Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Matthew 1:18-25

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year 1, Advent IV, most recently December 18, 2016.

Summary:  This passage teems with Old Testament allusions.  These allusions make it clear that Christ is to be exalted.  Furthermore, they make it clear that Joseph is a special person.  I appreciate why the church has so adored Mary; I think Joseph is often overlooked.  As Rev. Daniel Clark said to me while he was serving at my parish as a Vicar: Joseph is the blue collar bible character; a quiet, humble and hard-working person that Scripture overlooks!

γενεσις (lit. 'genesis', meaning "beginning" or "birth", 1:18)  Matthew uses this word twice in his first chapter (also 1:1).  He could have picked simpler words for giving birth, as he does in vs. 25.  I believe he used this word intentionally to connect back the Old Testament opening creation passages.  The first book but also the first word of the Hebrew Bible is "beginnings" (in Greek -- Genesis). Furthermore, like in the Old Testament, Matthew seems to offer two creation accounts, first the grand and then second, the detailed version.

To have more fun with this connection:  I believe Matthew in vs 1:1 here riffs on Genesis 2:4, much like John's Gospel opens with a riff on Genesis 1:1.  Matthew employs the the phrase "βιβλος γενεσωες" found only in Genesis 1:1.  Both creation accounts are picked up by the New Testament!

υιος Δαυιδ (meaning "son of David", 1:20)  When this phrase is used elsewhere in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 13:13 ; 2 Chronicles 32:33), it does not refer to the Jews or all of the Hebrews.  It refers to the ancient kings of Israel.  Matthew here is calling Joseph a king.

οναρ (meaning "dream", 1:20)  I am embarrassed to admit that I never saw this connection until some pastors showed this to me last week -- both the Old Testament Joseph and the New Testament Joseph have dreams...and go to Egypt!  I wonder if I didn't discover this earlier because the Greek version of the Old Testament uses a different word for dream.   Regardless, a cool connection.

Iησους (lit. 'Jesus', 1:21)  This is the name to be given to the baby born to Mary.  It is the Old Testament name Joshua.  Names often change when they move across cultures (Robert=Roberto in Spanish), so believe it or not, Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Hebrew.  Joshua's name means "The LORD saves" and his job is to lead the people across the river Jordan into the promised land.  Jesus will save the people, get baptized in the river Jordan and lead the people into the promised land.  We miss that connection in English that would have been clear to Joseph and Mary:  They are to name their child "the Lord saves" for he will save the people from their sins.

Εμμανουηλ  (lit. 'Emmanuel', meaning "God is with us", 1:23)  Although he is declared here to be "God is with us" Jesus will not assume this title during his ministry of teaching and healing.  Why is this?  I would argue because he must first die and rise in order to be Emmanuel.  At the end of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus declares "I am with you."  However, the literal Greek here is "I with you am"; "I am" is the ancient name of God.  So here Jesus expands the title of God to include -- at its heart -- with you.  He then takes on the name Immanuel, but only after the cross and empty tomb.

μη φοβηθης (meaning "do not be afraid", 1:20)  Little side note on the Greek.  Although the English translators translate this the same way they translate the words of Gabriel to Mary (do not be afraid), it is slightly different in the Greek.  It is the same verb (φοβοω), but it is in the passive voice for Joseph and the active voice for Mary.  Technically then the translation for Mary should be "Do not fear" and for Joseph "Do not be afraid."  This is not very different, really.  But what is interesting is that when the passive construction is used in the LXX translation of the Old Testament, it often has an element (further suggested by the words' meaning in Homeric Greek, I would argue) of "Do not flee."  Perhaps the angel is telling Joseph, "Don't go anywhere!"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Matthew 11:2-11

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
 
Summary:
For some comments on blessing, scandal and Luther, see below!  I would like to focus though on the words Jesus attributes today to John the Baptist, claiming that "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you."  This passage is often said to refer to Malachi 3:1.  However, a careful reading, in English or in Greek, reveals that it is quite different from Malachi 3:1.  In Malachi, the Lord sends a messenger to prepare a way for himself (the Lord) to return to the temple and bring about the day of the Lord.  In the case of John, Jesus says that he prepares a way for YOU.  I think Jesus may be referring to another passage in Scripture, namely Exodus 23:30 (see also 33:2).  Here the messenger is supposed to show the people the way into the promised land and out of the wilderness. This sounds a lot more like the job of John than the messenger Malachi describes!  Regardless, Jesus is claiming to be the Lord!

Key words

ἀγγελος (11:8; "messenger")  The word is literally "angel," but it also means messenger (double -gg in Greek is pronounced -ng).  In the Bible, especially in the OT, the line between the messenger and God is often blurred.  Often a story begins with an angel speaking and then suddenly God is speaking.  Why is this?  One answer may be historical.  As the NET commentary writes, "Cassuto says that the words of the first clause do not imply a being distinct from God, for in the ancient world the line of demarcation between the sender and the sent is liable easily to be blurred."  I provide a Lutheran, and therefore cooler, answer:  Where the Word is, so is God.  

σκανδαλίζω (11:6; "take offense")  This word appears often in the New Testament.  It is most often translated as offensive.  If you want to shake people up though, translate it more literally, "become scandlized."  I recall here Luther's 95 theses:
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).

μαλακοις (11:8; "fancy")  Hardly a key word for this passage, but alas, it is word of intense scrutiny these days.  Paul uses this word in 1 Cor 6:9 to refer to, well, we really don't know.  Ask the NRSV and they will tell you male prostitutes.  Ask the NET and they will tell you "passive homosexual partners."  It seems that at least, in this case, it refers to soft as in luxury soft.  I think.

Sentence Translation:  NRSV Matthew 11:11.  I picked this sentence because it has no participles.  Instead, it has a lot of nouns in different cases!
αμην λεγω υμιν -ουκ εγηγερται γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου, ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

As usual, divide into little pieces, using the Greek punctuation provided by most Greek bibles to help
αμην λεγω υμιν
ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου
ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

1)  αμην λεγω υμιν:  This should be straight forward:  Amen, I am saying to you.  Or Truly I say to you all.  Just fill in the words!  The only mildly hard thing is the pronoun, "2nd person plural dative."  Or "To you all"

Proposed translation:  "Truly I am telling all of you:"

2)  ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου

Find the verb...εγηγερται   "perfect passive singular"  He/she/it has been born.  In Greek, the perfect makes sense here, because the perfect indicates a previous action that still has a linger impact, in this case, birth.  To translate the verb, you need to also translate the "not" or  ουκ.  So, before we get to the rest of the sentence, we know what has happened.  "He/she/it has not been born."  It turns out there is no obvious subject so far, so we will just leave it as "he/she/it."

Now divide up the rest of the sentence into "cars on the train."  Group them by case (hint:  cluster them by what looks the same in terms of endings):
A)  εν γεννητοις B)  γυναικων μειζων C)  Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου

C) is the easiest:  John the Baptist.  But why is John in the genitive?
A) Bible works helps us here:  Among humankind.  To translate the word humankind, you don't have to worry it being in the dative because the preposition εν governs its translation:  in, with, among, etc.
B) "women" in also the genitive; μειζων means greater (at least here).

So what we know so far is:  "among mankind [genitive link] women greater [genitive link] John the Baptist."

To translate the genitive, just try "of"

"among mankind of women greater [of] John the Baptist."  This works in the first case, but not the second.  It turns out that μειζων grammatically requires a genitive.  This isn't how this works in English, so we will use "than" to establish the comparison.
... and at the same time, clean up the first part of the sentence:

"among people born to a woman greater than John the Baptist."

We combine this with earlier

"Truly I am telling all of you:"+"He/she/it has not been born."+ "among people born to a woman greater than John the Baptist."

Truly, I am telling you:  "No one has been born unto a woman who is greater than John the Baptist."

ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

Find the verb -- its at the end:  εστιν.  This means "is"  So now lets find the subject, which is something after the ο δὲ.  Hint -- when you have ο δὲ, the δὲ tells you that you are switching subjects.  But where to go from here?  Again, make you train cars:
A)  ο δὲ
B)  μικροτερος
C)  ἐν τη βασιλεια
D)  των ουρανων
E) μειζων αυτου
F)  εστιν

F and A you know.  Now E I put two words that seem different, but we've already learned that μειζων means greater and requires a genitive. So this means:  "greater than him."

C+D simply means:  "in the kingdom of heaven."  (Now what that means would take me the whole New Testament to explain."

B)  Means least.  And it is in the nominative.  So we combine with A) for our subject.  You get:  "the one who is least."  Or simply, "the least."

So we get:  "Even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater then he."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently November 2016.
 
Big Picture:  This is an awesome passage to reflect on the mission and purpose of the church.  God is on a mission to heal and save the world.  He gathers a group of people to study his word.  As they gather more people, they are all transformed as agents of his love in this world.

*Note.  While this blog overwhelmingly looks at the New Testament passages from the weekly lectionary, this week the Hebrew Bible text is so compelling, that it deserves some closer examination.  For those of you that like Greek better (like me!), don't worry, there will also be some tie-ins to Greek, LXX style!  (no, not XXX style.  LXX style).

There are only five verses, so I want to add a few comments on each verse:

2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

"son of Amoz"  Isaiah is identified here by his father (and ultimately city and tribe).  Why?  Because identity in this culture is bound up with family and tribe.

"The Word..."  The word for "word" here is
דבר, davar.  Translated as "logos" in the New Testament, this word appears time and time again in the Bible.  The Word of The Lord speaks to and through the Prophets.  The Word of the Lord is said to be rare in the childhood days of Samuel (1 Sam 3:1) a sign of bad times.  Also, the construction of the sentence in Hebrew draws attention to the word, "The Word."  Typically a verb starts a sentence, but in this case, it is the noun, the Word.

"saw concerning"  This word, חזה , (khazah), means behold or see.  Normally the Word of the Lord comes to people, but in Isaiah's case, he beholds the Word.  The word becomes visible!

2:2  In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

"In the days to come...":  This specific phrase in the Bible, "In the after/end of the days" is often used in the prophets to connote the end times.  In this light, the NIV "In the last days" may be closer.  On other hand, the phrase may also simply mean the future.  I think the best word that provides this ambiguity is: "ultimate."  In the ultimate days; ultimately we hope, pray and strive that we can experience such days in our lifetime.  Linguistically, it is worth noting that the verb here (to become/to come to pass/to be) is in the imperfect tense, connoting that it is on-going and incomplete.

"The Lord's House":  The specific phrase used by Isaiah, "Bet-YHWH" does mean House of the Lord literally, however, it refers to the temple in Jerusalem. Tricky to translate.  Do you take the historically and linguistically accurate translation of "The temple" or do you leave it as "House of the Lord."  I like the idea of House of the Lord because it gives the sense that the temple is not a place of human hands or even of human worship, but the place of God's dwelling. 

LXX (Greek) Note:  The LXX translates the word as οικος του θεου (house of God).  Interestingly, YHWH is almost always translated as κυριος (kyrios), however, not in this case.  This anomaly is perhaps explained by the insertion that it is the mountain of the "kyrios," leaving the sentence with at least one incidence of "kyrios."

Technical grammar note:  The preposition in the phrase, "as the highest of the mountains" is one of those strange ב or "bet"s that would have certainly found its way onto a Hebrew exam...let's not get bogged down there, but if you have a bunch of spare time, have fun categorizing that particular preposition.

"All nations" (goyim) Once, while working at my firm in New York, I was called a goyim.  This is, in modern Jewish slang, often a derogatory term for non-Jews.  However, in the Bible, it simply refers to the nations -- the εθνε (ethne) in Greek.

"Shall stream to it"  Interestingly, another translation is "it shall shine forth to the nations."  The Tanakh translation picks up this possible meaning of the word "stream."  This would be interesting to insert the idea of God's people serving as example to the rest of the world.
 
2:3  Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

"For out of Zion shall go forth instruction"  The word for instruction here is "Torah" which can mean many things, including Law.  The LXX will actually translate this as νομος (nomos).  More broadly, Torah can also include, not simply the laws, but also the story that involves the instruction.  This is probably too technical a point for a sermon, but the point that people could understand is that in the Bible, instruction never drops from the sky, but always comes to the people in a relationship and for their good.

What is also interesting is that the word for "Torah" is a cognate of "Y-R-H."  This word (according to BDB) means 1) to cast; 2) to lay a foundation 3) to shoot an arrow 4) to teach (in the hiphil).  There is a huge debate about how the words "teach" and "cast" became related, with theories that speculate this relates to the priestly function of "casting" omens.  Another common theory is that when one casts, one points.  Teaching is often a matter of pointing.  I prefer the idea of teaching as laying a foundation for someone.

"the word of the LORD"  Here again we have the word "Devar" (translated as logos by LXX). 

"Walk in his paths".  The word for walk, (הלכ) halak, (apologies on not being able to get an ending Kapf there) is used four times in this section.  People walk to the mounting, the walk in his paths and twice they walk in the light.  This transformation of the people is not simply about intellectual insight, it is about embodied living.

"from Jerusalem."  Before, people were streaming to (אל) the city ..but now the word is going out from מן) Jerusalem.  This is a reminder that God's vision is greater than the ancient people of Israel.  Likewise, the vision of God is bigger than the church.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

No language comment, but a point:  Good laws (justice) leads to peace

2:5  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
"Let us walk"  This phrases echoes the previous verse:  "They will say...come, let us..."  This is why the translation, "In the last days," is not as helpful because 2:5 invites us to participate in that vision here and now.

"Light of the Lord"  This is the only time that this expression appears in the Bible.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

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

Summary:  I doubt many of us will preach on this passage, but I wanted to offer a look at a few quick things.  Ministry is hard.  But Christ is faithful.

Three words
αναλυσις (literally analysis, meaning "death", 4:6)  I find it telling that analysis literally means death in Greek.  Ultimately to analyze something is to break it down...to the point where it may or not be living!  This is not a note suggesting that analysis is bad (this blog is devoted to analysis!), but it is reminder of how analysis can destroy the goodness, if not even life of something.

αγωνα (literally agona, meaning "struggle", 4:7)  I have fought the good fight sometimes makes it sound almost romantically Olympic.  The word for fight here comes into English as agony.  Throughout his letters, but certainly in this chapter, Paul points toward the loneliness and even persecution that comes from serving Christ.  This truly is a pastoral epistle, encouraging Timothy (and all of us) not to lose hope, even in the most difficult of times.

αγαπαω (agape, meaning "love", 4:8)  This is really fascinating -- Almost every translation uses the phrase - "those who have longed for his appearing."  Paul literally writes, "those who have loved his appearing."  The first question is -- which appearing is Paul referring to?  His first (incarnation) or his second (paraousia)?  The bulk of the time Paul uses this word, it refers to the 2nd coming.  However, in 2 Timothy 1:10 Paul uses this word (appearing -- επιφανεια) to refer to the 1st coming.   What is also interesting is that Paul uses the perfect tense here, suggesting a state of affairs created in the past that still is in effect to the present.  In that light, it seems that Paul is referring to a love that began in this first appearing and still maintains itself as a love for the 2nd appearing.  I'm not sure we could easily capture this sense in English:  "those who loved and continue to long for his appearing."

A Greek concept:  Perfect tense
Just about every verb in this section is in the perfect tense.  The perfect tense in Greek is fairly easy to identify because the Greek verb adds a repeated sound to the beginning of the verb and the endings usually have "k."  Hence:  τελεω becomes τετελεκα. 

They are really cool because we do not have the same concept in English.  The perfect suggests a completed action (like in English) but one that still has a present state of affairs.
For example, in Greek, the stone at the tomb has been rolled away .  All four of those words are in the one verb in Greek, parsed in the perfect tense!!  The point is that at some point, the stone was rolled away (past completed action) that still has a present impact -- the stone is not there!  In the case of Paul's letter, Paul has kept (perfect) the faith.  Paul did this in the past, but it has a present implication -- he still has faith!  The perfect tense in English draws attention to when the action happened (completed in the past).  The perfect tense in Greek draws attention to the connection between the past action and present state (like in the example above regarding love.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Luke 17:5-10

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

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"
or:
"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 5, 2016

Luke 15:1-10

This passage occurs in the RCL Year C.  Most recently September 2016
 
Summary: 
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!

Key words:
ευρισκω (15.4,5,6,7,8,9; "find") To remember this verb, remember Archimedes running through the city naked shouting "Eureka" when he realized how bouncy 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!

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 εως , a conjunction, demands the subjunctive here, hence why eurisko looks so stinking weird!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Luke 13:10-17

This passage occurs in the RCL year C, most recently August 2016.

Summary:  I do not think our culture needs to hear words encouraging us to ignore the Sabbath.  Clearly we are in the entirely opposite place than the Jewish world of 2,000 years ago.  What is the consequence?  We are bound by our exhaustion, our stress and our love of our works.  Jesus comes to free this woman from Satan's chains and evil spirits.  I argue that if Jesus were around today, he would seek to free us from the chains that our lack of Sabbath structure imposes on us.

Key words of interest for this passage:
λυω (luo, "free"; 13.15;13:16): "...untie his ox; should not this woman...be set free."  This word appears in two consecutive verses, however, we likely miss this.  First because the English translators translate the word differently in verses 15 and 16.  Second, it appears in a slightly more difficult form as λυθηναι in 13:16.  The verb, which many of us know from all sorts of conjugation charts, means "to loose, to set free." Jesus makes a play on words here: You set free your animals; I set people free. 

This passage puts this illness in terms of binding and releasing in two other places.  We are told in verse 12 that Jesus απολελυθαι the woman.  This word, essentially a linguistic sibling to λυω means "release."  Jesus even says that the woman was in δεσμος (chains, 13:16; also used as verb in this sentence).

ανωρθωθι (from ανορθοω, "straighten", 13.13): "...she stood up straight"  This verb comes from the prefix/preposition "ana" which means upright or again and the adjective "ortho" meaning straight. It simply means straighten up or restore. It is not an especially common word in the Bible, but it recalls the Psalms to mind: "The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down (146:8)." [Technical note:  The Psalm translation is in a slightly different order.]

παντελες (13.11): "could not straighten up at all..." The word builds "pan", meaning "all" and "teles" meaning complete together for a 1-2 punch, like a baseball announcer shouting "it could...go...all...the...way."  The woman was bound up over herself so she did not have the power to stand up into her full measure.

Other words worth reflecting on:
αγανακτων (aganakton, meaning "indignant", 13.14): "Indignant because Jesus..." The word here has its root in "agony." The people watching are in agony over Jesus performing a healing!  How easy it is to get upset about mercy!

εθεραπεθσεν (from θεραπευω, "therapy", meaning "heal", 13.14): "healed" The word began in Greek by meaning service to the Gods; almost like worship! It became to mean, it seems, service that the Gods could render, namely, healing.

υποκριται (hypocrites, 13.15):  This word came right into English!  (The rough breathing mark over the υ means it is sounded hy.)  The word literally means "down judge-er/answer-er." It comes from theater, where the person has to speak to the people from a different height than the others. It came then to mean someone who pretends.

Total breakdown of 13:11
και ιδου γυνη πνευμα εχουσα ασθενειας ετη δεκαοκτω και ην συγκυπτουσα και μη δυναμενη ανακυψαι εις το παντελες

NRSV Luke 13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

The sentence begins with "και ", typical for a Greek sentence and essentially translatable by either "and" or a "period."  It can also mean but, even, more, also, etc...

The next word is "ιδου " This word, like the Hebrew hennah means "pay attention!" It does not describe what happens in the narrative, but it is a direction for the reader.

"γυνη πνευμα εχουσα ασθενειας" Before we parse this, let's just stick in the word-for-word translations: "woman spirit having weakness." The specific cases (accusative verses genitive) help here, but one can probably deduce this reads: "a woman having a spirit of weakness." For modern readers we'd like to take out the word "having a spirit" and replace it with "illness" but this limits the connection we will make later when Jesus says that Satan had this woman bound.

The participle "εχουσα" looks like an aorist because it has an "s" toward the end, but this is a feminine marker! Sigh! How does one translate this participle? Because there is neither a "the" (definitive article) nor a helping verb anywhere near by, you can assume it is a circumstantial. If we then use the formula "A woman, under the circumstance of having, an ill spirit" we see we can toss out the formula and just roll with it, "A woman having a ill spirit."

"ετη δεκαοκτω" 18 years.

και ην συγκυπτουσα ; Here we come to a supplementary participle. You will come to love these because your brain in English already thinks this way.  If you see a form of a "to-be" verb (ie, ην) next to a participle, you can read it like in English -- just stick in the basic translation of the words -- "The woman was bent over." This is the very complex way in Greek of forming the imperfect tense!

και μη δυναμενη ανακυψαι: This is a train wreck by Luke! He basically continues to leave the helping verb, here δυναμενη (to be able) as a participle. This means he must use "μη " for a negative instead of "ou" (all non indicative no-s should be μη and not ou). He then connects it with an aorist infinitive. Ouch.  At the end of the day: "was not able to stand up"

εις το παντελες: This use of εις here basically makes the adjective, παντελες, an adverb because it now describes the action of standing up straight.  The way Luke writes this little tidbit here though leaves a very poetic end to the sentence:  "She was not able to stand up into completeness."  Her not standing up had an impact in her life beyond simply being hunched over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (most recently August 2016)

Summary:  The writer of Hebrews focuses on the reality of trials and tribulations of a faithful life here on earth.  The Christian life is not one of avoiding suffering, but embracing it as Christ embraced his own suffering.  We follow Christ who suffered before entering glory.  Along the way we have our faithful brothers and sisters to inspire us.

Key words:
πιστει (pistei, dative of πιστος , meaning "faith", throughout chapter 11).  I discuss this word and its use in my last week's post for Hebrews 11.

μαρτυρων (genitive form of μαρτυς, martys, meaning "testimony"; 12:1)  As I've written about 100 times before the word μαρτυς simply meant witness in a legal sense.  However, so many Christians died giving their witness, that the meaning of the word changed.  Here in Hebrews 12 we already see the shift in the meaning of this word, in that suffering is clearly connected with witnessing.  While we may not have modern martyrs in the same sense of direct persecution for faith, most of us have received a powerful witness from someone whose faith endured suffering and obstacles.

αγωνα (agona, meaning "race" or "struggle"; 12:1) The word is essentially agony!  We are invited into agony for Christ.  This word appears in another verse in relationship to witness:
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight (αγωνα) of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Translating it as race makes sense given the verb "run" used in 12:1.  However, this may seem like a competition against others.  The focus here is on the struggle against sin.

This word can also mean "heat" like run a "heat." Or life on earth is like a heat!

αρχηγον (archegon, meaning "pioneer"; 12:2)  The word comes from two basic Greek words:  αρχη meaning first or primary; ηγον a derivative of αγω meaning lead.  Jesus is the first leader!  Moving beyond word games, this word appears twice in the letter to the Hebrews.  In 12:2 but also 2:10
Hebrews 2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer (αρχηγον) of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer (αρχηγον) and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Both verses speak of Christ attaining perfection and pioneering our faith.  But both also clearly go via the way of the cross.  Christ leads the way, but it is always through Calvary.

Some fancy word play:
The writer of Hebrews plays on some words here in a way impossible to detect in English.
περικειμενον  vs ευπεριστατον:  In 12:1 the writer says that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses; sin is clinging to us.  Both words have a similar root: περι (peri, around).  The cloud of witnesses is abiding around us; sin is also standing around us.  The word describing sin is quite interesting:  ευπεριστατον which breaks down into ευ-περι-στατον:  Pleased-around-standing.  Sin is happy to stand around us!

Sermon connection:  How we can be reminded of the cloud of witnesses, that they may be ever before us as much as sin is?

περικειμονον vs προκειμενον.  Both words have at their root:  κειμον from κειμαι meaning "lie around."  περι (peri) means around vs προ  (pro) means before.  The cloud of witnesses surrounds us for what lay head of us.  And what does lay ahead of us?  Agony here but glory later.




Sermon connection:  What challenges do you have before you?


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hebrews 11:1-3;8-16

This reading occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  The Roman Catholic church includes slightly different verses, including either  Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12.

Summary:  The writer of Hebrews uses an advanced style of Greek that makes reading it more difficult.  I have included a number more technical notes than usual if you want to dig in.  The big picture is this:  Faith is a mighty, hard and costly matter.  A good preacher should be able to extol the power of faith.  A better preacher should help the people see that their faith is not their own, but a gift from God, that comes to us by the Spirit and the Word.  A great preacher, dare I say it, preaches in such a way that people hear the Word and by the Spirit have this faith.  As Jesus says in the related Gospel passage:  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (12:32)."

Key words and grammar insights:
υποστασις (hypostasis, meaning "confidence"; 11:1)  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the word from all of the Trinitarian debates:  One ousia and three hypostases!  First, let's break down this word:  It comes from υπο- meaning "under" and -στασις meaning "a standing."  The hypostasis is the thing that settles to the ground; the foundation.  This becomes understood metaphorically then as the base of confidence.  The thing upon which you can stand, not just literally, but emotionally.

This is an interesting way of looking at the Trinity -- we have one substance (God) but we have means of confidence, three bedrocks of our life: the creation, the cross and the community of faith.  Okay, I got a little cute there...

ελεγχος (elegchos, meaning "testing; 11:1).  Liddell-Scott defines this word as "a cross-examining, testing, for purposes of disproof or refutation."  Three facts that seem useless:
- It is only used once in the New Testament;
- Old Testament it is found almost exclusively in translations of wisdom literature;
- It has a different meaning if it is declined as a neuter instead of masculine noun. 
What is important here:  It is really hard to figure out what this word actually means because you cannot get many similar uses as the one here.  The other meaning of the word is "rebuke" which makes no sense in this context.  If anything, faith is the rebuke of things seen!

ελπιζομενων (participle form of ελπιζω, meaning "hope"; 11:1)  How to translate this participle?  First, it does not have any article, which would seem to rule out a substantive or an adjective participle.  Second, it is in the genitive case and there are no other nearby words in this case, making it difficult to translates as a circumstantial participle.  The word that helps us know how to translate this participle is πραγματων.  This word is also a genitive neuter plural word meaning "things."  There is a parallel structure in the sentence now genitive plural object - nominative singular subject.  I would argue to translate ελπιζομενων as a genitive substantive participle

ελπιζομενων υποστασις assurance of things hoped for
πραγματων ελεγχος:  proof of things (unseen)
You could argue that ελπιζομενων modifies πραγματων; in this case the above translation (and how everyone translates it) does not change.

βλεπομεν (participle form of βλεπω, meaning "to see"; 11:1;3) This word appears in both verse 1 and 3 in different participle forms.  The point is that faith and sight are often not connected.  The other point is that God can bring about things that we cannot yet see.  Who would have predicted that Africa would be the heart of Christianity over a century ago?  Who would believe in life after death when sitting with someone as they die in suffering?  Who would believe in forgiveness when they have seen the pain that people cause?

εμαρτυρηθσαν (from μαρτυρεω, martyreo, meaning "testify"; 11:2)  As I written about before, Christians changed the meaning of this word.  Because so many Christians were killed for their witness, the word martyr came to mean to die for one's witness!  The sentence literally reads "the elders were martyred in this faith."  In this case, the word means "be well spoken of", like a "we can say about them now" kind of thing.  But the most literal translation should shake us up.  Faith has a cost!

πρεσβυτεροι (presbyter(oi) meaning "elder"; 11:2)  This word can mean ancestors but also simply elders.  In the early church this became a position of leadership and is still used today in various churches to designate leadership.!

πιστει (dative form of πιστις, meaning "faith"; 11:3 and then throughout the passage).  The writer of Hebrews will begin using the word πιστει repeatedly.  It is the word for faith in the dative case.  The dative case can have many meanings, most likely in this case the "instrumental" idea.  (By means of faith...)  In English, we almost always have to have words with prepositions to show how they fit together.  Greek can simply "decline" them in cases so show their meanings.

κατηρτισθαι  (form of καταρτιζω, meaning "restore", 11:3)  This is fascinating. Typically translators understand 11:3 to refer to creation -- the old creation.  This would make sense in that the writer of Hebrews is going to begin a retelling of the Old Testament.  But the writer intentionally chooses restore (as in Galatians 6:1:  If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently).  I wonder if the writer of Hebrews here is connecting the old and new creation:  God is restoring the new creation -- at his word -- having made the seen from the unseen.  My sense is that belief in God's work in making the new creation takes more faith than belief in God's work in making the old creation!  I don't think translating this in terms of the old testament creation is wrong (in fact the verb tenses later in the verse suggest this as well as, again, the whole framework of the passage).  I just think there might be a small note of the new creation joining the chorus here.

Little bonus:  In verse 10 you find a curious word for builder:  δημιουργος or demiurge of gnostic faith!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Genesis 18:1-15 (Genesis 18:1-10a)

This passage is found in the RCL , Year C, most recently in the summer of 2016.  In this case, it is Genesis 18:1-10a
This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Sept 20, 2015). 
 
Summary:  Right after the beautiful image of Adam and Eve in the garden, we get a glimpse of real families and the problems:  infertility, if not infidelity and all sorts of sibling rivalries.  What is at stake?  Can God be a faithful God over and against human sin and weakness?  The answer here is clearly "yes."

איש ("ish", meaning "man", 18:2)  The word here does not mean angels, dieties or anything else divine.  It simply means man.  Which raises all sorts of interesting questions.  First, do the three men represent the Trinity?  This seems unlikely.  Why?  First, the two men separate themselves from the "LORD" (18:22).  This seems a strange behavior for the Trinity, supposedly united in an eternal dance of love.  Second, the two men are referred to as "messengers" (or angels in 19:1).  Even the New Testament refers to them as angels (Hebrews 13:2).  It seems strange to refer to the second and third person of the trinity as messengers/angels!

Side note on ancient languages:  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for messenger (αγγελος or
מלאכים) is the same as the word for angel (think ev-angelical means good -message!).

Second, can God take a human form without the incarnation?  This seems really intriguing.  Was God merely appearing as a human...or was God actually taking human form...or is God always in human form?  Well, for starters, food was consumed (18:8).  Real food!  Real stomachs!  This was not just a ghost, but a living human being.  It seems possible that God could, in fact, take a human form...but this makes a strange case for the significant of Christmas.  The significance of Christmas is not that God became human but HOW God became human, namely as a virtual refugee born among animals and proclaimed to shepherds.

צחק ("saqaq", meaning "laugh", 18:12)  Simply play on words:  Sarah "laughs" (saqaq) and will name her child "he laughs" (Yitzhak, or anglicized, "Isaac")

היפלא ("hi-iphaleh" two words, meaning "if wonderful", 18:14)  Some translations take this in a negative way, "Is anything too difficult or too hard."  The root here is one of wonderful and miracle -- is anything too amazing, too miraculous for God.

TWOT offers a great insight into this word (really root word) about the fact that the miracle is not as important as the revealed fact that God is for (or against) us.

"Preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to the acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel. that is, in the Bible the root pl° refers to things that are unusual, beyond human capabilities. As such, it awakens astonishment (pl°) in man. Thus, the "real importance of the miraculous for faith (is) -not in its material factuality, but in its evidential character... it is not, generally speaking, the especially abnormal character of the event which makes it a miracle; what strikes men forcibly is a clear impression of God's care or retribution within it" (Eichrodt). We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God's care or retribution."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Colossians 1:1-14


This passage is found in the RCL year C, last appearing in Summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is unlikely see much preaching time because it is paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan!  But there is some interesting stuff in here, especially as one considers the rest of the letter.  Overall, Paul really expects the people who believe in Christ to live differently than the rest of society.  Living as a follower of Christ never was, is or will be easy.  But no fear, for Christ is the true hero, the one who has come to rescue us.

Key words:
αγιοις (hagios, meaning "saint", 1:2)  This word is a tough one to translate.  Literally it means "holy ones" or latinized, "saints."  In the original church, the believers viewed each other as saints.  Overtime, this term came to refer to a small number of Christians (the "marines" if you will).  But in the original church it was everyone.  So do we translate this as "saints" reminding people that they, as Christians, are saints, or do we avoid this word to avoid its every day meaning as a "1-in-1000 person who someone how rose above the rest of us."

ευχαριστουμεν (from ευχαριστω, "eucharistoo", meaning "thanksgiving", 1:3)  Just a quick reminder that our fancy Holy Communion term "Eucharist" meanings "thanksgiving."  It was used in the New Testament not simply to refer to the action of Jesus in Holy Communion (he gave thanks) but also to refer to any giving of thanks to God!

καρποφορουμενον (from "καρποφορεω", meaning "bear fruit", 1:6)  This summer's Biblical theme ought to be fruit.  Although we've left Galatians, Paul continues to talk about the idea of bearing fruit!

αξιος ("axios," meaning "worthy", 1:10)  Some scholars consider Colossians deutero-Pauline, in that Paul did not write it.  Typically such scholars really do not like the housevcodes at the end of the letter. I don't agree with this assessment; I think Colossians is very much like Paul; if not him, then someone who studied a great deal under Paul and who was him or herself brilliant and inspired wrote it.  But lest we think that worthiness is not a Pauline concept:
Philippians 1:27     Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
Romans 16:2          So that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:12    Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
See also Ephesians 4:1:    I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

Some words on atonement and the work of Christ
The letter to the Colossians quickly shifts away from prayers for the believers and moves into a hymn of Christ's praise.  In this week's passage we read a few metaphors used to describe for the work of Christ:
- κληρου (from κληρος, "kleros" meaning "inheritance", 1:12)
We gain an inheritance in Christ.
- ερρυσατο (from ρυομαι, "hermai" meaning "rescue, 1:13)
Christ rescued us from darkness (literally the word is hero!)
- απολυτρωσιν (from απολυτρωσις, "apolytrosis" meaning "redemption, 1:14)
Christ redeemed us through forgiveness.

In some ways, these are all classic theological notions involve the Christ who suffers and then defeats death.  What new insights or perspectives might Colossians offer us?  It seems though that the redemption is not (or at least not primarily) from God's wrath, but rather the powers of sin.  Sin has a really power to captivate us.  This does put us before God's wrath (3:6), but this is not the real problem, rather sin is.  To put it another way, Colossians is not describing substitutionary atonement (where Jesus takes our place on the cross and therefore the punishment of our sins) and more of a synthetic atonement where Christ's death and resurrection have cause in us the death of the old and the rising of the new.

We need a hero.  Who has finally arrived!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Luke 10:25-37

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C.  Most recently Summer of 2016.
 
Summary:  This is a classic passage that needs no complex exegesis to make it understandable.  One can tell it as a morality tale (we should be the Good Samaritan); or one go a Lutheran route (Christ is the Good Samaritan).  But if you want to try something else...A word I'd never caught before was the word for inn -- πανδοχειον -- literally all-are-welcome.  I find this a comforting image of the church -- a place where anyone and everyone comes to receive mercy and healing on the road of life.  (okay, okay, it is not a great image of repentance, but nonetheless, it is worth pondering:  why do people find comfort at a local bar/inn and not the church).

Other words:

σπλαγχνιζομαι ("splagchnizoma", meaning "compassion", 10.33)  This word means compassion in Greek; it comes from intestines.  To have compassion meant your guts were turned over.

ζωην (from ζωη "zooe" meaning life, 10.25)  In John's Gospel Jesus affirms that everlasting life is not something that begins after death, but begins here.  You can really see this in the Greek in his Gospel, where many of the tenses regarding everlasting life are in the present:  he who believes HAS everlasting life (John 3:36).  In this passage from Luke, Jesus also connects everlasting life with earthly life.  (Do this, Jesus says, and you will live.)  Jesus denies a distinction between everlasting life (the lawyers' question) and life.  To live with God is everlasting life, which begins here on earth.  However, Luke here connects them with moral action.  What does everlasting life look and feel like?  Like showing mercy.  I have no desire to drive a wedge between Luke and John or between faith and works here.  Simply, the everlasting life is the life in the new creation, where our faith transforms us into God's instruments of mercy.

πως ("poos" meaning "how", 10.26)  Jesus does not say, "What does the law say?"  Rather he says, "How do you read the law?"  A reminder that people can read the same laws in different ways!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Galatians 6:1-18

This passage occurs as the RCL New Testament Lesson during year C, most recently July 2016.

Summary one:  This passage is full of contradictions, or as Lutherans call them, dialectics.  We are called to bear one another's burdens, yet carry our own load; boast in our work, yet only boast in Christ; we are called to do good for all, yet do good chiefly for those in the community.  Phew.  I don't think a preacher or pastor or theologians should resolve these tensions.  This is life in the spirit, which we are called to walk in (5:25).  I think Paul's challenging words here call us into a community of discernment.  Ultimately, we are called in this community back to the cross, where we can realize we will not get it right, but finally Christ will bring about a new creation.

Summary two:  Paul presents us with a couple of images of the church here.  A hospital, a family and a big arrow to the cross.  Perhaps even a military unit.

Summary three:  The canon within the canon, ladies and gentlemen, is, Christ crucified and the new creation.  Done.

Key words:
προσλαμβανω ("catch", Gal 6:1)   The word here for catch is "prolambano." "λαμβανω" is a common word in Greek, meaning give or take. The pro prefix is also a familiar word meaning before or ahead of time.   So this word means 'catch ahead.' Interestingly, this phrase then almost means "If you catch someone before they sin..." The point here is not simply admonishment but prevention of further injury.

καταρτιζω ("restore", 6:1)  The word for "restore" here is "katartizo" which is related to the Greek medical term for "set a bone in place." This obviously takes skill, time and care. What a powerful image about admonishment! Another image comes from Hebrews 11:3, where God καταρτιζ-ed, ie, "prepared", the world by his Word. Talk about skill and time and energy!

πνεθματικος ("spiritual"), 6:1, the word for "spiritual" appears a lot in other Pauline writings, see 1 Cor 2:13, but it is not developed in Galatians. It is worth noting here that the point of our justification, of our ultimate union with Christ, is not to disregard the world, but the enter more fully into it, to help heal others.

βασταζετε ("bear"), 6:2 (and also 6:5).   In 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens" is in the present imperative: Continually and keep bearing one another's burdens. This is an on-going work. It also appears in 6:5.

Curiously there are different Greek (and English) words used for the object of the bearing:
Bear one another's burden (6:2)
Each must carry their own load (6:5)
The first object, burden or βαρος, probably means more weight (and can mean emotional weight).

The second one, load or φορτιον, means more merchandise, a specific thing you could carry, a load. Does Paul intend anything with these different images? Maybe one could say put them together something like this: You are responsible for making your own ship float but this does not absolve you from helping your neighbor's sinking boat either. I wonder if this is a case, like the Gospel of John, where you can try to splice synonyms and not get very far!

καυχμα ("boast", verb in 6:14, 6:4)  The NRSV and NIV locate the pride in different places, based on how they translate εαυτου. The NRSV indicates the pride is in the work. The NIV (and NET) translate it as "Each can take pride in himself." It really says, "in himself" (eauton).   Eauton can mean his as in possessive, but if this were the case, Paul would use the word in the genitive.  (At least I think!)   Here I'd go with the NIV.

Ultimately, none of this boasting really matters because the only thing finally worth boasting about is the cross.  Paul warns here ultimate against spiritual pride, in that we can make the cross (or faith in it) a matter of our own doing by turning faith into works or faith itself into a work, instead of a gift.

oικειος, ("household", 6:10).  This word is really beautiful.  It describes a family member, a relative, one who would dwell with you.  Ephesians 2:19 also contains this:
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,"
I sometimes shy away from the idea of a family as a metaphor for church because it can be closed off (everyone considers their family loving but ask that to a new person coming in).  Yet it speaks to the intense care we can and should have for one another.

στοιχησουσιν ("walk," 6:16) This verb has its root in a military or ordered formation.  Paul also uses this verb in chapter 5:25.  Paul commends us to walk in the "stoicheo" of the Spirit; now we are to walk in-line with the standard of Christ crucified and the new creation

κανον ("standard", 6:16)  The word in chapter 6 is "canon," ie standard or law!  What is the canon within the canon:  Christ crucified and the new creation!

Grammar Review:  Negative imperatives
μη + verb, 6.7.   A μη imperative should be translated, "No longer" ie "Stop being afraid."   In this   "Stop being deceived."  (Notice the case of "mock" -- present.  God is continually not mocked, or in better English, God is never mocked.")

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Luke 9:51-62

Summary:  Clearly Jesus is focused and determined here.  The Greek highlights this.  This passage is a humbling reminder for a culture that wants to fit Jesus into our life rather than build our life on Jesus.  Church becomes one of many competing activities instead of the encounter with the living Lord that weekly re-orients our life.  The good news? Jesus does not let the rejection of pagans stop him from dying on the cross for them and for us; likewise our lack of focus and prioritization of Jesus does not change his death for us on the cross.

Key words:
αναλημψεως (meaning "ascension", 9:51)  This inclusion of this word is a reminder that the ascension is an integral part of the plan for Jesus.

το προσωπον εστηρισεν ("strengthened his face", 9:51)  It is interesting that Luke uses the word face (προσωπου) three times in this three verses.  Almost no English translations capture this.  Luke wants to give us a visual here.  Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  His eyes are on the prize!

του ("the" in the genitive, 9:51)  Greek can show intention by combining "του" + an infinitive.  Greek can also show intention with the preposition "εις" meaning "for."  In 9:51 Luke stacks all of this together to create one long sentence of purpose!

ετοιμασαι (meaning "prepare", 9:52)  The word prepare shows up frequently in the Gospel of Luke and often at important times:

John the Baptist prepares for John (1:17, 1:76, 3:4)
God's celebration of Jesus birth (Luke 2:31)
Prepare for passover (22:8)
Prepare spices for burial (23:56, 24:1)

προτον ("proton" meaning "first", 9:59,60)  The core problems is neither love nor duty with family.  However, the key is the word first -- proton.  What is first in your life?

A proton is the building block of the periodic table -- of chemistry.  It is the foundation upon which every atom exists.  In fact, an atom can be stripped on neutrons, even temporarily electrons.  But without a proton, an atom, by definition, ceases to exist.  What is integral and essential for us today?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Galatians 5:1;13-25

Summary:  Freedom means something different for Paul than for modern Americans.  For modern Americans freedom means license to live as we please.  In Paul's eyes freedom is not about the individual, but living as the new creation in community.  I think it is greatly worth preaching on this topic -- what does freedom actually mean?  Freedom allows us to reject -- even crucify -- the flesh and embrace service together in the community.   At the bottom of the post I offer some more suggestions on preaching.

ενεχεσθε ("hold in", from ενεχω, 5:1) This little verse is a good example of how context helps us translate.   Paul here commends us not to "be subject/be burdened" (ενεχω) to the yoke of slavery. This word, ενεχω (enecho), is tough to translate.  Literally it means "hold in."  It has the connotation of "cherish inward wrath at one," or perhaps "be seized" with something, as in get caught up in a situation.   Elsewhere in the NT (Mark 6:19; Luke 11:53) it means hold a grudge or be bitterly opposed to.   If one inserts this translation, one gets this meaning: "Christ set you free; don't be opposed to the yoke of slavery!" That doesn't sound right!

So...let's look at the whole context.  Galatians as a whole and specifically chapter 5 suggest the yoke of slavery is not the burden of following Jesus but the burden of (antiquated) laws and works-righteousness.   Thus, we need a different translation; ultimately we will take on the burden of slavery to Christ.  To capture this, a best sense is probably "caught up in"  as in, "don't get caught up in the law again."  I think the NIV does the best job with this translation (be burdened).

αφορμη(ν) ("opportunity," 5:13) A little bit more word play.  Paul tells us here not to "indulge the flesh" (NIV). Paul literally writes: Not freedom for αφορμη in/to the flesh, but through love serve/slave one another. The word αφορμη is pretty interesting and alone would make for a good sermon in a few ways. The word comes from apo (from) + horme (ορμη with rough breathing accent).  "horme" comes into English as "hormone," meaning "stir" or "impulse."   An apohorme then is a base from which the impulse comes.  Moreover, the word can also mean the capital of a banker. So you have three metaphors for how our freedom can be abused: we follow the hormones of our flesh; we use our freedom as a base of operations for the flesh or it becomes the capital on which we draw to sin...Grace becomes the bank that we rob...

λογος ("word," 5:14) Paul curiously phrases this verse: "The law can be fulfilled in one command, love one another as yourself." First off, he does not use the word command; he uses the word "logos."  I am speculating here, but I wonder if Paul almost wants to elevate this above the idea of commandments, if not the law itself. (Paul uses similar language in Romans 13:9). It as if Paul is saying -- loving your neighbor belongs to the eternal Word; the other stuff we have are laws and words.  In fact, the command, "Love you neighbor as yourself" is not really a command, but in fact, an indicative statement: "You will love your neighbor as yourself." While Greek can use the future indicative for a command, I find this fascinating that the most essential command is, in fact, not a command.   We cannot be told to love our neighbors.  This is not a possibility for obedience.  We can obey simply tasks, but love of our neighbor is a divine gift, a fruit of the Spirit.

πεπληρωται ("fulfill", from πληρoω, 5:14)  Summed up is not a strong enough translation for this verse.  It means more brought to fullness or completion.  I think the translation: "The law is completed in one word, in this: Love your neighbor as yourself"

εσταυρωσαν (form of "σταυρoω", 5:24)   It is striking here that Paul says that Christians are actually doing the crucifying of the flesh. Normally these sorts of activities are done by God or left in the passive; here the verb is in the active.   First off, only those who are are of Christ can do this (vs 24) and the Spirit is guiding us (vs 25).  Clearly Paul puts this in terms of the trinity, but Paul does not let our own activity off the hook...

στοιχημεν ("walk", 5:25)   The word for walk here is "stoicheoo."  This word has a rather interesting meaning and related sets of words, but basically, it comes from the word for rows. The idea here is that to "walk" in the spirit here would mean to "assemble orderly ranks for walking."  In short, to walk in the Spirit is probably not as free as we think it is today.  It is certainly not as independent as we'd have it either.

Some reflections on preaching:  How do we convince people that freedom in Christ is true freedom, greater than their political, sexual and economic freedoms they find in our culture today?  Perhaps one way to show this is how our "freedoms" turn out not to be as freeing as we thought!

I also think the challenge with the word love is that people here love against a background of autonomy; I do not think any Biblical writer could possible imagine the extent to which people in our preaching audience view themselves as independent moral agents.  In short, I think the ancients viewed the moral task of life as taking one's place in the "circle of life", finding one's place within the complex matrix of human and divine relationships that exist.  I think modern Americans view the moral task as "finding oneself" and then maybe, just maybe, inserting oneself back into this moral matrix, but likely on one's own terms!  Sin was something that jeopardized one's place in this moral matrix; today sin is likely a failure to "let it go" and "be yourself."  Even if this is sounding like a rant...any discussion about Paul's notions of freedom (and love) must be restored to a far more communal way of approaching life than the individual notions we have today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Luke 7:36-8:3

This passage occurs in the RCL during year C, most recently June 2016. 
This passage also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 3, most recently Feb. 2017.

Summary:  A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. story.  It is a beautiful story of what forgiveness looks and feels like.
It is profound that this passage is paired with the Galatians 2:15-21 reading.  In that passage we hear about what the process of justification (forgiveness) and sanctification (Christian living) look like in propositional truth form.  In this passage, we see what it looks like in narrative form.  I love the Paul passage, but the Luke one may be easier to preach on.  What does justification look like:  The world's opinion of you has not changed, but you can worship the crucified savior.  What does sanctification look like:  The world's opinion of you has not changed, but you can go in peace.  As either Paul or Luke portray it, sin does not go away, either inside or outside, but Christ's love, given to us in faith, gives peace and joy.

Key words: 
ηλειφεν (from αλειφω, aleipho, meaning "anoint", 7:38)  This word is interesting because of where it appears in the Old Testament (or the Old Testament translated into Greek, the Septuagint).  Priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13; Numbers 3:3); those in grief mourn (2 Samuel 12:20; 14:2).  Either of these offer great ways to think about Jesus:  He is being anointed priest by a grand sinner; or the woman is in mourning over his death.  I vote for the later because she uses μυρον (7:37) or myrrh, which is used for the burial of the dead.

Note:  Although this word means anointed, it is not the same word as anoint like a king.  That word in Greek is "Christ"!

αγαπη (agape, meaning "love", 7:42)  The proper/necessary/automatic response to forgiveness is love.  Duh.  But...why is this not always the case for us when we experience forgiveness?  Perhaps we do not believe we have sinned; perhaps we do not know what love is.  The story suggests that the Pharisee, being unaware of his sins, did not appreciate his forgiveness and therefore did not love (or know how to love?).  If this is the case, then good preaching should make us feel really bad (right!?) in order to make us realize how much Jesus loves us.  I think this is somewhat true, but I wonder what else there might be.

Another take: the new creation loves and rejoices in forgiveness.  But this is often hidden from us.  We don't feel forgiveness and we don't feel love when we are in church and experience church.  God preaching reminds us that even when we don't "feel" it, God is still present, forgiving us and renewing us, even amid death and sin, that are always present realities.

To put it another way -- how do I know I am forgiven?  We have permission to worship the cruficified savior.

εχαρισατο (from χαριζομαι, charizomai, meaning "forgive" or "grace", 7:42)  It is important, at least to me, to acknowledge that humans do not forgive each other.  We can be gracious to each other and cancel debts, but forgiveness of sin belongs to God.  This is why there is such consternation that Jesus actually forgives (αφιημι).  Outside of commissioned priests, finding examples of humans forgiving each other is truly rare in Scripture, if arguably at all.  We are called to be gracious to one another and forgive (if not bear) one another's burdens.  But when it comes to a final reckoning, this belongs to God, and not my neighbor.

σεσωκεν (from σωζω, sozo, meaning "save", 7:50)  Beautiful use of perfect tense in Greek.  The faith saved her in the past but creates a future state of being saved.

ειρηνην (Irene (extra "n" is because its accusative case), meaning "peace" 7:50)  This is a stark look at the peace of Christ.  The community looks down on her, yet she has peace.  Peace in Christ does not mean the external reality has changed.  It means inside we know who Jesus is and that Jesus loves us.

αυτιας ("of theirs", 8:3)  This feminine plural dative...means this:  women were funding Jesus ministry.  They were also commissioned.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Galatians 2:11-21

This passage occurs as the RCL New Testament lesson during year C, most recently June 2016.  It sometimes appears as Galatians 2:15-21.

Summary:  I feel like Paul's point is easier than to sing than to preach:  We are saved by grace; we still sin; Christ dwells in us.  The solution to sin is not a better you or me, but Christ dwelling in me and you.

Last lectionary cycle (2013) I played with the phrase "orthopedics" and walking with the Gospel.  I wore two shoes.  The first shoe was for the the law.  In fact, I wore no show on one foot.  I could only see my bear, stinky, calloused and splotchy haired feet:  A reminder I am a mortal sinner who is not God.  The other shoe was a work boot for the mission trip.  Christ forgives us but also makes a home in us, so that, just like him, we might live for God, which of course, means a life of praise and service toward the neighbor.

Key words and concepts:
κατεγνωμενος ("condemned," καταγινωσκω, 2:11)  Some translations stick in a "self-condemned" here because the verb is in the passive.  (It literally reads "He was condemned".)  Not sure if it is fair to read this as self-condemned or not.  What I do know is that the NIV's "he was in the wrong" is about a sugar coated as a summer fair cotton candy stick...

αφοριζω ("set aside," 2:12)  Being set aside is not always a bad thing. Paul says he is "set aside" to be an apostle (Rom 1:1) and Paul even addresses this fact in Gal 1:15!!  For what are we as baptized Christians set-aside?

ορθοποδεω ("walk consistent with", 2:14). (Loan word in English: orthopedics!) Paul here talks about walking correctly toward/with the truth of the gospel! Great image. This is perhaps our goal as pastors, to give people the right shoe!  Somehow walking with Christ includes being crucified with him and living to God (2:20).

Side note:  This word is a only used once in the New Testament.  Sometimes people use the frequency of infrequent words to justify Pauline authorship.  Unfortunately, there are just as many single use words (technically:  hapax legomenon) in Galatians as in Ephesians, a letter whose authorship is often debated; for a nice article on the difficulties of using hapax legomenon as evidence of authorship, see a good wikipedia article.

πιστεως χριστου ("faith of Christ", 2:16):  This is a little phrase in a big theological debate:  How to translate:  Faith of Jesus Christ?  There are two clear options:
A) Objective genitive: The genitive is the object; faith's object is Jesus Christ.  Faith in Jesus Christ.
B) Subjective genitive: The genitive is the subject; Jesus Christ is the subject who has the faith.  Jesus Christ's faith

If you push toward objective translation, you are basically saying we are justified by Christ's faith in God, which may mean our own faith is not necessary for salvation.  I am comfortable leaving this translation ambiguity, because Galatians 2:19-20 argues that our and Christ's hearts became one in faith anyway!

For those curious, though, the NET Bible summarizes the challenge: A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated "faith in Jesus Christ," an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πιστεως χριστου and similar phrases in Paul (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean "Christ's faith" or "Christ's faithfulness" (cf., e.g., G. Howard, "The 'Faith of Christ'," ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, "πιστις χριστου," NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πιστεως takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, "The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul," NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, "Once More, PISTIS CRISTOU," SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730-44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.

Some grammar odds and ends:
2:12 Lesson on infinitive phrases: The phrase "Before they came..." is in "articular infinitive with preposition" construct. Which basically means it reads like this: "Before the coming them" and should be translated, "Before they came." First translation help: The subject of any infinitive phrase in Greek is in the accusative. Second translation help. The verb here is in the aorist. Which suggests not as much past time but "point" or "event" time. Before the event of their coming...or even "Before their arrival." 

2:14 Lesson on the subjunctive: Paul uses an "ei" clause; because the verb of the clause is in the indicative and not the subjunctive, you can (and should) translate the "ei" as "since" and not "if."

Monday, May 30, 2016

Luke 7:11-17

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year 3, most recently June 5, 2016.
 
Summary:  Luke paints a vivid picture of a funeral here.  I have two points I'd like to emphasize.  First, that human grief over death is real.  In our culture we expect people to move on so quickly.  I think the church, even the church of the resurrection, should be a place where we have compassion on people as they grieve.  Secondly, Jesus raises this child up.  We often refer to Jesus "three fold messianic" prediction where he speaks of his death on the cross and resurrection.  In Luke 7, 8 and 9 he raises up three only begotten children, perhaps also a place of foreshadowing his great work of resurrection.

Key Words:
First, a note.  Luke paints a vivid picture of a funeral here in a just a few sentences.
Words related to death: 
τεθνηκως 12:  Particle form of "to die"
εκκομιζω 12:  To carry out, often referring to act of carrying body for burial
σορος 14:  coffin, bier
νεκρος 15: corpse (death in general)

κλαιε ("wail", 7:13)  Some translations put this as weep.  While it can mean weep, it signifies an intensity much more like "wail" than "weep."  Like when Hagar is alone in the wilderness; or Joseph sees his brother; or when Mary is searching for the risen Christ.

χηρα ("widow"; 7:13)  In this culture, a widow was not simply a marital status, but also a financial one.  A widow would have lacked resources, likely.  Her son was her social security.  This detail can open up the door for a nice contrast between the story of the widow at Nain and the Centurion at Capernuam.

μονογενη ("only begotten", 7:13)  Jesus heals three "only begotten" children in Luke 7, 8 and 9.  While Jesus himself is never referred to as the only-begotten son in Luke, this three fold healing suggests foreshadowing for Jesus resurrection.

προφητης ("prophet", 7:16)  The word prophet appears 24 times in Luke, often from Jesus' lips.  Most often Jesus refers to prophets in two ways:  Those who were killed or those who spoke of his (eventual) coming.  To put it another way, people often associate being a prophet with the capacity to speak about the future (Harry Potter) or the audacity to speak about social justice.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus depicts the prophets as people who spoke of him and got killed for doing so.

For example:
Luke 13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! Luke 18:31 Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
But more to the point, look at how Jesus describes the work of prophets on the road to Emmaus:
Luke 24:25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you -- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

As a side note:  Jesus does declare himself greater than a prophet (Luke 7:26 says that John was greater than a prophet; Luke 16:16 that the Good News, not the Law and Prophets, is proclaimed through him).


εσπλαγχνισθη ("compassion", from σπλαγχνιζομαι, 7:13)  I've frequently mentioned this before but this verb comes from the noun for intestines.  In his gut Jesus felt sorry for the woman.

Grammar point:
μη + present verb (as in "weep" in 7.13) means "no longer do such and such," implying the action was going on before this.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Luke 7:1-10

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C, most recently May 29, 2016
 
Summary:  Like so many passages in Luke, there is layer of meaning regarding faith, healing and the Word of God; there is also another layer of complex social dynamics.  Luke presents cultural rules and norms that are both being obeyed and broken.  How to preach this?

One possibility is to ignore the social dynamics and focus on faith and healing (ie, preach as if you were preaching from Matthew's Gospel, in which the story is simpler!)  
1)  Jesus heals, even through the prayers of others;
2)  Faith in Jesus changes everything; outsiders can have faith too.

Another way is to portray Jesus action over-and-against the social reality of his day.  The world then and today is a messy, complex and broken place.  The world is one of haves and have-nots; of powerful people with agendas (...in those days a decree went out from Emperor...)  In spite of all of this, Jesus compassion and power triumph!

Key Words:
λαος ("people", 7:1).  The word means "the people", as in the commoners.  Luke pays careful attention to the λαος (36 references; Matthew 14; Mark 3 and John 2).  This word sets up quite a contrast to Jesus interactions the rest of the pericope, where he is dealing with the leaders, religiously and politically.  This reminds us that while Jesus cares for the commoners, he also cares about the leaders too.  Compared to him, we are all chumps ;-)

δουλος ("servant" or "slave", 7:2)  Because American history is defined by our freedom from England and then the freedom of slaves, we tend to value "freedom" greatly.  Furthermore, we look with disgust on the entire concept of slavery.  While I do not defend slavery, it is worth pointing out that within Greco-Roman culture slavery meant something different than American antebellum plantation-style slavery.  At the very least, not all slaves were abused and many were considered part of the house.  The centurion will even call the slave his "παις" or child; he considers the slave "εντιμος" or honored; so honored in fact, he seeks out Jesus' healing.  This is a reminder that economic and social boundaries both then and today are often complex.  More generally, the whole scene is one that really puts the preacher in a tough spot -- it is clearly a different world, one that we cannot imagine.  An occupying army general asks the local Jewish healer for a favor regarding his boy-slave and then is found, bizarrely, to have more faith than anyone. 

διασωζω ("save" or "heal"; 7:3)  The root word here is σωζω, or save.  It has dia- as a prefix.  This prefix can intensify a verb, like adding the adverb "thoroughly."  The point is that Jesus' salvation includes earthly healings.

αξιος ("worthy"; 7:4; appears later as a verb in 7:7)  A reminder of the honor-shame dynamics in this culture (of which I know little).   I do feel comfortable making two points though.  First, it seems questionable whether Jesus should have been doing this healing for a non-Jew, especially a member of the opposing army.  In fact, one must wonder about the relationship between the Centurion and Jewish leaders; could then even speak to each other directly?  This is a difficult point for us to address or even consider as Americans.  Second, Jesus power is overturning the cultural expectations of everyone.

πιστις ("faith"; 7:9) A reminder that faith is not a belief in a set of abstract principles, but trust in the divinity of Christ and the salvation he brings.

Two small notes on verb construction that point toward something deeper:
παρακαλεω ("encourage", 7:4).  This verb is in the imperfect suggesting repeated action.  It is unclear why they needed to repeat the request -- perhaps because they felt it important, or because Jesus didn't want to do it.  But something about their continued urging moves Jesus.

μη σκυλλου ("no longer be troubled", 7:6) A reminder about the negative present imperative:  μη + present imperative means "no longer" ie, you were doing this, but stop and continue to stop this.  (Often used in the construction "No longer be afraid" when angels begin speaking to humans.)

Lastly, two words that come into English related to health
υγιαινω -- "hygiene" (the υ has a rough breathing mark)
ιαομαι -- "iatry" like "psychiatry"

1 Kings 18:20-39

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (most recently:  Nov 8, 2015).  This passage also occurs in year C of the RCL (most recently May 29, 2016)

Summary:  The coolest thing in the Hebrew is reconstruction of the altar by Elijah.  While Elijah is known in this passage for his courage, the Hebrew suggests he is also a healer.  In fact, Elijah's work on the altar could really be seen as a model for understanding the necessary healing of the church today.  First, it connects the people to God's work in the past; Second, it connects people to God in prayer.  Third, it symbolizes the intended transformation of the people:  a house of seeds, nourished by water and sent ablaze by fire.  I don't want to miss the counter-cultural courage of Elijah; I just want to uplift Elijah's capacity to rebuild.

Key words:

פסחים (from "pesach", meaning "hobble?"; 18:21 and 18:26)  This verb is crazy here.  This word is likely a homograph, where two words are spelled the same, but have different meanings.  (Like "bear" can have two meanings in English). The more common word with this spelling comes into English as "pass over", as "Passover."  Elisha is playing on this here?

More likely, it means "be lame" or "hobble."  In this sense you could translate this as "How long will you waffle between..."

The other possibility is "dance"  The TWOT suggest,
"1Kings 18:21, "how long 'halt' ye (KJV) between two opinions?" Another suggested translation is, "how long will you 'hobble' on two crutches?" (i.e., Yahweh and Baal). (3) 1Kings 18:26, "and they (the priests of Baal) 'leaped' upon/'hobbled' upon the altar, " presumably a reference to some kind of pagan ritual dance. V.P.H."
-> How long will you dance between two gods?!

Either way, waffle or dance could be pretty powerful stuff (okay, both a bit poetic, but we are talking about Elijah here.  Gird your loins and preach it.)

בשם ((really ב+שם), shem, meaning "name"; 18:24)  What is at stake here is really the "name" of the LORD.  The name of the LORD does not simply mean the pronunciation, but the reputation of the LORD.  Is the God of Israel the faithful God, the living God, the true God...the answering God?  Or not?

ענה (meaning "answer" or "respond"; appears 8 times in this passage).  Baal does not answer.  God does.  This is the crux of the matter for ancient Israel as it is for us today.  Does God respond to us?

רפה ("rapa", meaning "heal"; 18:30) This word is translated here as "repair."  However, it is normally translated as healing.  If we are to rebuild churches, we need to heal them.  Heal them first with their sense of the past by reaffirming God's presence in their history; second, heal them with prayer.  Third, heal them with water (Baptism); Fourth heal them with fire (Holy Spirit); heal them with hope -- expect the church to be the seeds of the future.

בית סאתים זרע (three words meaning "house of grain seeds"; 18:32)  Elijah has the people built a moat around the alter big enough for two bags of seed.  The Hebrew opens up another layer of interpretation.  The literal Hebrew is this:  "Make a healing (or trench) as a house of grain seed, two bags, circling the altar."  The altar will be circled as by a house of grain.  What a beautiful image of the church, an alter surrounded by a house of seed grain, nourished by water, by prayer and by the fire of God!
And yes, in 18:38 the actual Hebrew word does mean lick; the waters were licked!