Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Luke 4:21-30

This passage is found in the RCL, Epiphany, Year C.  (Most recently Feb 3, 2019)

Summary:  Here is my preaching nugget based on the Greek.  Luke 4 begins with Jesus led out into the wilderness, where he is tempted at a high point to have all the power in the world.  He overcomes this.  Luke 4 ends with Jesus again cast out, this time to another high point.  Here the crowd is tempted to hoard God's love for themselves.  And they fail.  I think there is something here to play off Jesus' overcoming temptation to love only himself and the crowd's utter failure.  The church, time and time again, has succumbed to this temptation to love only ourselves.

χαριτος ("grace", from χαρις, 4:21)  The better translation here is "words of grace" rather than gracious words.  In fact, the literal translation is beautiful here:  "The words of grace walking out of his mouth."  What an image of Jesus: A bus station of grace!  It is also worth noting that the angriest people get with Jesus is when he preaches (or manifests) grace; it seems preaching God's abundant love may be more upsetting than preaching God's judgment.

δεκτος ("honor"/"welcome", 4:24)  Jesus words here have become a famous adage, "A prophet is without honor in his hometown."  The use of "honor" here covers up the connection to early in chapter 4, when Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favor.  The word here for favor is also δεκτος.  Jesus has defeated Satan to proclaim the year of the Lord's δεκτος.  The people here do not ascribe to him δεκτος.

εξεβαλον ("cast out", from εχβαλλω, 4:29).  This word interestingly parallels what happens to Jesus in his temptation, where he is cast out into the wilderness (admittedly, Luke does not use the word "cast out"; Mark does)  This word brings up a broader point that in Luke 4, there are two clashes:  Jesus and the devil and Jesus and the crowd.  I would say, and not in a sermon, that Jesus functions like an adversary in Luke 4, pushing the people, perhaps even instigating them.  I would say, and in a sermon, that the people fail, Jesus doesn't.  The word of grace will go on.

ωκοδομητο ("build upon" from οικοδομεω, 4:29) The town was built on a cliff.  This should already speak volumes.  But later on Jesus will exorcise demons off a cliff side.  Again, the crowd is literally trying to exorcise Jesus here.

διελθων ("pass through", 4:30)  Nothing profound here, but it is worth noting that Jesus could escape the crowds here.  Jesus choice to die was always his own choice. 

Grammar review: ουχι and question words
This word ουχι is used when a "yes" is expected.   In 4:22, the people are saying, "Isn't this Jesus..." Using ουχι to start the question means they are expecting a "yes."
My mneumonic is this:
μη (mh) gets a "no"
and ου/ουχι/ουχ get a "yes"
It is alphabetical order:  If the question starts with m, it will be an "n"o; if with "ou" then "y"es

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Luke 4:14-21 and Isaiah 61

This passage is found in the RCL, Epiphany Season, Year C (Most recently: January 27, 2019)  It is also found in the narrative lectionary year of Luke, most recently January 15, 2017.

Summary:  Home run point, here but it will take a full count to get there...Most times the New Testament quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament.  On rare, rare occasions, the New Testament writers seem to be quoting from the Old Testament Hebrew in their own translations (Proverbs 10:12 vs 1 Peter 4:8 eg).  In this case, Jesus seems neither to be translating directly from the Old Testament Hebrew, nor is he reading directly from the Greek.  He is intentionally adding to the Word of God.  This is a bold move.  He does so, I would argue, out of a Trinitarian conception of his mission, whereby the people will be brought into the mission of God.  (If you are saying to yourself, this is too much for a sermon, the basic point remains:  The Spirit of the Lord on Jesus is also the Spirit of the Lord on the church!)

Three little Greek appetizers before the main course:
φημη (pheme, meaning "fame," 4:14)   The word for "news" is "pheme" or perhaps better in English "fama." This is the root of our word fame. Jesus is famous!

δοξαζομενος (from δοξαζω, doxaz-oo, meaning "praise", 4:15)  The people "praise" Jesus. Interestingly, in the rest of the Gospel, the only one praised is God. This is the only instance of Jesus being praised in the Gospels.

εδιδασεν (from διδασκω, meaning "teach", 4:15)  The Spirit of the Lord -- the POWER  of the Spirit led Jesus to teach.  One cannot truly separate the teaching of the faith -- the ministry of the Word, from the Spirit, the POWER of the Spirit in fact.  Also, the word for power here is δυναμει, which comes into English as dynamic or dynamite.  Is our teaching dynamic and dynamite?

Digging into 4:18-19 vs Isaiah 61:1-2

First, before we get into the differences between the Old and New Testament:

Where does Jesus power come from?  The Spirit!
- Jesus words and the OT begin the same. The Spirit of the Lord (πνενμα κυριου) is upon me; he has annointed (εχρισεν, ie "Christed") me. It does well to remember the Hebrew words here: Ruach Adonai (רוח אדני) for Spirit of the Lord and Messiah (משך) for annoint.

Who is the ministry for:  The downtrodden!
- "captive" which comes from the Greek "αιχμαλωτος" which means "spear." Literally, those who are speared. 
- oppressed (τεθραυσμενους, participle form of θραυω) is only used once in the NT and literally means "shattered." I wonder who in our congregations feels speared and shattered?  All of these blessings Jesus is to bestow focus on the downtrodden.  Also, all of the blessings have an obvious material/physical aspect.

Now, let's get into the differences.

A quick comparison show that Jesus is not reading right from the Septuagint or the Hebrew.  Here is a literal translation, in each case I have underlined what is different in each version, not due to any linguistically subtle changes.

Luke 4:18-19 (Greek)
a) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
b)  because he has anointed me
c)  to bring good news to the poor.
d)  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
e)  and recovery of sight to the blind
f)  to send the oppressed in freedom,
g)  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Isaiah 61:1-2 (Hebrew)
a)  The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me
b)  because the LORD has anointed me
c)  to bring good news to the oppressed/poor
??)  and bind up the brokenhearted
d) to proclaim release to the captives
f') to release to the prisoners
g) to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,

Isaiah 61:1-2 (LXX, Greek translation of Hebrew)
a) The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
b)  because the LORD has anointed me
c) to bring good news to the poor
??) he has sent me to heal the crushed in spirit/heart
d)  to proclaim release to the captives,
e)  and recovery of sight to the blind
g) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor

A) In the OT, Isaiah never talks about sight to the blind. Jesus does (the Septuagint does also).

B) Isaiah (in both the Hebrew and LXX) plays on the idea of binding -- the broken-hearted are bound; the captive are freed. Jesus alters this image. The NRSV translates this sentiment as "free the captives" and "he will let the oppressed go free." Jesus, thus, seems to by-pass the image of repairing/releasing the broken-hearted, instead choosing to include the idea of sending the oppressed.  This actually comes from Isaiah 58:6 where the prophet says, "To send the oppressed in freedom."

C) Jesus puts in the idea that he is sent to send others.  The word send in fact, appears twice, "He sent send."  So why don't English bibles use the word "send" twice?  It is because they cover it up! The phrase "to let the oppressed go free" literally reads, "to send those shattered, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The translators are combining the phrase "send in forgiveness" into a single verb "free."  This makes sense in that to free someone is to send them in release.  But I think this misses something going on in the Greek.  The Father has sent the Son, who through the Spirit is sending others.  Not only is this in itself a sermon worth unpacking, I think the deeper and better sermon point is that Jesus has come to send those who are oppressed, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Note: This may seem to technical for a sermon.  But it fits more broadly into the case Luke makes in Luke-Acts, that the work of the Spirit is to bring us into the triune Mission of God.

D) Jesus drops the line immediately following this passage in Isaiah (...a year of the Lord's favor and day of vengeance). Here the LXX does not use such striking language, but in any case, Jesus avoids this idea all together.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

John 2:1-11

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year C, most recently January 2019.
I offer two summaries:
2013 Summary:  The numbers tell the story here.  This is Jesus FIRST miracle that happens on the THIRD day, in which he transforms SIX vessels of imperfect cleansing into celebration.  In fact, the word FIRST here means foundation, because this miracle foreshadows all the other miracles of Jesus; they are all miracles of transformation, including the resurrection on the third day.  Lastly, on a very Lutheran note, the transformation includes humans who are put to use for the service of others.

2019 Summary:   This passage is all about the mission of the church:  Jesus ministry takes place outside of the traditional boundaries and buildings.  It will involve the obedient participation of servants, who will become agents of transformation in this world, leading to a joyous party of abundance.

Key words:
τριτη ("third", 2.1).  The phrase third day only occurs in John's Gospel during this story and the accounts of the resurrection.  Furthermore, Jesus refers in this chapter to the fact that the temple will be raised on the third day (2:19-20), also a reference to the resurrection on the third day.  Jesus' glory will fully be revealed then.

εξ ("six", 2:6)  Six in the bible signifies something as incomplete.  It is not coincidental that John connects six with Jewish cleansing rituals.

αρχη ("first" or "principal", 2:11)  The word can mean first.  But if you look at the other times when it is translated as first (and not "beginning"), it has shades of "primary", or "foundationally" first. So we need to ask ourselves -- why is this a foundational miracle?

John 6:64:  For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
Colossians 1:18:  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
Hebrews 2:3, 3:14:  It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him,  For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
Rev 22:13:  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."

γαμος ("wedding", 2:1):  It is worth pointing out the incredibly obvious:  Jesus first miracle does not take place in a church, but in the world, at a wedding!

Οινον ουκ ("no wine"; 2:3)  The problem with humanity is that we are good at finding and proclaiming scarcity.  Jesus sees what we do not -- plenty of fluid!  Furthermore, the transformation of the water into wine is not for the water (or wine's sake), but is for the sake of the kingdom -- it is for God's glory and the neighbors at the party.

Some other words:
διακονος ("servant", 2:5):  Just a quick pointing out of this word, whose meaning continues to come under fire (can this exist outside of the word and worship is the current Catholic debate).  In this case, Jesus brings the διακονος to service for his ministry.

επιστεθσαν ("believe", 2:11):  Believe in the book of John is never a noun "faith" but only a verb "to believe" or "to trust."

Grammar review:  An idiom you should know
"τι εμοι και σοι"  Jesus asks this question of Mary.  This is not a very nice thing to say to a person.  It means, "Who the hell are you."  It is also used
* Widow to Elijah, whom she believes is responsible for her son's death;1 Kings 17:18
* The demons to Jesus when he wants to exorcise them; Mark 5:7
But what to make of a sermon here:  Maybe, just maybe, the mission of God is influenced by human prayers and requests!!