Thursday, May 23, 2019

John 14:23-29

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, 6C, most recently May 26, 2019
Summary:  Like many passages in John, this passage at first seems like a sequence of fairly random phrases; the preachers job is to pick the best one and run with it.  (Likely my peace I give you!)  If we take a look at the whole of verse 14, we realize that Jesus here is trying to calm his disciples down, as they are growing agitated and disbelieving in light of the coming death.  It makes me wonder -- over and against what fears and anxieties should we preach the promise of peace and God's presence?

(I think I prefer the paired Acts passage (16:9-16) for preaching, but there are some fascinating elements to the Greek here!)

Key words
μονη(ν) (meaning "dwelling", 14:23; as a participle this root word appears in 14:25):  One of the most important ways of understand the work of God in John's Gospel is "dwelling."  In the beginning of the Gospel, we learn that the word dwelt among us (different root word).  In fact, Jesus begins this section by offering that in his Father's house there are many "dwellings" (14:2, same word, but in plural form).  If we interpret 14:2 in light of 14:23, we get a really interesting concept.  In the father's house there are many dwelling places because in each and every person God can make a dwelling!

This passage also establishes the criteria for God making his dwelling:  keeping his word and love.  So let's look at what is happening with those two criteria in this passage --

τηρεω (various forms in 14:21,23 and 24):  This means to guard, protect.  Interestingly, Jesus calls his disciples to guard:  his commandments (22), his word (23), his words (24).  Each of these connotes a different aspect of Jesus' teaching ministry.  It is also worth considering, if we just had John's Gospel, what are the commandments?  Believe in God (14.1) and love one another (14.34) stand out.  I would be curious to see what other commandments we could distill from John's Gospel besides these two foundational words, for John's Gospel offers less moral advice than the other Gospels.  Jesus does tell the woman to sin no more; other than this, what commandments do you find in John's Gospel?

ει αν (markers of conditional phrases): 
Heavy Greek lifting you can skip: 
These two words can work together to set up an IF...THEN...clause in Greek.  Depending on the tenses and moods used, it defines what kind of IF...THEN statement you get.  In the case of verse  14:28, "If you love me, then you would rejoice that I am going to the Father..." you have an ει+indicative imperfect followed by an αν+indicative aorist.  This type of phrase means IF (but it is not true) THEN (therefore this is not true).  So for example, in John 11:21 and 11:32:  If you had been there, my brother would not have died.  (But you weren't there, so my brother did die.).  See also John 18:30 and Acts 18:14 for examples. 

Based on the verbs, Jesus is actually saying in verse 28:  "If you have been loving me (which you haven't), then you would rejoice that I am going to the Father (which you aren't)!  I think this drastically changes the understanding of Jesus words.  He knows his disciples are distressed.  He tells them in the beginning (14:1) and at the end of the passage (14:27) not to be worried (ταρασσεσθω, from ταρασσω). 

While it may seem harsh that Jesus is telling his disciples they don't love him, he is actually speaking loving truth here:  They don't get it why Jesus had to die.  The other Gospels make the struggle of the disciples clear; this is the part of the Gospel when the disciples are showing they are struggling to understand and believe.  So what does Jesus do?  He offers them the promise of his presence and his peace.  Sometimes this is all we can do for people!

αφιημι and διδωμι ("leave" and "give", 14:27)  The word αφιημι is fascinating here, but I want to focus more on the fact that we are in the present tense.  This means that Jesus will continually leave and give; this is not a one time transference, but a ministry commitment for Jesus.

I want to borrow from another blogpost I have about the paraclete

παρακλητος (paraclete, 15.26 and throughout John 15 and 16) The word parakletos for the Holy Spirit is a tough one to crack! The noun literally means "one called along side of." Originally it meant a "legal assistant." Hence the affinity for the term advocate.

Yet, the whole field of words related to parakletos pushes against a cold, judicial term, especially in terms of our relationship with God.

14.16 The parakletos is a gift from God
14.17 The parakletos will be with us, even abide in us forever
14.26 The parakletos will teach you and cause you to remember the words of Jesus
15.26 The parakletos will witness about Jesus
16.8 The parakletos will prove the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.
16.13 The parakletos will guide you on the way
16.13 The parakletos will listen to the Father and Son
16.14 The parakletos will glorify Jesus 
16.14 The parakletos will make Jesus known

Interestingly, the Vulgate does not even use the term advocate to translate parakletos, instead transliterating the word "paracletus." In fact, the Latin does translate the word "parakletos" from the Greek into the Latin "advocatum" once, and this is from 1 John 2.1, where the sense is different. Indeed, here the idea is Jesus interceding for us against the judge of the Father concerning our sins; in John's Gospel the idea of the parakletos has nothing to do with a legal metaphor before God the Father, but the enabler of Christian before the world of unbelievers.

Furthermore, a look at the verb παρακαλεω, the related verb for the noun παρακλητος, really brings home that this word (really word field) is not primarily about legal matters:
Isaiah 40.1 "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."
Psalm 23 "Your rod and staff, they comfort me."
Proverbs 8:4 "To you, O people, I call and my cry is to all that live."
2 Corinthians 1:3-4  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,  who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God."

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Acts 16:9-16

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year C, most recently May 26, 2019.

Summary:  Two things caught my attention about this passage.  First, a woman wins an argument with Paul :-)  Second, Lydia has so much in her life going right for her.  Yet she is not content.  Often we assume that people need to hit rock bottom for the Christian Gospel to make an impact.  In Lydia's case, clearly something about her life was incomplete, even if she was not lamenting her life or commiting awful sins.  I wonder if this is a helpful angle for reaching the consumerists out there -- no, you are not awful, evil and hell-bent people, but deep down something is missing; the world of selling and consuming doesn't add up.

παρακαλων ("encourage" (participle form), 16:9)  It is interesting that the man "encourages" them to come to Macedonia.  You could call him an advocate for Macedonia.  In fact, the word for Spirit in John's Gospel (and the appointed text for this week) is παρακλητος, the noun form of this verb.

συμβιβαζων ("proving, pulling together, knit" (participle form), 16:10)  I find this is great verb for how we understanding the work of the Spirit -- we pull pieces together to build of picture, a map, of what the Spirit calls us to do.  When this word is used in Colossians it means "knit together."  We pull at pieces -- visions, stirrings of the hearts and basic facts -- to figure out the will of the Spirit.

κολωνια ("colony", 16:12)  This word does not really feature in the interpretation of this passage, but it speaks to how we can understand Paul's letter to the Philippians:  See here for more info.

πορφυροπωλις ("dealer in purple cloth", 16:14) Lydia, unlike the jailer, does not encounter the Gospel at a time of weakness, but of relative strength.  She is a rich merchant who sails the seven sees.  She is at worship.  Yet something isn't right; she hungers for something more.

Sad side note:  Purple cloth was ruined because of over harvesting of the snails that produced the dye.  It is believed those particular snails are actually extinct.

διηνοιξεν ("open", 16:14)  This word can simply mean "open" but it can also mean "open" in a more metaphorical way.  See the word dianetics and Scientology!!

ο οικος αυτης  ("the house of hers", 16:15)  This verse is often used as justification (or permission) for infant Baptism.  No changes here, but I think the translators over-translate here.  They translate it "She and her house."  It should read, "Her house was baptized."  First, the word "she" is missing.  The only thing in the nominative is "the house."  It seems unlikely "she" is implied in the verb because the verb baptize is in the singular, which would not match "she and her house."  Furthermore, the word "de" appears, which suggests a change in subject; "Lydia" was the subject in the previous sentence suggesting a new subject.  She was baptized; my point is simply that her house was not baptized as an afterthought, but that the act was done all together.

If I lost you, I think I might of lost myself with this last point.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

John 13:31-35

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently May 19, 2019.

Summary:  I offer some initial reflections on the Greek.  If I preach on this, I will likely draw on the narrative in which it is set:  Jesus washing his disciples feet, Jesus being betrayed, Jesus about to be arrested, condemned and crucified.  Jesus is not just talking about love, but revealing it to his disciples.  Likewise, we are called to love each other.  In reality.

Key words:
εδοξασθη (aorist form of δοξαζω, meaning "glorify, 13:31,32):  I was struck by this word; what does it mean for Jesus to be glorified?  What does glory mean in John's Gospel.  In the Old Testament, the word for glory is associated with the awe-inspiring presence of God:
  • Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34 
  • Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.  Psalm 72:19
John presents Jesus as the fullness of God's glory on earth.  The miracles of Jesus reveal this glory.
  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14
  • Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  John 2:11 
  • Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24 
  • So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.  John 17:5
Yet Jesus begins to discuss God's glory, especially in these passages (13:31-32) in connection with his crucifixion and resurrection.  This is kind of strange; either John wants us to see the resurrection as the glory (total Christus Victor) or John sees that somehow the crucifixion is an revelation of God's glory.  That is something truly worth considering, not as a theological question, but as a Biblical question -- does John go that far?

The other movement in terms of God's glory is that the disciples, by their actions, reveal God's glory:
  • My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  John 15:8
This is something really worth pondering -- and struggling with as a Lutheran -- to what extent is God's glory revealed through our Spirit-led actions?

υμιν υμας (forms of "you", 13:34)   Jesus gives us a new commandment to YOU and declared he loved YOU.  But the YOU here is actually plural:  Y'ALL!!  Worth remembering that Jesus love is for the whole community, not just the individual.

διδυμι ("give"; 13:34)  Jesus gives this command in the present tense, "I keep giving you the new commandment."  We must be taught, again and again, to love each other.

μαθηται (form of  μαθητης, meaning "disciple"; 13:35).  The word for disciple means pupil.  Are we called to be a pupil of Jesus or his teachings?

Friday, May 10, 2019

John 10:22-30

This passage is from the Revised Common Lectionary.  It appears during year C on the 4th Sunday of Easter, often called "Good Shepherd" Sunday.

Summary:  So much promise.  Jesus knows us, Jesus gives us life, the Father holds us in his hands.   Still dreaming on this passage...

Key words/Grammar items:
εγκαινια  (Hanukah; 10:22)  Most translators call this the Festival/Feast of Dedication.  Which is true, but it would be known to most English readers, certainly in America, as the Hanukah!  Just a reminder that Jesus is a practicing Jew.  In fact, the action in John typically revolves around Jesus celebrating and interpreting anew the Jewish feasts.  The original Hanukah involved a miracle that allowed the temple to stay lit throughout worship...over and against occupation.  So when they ask Jesus if he is the Messiah/Christ, it is a very loaded question.

στοα του Σολομωνος (Solomon's Colonnade/Porch/Stoa; 10:23)  There is a portico that comes up a few times in the New Testament, where Jesus gathers.  Here is a website that does a nice job giving a quick summary:

εκυκλωσαν (encircled; 10:24)  The people have encircled Jesus, not gathered around him!  Also, they are speaking (ελεγον, imperfect tense) repeatedly to him.  There is conflict brewing!

αλλα  (but; 10:26)  Jesus inserts a hard contrast here:  "BUT you did not believe"

γινοσκω 27    This word is kind of boring in Greek:  Know, recognize.  But it likely is a translation of the Hebrew yada, which has a more intimate meaning.  Regardless, worth pondering -- what does it mean for Jesus to know us!!

ακουουσιν - ακολουθουσιν (hear and follow; 10:27).  They are not related, but I find it fascinating that in Greek the word for hear is embedded in the word for follow.  Following Jesus begins with listening and ends with listening!!  What is also worth noting, a GOSPEL move here, is that if we are to follow, this means that Jesus is leading.

διδωμι (give; 10:28) Jesus indicates he will always be giving us eternal life.  It is not a one time and done gift!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

John 21:1-19

This passage appears in the revised common lectionary, year C, the 3rd Sunday of Easter.

The passage describes beautifully the Christian's experience before God:  We are drawn out of our every day life, called into an encounter with the Risen Lord.  Jesus forgives us, restores us fellowship and sends us out to care for others.  In short, we are called back into the world, in service.

Key words:
συροντες  (συρω, meaning "drag", 21:8) and
ειλκυσεν (ελκω, meaning "draw" or "drag", 21:6 and 11)
Both of these words indicate that the disciples had to work to bring in their haul.  Serving Jesus and working in ministry are hard work!  (See note below on ειλκυσεν)

παιδια (meaning "child", 21.5) Paidia means "child" not "friend" as the NIV has it.  Jesus refers to the disciples as children.

ιχθυς (meaning "fish,"; 21:6, 8 and 11)  Just a friendly reminder that the fish became an early Christian symbol, as the letters formed an Anagram:  Jesus (I) Christ (X) God's (Th) Son (U) Savior (S).

εβαλεν (βαλλω) (meaning "cast" or "throw"; 21.7)  The word for "cast" nets is "βαλλω" which is used for both the nets and for Peter "casting" himself into the see.   Interestingly in 18:10 and 18:11, when Peter draw (ειλκυσεν) his sword and then was told to put it away (βαλε).  This is a great reminder about how this passage reveals the transformation at work in Peter.  He was casting away swords he had drawn; now he is drawing the fish-filled nets he has cast.

ανθρακαι(ν) (meaning "coal", 21.9)  Jesus is cooking over "anthrakia" which means "coals" (ie anthracite coal).  When Peter earlier denied Jesus, it was over a coal fire (the only two times this word appears in Scripture).  How often does God do this, where God takes the very place, location, thing, relationship, addiction, sin, fear and transform this into an instrument of God's healing.

εσχιθη (σχιζω, meaning "tear", 21.11)  The net is not torn (schiz-oo). Interesting that John concludes with the net not being schismed; in Mark's Gospel, the Passion ends with the curtain being torn! Different metaphors, for sure, but something about the nature of Jesus in both is nicely caught with this subtle difference.  The church will grow and grow, into a full harvest, but it will not schism.  Sadly the church has schismed, a reminder that we are already called to mend the nets of Christianity.
There are three interactions between Jesus and Peter.  The big point is that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, he professes his love three times.  However, linguistically, these three interactions are distinct.

φιλεω vs αγαπαω ("love")  What to say on the various words for that Peter and Jesus use?  Some feel this is a big deal (Peter responds to the question of do you love (apage) me by saying that he "philos" Jesus.  I don't think that John makes much of the dinstinction; he uses them interchangably. If anything, the ambiguity of "philo" and "agape" points toward the intimate (and therefore mutuable and vulnerable) and transcendent (unconditional and permenant) love of Jesus toward and with his disciples.

προβατα αρνιον ("sheep").  The flock includes "lambs" and "sheep", new/young and old/mature!

ποιμενα βοσκε ("tend") Feed/tend vs shepherd.  Feed and tending VS shepherding.  We are called to feed people (teaching ministry) and shepherd them (pastoral ministry).  Both of these verbs are in the present tense, suggesting this is an on-going action!

Fun with Greek
present tense:  Most of the verbs in sections 1-12 are in the aorist tense.  Except for the proclamation:  "He is the Lord" as well as the sentence "Jesus is coming, taking the bread and giving it them" suggesting this is an on-going task of the disciples.

αριστησατε (αρισταω; 21:12, 15)  This word means to break the fast with a meal.  I only highlight it because it has a clear English cognate:  artisan!  Jesus serves an artisan meal :-)

μη (21.5) Jesus asks a "meh" question which expects a "no" answer. (ou questions expect a yes answer. How can one remember this? Alphabet. m-n; o-y)

153:  There are so many theories about this number.  Some of them involve grammatica, where letters have numbers and therefore words have a number value.  MANY theories have been put forward about what this number may mean:  The whole variety of fish in the world and therefore the breadth of the Gospel "catch"; the number 153 is a triangle number, the sum of the numbers 1-17...  Anchor Bible commentary surprisingly goes into various ways people have looked at this.