Monday, April 24, 2017

Luke 24:13-35

This passage occurs in the RCL during Easter (Year A, B and if you like, C).

A very moving piece of Scripture.  You might argue it is the "ultimate" piece of Luke's Gospel, bringing together so many themes:  importance of hospitality, completion of OT salvation and vitality of worship to name a few.  This passage can often be seen as a "trump" card for the importance of Holy Communion because the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  However, a few curiosities.  First, Jesus does not use the word eucharist here, which he does at the last supper.  Furthermore, the resurrected Christ shows up to the disciples not in the breaking of the bread, but in the proclamation of the Word as they tell each other Jesus is risen!  Finally, when Jesus first gives them the bread, it is not after the breaking but after the distribution that their eyes are opened.  They had to know that Jesus was for you in order to know Christ.  Ultimately though, this theological masterpiece cannot be used against communion, but I want to point out that for Luke, everything good and wonderful (including praise, the power of the Word and the importance of intimacy, even relationship with Christ and the community) is included!  To put it more eloquently:  This passage is about way more than breaking bread.  Likewise, Holy Communion is about more than breaking bread, it is about praising God in Glory, proclaming the death and resurrection of Jesus and finally, by the Holy Spirit, recognizing Christ did this for me and my brethren.

Key Words:
συν (preposition meaning "with"; but it can also be combined with verbs to slightly change their meaning; three such verbs appear in 24:14,15)  By using these words Luke plays on the sounds the words makes but also strongly suggests those on the road were together.

λυτρουσθαι ("redeem," present infinitive form of λυτρομαι, 24:21)  This verb means redeem in a the "ransom" sense of the word.  The Bible uses this word to talk about people redeeming property with payment.  People can also make a redemption payment to God to avoid punishment for their sins (see Number 35:31).  In Exodus, in fact, the people must pay a ransom to God to avoid a plague (30:12).

A few other points:
- Redemption can avoid punishment but not ultimate death:  Psalm 49:8-9 For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice that one should live on forever and never see the grave.  (NRSV)  The idea of redemption into eternal life seems a human impossibility. 

- God was not the only one from whom redemption could be sought.  For example, God redeems (same verb) the people from slavery in Egypt (2 Sam 7:23, Deut 13:5).  In this sense, God redeems from an agent hostile to God's will for the people.

- It is worth point out that Luke employs the idea in a different manner here than in Mark 10.  In Mark, Jesus is the redemption (the thing paid to do the redeeming, 10:45).  Based on the structure of this sentence in Luke, Jesus is the one doing the redeeming.  This small distinction raises great question for Christians:  Who was Jesus redeeming Israel from (Rome?); why was Jesus redeeming them?  What was the payment (his suffering?)?  Who did God possibly have to deal with?  But if you don't want to go there, keep it simple:  Jesus gave his life that you might be redeemed, namely, set free from sin and death.

Ultimately, I think any transactional sense of Jesus' work on the cross has clear biblical roots, but also real limits.  I wrote about this word extensively in a post on Mark 10.

δοξαν ("glory" accusative of δοξη, 24:26)  This word has many layers; originally meaning "opinion" it can also mean "splendor."  Yet in the NT, borrowing from the OT, it also means the amazing presence of God!  Luke uses this word at some key passages to point toward the glory related to the presence of God and his kingly splendor:  Glory of Christmas Angels (2:9/2:14); Devil's promise (4:6); Transfiguration (9:32); Palm Sunday (19:38); Second coming (9:26/21:27)

προσεποιησατο ("pretend" aorist of προσποιεω, 24:28)  So, can Jesus pretend?  Yes!!

μενω ("abide," used twice in 24:29)  Although a more essential word in the Gospel of John, this word still carries import here.  The disciples invite Jesus to abide with them.  Not in their heart, but at their table!

εγνωσθη ("know" aorist form of γινωσκω 24:35)  I point this verb out because Luke changes it from the earlier "recognize" (επιγινωσκω).  I cannot figure out why Luke draws this distinction, other than to say: If you know Jesus, you will recognize him; if you recognize him, you know.  To put it in familiar Lutheran terms:  To know Christ is to know his benefits.  When it comes to these words, I am not sure if I know the difference, even though I recognize it...

κλασει ("breaking" dative of κλασις 24:35; in a verb form κλασας 24:30; also sounds like the name Κλεοπας)  It is in the breaking of the bread that the disciples recognize Jesus; worth pointing out, however, is that it is also in the proclamation of Jesus resurrection (vs 35-36) that Jesus shows up.  Luke does not neglect a theology of the Word!  It is also worth pointing out that the first time they recognize Jesus, they do so, not in the breaking of the break, but while the bread is being distributed.  Based on the verb tenses you get:  Taking the bread he blessed it.  After he broke it he was distributing it.  And their eyes began to be opened (or became opened).  The point here is that breaking the bread may not be the only "magic" moment when Jesus shows up.  In other words (I know I am pushing it here), it was only when they heard the for you that the recognized Jesus.

ευλογησεν ("blessed" aorist form of ευλογεω in 24:30; comes into English as "eulogy")  Clearly Luke plays on the idea of communion (taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it and giving it to the disciples).  However, at the last supper Jesus gives thanks (ευχαριστω, 22:19).  Again, I recognize the difference, but not as sure why Luke has Jesus use a different verb.

καιομενη (present passive participle of καιω 24:32)  While God often makes things burn out of his anger, I think the best recollection for this verb is the burning bush -- it was not consumed, but the Word of God kindled it brightly!

Grammar review:  Negative questions
Greek shows questions with a ";" mark.  Some sentences can be very tricky because we miss this!
Also, in Greek, a question can include a negative.  Depending on the wording, the question expects either a no or yes answer.  In English we have something similar, in that a question can expect a yes or no answer, but it is the word order, if not inflection, that reveals this information in English:
"You don't think that is a good idea, do you?" (Expects a no answer)
"Don't you want you some ice cream?"  (Expect a yes answer)
In Greek, the distinction is easier!  When they use "μη" they expect a no answer. When they use "ου" they expect yes.
So, for example, when Jesus asks the question, "Grapes are not gathered from throns, are they?" the Greek uses a μη (7:16, technically μητι). 
Again, if it has a "ου" it expects a "yes."  The only challenging part is that ου can show up as ουκ when it appears before a verb; also ουχι is a more intense form, like "REALLY PEOPLE, the answer must be yes..."

In this 24:26, Jesus asks the question about the necessity of his suffering:
ουχι ταυτα εδει παθειν τον χριστον και εισελειν εις την δοξαν αυτου;
Because the sentence (really a question!) begins with ουχι it expects a "yes" answer:
"REALLY PEOPLE, wasn't it necessary for the Christ to suffer this and then enter into his glory?"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

John 20:19-31

In the RCL, this passage appears on Easter II (April 23, 2017)

Summary:  This is a rich enough story to preach on every year.  There are so many directions!  I am struck by a strange wrinkle in John's Greek that leaves Jesus with a new title:  "Jesus of locked doors."  The literal Greek offers one this translation possibility; the narrative certainly pushes us in this direction.  But this text is a gold mine of words and images to preach on!

Key Words:
λεγει ("speak", 20.19)  The verb here for "speak" is the present tense, which suggests repeated action: He continually was saying to them, "Peace be with you."

υμιν ("you all" in the dative, 20:19).  The Greek leaves out the word "is" in the sentence, simply declaring "Peace to you."  Hence, the Greek is a bit more ambiguous here as to whether Jesus is offering a blessing or making a statement: "Peace is with you" could work. All that the Greek has is "Peace to/for/with/by/in you."

θυρα ("gate", 20.19)  The word for "door" or "gate" here is θυρα; this word is used in other Gospels to talk about the entrance to Jesus tomb.  It can be hard to make cross-Gospel connections, so a bit simpler:  Jesus calls himself the θυρα, or the Gate in John's Gospel (10:1-9).  See also:

κεκλεισμενων ("locked", 20.26) The text literally reads: "The Jesus of locked doors/gates came stood into the middle of them." This is a very odd placement/case of the expression "locked doors/gates."  It may modify the circumstances under which Jesus came (ie, Jesus came in after the gates were locked), but it might also modify Jesus.  This is the more exciting possibility:  It could read "Jesus came while the doors were locked" or "Jesus of locked gates came." The former is the more likely translation, but John seems to suggest the latter through his narrative.

αποστελλω vs πιμπω ("send", 20.21) Jesus here will use different verbs for the father's sending and his sending of the disciples, αποστελλω vs πιμπω .  Don't read into this.  John just likes to use variety. See 8.29 and 17.18 for examples of Jesus using these verbs interchangeably.

ενεφυσησεν (aorist form of "breath-in", 20.22)  The verb "breath-in" is a rather rare verb in biblical Greek, appearing once in the NT and nine times in the OT Greek.  Significantly, in the OT it shows up in Genesis 2:7, when God breathes into the humans; in 1 Kings when Elijah revives a boy and also in Ezekiel 37, when God's Spirit breathes into the bones.  The disciples are coming alive!

αφεωνται & κεκρατηνται (perfect forms of αφηιμι & κρατω, meaning "forgive" and "hold", 20.23) The verb tenses of "forgiven" (αφεωνται) and "bound" (κεκρατηνται) are in the present for the disciple's actions, but in the perfect tense for the result -- the effect is lasting. Actually, the tense for forgive is in the aorist and the tense for bound is present.  This suggests that binding/retaining a sin takes energy -- we have to keep it up...I think this is true on an individual level, where retaining a sin takes energy as we hold a grudge. I think this also is true on a societal level, where calling something a sin and continuing to claim it as such takes energy too. 

ου μη ("no-no", 20.25) The ου μη that Thomas uses is a strong future denial meaning "ou meh," as in "will never."

οκτω ("eight", 20.26) The number eight here is a reminder that Christians gather on the 8th day, the day after the (Jewish) Sabbath, the day of resurrection.  Baptismal fonts have eight sides...

απιστος ("unfaithful", 20.27)  Thomas never "doubts" as a verb. The word doubt is not used, but rather, unfaithful! Jesus says literally, "Do not be unfaithful but faithful."  Side note:  I've often wondered if Thomas struggled to believe the resurrection more emotionally than intellectually because he knew exactly what it meant if Jesus had been raised -- they would all have their lives totally changed...exactly what happened to Thomas, even traveling to India to proclaim Jesus is Risen!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Easter (RCL and NL)

Here are links for Greek commentary on the resurrection accounts in all four Gospel
Matthew 28:1-10
Mark 16:1-8
Luke 24:1-12
John 20:1-18

A teaser from the posts on Luke 24:1-12
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.
Luke's presentation of the Resurrection story gives us permission to struggle with the Good News.  It is so good, so amazing, that even the first disciples struggled with it.

A teaser from the posts on Matthew 28:1-10 and Mark 16:1-8:
εσταυρομενον ("crucified"; 6).  This word is also in the perfect, meaning an action happened in the past that still describes the state of affairs.  The angel declares that even though he is risen, Jesus is still in the state of being crucified.  You are seeking the crucified one; he is risen.  Jesus is alive but he still has the wounds in his hands.

My pastoral thought, reflecting on the Greek, is that the women have the courage and compassion to go to the tomb.  It can be easy to make Easter into a day when we criticize those who focus on the grave; who focus on grief.  I think as Christians we have the power to grieve because we have hope.  In short, we can say good-bye and miss them because we will see them again.

A teaser from the post on John 20:1-18:
μνημειον ("tomb", 20:1)  This word comes from the Greek for memory (like English "mnemonic" is something that helps you remember).  The complaint almost reads, "They have taken Jesus out of my memory!"  There is something to play with here, about memory and loved ones.  Jesus isn't just a memory; your loved ones aren't just a memory.  Jesus is alive!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Palm Sunday (RCL and NL)

Here are links to Palm Sunday passages.

Triumphal entry in Matthew's Gospel:
εσεισθη  ("shake" in 21:10; aorist form of σειω)  This word comes into English as "seismic."  The events of Holy Week shake the city and their aftershocks still continue to reverberate around the world two millennia later.

Philippians 2 reading:
μορφη ("shape" or "form"; 7, 8)  If you look up this word, you will find it appears twice in Philippians, once in verse 7 and once in verse 8.  Jesus had the form/shape of God; took the form/shape of a human.  Sounds good.  However, later on in Philippians, Paul comes back to this word, but using it with the prefix συν (the -n becomes a -m...see note below) .  First, in verse 3:10 where he says that he is being συμμορφιζομαι-ed into Christ's death and later when he is  being συμμορφος with Christ's resurrected body (3:28).  Paul moves from talking about the form of Christ to the co-formation of the believer, both into suffering, death and then resurrection.  I think the word μορφη can be used to guide one's reflections on the whole letter:

Triumphal entry (really aftermath) in John's Gospel
And from vs 19:
ωσαννα:  From the NET Bible:
"The expression hosanna, (literally in Hebrew, "O Lord, save") in the quotation from Ps 118:25-26 was probably by this time a familiar liturgical expression of praise, on the order of "Hail to the king," although both the underlying Aramaic and Hebrew expressions meant "O Lord, save us." As in Mark 11:9 the introductory hosanna, is followed by the words of Ps 118:25, "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."  ... In words familiar to every Jew, the author is indicating that at this point every messianic expectation is now at the point of realization. It is clear from the words of the psalm shouted by the crowd that Jesus is being proclaimed as messianic king. See E. Lohse, TDNT 9:682-84."
If there is a particular text for Palm Sunday someone would like me to look at, I would glad review this.  It is just strange because there are so many possibilities for churches this day.

Blessings on your ministry in the next two weeks.