Thursday, November 29, 2018

Luke 21:25-36

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Advent 1, most recently Dec. 2, 2018.

Summary
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)
and
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.  

Advent preaching idea:  All of the other things that make American Christmas "Christmas" will fade away -- the Bing Crosby music, the tinsel, the Amazon Prime deals.  What will abide?  The Word. This is where we should dwell.  Help people see what this is like though -  Advent Wreaths, daily devotions, singing carols, worship.

Β.  Destroy vs Redeem
ερημωσις (meaning "wilderness or destruction"; vs 20)
and
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.

Advent preaching idea:  What does it mean for Jesus to approach us?  This passage suggests that Jesus coming and approaching us is never neutral; we are always changed by this encounter, either in that the world around us changes, we are invited into a wilderness (with John too) or we receive our redemption.  Of all of the above.

C.  Stand vs Flee
ιστημι (meaning "stand"; as a verb σταθηναι; vs 21.36)
and
εκφυγειν  (meaning "flee"; 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.

Advent preaching idea:  Christmas nostalgia can become a drug of choice to escape the cares of the world.  This is anti-incarnation.  We are called like Christ to be in this world, to stand before him, who is always present in places of need and hurt.  Christmas should be about us taking a step into the world, not away from it.  So where will people find solace and strength?  (Go back to the word.)

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
αποψυχοντων   (αποψυχον) 26
biotikos



Monday, November 12, 2018

Mark 13:1-8

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary for March 13, 2016, along with Mark 13:24-37.
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."

The question is, how do we interpret τελος, here translated "end."  It can mean "fulfillment", "destiny", "aim", or even "perfection."  In fact, the translators use "fulfill" when translating συντελεω in verse 4 (the prefix συν- does not significantly change the meaning of the word here).

All too often when we think about the end times we think about...the end...instead of the fulfillment of all God intended for us.  It is too bad this week we do not have the Micah 5 lesson.  How much might our collective imaginations be stirred if we instead thought of them as "fulfillment days."  What must happen for God to fulfill all of God's promises?  What does the fulfillment look like?

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

Mark 12:38-44

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently Nov 11, 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.