Tuesday, March 2, 2021

John 2:13-22

This passage occurs in the RCL Lent Season, Year B, most recently March of 2021.  It also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Epiphany season.
There is a great play on words in this section that our English translators (perhaps through no fault of their own!) cover up.  Jesus uses five different terms to describe the temple complex.  The most challenging distinction is between house of market and a house of God.  I do not think our churches are in danger of becoming marketplaces, even those with starbucks in their lobbies.  I still think when it comes to Sunday morning, these are the two options, two alternative worlds we live in:  a house of market, where we have to work, pay bills and shop or a house of God, where we can rest, receive God's grace and give thanks.

Key words - two small ones and then a big one!
φραγελλιον ("whip", 2.15) The word here for whip will be used against Jesus in Matthew and Mark.  It is worth reflecting on, Greek aside, why Jesus is so angry.  What is the abuse against which Jesus so rallies?

λυω ("free"; "destroy", 2:19)  The word here for destroy actually means to loosen (remember the basic verb conjugation charts?). It also means to destroy, but an interesting idea.  How does Jesus death set him free?  He is almost commanding them to free him!

Temple:  Five for one!
There are five words used here for temple:
ιερον (2:15):  The word hieron (rough breathing mark means its English equivalent starts with an "h") This word comes into English as hierarchy.  It refers to the whole temple complex, including the whole cultic and sacrificial system.  It is interesting to note that all the animals being purchased were for sacrifices.  Any system of sacrifice inevitably leads to priestly power, abuse and money; in short, hierarchy.

οικος του πατρος μου (house of my father; 2:16)  Jesus here identifies his relationship to God and the temple.  If it belongs to his father, it belongs to him too.  What does it mean for something to be God's house?  How might we look at church differently if we saw it as God's house?

οικος του εμποριον (house of market; 2:16)  German has a nice word:  Kaufhaus, in which the word for shopping center contains the word house.  Since we don't in English, the writers drop it and say, "market" instead of the literal "house of market."  While our churches today may not be a house of market, I wonder if this really is the alternative to church:  a few more hours to purchase things on TV, at the mall or on the internet; a few more hours to work; a few more hours to pay bills.

ναον (temple; 2:19)  This word properly refers to the actual sanctuary, as opposed to the entire court.  (Ie the place where the people worshiped and the priest made sacrifices).

σωματος (body; in nominative:  σωμα; 2:21)  In the Gospel of John, in spite of how "spiritual" everything seems, there is no escaping the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus!  Finally, the place of sacrifice, the place of worship, the dwelling of God is in Jesus body.  Jesus had already alluded to this at the end of chapter 1 when he said that angels would descend on him, referring to Jacob, and calling himself, indirectly, Bethel, the house of God, the earthly portal to heaven.

2.16 Jesus switches words here from the narrators "temple (hieron)" to "oikos (house).

2.20 Jesus now switches to the word "naos" (temple) which means building that is a dwelling place of the holy; Paul tells us in 1 Cor that we are a "naos." Then John inserts that Jesus is talking about the temple of his body (somatos). In short, Jesus is shifting away from talking about a place of worship to a house of God to a dwelling place of God to finally himself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Mark 8:27-38 (Confession of Faith)

Over time I've worked on three posts related to this passage.
- First, a smattering of Greek tid-bits that will one day become a more coherent post
- Second, an investigation into the brilliance of Mark's Greek tenses
- Third, an reflection on Mark's Greek to highlight the nature our confession (This post!)

I also have a longer post on this passage from Matthew's Gospel  that goes into more detail on Caesarea Philippi and the claim of Messiah.

Summary:  Mark masterfully uses Greek to emphasize the dramatic nature of our confession of Christ.  Our confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, will consume our life and finally consume us.

The Greek behind Jesus' question:
* 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.
* Use of pronouns:  In Greek, the verb conjugation contains the subject pronoun.  Thus, it is not necessary and it used primarily for emphasis.  Here Jesus adds in the pronoun "You"; as if to say, "You - I mean you -- who do you say that I am?"  In our life, we cannot simply say, "Christianity teaches XYZ" but each will have to say, "I believe..."
* Use of a town name:  Mark could have just told us about this confession, but he adds in the detail of its location.  Casearea Philippi was a major center of pagan worship:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Philippi

To put all these together, Mark lets us know about the confession of faith:  Where it will be done (in the face of paganism), when it will be done (again and again), and who will do it, we the disciples of Christ.

The Greek of Jesus demand:
* Play on words: οπισω ("after", verses 33 and 34).  Jesus has just told Peter to get behind him.  Now he commands Peter once again to get behind him.  Earlier Peter was told to get behind Jesus and become a fisher of men (8:33).  The invitation to get out of the boat (kind of fun and scary) leads to the invitation to die (very scary).
* Use of tenses:  The verb tenses are helpful here -- deny (απαρνησασθω) and carry (αρατω) are in the aorist tense, but follow (ακολουθειτω) is in the present tense.  Following Jesus is an on-going task.  So, to the Greek it probably sounded like: "If any of you want to follow after me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and day-after-day follow me," (Okay day-after-day is a bit of a Lutheranism...)
* Use of verbs:  To translate απολλυμι in verse 35 as "lose" is perhaps one of the most watered down translations possible. The verb can mean lose but more likely it means destroy (as in Herod wanted to destroy the child). Something more active is called for here than simply misplacing our life.

Grammar: Accusative cases in the infinitive
8:27 and 8:31 contain infinitive clauses.  Notice how the subject is in the accusative?  This is especially complex in 8:27

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mark 1:9-15

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary during Lent, Year B (Most recently Feb 21, 2021).

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 humanity is destroyed.  This early in the Gospel, 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...

Worth noting is that both Luke and Matthew change Mark's wording here (or perhaps Mark changes their wording).  Regardless, it is uniquely Mark that Jesus is cast out.

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 word is not in the perfect tense, however, it builds off of the perfect tenses used with the verbs "arrived" and "fulfilled." We are simply announcing what God has done.  That said, proclamation also has a future effect.  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 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 claim 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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration)

This passage occurs as the Transfiguration passage for the RCL Year B, most recently February of 2021.

Summary:  The key to understanding this story is the number six (in Greek, "hex").  In the Bible, six connotes imperfection; Jesus even dies on the sixth day.  Mark says these events took place after six days and like everything else on the sixth day, it might be wonderful but it is incomplete.  In this story we have incomplete disciples (in number and maturity); incomplete atonement; incomplete ministry of Jesus; if not the law and the prophets themselves revealing their limits as unable to raise the dead.   The whole story is a foreshadowing for the cross and resurrection. 

For this weeks "key words" I have focused on OT connections!  Take your pick:  Exodus or Genesis.  It is all there...

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.

σκηνη ("tent"; 9:5)  As a child, I heard the word "tabernacle" with a bit of religious awe.  It simply means a tent made into a temple where God dwelt.  At the end of Exodus, you can read about the Tabernacle and the "tent" presence of God, which hosted God's glory.  You can go in all sorts of directions here:  Peter wants to start up old-time religion here; Peter wants to pin Jesus down; Peter, well, just doesn't know what to do.

αγαπητος ("beloved"; 9:7)  This hearkens back to another mountain scene, where Abraham takes his beloved son up a mountain to sacrifice him.  Actually, when it says Jesus "led" his disciples up the mountain  (αναφερω (9:2)), the word also means sacrifice.  It is the same as the word used in Genesis 22, as in Abraham leading Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed.  There is a subtle play on the Old Testament idea of sacrificing beloved sons on a mountain here; but again, this story is all about being incomplete...

One other little note of foreshadowing:
λευκος ("white"; 9:3)  We will not see white again until the resurrection garden with the angels!

I can't quite figure out the significance of μονος (monos, alone) in verse 9:2 and 9:8.  Luke and Matthew use this word once in their transfiguration account as well.  I wonder if they were more scared or more alone to find themselves alone...

Grammar question:  Does anyone know why the word "we" (ημας) in 9:5 is in the accusative and not nominative?  The English translators leave it in the accusative by making it "it is good for us to be here" but in this is not really what is going on in the Greek.  In the Greek, the word ημας is the subject of the infinitive phrase, "we to be" and in Greek the subject of infinitive phrases takes the accusative.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Mark 1:29-39

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently February of 2021.
Summary:  Wow.  What an amazing passage.  When I first learned about Saint Anthony and the monastic movement, I thought it involved leaving this world for our own spiritual gain.  Then I read that actually Saint Anthony was going into the wilderness to purge it from evil, not to get away from it.  In the same way, I wonder if Jesus' prayer is about purging the wilderness from the demons.  Everything else in this passage, even proclamation, is portrayed in the light of spiritual conflict.

To put it in a more catchy way:  When you go to proclaim, do you expect to see the minions of the devil fleeing and fighting?

Note from 2018:  When I read this passage in 2018, what struck me is that after Jesus prays, he is able to say no to the disciples and focus on the broader mission.  As a leader, I often feel tugged and pulled.  Only through prayer and conversation with God can we stay focused on the mission of our congregation as well as articulate this with passion and without fatigue and rudeness.

Struggle against evil:
κρατεω ("hold"; 1.31) The word here for hold is "krate-oo" which is not hold hand in a sentimental way. This is the word for power, as in democracy. This is the word for sieze. This is what Herod will do to John the Baptist (arrest) and what the Chief Priests want to do to Jesus. Jesus in Mark 1 is wrestling the demons, not smiling for the home video cameras.

While I want to emphasize the power in this hold, it should not be overlooked that this healing does not take place through the spoken word, but through touch.

εφερον ("carry"; 1.32)  The people are carrying others to Jesus.  This is a lot of work!  The scene is intense with action.

ερημος ("wilderness"; 1:35) and εκβαλλω ("cast out"; 1:35-1:39):  Jesus had been cast out into the wilderness (herehmos).  Now after he casts out demons, he goes there to pray.  Often times we think of monasticism as a wimpy and academic escape from the world, but for Jesus (and many of the first desert fathers and mothers) the movement into the wilderness means cleansing out the forces of evil.

Nature and purpose of the church:
διακονεω ("serve"; 1 31)  Peter's mother in law has been freed to serve others; our freedom comes with an opportunity to serve others too.  It comes into English (and the ELCA) as Deaconness, Diaconal ministers and deacons.

Side note on this word:  This word comes into play three times in Mark's Gospel.  Here and again in Mark 15, when Mark points out that the women were serving/attending to Jesus during his ministry.  Finally, it comes in during Mark 10, when Jesus says he came to serve, not to be served.  One might argue that that in Mark 10, it is in the aorist case, suggesting that in Mark and specifically in Mark 10, the service of Jesus is to die on the cross.

επισυναγω ("gather"; 1 33) In this passage begins with Jesus leaving the synagogue. Now the people are gathering around him (syn-ago-ing!) Where is church? Where Jesus is...duh...any 2nd grader who has read AC VII knows that.  Jesus here creates the church -- outside of the building -- where the people have gathered in their pain and suffering.  Jesus has brought the church to the land where demons dwell to reclaim it!

In fact, there is a theme in this passage, whether it is of the wilderness, the town or even Peter's mother-in-law, where Jesus is reclaiming them for God's purposes.

κηρυξω ("proclaim"; 1:38)  Proclaim is a great Lutheran word.  But in this case it is not connected with the forgiveness of sins, but the expulsion of demons.  I would offer that three key elements of the church:  prayer, proclamation and service, all involve the conflict against evil rather than simply an academic escape or comfort and safety!

θεραπευω ("heal"; 1:34)  Jesus' therapy session is on!  Again here even healing is seen within the context of a struggle against evil.  There is nothing safe about Jesus work.

εξηλθεν και απηλθεν ("go out" and "go out"; 1.35)   Mark uses two words in a row here that almost mean the same thing.  Many manuscripts, in fact, simplify the Greek and only include one.  Why does Mark include two?  Perhaps to emphasize that Jesus really got out of town!

Foreshadowing of Resurrection:

αναστας ("rise up"; 1.35)  This word is grammatically and theological interesting.  Grammar:  In Hebrew, when you have two verbs in a row the first one can often function like an adverb.  The verb "get up" often means "immediately" (as in Abraham "Get up and go" = "Go now!").  In this way, Mark could be saying Jesus got up immediately and went; another way that he is simply indicating the frenetic pace of Jesus' ministry.

However, it literally reads 'Jesus rose very early in the morning."  In this section we have:

ηγειρεν ("raise up"; 1.31) and αναστας ("resurrect"; 1.35):  These verbs both mean to raise up or resurrect.
λιαν πρωι (1.35; these words together mean early morning):  They don't come back into Mark until chapter 16 when we get to the resurrection
θυρα ("gate"; 1.33) The word for "door" here is also gate, as in Jesus is the gate from John's Gospel.  Or as in, there was a stone at the gate of the tomb (see Mark 15 and 16!).

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mark 1:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently January of 2021.
Summary:  The Greek highlights Mark's excellent dramatic skills.  He uses tight language and subtle details to present the conflict of Jesus against the mysterious and powerful forces of evil.  Evil is quite powerful here:  It has invaded the synagogue; it knows more than the crowd; it is vulgar and disobedient to Jesus; its number is unknown.  Yet Jesus will vanquish it and affirm the claim of the crowd, that he is one with authority.  As Staupitz declared to Luther in the movie:  "You are too hard on yourself; the devil has been around for thousands of years.  Cling to Christ and his mercy."

Alternate thought:  I am coming back to this passage nearly a decade after I first did a Greek post on this passage.  What stood out to me this time was:  What does it mean that Jesus interprets Scripture with authority?  My sense is that we are moving away from an academic sense of authoritative interpretation of Scripture -- but what replaces it?  In our 2018 American context, do we ascribe authority to someone when they confirm our previous held biases?  How is authority related to authenticity?  Must authority be proved?  Perhaps the test of Scripture interpretation should be this passage:  If it does not drive demons out of the congregation, it has no authority.

How Mark employs Greek to add drama to the story:
1:21 and 1:22 All of the indicative verbs in this sentence have verbs in the present or imperfect, suggesting a lot of movement and continuous action.  The story continues the whirlwind pace of Mark chapter 1. 

1:23 Mark puts the word "unclean" (ακαθαρτος) last in this clause, so it reads "there was in the synagogue a man in spirit unclean." A bit of suspense because as a reader it would not be entirely surprising to find a spirit in a synagogue.  It is worth noting that the unclean spirit is not found outside the house of God, but inside the house of God! 

Also, a side note, 1:23/26  the word for unclean is "ακαθαρτος" as in the man needs a cathartic experience...

1:23 The first aorist verb is ανεκραξεν ("cry out") suggesting an abrupt change in the action after all the other present/imperfect verbs.

1.24 The phrase here in Greek that the unclean spirit uses is "What to you and to us?" This is essentially what Jesus to his mother at Cana: "What to me and to you." In other words, this is not a very kind way to talk!   A sort of "What the hell do you want?"

1.24  The spirit switches back and forth between the singular and the plural, presenting an uncomfortable ambiguity:  How many are there?  "Have you come to destroy us (ημας)?  I know (οιδα) who you are"

1.26   Interesting that even though the unclean Spirit obeys Jesus by leaving the man, it still gives off a μεγαλη (large) scream. Jesus had commanded the spirit to be silenced; this shows its disobedience!

All of this drama and even highlighting of evil's power is designed to affirm the original claim of the people, namely, that Jesus is one with εξουσια (1:22), that is power!  

The authority of Jesus, it seems, resides in a few areas.  Perhaps asking ourselves if we still believe as stewards of the word that we have this authority!

  • Teaching.  The crowd believes Jesus teaching has authority (1:22).  
  • Casting out demons (1:28); the disciples will be given this power (3:15; 6:7)
  • Forgive sins (2:10)
  • One could also add up-end the temple sacrifice system (11:28-33)!

Monday, January 25, 2021

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently 2021.

Summary:  We are infected with the same demon as the Corinthians:  We use our 'freedom' for our own benefit, not the building up of the kingdom. Paul here makes two profound arguments that the world still needs to here:  True knowledge comes from God's love.  True freedom is found in serving others.

Warm-up note:  Knowing the geography of Corinth helps explain the whole eating meat to idols; in an areas about the size of 5 football fields are three markets and eight temples. The social events in downtown Corinth were meals at the temples; the meat that was bought at the markets was likely from these temples. See:http://www.zionsjonestown.com/paul/corinth/home.htm for more on this. 

φυσιοι (meaning "puff up", 8:1)   The word for puff up is "physio-oo" is related to the word for "natural" but in this case derives from the word for bellows (the things you use to build up a fire).  This is interesting then -- is Paul saying that knowledge is like vanity in ecclesiasties -- simply smoke?  Or is Paul asserting that knowledge can serve a purpose but it is not that which can sustain?   

(This word only appears 7 times in the whole NT/OT; 6 of those in 1 Cor!)

ουπω (not yet)   Paul makes an interesting parallel argument here

if anyone seems to know something, they do not yet know what it is necessary to know

if anyone loves God, they are already known by God.  

Paul is not suggesting that knowledge about the world is bad, it is simply incomplete.  Real knowledge, then is derived from love. 

εγνωσται (γινωσκω, 8:2 and 8:3 and throughout!)  Τhe word for "known" here (gninoosk-oo) here is in the perfect. In otherwords, this verse should read "The one who loves God has already been known by God." Paul's use of the perfect here emphasizes the fact that God already knew us and we continue in a state of being known. But this is really fascinating.  What does it mean to be the state of being known by God?  And can some folks not be known by God?

ημιν (for us, 8:6)  This word opens us some interesting translation possibilities.  Does Paul mean that God is for us as in a) on our behalf b) for our vantage point or c) there are many gods but only one God matters to us?  ( I don't think c))

Nearly every preposition in the book...

Within verse 6 there is parallel structure

one God the father, of whom all things and we are for him

one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we are through him

The wording is so tight in 8:6, in fact, I wonder if this suggests it existed in Christian worship.

The he moves to say that the knowledge is not in everyone.  That is fascinating.  Paul wants this knowledge to get into our hearts!!

εξουσια (translated here as "liberty" or "freedom", 8:9).  Fascinating:  The word in the corresponding Gospel passage for Sunday (Mark 1:21-28) is translated there as authority.  Here it is translated as freedom!!  I am gonna have to ponder that one!!

οικοδομθησεται (from οικοδομει, 8.9)  Most translations here use the word "encourage" or "strengthened" for the word "oikodome-oo." This word Paul uses earlier to talk about love "building" up people. I think Paul's use of this word twice points out that are actions within the Christian community WILL build people up -- that is not the question; the question is whether we will build each other up for good or for licentiousness. 

8:8 Paul uses the word abound here (perisseu-oo). Later in chapter 14, he will return to this verb, saying, since you do want to abound...and then tell them to hold their tongues in worship!