Monday, October 31, 2016

Luke 6:20-31

This passage occurs in Revised Common Lectionary for All Saints Sunday in year C, most recently November 2016.
You don’t need Greek to catch the big picture here: Jesus is turning the world upside down and is, well, happy about it! What the Greek can help us with, but not necessarily solve, is the trickier issue of who are blessed, when they are blessed, and what this blessing looks like. For example, Jesus does not say in Greek, “Blessed are you who are poor” but rather he simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” Are we included in that? Does Jesus himself bless the poor in heaven? Does Jesus bless them now with good things, like his relational love? Or, are the poor blessed because the Kingdom of God belongs to the disciples, who will, in turn, bless the poor. Again, the Greek doesn’t change the radical nature of the passage but rather invites us into the rugged yet rejoicing terrain of Jesus’ thought.

First, a little warm up:
Something the translators missed in the first verse of this section (6:20):  Jesus did not simply look up, but he lifted his eyes into them. Luke begins this passage with emotional intensity!

Key Words:

μακάριος (‘blessed’ or ‘happy’: 6:20; 21; 22): The theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Spicq) gets at both striking points of this word and how it is used in the beatitudes. After a long summary of the Greek understanding of what it means to be blessed (pretty much what average Americans think), The Lexicon finally reviews Jesus' words: “It is impossible to insist too strongly on the meaning of this μακάριος …This is much more than contentment; it is an interior joy that becomes external, elation translated into shouts, songs, acclamations. …Secondly, the new faith implies a reversal of all human values; happiness is no longer attached to wealth, to having enough, to a good reputation, power, possessions of the goods of this world, but to poverty alone.”

πλουσίος (‘rich’; 6:24): Luke uses this word more times than the rest of the Gospels combined. Generally, Luke has a fairly negative attitude toward the rich, however, it would be unfair to say that Luke, or therefore Jesus, simply criticizes them. Zacchaeus, for example, is rich; Jesus comes to his house!

οὐρανος (‘heaven’: 6:23): It might be tempting to think of heaven as a “state of being” rather than a place. However, in Luke’s Gospel, heaven is not simply a relationship or a state of the world, but a place. Luke uses the word 35 times, almost exclusively to refer to the dwelling place of God, but in a very concrete way, namely, the space above us. The point of this is to say that Jesus, according to Luke, is not saying: Well, you will be poor but you will have me. Jesus is saying, you are suffering now but have a reward (μισθός) in heaven. But we will return to this point!

μισθός (‘wages’ or ‘reward’: 6:23 also 6:35). This word literally means pay, as in a worker receives his pay for a day’s work (Luke 10:7; Matthew 20:8).

Grammar review: Predicate adjectives and nouns

In Greek, as in Hebrew, a sentence can occasionally lack a verb. For example, Psalm 25:8, translated as, “Good and upright is the LORD,” simply reads in the Hebrew: Good-upright LORD. Admittedly, Hebrew always seems to be missing words the English reader longs for. However, here Hebrew is simply putting the adjectives (good and upright) in predicate form. This is how grammar people, whose addiction to Latin is scary, describe the placement of the word “brown” in: “The cow is brown” instead of “The brown cow.” The point is that the author is saying that the rest of the stuff in the sentence (like in Psalm 25: Good and upright) describes the subject (God). Because of the rules of Hebrew, you don’t have to use a verb when you do this. You let the reader do the work.

Greek does this less frequently (far less frequently) but on occasion it still happens. In verse 6:23 we have such a construction:ιδου γαρ ο μισθος υηων πολυς εν τω ουρανω
or literally “Behold for your wages great in heaven.” A predicate adjective, meaning, the phrase “great in heaven” describes the wages (even though we lack the verb "is" or "will" or any form of "to be").

So has our grammar helped us derive meaning? Well, maybe. The point is that the wages are great and are in heaven. We know then, the WHAT (great) and the WHERE (in heaven). The question then is WHEN do we get them! The sentence grammar suggests they are in existence now.  But do we have access to them?

Verse Analysis:
NSRV: Luke 6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Και αυτος επαρας τους οφθαλμους αυτου εις τους μαθητας αυτου ελεγεν Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι, οτι υμετερα εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου

First step is to divide and conquer. Here you have at least three parts based on punctuation alone:

1 Και αυτος επαρας τους οφθαλμους αυτου εις τους μαθητας αυτου ελεγεν
2 Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι,
3 οτι υμετερα εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου

1 Και αυτος επαρας τους οφθαλμους αυτου εις τους μαθητας αυτου ελεγεν

This sentence is a classic mid-level sentence. The first part of the sentence is a participle phrase around the participle (επαρας). You probably don’t recognize the verb. That is okay. Bible Works tells you it’s an aorist participle. You also know it’s a circumstantial participle (see some of my previous articles). Anyway, aorist circumstantial participles are rather easy to translate. You can simply make them into indicative: “lifted up.” Sure, you might get flowery and add some adverbs or clauses to connect it, but for first go, just make it an indicative (and past tense verb). So if we plug all the words in we literally get:

“and he lifted up the eyes of him in the disciples of him he saying.”

The only slightly tricky part is how one gets “of him” from αυτου. That you can look up on your own, but you can tell that this sentence, once you get rid of the hanging slider of a participle, is actually quite straight forward.

By now you’ve also figured out that the English translators have watered down this puppy. It should not simply read “he looked at them,” but “Jesus lifted his eyes toward them.” (You could even go with “into” them for εις, but probably best to stick with “toward.” Furthermore, the imperfect on the verb “speak” (λεγειν) means that he was continually speaking, perhaps even repeating himself. So, we drop the “και” and here we go:

Αfter he lifted his eyes toward them, he began speaking,”

2 Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι,

Blessed are the poor. The Bible does not say, “Blessed are you who are poor.” It simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” I prefer talking about people as individuals first and adjectives second (the people who are poor vs the poor).  But it brings up the question here -- is Jesus talking about the individuals who are poor or the whole group?

3 οτι υμετερα εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου

On the one level, this too is easy to translate. Just stick in the words:

“Because yours is the kingdom of God.”

However, not so fast. η βασιλεια του θεου: “Kingdom of God” is tricky. The genitive case has a lot of possibilities. In English this ambiguity is preserved because the word “of” is ambiguous too. A few examples of possible translations:

a) “Kingdom belonging to God” (The house of my family)

b) “Kingdom from God” (Sound of water drops)

c) “Kingdom done by God” (Singing of a choir)

d) “Kingdom for God” (Love of money)

e) “Kingdom consisting of God” (as in “bag of money)

Two translation possibilities:

First, the not-very-exciting-leave-well-enough-alone

“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Second, the out there translation:

“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom from God.”

In other words, the poor are blessed because we, who hear God’s Word, have the kingdom from God to give away to them!

Let’s put it all together:

After he lifted his eyes toward them, he began speaking, repeating, “Blessed are the poor, because yours, you who are listening, is the Kingdom which comes from God.”

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