Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mark 6:1-13

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B (most recently July 5, 2015)
 
To summarize: 
In recent weeks (years) Christians (in America) have often felt discouraged by the social setting in which we find ourselves.  In this passage, the Greek makes it abundantly clear that Jesus sends out his disciples into a very difficult world, one that basically rejects him.  Into this world, the disciples are sent out
A) in teams
B) to proclaim, call to repent, and heal
C) to move on from those who reject them (ie, not live in anger, but in hope for the next interaction!). 

Sounds like good advice for the missionary church in the West today!

χειρων (from χειρ, meaning "hand", 6:2,5)  Jesus does not just preach to people, he touches their lives.  Even the disciples who go out proclaiming Christ use oil, suggesting they too touched people!  The church is a mouth-house of the word, indeed, but proclamation is not separate from getting our hands dirty!

A trifecta of words Mark words uses to show just how bad it was for Jesus:
εσκανδαλιζοντο (from σκανδαλιζω, meaning, "to take offense", 6:3):  The word comes into English as scandalized; the world was scandalized by the teachings of Jesus!  Our goal is not to make the teachings of Jesus inoffensive to the world!

ελεγεν (imperfect of λεγω, 6:4)  Jesus is repeatedly saying he has no honor!  The imperfect tense means on-going action; Jesus did not say once, but continually was telling them he had no honor.

εθαυμαζεν...απιστιαν (amaze (θαυμαζω) and unbelief (απιστια), 6:6); In spite of the fact that the crowd is amazed at Jesus' teaching, they still are reluctant to believe.

In short, the environment in which Jesus sends out his disciples is one where
- Jesus teaching is offense, in spite of wisdom (σοφια, 6:2) and miracles!
- Jesus repeatedly acknowledges the difficulty he is facing
- Jesus is not recognized as Lord and Savior


εδυνατο...δυναμιν (both from the word power/ability, ie, dynamite; as a plural noun meaning miracles, 6:5)   The word for "able" as in "able to cure them" is "dyna-mai" which in noun form is "dynamis," or power comes from.  For those preaching the 2nd Corinthians Text, this is the same power that Paul talks about.

μαρτυριον (witness, 6:11) The testimony we are to offer is not necessary against them; the Greek is ambiguous. It could actually be as witness to or for them.  Regardless, we are not supposed to exhaust our resources fighting those who do not accept Jesus.

εθεραπευον (from θεραπευω, to heal, 6.5 and 6.13) I wrote about this word in a previous blog post:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/05/acts-1722-31.html
Basically, Jesus turns the Bible upside-down by actually doing the service toward people, something that did not happen in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, he sends out his people into the world to serve (therapy) the world!





Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B (Most recently June 21, 2015)
 
A guest post for this week by Rev. James Rowe of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kingston, NY

The assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lectionary 12) is the powerful story of Jesus calming the storm. By itself, it is a wonderful story. But knowing the surrounding context can be quite helpful. This story begins with the little phrase "on that day, when evening had come" (4:35a) which means that Mark has set this story as a continuation of the parables of the kingdom Jesus has just spoken (4:1-34). In addition, it also serves as the introduction to story about the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), the first Gentile encounter Jesus has in Mark's Gospel.  The calming of the storm can serve both as a reflection on what the kingdom is like and also as an introduction to what it means to live in that kingdom as disciples.

Mark's Gospel tends to use the disciples as foils to Jesus, people who witness the unbelievable in Christ again and again and still struggle to understand who he is and what he is up to. Mark 4:35-41 highlights that usage in a few ways. First, Jesus is referred to as "he" (αυτον) as distinct from the  disciples.  Second, when they wake up Jesus, they do not refer to him as "Lord" (κυριος) but as "Teacher" (διδασκαλος) which seems to imply that the disciples still do not know who he truly is. 
Finally, the question of the disciples ("Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" 4:41b) goes unanswered, both showing their unbelief and also giving us readers a question to ponder as Jesus will soon be casting a legion of demons into pigs and ultimately into the sea he has just overpowered with a word.

When it comes to preaching this text, it could be interesting to end the sermon with the same question: "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" We preachers tend to tie our sermons off with pretty bows and end with "amen" or some Pauline phrase, but Mark's Gospel gives us a variety of texts where the lack of conclusion opens us up to the possibility of what God is doing in the "storms" of the world and in our lives. 

Rob's response to Jim's post:
In Jim's post, he put something in parenthesis that I wanted to unpack.  He wrote, "The Greek for awake is actually 'arose'."  Indeed, the word here is εγειρω, which also means raised up or even resurrected.  Once again, a subtle foreshadowing of the unfolding mystery in Mark's Gospel.  In this passage of Jesus calming the storm, the word μεγας (mega, meaning big) shows up three times:  a BIG storm; a BIG calm and a BIG fear.  When Jesus power is revealed, it brings both calm and fear, an ironic, if not dialectical combination of emotions.  Perhaps the bigger the demonstration, the bigger the fear!  This also points to the resurrection in Mark's Gospel, when the full revelation of Jesus power is accompanied by great calm in the tomb but also also fear in the first witnesses (φοβεω, Mark 16.8).  

One other little grammar point on fear:
Cognate Accusative:  This fancy term is when the verb and object both are from the same word, like "I rode a ride."  It is considered bad English, but is quite common in Hebrew and in NT Greek.  In this case, Mark says they "feared a big fear" (εφοβηθησαν φοβον)  The weird conjugation of an aorist passive 3rd person plural makes this tough to see.  But it is really simple:  They feared a big fear!


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mark 3:20-35

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2015.

Summary:  For this week I have intensely looked at 3:29, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven."  While many other images and motifs stand out in this passage, I have noticed my lay people gravitate toward this passage.  First a correction in translation and then an explanation.  Long story short:  Forgiveness is complex, but awesome and possible.

New for 2015:  I added a bit more on the Holy Spirit.

First, a correction in translation:  3:29
NRSV/NIV, etc, read:  "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin "

This is not correct.  The Greek literally reads: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, he does not have forgiveness eternally and is guilty of an eternal sin."
To make clear:
* The verb forgive is not used
* The word never (or its Greek equivalent ου μη) is not used
* The "But" to start of the sentence is δε, a very weak conjunction, often not translated; it normally indicates a change in subject more than a change in thought.

What this means:
Jesus never denies the possibility of forgiveness.  
However, denying the existence of the Spirit, which means denying the work of God to forgiveness sins, make the church and raise the dead, is not simply an earthly matter, but an eternal one.
Third, Jesus says that all sins can be forgiven; however, one cannot deny the existence of God's activity in this world (the Spirit) and still receive this forgiveness. I would argue here that experiencing forgiveness is an act of faith.  See Babylonian Captivity of the Church if you think this is not Lutheran.  But to really solve this dilemma pf forgiveness, let's press ahead
More on forgiveness
αφεσις:  (3:29)
Liddell-Scott offer a few images of this word in classic Greek:
1) a letting go, dismissal
2) a quittance or discharge from a bond: exemption from service: a divorce
3) a letting go of horses from the starting-post, and then the starting-post itself

Often times we as (Lutheran) Christians have focused on the second notion of forgiveness.  "The debt is paid."  Perhaps some Buddhists focus on the first -- simply "let go" of your anger.  But I think the third point is perhaps the most Christian:  Forgiveness is the letting go of us, setting us free for life in the Kingdom.

In this sense, the words of Jesus make the most sense.  If you don't believe in the Holy Spirit, and God's work of forgiveness, holiness, the church and resurrection, then you will never be free.  Ever. 

Yet ironically, this passage shows the Spirit at work; the church is being created, brothers and sisters in Christ, over and against hostility, disbelief and betrayal (vs 19)!

More on the Holy Spirit
ο πνευμα ο αγιος ("The Holy Spirit"; 3:29)
Mark only references the Holy Spirit a few times besides this episode in chapter three (NRSV):
1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13:11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
12:36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet." '

One could argue that the Holy Spirit is conferred in Baptism and gives the ability to proclaim the Word of God (1:8 and 13:11).  However, it seems that this far too domesticates Mark's sense of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit pops up in times of conflict:  the ministry of John the Baptist (who will be beheaded); the temptation against Satan in the wilderness; casting out demons in chapter 3 and conflict with teachers of the law; prophecies about oppression; David's declaration about victory over enemies.  The Holy Spirit is still a source of comfort, but more in the battle medicine kind of way.  I think this speaks to Mark's theology of the cross.  Where is holiness found?  In the midst of turmoil.