Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mark 9:38-50

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), year B (Mark/John), most recently September 30, 2018.  I have another post looking at this passage, focusing on hell.

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!

Key words
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:
9:43 The word for life (Zooeh = zwh) has an article before it: "The life."  Interestingly Jesus here equates "the life" with "the kingdom of God."

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

Mark 9:38-50 (focus on Hell)

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently: Sept 27, 2015) 

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.
Wikipedia:
"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:
http://timmhallman.blogspot.com/2011/05/notes-on-hell-valley-of-son-of-hinnom.html

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:
Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Matthew 23:33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?

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:
Psalm 139:15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 86:13  For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
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

Mark 9:30-37

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently: Sept 20, 2015) 
 
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.

Key Words:
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.

Grammar:  "αν"
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

Mark 7:24-37

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B
 
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.

Key words:

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!!