Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mark 12:13-17

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Feb 28, 2016)

Summary:  The basic sermon point is this:  Everything belongs to God; taxes are for good or for bad, to be paid.  I'd like to dwell a bit more on two other terms:  image and inscription.  These words unpack the tension of old and new creation.

Two Words:
εικων (icon/image):  Humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26/27; even after the fall, humans are still in the image of God (Gen 9:6)).  After these passages in Genesis, the idea of humanity in the image of God recedes into the background of the Old Testament.  Most of the time, when there are divine images, they are graven images of other gods.

Two possible directions for a sermon:
- The image of Caesar is of a human.  Any human is in the image of God, and therefore it is an image of God.  Therefore the coin belongs to God, not just to Caesar.  We live in a world that is God's, but somehow also of kings and emperors.  Sometimes the image of God seems in the background against the world's chaos and injustice!
- The image of Caesar is a graven image of another god.  Jesus is calling them out because even though they don't use these coins inside the temple, they still live in the world of Caesar coins.  In fact, they carry with them an image of a false god (in fact, they were caught red handed with this image in their pocket!)

The New Testament makes scare reference to the idea of image of God, but when it does, it normally refers to Christ as the image of God:
- Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
- 1 Corinthians 15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
- Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

There is the thought that we will be transformed into this image (Romans 8:29) and also
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
- Colossians 3:10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

In fact, there is only one reference to image of God outside of the Gospel, Christ and the transformational power of the Holy Spirit:
1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man.

Even with this passage, the overall New Testament emphasis on "image of God" is to the new creation's image of Christ, rather than the old creation's image.

This then is rather interesting:  Is Caesar in the image of Christ?  It pushes harder on what we mean by image of God; how creation and restoration relate to the image of God.

επιγραφη (inscription):  This word comes into the Gospel's one other time:  the inscription on the cross when Jesus has an "epigraph" or "inscription" King of the Jews.  Does Caesar or Jesus deserve that title?  (Clearly Jesus). 

I am not sure if its great for a sermon, but this passage and the other passages these key words allude to suggest a real tension between the old and new creation as well as the "now and not yet" of Jesus' power in the world.

A reminder of translation difficulties:
The Pharisees try to "butter" Jesus up with praise.  Their praise though is really tough to translate.  Verse 14 literally reads:
And going they said to him, "Teacher we know that you are true/genuine and it is not a concern to you about anyone; for you do not look in to the face of people, but teach upon the truth the way of God."
They are trying to get across the point that Jesus is not superficial and does not try to please people with his teachings.  This would be a very odd way to say it in modern English!  In this case the literal translation almost certainly fails.  One must message the translation to something like:
"Teacher, we know that you are a genuine person, who truly teaches the way of God, not concerned for what people might think of you or what their status is..."  Or something like that.

Luke 13:1-9

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary year C during Lent (Most recently: Feb 28, 2016)

Summary:  This passage must be read in conjunction with 13:10-13, where Jesus heals someone who has been sick for some time.  The point is that Jesus does not give up on us, but always calls us to repent.  To put it another way -- repentance is not grounded in fear, but in hope.  Hope that judgment may be avoided; hope that the future will not simply be a repetition of the past; hope that God has power greater than sin. 

(I also think there is a sermon on the word "found" as well, see below)

A few things worth noting here:

πεπονθασιω (perfect form of πασχω, meaning "to suffer"; 13:2)  The word here for suffer is "pasch-oo" (hence the English 'passion').  Interestingly this is the only time in the Gospel of Luke where someone else besides Jesus is suffering.  Also interesting is that the verb is in the perfect, meaning they suffered, but are still in the state of suffering.  Trying to unpack that one.

μετανοητε ("repent"; 13:3,5)  The form of this verb is important.  The Greek for "repent" here is a present tense subjunctive, not an aorist imperative.  Literally: "If you are not continually repenting..."  In short, Jesus is not calling them to repentance once (or over one sin) but calling them to a lifetime of repentance (the thesis #1 of Luther's 95 theses...)

απολλυμι ("destroy"; 13:3/5) The word here for destroy is "apollu-mi." This word means destory or lose.   (Lose is in the middle voice)  In chapter 9, Jesus warns his disciples that they must "lose" their life (same verb)

ευρισκω ("find"; 13:6)  The word find (ευρισκω) is very common in the Gospel of Luke (almost as much as M, M and J combined).  Luke presents Jesus as a God who finds us, finds us suffering, lost and in need of repentance.  But he brings us in any way!

αφες (αφιημι; 13:8) The servant here, as he is telling the master to "leave it alone," is also in the Greek saying, "forgive it."  Forgiveness means "give it another chance!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Luke 13:31-35

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year C during Lent (Most recently Feb 21, 2016)

Summary:  This passage portrays Jesus as a healer and even a hen.  This might tempt one to present a softer image of Jesus.  While Jesus does have great compassion and does show tremendous care, Jesus is not "soft."  He is casting out demons, condemning the people's heritage, standing up to power and predicting his own death.  The healing Jesus brings represents far more than a band-aid to the world, but the destruction of evil and the restoration of God's relationship with the world.

ιασεις ("iasies" meaning "to heal"; 13:32)  This word comes into English in the "iatry" family (psychiatry; podiatry), meaning to heal.  Perhaps this word can help us connect today's healing (all of the -iatries) with the work of Jesus, both then and still today.

αποτελω ("apoteloo" meaning "to complete"; 13:32).  I offer this word because it connects with the τελειομαι, the last word of the sentence.  Jesus is talking about "completing" a healing today.  We must wonder again, what kind of healing does Jesus have in mind?  What does it mean for Jesus to complete a healing?  I think about how long healing really takes for people after severe physical trauma.  Healing is often a longer process.

τελειομαι (passive perfect form of τελειοω meaning "complete"; 13:32)  Jesus here literally says, "I  have been completed on the third day."  There are many directions to unpack what Jesus means.  I would offer for this passage that Jesus' death and resurrection could be seen, in light of this passage, as a work of healing.  This healing includes purging evil from the world.  I would add further that healing often requires removal of "demons" from our lives.  This is not simply touchy feely stuff, as Jesus discussion of coming death (33) reminds us.

Aside:  This is the same verb that Jesus will utter from the cross (in John's Gospel) as he says, "It is finished."  Which brings up how to translate that passage -- perhaps better than "it is finished" is "it is perfected" or "it is fulfilled" or "it is completed."

ηθελησα/ηθελησατε (from θελω meaning "wish or will"; 13.34)  It is fascinating to see how Jesus admits that humans resist God's will.  It will require Jesus death and resurrection for this to happen.

τεκνα ("tekna" meaning "child"; 13:34)  Often we think of God's relationship with humanity in parental terms.  We can sentimentalize this relationship, ignoring the pain that parents experience over their children, both in real life and in the Bible.  God desires for us to be like children who receive his protection.
"He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler."  (NRS Psalm 91:)
I argue how Jesus here reveals that his work on the third day is a restoration of a our status as God's children.

Greek grammar tid bit: Solving for a missing word:
In both 13:32 and 33 Jesus skips a word
32: "today and tomorrow and τη τριτη ____ "
33:  "today and tomorrow and τη εχομενη _____."
Greek will often skip a word where the context is entirely clear.  In this case, they drop the word "day."  The context of the sentence should make this clear.  Another hint is that in both cases, the word "the" is in the feminine (dative), telling you a feminine noun has been dropped.  As it turns out ημερα, the word for day, is a feminine noun.  Case closed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mark 10:17-31

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Feb 14, 2016)
This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B after Pentecost

Summary:  "Clouded up" -- That is literally the words used to describe the rich young man's reaction to Jesus.  Jesus loves the man, but the man's love of his possessions obscure his vision so greatly, he cannot even embrace the love of God!  We may not be able to buy our way into heaven but today's passage suggests we can buy our way out of heaven!

Some words worth considering:

ζωην αιωνουν ("life eternal"; zoo of the eons, literally; 10.17 and 30):  It is interesting that eternal life enters into Mark's Gospel by way of a non-disciple (and practicing Jew).  Obviously this appears in John's Gospel numerous times, but makes a cameo or two in the other Gospels as well.  Perhaps one of the great misnomers of Christian thinking is that eternal life only begins after our physical death.  The love and fellowship of Jesus was available here, on earth, for the man.

 αποστερεω ("defraud"; 10:19)  The NET Bible suggests Jesus inserts this because of the OT's injunctions about this, for example, Deut 24:14.  I would maintain that the word defraud is not accidental, but a great insight into the text. Jesus adds this commandment because he knows the rich young man is guilty of it -- the 11th commandment!  As my internship pastor spoke about this passage -- what is the commandment that finally trips you or me up??  I don't murder...but what finally brings me to my knees in confession?

αγαπαω ("love"; 10.21)  This word means real, genuine, nearly, if not truly, divine love.  This man is the first one whom Jesus loves in the whole Gospel of Mark!  How sad then that the man cannot love Jesus back nor follow him!

κτημα ("possessions"; 10:22)  Our American context is very different than ancient Greece, where a very small number owned most things.  Yes, yes, the rich grow richer, but the average American still has enough possessions and toys at their disposal to last them for years.  We can make this passage about demonizing the truly wealthy, or realize the nature of our own possessions that cloud our own vision.

στυγναζω ("sad" or "cloud up"; 10.23):  The word for "sad" here is a less common Greek word, but it means gloomy, or clouded over, like the sky.  The man's love of possessions cloud up his vision.

Some grammar tid-bits worth considering:

Subjunctive mood:
The subjunctive mood, which Greek uses to indicate various hypothetical situations, is difficult to translate. In 10.17 we find the filled-with-subjunctive phrase "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  The Greek does not use the word "must" but simply uses the subjunctive mood. Luther's German translation, "What should I do" is probably a better understanding of what is meant here.

Imperfect tense:
The imperfect tense suggests repeated action.  In 10.17 The rich young man does not "ask" but in fact "asks," repeatedly -- the imperfect tense is used.  He really wants to know!

Future as perfect tense?
In 10.30, Jesus talks about the age "that is coming."  It is not "the age that came" or the "age that will come" or even "the age to come" but "the age that is coming."  Greek, like English, can use the present to suggest an indeterminate future.  "Coming" can mean "on the way" or "coming soon."  There is an ambiguity.  So the question is, does the eternal life age arrive after we die or while we live?  It seems that Jesus is referring to a pre-natural death event...but perhaps one that requires our spiritual death and resurrection.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Luke 4:1-13

This passage is found in the RCL, Lent 1, Year C (Most recently: Feb 14, 2016)

Summary:  I'd like to propose a highly Lutheran understanding of this reading.  (Shocking, I know).  I was struck by the idea that Jesus is full of the Spirit.  What does this mean?  It means he is filled with the Word in order to combat the devil.  The Word and the Spirit go together; to be Spiritual means you know the Word well enough that it becomes part of you, so that you might draw on it in time of temptation.

Pastoral note:  I think this is what sanctification actually looks like, that the Word has become so a part of us that we can actually draw on it.  In my experience, when people go through challenging times, the immediate reaction of the Christian is not much different than a pagan.  However, the Christian, when he hears the promise, either in a verse or hymn, has something resonate in his or her soul that revives them.  The pagan does not. The Word, like daily bread, has a shelf life, but it also eventually converts itself into muscle that can be called on for great strength.

Key Words
πληρης ("filled", 4.1)  This adjective means filled.  This is straight forward; interestingly the only other time in Luke's Gospel this word occurs it refers to someone filled with leprosy.  Also interesting is that leprosy normally entailed banishment, which is what Jesus is suffering here in the wilderness.  Even without the leprosy connection, Luke and the synoptic Gospels make it clear: to be baptized means to be led by the Spirit which entails confronting evil.  I would also argue that Jesus' way of arguing, using God's word, shows the way in which Spirit and Word work together.

αγω ("lead", 4.1, 9)  Intensifying this connection between the work of the Spirit into confronting evil:  The Spirit "leads" Jesus into the wilderness; later, the Devil "leads" Jesus to a high mountain

πειραζω ("tempt", 4.2)  but really:  "μενος" (this is not a word, but is the ending of a word.  Greek participles are complicated, but when you see this five letter suffix, you know you have an present, passive participle; 4.2.)  In this case, the verb for "tempt" is a present, passive participle. This means two things. First, that the temptation was on-going. Second, because "being tempted" is a present participle, this action occurred concurrently with the action of the main verb.  In this case the main or governing verb is "being led" by the Spirit.  (which is a passive and imperfect verb). So while he is continually being led by the Spirit, he is continually being tempted by the Devil. The two are on-going and concurrent actions.

Further, the word here for "test" (4.12) is essentially the same word as tempt (the word has a little preposition to intensify its meaning). Jesus here tells the Devil to stop tempting him basically -- do not put the Lord, ie, me, to the test!

παραδιδομι ("betray" or "give over", 4:6)  The word for "given over" is paradido-mi, which also means "handed over" as in "betrayed."  This suggests that perhaps the devil is not fully honest in his description that all things have been handed over to him.  If they have, it is through betrayal, where people thought they gained someone for themselves only to have the devil take it back.

Grammar:  Since you are the son of God!

ει ("if" or "since", 4:3) The Greek for "if" here (ει) does not necessary translate as "if." Normally, the decision to translate "ει" as "if" or "since" depends on the mood of the verb; if it is indicative, then one translates it as "since." In this case, "to be" is in the indicative. This means "if" could, if not should, read "Since you are the son of God..."

Another grammar tid-bit:
4:4 "Man does not live by bread alone." Interesting here is that the Greek takes this Hebrew imperfect (which connotes it as on-going or future) and puts it in the future: "Man will not live by bread alone." Making it a promise more than a given reality!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mark 8:27-9:8

Here is a look at the Mark passage for Feb 7 Narrative Lectionary selection: 8:27-9:8

The brilliance of Mark is how he weaves stories together.  This is great gift but also challenge of preaching on Mark!
Mark 8:27-38: http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/09/mark-827-38-2012_11.html
Mark 9:2-10:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/02/mark-92-10.html

Luke 9:28-36

This passage is found in the (Lutheran) Revised Common Lectionary on Transfiguration Sunday, Year C (Most recently: Feb 7, 2016)

Summary:  The Greek gives one license to drive this sermon in just about any Scriptural direction one's heart desires.  It is all there -- Baptism, end times, resurrection, even the Exodus.  The inclusion of Elijah and Moses already suggested this, but the Greek allows for all sorts of connections!

Note:  I also have a previous post on this text http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2010/02/luke-928-36.html

Key words:

οκτω ("eight"; 9:28)  In the early church, the 8th day was significant because it was the day on which the resurrection and hence all Christian worship, was celebrated.  In modern times, we often think we worship on the 7th day, but really, we worship on the 8th day!  That the transfiguration happened on the 8th day means that it points toward the resurrection.

προσευχομαι ("pray"; 9:28)  Jesus prays quite a bit in Luke's Gospel, far more than in the other gospels.  (In fact, although he does pray in John's Gospel, the word is never used!)  In fact, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus is praying as the heavens are opened in his baptism.  Jesus prays other times too, but these are unique to Luke's Gospel.  This suggests that for Luke, there is a connection between prayer, baptism and the gates of heaven being opened for us.

εξαστραπτω ("shone brightly"; 9:29) The Greek for "brilliant" (his coat) has tucked within it the word "astra" like "astronomy." Jesus is bright like the stars. Interestingly, the only other place this word appears in the whole Bible is Ezekial and Daniel, perhaps a reminder that transfiguration has an eschatological bent -- it is the future breaking in and not simply the past catching up!

εξοδος ("departure"; 9:31) The word for "departure" here is literally "exodus." Moses is talking with Jesus about his exodus.  I think this continues to give Christians permission to read the paschal mystery in light of the exodus!