Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Matthew 5:38-48

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently February 2017.
Summary:  Once again, Jesus offers us challenging words.  He calls us as a church, as the community of disciples, to act differently than the rest of the world.  He calls us to turn the other cheek; to love our neighbor and to give without counting the costs.  Yet he also points to the cross and God's act of self-giving.  Jesus is the one who will be slapped (ῤαπιζω), his coat (ιματιον) will be taken and finally Simon will be put into service (αγγαρευσω) to carry Jesus' cross.  Furthermore, Jesus will teach his disciples not simply to "give" but to pray to the heavenly father to "give" them their daily bread.  Lastly, the very gentiles (εθνικος) Jesus seems to chastise will be those Jesus calls us to baptize.  Read in isolation, these verses are simply moral exhortation, but read in the context of the whole, they powerfully remind us of the Gospel.

ῤαπιζει ("slap," 5:39; 26:67)  A rather rare word in the Bible (4x).  Interestingly though, the word comes back in Matthew's Gospel during the passion when Jesus is the one who is slapped.  (Ι included the accent mark to make it clear that the word is pronounced with a "her" at the beginning.)

ιματιον ("coat" 5:40, 27:31, 27:35)  A very common word in the Bible.  Like ῤαπιζω, this word comes back into Matthew's Gospel during the passion when they take Jesus' coat.

αγγαρευσει ("put into service", 5:41, 27:32)  The word only appears twice in the Bible, both times in Matthew's Gospel.  Here and in the passion narrative, when Simon or Cyrene is "put into service" to carry the cross.  Someone was asked to go the mile; now a "second" has come in its place.

δος ("give," aorist imperative of διδημι, 5:42; very common but also 6:11).  Jesus exhorts us to give to people who ask from us.  The same verb (in the same form) will appear only a bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus teaches us how to pray, telling us to δος to God for our daily bread.  We are to live out of generosity, only dependent on God's graciousness.

διωκοντων ("persecute" or "persue," present participle of διωκω, 5:44)  The Gospel of Matthew never specifices that Jesus is himself persecuted, although the story clearly demonstrates that he is.  In fact, Jesus warns the disciples that they will be persecuted (10:23, 23:34).

εθνικος ("Gentile" or "Pagan," gentile as an adjective; 5:47)  Just a reminder of how "raw" the word for "Gentile" is:  Ethnic.  Gentile sounds so clean to us; I don't think it sounded this way in Greek!  Also, even though Jesus may disparriage the gentiles now, he will finally tell us to baptize them ("the nations") in his name!

Aorist tense as pastoral advice??
One mysterious issue I cannot solve is this:  Generally, the verbs describing the response of others are in the present tense; while the verb commanding our response are in the aorist tense -- for example the one "striking" us in the present tense, suggesting on-going action; we are commanded to "turn" the other check is in the aorist tense, suggesting this is a one time event.  Perhaps even Jesus here reminds us the limits of our passive response to the world's violence?  In comparison, the commands to love and pray are on-going.  I wonder if there is a real pastoral approach here to individuals (as opposed to systems) who are cruel to us -- in the short term, we are called to suffer abuse, but in the long term we are called to remove ourselves from the situation, only to offer prayers.

[Note, even more unusually, Jesus does tell us that we are to go the second mile continually.  This one I cannot figure out.]

Grammar + Translation:  Matthew 5:40
Translating participles when they connect with other verbs.

και τω θελοντι σοι κριθηναι και τον χιτωνα σου λαβειν, αφες αυτω και το ιματιον
NRSV  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;

The second half of the sentence is more straight-forward:  αφες αυτω και το ιματιον

As usual, look for your subject and verb.  You don't have an obvious subject; this is because the verb "αφες" is an imperative (command) so, like English, you don't necessarily state the subject ("Give" instead of "You give").  It is important to recognize this as the subject (within the verb) because το ιματιον also could look like a subject.  το ιματιον (the coat) looks the same in the accustative or nominative!  But once you have the subject verb figured out, you have "forgive/permit/allow αυτω και the coat."  αυτω here is in the dative and simply means "to/for/with him." Now we have "permit him και the coat."  The και is probably best here translated as "even," so you end up with "permit him even the coat."

The first-half is where the action is:  και τω θελοντι σοι κριθηναι και τον χιτωνα σου λαβειν

You have three verbs:  θελοντι, κριθηναι, λαβειν
The first is a participle; the other two are verbs.
τω θελοντι is a substantive participle, which we translate as "the one who does X."  In this case, "the one who wants."  Now, the word "want" in both Greek and English is a helper verb (sometimes called modal); it often takes another verb.  I want to eat, for example.  The other verbs that it does with are in the infinitive.  And...wow...look, the other verbs in this sentence are in the infinitive!  So the outline of the sentence is:  "The one who wants to judge and take."  But we run into a problem here.  The verb κριθηναι is in the passive.  "be judged."  The one who wants to be judged doesn't make sense.  But if we add back in the σοι it helps a bit:  "The one who wants you to be judged."  Or as dictionaries suggest,  κριθηναι, should be translated (because it is passive) as "bring before court."  So, "The one who wants to sue you."  Then the second half becomes easy:  "Take your coat."  Do you see why σου becomes "your"?
Participles can act as helper verbs!  This can be confusing, but when you have verbs llike θελω, you should always look for another verb!

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