Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mark 10:17-31 (Narrative Lectionary for Feb 14, 2016)


Summary:  "Clouded up" -- That is literally the words used to describe the rich young man's reaction to Jesus.  Jesus loves the man, but the man's love of his possessions obscure his vision so greatly, he cannot even embrace the love of God!  We may not be able to buy our way into heaven but today's passage suggests we can buy our way out of heaven!

Some words worth considering:


ζωην αιωνουν ("life eternal"; zoo of the eons, literally; 10.17 and 30):  It is interesting that eternal life enters into Mark's Gospel by way of a non-disciple (and practicing Jew).  Obviously this appears in John's Gospel numerous times, but makes a cameo or two in the other Gospels as well.  Perhaps one of the great misnomers of Christian thinking is that eternal life only begins after our physical death.  The love and fellowship of Jesus was available here, on earth, for the man.

 αποστερεω ("defraud"; 10:19)  The NET Bible suggests Jesus inserts this because of the OT's injunctions about this, for example, Deut 24:14.  I would maintain that the word defraud is not accidental, but a great insight into the text. Jesus adds this commandment because he knows the rich young man is guilty of it -- the 11th commandment!  As my internship pastor spoke about this passage -- what is the commandment that finally trips you or me up??  I don't murder...but what finally brings me to my knees in confession?

αγαπαω ("love"; 10.21)  This word means real, genuine, nearly, if not truly, divine love.  This man is the first one whom Jesus loves in the whole Gospel of Mark!  How sad then that the man cannot love Jesus back nor follow him!

κτημα ("possessions"; 10:22)  Our American context is very different than ancient Greece, where a very small number owned most things.  Yes, yes, the rich grow richer, but the average American still has enough possessions and toys at their disposal to last them for years.  We can make this passage about demonizing the truly wealthy, or realize the nature of our own possessions that cloud our own vision.

στυγναζω ("sad" or "cloud up"; 10.23):  The word for "sad" here is a less common Greek word, but it means gloomy, or clouded over, like the sky.  The man's love of possessions cloud up his vision.

Some grammar tid-bits worth considering:

Subjunctive mood:
The subjunctive mood, which Greek uses to indicate various hypothetical situations, is difficult to translate. In 10.17 we find the filled-with-subjunctive phrase "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  The Greek does not use the word "must" but simply uses the subjunctive mood. Luther's German translation, "What should I do" is probably a better understanding of what is meant here.

Imperfect tense:
The imperfect tense suggests repeated action.  In 10.17 The rich young man does not "ask" but in fact "asks," repeatedly -- the imperfect tense is used.  He really wants to know!

Future as perfect tense?
In 10.30, Jesus talks about the age "that is coming."  It is not "the age that came" or the "age that will come" or even "the age to come" but "the age that is coming."  Greek, like English, can use the present to suggest an indeterminate future.  "Coming" can mean "on the way" or "coming soon."  There is an ambiguity.  So the question is, does the eternal life age arrive after we die or while we live?  It seems that Jesus is referring to a pre-natural death event...but perhaps one that requires our spiritual death and resurrection.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Luke 4:1-13 (RCL for Feb 14, 2016)

Summary:  I'd like to propose a highly Lutheran understanding of this reading.  (Shocking, I know).  I was struck by the idea that Jesus is full of the Spirit.  What does this mean?  It means he is filled with the Word in order to combat the devil.  The Word and the Spirit go together; to be Spiritual means you know the Word well enough that it becomes part of you, so that you might draw on it in time of temptation.

Pastoral note:  I think this is what sanctification actually looks like, that the Word has become so a part of us that we can actually draw on it.  In my experience, when people go through challenging times, the immediate reaction of the Christian is not much different than a pagan.  However, the Christian, when he hears the promise, either in a verse or hymn, has something resonate in his or her soul that revives them.  The pagan does not. The Word, like daily bread, has a shelf life, but it also eventually converts itself into muscle that can be called on for great strength.

Key Words
πληρης ("filled", 4.1)  This adjective means filled.  This is straight forward; interestingly the only other time in Luke's Gospel this word occurs it refers to someone filled with leprosy.  Also interesting is that leprosy normally entailed banishment, which is what Jesus is suffering here in the wilderness.  Even without the leprosy connection, Luke and the synoptic Gospels make it clear: to be baptized means to be led by the Spirit which entails confronting evil.  I would also argue that Jesus' way of arguing, using God's word, shows the way in which Spirit and Word work together.

"μενος" (this is not a word, but is the ending of a word.  Greek participles are complicated, but when you see this five letter suffix, you know you have an present, passive participle; 4.2.)  In this case, the verb for "tempt" is a present, passive participle. This means two things. First, that the temptation was on-going. Second, because "being tempted" is a present participle, this action occurred concurrently with the action of the main verb.  In this case the main or governing verb is "being led" by the Spirit.  (which is a passive and imperfect verb). So while he is continually being led by the Spirit, he is continually being tempted by the Devil. The two are on-going and concurrent actions.

παραδιδομι ("betray" or "give over", 4:6)  The word for "given over" is paradido-mi, which also means "handed over" as in "betrayed."  This suggests that perhaps the devil is not fully honest in his description that all things have been handed over to him.  If they have, it is through betrayal, where people thought they gained someone for themselves only to have the devil take it back.

Grammar:  Since you are the son of God!

ει ("if" or "since", 4:3) The Greek for "if" here (ει) does not necessary translate as "if." Normally, the decision to translate "ει" as "if" or "since" depends on the mood of the verb; if it is indicative, then one translates it as "since." In this case, "to be" is in the indicative. This means "if" could, if not should, read "Since you are the son of God..."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mark 8:27-9:8 (NL for Feb 7)

Here is a look at the Mark passage for Feb 7 Narrative Lectionary selection: 8:27-9:8

The brilliance of Mark is how he weaves stories together.  This is great gift but also challenge of preaching on Mark!
Mark 8:27-38: http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/09/mark-827-38-2012_11.html
Mark 9:2-10:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/02/mark-92-10.html

Luke 9:28-36 (RCL for Feb 7)

Summary:  The Greek gives one license to drive this sermon in just about any Scriptural direction one's heart desires.  It is all there -- Baptism, end times, resurrection, even the Exodus.  The inclusion of Elijah and Moses already suggested this, but the Greek allows for all sorts of connections!

Note:  I also have a previous post on this text http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2010/02/luke-928-36.html

Key words:

οκτω ("eight"; 9:28)  In the early church, the 8th day was significant because it was the day on which the resurrection and hence all Christian worship, was celebrated.  In modern times, we often think we worship on the 7th day, but really, we worship on the 8th day!  That the transfiguration happened on the 8th day means that it points toward the resurrection.

προσευχομαι ("pray"; 9:28)  Jesus prays quite a bit in Luke's Gospel, far more than in the other gospels.  (In fact, although he does pray in John's Gospel, the word is never used!)  In fact, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus is praying as the heavens are opened in his baptism.  Jesus prays other times too, but these are unique to Luke's Gospel.  This suggests that for Luke, there is a connection between prayer, baptism and the gates of heaven being opened for us.

εξαστραπτω ("shone brightly"; 9:29) The Greek for "brilliant" (his coat) has tucked within it the word "astra" like "astronomy." Jesus is bright like the stars. Interestingly, the only other place this word appears in the whole Bible is Ezekial and Daniel, perhaps a reminder that transfiguration has an eschatological bent -- it is the future breaking in and not simply the past catching up!

εξοδος ("departure"; 9:31) The word for "departure" here is literally "exodus." Moses is talking with Jesus about his exodus.  I think this continues to give Christians permission to read the paschal mystery in light of the exodus!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Luke 4:21-30 (RCL for January 31)

Summary:  Here is my preaching nugget based on the Greek.  Luke 4 begins with Jesus led out into the wilderness, where he is tempted at a high point to have all the power in the world.  He overcomes this.  Luke 4 ends with Jesus again cast out, this time to another high point.  Here the crowd is tempted to hoard God's love for themselves.  And they fail.  I think there is something here to play off Jesus' overcoming temptation to love only himself and the crowd's utter failure.  The church, time and time again, has succumbed to this temptation to love only ourselves.

χαριτος ("grace", from χαρις, 4:21)  The better translation here is "words of grace" rather than gracious words.  In fact, the literal translation is beautiful here:  "The words of grace walking out of his mouth."  What an image of Jesus: A bus station of grace!

δεκτος ("honor"/"welcome", 4:24)  Jesus words here have become a famous adage, "A prophet is without honor in his hometown."  The use of "honor" here covers up the connection to early in chapter 4, when Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favor.  The word here for favor is also δεκτος.  Jesus has defeated Satan to proclaim the year of the Lord's δεκτος.  The people here do not ascribe to him δεκτος.

εξεβαλον ("cast out", from εχβαλλω, 4:29).  This word interestingly parallels what happens to Jesus in his temptation, where he is cast out into the wilderness (admittedly, Luke does not use the word "cast out"; Mark does)  This word brings up a broader point that in Luke 4, there are two clashes:  Jesus and the devil and Jesus and the crowd.  I would say, and not in a sermon, that Jesus functions like an adversary in Luke 4, pushing the people, perhaps even instigating them.  I would say, and in a sermon, that the people fail, Jesus doesn't.  The word of grace will go on.

ωκοδομητο ("build upon" from οικοδομεω, 4:29) The town was built on a cliff.  This should already speak volumes.  But later on Jesus will exorcise demons off a cliff side.  Again, the crowd is literally trying to exorcise Jesus here.

διελθων ("pass through", 4:30)  Nothing profound here, but it is worth noting that Jesus could escape the crowds here.  Jesus choice to die was always simply this, his own choice. 

Grammar review: ουχι and question words
This word ουχι is used when a "yes" is expected.   In 4:22, the people are saying, "Isn't this Jesus..." Using ουχι to start the question means they are expecting a "yes."
My mneumonic is this:
μη (mh) gets a "no"
and ου/ουχι/ουχ get a "yes"
It is alphabetical order:  If the question starts with m, it will be an "n"o; if with "ou" then "y"es

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Luke 4:14-21 and Isaiah 61 (RCL for January 24, 2016)

Summary:  Home run point, here but it will take a full count to get there...Most times the New Testament quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament.  On rare, rare occasions, the New Testament writers seem to be quoting from the Old Testament Hebrew in their own translations (Proverbs 10:12 vs 1 Peter 4:8 eg).  In this case, Jesus seems neither to be translating directly from the Old Testament Hebrew, nor is he reading directly from the Greek.  He is intentionally adding to the Word of God.  This is a bold move.  He does so, I would argue, out of a Trinitarian conception of his mission, whereby the people will be brought into the mission of God.  (If you are saying to yourself, this is too much for a sermon, the basic point remains:  The Spirit of the Lord on Jesus is also the Spirit of the Lord in the church!)

Two little Greek appetizers before the main course:
φημη (pheme, meaning "fame," 4:14)   The word for "news" is "pheme" or perhaps better in English "fama." This is the root of our word fame. Jesus is famous!

δοξαζομενος (from δοξαζω, doxaz-oo, meaning "praise", 4:15)  The people "praise" Jesus. Interestingly, in the rest of the Gospel, the only one praised is God. This is the only instance of Jesus being praised in the Gospels.

Digging into 4:18-19 vs Isaiah 61:1-2

This sentence is rather complex. Two nouns worth looking at are worth looking at. Perhaps the most interesting word here is "captive" which comes from the Greek "αιχμαλωτος" which means "spear." Literally, those who are speared. Also the word for oppressed (τεθραυσμενους, participle form of θραυω) is only used once in the NT and literally means "shattered." I wonder who in our congregations feels speared and shattered?

This text is really tricky though. This is a case where what Jesus says and the Biblical quote don't exactly match up. The problem here isn't really a Septuagint (aka LXX, the OT Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) problem. In fact, Jesus words compile (sort-of) the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible here!  He likely also pulls in a snippet (edited nonetheless) from Isaiah 58:6. 

Side note:  It is fascinating to look at the details of the passages to see how Jesus edits/combines/remixes Isaiah; but the don't miss the forest for the trees.  This passage lays out the source of the mission (God in the Spirit) and the direction (the downtrodden).  Furthermore, it alludes to the fact that we will be brought into this mission.

So, a few points of significant agreement:
A) Jesus words and the OT begin the same. The Spirit of the Lord (πνενμα κυριου) is upon me; he has annointed (εχρισεν, ie "Christed") me. It does well to remember the Hebrew words here: Ruach Adonai (רוח אדני) for Spirit of the Lord and Messiah (משך) for annoint.
B) Both have an obvious material/physical aspect. The blessings and impact of God are not simply spiritual, they relate to this world.
C) The blessings focus on the downtrodden.

However, we have some slight differences worth noting
A) In the OT, Isaiah never talks about sight to the blind. Jesus does (the Septuagint does also).
B) Isaiah (in both the Hebrew and LXX) plays on the idea of binding -- the broken-hearted are bound; the captive are freed. Jesus alters this image. The NRSV translates this sentiment as "free the captives" and "he will let the oppressed go free." Jesus, thus, seems to by-pass the image of repairing/releasing the broken-hearted.
C) Jesus puts in the idea that he is sent to send others.  The word send in fact, appears twice, "He sent me...to send."  So why don't English bibles use the word "send" twice?  It is because they cover it up! The phrase "to let the oppressed go free" literally reads, "to send those shattered, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The translators are combing the phrase "send in forgiveness" into a single verb "free."  Not only is this in itself a sermon worth unpacking, I think the deeper and better sermon point is that Jesus has come to send those who are oppressed, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Note: This may seem to technical for a sermon.  But it fits more broadly into the case Luke makes in Luke-Acts, that the work of the Spirit is to bring us into the triune Mission of God.
D) Jesus drops the line immediately following this passage in Isaiah (...a year of the Lord's favor and day of vengeance). Here the LXX does not use such striking language, but in any case, Jesus avoids this idea all together.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mark 5:21-43 (Narrative Lectionary for January 24, 2016)

Summary:  This story is classic Mark:  A power struggle is at hand, between Jesus and the world, between the crowds and the religious leadership, between life and death, between despair and faith.  In the end, Jesus will serve as champion, or perhaps in a surprising way, a calm, peaceful and loving savior.  Regardless of what tact one takes in working through this passage, one should wrestle with what it means to "save."  This passage, like most in Mark, suggests a far bigger definition of save than our typical religious discourse!

Key words:
συνηχθη (aorist passive from of συναγω, meaning "gather", 5:21).  This verb has a clear English cognate:  Synagogue, where folks were gathered.  In this case we have two synagogues -- the unofficial gathering (συνηχθη) around Jesus and the synagogue (συναγωγος).  Mark lets us know that the real power is in the gathering around Jesus.

σωθη (aorist passive subjunctive of σωζω, meaning "save"; 5:23).  In American Christianity, the word save almost always connotes a future state, often hell, from which one is "saved."  In this case, the word σωθη is best translated "heal", as it can be in Greek.  A few points here:
- In the Bible, saving and healing are neither distant linguistically nor conceptually.
- Salvation grows out of faith.  In both stories, faith is needed.  In the second story, Jesus supplies the faith when we have lost it.
- Salvation is necessary for living.  It proceeds it grammatically in vs 23 and in our lives!
- Salvation brings new life.  In both stories, Jesus salvation brings NEW life.
- Salvation does not simply come from the spoken word.  In the later case, Jesus speaks and the girl arises.  But in the first case, simply the touch of Jesus heals the woman.  Jesus is the incarnate word -- when we think about how to heal people, it it not only our words, but also our touch.
- Saving is also for this life; I do not mean to juxtapose the importance of ultimate salvation against earthly in-breakings of the Kingdom of God.  They are related.  We can embrace the work of our savior in this life time.  The NET Bible writes, "This should not be understood as an expression for full salvation in the immediate context; it refers only to the woman’s healing."  Again, there is a real discomfort among Christians about talking about the work of Jesus Christ outside of life after death. 
To put it another way, I am becoming more convinced that when people show up at church on a Sunday, they are dying.  One could argue, they are already dead.  They need to be saved, that is, encounter the living Christ and hear his word, in order to live.

ελεγεν (imperfect of λεγω, meaning "say", 5:28)  The woman is repeatedly saying to herself -- not once -- that if she touches him, she will be healed.

μαστιγος ("whip" or "illness", 5:29)   The word for "disease" here comes from the word for whip; as in Jesus was whipped.

εξ αυτου ("of him", 5:30).  Here I beg to differ with the translation, "The power went out from him."  The Greek here does not say this.   It reads "The from him (εξ αυτου) power went him."  The positioning of "of him" means that it modifies the noun (power) not the verb (going-out).  The translators are lumping this preposition in with the verb and missing the connection between Jesus and the power.  Furthermore, this "of/from him" (εξ αυτου) power is kind of interesting...the power that arises from him?  Again, the preposition εκ/εξ can describe all sorts of relationships that encompass movement from/out of/originating in.  The power originating in him?  The power arising out of him?  The power belonging to him?  Regardless, the power is connected to Jesus, not simply in the air!

"Get up".  In vss 41 and 42, two words are used to describe the young girl getting up:  either εγειρω in vs. 41 or ανεστη in vs. 42.  Both are words used for resurrection in the New Testament; the reaction, εκστασει (if you sound it out in English, ecstasy!), is that of the women at the tomb in Mark 16.