Monday, May 10, 2021

Luke 24:44-53 (Ascension)

This passage occurs for Ascension in the RCL, all three years; sometimes this is celebrated on a Thursday; other times it takes the place of Easter 7.

Summary:  Normally good-byes are sad.  But not the Ascension!  Luke wants to point out a few things about the ascension.  Namely that it is a commissioning; a celebration; and a crescendo.  A closer look at the Greek suggests this often overlooked story is vitally important for the Christian understanding of God in Christ Jesus.  In fact, Luke's account of the Ascension challenges me to include sending in my list of core Gospel actions:  forgiveness and resurrection.  But if that just sounds too much for your Lutheran piety, you can go with this:  Jesus knows that preaching forgiveness will get us into trouble because the world cannot handle law and Gospel.

Key Words:
μαρτυρες ("witness", from μαρτυς, 24:48) The Greek word there for witness is "martyros," from which we get our word Martyr.  It originally had a simple legal connotation, as in give testimony, or generally, to speak on someone's behalf.  Yet in the Christian context, it very quickly came to mean suffer for this proclamation, including Jesus himself.   So Jesus says (literally), "You are martyrs of these things."  This is the ultimate commissioning:  You will go out and testify to the resurrection and forgiveness of sins and be persecuted for it.

χαρας ("joy", from χαρα, 24:52)  Luke uses this word more than other authors.  It is significant that worship of the ascended Christ still fills the believers with great joy.  Luke makes the point:  Just because Jesus isn't here on earth doesn't mean we cannot worship him. In fact, worship of the risen (and ascended Christ) still fills the believers with joy.  Jesus ascension means unlimited access instead of only local contact; hence the possibility of a universal church.

προσκυνησαντες ("worship", προσκυνεω, 24:52)  For all of the times Luke has Jesus praying, this is the only instance where people are worshiping in his Gospel.  The only other mention of the verb is in the temptation of Christ where Jesus declares we must worship God alone.  For Luke, the ascension confirms Jesus' divinity in a way that allows the disciples to worship him as God in way even his resurrection did not.  The ascension completes his first mission on earth: his suffering, his resurrection and his commissioning.  Now he shall return to be exalted and come again in glory.

διηνοιξεν ("open", 24:45)  We saw this verb last week in Acts account of Lydia's Baptism.  It is interesting that this word is associated in Acts and Luke with understanding the Word.  It also suggests the need for proclamation, because the Scriptures need to be opened.  They are not self-explanatory.

αρξαμνοι (participle form of "αρχω" meaning, in middle voice, to begin; 24:47)  In both Luke 24 and Acts 1, this word shows up:  begin.  The three year ministry of Jesus Christ is only the beginning of the work of God!  The promised Holy Spirit will move the disciples forward in mission and ministry!

αποστελλω ("sending"; 24:49)  This is the only indicative verb in this entire section is present tense.  I would argue this is the last action of Jesus on behalf of his disciples:  To send the Spirit.  One could make the argument, I think, this is why Jesus came back from the dead.  To send out the Spirit!  Interestingly, it is only once Jesus has sent the Spirit that the disciples can worship! 

One could also argue that this is in the present tense, suggesting that Jesus is continually (always) sending forth the Spirit.

καθισατε ("sit", καθιζω, 24:49)  The disciples are told to "sit" until the Holy Spirit comes.  Part of the Christian life is waiting.

δυναμιν ("power" from δυναμις. 24:49)  This word comes into English as dynamite.  Christ calls us to be both the martrys and dynamite for the world.  The two seem related in tragic ways; yet, Christ does not call us to cause suffering in others, but simply to suffer for others as the world persecutes the news of forgiveness and resurrection.

Grammar concept:  hendiadys; or in this case, hendiatris
Hendiadys refers to the literary device of using two words to mean one thing.  For instance:  "formless and void" of Genesis 1 means "a whole lot of nothing!" or perhaps more accurately, "chaos."

In this case, Jesus refers to Scriptures by calling them:  Moses, Prophets and Psalms.  Here he is referring to all of the OT, not simply Gen-Deut; 12 prophets and Psalms.  He is laying out the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets and Writings) division of Scripture.

Acts 1:1-11 (Acts 1:1-14)

Acts 1:1-14 is the Narrative Lectionary passage in Year 1
Acts 1:1-11 or Acts 1:6-14 is the RCL passage for the Ascension/Easter 7.

Corona Times Observation:  The disciples want a restoration project.  Jesus wants them to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.  Our churches right now will want things to "get back to normal."  But this cannot be.  We have a new calling.

Really edgy sermon idea:  Acts 1 shows a united church that loves and prays together, but does not do any outreach.  It is "First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem", a small, tight-knit group that sings and worships with joy, fills committee spots and avoids outreach at all possible costs.

Less edgy:  A church must come together before it can go out!

For those note quite as bold:
Acts 1:1 may just summarize all of the book.  In fact, one word, sometimes missed by the translators, may summarize all of acts:  "began."  Luke says that his Gospel is "all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach."  Jesus' work is not complete; it must be continued by his disciples.  By the Spirit, they carry forth and do the greater things Jesus told us we would do if we believed in him.  Well, if 1:1 explains the whole book, 1:2 leaves us curious how this all works.  Luke says Jesus communicated things through the Holy Spirit.  Acts could just of easily been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  But how does the Holy Spirit work?  Acts wrestles with how the Holy Spirit worked to guide the early church in making decisions about the doings and teachings of Christ.

Key words:
Θεοφιλος  ("lover of God", 1:1)  Luke may have written this to a specific person name Theophilos.  Or he writes it to all of us who love God!

ηρχατο ("begin" aorist form of αρχω, in 1:1)  It is worth noting that Luke says that Jesus begins his doings and teachings.  The completion of Jesus ministry will be done through the disciples.  This one verb, may in fact, tell you everything you need to know about the book of Acts!

τε και ("and and" in verse 1).  BDAG suggests this combination means "connecting concepts, usually of the same kind."  Here it links the words ποιειν (doing) and διδασκειν (teaching).  A helpful reminder than the hands and head are connected in Luke's mind!

εξελεξατο ("choose" aorist form of εκλεγω, in 1:2; see also 1:24; 6:5 and 15:7;22;25)  Throughout the book of Acts, the disciples have to make choices.  The tricky thing is figuring out how the Holy Spirit will guide this process of choice.  In Acts 1:2 no indication is given for this.  In 1:24, lots are used; in 6:5, the Spirit works through community's approval of the leadership's suggestion concerning deacons; in chapter 15, the choice is made through collective debate.  The book of Acts is a powerful study in how decisions are made in the Spirit!

επαγγελια(ν) ("promise", 1:4)  The NIV translates this as "gift."  This seems less helpful.  The word is promise:  Wait for the promise.

τω Ισραηλ ("to Isreal"; 1:6)  Jesus was teaching them about the Kingdom of God; they were concerned with the Kingdom which belongs to Israel.

αποκαθιστανεις ("to restore"; 1:6)  This sentence is a sermon in itself.  The disciples want Jesus to be on a restoration project of their particular tribe.  He is not interested in this.  He is interested in the salvation of the earth.
μαρτυς ("to witness"; 1:8)  This word looks like "martyr"...because it means just that.  Jesus hear commands his disciples to be witnesses.   When Jesus used the word it had no implication of suffering.  However, the early Christians who were witnesses became "martyrs."  The definition of the word was changed by the heroic actions early Christians.  So, Jesus here is calling his disciples to be martyrs.  Ouch!

Samaria (1:8)  Jesus mission includes the "other side of the tracks."  This is a good way to think about the mission field:  your home town (Jerusalem and Judea), the "other" (Samaria") and the far away (the ends of the earth).

ομοθυμαδόν ("one mind" or "one passion" 1:14)  The people were united.  This is a beautiful scene of the early Christian community:  united in prayer and one might argue, doctrine.  The problem:  they did not do any outreach, but instead spent their time filling spots committees per historical expectations.  Unity does not mean preparation for mission!

Grammar/translation review:  Word order and Luke's grammatical mastery.
In Greek, word order is not essential for understanding the sentence; in English it is.  For example, "The boy hit the dog" and "The dog hit the boy" are two different ideas in English.  In Greek, the reader knows who did the action by the cases of the nouns, not their order in the sentence.  The nominative does the action; the accusative is the object of the action, regardless of which comes first.  This means that Greek (and to some extent Hebrew) can move words around for emphasis.  For example, Acts 1:2, is very convoluted if you just read the words:  until which day, after he taught the apostles whom he had chosen, he was ascended.  Permissible in English perhaps, but the sentence points out that good Greek can have words all over the place because the cases are governing their function, not word order.

In Acts 1:5 we have a very unusual split of some words:  εν πνευματι βαπτισθησεσθε αγιω 
Although the specific conjugation may be odd, (future passive 2nd person plural is fairly rare for verbs!), the words are pretty clear:  "In a spirit you will be baptized holy."  What is Luke doing?  Could holy be an adverb?  Unlikely. (Long grammar point: it would be in the accusative rather than dative).  Hmm... what to do?  Well, Luke earlier claims that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit.  (Let's use more clear Scripture to interpret less clear Scripture!)  So what could Luke possibly be doing here by putting Baptism in the middle of the Holy Spirit?  Well, duh, Luke is making the claim that the Holy Spirit and Baptism are bound up in each other!  To put it another way, Luke has stretched Greek language to show us that Baptism is in the Holy Spirit! 

This is something like, in my mind, when Handel has the tenor sing "The rough places plain," the word "rough" has small rapid changes; the note for "plain" is constant and smooth.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

John 15:9-17

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year B, most recently May of 2021.

The Greek in this little section unlocks many possibilities that the English disguises.  First, the Greek reminds us that Jesus is speaking to a group, not just individuals.  Second, various words for love are used here.  This reminds us that in Christ, divine love means love of humans, even if it comes to laying down one’s life.  Third, Jesus here actually says he lays us down.  The Greek totally covers this one up; he does not simply declare the heroics of his own death, but tells us he has chosen us to die and bear fruit.

Key Words:

φιλος ("friend"; 15.13;14)  Often the word "φιλος", related to φιλεω, is seen as a lesser type of love than αγαπη.  While there may indeed be a distinction, 15:13 brings them together:  αγαπη plays itself in acts of love for φιλος.  So, either we can rule out the possibility of a distinction between the two... or we can see a tension here that is beautifully resolved.  If we take αγαπη to mean divine love, than we are left with this -- what is divine love?  Sacrifice for humans.  Where do divine love and human love meet?  In the cross!  Where do divine and human love meet?  In the lives of the disciples as we live out Christ's command to love one another, through the trials of life.

ψυχη ("life" or "soul"; 15:13)  Jesus uses the word here that we often translate as "soul" or "mind," as in "psychology."  Its use in this verse reminds us it can also mean "life" in its entirety.  To think of it another way, when Jesus dies on the cross, he is giving up everything, not simply his body. ... Likewise I think we will also give up everything.  (or sentimentally, mothers for sure give up everything!)

εκλεγω ("choose" or "select"; 15:16).  This word does mean choose, really elect.  It also shows up in Ephesians 1:4; 1 Cor 1:27-28 and also significantly, in Jesus' Baptism in Luke where God declares him the chosen one.  The word noun form of this word also shows up in Romans (8:33; 9:11; 11:7 and 28) and elsewhere.  God's choice, not ours.

εν υμιν ("in you"; 15:11)  Throughout this section, the verbs (and pronouns) are in the second person PLURAL.  Jesus says abide in me as I abide in all y'all.  Or even "among all y'all."  Helpful to remind people that abiding in Jesus has a communal dimension.

τιθημι ("lay down" or "appointed"; 15:13 and 15:16) This verb comes up at some very powerful times in John's Gospel: John 13, when Jesus lays down his cloak to wash his disciples feet.  In this case:  the verb that Jesus uses for "appoint here" is "τιθημι"; this is the same verb that Jesus uses when he says, "I lay down my life." In other words, a more natural translation is:  "I lay you down." 

Jesus has laid down his life, now he lays  the disciples down that they would bear fruit.  The translation of "appoint" is disappointing because the average reader misses the connection.  Just as Jesus laid down, so will he lay us down. 

Maybe not key, but I found it interesting: 

μεινατε (aorist form of "abide"; 15:9)  The word μενω appears throughout John's Gospel.  I've written about its significant in many other posts.  What I find fascinating here is its particular form:  aorist imperative.  Typically aorist imperative is used for simple commands or commands that would have a finite point or ending:  fill the water jugs or fetch the donkey.  Yet here Jesus is telling the disciples to "abide in him" in a short-term (?), simple (?) or bounded (?) fashion??  None of these quite make sense.  Especially since the verb μενω appears in the present tense regularly throughout the Gospel of John.  The father abides with Jesus (14:10); Jesus abides with the disciples (14:25) and the Spirit is abiding with them and will be with them after he is gone (14:17).  In each of these cases, the verb is on-going, suggesting that God's presence is on-going.

So why here an aorist command?  I found one online source that argued an aorist active imperative:  "means the action that the verb is describing is the result of something that happened in the past and it gives rise to the action that you are commanded to take in the present."  This would make sense in this case, but I am not sure that one could argue that all active aorist imperatives have such linearity programmed into them; or that there is any command which is not the result of previous action in some way!  I will continue to explore this.

I suggest that this verb is in the aorist because Jesus is asking them to stay with him during his trial.  He gives the same command to the disciples in the garden in the synoptics.  (Also then in the aorist: Matthew 26:38 and Mark 14:34).  Also, the aorist use of "love" suggests that Jesus is referring now to the cross.  It feels like a more intimate and immediate command:  Stay in my love for I am going to lay down my life for you.

Grammar concept: Uncertainty vs contingency with ινα

15.11 The translators here come up against a difficult matter. The ινα ("hina") clause forces the Greek to use the subjunctive.  In English the subjunctive shows hypothetical or possible outcomes:  If I win the lottery, e.g.  But in Greek the point of the subjunctive is not always to show uncertainty about the outcome but rather the contingency.  With ινα the subjunctive signals the latter matter is dependent on the former matter. In short, your joy is "contingent," not on fate or randomness, but on the fact that these things were said:  "I have said this to you so your joy is complete."

When we add in English, "Your joy MAY be complete" to translate the subjunctive mood, we are expressing UNCERTAINTY while the Greek wants to show CONTINGENCY.  Nothing is uncertain about our joy now that Jesus words have been spoken.

Acts 10:44-48

Summary:  The larger narrative about Peter and Cornelius continues to fascinate me.  While we consider it obvious that God loves non-Jews, Peter needs some serious convincing.  This is crucial in our world today, in which we are constantly plagued by us vs them and truly God-is-with-us-and-not-them mentality.

I do not think this passage can be preached on without the rest of Acts 10, so my reflection hopefully offers some helpful connections to the early passages

Key Words:

τον λογον (the word, 10:44)  Throughout his Gospel and Acts, Luke makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is connected to the Word.  The Spirit is not acting independently of the Word.  This is a huge theological point that Christians continue to ignore and debate.  

I would like to make the point more basically for today's ministry context:  Salvation comes from outside of ourselves.  It does not derive form our feelings or our reason, but it is an external gift.

οι εκ πετιτομης πιστοι ("the of circumcision believers", 10:45)  They are no longer quite Jews, these believers in Jesus.  Yet the are still culturally (and physically!) distinct.  It is also interesting that the particular construction could also read:  "Those who trust, resulting from circumcision."  Luke almost suggests their faith is still in their ethnicity and culturally constructed laws rather than Christ.  This is still incredibly relevant for today.  Luke's point is that this interaction is not simply changing the "εθνη" ("gentiles", 10:45) but also the original Jews who believed in Christ.  They must learn in their soul what they had been preaching, that God's love was truly for all.

εκκεχυται (poured out, 10:45)  This hearkens back to Peter's sermon on Pentecost, in which he foretells the outpouring of the Spirit.  

Strange insight:  In Luke's Gospel, Jesus warns that new wine in old wine skin will cause the wine to be poured out.  Perhaps in light of Acts, we realize this is not a bad thing.  The old wine-skins, as it turned out, needed to be burst!

γλωσσα(ις) (tongues, 10:46) In parts of the early church and still to do this day, speaking in tongues is considered evidence of the Holy Spirit.  While many of us would reject this, it is worth asking -- what do we consider to be evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

εν τω ονοματι (in the name, 10:48)  Certain Christian sects will only baptize in the name of Jesus because of what happens in Acts.  It is powerful that Luke doesn't clean up Peter here and use the full name of the Trinity.  Again and again we see Luke willing to show us the evolution of the church, through ups and downs, as it begins to solidify its confession of Christ.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

John 15:1-8

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year B, most recently May of 2021.

Summary:  This passage has some great beauty, but presents a great preaching challenge.  First, we have some nastiness to the image: branches plucked and pruned.  The Greek can soften the blow here:  the words for pluck and prune also mean "lift up" and "clean."  Yet, I think a real law and Gospel challenge remains:  You can find all sorts of traditional discipleship tasks that connect us to God:  prayer, the Word, even the community.  Yet we can no more force ourselves upon Jesus than a branch can force itself upon the vine.  To say to people, "You cannot abide in Jesus, so don't even try" makes a liar out of Jesus.  To tell people "You just need to pray and read your Bibles" isn't totally faithful to the image here!  Somehow we must invite people into abiding in Jesus while retaining the force of the image:  Jesus is the root of connection, not us. A look at Jesus invitation to pray reveals some of this tension...

2021 sermon idea:  As a pastor I've often wanted to say that the best things in life are gifts.  But what if the best things aren't gifts that can be exchanged, but relationships that take time to this way, Jesus offers us something more than a transaction, but a transforming and transformed community.

Key words:
αμπελος ("vine"; 15.1)  Like many metaphors in John's Gospel, a person new to the Bible can grasp its meaning, but a knowledge of the OT amplifies its significance.  The OT (Hosea 14; Jeremiah 2; perhaps also Ezekiel 19, but who understands Ezekiel...) makes the claim that Israel is the vine of the Lord.  Jesus here is saying "I am Israel."  All the promises, all the hopes (if not the judgment) of Israel in the Bible have been transferred to Jesus.

αιρεω ("take away" or "take up"; 15:2).  I thought I had a unique insight here and then I realized the NET Bible already explained in a footnote.  In their words: 

The Greek verb ai;rw (airoÒ) can mean "lift up" as well as "take away," and it is sometimes argued that here it is a reference to the gardener "lifting up" (i.e., propping up) a weak branch so that it bears fruit again. In Johannine usage the word occurs in the sense of "lift up" in 8:59 and 5:8-12, but in the sense of "remove" it is found in 11:39, 11:48, 16:22, and 17:15. In context (theological presuppositions aside for the moment) the meaning "remove" does seem more natural and less forced.

They actually give a HUGE footnote on this point.  You can find this online through their website ( or Bible Works.

Another person familiar with vines pointed out that a non-blossoming branch must be lifted up to ensure the cut must be as close as possible.  In this light, we can see that the cutting is not done far away, but hand-to-hand.  When God prunes us this is done an an intimate way!
Long and short:  I think for a sermon, one could introduce the idea of Jesus lifting someone up instead of simply tossing away, especially in light of this verb:

καθαιρω ("clean"; 15:2).  Alas, I got this word wrong in my blog entry three years ago.  I thought it was καθαριζω as in to cleanse.  The two words mean essentially the same thing.  However, John uses a word that allows him to have internal rhyme in a verse.  More importantly, we have a very modest image, not a very harsh one, of cleansing.  It is translated as "prune" only in light of the later verses.

ινα ("in order that"; 15:2)  A reminder that God's cleansing and forgiveness always have a purpose!  (Confessional Lutheran note:  How does this cleansing happen?  Through the Word of God!!)

εν uμιν ("in you"; 15:6)  This can mean "in you" but it is also in the plural:  "In all of you" or even "Among all of you."  "Abide in me as abide among you." might be good for individualist Americans to here!

γινομαι ("occur"/"happen"/"be"/"become"; 15:7, 8) If you study this word, you will see that Jesus is not saying, "Ask for anything and it will be given unto you." He is saying, 

"What you wish for, ask! And it will become unto you."

First, the command is in the plural.  This is an invitation for the whole community to pray.

Second, the verb "give" is never used.  Jesus says what you pray for will happen among you.  I think this begs the question -- what sorts of things happen but are not given.  I would suggest that bearing fruit and becoming disciples (what Jesus indicates he wants in 15.8) are not things that can be given.  Of course, they are gifts of the Spirit, but they are not exchanged.  Rather, they are developed -- grown -- in us. 

μαθηται (from μαθητης, meaning "disciple"; 15:8)  Just a brief reminder that this word does NOT mean one who follows all the rules correctly.  It means student in the deepest sense of a student who learns from a master.

Grammar review:  τις...some times the smaller the word, the more difficult to translate
The little word τις is a pain!  First, depending on the direction of the accent, it can either be a question word meaning (who, what, whom, whose) or an indefinite article (a, an, any, some, one).  At least this division is revealed by the accents (or lack their of; if it has no accent, it means an indefinite article because that τις has a weak accent that has been moved to the previous word)
But how to figure out then what is means is tough.  In the case of verse 6, τις is universally translated as anyone.  But it could just as easily be "anything." If anything is not in me, it is tossed out and burned up.  This is perhaps a nicer translation.  In this case, "anyone" is probably the most correct translation because Jesus has already indicated we are the branches.

Acts 8:26-40

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Easter Season Year B, most recently May 2, 2021.

Summary:  This passage likely makes no sense to most folks because it is so unusual.  It definitely stretches the bounds of our imagination about how the Spirit directs our path along the way.  And yet...if we have done mission work, the work of evangelism, this is often what it feels like: lots of surprising twists and turns following Jesus along the way.  Life just beyond our control!  I also find it interesting that they meet in the wilderness.  The wilderness is an area of vulnerability, an area in which we are not in control.  This is where we so often meet God!

Key words (and few grammar quirks):
αναστηθι και πορευου ("Get up and go"; 8:26) Philip is told to "Get up and go" (a very familiar line from the OT; Abraham -- Get up and go!). The question is whether this is verbal coordination Hebrew style (Go in a quick way) or whether Luke is implying two separate verbs. The English translations tend to put the verbs together, but the tense is actually different in the Greek.   If one separates the verbs, I would emphasize that the first verb is the same verb for resurrection.

γαζα (gaza, two meanings, town's name or treasury; 8:26/8:27) The word for "treasury" is actually γαζα so this Ethiopians is in charge of the "gaza"; Philip is on the road heading south of Jerusalem toward γαζα, aka treasure. What is the real treasure in the story?  

ερημος (wilderness, 8:26)  Not coincidentally, the Baptism takes place in a wilderness, often a place where God and humans meet! The wilderness it seems, is a place beyond our control.  A place where demons dwell, where testing happens, but God's faithfulness is always revealed.

ευνουχος (eunuch, 8:27)  Historically speaking, the eunuch typifies a bunch of people who convert in Acts

  • People not ethnically Jewish, yet are hungry for God
  • People who have access to power in some ways, but not others:  Social misfits
  • People who may not have been accepted with Judaism (an Eunuch could not have gone into the temple because of his castration)

Christianity became an incredibly diverse group of people; it became a global community of care and common confession, quite the opposite of the way in which the Romans (and all other imperial powers) held diversity together.

κολληθητι (from κολλαω, meaning "cling"; 8:29) The word for join/stay here is κολλαω as in collate or really cling. Philip is told to cling to the chariot. (Paul tells us in Romans to cling to what is good, 12:9)

απα (ara; 8:30)  The word that begins the sentence (ara) is an untranslatable interjection that expects a negative answer, so really, Philip's question is "You don't understand..."

ογηγησαι ("lead", 8:31) The word for "guide/explain" here is ογηγεω ...which comes from οδος (road/way) and αγω (lead). So Philip has been sent on the way by the Spirit to be the way-leader for someone else.

οδος (hodos, meaning "way"; 8:32) Again, we have the word "way" here...which will also show up in 8:39, he went on his way rejoicing!  Early Christians will be described as followers of the way (Acts 9:2)

τον Ιησουν (obviously Jesus, 8:37)  What is significantly here is that 'Jesus' is in the accusative case without a preposition.  Philip proclaimed Jesus to the Eunuch.  He was not merely talking about Jesus, he was handing over Jesus to the Eunuch.  Obviously, to hand over Jesus to someone means talking about Jesus, but there is something very direct implied in what Philip was doing here.  I think Luke is making the point also that in proclaiming the Word's about Jesus, Jesus is present (see Luke 24!)

προσκυνσων (from προσκυνεω, 8:27)  I have nothing to offer here other than this is one of only 13 future participles in the New Testament :-)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

John 10:11-18

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year B, for "Good Shepherd Sunday" most recently Spring of 2021; but the basic idea of this passage connects with the parallel texts for this Sunday in years A and C of the RCL.

This beloved text is not worth ruining with any fancy exegesis.  However, it is perhaps worth exploring the idea of "good."  It is an utterly unfitting word:  Jesus is not good, he is beautiful, wonderful and ideal -- what καλος means anyway.  On the other hand, he is entirely irresponsible, going and getting himself killed.

For those looking for something theological to chew on:  "Jesus receives his life back" is just as valid of a translation as "Jesus takes his life back."  How one translates that is probably a good Lutheran orthodoxy test ;-)
Key Words:
καλος ("good"; 10:11)  Good is an entirely understated way to put this.  The word in Greek means beautiful, ideal, model.  Try any of these out:  Model shepherd, beautiful shepherd, ideal shepherd.  They get closer to what is going on, although model shepherd can lead us astray pretty fast.  Good is also an entirely wrong way to put this.  What kind of shepherd goes and gets himself killed?  A very, very bad one.  Or to put it another way, one who makes calculations very differently than normal humans do!

τιθημι ("lay down"; 10:11)  This verb comes up at some very powerful times in John's Gospel:  John 13, when Jesus lays down his cloak to wash his disciples feet; John 13, where Jesus declares that no greater love exists to lay down one's life; John 15, where Jesus says he "placed" us down to bear fruit; and finally on the cross, when a sign is placed (down) on the cross reading "King of the Jews." All of these strongly suggest that Jesus here refers to his own death.  Moreover, Jesus clearly foretells his resurrection.  To put it another way, this is John's version of the messianic prophecies of the synoptics ( is necessary for the son of man to...)

γινωσκω ("know"; 10:14 and 15).  Jesus says that we will know him and he will know us.  What does this mean?  

1.  There is plenty of evidence in the Gospel of John that Jesus knowing us means he knows our sin. 

  • "I know that you do not have the love of God in you."  (5:42)  (Lots of others exist!).

2.  There is also evidence that Jesus knows us also means knowing our love for him.

  • Peter:  You know all things, Lord, you know that I love you (21:17)
  • My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

3.  While plenty of verses demonstrate that the disciples don't get it right, there is also evidence that the disciples can know who Jesus is:

  • Simon Peter says:  "We know that you are the holy one of God." (6:69)
  • Jesus says:  "You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." (14.17)
  • Jesus:  "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.  (John 17:25) 

4.  The above verses also reveal that is knowledge is both head knowledge (knowing who Christ is) but also heart knowledge (God dwelling in us) and even body knowledge (following Jesus).  Knowing and loving are not that far apart.  To put it back on a very human and preach-able level:  Can you love someone you don't know?

To be known by Jesus means Jesus knows our sins but also who God has created us to be, namely, lovers and followers of Jesus.  To know Jesus means that we recognize his holiness and then live out of that love.

λαμβανω ("take"; 10:18)  This word means take or receive.  Which way you go really changes the meaning.  Does Jesus take back his life or does he receive it?   I think on how you look at this impacts how you look at the entire Christian life, especially as to how we are to embrace faith.  Do we take it or do we receive it? 

Concept:  εγω ειμι (ego eimi)
In John's Gospel, Jesus has a number of "I am" statements.  Here they are.
6:35  I am the bread of life
8:12  I am the light of the world
8:58  I am
10:7  I am the door for the sheep (10:9 I am the door)
10:11  I am the good shepherd; lays down life; know voice
11:25  I am the resurrection and life
14:6  I am the way, truth and life
15:1  I am the true vine (15:5 vine)
In Greek, I am carries more significance than in English.  First, in Greek, because verbs are conjugated, you do not need the subject.  It is only for emphasis.  Sometimes people will make this:  I, I am, the true vine to show the emphasis in Greek conveyed here.

This "I am" is also the name of God.  Hence, see 18:5, where Jesus says, "I am" and they all fall to the ground.  John's Gospel is wheeling and dealing when it comes to the OT and names for God here!