verse suggest this as well as, again, the whole framework of the passage).  I just think there might be a small note of the new creation joining the chorus here.

Little bonus:  In verse 10 you find a curious word for builder:  δημιουργος or demiurge of gnostic faith!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Luke 12:13-21

This passage occurs in the RCL Year C, most recently in July 2016.
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.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

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!) 

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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Genesis 18:1-15 (Genesis 18:1-10a)

This passage is found in the RCL , Year C, most recently in the summer of 2016.  In this case, it is Genesis 18:1-10a
This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Sept 20, 2015). 
Summary:  Right after the beautiful image of Adam and Eve in the garden, we get a glimpse of real families and the problems:  infertility, if not infidelity and all sorts of sibling rivalries.  What is at stake?  Can God be a faithful God over and against human sin and weakness?  The answer here is clearly "yes."

איש ("ish", meaning "man", 18:2)  The word here does not mean angels, dieties or anything else divine.  It simply means man.  Which raises all sorts of interesting questions.  First, do the three men represent the Trinity?  This seems unlikely.  Why?  First, the two men separate themselves from the "LORD" (18:22).  This seems a strange behavior for the Trinity, supposedly united in an eternal dance of love.  Second, the two men are referred to as "messengers" (or angels in 19:1).  Even the New Testament refers to them as angels (Hebrews 13:2).  It seems strange to refer to the second and third person of the trinity as messengers/angels!

Side note on ancient languages:  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for messenger (αγγελος or
מלאכים) is the same as the word for angel (think ev-angelical means good -message!).

Second, can God take a human form without the incarnation?  This seems really intriguing.  Was God merely appearing as a human...or was God actually taking human form...or is God always in human form?  Well, for starters, food was consumed (18:8).  Real food!  Real stomachs!  This was not just a ghost, but a living human being.  It seems possible that God could, in fact, take a human form...but this makes a strange case for the significant of Christmas.  The significance of Christmas is not that God became human but HOW God became human, namely as a virtual refugee born among animals and proclaimed to shepherds.

צחק ("saqaq", meaning "laugh", 18:12)  Simply play on words:  Sarah "laughs" (saqaq) and will name her child "he laughs" (Yitzhak, or anglicized, "Isaac")

היפלא ("hi-iphaleh" two words, meaning "if wonderful", 18:14)  Some translations take this in a negative way, "Is anything too difficult or too hard."  The root here is one of wonderful and miracle -- is anything too amazing, too miraculous for God.

TWOT offers a great insight into this word (really root word) about the fact that the miracle is not as important as the revealed fact that God is for (or against) us.

"Preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to the acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel. that is, in the Bible the root pl° refers to things that are unusual, beyond human capabilities. As such, it awakens astonishment (pl°) in man. Thus, the "real importance of the miraculous for faith (is) -not in its material factuality, but in its evidential character... it is not, generally speaking, the especially abnormal character of the event which makes it a miracle; what strikes men forcibly is a clear impression of God's care or retribution within it" (Eichrodt). We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God's care or retribution."