Monday, December 10, 2018
Summary: It almost seems ironic to the Lutheran preacher that Luke refers to John "evangelizing"; here for it seems all law. However, this is a great Lutheran sermon. It fully offers the listener God's law, both instrumentally (vocation) but also theologically (terror that leads us to Christ). Furthermore, it defines the role of the church: God's gathering of baptized sinners, where he justifies them (cleanses) and sanctifies them (puts them to use). Basically, Martin Luther must have written this chapter. Haha!!
Okay, a more subtle commentary -- sanctification requires sifting. Does the church sift us or has life already sifted us?!
προσδοκαω ("wait" or "expect"; 3:15) A great Advent words! Interestingly, Luke uses this word a whole bunch (6x in Luke; 4x in Acts), far more often than anyone else. In this case though, the people are not waiting for Jesus, per se, but rather the Messiah, and wondering whether John would be it. Perhaps a reminder and a challenge -- what are we waiting for?
καρδιας ("heart"; 3:15) The people wondered "in their hearts." In Luke's Gospel, the hearts is the place where thought occurs, much like Hebrew!
ειη ("to be"; 3:15) The word here for "is" is in the optative mood, a rare usage indeed. Gotta give it to Luke -- using Hebrew thought with advanced Greek!
αλων ("threshing floor") and συναγω ("gather"; 3:17) God gathers in the wheat to do something good with it. It was beaten, yes, but this had a purpose -- make the grain productive for wheat. This is sanctification. God taking away our crap so that we can be useful for our neighbor.
διακαθαιρω ("cleanse"; 3:17). This word's cousin καθαιρω is more familiar -- Catherize! The job of the church is to cleanse us.
Grammar Review: Super easy participle:
μελλοθσηας: The "coming" wrath. This is a verb function as an adjective. Easy as pie. Remember, not all participles are hard! Many have direct and easy ways to translate them into English. In this case, you just have to identify it as an adjectival participle (how? It has the word "the" in front of it and it describes the word immediately following it).
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 4, Year B (Most recently: Dec 20, 2015). It is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Advent 2, Year C (Most recently, Dec 9, 2018)
Summary: As I reflected on Zechariah's words, I asked myself -- why does Luke give him so much time? Most of us could have gone from the Magnificat right to the birth! (And liturgically we normally do!) I wrestled with answers having to do with John the Baptist, but then I realized the reason Luke spends so much time on Zechariah has nothing to do, really, with John the Baptist, and everything to do with Jesus. Zechariah's song is Luke's way of proclaiming to us the key mission of Jesus Christ: To be our Lord and Savior. Why else would Luke exhaust so much ink between the Magnificat and the birth? In this blog post, I look at the connection between Zechariah's words and the words of Christ from the cross and resurrection scenes of Luke's Gospel.
Where to go for a sermon: A reminder of what this whole thing Christmas is all about -- the salvation that comes to us in Jesus Christ.
Key words (unrelated to my bigger point):
πνευματου αγιου (form of πνευμα αγιος, meaning "Holy Spirit" 1:67). The Holy Spirit makes frequent appearances in Luke's Gospel! (In fact, this is the fourth appearance in Luke 1 - vss 15, 35 & 41). The Holy Spirit's work here is in conjunction with prophesy, specifically the work of pointing the world toward Jesus Christ.
αφοβως ("without fear" 1:74) The prefix "α" in Greek means "without"; φοβος means "fear." What a beautiful reminder, in our world of fear, that Jesus has come that we might worship without fear! Paul, in Philippians 1:14, talks about how in prison he still worships without fear.
λατρευειν ("worship", 1:75) God has rescued us for a purpose -- that we might serve and worship God. The act of redemption is not for our independence, but our fundamental binding to God.
Key words (related to my bigger point)
ευλογητος ("blessed" 1:68) Zechariah begins his song with a word of blessing to the Lord. The last activity in Luke's Gospel (really the last word) is also blessed (24:53; as a participle), when the disciples praise the risen and ascended Christ.
προφηταις ("prophet", 1:70; 24:25, 27, 44) Zechariah proclaims that God has brought about the promised salvation, promised through the prophets. At the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus will explain how he is the fulfillment of the prophets.
εν τω ιερω ("in the temple"; 24:53) Although it does not use the same word in chapter 1 as chapter 24, the Gospel of Luke begins with Zechariah in the temple; and the circumcision, I assume, also happens at the temple. In short, the Gospel (and the declaration of Jesus' mission through Zechariah) begins and ends in the temple.
διαθηκης ("covenant" 1:72) Zechariah confirms that God has remembered his covenant. During the Last Supper, Jesus promises a new covenant (22:20); more powerfully, Jesus tells them to remember this new covenant. (22:19)
αφεσιν αμαρτιων ("forgiveness" 1:77; 24:47) Zechariah proclaims that John will bring knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins (I am fighting every bit of my Lutheran fingers to write more about this). For now though, recall, the first words of Christ from the cross are "Father, forgive them... (23:34) and then after the resurrection, he tells them that forgiveness is to be proclaimed in all the world.
εν τω παραδεις ("in paradise" 23:43) Zechariah speaks of the one coming to be a light in the darkness and shadow of death (1:79). From the cross, the tender mercy of God will break from on high and Jesus will be a light to the penitent thief!
ειρηνη ("peace" 1:79; 24:36) Zechariah promises that the one coming will guide us in peace. What are the first words of the resurrected Christ to the gathered disciples? Peace.
Summary: A familiar text with many preaching paths. Once again we need the wilderness, the familiar cry of John the Baptist, to restore our sights. To put it another way, Advent remains a reason of repentance (whatever color we now use), but one where repentance isn't simply about personal sins, but a reorientation of our whole mind away from the crap out there about Christmas and toward the salvation of God unfolding in Jesus Christ.
τετρααρχουντες ("rule as tetra-arch"; 3:1) The word tetra-arch means rule as a piddly regional governor. Luke includes a number of historical details in his Gospel, especially early on; Luke clearly wants to show that Jesus birth and life are actual events.
ρημα ("word"; 3:2) This word means "word." It will come into English the word "hermeneutic," i.e., the lens through which one looks at the data. This is really interesting to read John's work like this: "The hermeneutic of God came to John", which was forgiveness, baptism and repentance. What if our repentance means viewing life through this hermeneutic!
βαπτισμα ("baptism"; 3:3). Originally, this word did not have religious meaning. It simply meant to dip. For your enjoyment, here are the Liddell-Scott Hellenistic meanings of the word. Wow!
I. trans. to dip in water
2. to dip in poison
3. to dip in dye, to dye
4. to draw water
II. intransitive the ship dipped, ie, sank
Try preaching that: Baptism as a dip in poison; as a dip in dye; as a drawing of water from God; as finally, a sinking ship!
μετανοεω ("repent"; 3:3) The Greek meaning of the word is "new mind." In Lidell-Scott's ancient (and secular) Greek lexicon, repent means to change one's mind or purpose. We often put repentance together with sin, a fine thing, but perhaps we need to consider that repentance means often more than simply a struggle against temptation, but a paradigm shift, a transformation of our whole outlook, if not way of life and even being. In this case, there is a shift into the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps that is what Jesus ministry is really about, not simply our own forgiveness, but inculcating a world view that finally includes forgiveness. Perhaps this is σωτηριον (salvation): when the world finally embraces forgiveness as the path. Overarching point: μετανοεω in Greek and in the New Testament means far more than forgiveness of sins. (Or forgiveness of sins means far more than we think it does).
πληρωθησται (πληροω, fill or fulfill, 3:5) and ταπεινωθησται (ταπεινω, fulfill, 3:5): The English renders these words as "raised up" and "made low." Yet Luke (and Isaiah) use the words here for fill and humble. These then echo other parts of Luke's Gospel (the Magnificat; Jesus words on the road to Emmaus). These represent key features of Jesus mission: To fulfill and to humble.
Grammar note: Lack of punctation in ancient languages
Original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts lack punctuation; it was added later by monks. So we really don't know if Isaiah meant, "A voice cries out, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord'" or "A voice cries out in the Wilderness, 'prepare the way of the Lord'." The monks thought the former...probably good to go with their instinct, especially given the need, in the Exile, to walk through the wilderness from Babylon to Israel. If this is the case, it seems that the Gospel writers change the punctuation to fit their own program of matching John's work with the description in Isaiah.
A few options: The scholarly one: Preach or teach, in a despising fashion, about how the NT abuses the OT
The Christological one: Preach and teach about how the NT rightfully abuses (reinterprets) the OT to make it fit with Christ!
Or the pastoral one: In this case both punctuation possibilities are valid. John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness. Yet he speaks to each of us to get into the wilderness, away from all the chaos of the world, to focus on God and God alone.
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Often times we categorize Bible passages as "Second Coming" or "Eschatological" passage and proceed to interpret them as referring to the consummation of things in Christ's return. I think this provides a narrow lens for interpreting these passages, locating the destructive and constructive work of Christ in the future. Jesus describes the reality of both chaos and redemption, something that was happening as the Gospels were being written and continues to happen again and again in our lives.
Note: This is my first time really studying this passage in sometime. I invite comments to help me flesh this out!
Key Words of contrast
Α. Come vs Go
εγγιζω (meaning "approach or draw near"; as a verb ηγγικεν (21.20 and 28) and adjective ηγγυς (21.31)
παρερχομαι (meaning "disappear or go away"; as a verb παρελθη (21.32) and παρελευσονται (21.33)
Perhaps the most crucial word in this entire section of Luke is εγγιζω. It appears over and over in chapters 18-22 as Jesus "approaches" (εγγιζω) Jerusalem and Jesus preaches about the "approaching" (εγγιζω) events, including his death, resurrection and return.
It is also worth noting that this verb is in the present tense -- Jesus is approaching here and now. The redemption (and destruction) that Jesus brings is not located in the future, but in the present too.
On the other hand, Jesus presents a reality, not of something coming, but of something leaving and disappearing, namely, heaven and earth.
Β. Destroy vs Redeem
ερημωσις (meaning "wilderness or destruction"; vs 20)
απολυτρωσις (meaning "redemption"; vs 28)
Jesus suggests that the "end times" will bring about destruction. First, it is in interesting that Jesus prophesies a time of wilderness, translated destruction in vs 20. While this is a fair translation, it misses out on the Biblical theme of wilderness, a place of renewal and encounter with God. The coming of Christ invites us into the wilderness, to encounter Christ.
I also think this contrast highlights the fact that what we call the "end times" -- would better be called the "fullness time." For in Christ will have our freedom, our redemption.
C. Stand vs Flee
ιστημι (meaning "stand"; as a verb σταθηναι; vs 21.36)
On the one hand, we are called to flee from certain things: dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life. On the other hand, we are called to be prepared to stand before Christ.
Note: The verb meaning stand also appears in vs 28 (ανακυψατε; stand straight up)
Incomplete thoughts for a future post
ου μη means never
Indicative verb tense governs tense translation of related participles
Monday, November 12, 2018
This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, year B (Most recently: Nov 18, 2018)
Summary: If I had to preach this text, I would prefer to preach on vs. 13:9-11, which talks about the Spirit's work in and through the church between the first and second coming of Jesus. But hey, if 1-8 is what you have got, the Greek can still open up some fruitful preaching doors: First, what is the foundation of your life? And second, what is the destiny of life?
Two key insights:
λιθος ("stone", 13.1,2)
The NRSV translates the second half of verse 2 like almost every other translation:
"Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."However, the text literally reads:
"No stone here will be permitted upon a stone, which will never be destroyed."
The NRSV translators take this to mean that every stone of this building will be destroyed. I think it means this, but I also think we can take Jesus a bit more literally at his words: These stones cannot be laid on the eternal rock, who is him.
You might say I am digging here, but consider 12:10 -- Jesus refers to himself as the rejected stone which has become the cornerstone. Jesus builds on this earlier statement and says these stones no longer mean anything in light of him, who is the true and eternal temple.
The basic point, regardless of translation, is that in light of Jesus, the true temple and rock, this temple and rocks are unimportant, finally heretical. I just think we can safely add that Mark allows Jesus to refer to himself, subtly, as an eternal rock. Regardless, it brings us to the real helpful preaching point: What is the foundation in your life? For 1st century Jews, the temple would have been a foundation piece of their life, a center of mystery and meaning. Jesus says, this doesn't really matter, he does. Rather than critique first century Jews, we should ask ourselves: What idols -- even of our building spaces -- have we built for ourselves?
In fact, the disciples do not use an adjectives to describe the stones, although almost all of the translators use the words "large" or even "magnificent." The disciples use the word ποταπαι (13.1), which is a question word meaning: What kind of? or "Where are they from?" In short, they ask Jesus a deeper question -- what kind of temple is this in front of us? It is one made of human hands!
τελος ("end", 13:7)
The NIV translates the second half of verse 7 like almost every other translation
"Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."
A few other notes:
13:2 Jesus twice uses the emphatic "no" construction in Greek "ou mh" ου μη (ie never ain't gonna happen). This strong negative reinforces my previous argument that the old temple will not rest on the new temple, Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus says anyway, but the actual Greek reveals this in a subtle way.
13:1 The word for "building" here is "oikodomeh" οικοδομαι which can mean structure, but also edification or up-buidling. For example, Romans 14:19, "Let us pursue what leads to peace and the UPBUILDING of one another."
13:3 The phrase here in Greek to describe the disciples is "kata idian," translated "privately" (lit: according to their own). κατά ιδιαν This is used throughout the Gospel of Mark; this is the last time anything will be said privately though. It is more comfortable to be the church in private than in public!!
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Summary: This is a case where the Greek does not alter the meaning, but simply forces us to slow down and examine Jesus' familiar words. As I read the passage this time, I became struck by Jesus' condemnation of an overly consuming, self-aggrandizing and elitist clergy. While I believe the office of ministry is a divine institution, I know that I personally can err very much in my execution of this office. More generally, I think Jesus makes a comment on our consumption and our giving this day, a message that all of us need to hear.
βλεπω (12:38; "see") The word here for "watch out" is simply the Greek 101 for see; Jesus will tell his followers to "watch out" five times in this section (12:38, 13:5; 9; 23; 33).
γραμματευς (12:38; "scribes") This word has an obvious English cognate: "Grammar." The question for us today is, whom do we need to watch out for -- who are the grammarians today? I struggle with this question a bit more personally -- how do I become a grammarian, who says "no" to the working of the Lord, either in my congregation or in my denomination? How do I NOT become someone whom Jesus warns against. The further description of Jesus' critique includes:
they wear στολη (12:38, "stole" or "robe")
and sit in the
προτοκαθεδρια (12:39, "first seat"). Ouch.
κατεσθιω (12:40, "devour") As you guessed, the Bible uses this word in an entirely negative fashion. It also comes up in the prodigal son, where the son has consumed the father's property (literally, βιος, used also in this passage in vs. 44). One can read this passage as a narrow critique of 1st century Jewish leadership, more broadly of religious leaders over time, or most broadly, against all over-consumption. In what ways does our whole culture "devour widows houses while praying long prayers." A prophetic voice is helpful here, but I think Jesus also calls each us to examine our own actions.
βιος (12:44, "life" The woman gives "the whole of her life" The word life here is "bios." So the sermon is not about stewardship, but about biology. Or maybe better put, Stewardship includes biology. Do we live to consume (food and status) or give of our whole life?
Grammar note: Here we have a substantive participle "the ones who devour" and a participle that might also be adjectival (in this case, the ones who devour = the ones who pray) or circumstantial. This participle (pray) can be translated both ways because it does not have an article in front of it. When you do not have an article in front of the participle you translate that participle as a circumstantial participle, one that describes the circumstances under which the main action takes place. If translated in this fashion, it would read, "the ones who devour widows houses while praying long prayers." Ouch! I think in this case, the circumstantial participle gives a better feel for their hypocrisy: They pray while they sin.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Summary: This emotional passage does not need to deep exegesis to understand. But as always, the Greek amplifies the emotions, especially of Mary. Furthermore, the Greek offers some poignant connections to other parts of John's Gospel.
ερχομαι & οραω (11:32 and 11:34, also 1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see"). These two verbs come together a number of times in John's Gospel. A quite impressive list actually:
A) When Jesus begins his ministry and calls his disciples.
B) When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C) When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb.
D) When they find Jesus on the cross.
E) When they come to the empty tomb.
John's Gospel invites us to come and see, even Jesus on the cross and finally the empty tomb. The result of coming and seeing is believing.
In this passage, however, the two words come together in two very emotional ways. The more obvious one is when they invite Jesus to see the tomb of Lazarus. The more subtle one is that Mary came (ηλθεν) and saw (ιδουσα; note feminine participle endings may be more difficult to spot, sadly). In this case, she falls at Jesus feet (see next note). She has done what a disciple should do, she has come and seen. What happens when we come and see, not in intellectual or hopeful curiosity, but in grief?
ποδος (from πους, meaning "foot" as in words that have "pod" in them; 11:32) Mary will fall to Jesus feet twice in a short time. Mary cries at Jesus feet in this story; after her brother is revived, she will fall to Jesus feet to anoint them. Twice she worships at Jesus feet; the first in lament for her situation; the second in lament for Jesus' situation.
Other powerful scenes happen at Jesus feet.
- When the women (including Mary) gather at the foot of the cross.
- Mary (Magdalene) stoops down to where Jesus' feet were in the tomb.
- In chapter 13 of John's Gospel, Jesus will wash the disciples' feet.
In short, if there are feet involved, it is likely an emotionally charged passage, relating to the profound cruciform servant-hood of Christ and his followers!
κλαιουσαν (from κλαιω, meaning "weep" 11:33) Simple point: People in the Bible cry. We give so little permission for people to cry today. Jesus himself cries here (11:35; it is a different word, εδακρυσεν) but don't get caught up in that. Death produces tears even from the Lord of Life.
ει...αν (if, if; 11:33) Mary has a particularly harsh construction of Greek here for Jesus. This combination of ει...αν indicates "a hypothetical that is actually false." In short, it should best be translated, "If you had been here, WHICH YOU WERE NOT, my brother would not have died."
εμβριμωμενος (from εμβριμαομαι, meaning "snort in", 11:38) This word means "admonish in anger" visually in the sense of a "horse snorting." I think its this word that has given rise to all sorts of terrible interpretations that Jesus is really mad in this passage that they don't believe. I think this is kind of nuts. I think a better translation is simply this: "Jesus was so worked up about this death that he looses control of his breathing..." To put it another way, Jesus does the uncool thing of lose control of his emotions. Unlike the rest of humanity, when Jesus' gets angry, no one is hurt, but the deepest emotion, love, and deepest power, resurrection, is unleashed.
μνημειον ("tomb", 11:38). The word for tomb is literally "mnemonic" as in something we use to help us remember -- they have gone to a "memorial." (Jesus is also buried in a tomb, a place of memory).
εδακρυσεν ο Ιησους (aorist form of δακρυω, "Jesus wept", 11:35) This verse is shorter in English (two words) than in Greek (three words.) Why? Because Greek adds in the word "ο" with Jesus, it literally reads "The Jesus wept." Jesus name in Hebrew - Joshua - means "God (YHWH) saves." John tells us then "The God who saves wept."
λυσατε ("unbind", 11:44) The word for unbind means to "loosen" or "free." In short, Lazarus must be freed! This itself might provide all sorts of interesting directions for a sermon -- the work of Jesus to bring new life also entails freedom. What I find worth noting though is that the verb is a plural command. It is the work of the community to free Lazarus. Even when Jesus' power is on full display, the community of Christ still has work to do.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
I prefer the Mark 10:46-52 text for Reformation Day than the John 8 text (here is my commentary on this passage). You have a man crying out for mercy (Luther's search); a religious crowd opposed to him (sinful self and world); a display of Jesus compassion; Jesus' Word giving life; Proclamation that faith saves; lastly, new life in following Christ.
Salvation, even new creation, by faith alone
The mercy of Christ
The sinfulness of the world, even in religious matters
The redeeming Word
Or John 8, with landmines of antisemitism. You make the call...
οδος ("road" or "way", from οδος, vs. 46) This word has layers of meanings. It is one of those words that can simply mean "path for travel" but more abstractly "way"." Early Christians were called followers of "The Way." In Mark 8, 9, and 10, Jesus has been on the way. This journey in Mark is about spiritual blindness and sight. It begins with the disciples blind to Jesus power; it ends with blind Bartimeaus receiving sight. It points toward the reality that any talk about spiritual journey without struggle, sin and setback is nonsense.
Βαρτιμαιος ("Son of honor", 46) We don't know many names of those cured by Jesus, but this one has a name -- Son of honor. In this case, the son of honor is banished by the crowd, mocked and insulted. Perhaps this is foreshadowing of Jesus, the true son of Honor, being mocked by the crowd. Furthermore, it is ironic that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask for power and get the cross. This man calls out for mercy and gets resurrection.
εκπορευομενου ("go out", 46) Jesus is heading out of town, but a call for mercy changes his plans. When is the last time a call for mercy changed your plans? Jesus seems always to find time for compassion.
ελεησον ("mercy", from ελεεω, 48) A key feature of Martin Luther's journey was the search for mercy. Is this what people hunger for today? It certainly is what Christ has come to bring.
κραζον ("cry", 48) Also worth noting is that the man is crying (κραζον) out. The verb is transliterated "crazied." Also, the verb is in the imperfect tense, indicating this is an on-going action. Mark is painting a vivid picture here of suffering and lament.
στας ("stand", 49) For the first and only time in Mark's Gospel, Jesus stands still. He takes a pause from the journey on the road to have compassion on this man. The story pivots on Jesus' action here (you could even do a need chaistic structure within the story with this as the fulcrum). It is worth remembering about this story and really the whole Reformation, that Jesus' love and compassion are at the center.
θαρσει ("take courage", 49) This word can also mean "be audacious." Christ is calling us to follow him, over and against the cries of the world.
εγειρε ("raise" or "resurrect", 49) Jesus has been proclaiming his eventual resurrection. Now the resurrection is happening -- the kingdom of God unfolding in our midst. What makes it possible? The voice of Jesus -- the word of God.
αναπηδησας ("jump up", 50) The man jumps up. Mark, again, is creating is a vivid scene full of motion. What is fascinating to consider is that man who jumps up and is walking is still blind. Faith may lead to sight, but sometimes we are called simply to move...Ie, part of the journey of faith may not have as much a sight as we would like. I reflect on Luther's own journey...and the journey of myself and others...where sometimes we sense God calling us but we don't yet see the light!
σεσωκεν ("save", from σωζω 52) This word refers to both "earthly" salvation as well as heavenly. Explosive term. It can meal heal, but also save. But basic point here: Salvation is not simply about the afterlife, but life in Christ, which is everlasting.
Monday, October 15, 2018
Summary: Don't get too lost in the Greek in this week's passage. The point is that two key disciples are asking really silly questions. It proves Jesus an opportunity to say to them directly what he has been suggesting to them all along: While they do not need to be crucified, to be a follower of Jesus means following him to the cross, to the suffering of the world, to the surrender of our will and to the death of sinner. I focus a fair amount on the word "ransom," hopefully opening a different way of thinking about this.
ποτηριον ("poterion" (pottery!), meaning "cup", 10:38) There are three cups in Mark's Gospel! Can you name them? The first is when Jesus says the one giving a glass of cold water will not lose their reward (9:41). The second is here. The third is the communion cup. The cup which Jesus refers to is following Christ. While this following Jesus as a disciple may be lived out in small ways, is no small thing, but the giving of our life to Christ. Or better stated in Gospel form (from Luther): All this he did that I may be his own.
βαπτίζομαι vs βαπτισθηαι ("baptize", 10:38) I want to point out a distinction in verb tenses here. When Jesus refers to the baptism of the disciples, he uses the aorist tense, suggesting a one-time event. When Jesus refers to his own baptism, he uses the present tense, suggesting an on-going event. Jesus says, "which I am being baptized right now"is in the midst of his baptism as he begins his long road to the cross. Which makes us wonder that if we are to experience the baptism of Jesus as our own, must not our Baptism also be an on-going process?
κατακυριευουσιν ("literally over-lord", 10:42) Just a little note for preachers personally rather than for a sermon. This verb shows up rarely in the New Testament, but it does show up in 1 Peter 5:3, as an admonishment to pastors not to Lord over their power!
δουλος ("servant" or "slave", 10:44) This word appears repeatedly in the New Testament as a model for Christian life and service. As the Thayer Greek Lexicon reminds us, δουλος του χριστου (servants of Christ) are those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among [others]: used of apostles, Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; of other preachers and teachers of the gospel, Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24; Jude 1:1; of the true worshipers of Christ
Do we challenge our people enough to adopt a posture of servant-hood?
λυτρον ("redemption", 10:45). This word is a loaded term. It is often suggested that Jesus was the ransom whose death serves as the payment rendered for our sins, thus freeing us from this deserved punishment. Both Exodus 21:30, 30:12 convey this sense of λυτρον. I am not going to argue here against substitutionary atonement.
However, the Old Testament also puts forward another sense of λυτρον that I think works just as well, if not better, in this case. In Numbers 3, there is the (for most of us) relatively unknown story of the consecration of the Levites to the priesthood and how they are offered as a redemption (λυτρον). A surprisingly helpful commentary summarized the logic:
"...when God slew the first born of man and beast among the Egyptians, he consecrated the first-born of Israel to himself as a memorial of the deliverance. First-born animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord, but first-born sons were to be redeemed by the substitution of a payment of money. Now the Levites are taken by the Lord as the redemption of all the first-born males in Israel, and their very office becomes a perpetual sign of Israel's deliverance. The ministry of the Levites proclaimed to Israel the fact that all belong to the Lord, because he has delivered them. (75, Mays; 1963 Layman's Bible Commentary.")
In short, in the consecration of the Levites, God turns the sacrificial system on its head. God does not want sacrifices of first-born humans (and never did), rather, God wants the Levites to take the place of the first-born, not for death, but for service to God.
I am still fleshing this out, but I think you can make the argument that "ransom" can be utilized in a way where Jesus frees us to serve God without needing God to be angry with Jesus.
Perhaps it is something like this: Jesus is put forward as a ransom, but not simply for death, but for service to God. What God wants is not the death of Jesus, but the life, the service (which in his case, will include death). As we are baptized into Jesus' death and drink his cup, we too are put forward, not as a substitute punishment, but as something precious to God, namely, servants of God, becoming the new priesthood, in fact, a very proclamation that the Lord has delivered us.
Confession: I want to flesh this out, but I think the Levite consecration is a very different way of thinking about this.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B after Pentecost (Most recently October 14, 2018)
Summary: "Clouded up" -- That is literally the words used to describe the rich young man's reaction to Jesus. Jesus loves the man, but the man's love of his possessions obscure his vision so greatly, he cannot even embrace the love of God! We may not be able to buy our way into heaven but today's passage suggests we can buy our way out of heaven!
Some words worth considering:
ζωην αιωνουν ("life eternal"; zoo of the eons, literally; 10.17 and 30): It is interesting that eternal life enters into Mark's Gospel by way of a non-disciple (and practicing Jew). Obviously this appears in John's Gospel numerous times, but makes a cameo or two in the other Gospels as well. Perhaps one of the great misnomers of Christian thinking is that eternal life only begins after our physical death. The love and fellowship of Jesus was available here, on earth, for the man (see not below).
κληρoνoησω ("inherit"; 10:17): The man may not understand that eternal life is a gift, but he does understand one thing: it is going to take a death to bring about life -- you only get the inheritance when someone dies!
αποστερεω ("defraud"; 10:19) The NET Bible suggests Jesus inserts this because of the OT's injunctions about this, for example, Deut 24:14. I would maintain that the word defraud is not accidental, but a great insight into the text. Jesus adds this commandment because he knows the rich young man is guilty of it -- the 11th commandment! As my internship pastor spoke about this passage -- what is the commandment that finally trips you or me up?? I don't murder...but what finally brings me to my knees in confession?
αγαπαω ("love"; 10.21) This word means real, genuine, nearly, if not truly, divine love. This man is the first one whom Jesus loves in the whole Gospel of Mark! How sad then that the man cannot love Jesus back nor follow him!
κτημα ("possessions"; 10:22) Our American context is very different than ancient Greece, where a very small number owned most things. Yes, yes, the rich grow richer, but the average American still has enough possessions and toys at their disposal to last them for years. We can make this passage about demonizing the truly wealthy, or realize the nature of our own possessions that cloud our own vision. Side note: The NET Bible
στυγναζω ("sad" or "cloud up"; 10.23): The word for "sad" here is a less common Greek word, but it means gloomy, or clouded over, like the sky. The man's love of possessions cloud up his vision.
τεκνα ("children", 10.24). Right after Jesus has told them they must acccept the kingdom as a child, he calls them children. Perhaps a sign of love? Perhaps a call to humility? I think it is fair to say that, at least within Mark's Gospel, the driving point is that the only way into the Kingdom is to realize we cannot get there out of our own power, as a child!
I need to come back to this when I have a keyboard I can type in Greek. Jesus both "embelpo"s into people (vs. 21, 27) and "periblepos" around (vs. 23). In short, Jesus has insight (literally) and around sight (literall). Jesus can both look into people but also take a step back and look at the situation. A rare skill.
Some grammar tid-bits worth considering:
The subjunctive mood, which Greek uses to indicate various hypothetical situations, is difficult to translate. In 10.17 we find the filled-with-subjunctive phrase "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The Greek does not use the word "must" but simply uses the subjunctive mood. Luther's German translation, "What should I do" is probably a better understanding of what is meant here.
The imperfect tense suggests repeated action. In 10.17 The rich young man does not "ask" but in fact "asks," repeatedly -- the imperfect tense is used. He really wants to know!
Future as perfect tense?
In 10.30, Jesus talks about the age "that is coming." It is not "the age that came" or the "age that will come" or even "the age to come" but "the age that is coming." Greek, like English, can use the present to suggest an indeterminate future. "Coming" can mean "on the way" or "coming soon." There is an ambiguity. So the question is, does the eternal life age arrive after we die or while we live? It seems that Jesus is referring to a pre-natural death event...but perhaps one that requires our spiritual death and resurrection.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Summary: This is a very difficult passage, causing shame for many and perhaps even smugness for some. Many commentaries have been written about it. I'd like to focus on a few Greek words, especially some "απο" words, that might provide a framework for considering divorce and preaching about it. Again, very tough because everyone brings so much personal experience and heartache on this topic.
Side comment: Another helping tool for looking at these passages is to compare the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 and Luke 16 (if not 1 Cor 7).
πειραζοντες ("test or tempt", from πειραζω, 10:2) We see this come up often in the Gospels, where the Pharisees (or some other group) are trying to test Jesus. This case is a bit different. John the Baptist was imprisoned because he spoke out against the marriage practices of Herod. The Pharisees questions are intended to have Jesus imprisoned, if not killed. Our society has great culture wars going on now about marriage; perhaps each one of us will face persecution for our views. Lastly, if we wonder why Jesus is so harsh in his words, it is because the Pharisees are inviting him to his death.
αποστατιον ("divorce", 10:4) This word "explodes" off the page if you look at it in the Bible or in the Greek language. First, in Greek, this word meant leave one's station ("απο" means away; just read the letters in the word: a-p-o-s-t-a-t-i-o-n!). It meant a military defection from your captain, the one ahead of you in rank. Moses gave permission to write a certificate of defection!! What if we started calling divorce defection?? Ouch.
Jesus actually changes the law here. If you look up the word, you are taken to Deuteronomy 24:1, where a man is given permission to kick out his wife if she doesn't please him. Jesus today is calling men to a greater level of faithfulness than previous generations ever did; men cannot simply leave their wives because they don't please them! Jesus also even admits the reality that women might leave their husbands on their own accord, something unthinkable. In this way, Jesus alters the law (a radical concept), even enfranchising women, but finally asks for greater commitment. (Note however, that even though the Bible's teaching divorce shifts over time, the teaching on marriage remains the same).
απολυω ("free"; 10:4) This word can mean "release" or even finally "divorce" but it is worth looking simply at what the word means: to set free. As a pastor, I have seen this, where divorce is a freeing of someone from an abusive and unfaithful relationship plagued by addiction and anger.
So here is the million dollar question: When is the divorce "αποστατιον", namely, a defection? And when is it a απολυω, a freeing?
σκηλροκαρδια ("hardness of hearts"; 10:5) The word here contains the root "σκηλρος" which means hardness -- an awful disease is "multiple sclerosis", the hardening of certain body parts until finally the person cannot move. In a downward spiraling relationship, there is a hardening of the heart, until finally the person cannot love. As Christians, we believe that God creates new hearts (Psalm 51); however, Jesus admits (see also Matt 19) that certain conditions, like adultery, create such a hard heart, that the two are permitted not to be yolked any more. I would add abuse and addiction, both forms of adultery, you could argue, to this list of permissible divorces.
αρχη ("beginning"; 10:6) Jesus affirms that marriage is a long-long, committed relationship between a man and a woman, grounded in creation and the particular creation accounts we have in the Bible. This means that marriage has a few purposes: to offer companionship, to create new families and bring a couple into full intimacy, even union. I think one could further argue that marriage is a tool of God's sanctification in us, in that we discover our sinfulness very clearly, need forgiveness and become of great use to God through the love given to us by our spouse. Jesus returns the focus to God's goodness and intentions for marriage.
My haunch: The Christian church needs to spend a great deal of time and teaching on what marriage truly is and what it is for.
PS κατευλογεω means to bless -- literally a form of "good speaking." What is interesting is that Jesus' blessing, like just about every biblical blessing, includes a laying on of hands. To bless someone is not an abstraction, but a tangible entity. When we bless a union, we do not simply offer words, but we should also lay on hands!
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Summary: This passage does seem like two different smaller passages, but perhaps they are linked in that they both deal with how interact with other people's faith. In a day of partisan and even tribal politics if not religion, this passage can serve a powerful reminder of the need to be generous to other people's faith. If someone else is serving other people; if someone else is following Jesus, then they are on our team!
τινα ("someone", 9:38) The translations generally say "someone" or "a man" was trying to cast out demons. However, the Greek is a bit more vague. It simply is "tina" which can mean, someone, something, any, certain, a -- generally an indefinite marker. In otherwords, the disciples have dehumanized their opponents! The disciples did not stop to get the person's name or know his story!
εκωλυομεν (imperfect form of κωλυω, meaning "prevent", 9:38; 9:39) The tense of this verb is imperfect, indicating on-going action: "we continued to stop" or "we kept preventing." (The verb ηκολουθει "follow" is also in the imperfect tense). The disciples are really putting effort into stopping this man.
[[Greek grammar: One thing worth noting is that the participle for cast out is in the present tense. In translation though, its tense is governed by the finite verb, in this case "we saw" which is in the aorist. So the action of the casting out is present relative to the action of seeing.]]
μη κωλυετε ("no longer hinder", 9:39) Another lesson on Greek imperatives; the "μη" + present imperative construction suggests that the person was doing this action already (as in "do not be afraid" implies that the person was already afraid]. To translate then, "No longer hinder..."
υμιν ("us", 9:38) The pronoun is worth noting here: "υμιν" -- "not following us"! It is not about following Jesus, but about following the disciples. This can be a big trap for churches and denominations, worrying more about following us than about following Jesus! We are called not to hinder the faith of others and there are times when other people can believe things that are false or incredibly unhelpful. However, we must always ask ourselves -- not whether they have the doctrine all right -- but if they are following Jesus.
κακαλογεω ("renounced", 9:39) The word for "speak against" is a great one: κακαλογεω, from κακα (bad) and λεγω (speak). The word is more akin to blaspheme/renounce than simply slander. I wonder how much time we spend as Christians κακαλογεω-ing each other!
εχετε εν εαυτοις αλα, και ειρηνευετε εν αλλήλοις (9:50): Have salt in yourself and have peace among yourselves. There is a bit of a parallel structure here: εν εαυτοις and εν αλλήλοις; in yourself; in each other. The second time the word εν is used it almost has to be translated as "among." This doesn't change the meaning, I just wanted to show you how pithy Jesus made this ;-) But here is the deal, salt by itself is fairly useless, in fact, it is caustic. When it is used in proper doses with other things, it can be incredibly useful and flavorful. Don't be a big salt block by yourself :-) Share the love!
Some other little tid bits that one day I may work into a more coherent post:
9:39 Here we have a little play on words. The word for "deed of power/wonder" is "dynamis." The word for "able" is "dynamai" -- same root. If you do power in Jesus name, you do not have the power to speak evily of him.
9:41 The Greek text as "give a cup of water in name." What is missing? Jesus! It should read "name of Jesus" or "name of mine," which a good number of manuscripts have, including the classic case where editors were scribbling out each other's work. I think it is implied though!
9:41 Here we have the word from early in the call to discipleship: "Lose your life" (apollu-mi).
9:42 Both 9:41 and 9:42 describe to conditional events, namely, what happens to non-believers (or believers) based on their interaction with believers. Both cases are the "hos an" + subjunctive construction.
9:47 There are some fun words in here in these verses (skandaliz-oo; apokopt-oo) worth noting in this one is that Jesus returns to the exorcism and tells them that they should "cast out" (exball-oo) their own eyes...
Monday, September 24, 2018
Summary: Jesus warns his followers about "gheenna," often translated Hell. This week we will look at the three words for Hell in the Bible. The terms and their interpretation reflect various schools of thought over time. No matter how you slice it, there is death and judgment. I have rarely encountered a topic where I have had as much trouble wrapping my hands around it. This blog summary does not achieve "Summa", but rather gives one a general map of the territory.
Christians translate three Greek words as "Hell."
αδης ("hades") The first word for Hell is hades (Hebrew: Sheol). Interestingly, only the King James translates this word as Hell; most leave it as Sheol or Hades. It normally refers to the house of souls after death, rather than a place of judgment. Let's be clear, it is not a place you or I want to be, but it is not the home of Satan with fiery demons.
Basically, there are two helpful ways to understand Hades/Sheol. The first is that is a warehouse of souls (a la purgatory). So for example:
Psalm 138:8: If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
The problem with this understanding is that you get a universal soul sleep, without judgment or resurrection.
The other way to understand Hades/Sheol is simply as "the grave." So for example:
Genesis 37:35 "All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort Jacob; but he refused to be comforted, and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father bewailed him."
Jonah 2:2 "I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice."
In this sense, Hades/Sheol may have nothing to do with souls, simply the place where the body exists after death. The theologian is then free to discuss the judgement and resurrection of souls. This solution creates another dilemma though, in that you have separated bodies and souls, something rather foreign to the Hebrew mind.
So, Hades in the OT remains problematic! It is clear that the Old Testament ideas about the afterlife changed over time. There never emerged in the Old Testament, however, the idea that Hades/Sheol was a place solely of fiery judgment, the location of sinners after death. Everyone went to Sheol. It wasn't until much later (Isaiah 25-27) that you get the idea that God will defeat death and raise the righteous up to life.
The New Testament turns Hades into a darker place, with a bit more judgment associated with it. For example:
Luke 16:23: "In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
In Matthew, Jesus even declares the gates of Hades to be the enemy of the church! (16:18)
Finally, in Revelation, Hades will be consumed, and it will give over the dead for judgment.
To summarize: Hades refers to the place the dead go to await judgment. Besides one brief mention in Luke, it is not a place of judgment, much less fiery judgment. It is not seen as the home of devils and demons. The Bible leaves open the idea that Hades/Sheol might be a two tiered place, of pain but also bliss, awaiting resurrection; the Bible also leaves open the idea that Hades/Sheol might be understood literally and metaphorically as the grave, without much connotation of the soul's current or final destiny. Either one presents a systematics challenge.
γεεννα ("gheenna"). Unlike Hades, gheenna refers to a specific place, in fact, it is a place where a lot of bad stuff happened in Israel's history.
"Gehenna (Greek γέεννα) derives from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City. In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6)."
In depth look at citations of gheenna in the Bible, you can read here:
So, gheenna does refer to a hell-like place of judgment. It may have even been a burning trash heap!
An important take away about the OT citations of hell: It was not the place of individual judgment, but of national judgement.
The New Testament continues this idea of judgment, but makes it a place for individual judgment as well. This includes the passages for this week (Mark 9:44-50) but also:
While Revelation does not use the word gheenna, after Hades has been consumed, there is still a lake of fire to consume those not in the book of life, including the devil. Even John speaks of fire consuming the branches that bear no fruit! I think it is fair to say that association of fire and judgment is Biblical. However, a place where people roast alive slowly under the tridents of demons does not fully comport with the Biblical evidence.
To summarize: The Bible includes real judgment here, including the idea that fires of judgment occur. Yet, this is not the place where the devil and demons live. (If anything, it is where demons go to die, not to live!) Gheenna describes a tomb in the midst of eternal fires. Lastly, this place of judgment becomes more personal in the NT than in the OT.
κατώτατα ("lowest places") This word does not appear directly in the NT, but does so in our Creed (based on Ephesians 4:9, which uses a form of this word). It does, however, occur in the OT:
Lamentations 3:56 I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit;
So, what is better? Descended to the dead or to hell? First Peter references (1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Peter 3:16-20) suggest "dead," or place of the dead. I prefer hell because the word in the creed means "lowest of low." By using "hell" we capture the emotional suffering of Christ Jesus, in that he had been emotionally to hell, namely, feeling abandoned by God.
All in all, a complicated topic. The "hell" of popular imagination is not based on one image or word from the Bible, but a compilation, an imaginative blending of these various Scriptural passages. The Bible does not speak of a fiery pit with devils tormenting individuals. However, the Bible speaks of final judgment, including destruction by fire.
Monday, September 17, 2018
Summary: "Serving others" sounds like an exciting idea in high school - volunteering is hip these days. But serving others is actually quite difficult. Jesus even ups the ante by commanding that we should be servant to all! Here is what I find beautiful and hopeful in this passage: Jesus follows this command to serve everyone by touching one particular person. A reminder that service to world means service to individuals, often the very individuals the world forgets.
διακονος: ("servant", 9:35) The meaning of this word has come under great fire in the last generation. In post-Vatican II Catholicism and post-Holocaust protestantism, there reemerged a strong desire and need for the church to serve the needy. (Not that this had ever gone away totally!) What emerged was an incredible surge in the interest of service under various forms, offices and theology related to "διακονος." A generation or two later, some, including the previous Pope, are concerned that we have replaced the ministry of the Word with charity. If you research "Collins diakonia" you can read all about it. Within the Lutheran context a rather pointed and academic article is here: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/donfriedministry.pdf
The word does have a variety of meanings, from "waiter" as in someone who waits on tables, but also someone who acts as an agent on behalf of someone. In Mark's Gospel the word describes angels and women who attend to Jesus. In this way, Mark's usasge attests to the idea of service to the needy, but the service always involves Jesus.
Without being overly argumentative, you can assert this: διακονος did not simply mean service to the poor but also service on behalf of Christ. This week's passage shows a beautiful example of what διακονος entails: bringing the least in society to the arms of Jesus. I think this is a challenge for any congregation and ministry -- how do we serve the needy, not just as a service agency, but in a way that leads them to Christ's embrace?
παιδιον ("child", 9:36, 37) The word here can mean "kid" but can also mean "child" (as in my kid) or "slave." In our culture, we have seen this passage almost exclusively in light of the idea of "my child," a precious offspring of someone. However, the social context of youth ought not to be lost -- children did not have great social status and were not the focus of parental energy. In this sense, Jesus is acting toward the "least", namely, the people without voice, vote, income or status.
εναγκαλισμενος ("hug", 9:36 and 10:16) This word is only used twice in the whole New Testament, both times in Mark!, when Jesus takes children into his arm. This is also a reminder of what it means to welcome someone in the name of Christ, to bring them close enough that you can see their beauty, but also their warts, stinky breath and dirty fingernails.
This word is nearly impossible to translate. It sort of means "if" but not really. It is best just to learn all the ways in which it is used (ie, consult a grammar aid when you come to it). In verse 37, it is used with ος, which always gets translated "Whoever." This might not make sense, but this combination is a bit like: "Who, who?,..." to make a "whoever."
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Summary: Okay, this passage is really hard. Mark goes out of his way to show how much "other" this woman is. What do we make of this? That Jesus is less compassionate or (gasp) more bigoted than we are today? I don't think we want to go there. But (gasp!) Luke dropped this story, unable to stomach it; I think many of us want to drop it as well. But in the Bible it is. A few possibilities for preaching
- Jesus entered a world with real cultural divisions, not the new creation.
- Sometimes we have to be persistent in prayer.
- If you can find a common language, you can solve all sorts of problems.
- Jesus did ultimately consider gentiles in his family, but this was not the natural state of affairs.
Again, the Greek offers no easy way out of this passage.
Τορου (Tyre, 7:24) First reminder that we are away from Jewish territory. To give an example of how "bad" it was for Jesus to be there, recall the words of Matthew 11:22 "But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you." We almost wonder if Jesus wanted it kept secret that he was there because a good Jewish Rabbi should not have been going in that direction!
What is interesting is that in spite of all the cultural differences, they still speak a common language...
ερχομαι (απερχομαι and also εισερχομαι, numerous forms "ερχομαι" which means to go, 7:24) There is a lot of movement in this text -- variants of ερχομαι are used throughout the text. The first movement is out into Tyre (απερχομαι ); then in to the home (εισερχομαι); the demon goes out; the woman leaves the house; the demon again has gone out; Jesus leaves the town.
Note on Greek: ερχομαι is a very common verb, but it often appears in its aorist form: ηλθεν, or as a participle or with attached prefixes (απο (away) εισ (into)). Learning to recognize the myriad forms of this verb can definitely speed up one's Greek reading.
ελληνις ("Hellenic" (not the rough breathing mark over the "e" or "Greek"), 7:26). For what is worth, the word Gentile should not be used here, but Greek should. (εθνη is not the word used; ελληνις is). It is odd that such an amount of information is given about the woman. Mark wants to drive some that this person is the embodiment of "other."
ηρατω (imperfect form of ερωταω, "beg/ask" 7:26) What is significant here is that this verb is in the imperfect -- she was continuing to beg. Jesus did not respond to her first request, it seems. Keep praying folks...
χορτασθηναι (from χορταζω, meaning "feed", 7:27) The word here for feed is χορταζω. This word will be used in chapter 8 to describe Jesus feeding all of the gentiles...So here Jesus says he ain't gonna feed the people...but shortly after this, this is exactly what he is doing. Which means, that when Jesus feeds the gentiles in chapter 8, Jesus is considering them children!
εβαλεν (aorist form of βαλλω, meaning "throw", 7:33) The word translated as "put" as in "put" his fingers is βαλλω which means throw or cast. This is normally used as a verb to describe Jesus "casting" out the demon. In this image he casts his fingers into the man. Kind of gross!
εστεναξεν (from στεναζω, meaning "groan", 7:34) It is hard to say whether Jesus "sighs" here in frustration or effort. This word will appear in some other powerful verses in the New Testament:
Romans 8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
2 Corinthians 5:4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Cross-cultural ministry -- working with people who are different -- can be hard work!!