Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Luke 16:19-31 (Lazarus and the rich man)

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  It last occurred in September of 2019.
The story begs for a different ending, one where someone can go back and straighten out the sinners, in this case, the rich man's brothers. The story also begs for an ending because it ends in Hades with Abraham speaking a word of hopelessness. The idea though of resurrection from the dead sends us away from the story of Lazarus and to the story of Jesus. Ironically, Jesus will wear clothes of splendor; both as Herod mocks him (Luke 23:11) and finally as he comes, as the splendid morning star, who has overthrown death and hell (Rev 22.16). For me, I will emphasize that Christ has defeated death the chasm, but I don't think it would be fair to Jesus' words to let people off the hook when it comes to how we treat the poor!

This week I have some longer notes on hell which resolve little but give much to ponder...

Some words to note:

αδης (16.23; hell, hades; the α has a rough breathing mark meaning its "ha" ): This word appears throughout the New Testament. Some poking around is interesting here; it kind of makes me want to do a further discourse on what the Bible says about hell.   For more on hell, see my post on hell here.  A few levels here:

1) Luke doesn't mention the word very often, except in the context of punishment (see also 10.15).
2) The word and idea of Hades has its own meaning in the Greek mythological world. However, because the Septuagint translates Sheol so frequently as Hades, it is fair to look at Jesus comments in light of the OT.  Curiously, Matthew uses the word "geenna" instead of "Hades," but how Matthew use "geenna" and Luke use "Hades" seem the same. 
3) The Bible seems to shift/develop its thoughts on hell and resurrection.
3A) On one level, Sheol is simply the place of God's absence. Psalm 88:5 says God doesn't even remember those in Sheol. Psalm 113:25 and Isaiah 38:18 suggest the dead in Sheol cannot praise God. In this sense, Sheol simply means death as the end.
3B) On another level, however, the OT also envisions Sheol as a place of punishment: (Psalm 9:17; Proverbs 5:5). In this sense, Sheol means hell.
3C) On another level, Sheol seems not entirely absent of God or goodness: God can hear prayers from Sheol (Jonah 2.3) and still find us there (Psalm 139:8). In this sense, Sheol almost functions like purgatory.
4) Shoel and Hades become a personified force set against God in the Bible (Psalm 49:15; Matthew 16:18). At some points, it seems that God is in control of Sheol (Hos 13:14; 1 Sam 2:6). Regardless, Sheol/Hades finally loses: Rev 20.

To summarize all of this, the more you get into this stuff, the more of chasm you find yourself in. What is hell? Is it a judgment pit? It is a time of separation? In this parable, it is both. Is there rescue from it? This is the most haunting part of the parable. The rich man doesn't get out of hell.

I wonder, having heard some other interpretations on this parable, if the rich man does not get out because the sinner inside of him has not died yet! 

βασανος (16.23;28; torture; pain): This word origin is interesting: "a dark-coloured stone on which pure gold, when rubbed, leaves a peculiar mark." (Liddell-Scott)  In the NT, Matthew and Luke uses this word to imply more than simply testing, but also physical pain. One might be tempted to translate this word as "testing" here; that Hades was simply a place of testing for Lazarus, but the existence of fire in verse 24 suggests something more than simply mental anguish.

χασμα (16.26; chasm): The word appears only once in the NT, but it should be familiar enough to English readers: chasm; a pit!

λαμπρως (16.19; splendidly): You will not find this word easily in concordances; that is because it is the adverb form of the adjective: "lampros" (omicron vs omega)

The word is akin to the word for "lamp" and means bright like the sun or stars. In the NT, Jesus will wear a lampros robe, but only before Herod.  Jesus will actually declare himself the morning star; the star portion here is literally "lampros." (Rev 22:16). James warns against people who wear such nice clothing thinking highly of themselves (James 2:2-3).

Sentence break-down:
BGT Luke 16:19  Ανθρωπος δε τις ην πλουσιος και ενεδιδυσκετο πορφυραν και βυσσον ευφραινομενος καθ' ημεραν λαμπρως
NRS Luke 16:19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

Ανθρωπος δε τις ην πλουσιος: "A certain man was rich." You can ignore the "δε"; the "τις" is the "indefinite" article in Greek, ie "a, any, certain."  It is not before the word "man" as it should be in English, but you can tell they are linked because they are both nominative singular masculine.  But even if you didn't know that, if you see some "ti..." word not at the beginning of a sentence it almost always will function as an indefinite article, you just have to find which word it matches.  Perhaps you could poetically phrase this, "There once was a rich man."
Significance here:  Lazarus, the poor man, gets a name.  The rich does not.  This is the opposite of our world.

και ενεδιδυσκετο πορφυραν και βυσσον : Verb here is imperfect, emphasizing the continuous nature. I would translate this with an adverb: "he was ALWAYS dressed in purple and fine linen."  I saw this poetically translated as "He was used to dressing in purple..."   (Side note:  Purple was an expensive cloth and reserved only for the rich and noble).

ευφραινομενος: circumstantial participle (note: no "the" near by and no "to be" verb). Easy to translate: rejoicing

καθ' ημεραν: idiomatic for "every day"

λαμπρως: splendidly, like the sun; exceedingly luxurious.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Luke 16:1-13

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently September 2016.

The Greek for this week does nothing to improve the harshness of the text. Quite the opposite! According to the Greek, the manager (literally the economist) is praised for being shrewd, but Jesus point blank calls him αδικια (adikia), which means unrighteous. Furthermore, the eternal homes of the wealthy are σκηνας "skenas" or tents, the word used for the tabernacle in Exodus or the tents on the mount of Transfiguration.  Finally, we are commended, not simply to use "worldly wealth" but actually -- "unrighteous mammon." What is going on!?!

In spite of the bizarre metaphor of the shrewd manager, I think this parable reflects a few consistent themes of the Bible relating to money and possessions: 

- All our money and possessions ultimately belong to God
- Money and possessions are scarce and so we are called to be good stewards -- good economists!
- Money and possessions can become a god, a god who cannot prevent death; a god who will only demand more.

I think what is unique is this:
- We are eternal beings; our life on earth is somehow connected to our life in heaven.  How we use our money has eternal consequences.  This is most challenging for me conceptually to consider the relationship between heaven and earth.  In terms of preaching, it makes me ask -- where is the grace in this passage?  Where is the cross and resurrection in the midst of this?  I feel like we must push this parable to its breaking point to get to the cross -- all of us worship money and none of us would have an eternal home without Christ. 

Side note:  In 2019 I preached about how this passage in no way presented an image of how God intends for the world to be, but rather describes how the world actually is.  I contrasted the economy of God in Luke 15 against the economy of the shrewd in Luke 16.  We are in, but not of this world.  This resonated with people

Key words:
Relating to heavenly things:

σκηνη (skenas, meaning "house", 16.9):   This word does not simply mean house.  The word literally means "tent" or really "tabernacle."  It is used in both the OT as the word for Tabernacle (think Exodus) and then in the NT when Peter wants to build tents during the transfiguration. People no longer lived in tents by the time of Jesus, so this term is clearly used to suggest something other-worldly.

This is especially true when it is combined with αιωνιους, meaning eternal.  To give you a sense of the power of this word, consider 2 Corinthians 5:1 "For we know that if the earthly house (οικος) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal (αιωνιους) in the heavens."  Humans does not make eternal things.  Only God does!

δεχομαι ("welcome" or "take" 16,4,6,7,9):  This word appears more in Luke then any other verb. Look where else it comes into play:
2:28 Simeon "receives" the baby Jesus
18.7 Children "receive" the kofG as a child
22.17 Jesus "took" the cup and gave thanks...
There is something central about welcoming in Luke's Gospel!  The reason I include this verb is because welcoming someone into an eternal tent is a beautiful and wonderful thing. 

Relating to earthly things:
οικονομος; οικονομια ("oikonomos" or "oikonomia", meaning "manager", 16:1,2,3,4; other cognates appear in this passage):  This word comes into English as "economics" or "economist." BDAG translates it as "estate manager" and "steward" or "treasurer."  In my first economics class as an undergrad, we learned that economics is about the allocation of scarce resources.  This person is shrewd with his scarce resources, that is for sure.

αδικια ("adikia " meaning "unrighteous", 16;8,9):  This word is often translates in this context as "dishonest" or "shrewd."  The word does not mean dishonest.  It means unrighteous or evil.  (Like in Genesis 6, God sees that the world is full of αδικια and decides to flood the whole thing).  δικαιος - the root word here - means righteous.  What is also striking is how Jesus uses this word specifically. 
οικονομος της αδικιας:  economist of unrighteousness

It if makes you feel better, the owner never praises the man for being dishonest, but does call him shrewd, φρονιμος (16.8)

εκλιπη (from εκλειπω, meaning "fail", 16:9)  I think the whole passage rises and falls on this verb.  The money always runs always fails too.  As does living on this earth.

μαμωνας (mammon, meaning "wealth", 16.9,11,13):  The word used by Jesus toward the end of the passage is not simply possessions but "mammon."  This could possibly refer to an ancient Syrian deity of wealth.  This may or may not be the case, but it is certainly true that Jesus is personifying money here.  We have seen this in our lives where money becomes a thing to be loved, feared and trusted above all things.

At one point Jesus refers to "μαμωνας της αδικιας":  mammon of unrighteousness.  I think that Jesus would maintain that all mammon is unrighteous.  But is all money unrighteous?

οφειλω (opheilo, meaning "debt", 16:5,7): This word can used in all sorts of beautiful ways (Lord's prayer, Matthew 6:12). Here it is more straight forward in its use. A reminder that this passage is very real; debt is as old as currency. For many in the Bible -- and today -- debt is also a massive problem. What if Jesus really meant cancel your literal debts each time we pray the Lord's prayer! That might be easier than forgiving others our sins. Now, you might say, wait, nobody owes me anything. Really? If you own business stocks or an investment accounts, somebody, somewhere, however indirectly, owes you something.

 Greek grammar concept:  Circumstantial participle.
The thing that causes most Greek readers to stumble is the circumstantial participle. While some are very tricky, probably 50% are very easy. Let's look at one. In verse 16.2 the sentence starts out with one:
Bible Works parses this as "verb participle aorist active nominative masculine singular"

Scary, right? Well, look, there is no "the" near by it, so its not an adjectival or substantive participle; there is no form of "is/was/to be" nearby, so its not supplementary. So its going to be circumstantial. Which means we need to figure out three things: What happened? Who did it? And how does this connect to the rest of the sentence?

What happened: Get the BW translation of the verb, or just pull it from your memory: phone...means hear. So, what happened, well, someone hears/got heard

Who did it? Well, your brain probably figured this one out already -- the rich man. But if you need help here, you need to break down what BW tells you into two buckets. First bucket is "aorist active." That relates to the action. The second bucket is "nominative mas...singular" which relates to who does the action. Who is the nominative, masculine, singular? Well, it is the single man subject of the sentence, who is, as your brain knew already, the rich man.

And how does this connect? Well, in this case you first got to put the verb in its tense. Which is here an aorist: "Heard" Now you add in the what and who + the phrase "under the circumstance"
"Under the circumstance of the rich man heard"...
Yuck. Make it English:
"After the rich man heard" or "When the rich man heard."

It sounds like a lot of work, but your brain probably pulled out "heard" and "rich man" right away. See how you do with the second word in 16.5.

Sentence break down:
εγνων τι ποιησω ινα οταν μετασταθω εκ της οικονομιας δεξωνται με εις τους οικους αυτων
NRS Luke 16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

εγνων: I know. Just looks funny. Simple verb.

τι ποιησω : Notice the direction of the accent on "ti" Indicates it is a question. The verb poihso can be either future or aorist subjunctive. In this, does not matter. What will vs. what shall I do.

ινα οταν: Double whammy of conjunctions. Both demand subjunctive verb: "In order that whenever..."

μετασταθω: Verb conjugated based on conjunctions

εκ της οικονομιας: ex takes genitive. Not sure what kind this here. genitive of separation?? Doesn't really matter: "Out of this administration."

δεξωνται με: Here the "me" is the object and not the subject. Question -- how does one know this? Why could, in this infinitive phrase, this been a question at all?  [Because in an infinitive phrase the subject is also in the accusative case]

εις τους οικους αυτων: 2nd week of Greek: Into his house.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Luke 14:25-33

Regardless of the great imagery used in Jesus passages, the word "hate" is the stumbling block to this passage. BDAG suggests a softer translation, as in "disregard." I think this is better than "hate" but this doesn't really save the day! Jesus words to disregard our family is difficult to understand. Let's assume for a second though, that Jesus really means some sort of emotional aggression. What should we then do? Well, Jesus teaches us to do good to those who hate us (6.26). Trying to do good for people is actually a fairly exhausting activity which is why Jesus reminds us that bearing our cross is not a one-time activity but a continuous one. In fact, all the verbs in this passage are in the present tense, suggesting that renouncing our possessions, disregarding our loved ones, bearing our cross and following Jesus are on-going, life-long activities. That sounds difficult. Good thing the most gracious chapter in the entire Bible is next!

Key word:
μισεω: (14.26; "hate") Hate may not be the best translation here. BDAG puts it, "depending on the context, this verb ranges in meaning from 'disfavor' to 'detest.' The English term 'hate' generally suggests effective connotations that do not always do justice, especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μισεω (שנא in Hebrew) in the sense 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for.' In fact, BDAG even suggests translating it "disfavor, disregard" in contrast to preferential treatment"

Some other intersting words:
* οχλοι (14.25; "crowds") This word does not mean leaders or elite, but really the everyday mass of people; can also mean 'mob'

* ψηφιζω (14.28; "calculate") I don't think it is important for this passage, but this is the verb that is used in Revelation to indicate it is time to "add" up the number values for a word such as "KASER NERON" (666).

* εμπαιζω (14.29, "ridicule") In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is the only one mocked (18:32;22:63, 23:11, 23:26)

* αποστασσω (14.33, "give up") This word means basically "say good-bye." This is a fun image, saying good-bye to one's possessions.

Grammar concept: present tense
A number of verbs in 14.25-27 are in the present tense. Greek does not distinguish between present progressive (I am running) and present like English (I run). Generally the present tense connotes present progressive. When I was taught Greek, I was taught to even add the adverb "continually" to present tense translations, "I am running continually." I am not sure if this is as helpful in all cases, but the basic point of my teacher bears itself out in Greek. The present tense generally signifies an action that is on-going. In this case, the verb of carrying the cross, following and (gasp) hating are all in the present tense.

Sentence break-down: 14.33

Greek: ουτως ουν πας εξ υμων ουκ αποτασσεται πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν ου δυναται ειναι μου μαθητης
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

ουτως ουν: "Thus, therefore" or "Likewise." Two little words here. Don't change much; they appear a combined nearly 2000x in the NT/OT so its good to recognize them for that they are, namely, fill-in words that don't alter too much!

πας εξ υμων: "All of you" This you can literally translate word for word. The pronoun is in the genitive, but your brain figured this out automatically.
ος : hos is a relative pronoun. They behave a lot like in English. Relative pronouns start a relative clause, like, "I love the one whom I married." Whom I married is the relative clause here. The relative pronoun, like in English, is in the case that it functions within the relative pronoun. Back to my example, this would not be correct English: I love the one who I married. Who must become a whom because it is not behaving as a subject in the relative clause. This happens in Greek too. Greek relative pronouns behave a bit differently, or perhaps one could say, a bit more advanced. Because the nouns (and thus pronouns) have a gender, you can connect the pieces a bit more clearly in Greek, because the pronoun contains more information that will link it back to what it refers. In English, it is considered poor writing to move the "antecedent" (the thing to which the relative pronoun refers) far away from the pronoun. Greek has less of a problem doing this. Moreover, Greek can build massive sentences that continue to add relative sentences.

ουκ αποτασσεται: "is not saying good bye." Reminder here -- the verb is in the present tense. This suggests Jesus is not talking about a one time action.
πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν: "all your possessions." A couple of things here. First, it is all in the dative, because it is the object of the verb "αποτασσεται." This is a case where the dative takes the direct object (normally accusative). Don't ask why. Just accept that some verbs take a direct object in the dative! If it helps, think about it this way. To translate the dative, you often can add the word "to" in front of the word. In this case we add in, "say good-bye TO all your possessions." The only word here not in the dative is "εαυτου " which here is a genitive of possession (ie, belonging to you.). It is slightly out of order for our English eyes. Literally you get here: "to all the belonging to you possessions." Or more eloquently: "All your possessions."

ου δυναται ειναι: Not able to be! This is a case where to describe what is happening is complex (helper verb taking an infinitive) but translation is easy: "not able to be." (normally to translate an infinitive in English (from Greek) you need to add "to" in front of the verb).

μου μαθητης: Like with the word "εαυτου " we have a genitive possessive occur before the noun: "my disciples."