Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lent 2: Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-10 (Year B)

There are two possible Revised Common Lectionary texts this week.  Here are links to my posts on both of them:

Mark 8:31-38
Little tid-bit:
Use of tenses: Mark carefully selects his tenses in this passage. When Jesus asks the question, he is using the imperfect tense, which implies repeated action.  Jesus repeatedly asks them:  "Who are people saying that am?" and "Who do you say that I am?"  In our life, we will repeatedly be asked who Jesus is.

Mark 9:2-10
Little tid-bit
εξ ("six"; there is a rough breathing mark, making it "hex" as in "hexagon"; 9:2).  This is the only time Mark records something as happening "six" days later.  So what happens on the sixth day?  Well, on the 6th day Jesus died on the cross!  Recall the OT:  On the sixth day humanity was created.  Very good (like Transfiguration).  But final?  No.

Matthew 20:1-16

This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary (most recently March 1, 2015).

Summary:   Tough parable for us.  Most churches preach grace, but when exposed like this is just seems, well, unfair!  But grace it is.  And grace abounds.  I find grace in that God goes after the lazy (αργος); furthermore, even the envious (πονηρος, evil in fact) get into heaven.  We do not enter God's Kingdom based on our heart being perfect, but simply by God's grace.  I also find grace to be the hiring, not the pay-day; It is all by God's grace that we are hired in the first place and get to belong to God, to work in his vineyard.  I also find grace irresistible in that even the grumpy don't get kicked out of God's vineyard!

Key words
απεστειλεν (aorist form of αποστελλω, apostello, meaning "send"; 20.2).  John's Gospel get a lot of publicity for the idea of sending (even within the Trinity), but Matthew uses the word αποστελλω 22 times! (Mark 20; Luke 25; John 27).  Here they are even sent into the...

αμπελων(α) (ampelon, meaning "vineyard"; 20:1,2,4 and 7).  First, it is interesting that Matthew and John have such a strong connection here, with vineyard and sending.  Another comparison worth exploring is between the parables in chapter 20 and 21, both about vineyards.

αργος (argos, meaning idle; 20.6)  I have no unique insights to add to this word.  I just want to point out:  God goes after the lazy, those not fit for work elsewhere, those who simply stand around.

αποδος (from αποδιδημι. meaning "pay/give back"; 20:8)  Matthew uses this word quite frequently in his Gospel:
Matthew 6:4, give in secret, your father will reward/pay/give back in secret (see also 6:6, 6:18)
Matthew 12:36 On judgement day, we will have to "give back" an account of our life (see also 16.27)
Matthew 18 and the parable of the unforgiving servant -- lots of pay back in this story!
Matthew 22:21  Give/render to Caesar what is Caesar.
Matthew 27:58  Pilate gives the dead body back.
In the case of Matthew 20, the workers are paid/rendered/given back their wages.  The question is:  What is salvation?  Working in the vineyard or getting paid?  I would argue that the moment of salvation is becoming one of God's workers in the vineyard.  Ultimately, as long as we view salvation as pay, there is likely little joy along the way and much frustration about the salvation state of our piers.

καυσων(α) (causon, like caustic in English; 20:21)  It is worth reminding ourselves that doing Christ's work is not always easy.  I wonder if the Gospel for this passage is found way back in Matthew 11:  Come to me, all your who are heavy laden..."

τοις εμοις (dative with "the of me"; 20:15)  The Greek here is not good English, but the English reader can make sense of it.  When you have the word "the" without a noun it means more like "things", in this case, "the 'the' of me" or "the 'things' of me."  The question is here, is the master talking about money or people?  It seems that in the case of God, the things of God are the people. 

ισους (isous, from isos, meaning the same, as in "iso-metric"; 20:15)  The problem is that the master is making people equal to each other.  This should call to mind Philippians, in that Jesus did not regard equality (same word) as something to be exploited, but humbled himself.  In this case, becoming like Christ is being willing to work in the vineyard and to rejoice over a repentant sinner instead of being frustrated they get the same "reward" as us!

Last bonus:  The evil eye in 20:15
The literal translation of 20:15 is "Or is your eye evil because I am good."  God does not describe himself as generous but as good. Ultimately goodness is tied into generosity.  Furthermore, those disgruntled are described as having an evil eye.  A reminder that a reward is given to those with jealousy and evil in their hearts, not just those pure in heart.  God is good.  He gives to humans. Regardless of how long they worked; regardless of how lazy they are; regardless of how good they are.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mark 1:9-15

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary during Lent, Year B (Most recently Feb 22, 2015).

Summary:  At first glance, this pericope plays well into the emerging Liturgical emphasis on Baptism during Lent.  Mark connects baptism, lent and repentance together.  So why not go along?  Well, for starters, my sense is that most preachers will end up using Baptism to water down repentance, rather than use repentance to give shape to what Baptism means for daily living.  Secondly, Mark is quite vivid in his portrayal of evil, as the Greek in this passage underlines.  Jesus' Baptism does not give him a free pass on the fight against sin, death and the devil.  Neither does our Baptism.  In six verses we have the betrayal of John, a 40 day war in the wilderness and the heavens being torn in two.  That should be enough to make us cry out:  "Return to the Lord Your God."

Side note:  I'd much prefer for the Easter season to be about Baptism.  As it is, especially in the year of Mark-John, you get the oddest bunch of lessons and Jesus is baptized, it seems, three or four times.  I am old school when it comes to Lent:  Sit with your sins for six weeks.  Beg for mercy.  Don't boast in your Baptism but with fear and trembling work out your salvation.

Key words that show the intensity of this passage:

σχιζω ("tear"; 1:10):  This word comes into English as "schism."  It appears twice in Mark's Gospel:  now and at the end when the temple curtain is torn at Jesus' crucifixion.  As Jesus cries out, my God, my God, why have you abandoned me, the wall between God and man is destroyed.  The wall here exposes its holes.

παραδιδημι ("betray"; 1:14) This verb will come back into Mark's Gospel when Jesus is betrayed by Judas. In fact, we say this word each week in our communion liturgy: "On the night in which he was betrayed..."  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.

εκβαλλω ("cast out"; 1:12) The Spirits casts Jesus into the wilderness. This is the same verb that will describe Jesus casting out demons. It is not a pretty term. Jesus gets hurled into the wilderness!  Also worth recalling that whenever Jesus goes into the wilderness he is not escaping but going where the demons dwell...

διακονεω ("serve"; 1:13):  What is interesting here is actually the tense of the verb:  imperfect.  In fact, the whole sentence is in the imperfect, strongly suggesting that all of these actions are on-going and occurring at the same time.  While Jesus is fighting the devil, he is with the beasts and angels are there helping him.  It was an intense time of total spiritual warfare in the wilderness.  The image is of the boxer in one corner with his people attending him to give him energy to go back in and fight.

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.  It is worth noting that whenever proclamation happens, amazing stuff ensues.  In other words, proclamation is not a mental, but a deeply spiritual activity that raises the dead, turns the sinners heart and makes the devil and his minions mad as hell.

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.  As I wrote earlier in this post, the disciples don't do a lot right in Mark's Gospel. But yet in our story this week they drop everything they have to follow Jesus. God's Word still achieves its purpose in spite of human limitations.

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.

Matthew 18:15-35

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 1 (Most recently Feb 22, 2015).

Matthew 18:15-20
Juiciest tid-bit:

εθνικος (pagan, gentile, literally "ethnic"; 18:17)  Jesus suggests we treat Christians who have greatly sinned against us as gentiles.  Interestingly, Jesus final words in the Gospel of Matthew instruct us to preach to the gentiles (all the nations of the world; same root word) and earlier Jesus reminds us to love our enemies, because even the gentiles to this.  Jesus is not giving us permission to be rude and dismissive to our brothers and sisters in Jesus, even those whom we are angry with.

Matthew 18:21-35
Juiciest tid-bit:
When you break down the Greek, you realize that Peter does not wonder "if" his brother will sin, but he wants to know what to do "when" his brother will sin.