Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

This passage occurs in the RCL Year C, most recently in August 4, 2019.
Summary:  I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus does not make a distinction between "needs" and "wants."  So much of my Christian and cultural upbringing taught me to distinguish between "need" and "want."  God gives us what we need; not necessarily what we want; we can keep what we need and given to charity the things we "only" want.  I wonder if it is time for us to explode this distinction and say God gives us all we have; all we have is a gift to be shared!  All possessions, at some deep level, are simply wants.  All we truly need is God, a God who provides us with daily bread and who gives us his eternal Kingdom.

If you are preaching this after Luke 11:1-13 (the Lord's prayer and praying; the RCL's previous week's Gospel passage), this passage becomes a great way to build on what we mean by daily bread and "yours is the Kingdom"!

Key words:

οχλου (genitive of οχλος, "ochlos", meaning "crowd", 12:13)  It is someone in the crowd who calls to him;  The word here for crowd is οχλος, a fairly common word in the NT. It refers to the uneducated  mass of citizens; Jesus is among "the people."

κληρονομια(ν) ("kleronomia", meaning "inheritance", 12:13)  Breaking down this word explains the trouble people had and continue to have with it. The word is literally "portion-law."  κλερος means portion (or lot, as in cast lots); νομος means law (the ending has an "a" because it is a feminine word, but this doesn't change the fact that its root it still νομος).  An inheritance is meant to be a gift, a blessing to future generations.  Due to sin, we cannot leave a gift a gift, but we have to "protect" it with laws until the point where it no longer becomes gift.  It is interesting too that the people want to make Jesus, the savior, into a law-giver.  Again, due to sin, we cannot embrace a gift, but must install law!

πλεονεξια ("pleonexia", meaning "greed" or "coveting", 12:15)  Jesus warns them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."  The word here for "greed" is πλεονεξια.  This word, whenever it appears in the NT, has a negative connotation, most often used in laundry lists of obvious sins.   Most interesting, however, is the connection that Colossians 3:5 (the RCL's NT reading for this week) provides.  Paul writes that coveting, πλεονεξια is, in essence, idolatry.  Wow!  Greed as idolatry is in itself a great sermon (Walter Bruggeman gave a fantastic sermon on this at Luther Seminary in 2008).  One tidbit he shared is that as Paul connects coveting/greed and idolatry, he connects the last commandment (do not covet) to the first (one God; no idols).

υπαρχοντων (genitive participle of υπαρχω, meaning "possessions", 12:15)  Jesus warns of an excess of possessions.  It is worth reminding ourselves that the word for possessions, υπαρχοντων, does not simply mean toys or things.  It includes: means, resources, the things which one can claim for existence. In fact, the word is a substantive participle, literally meaning "the things that exist to him."
Two examples of where this word shows up:
Luke 8:3  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 19:8  Zacchaeus says to Jesus:  Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor.

In other words, Jesus here is not distinguishing between needs and wants.  Perhaps this is really helpful for as American Christians who are told we can have what we need, but not what we want.  Our tendency is to greatly exaggerate what we need!  Jesus here points out that our only need is God and God alone.

αναπαυου (command form of αναπαυω, meaning "rest"; 12:19)  We are a world hungry for relaxation -- stress relief from our anxieties.  The word for relax here is αναπαυω.  This word is used in Matthew 11:28, when Jesus promises us rest (Come to me all you who are weary and heaven laden for I will give you rest."  The parable asks us a haunting question:  Where do we seek our solace?  Where do we seek out rest?  Possessions inevitably require maintenance, rules and effort...and do not bring us the profound solace we had hoped for.

*** A little addendum on Luke 12:22-34)
τρεφει (feed; 12:24), αμφιεζει (clothe; 12:28)  I put these two verbs together.  They appear in these verses:
Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds (τρεφει) them.
 Luke 12:28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe (αμφιεζει) you
In both of these cases, the verb is in the present tense, indicating an on-going action.  God will continually feed and clothe us.  This is not a one-time action to start the human story in motion, but a continuous creator!

προστεθησεται (future passive form of προστιθημι, meaning "add", 12:31)  What is significant here is that this verb is in the passive voice, meaning that the subject (us) is not the agent (the one doing the work.)  If these things are to be added, it is not because of us, but because of God.  If you did not catch that God has agency, not us, in the next verse Jesus says that the Father gives us the Kingdom.

Two little grammar notes:
12:16 "A certain rich man..."   The literal translation of the clause is: "of a man certain rich produced good crops the field." The fact that the first three words - man, certain, rich - are all in same case shows they are related.

12:17/12:18   The verb ποιησω appears in both 12:17 and 12:18.  Even though both spellings are the same, it is conjugated (and therefore translated) differently.  The first time it is translated as an aorist subjunctive: "What shall I do?" In the other it is future indicative: "This I will do." Context determines the correct translation

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Genesis 18:20-32

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (recently on July 28, 2019)

Summary:  There is a lot of great material in this passage to consider regarding prayer, especially as it is paired with Jesus teaching the Lord's Prayer to the disciples in Luke's Gospel.  But I want to look at the question:  What is the sin of Sodom?

חטאת (meaning "sin", 18:19)  The sins of Sodom are "grave" (כבך meaning "to be heavy") in Hebrew).  There are a lot of potential sins in the Bible.  So what are the sins of Sodom?  

It is often assumed that Sodom was punished for its sexual sins, specifically homosexual lust.  The book of Jude in the New Testament supports this:
- "Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."  Jude 1:7 

This possibility runs into some difficulty, namely, that the story involving sex comes after God has heard the outcry against Sodom; furthermore, the story involving sex involves gang rape of two men (actually angels) visiting Lot's home and then Lot offering his virgin daughters in their place.  In addition, one must consider the culture's overwhelming value of hospitality, as displayed by Abraham earlier in chapter 18.  Sodom represents total moral depravity; there are multiple moral failures in the gang-rape scene, well beyond sex. 

In fact, in 2 Peter, Sodom (and Gomorrah) get mentioned as THE example of ungodly behavior:
 "by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly." (2 Peter 2:6)  The writer associates this ungodliness with sexual misconduct in that God:  "rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless" (2 Peter 2:7).  However, the writer/Peter concludes this section by concluding that they "They have hearts trained in greed." (2 Peter 2:14)*  It seems that for Peter, sex is a problem, but not THE problem.  Again, sexual sin goes hand in hand with other sins.

Furthermore, God declares in Genesis 18.19 that he has known/chosen/singled out Abraham so that Abraham may do "righteousness" and "justice" (צדקה and משפת).  These two concepts will be paired again and again in the Old Testament (Psalm 33.5; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1, Amos 6:12).  It is fair to wonder if the problem in Sodom is about basic righteousness.

We do not have much evidence in Genesis prior to chapter 18 of what is happening in Sodom.  However, the prophet Ezekiel gives voice to the Lord's judgment against them:  "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.   They were haughty and did detestable things before me."  (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

To put it another way, the sexual sins of Sodom are not the problem in themselves, rather they are manifestation of a culture in which people put themselves first, objectify others, and justify their greed.  Sound familiar?  I've read a number of commentators who want to ignore the sexual sins, totally focusing on hospitality, likely as a reaction of those who use this passage in sexuality debates.  I think as a whole, the American church struggles with sexual sins, either obsessing over them or ignoring them.  Perhaps this story reminds us that yes, sexual immorality is a concern to God, but it likely arises alongside of other problems.

Most haunting may not be what happens to Sodom, but the words of judgment that God has in Ezekiel.  Especially when heard with the words of Peter, as he concludes his argument:  "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them."  (2 Peter 2:19) 

Admittedly, Peter is referencing the story of Sodom and other passages within a section in which he is critiquing the behavior of members of his church who have gone astray.  It might be difficult to ascertain when Peter is offering commentary on the Biblical characters versus his piers.  That all said, the overall impression Peter gives is that there is sexual sin, but this is more a manifestation of others sins, rather than the problem in itself.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Luke 10:38-42

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C.  It occurred most recently in summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is a powerful contrast to the previous passage of the Good Samaritan.  The work of the church (or of Christian individuals) cannot be service to neighbor alone but also worship of Christ.  Perhaps the two are more connected than we think though.  Jesus commends the rich lawyer to show mercy.  In this passage Mary is praised for attentive listening.  Maybe in our culture of sound bites and tweets, active listening is one of the most powerful displays of mercy we can give someone.

Key words (and use of language):
For Martha:
υπεδεξατο (from υποδεξομαι, "hypodexato", meaning receive; 10:38).  The Liddell-Scott offers a tremendous number of variations on the meaning of this word.  It literally means, "to receive beneath the surface."
It also means, among other variants:
A)  to receive into one's house, receive hospitably.
B)  to give ear to, hearken to
C)  to take in charge as a nurse
D)  of a woman, to conceive

I commend this list (truncated) because all of these are good things.  They are powerful ways to think about hospitality to strangers or ways in which we can "receive beneath the surface."  Martha seems on the right track!

διακονια(ν) ("diakonia", meaning "service", 10:40).  The word diakonia means originally "table service" but came in the Christian tradition to mean acts of ministry.  Long-complicated development of this word that is still debated today.  Regardless, to describe oneself as doing diakonia on behalf of Jesus is a very good thing, something in fact, every Christian is called to in their baptism.

So what's the problem?
επιστασα  (from εφιστημι, ephistemi, meaning "stand over", 10:40)  Mary gets so frustrated she goes over to Jesus and is literally looking down on him (and her sister).  We can get so busy doing the work of the Lord that we lose sight of the Lord and develop an unjustified sense of our own importance.

Imperfect tense:  The words to describe Martha's worries: περισπαω (40), μεριμνας (41) and θορυβαζη (41) are all imperfect/present tense verbs, suggesting an on-going action.  She was consumed and continually worried.  All this said, I have a lot of compassion for Martha.  In my family (both of origin and current) people put a lot of effort into welcoming our guests.  It is hard for me to hear Martha criticized.

For Mary:
παρακαθεσθεισα (from παρακαθεζομαι, meaning "sit along side of"; 10:39)  Mary seats herself along side of Jesus, giving him attention.  How often do we have people simply sit alongside of us, without any agenda but to focus on us?

ηκουεν (ακουω meaning "listen"; 10:39) She listens.  In fact, the verb ακουεν is in the imperfect tense, showing this is an on-going action.  As I wrote earlier, I think this is profound.  She listened.  In our culture that wants to blog, livestream and tweet, she actually took time to listen.  Not for one or two sentences, but for a long time.  Maybe she loved it.  I am sure she did.  (Most times when I actually listen and truly give someone my focus, I love it too!) 

Note -- This past year I went to Tanzania.  I was quite struck by how much of the day is spent procuring food, water and fire (for cooking and heating).  It is worth pointing out that in all likelihood, Mary listened to Jesus for hours!!  Imagine listening to anyone for hours!

The worship of Jesus is ultimate.  I am not trying to refute the basic meaning of the story.  I wonder though, if here on Earth, in this time and cultural space, listening may be a profound way to love our neighbor.