Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matthew 16:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL, year A (most recently Aug 31, 2014).
 
Summary:  Whatever one does, we shouldn't water down this passage.  It is harsh.  As I reflect on it this year, I am really struck by the tenses of the verbs, that "deny" and "pick up" are aorist or one-time events, yet follow is a present, or on-going event.  This suggests to me, with a Lutheran understanding of Baptism and vocation, of a life-long cross that we inherit in our Baptisms, the cross of service to our neighbor.  We are always following Jesus, discovering what this cross entails.  It looks different, but it is always the same -- care of our neighbor.   Lastly, I think the good news for me is actually found in the next story, the transfiguration.  We get overwhelmed by the cross but then Jesus opens our eyes to his glory -- and we can carry on.

οπισω ("behind", 16:23,24)  This word appears twice:  Get behind me Satan and then if you want to come behind me.  In life, we are never truly our own free agents, but either following the forces of evil or Christ.  Hmm...too dramatic.  Don't water down this passage.

απαρνησασθω ("deny", 16:24) and αρατω ("pick up", 16:24)  What I have always struggled with here is that these verbs are in the aorist tense, which suggests a one-time event.  Does this mean we should move toward a decision/one-time event understanding of faith?  Keep reading...

ακουλουθειτω ("follow", 16:24) this is in the present tense.  We are to pick up the cross one time, but then continue to follow Jesus are whole lives?  Rather than understand this to mean that we make a one-time decision to follow Jesus, I argue we need to re-think what Jesus means by cross here.  When I think of picking up my cross, I think of my baptism.  The cross given to me in a my baptism confers on me the life orientation of living a disciple.  In my life, this same cross -- living as a disciple -- unfolds in different ways, always through service to the neighbor.   It is always the same cross-  dying to myself and to the world, but it looks different -- patiently bearing the criticism of others, apologizing to my colleages when I am wrong, listening to my neighbor whine, potty training my daughter and so forth.  In life, we don't get one particular cross, one challenge to bear, but the whole weight of our neighbor's needs is ever upon us.
To put it another way, the cross of life should weigh upon us so heavy that we call out to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness.  And he then can carry the cross for us.

σταυρον ("cross" 16:24)  Just a quick reminder that before we get to sentimental about cross, this was an ancient capital punishment device.  We need to make the cross abstract to make sense of it (ie, we don't need to nail wood planks and walk around with them); but we need to not make it too abstract that we lose the challenge of it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently Aug 24, 2014.
 
Summary:  This passage of Peter's confession has a number of familiar theological words that I try to unpack a bit.  This year I want to unpack for my congregation the setting, Caesarea Philippi, home to all sorts of crazy, pagan, awful stuff.  It can be easy to look at our world, even our country, even our community, and feel overwhelmed and disgusted.  Even at those times our job as a church is to confess Christ, in and out of season, whether it is popular or not.  What is our confession?  It is that he is the Christ, the anointed savior, son of the living God.

Idea for a children's sermon:  the whole fish i-ch-th-u-s thing (Jesus Christ God's Son Savior) as the most basic confession.

καισαρειας φιλιππι (Caesarea Philippi, 16:13):  This town is not a coincidental mention.  It was a trading hub, located along some major land routes and in possession of a great harbor.  It had been associated, in the past, with Baal (OT Canaanite god) and Pan (Greek god).  In Jesus day, it was one of the Roman capitals in the area, with immense building projects undertaken by Herod, including the construction of a temple in honor of Augustus.  In fact, one of the temples was believed to be located at the gates of hades, a direct connection to the underworld.  Philippi epitomized the Greco-Roman religious mileau of the day: a pantheistic cult that continuued to give more space to emperor worship; above all, a worship of beauty, sex, power and money. 

One can go even further though and think about the extent to which these are all not simply dead gods, but gods of death.  At the main temple in Caesarea Philippi, which was a temple believed to be the gates of Hades, people would offer dead animal sacrifices  (http://www.generationword.com/Israel/caesarea_philippi.htm good pictures!).  Hence the importance in Peter's confession that God is a living God! 

If you want to go even further, you can study more about what worship of Pan actually entailed, but now we have an adult only sermon.

υιος του ανθροπος  (Son of Man 16:13).  As Christians we instantly recognize this title to refer to Jesus.  In fact, we often look at this title as one that uplifts Jesus as the pinnacle of humanity.  That he was a pinnacle is not arguable; but what the pinnacle entails is up for debate!  In the Old Testament, this particular title for an individual or humanity seems to suggest humanities weakness:
- What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4; See also Psalm 144:3)
If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot-- a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
God also calls Ezekiel the Son of Man a number (80?) times; it is a way of reminding Ezekiel he is not divine.  In short, to Bible calling Jesus the Son of Man ascribes both majesty but also humilty to Christ. 

χριστος  (Christos, Messiah, 16:16)  Christos is Greek for anointed.  In Hebrew, the word for anointed is Messiah.  Peter is calling Jesus the Messiah.  The Old Testament strongly associates Messiah with a king, in the line of David, one who leads and protects the people.  The idea seems to be that a Messiah is a divine talisman, in that he has special protection (1 Sam 26:23; Psalm 20:6).  Interestingly, in Leviticus (4:6 eg) the High Priest is also referred to as the "annointed" or "Messiah."  Furthermore, Isaiah in chapter 61, declares himself annointed for his vision, hence prophet could also be understood as the role of the annointed (Psalm 105:15 connects this as well).  As Messiah then could be understood to capture three offices:  king, priest and prophet, which matches up with Calvin's understanding of Christ and his offices.  The question for me, beyond the blog post, is whethere there is really a developed understanding as the Messiah as one who will suffer in the Old Testament.  While Kings, priets and especially prophets may suffer, there seems a much stronger note of victory, even theology of glory, surrounding this term.  This would explain why Peter so soon afterwards does not want Jesus to suffer!  (In short, Peter knew his Old Testament!).  It also shows a great contrast with the term son of Man!

πετρος /πετρα Petros Petra:  We've all heard that Peter's name means Rock, because he was the Rock on which the church would be built.  Both words clearly have a the same first few letters (Petr), but I am not sure if we must necessarily infer that Peter the person is what the church will be built on.  Beyond some linguistic oddities (Petra is a feminine noun and ends in an a, nothing like Peter's name's ending), the far more logical thing is that the church will be built on the confession, which comes from heaven.  I think the Bible really underscores this by showing Peter's misunderstanding just a few sentences later.

αδης hades:  See my blog post on words for hell in the Bible.  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/09/mark-938-50.html

Grammar note:  In the infinitive phrase "Who do you say that I am" the word "I" is in the accusative (me).  Why?  Because in the subject of an infinitive clause is in the accusative, not the nominative.