Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Luke 15:11-32

This passage appears in the RCL for Year C during Lent.  (Lastly: March 31, 2019)

Summary:  Like other great and familiar stories, the prodigal son does not require anything overly advanced.  The best thing we can do is help our listeners slow down, ponder the story and dwell on its many meanings, most of which are not too secretive.  But if you want something to chew on...recently I have been reflecting on how modern humans are Homo Economicus, defined by our market based relationships.  This passage presents some very interesting connections between money, life and happiness.  Both sons must learn that true relationships are based on compassion and grace, not the exchange of goods and services.  Yet true relationships reveal themselves in exchange of goods and services.

Side note:  This year my church is reading Henri Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal, based on Rembrandt's painting of this story.  Excellent read!

σου (of you, vs 30).  This is a little word, but it is significant (and its meaning clear in English).  The older brother considers his brother only a son of the father (your son!).  The father explains that it is actually his brother (your brother).  Economic relationships can be severed, but blood relationships cannot (or not without some serious difficulty).

ουσιας and βιον ("estate" and "money" in vs 12).  These words mean more deeply "life" or "essence."  (Think: Ousia from "one ousia three hypostasis"; and bios in "biology").  It is striking that the Father is asked and gives not simply of his money, but of his essence, his life, his estate.  There is a strong relationship between what the Father has and who the Father is.  Both sons perceive correctly that the Father's giving away of possessions reveals something about his character.  What we have to give is reflective of who we are.  To think about it differently and in terms of God's gifts, to know Christ is to know Christ's benefits (as Luther said).

καλλαω ("be employed" in vs 15).  This word actually means cling.  (Husband shall cling to his wife).  How many of us are clung to our jobs?  The assumption is that the economic relationship will provide a basis for existence.  But it does not.  The younger son is only the hired hand (μισθιων).  In fact, when he seeks to return to his father, he offers to become a hired hand, where the relationship would be simply economic between him and his father.

εσπλαγχνισθη ("compassion," vs 20).  This word means, literally, intestines.  The idea of Greek compassion is that when you have compassion on someone, your insides get tight.  The father has compassion on the son.

παρακαλει ("encourage," 28)  I think it interesting that the verb here for encourage is related to the word for Holy Spirit (paraclete).  The father is encouraging the older brother.  We confess in the Apostle's Creed a belief in the forgiveness of sins.  This petition of faith is in the third article, which consists of things having to do with the Holy Spirit.  We definitely need the Holy Spirit to enable us to forgive each other.

Just a thought:  When we confess a belief in the forgiveness of sins, we not only confess a belief that God can forgive our sins, but perhaps we also confess a belief that humans can forgive each other!

εις εαυτον δε ελθων  ("came to himself", vs 17)  The Greek is literally "under the circumstances of having come into himself, he said, "How many of the hired hands of MY father"  When he went in he remembered the core identity of his father -- a generous person who claimed him as a son.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Luke 13:31-35

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year C during Lent (Most recently March 17, 2019)

Summary:  This passage portrays Jesus as a healer and even a hen.  This might tempt one to present a softer image of Jesus.  While Jesus does have great compassion and does show tremendous care, Jesus is not "soft."  He is casting out demons, condemning the people's heritage, standing up to power and predicting his own death.  The healing Jesus brings represents far more than a band-aid; rather it destroys evil and the restores od's relationship with the world.

ιασεις ("iasies" meaning "to heal"; 13:32)  This word comes into English in the "iatry" family (psychiatry; podiatry), meaning to heal.  Perhaps this word can help us connect today's healing (all of the -iatries) with the work of Jesus, both then and still today.

αποτελω ("apoteloo" meaning "to complete"; 13:32).  I offer this word because it connects with the τελειομαι, the last word of the sentence.  Jesus is talking about "completing" a healing today.  We must wonder again, what kind of healing does Jesus have in mind?  What does it mean for Jesus to complete a healing?  I think about how long healing really takes for people after severe physical or emotional trauma.  Healing is often a longer process.

τελειομαι (passive perfect form of τελειοω meaning "complete"; 13:32)  Jesus here literally says, "I  have been completed on the third day."  There are many directions to unpack what Jesus means.  I would offer for this passage that Jesus' death and resurrection could be seen, in light of this passage, as a work of healing.  This healing includes purging evil from the world.  I would add further that healing often requires removal of "demons" from our lives.  This is not simply touchy feely stuff, as Jesus discussion of coming death (33) reminds us.

Aside:  This is the same verb that Jesus will utter from the cross (in John's Gospel) as he says, "It is finished."  Which brings up how to translate that passage -- perhaps better than "it is finished" is "it is perfected" or "it is fulfilled" or "it is completed."

ηθελησα/ηθελησατε (from θελω meaning "wish or will"; 13.34)  It is fascinating to see how Jesus admits that humans resist God's will.  Jesus wanted to gather the people in; but it will require Jesus death and resurrection for this to happen.

τεκνα ("tekna" meaning "child"; 13:34)  In this passage, the word for "chick" is simply "child."  Often we think of God's relationship with humanity in parental terms.  We can sentimentalize this relationship, ignoring the pain that parents experience over their children, both in real life and in the Bible.  If God is our parent, than God assumes the emotional train wreck that comes from parenting!!
It also suggests that God desires for us to be like children who receive his protection.
"He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler."  (NRS Psalm 91:)
I think it is possible to use this verse and passage to understand Jesus' work on the third day as a restoration of our status as God's children.

Greek grammar tid bit: Solving for a missing word:
In both 13:32 and 33 Jesus skips a word
32: "today and tomorrow and τη τριτη ____ "
33:  "today and tomorrow and τη εχομενη _____."
Greek will often skip a word where the context is entirely clear.  In this case, they drop the word "day."  The context of the sentence should make this clear.  Another hint is that in both cases, the word "the" is in the feminine (dative), telling you a feminine noun has been dropped.  As it turns out ημερα, the word for day, is a feminine noun.  Case closed.