Tuesday, March 25, 2014

John 18:28-40

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle.
Summary:  Pilate's character in the Gospel of John is complex.  It seems that John wants to drive home the point that not even Pilate is in control of the situation, but only Jesus.  In John's Gospel, Jesus is never the one on trial; humanity is.  Pilate's interview haunts us with the question:  What is truth?  The answer is obviously Jesus, but what does that mean?  And yes, our answer should be slightly offensive.  It got Jesus killed; it should at least get us in a little trouble.

μαρτυρεω ("testify", literally martyr, vs 18:37)  This word means to give a witness, like in court.  Jesus takes his place as the first Christian martyr, one who will be killed for the truth.  So many Christians died giving their witness that the word's meaning changed.

βασιλευς ("king", vs. 18:33,37)  BDAG define this as "One who rules as possessor of the highest office in a political realm."  Already this shows Pilate considers the whole trial as a sham.  Could Pilate really execute the king of the Jews?   Obviously not.

κοσμος ("world", literally cosmos, vs 18:37)  Just a reminder:  God loves the world, but the world doesn't love back:
Throughout the Gospel of John, the world doesn't like God. It doesn't understand God (1:10); it doesn't give like God (14:27) ; in fact, it hates God (7:7). Yet God loves it still.

αληθεια ("truth", vs 18:37,38)  BDAG writes, "truth is a favorite word of the Johannine literature" and play a major role in it.
John 17:17 God's word is truth
John 14:6 Jesus is the truth
John 16:13 Spirit leads to truth
John 8:32 Truth sets on free

Βαραββας ("Barabbas", vs. 40)  This word literally means "Son of the Father."  Quite an irony that "Son of the father" is chosen and its not Jesus!  This also picks up on the irony that the Jewish leaders are concerned about ritual purity as they hand Jesus over to death (18:28)

ληστης ("thief", vs. 40)  The word means robber or "brigand" (a lovely word, right!).  But Josephus, a Jewish historian writing during this time, always uses this word to mean social bandit/revolutionary.  It clearly can mean this too.  If you totally cannot focus on your sermon, you can read about what Josephus says about Jesus here:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John 18:12-27

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 Lenten cycle, most recently March 23, 2015
The RCL text for this week, focusing on the woman at the well, may be found here:

Summary:  This is a haunting and challenging passage for all of us.  Jesus is being smacked in the face while Peter warms himself by a fire, denying Jesus.  There is much law in this passage:  How do we deny his lordship in our lives?  But there is much Gospel too -- Jesus redeems Peter, in fact, he recreates the scene for Peter in John 21.

Some key words
η παιδισκη η θυρωρος ("servant girl, the gate keeper," 18:17)  John sets up an amazing juxtaposition here.  Peter is asked a question by a simple peasant child and he offers denial.  Jesus is interrogated by the chief priest's father in law, surrounded by armed men.   Even after having his face slapped, Jesus remains defiant; Peter is scared before any violence has been enacted.  Ironically, Jesus tells them to ask those who have heard his words to serve as a witness (21:9).  Peter is the first witness and fails...at least this time.

ανθρακια  ("anthracite coal," 18).  This minor detail is set beautifully within John's Gospel.  Where will Peter be forgiven?  At the breakfast coal fire (same word; the ONLY other time it appears in the whole Bible).  Jesus goes right to the spot of Peter's denial to forgive Peter.  He recreates the scene to forgive and redeem Peter!

ουκ ειμι ("I am not", 18:17)  Peter twice says "I am not."  This can be part of the statement "I am not a disciple."  But existentially, Peter is saying something even more.  He is nothing.  When push comes to shove, he is nothing.  He has denied Christ and in doing so, has denied himself of everything.  Of course he is cold.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

John 13:1-17

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle, most recently on Mar 16, 2014.

Summary for John 13:1-17:  In this passage, Jesus asserts himself as a moral example and THE teacher, concluding with a challenging 'if' statement about blessings.  Perhaps this law-filled message is a good one to hear during Lent -- our journey to the cross is not simply one of mild self-imposed discomfort.  Rather, it is the difficult work of dealing with, if not healing, the sins of others in a caring manner.  Admittedly, there is plenty of Gospel too, revealed in the extent of Christ's love for us in both the foot-washing and the foreshadowing of the cross.  And yes, there's living water once again.

As I ponder this text within the context of Lent, I see the powerful interplay between faith, humilty and grace at work.   We will not be able to serve others, certainly not blessed by it, until we become aware of grace, of Jesus Christ and his tremendous self-emptying love.  I believe that only in acts of having our feet washed -- realizing that Jesus knows our sins, and still loves us and cares for us -- are we made into disciples.  We cannot "accept" Jesus, but we learn to confess him as teacher and Lord as we encounter him in times of weakness and sin.

Key words
εις τελος  ("completely", 13:1)  Jesus hear says he will love the disciples "to the end," literally.  It means more naturally "completely" but translators wanted to leave in this connection to Jesus words from the cross, "it is finished."  If they really wanted to do that though, they should have translated this passage as "He loved them to the finish."  A gift to my methodist friends:  The phrase could also mean "into fullness" or "into perfection." (Love divine anyone!!)

τιθησιν  (from τιθημι, "to place or lay down". 13:4)  In John chapter 10, Jesus declared he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  Here Jesus lays down his garments.  I think this suggests his act of food washing is the beginning of his laying down his life for his disciples.  (Indeed 13:3 gives the context for Jesus' actions)

βαλλω  ("throw", 13:2 and 5).  In vs 2, this verb appears in a brutal form:  genitive perfect participle!  The point is that the devil throws something into Judas' heart, namely greed, fear and hatred.  Jesus, on the other hand, throws water into a basin.  Water to cleanse, water to heal and water to make whole.

ο διδασκαλος ο κυριος ("THE teacher THE lord"  13:13,14)  Every translator drops the article from both versus.  Jesus is not just a teacher or a lord, but THE teacher and THE lord.  This alone is worth preaching on.

ει and εαν (if, 13:17)  These words are best translated as "if."  Both are used in John 13:17
ει you understand, you are blessed εαν you do these things.
The first ει means more "since" than "if" when it is paired with an indicative verb, as it is in this case.  This is why the NIV gets it right by translating this "Now that you know these things"
εαν is more hypothetical and demands the subjunctive, as it is in this case. 
But this if could also be translated as "when"; see John 11:10; John 12:32.
In short, the sentence could read:
"Since you understand this, you are blessed when you do these things."