Monday, September 26, 2022

Luke 17:5-10

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Year C, most recently September 2022.

The passage before this (17:1-4) is about forgiveness. Jesus tells his disciples to forgive people over and over. This is where they protest and ask for more faith, or "pistis".  Forgiveness is hard! Faith in the Gospel of Luke is not simply "getting it" or even "getting it right" but the deep hunger for Jesus that motivates us, trees and even mountains to fall down at his feet.  If you are looking for a three point sermon on faith:  Faith draws us toward Jesus for forgiveness and healing; faith leads us away from Jesus in service; faith always reveals itself in humility, not in worldly greatness.

Key words:
πιστις (17:5; 17:6; "faith") The word faith has taken on many theological meanings. A few comments about how Luke uses it. First, the people that have faith are always outside the circle of pious Jews and even the disciples.  For example:  The bleeding woman (8:48), the Samaritan leper (17:19) and the Roman Centurion (7:9). Faith leads to healing but also forgiveness (5:20, 18:42). Above all, faith leads people to move themselves toward Jesus. Faith is the motivation for people to move toward Jesus and for him to act. It is not an intellectual assent to propositions, but it is the deep, gnawing trust that moves people and moves mountains to fall at the knees of Jesus.

υμων (17:5; 17:6; "our")  This is great -- the disciples ask for THEIR faith, not just my faith.  Faith is a shared entity.

διακονει (17:8; to serve, minister or wait on tables). This verb is where we get the term deacon (or diaconal). It doesn't mean anything glorious, simply waiting on tables! Just a reminder though, Jesus finally says he is the one who serves us (Luke 12:37, 22:27).

αποστολοι (17:5; "apostles") Luke uses the term apostles far more than the other writers, even indicating that at the Lord's Supper (22:14) the apostles joined him. Perhaps this is because he writes Acts! I wonder if Luke helps us see that being a disciples of Jesus necessarily means being an apostle, being sent out into the world.  Furthermore, the disciples/apostles in the book of Acts will do amazing things through their faith.  Faith is the dynamic of moving toward Christ, seeking forgiveness and mercy and then being sent away from Christ, back into the world.

As a side note -- 17:1 begins by referring to the followers of Jesus as disciples/students (μαθητης).  They are referred to as apostles in 17:5 and then servants in 17:8.  Part of our calling is to learn and grow; part of our calling is to be sent; part of our calling is to serve others.

Grammar point: ει-αν clauses
When you see "εαν" this normally means there is a simple, "if (εαν) A, then B" However, if you see an ει-αν clause, this probably means that the conditions are false. This is the case in verse 6: If you had faith (which you don't), you would say (which you haven't). Great example of this construction is in John 11; "If (ει you had been here (which you weren't), my brother (αν) wouldn't have died (but he did)." 

Side note:  Another scholar I heard of argued that the ει was true, but that the αν statements built on each other.  Ie, Since you have faith, tell the mulberry bushes (which you didn't) to up root...and they would obey (which they didn't).  I don't think this is true, because John 4:10 and Matthew 24:43 have similar ει-αν-αν constructions.  In both cases it is translated condition A is false, so B and C didn't happen, not A is true, B didn't happen so C didn't happen (as this scholar argues in this case).

Sentence review:
(Warning, this sentence is complex because Luke intermixes the various components of each sentence; using Bible Works/lexicon to tell you the cases is probably essential)

BGT Luke 17:7 Τις δε εξ υμων δουλον εχων αροτριωντα η ποιμαινοντα, ος εισελθοντι εκ του αργου ερει αυτω ευθευς παρελθων αναπεσε?
NRS Luke 17:7 "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'?

Τις δε εξ υμων: Basically: Who of you? Notice the accent on the word tis leans forward? This means its a strong accent, which tells you it is a question word (who, which, what) and not an indefinite article (a, any, certain)

δουλον εχων: The verb εχων is a participle.  At this point, the sentence is not too bad. For your English eyes, you probably need to switch δουλον and εχων for word order.  Then you can just do the "quick sloppy circumstantial participle" translation which is where you just add "ing" to the verb. In this case, you get: "Which of you, having a slave"

αροτριωντα η ποιμαινοντα: Here is where the train wreck comes. You have another two participles. First step -- get vocab (so your brain can help you piece this together unconsciously): "plow" and "tend." Your brain probably can figure out that the slave is the one plowing and tending. How would you know for sure? Notice how these are both accusative participles? Therefore they do not refer to the subject (the one who has the slave) but the object (the slave). So the slave is under the circumstance of plowing and tending.

So, we have so far: "Which of you, having a slave, tending and plowing." Hmm...unclear in English, so we get: "Which of you, having a slave who tends and plows,"

ος εισελθοντι εκ του αργου ερει αυτω: This clause is awful because you go back and forth between subject and object. First off, your brain knows its a relative clause because you have this ος ("hos"). In fact, hos is the subject, so we need to find a normal verb to match this with. Turns out that εισελθοντι is not a normal verb, but a participle. The verb you need to find is ερει. This is a basic verb (lego, to speak) but tough to recognize in the future form. (Who will say).  So we know that someone is speaking. We also know, thanks to the αυτω in the dative, that someone is speaking to someone. So, who are the someones? Well, the verb "εισελθοντι" is a participle in the dative, linked with the word αυτω .  In this case it functions like an adjectival participle.  Kind of strange sucker, but basically, it works like this: The one who enters from the field (εκ του αργου) is the one to whom the words will be addressed. You can know this because it all is in the dative. So you translate this relative clause like this:
"he, who will say to him, the one coming in from the field"
"will say to the one (namely the slave) coming in from the field."
One final note -- the coming in precedes the speaking (the verb is in the aorist, which in the case of participles shows order in time of events), so to make it all clear:
"will say to the slave after he has come in from the field."

Put it together and you get
"Which of you, having a slave who tends and plows, will say to the him after he comes in from the field:"

ευθεως παρελθων αναπεσε? The  ευθεως means immediately...and the αναπεσε is a simple command: sit at the table.

So you have: "immediately παρελθων sit." You can translate the παρελθων (which can mean just about anything) a couple of ways. Really, it is not a key verb in the sentence; it functions more like another adverb: "immediately come over and sit." Or more politely, "Come here at once and sit!"

Monday, September 19, 2022

Luke 16:19-31 (Lazarus and the rich man)

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  It last occurred in September of 2022.
The story begs for a different ending, one where someone can go back and straighten out the sinners, in this case, the rich man's brothers. The story also begs for an ending because it ends in Hades with Abraham speaking a word of hopelessness. The idea though of resurrection from the dead sends us away from the story of Lazarus and to the story of Jesus. Ironically, Jesus will wear clothes of splendor; both as Herod mocks him (Luke 23:11) and finally as he comes, as the splendid morning star, who has overthrown death and hell (Rev 22.16). For me, I will emphasize that Christ has defeated death the chasm, but I don't think it would be fair to Jesus' words to let people off the hook when it comes to how we treat the poor!

This week I have some longer notes on hell which resolve little but give much to ponder...

Some words to note:

αδης (16.23; hell, hades; the α has a rough breathing mark meaning its "ha" ): This word appears throughout the New Testament. Some poking around is interesting here; For more on hell, see my post on hell here.  A few remarks here:

1) Luke doesn't mention the word very often, except in the context of punishment (see also 10.15).
2) The word and idea of Hades has its own meaning in the Greek mythological world. However, because the Septuagint translates Sheol so frequently as Hades, it is fair to look at Jesus comments in light of the OT.  Curiously, Matthew uses the word "geenna" instead of "Hades"; but how Matthew use "geenna" and Luke use "Hades" seem the same. 
3) The Bible seems to shift/develop its thoughts on hell and resurrection.
3A) On one level, Sheol is simply the place of God's absence. Psalm 88:5 says God doesn't even remember those in Sheol. Psalm 113:25 and Isaiah 38:18 suggest the dead in Sheol cannot praise God. In this sense, Sheol simply means death as the end.
3B) On another level, however, the OT also envisions Sheol as a place of punishment: (Psalm 9:17; Proverbs 5:5). In this sense, Sheol means hell.
3C) On another level, Sheol seems not entirely absent of God or goodness: God can hear prayers from Sheol (Jonah 2.3) and still find us there (Psalm 139:8). In this sense, Sheol almost functions like purgatory.
4) Shoel and Hades become a personified force set against God in the Bible (Psalm 49:15; Matthew 16:18). At some points, it seems that God is in control of Sheol (Hos 13:14; 1 Sam 2:6). Regardless, Sheol/Hades finally loses: Rev 20.

To summarize all of this, the more you get into this stuff, the more of chasm you find yourself in. What is hell? Is it a judgment pit? It is a time of separation? In this parable, it is both. Is there rescue from it? This is the most haunting part of the parable. The rich man doesn't get out of hell.

I wonder, having heard some other interpretations on this parable, if the rich man does not get out because the sinner inside of him has not died yet!  (Like he still view Lazarus as an object, not as a person).

βασανος (16.23;28; torture; pain): This word origin is interesting: "a dark-coloured stone on which pure gold, when rubbed, leaves a peculiar mark." (Liddell-Scott)  In the NT, Matthew and Luke uses this word to imply more than simply testing, but also physical pain. One might be tempted to translate this word as "testing" here; that Hades was simply a place of testing for Lazarus, but the existence of fire in verse 24 suggests something more than simply mental trials.

χασμα (16.26; chasm): The word appears only once in the NT, but it should be familiar enough to English readers: chasm; a pit!

λαμπρως (16.19; splendidly): You will not find this word easily in concordances; that is because it is the adverb form of the adjective: "lampros" (omicron vs omega)

The word is akin to the word for "lamp" and means bright like the sun or stars. In the NT, Jesus will wear a lampros robe, but only before Herod.  Jesus will actually declare himself the morning star; the star portion here is literally "lampros." (Rev 22:16). James warns against people who wear such nice clothing thinking highly of themselves (James 2:2-3).

Sentence break-down:
BGT Luke 16:19  Ανθρωπος δε τις ην πλουσιος και ενεδιδυσκετο πορφυραν και βυσσον ευφραινομενος καθ' ημεραν λαμπρως
NRS Luke 16:19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

Ανθρωπος δε τις ην πλουσιος: "A certain man was rich." You can ignore the "δε"; the "τις" is the "indefinite" article in Greek, ie "a, any, certain."  It is not before the word "man" as it should be in English, but you can tell they are linked because they are both nominative singular masculine.  But even if you didn't know that, if you see some "ti..." word not at the beginning of a sentence it almost always will function as an indefinite article, you just have to find which word it matches.  Perhaps you could poetically phrase this, "There once was a rich man."
Significance here:  Lazarus, the poor man, gets a name.  The rich does not.  This is the opposite of our world.

και ενεδιδυσκετο πορφυραν και βυσσον : Verb here is imperfect, emphasizing the continuous nature. I would translate this with an adverb: "he was ALWAYS dressed in purple and fine linen."  I saw this poetically translated as "He was used to dressing in purple..."   (Side note:  Purple was an expensive cloth and reserved only for the rich and noble).

ευφραινομενος: circumstantial participle (note: no "the" near by and no "to be" verb). Easy to translate: rejoicing

καθ' ημεραν: idiomatic for "every day"

λαμπρως: splendidly, like the sun; exceedingly luxurious.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Luke 16:1-13

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently September 2016.

The Greek for this week does nothing to improve the harshness of the text. Quite the opposite! According to the Greek, the manager (literally the economist) is praised for being shrewd, but Jesus point blank calls him αδικια (adikia), which means unrighteous. Furthermore, the eternal homes of the wealthy are σκηνας "skenas" or tents, the word used for the tabernacle in Exodus or the tents on the mount of Transfiguration.  Finally, we are commended, not simply to use "worldly wealth" but actually -- "unrighteous mammon." What is going on!?!

In spite of the bizarre metaphor of the shrewd manager, I think this parable reflects a few consistent themes of the Bible relating to money and possessions: 

- All our money and possessions ultimately belong to God
- Money and possessions are scarce and so we are called to be good stewards -- good economists!
- Money and possessions can become a god, a god who cannot prevent death; a god who will only demand more.

I think what is unique is this:
- We are eternal beings; our life on earth is somehow connected to our life in heaven.  How we use our money has eternal consequences.  This is most challenging for me conceptually to consider the relationship between heaven and earth.  In terms of preaching, it makes me ask -- where is the grace in this passage?  Where is the cross and resurrection in the midst of this?  I feel like we must push this parable to its breaking point to get to the cross -- all of us worship money and none of us would have an eternal home without Christ. 

Side note:  In 2019 I preached about how this passage in no way presented an image of how God intends for the world to be, but rather describes how the world actually is.  I contrasted the economy of God in Luke 15 against the economy of the shrewd in Luke 16.  We are in, but not of this world.  This resonated with people

Key words:
Relating to heavenly things:

σκηνη (skenas, meaning "house", 16.9):   This word does not simply mean house.  The word literally means "tent" or really "tabernacle."  It is used in both the OT as the word for Tabernacle (think Exodus) and then in the NT when Peter wants to build tents during the transfiguration. People no longer lived in tents by the time of Jesus, so this term is clearly used to suggest something other-worldly.

This is especially true when it is combined with αιωνιους, meaning eternal.  To give you a sense of the power of this word, consider 2 Corinthians 5:1 "For we know that if the earthly house (οικος) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal (αιωνιους) in the heavens."  Humans do not make eternal things.  Only God does!

δεχομαι ("welcome" or "take" 16:4,6,7,9):  This word appears more in Luke then any other verb. Look where else it comes into play:
2:28 Simeon "receives" the baby Jesus
18.17 Children "receive" the kofG as a child
22.17 Jesus "took" the cup and gave thanks...
There is something central about welcoming in Luke's Gospel!  The reason I include this verb is because welcoming someone into an eternal tent is a beautiful and wonderful thing. 

Relating to earthly things:
οικονομος; οικονομια ("oikonomos" or "oikonomia", meaning "manager", 16:1,2,3,4; other cognates appear in this passage):  This word comes into English as "economics" or "economist." BDAG translates it as "estate manager" and "steward" or "treasurer."  In my first economics class as an undergrad, we learned that economics is about the allocation of scarce resources.  This person is shrewd with his scarce resources, that is for sure.  Luke 16 is about managing scarcity; Luke 15 is about living in abundance!

αδικια ("adikia " meaning "unrighteous", 16;8,9):  This word is often translates in this context as "dishonest" or "shrewd."  The word does not mean dishonest.  It means unrighteous or evil.  (Like in Genesis 6, God sees that the world is full of αδικια and decides to flood the whole thing).  δικαιος - the root word here - means righteous.  What is also striking is how Jesus uses this word specifically. 
οικονομος της αδικιας:  economist of unrighteousness

It if makes you feel better, the owner never praises the man for being dishonest, but does call him shrewd, φρονιμος (16.8)

εκλιπη (from εκλειπω, meaning "fail", 16:9)  I think the whole passage rises and falls on this verb.  The money always runs always fails too.  As does living on this earth.

μαμωνας (mammon, meaning "wealth", 16.9,11,13):  The word used by Jesus toward the end of the passage is not simply possessions but "mammon."  This could possibly refer to an ancient Syrian deity of wealth.  This may or may not be the case, but it is certainly true that Jesus is personifying money here.  We have seen this in our lives where money becomes a thing to be loved, feared and trusted above all things.

At one point Jesus refers to "μαμωνας της αδικιας":  mammon of unrighteousness.  I think that Jesus would maintain that all mammon is unrighteous.  But is all money unrighteous?

οφειλω (opheilo, meaning "debt", 16:5,7): This word can used in all sorts of beautiful ways (Lord's prayer, Matthew 6:12). Here it is more straight forward in its use. A reminder that this passage is very real; debt is as old as currency. For many in the Bible -- and today -- debt is also a massive problem. What if Jesus really meant cancel your literal debts each time we pray the Lord's prayer! That might be easier than forgiving others our sins. Now, you might say, wait, nobody owes me anything. Really? If you own business stocks or an investment accounts, somebody, somewhere, however indirectly, owes you something.

 Greek grammar concept:  Circumstantial participle.
The thing that causes most Greek readers to stumble is the circumstantial participle. While some are very tricky, probably 50% are very easy. Let's look at one. In verse 16.2 the sentence starts out with one:
Bible Works parses this as "verb participle aorist active nominative masculine singular"

Scary, right? Well, look, there is no "the" near by it, so its not an adjectival or substantive participle; there is no form of "is/was/to be" nearby, so its not supplementary. So its going to be circumstantial. Which means we need to figure out three things: What happened? Who did it? And how does this connect to the rest of the sentence?

What happened: Get the BW translation of the verb, or just pull it from your memory: phone...means hear. So, what happened, well, someone hears/got heard

Who did it? Well, your brain probably figured this one out already -- the rich man. But if you need help here, you need to break down what BW tells you into two buckets. First bucket is "aorist active." That relates to the action. The second bucket is "nominative mas...singular" which relates to who does the action. Who is the nominative, masculine, singular? Well, it is the single man subject of the sentence, who is, as your brain knew already, the rich man.

And how does this connect? Well, in this case you first got to put the verb in its tense. Which is here an aorist: "Heard" Now you add in the what and who + the phrase "under the circumstance"
"Under the circumstance of the rich man heard"...
Yuck. Make it English:
"After the rich man heard" or "When the rich man heard."

It sounds like a lot of work, but your brain probably pulled out "heard" and "rich man" right away. See how you do with the second word in 16.5.

Sentence break down:
εγνων τι ποιησω ινα οταν μετασταθω εκ της οικονομιας δεξωνται με εις τους οικους αυτων
NRS Luke 16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

εγνων: I know. Just looks funny. Simple verb.

τι ποιησω : Notice the direction of the accent on "ti" Indicates it is a question. The verb poihso can be either future or aorist subjunctive. In this, does not matter. What will vs. what shall I do.

ινα οταν: Double whammy of conjunctions. Both demand subjunctive verb: "In order that whenever..."

μετασταθω: Verb conjugated based on conjunctions

εκ της οικονομιας: ex takes genitive. Not sure what kind this here. genitive of separation?? Doesn't really matter: "Out of this administration."

δεξωνται με: Here the "me" is the object and not the subject. Question -- how does one know this? Why could, in this infinitive phrase, this been a question at all?  [Because in an infinitive phrase the subject is also in the accusative case]

εις τους οικους αυτων: 2nd week of Greek: Into his house.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Luke 15:1-10

This passage occurs in the RCL Year C.  Most recently September 2022
The key words in Luke 15 are "lost" and "found." They occur over and over. But a reader of English would know this. Perhaps something worth playing with for preaching:  Jesus includes three metaphors for lost and found and together they cover many situations that our parishioners experience.  Each in its own is a great passage, together they make an amazing trifecta.

A little ripple in the text, but hopefully a good insight. Having found her coin, the woman invites her female friends over. This is the only occurrence in the NT and OT of female friends (φιλας)! So while we (Lutheran) pastors delve into the mechanics of lost sinners repenting, let's not forget the fact that everyone in this passage, Jesus, the shepherd and the woman, call together their friends and rejoice!

Also, don't overlook the lost coin.  Plenty of people have felt lost in their own home and own space!

Key words:
ευρισκω (15.:,5,6,7,8,9; "find") To remember this verb, remember Archimedes running through the city naked shouting "Eureka" when he realized how buoyancy worked.

απολλυμι (15:4,6,8,9; "lost") This word has a range of meaning, from destroy to perish. Worth noting is that it is not the sheep who passively gets lost, but actually, the shepherd who loses the sheep!

μετανοουντι (participle of μετανοεω; 15:7, 10, "repent")  This word is fascinating in general and specifically in this passage.  In the Old Testament, the word for repent is the Hebrew S-U-V.  It comes from the word to turn.  The idea is of a person turning to God from their ways or the way they were going.  The Greek word means something a bit different -- literally 'over-mind' or even 'after-thought.'  The idea being that reflecting on a situation causes one to have a change of attitude that leads to a change of behavior.  The Greek word then emphasis more the mind and the Hebrew more the body, although real repentance includes both.

In this particular case, it is worth asking -- what is repentance?  What new mind does the sheep have?  What new mind does that coin have?  Ironically the only character who shows repentance (as we think of it) is the younger son, who is never described by Jesus as repenting.  What must be renewed within us?  What must turn?  How is God involved in our repentance?  This topic is a lifetime of sermons -- so this week, what aspect of repentance do you want to focus on?

Other words:
αμαρτωλος (15:1,2,7; "sinner") Luke uses this word quite a bit -- 18 times in fact. What is interesting is that this word is not really defined; the assumption is that people know who sinners are and what this means. The first explicit sinner in the Gospel is Peter (back in chapter 5), who confesses before Jesus.

καταλειπω (15.4; "leave behind"). Ironically, the first person to "kataleip-oo" everything for Jesus is a tax collector, Levi! (Luke 5:28)

χαιρω (15.5; "rejoicing"). This word is used more in the book of Luke than in another book in the Bible. Other writers don't shy away from it (although Mark uses it is measly two times). Luke though, time and time again, emphasizes worship and devotion.

φιλας (15.9; "female friends"). This is only time in the Bible that the word friend is used in the feminine.

Grammar focus: "syn"-verbs.
In Greek one can use the pronoun "syn" (meaning with) as a prefix. This passage has a number of such verbs: συνεσθιω "synesthi-oo" (15:2, eat together) and συγκαλεω "sygkale-oo" (15:6, call together"). You might ask, why "syg" instead of "syn" in "sygkale-oo." This is because the n-k sound morphs into an g-k sound. "n" is a very soft letter. For example, "con" means with and mean English words have this as a prefix: "connect" or "contact." But the "n" often changes or disappears: "communicate" or "cooperation."  One thing to notice is that in Greek, the writers can sometimes pack a powerful punch with "syn" verbs, such as in Romans 8:17.

Sentence break-down

Luke 15:4
Τις ανθρωπος εξ υμων εχων εκατον προβατα και απολεσας εξ αυτων εν ου καταλειπει τα ενενηκοντα εννεα εν τη ερημω και πορευεται επι το απολωλος εως ευρη αυτο;

"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

Τι΄ς ανθρωπος: The tis here is a question...You can tell because the accent is strong (okay, my English keyboard makes it hard to make this mark). You can also tell because the last mark of the sentence is a semicolon, indicating a question. This is really the only word in Greek where the accent type matters. If it were not a strong accent, the sentence would read: "any man of you." (Strong face forward; weak lean backwards!)

εξ υμων: The "of/from you" has a fancy genitive name but the translation is straight forward: "which among you"/"of you" (I believe this is called a partitive genitive)

εχων εκατον προβατα και: participle here...can you guess which type? Well, there is no "the" nearby, so probably not a substantive or adjectival. Also, no "to be" verbs nearby, probably not a supplementary. You guessed it: Circumstantial: "Under the circumstances of "having" sheep. To simplify: "having sheep"

απολεσας εξ αυτων εν: The circumstances have changed: "lost" a sheep :-( The "hen" meaning "one" is out of order for our English minds, so we read it as "of them one" but our brains should be able to reorder this: "one of them."

ου καταλειπει τα ενενηκοντα εννεα: a question that has a "ou" to start expects a "yes" for answer. I remember this alphabetically: "mh" expects "no"; "ou" expects "yes" (m-n-o-y). Do you know why the ninety has the "ta" in front of it? Email me and I will tell you!

εν τη ερημω: In the wilderness. Can you guess why this phrase is in the dative?

και πορευεται επι το απολωλος: Here we have a substantive participle: The one who is lost. It has a preposition (epi) before it; don't let this distract you. Substantive participles are easy to translate!

εως ευρη αυτο; Alas, they put this little diddy at the end. The word εως, a conjunction, demands the subjunctive here, hence why eurisko looks so stinking weird!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Luke 14:25-33

This passage occurs in Year C of the narrative lectionary, most recently Sept 4, 2022.

Regardless of the great imagery used in Jesus passages, the word "hate" is the stumbling block to this passage. BDAG suggests a softer translation, as in "disregard." I think this is better than "hate" but this doesn't really save the day! Jesus words to disregard our family is difficult to understand.  I offer below a handful directions for preaching.

I have some notes on the verb tenses today.  They do not change, but amplify the challenge of the passage.

Key words:
μισεω (14.26; "hate") Hate may not be the best translation here. BDAG puts it, "depending on the context, this verb ranges in meaning from 'disfavor' to 'detest.' The English term 'hate' generally suggests effective connotations that do not always do justice, especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μισεω (שנא in Hebrew) in the sense 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for.' In fact, BDAG even suggests translating it "disfavor, disregard" in contrast to preferential treatment"

Note:  In previous years, I left open the possibility that Jesus calls for us to have emotional antipathy toward our family.  I do not believe this is the case, for Jesus calls us to love our enemies.  Three preaching possibilities then emerge

- I think Jesus is calling us to move toward him, forsaking all other priorities in our lives.  To what extent do we let love of not just things, but others, get in the way of our devotion to Jesus?

- Jesus will help us ultimately create fictive families, social groups that extend beyond blood lines (or extend into his blood line).  What are ways in which the church can function as a truer family for people?

- To what extent must we let go of someone in order to love them?  Ie, we can love someone so much that we make an idol of them, or seek to live vicariously through them or attach to much of our worth to the relationship.  Buddhism teaches the need for detachment.  To what extent must we detach ourselves in order to fully love? 

μαθητης (14:26, 27 and 33; "disciple", but read on)  The word μαθητης means literally student.  In Latin, student is"disciplus" and so we get "disciple."  The word disciple then, sounds like discipline in English.  There is indeed a discipline element of following Jesus.  Yet, the word in Greek does not imply discipline, but rather an intimate student, one who seeks to be caught up in the way of the master.  However, I wonder if in this case, we would do better to translate it as student.  How might this sound:

"If anyone comes to me and does not disregard his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life-- he cannot be my student."  

It is not necessarily less harsh, but it makes is clear -- Jesus is not seeking emotional aggression against our family, but rather we cannot learn from him unless we are willing to make him first in our lives.

I also appreciate the fact that Jesus distinguishes between those who are hanging out with him and those who will learn from him.  Are you hanging out with Jesus?  Or are you learning from him?

Some other interesting words:
* οχλοι (14.25; "crowds") This word does not mean leaders or elite, but really the everyday mass of people; can also mean 'mob'

* ψηφιζω (14.28; "calculate") I don't think it is important for this passage, but this is the verb that is used in Revelation to indicate it is time to "add" up the number values for a word such as "KASER NERON" (666).

* εμπαιζω (14.29, "ridicule") In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is the only one mocked (18:32;22:63, 23:11, 23:26)

* αποστασσω (14.33, "give up") This word means basically "say good-bye." This is a fun image, saying good-bye to one's possessions.

Grammar concept: present tense
A number of verbs in 14.25-27 are in the present tense. Greek does not distinguish between present progressive (I am running) and present like English (I run). Generally the present tense connotes present progressive. When I was taught Greek, I was taught to even add the adverb "continually" to present tense translations, "I am running continually." I am not sure if this is as helpful in all cases, but the basic point of my teacher bears itself out in Greek. The present tense generally signifies an action that is on-going. In this case, the verb of carrying the cross, following and (gasp) hating are all in the present tense. 

To put it simply:  All the important verbs in this passage are in the present tense, suggesting that renouncing our possessions, disregarding our loved ones, bearing our cross and following Jesus are on-going, life-long activities. That sounds difficult. Good thing the most gracious chapter in the entire Bible is next

Sentence break-down: 14.33

Greek: ουτως ουν πας εξ υμων ουκ αποτασσεται πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν ου δυναται ειναι μου μαθητης
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

ουτως ουν: "Thus, therefore" or "Likewise." Two little words here. Don't change much; they appear a combined nearly 2000x in the NT/OT so its good to recognize them for that they are, namely, fill-in words that don't alter too much!

πας εξ υμων: "All of you" This you can literally translate word for word. The pronoun is in the genitive, but your brain figured this out automatically.
ος : hos is a relative pronoun. They behave a lot like in English. Relative pronouns start a relative clause, like, "I love the one whom I married." Whom I married is the relative clause here. The relative pronoun, like in English, is in the case that it functions within the relative pronoun. Back to my example, this would not be correct English: I love the one who I married. Who must become a whom because it is not behaving as a subject in the relative clause. This happens in Greek too. Greek relative pronouns behave a bit differently, or perhaps one could say, a bit more advanced. Because the nouns (and thus pronouns) have a gender, you can connect the pieces a bit more clearly in Greek, because the pronoun contains more information that will link it back to what it refers. In English, it is considered poor writing to move the "antecedent" (the thing to which the relative pronoun refers) far away from the pronoun. Greek has less of a problem doing this. Moreover, Greek can build massive sentences that continue to add relative sentences.

ουκ αποτασσεται: "is not saying good bye." Reminder here -- the verb is in the present tense. This suggests Jesus is not talking about a one time action.
πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν: "all your possessions." A couple of things here. First, it is all in the dative, because it is the object of the verb "αποτασσεται." This is a case where the dative takes the direct object (normally accusative). Don't ask why. Just accept that some verbs take a direct object in the dative! If it helps, think about it this way. To translate the dative, you often can add the word "to" in front of the word. In this case we add in, "say good-bye TO all your possessions." The only word here not in the dative is "εαυτου " which here is a genitive of possession (ie, belonging to you.). It is slightly out of order for our English eyes. Literally you get here: "to all the belonging to you possessions." Or more eloquently: "All your possessions."

ου δυναται ειναι: Not able to be! This is a case where to describe what is happening is complex (helper verb taking an infinitive) but translation is easy: "not able to be." (normally to translate an infinitive in English (from Greek) you need to add "to" in front of the verb).

μου μαθητης: Like with the word "εαυτου " we have a genitive possessive occur before the noun: "my disciples."

Monday, August 22, 2022

Luke 14:1;7-14

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently on August 28, 2022.

At first glance, this passage seems practical moral advice with a heavenly reward. Jesus' use of δοξα (doxa) and δοξη (doxe) suggest something deeper is going on. δοξη is a fairly uncommon word meaning "banquet." In fact, in the OT, the people who throw such banquets are normally Persian kings! Also unusual is the word δοξα, or glory. Although it is a fairly common word, here it is translated unusually as "honor." This is possible, but really stretches it. The word is not really a word one would associate with mortals. In fact, the last time we heard the word in Luke's Gospel was when the angels announced Jesus birth. These two words, in other words, are fairly out of place for a typical meal. Which suggests that what is at the stake (and not steak) is hardly a common meal, but the feast of the humbled yet exalted one! He is the one to whom glory will be given.

Key Words:
δοξα (14.10; "honor"): Normally we think of δοξα as glory (Think OT and the "glory of the Lord"). Here, however, it is translated as honor...well, maybe. Luke only uses this word three other times. When Jesus is born and the angels sing (2.9 and 14) and when the people cry out during Jesus' entry in to Jerusalem. The context permits translating δοξα as "esteemed." However, it has such divine implications that it points us back to Christ, to the one to whom glory is given.

δοξη (14.13; "meal"): This word is very rare in the New Testament; only used twice. The other time it is in Luke when Levi, the tax-collector, invites Jesus to his house. When this word is used in the OT, it normally refers to banquets put on by Persian kings. In other words, this is a big, rich party that few can actually host.

If you put these words together, you get a very surprising twist at the end of the story:  Who is invited to this feast of glory?  Jesus commends us to invite those on the outside.  Jesus here is introducing table fellowship to the unthinkable.

Other words worth pondering:
ταπεινοω (14.11; "humble"): This word is often paired with exalts (υψοω).  In Philippians 2 and Hebrews 12, we are reminded that Jesus humbles himself that he might be exalted.

μακαριος (14.14; "blessed"): This is the word Luke (and Matthew) use for the beatitudes, "Blessed are..."

καλεω (14.7; used 7 times in this passage!; "invite") This word is used virtually very sentence. It means invite and call.  If we think about this parable as a reference to God, then we get a new name for God in vs 10:  The one who has invited or called you.  God as one who calls!

αισχυνη (14.9; "disgrace" or "shame"): One would expect to find this word quite frequently in the NT, especially given the 'fuss' about honor/shame societies. While this word appears quite frequently in the OT, it is rather rare in the NT. This might be an avenue for more reflection. Is Jesus neglecting this dynamic in his society?  Is it so much a part of the world that the writers do not need to mention it?  In this case, Jesus seems to be appealing to people's sense of honor and shame, telling them that seeking honor is itself shameful.

Aside: One of the places "shame" (αισχυνη) is used in the NT is Philippians 3:19 -- "their glory is their shame." Classic line.

Sentence deconstructed:
και εγενετο εν τη ελθειν αυτον εις οικον τινος των αρχοντων των φαρισαων σαββατω φαγειν αρτον και αυτοι ησαν παρατηρουμενοι αυτον

14.1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

και εγενετο : This is a typical way to begin a sentence. It simply means: "And it happened." It is unnecessary.

εν τη ελθειν αυτον : Technically this is an "articular infinitive with preposition." This means a couple of things. It combines a preposition (in) with an article (the) with an infinitive (coming). Literally: "In the coming." You have to translate the preposition as an adverb: "While he comes..." The problem with an infinitive is that it is, well, infinite. This means it is un-conjugated. You don't know who is doing the action. So, to indicate this, they stick the subject of an infinitive clause in the accusative. In this case, auton, or he.

εις οικον τινος των αρχοντων των φαρισαων: "into the house" is fairly straight forward. The rest is a genitive where we just put in a lot of "ofs": 'of one of the leaders of the pharisees.'  Worth contemplating that the Pharisees had leaders.  Those seeking holiness found a way to hierarchy very quickly...

σαββατω : The sabbath here is in the dative; here this is a dative revealing when something happens, ie, "on the sabbath." So you can combine this with the earlier infinitive (we are still in the infinitive phrase here): "When Jesus went on the sabbath into the house of one...pharisees...

φαγειν αρτον: Here we have another infinitive, which completes the other verb, "went" as in, "he went to eat." Oddly enough, the object of this infinitive phrase is also in the accusative, "arton" or bread. In an infinitive phrase, both subject and object can be in the accusative!

και αυτοι ησαν παρατηρουμενοι αυτον: Let's take care of the "autoi"s here. The first is plural, they; the second is mas. sing, him. 95% of "auto"s are not going to be translated as "self" or "very" but are simply pronouns.

ησαν παρατηρουμενοι: A really complex way of making a verb in the imperfect -- put an imperfect for of "to be" with a perfect tense participle. Used quite frequently with middle/passive verbs. But simple to translated: "were watching."

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The two waves of secularization: A proposed response

Like all pastors, I have observed an increasing secularization of American culture over the past generation.  This process picked up pace during the past six years and then seemed to go into overdrive during COVID.  This has created challenges (and opportunities) for us as churches.

More than simply speed up over time, I offer that the contours of secularization have changed in the past six years.  Earlier we were going through (what we might call) secularization phase 1:  "People got busy."  Now people are going through (what we might call) secularization phase 2:  "People got disgusted."  I will describe them as a waves, because they kind of roll and crash into each other.  Furthermore, each presents churches with a different set of opportunities - ways to ride the wave - and challenges - crashing and undertow.  My sense is that both have been at work for some time, but I sense that for most churches, they will discover that the second wave is much harder to navigate than the first.

Secularization Wave #1:  People got Busy

In the first phase of secularization, people began to find meaning in other places besides church.  Andrew Root has masterfully examined this through the lens of youth ministry (and his series on the church in the secular age).  People filled their schedule and found ultimately their identity in all sorts of activities: travel soccer, marching band, social media, politics, etc.  While some of these had a more 'Christian' flavor to them, they generally meant that people spent far less time in religious activities than a generation ago.

The Aftermath of Wave #1

  • What did this mean for churches?  Attendance declined.  The biggest victim was the pastoral size church.  A church that consistently had 125 in worship found itself struggling to worship 100 only a decade or two later.  While this was enough to pay the bills (barely), its attendance of young families was so lean that it could no longer offer a meaningful 'Youth group' and 'Sunday school'.  This meant that the remaining families wanting programming for their children, youth and family did two things:  one, they complained about the lack of programming (even as they chose to have their kids attend other events) and two, many of them migrated in the direction of larger churches.  This left many congregations with a fair amount of nostalgia  that impeded new ideas; in addition there was a lot of residual anger in the system that burned out their clergy.
  • More positively, it often forced smaller (pastoral and family size) churches to be creative, explore inter-generational learning opportunities and consider partnerships with other congregations.  The happiest among these have accepted a smaller size and are finding their particular niche within their community. 
  • Within larger churches (program to mega), this first wave of secularization put a huge premium on excellence and programming.  As young families with time on their hands for churchy activities became a scarcer commodity, larger churches had the opportunity and need to attract them (as well as the older folks (with money!) who wanted churches that still had kids).  While someone with more experience could point out how I am truly wrong about this, my sense is that the net effect of the first wave of secularization was to encourage big churches to work "faster, bigger and harder", doing what they had been doing in the 1980s and 1990s, albeit with far thinner results.  I also offer that this influx of people curbed the incentive of large churches to do real evangelism; they spent more of their resources on welcoming existing Christians into their midst (if not their sub-culture).  In short, their energy vector began pointing in and perhaps out, but was not going out in the same way. 

Secularization Wave #2:  People got Disgusted

The second wave of secularization, the one that I think is picking up speed, is different.  In this wave of secularization, people go further than saying that church is less important.  They move toward skepticism, if not fear and rejection of the church.  This is not entirely new; Gen-X is famous for rejecting institutions; also, the priesthood scandal in the Catholic church added a great deal of kindling to this fire!  

However, there is an acute wholesale rejection of the church by increasing numbers of people.  There is a sense that the church has wed itself, not simply to conservative policy aims, but to partisan political warfare and even flirts (if not cheats with) Christian nationalism.

An interesting article from Christianity Today offers that the rise of Christian nationalism is itself a manifestation of secularization.  The thesis is that as people become less engaged in actual church, they tend to gravitate toward pseudo-church.  I find the argument compelling.  Many of our churches have also been hit by this form of secularism, as we have seen people in our church ghost us over COVID-mask requirements, not to attend elsewhere, but simply to walk away from church.

But even if I cool down my rhetoric, the point is simple:  You have a significant number of people who are one or two generations removed from active participation in the life of a congregation.  (Consider this -- the last family on Television that went to church is the Simpsons!!)  When such people have religious or spiritual questions, the Christianity they observe, especially through the lens of typical media or social media presentations, is likely going to be a very socially conservative, if not even schismatic and heretical presentation of the Gospel. Such people are incredibly unlikely to show up at worship because they heard we have good music or good preaching.  There are far too many barriers. 

Trying to Ride Wave #2

My sense is that trying to ride Secularization Wave #2 is going to be really hard for most people.  It will require a different set of tools than Wave #1.  For many mainline pastor size churches, this officially ends their ability to continue business as usual.  The loss of an additional 10% of people post-COVID is going to mean they can no longer afford their staff, forcing cut backs.  It will be difficult for these congregations to find a way to celebrate who they are and discover where God is calling them without succumbing to bitterness.  Ironically, the family size churches may do better because they have accepted a smaller size; whereas the former pastoral size churches likely are reeling from loss.

For the bigger and healthier churches, I sense that they will need to rediscover evangelism.  By and large, 'evangelism' in such contexts meant attractional ministry, welcoming church people into our congregation.  The dynamics of wave #1 and the early phases of COVID-musical-church-chairs seduced many congregations into a comfortable sense that "bigger, faster, harder and ONLINE" will work.  But I sense moving forward, we will need to think beyond 'welcoming visitors' or even 'inviting people to worship.' 

My candid sense is that dealing with a society after two waves of secularization will force us to become missionary churches...Churches that meet people where they are.  Churches that find a variety of ways for people to form relationships, share stories and serve others.  As Bonhoeffer wrote:

The Church is the Church only when it exists for others . . . not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others