Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mark 1:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently January of 2015.
Summary:  The Greek highlights Mark's excellent dramatic skills.  He uses tight language and subtle details to present the conflict of Jesus against the mysterious and powerful forces of evil.  Evil is quite powerful here:  It has invaded the synagogue; it knows more than the crowd; it is vulgar and disobedient to Jesus; its number if unknown.  Yet Jesus will vanquish it and affirm the claim of the crowd, that he is one with authority.  As Staupitz declared to Luther in the movie:  "You are too hard on yourself; the devil has been around for thousands of years.  Cling to Christ and his mercy."

How Mark employs Greek to add drama to the story:
1:21 and 1:22 All of the verbs in this sentence have verbs in the present or imperfect, suggesting a lot
of movement and continuous action.  The story continues the whirlwind pace of Mark 1.

1:23 Mark puts the word "unclean" last in this clause, so it reads "there was in the synagogue a man in spirit unclean." A bit of suspense because as a reader it would not be entirely surprising to find a spirit in a synagogue.  It is worth noting that the unclean spirit is not found outside the house of God, but inside the house of God! 

1:23 The first aorist verb is ανεκραξεν ("cry out") suggesting an abrupt change in the action after all the other present/imperfect verbs.

1.24 The phrase here in Greek that the unclean spirit uses is "What to you and to me." This is essentially what Jesus to his mother at Cana: "What to me and to you." In other words, this is not a very kind way to talk!   A sort of "What the hell do you want?"

1.24  The spirit switches back and forth between the singular and the plural, presenting an uncomfortable ambiguity:  How many are there?

1.26   Interesting that even though the unclean Spirit obeys Jesus, it still gives off a μεγαλη (large) scream. This is the first use of mega in Mark.  Furthermore, Jesus had commanded the spirit to be silenced; this shows its disobedience!

All of this drama and even highlighting of evil's power is designed to affirm the original claim of the people, namely, that Jesus is one with εξουσια (1:22), that is power!

Also, a side note, 1:23/26  the word for unclean is "ακαθαρτος" as in the man needs a cathartic experience...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mark 1:14-20

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B, during the Epiphany Season (most recently Jan 2015)
I am struck this time by the word repent.  What does this word really mean?  As Lutherans we often combine this word with forgiveness and dream of our lenten sacrifices.  Yet the word in Greek literally means "new way of thinking."  While I would not want to make repentance into simply a "head" thing, I am wondering what about my worldview, my thinking, is different because I am a Christian?  Am I more hopeful?  What about my own perspective needs repenting?  What makes me hold onto the nets instead of jumping into the water?

Key words:
ευθυς  ("immediately"; 1.18,20)  The word "immediately" is used 11 times first chapter alone!  You can actually mark the tempo of Mark's Gospel by this word alone, used 40 times throughout the whole book!  It drops off quite noticeably after chapter 6, is almost non-existent in chapters 10-13 and then drops back in for the passion narrative!  As one of my profs put it:  the first eight chapters cover three years; the last eight three months, with chapter 14, 15 and 16 covering the last week!

κηρυσσω ("proclaim"; 1:14)  Mark loves this word, using it more than any other author.  This makes sense -- for Mark the disciples are a bunch of sinners who don't do much right, so at least they should proclaim what Christ has done!  this also builds off of the perfect tenses used with the verbs "arrived" and "fulfilled."  We are simply announcing what God has done.

ευαγγελιον ("good news"; 1:14)  This word is rather difficult to interpret (always, right!) in the Gospel of Mark.  It is never really defined, but Jesus refers to its importance in connection with death (8:35) and salvation (16:15).  The Gospel opens by declaring that the whole book is about the Gospel, but it is worth us considering, especially as we head into a year of preaching from Mark's Gospel, what we consider to be our own and Mark's understanding of the Gospel.  I wrote above that in Mark's Gospels, the disciples don't do a lot right.  But yet in our story this week they drop everything they have to follow Jesus.  God's Word, however hard human hearts may be, still achieves its purpose.

μετανοεω ("repent"; 1:14)  This word sort of drops out of Mark, almost suggesting that it drops out of Jesus' own ministry as he discovers the limitations of the disciples.  Another way to think about this is to consider the Greek meaning of the word, which literally means "new mind."  Stories later in the Gospel -- Bartimaues or the woman anointing Jesus -- show someone whose life is transformed by Jesus.  So it may not be explicit, but the repentance continues.  In Lidell-Scott's ancient (and secular) Greek lexicon, repent means to change one's mind or purpose.  We often put repentance together with sin, a fine thing, but perhaps we need to consider that repentance means often more than simply a struggle against temptation, but a paradigm shift, a transformation of our whole outlook, if not way of life and even being.  Jesus is one whose power and even charisma compel us to switch our worldview, our words and finally our actions.

παραδιδημι ("betray"; 1:14)  This verb will come back into Mark's Gospel when Jesus is betrayed by Judas.  We say this word each week in our communion liturgy.  This verb serves a double purpose:  It lets us know why Jesus got into ministry in the FIRST place...and the FINAL place, the real FIRST place anyway.

Grammar review: Thesis number 1:  When our Lord and master Jesus Christ commanded us to repent, he willed that the whole life should be one of repentance.

Luther read the Bible in Greek and therefore discovered that Jesus' command to repent is in the present tense, suggesting an on-going nature to his command.  We are to continually repent is what Jesus said and what Luther captured in his 95 thesis.  The Latin translation did not capture this on-going nature to Jesus command and had been transformed into "do penance."  Who says Greek exegesis cannot change the world?