Monday, March 21, 2016

Luke 24:1-12

The church normally reserves discussion about doubt for Easter II and the person of Thomas.  But as I read Luke this year, the disciples spiritual blindness and doubt really struck me.  Luke does a masterful scene of portraying the difficulty of that morning and the struggle for the early disciples to believe.  Rather than cast doubt on the resurrection this amplifies its true meaning:  Christ is raised amid the chaos of real life, with darkness, doubt and even despair, not in a fairy tale world where everybody gets it.

Key words:
βαθεως ("very early, or more literally, deep"; 24.1) The dawn is not simply described as early but as "Bathos" or deep. It is a deep dawn.

απορεισθαι ("at a loss"; 24.4)   The word for "at a loss" is related to the word for vision -- "apo-ora-oo" literally "away from sight."   They had lost their way, their vision, their sight.  It will take messengers from God to open their eyes.  In fact, it will take the Word of God to recall in their hearts the Good News.

τον ζωντα ("the living"; really "the living one"; 24.5)  Oddly enough, the translators are too literal here with the phrase "why are you searching for the living among the dead." The phrase "the living" is exactly what it says in Greek, word for word, but the grammar of the sentence dictates the translation:  "the one who is living" or "the living one."  Point A)  "The living among the dead" is more poetic.  When it comes to preaching, go for it!  Point B) It amplifies the confusion of the disciples.

ηπιστουν (disbelieving, from απιστεω; 24.11)  It is not only Thomas who doubts, but the whole crew!

θαυμαζω ("wonder"; "amaze"; 24.12) The word here is "thaumaz-oo" means "amaze" or "wonder" in Greek. You can even see the word "amaze" in it (even though does not give this as the etymology. Whatever.)  Anyway, the vast majority of the time Luke uses this verb, it means wonder, as in amaze. For example, when Zachariah writes, "His name is John (1:63)" or when Jesus sees a person's faith, he is amazed (7:9 Roman centurion). So it seems a bit odd that Peter, by the NIV and the NET, is left wondering and not being amazed. But perhaps a bit of a play on this is a helpful insight into all of us -- we are both wondering and amazed.

προς εαυτον ("to himself"; 24.12)  Most translators take the phrase, "to himself" to mean "to his possessions," namely, Peter's house (including BDAG).  Hence they translate it "Peter went to his house."  Yet, Peter does not necessarily go to his home. It literally says, "He went away to himself." This could just as naturally read, "He went away by himself." As the KJV puts it "wondered in himself."  Most translators likely base their translation on John 20:10, where it is more clear that the disciples went home.  But Luke's imagery is of Peter walking away by himself, pondering these events, likely without any real direction in his wanderings.

Some translation help (and perhaps a nugget for a sermon):

σαββατων 24.1 Grammar note: The Greek literally says, "On the first of the Sabbath." This means the first day after Sabbath (ie the first day of the week), which would be the 8th day, or Sunday. This is why we worship as Christians on the 8th day, the day after the Jewish sabbath. Also, Jesus will appear to Thomas 8 days later, reaffirming this 8th day connection! (In Luke's Gospel, Jesus was also transfigured on the 8th day)

ιδου 24.4 The word "suddenly" is actually an interjection -- "idou" (like the Hebrew henneh)

μνησθητε 24.6 The word here for "remember" is related to the word for "tomb" (both have the same root, which in English comes in as mnemonic.

αροματα 24.1 The word for spice is "aroma"

αποκεκυλισμενον 24.2 Grammar note: The word "rolled away" is a participle here. It is perfect passive. This is a helpful verb for understanding what the perfect in Greek means. The stone had undergone the action of being rolled away and its present state was a result of that action. Perhaps a sermon idea: Something has been permanently changed by the Resurrection. The tombstone is gone

αστραπτουση 24.4 The angles in the tomb are flashing; Jesus says the son of Man will be "flashing" in his coming. (17.24)...hmm...Perhaps Luke suggests that in the resurrection, the kingdom has come?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mark 13:24-37

This passage is for the Narrative Lectionary for March 13, 2016 (along with Mark 13:1-8)
It is also for Revised Common Lectionary for Advent 1, Year B

Summary:  Check your 2nd coming baggage at the ticket counter and preach the text!

For those preaching on those during Advent:  This passage is a great passage for a culture swamped with Christmas chores.  Our focus should not be on to-do lists that come and go, but on Jesus Christ and his Word!

Otherwise:  I also think you can play around with the word authority and derive the mission of the church from Mark's Gospel:  While we await the coming of Christ in an age of idolatry masked as piety, we are to pray and teach prayer; cast out unclean spirits and heal people; we are to spread the Good News of repentance and forgiveness.

Key words:
γρηγορειτε ("watch out". 13:34, 35 and 37)  This word comes into English as "Gregory".  To note:  in the very next chapter the disciples will not be able to stay awake...

θλιψις ("suffering", "distress" or "tribulation";  13:24 and also 13:19)  This is hard word to translate.  "Suffering" has all sorts of baggage, both in the Bible and in our culture.  "Tribulation" can mean a particular thing to certain people.  As Wikipedia helpfully summaries:

In the futurist view of Christian eschatology, the Tribulation is a relatively short period of time where anyone who chose not to follow God before the Rapture and was left behind (according to Pre-Tribulation doctrine, not Mid- or Post-Tribulation teaching) will experience worldwide hardships, disasters, famine, war, pain, and suffering, which will wipe out more than 75% of all life on the earth before the Second Coming takes place.

I would translate it "distress" here.  But I want to focus on why.  Normally I believe in "canonical" translation, that is, help people see connections within the larger context of Scripture.  However, suffering and tribulation are such buzzwords that they distract from the immediate point of Jesus:  There will be an age of false messiahs and prophets who will claim to be saviors.  The great distress is living in an age where people turn away from the true worship to idolatry, the worst kind, where people call it Jesus but it is not.

Power:  Three different manifestations here:
αι δυναμεις (25):  When this word (coming directly into English as "dynamite") is in the plural, it means miracles or deeds of power.  In this case, it is translated "the powers," a logical translation, but strange use of the word!

δυναμεως (26):  Here the word is an adverb meaning powerfully

εξουσιαν (34):  Here the word means authority.  The man in the passage has conferred authority on his people.  It is worth noting that in spite of the fact that the end is coming, Jesus has still given us authority to do works.  In chapter 6 of Mark's Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples authority.  In that case, they were called to cast out unclean spirits, heal, evangelize and preach repentance.  In chapter 11 you might also argue that Jesus gives his disciples authority to pray, to teach and to forgive.  If you put these together, you come up with the mission of the church in Mark's Gospel:
While we await the coming of Christ in an age of idolatry masked as piety, we are to pray and teach prayer; cast out unclean spirits and heal people; we are to spread the Good News of repentance and forgiveness.

Grammar note one:  Why learning future participles is a waste of time
The construction of 13.25 is so odd.  The word for fall here (from pimp-oo; πιμπω) is a present tense participle used with the the future tense of the "to be" verb. This construction (instead of a future participle) is a good lesson of why you should not waste any time learning future participles. They are so rare and even Greek speakers avoided them with other constructions, using the familiar English construction of:  "They will be falling"

Grammar note two:  Strong future denials
In 13.31 the promise of Jesus that his Words will never pass away is a ου μη construction, ie, a STRONG future denial. Also interesting is that this word (parercho-mai; παρερχομαι) appears in 2 Cor 5:17, Behold, Everything has passed away.  This could effectively be translated, "no way, never gonna happen."

John 12:1-8

This passage is the Revised Common Lectionary Passage for March 13, 2016 (year C, Lent V)

Summary:  The Greek does not give one permission to avoid the obvious implication of the text:  The world will always have sin and poverty, so focus on Jesus' death and resurrection.  If anything, the Greek simply amplifies the language to support this conclusion!  In the 20th century, the Lutheran church made an error by so focusing on Jesus' death and resurrection that we avoided all together the nasty business of calling the world to action (see 1930s in Germany for the ultimate example of this.)  I wonder if in this century we have strayed too far in the other direction and once again, need to hear this passage.  Yes, young adults and seekers want to see the church involved in social service if not action.  But ultimately our gift to the world and our passion must be Christ crucified and resurrected. (Okay, okay, now that you've read that, I confess I have a bit of good stuff about serving others in the Greek blog)

Key words:

εξ ("six", 12.1)  The whole verse that includes the word "six" is foreshadowing.  Six is the penultimate number in the bible; on the sixth day Jesus died (Friday).  This is a penultimate story, one that points toward a bigger story, namely, the events that follow.  If you don't buy the "six" thing, John spells it out:  Before the Passover...after Lazarus had been raised from the dead.  Big events are ahead!

δειπνον ("feast", 12:2)  This word can mean "main meal", but also "feast." (See NIV translation:
Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor.)  Jesus only has two δειπνον / "feasts" in John's Gospel; once in this case with Lazarus and then soon afterwards during the last supper.  The juxtaposition of these feasts suggests numerous preaching directions, including parsing out various aspects of Holy Communion.  I would suggest in depicting this meal, John invites us into praise and pondering of Jesus' death during Holy Communion.

διηκονει ("serve", 12.2)  The word here for "serve" (as in Martha "served") is where we get our word "diaconal" and "deacon." In this version of the story, Martha is not criticized for helping out.  So before we get too much into a battle of liturgy vs diakonia, we need to take a deep breath.  In fact, you could preach/argue that either a) Martha's work makes Mary's worship possible or b) that Mary's work is worship in itself. 

μυρον ("oil", 12:3).  The word can simply mean oil, but in our case, the important thing to note is that it is oil from "myhrr", which is used for people's burial.  Again, foreshadowing of death!

John's Gospel has an odd array of words here: "roman pound (λιτρα) perfume (μυρον) plant (ναρδος) genuine (πιστικος) expensive (πολυτιμος)" This is not typical, as far as I have read, of John's style to stack so many words.  It is almost exactly what Mark has. He really wants to draw attention to what is going on here; ie, he is writing like Mark!  "Polytimos" (πολυτιμος) is an unusual word -- the pearl of great value (Matt 13:46) uses the same word. 

επραθη ("sell", from πιπρασκω, 12:5)  The word for sell is very interesting here. It is "piprask-oo." It has the connotation of selling for a bribe; or even sell into slavery (Romans 7:14). It will be used in contexts that probably mean simply sell, but again, will be used in contexts of sell for a bribe, sell for slavery.  In short, Judas here is predicting exactly what he will do.

πτωχους ("poor",12:8) John's Gospel never uses the word poor outside of its connection with this story.  It is worth pointing out though, that is was Jesus overturning of the money tables in the temple that began his conflict with the authorities.  The Jesus of John's Gospel is not unconcerned with "earthly" matters!

Curious note: 
πασχα ("Passover", 12:1) This word "Pascha" (hence "paschal" mystery) is rather interesting. It comes from the Hebrew P-S-K (pasach) which means "passover" as in the angel "passed over" the houses. However, πασχω as a verb in Greek means "to suffer" and comes into English as "passion." An odd coincidence where a number of words in different languages seem like cousins.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Luke 15:11-32

This passage appears in the RCL for Year C during Lent.  (Lastly: March 6, 2016)

Summary:  Like other great and familiar stories, the prodigal son does not require anything overly advanced.  The best thing we can do is help our listeners slow down, ponder the story and dwell on its many meanings, most of which are not too secretive.  But if you want something to chew on...recently I have been reflecting on how modern humans are Homo Economicus, defined by our market based relationships.  This passage presents some very interesting connections between money, life and happiness.  Both sons must learn that true relationships are based on compassion and grace, not the exchange of goods and services.  Yet true relationships reveal themselves in exchange of goods and services.

σου (of you, vs 30).  This is a little word, but it is significant (and its meaning clear in English).  The older brother considers his brother only a son of the father (your son!).  The father explains that it is actually his brother (your brother).  Economic relationships can be severed, but blood relationships cannot (or not without some serious difficulty).

ουσιας and βιον ("estate" and "money" in vs 12).  These words mean more deeply "life" or "essence."  (Think: Ousia from "one ousia three hypostasis"; and bios in "biology").  It is striking that the Father is asked and gives not simply of his money, but of his essence, his life, his estate.  There is a strong relationship between what the Father has and who the Father is.  Both sons perceive correctly that the Father's giving away of possessions reveals something about his character.  What we have to give is reflective of who we are.  To think about it different, to know Christ is to know Christ's benefits (as Luther said).

καλλαω ("be employed" in vs 15).  This word actually means cling.  (Husband shall cling to his wife).  How many of us are clung to our jobs?  The assumption is that the economic relationship will provide a basis for existence.  But it does not.  The younger son is only the hired hand (μισθιων).  In fact, when he seeks to return to his father, he offers to become a hired hand, where the relationship would be simply economic between him and his father.

εσπλαγχνισθη ("compassion," vs 20).  This word means, literally, intestines.  The idea of Greek compassion is that when you have compassion on someone, your insides get tight.  The father has compassion on the son.

παρακαλει ("encourage," 28)  I think it interesting that the verb here for encourage is related to the word for Holy Spirit (paraclete).  We confess in the Apostle's Creed a belief in the forgiveness of sins and put that with the Holy Spirit.  We definitely need the Holy Spirit to enable us to forgive each other.