Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Matthew 4:12-23

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 26, 2020.
Summary: Reading how Matthew describes the call of the disciples after John's description seems unfair.  John created a work of art.  Matthew's seems like a clean-up job on Mark!  However, Matthew's touch-up work is good theology and good writing.  But what interests me is something Matthew doesn't clean up from Mark, namely Jesus' command to his disciples to "Follow me."  Actually, Jesus never says "Follow me."  He barks out three words, none of which are a verb:  "Here after me."  A bit rougher indeed than "Come and see" but effective nonetheless.  Get out of the way and let Jesus shake up the people!

Also worth noting:  The Greek reading of Matthew 4:17 is the foundation for Thesis 1 of the Luther's 95.

Key Words:
μετανοειτε (4:17; "Repent"):  It is worth pointing out that this verse, Matthew 4:17, begins the 95 thesis.  Luther had grown up reading the Vulgate, which translated this as, "Do penance."  Luther's reading of Greek helped him see the deeper ethical (and existential demand) of Jesus:  Always and continually repent.  It is not an aorist (one-time) command, but a present tense command, which indicates the intent is for continued action.  Thus Luther says that when Jesus says this, "He wills that the whole life be one of repentance."

καταλιπων (here a participle form of καταλειπω, 4:13; "abandon"):  Jesus leaves his hometown.  This is something that Mark leaves out.  I like this detail though because before Jesus asks his disciple's to leave their home, he has already left his.

πληρωθη (πληροω, 4:14; "fulfilled"):  One of the cliches regarding the Gospels is that Matthew wrote for Jews; Luke for gentiles.  However, a quick search on this verb reveals that Luke takes nearly as much time as Matthew to connect Jesus' actions as "fulfilling" OT prophecies.  The only Gospel writer seemingly unconcerned with fulfillment of the OT is Mark.  Helpful to remember that in the year of Matthew (and Luke) we will find lots of direct OT connections.

δευτε (with οπισω μου, 4:19; "Follow??"):  This word is not a verb.  It is more of an adverb like "quick" or an interjection, like "Here!" or "Come on!"  Jesus does not literally say, "Follow me" using the Greek word follow.  He simply says, "Hey, Come on!  After me!"  In other words, "Follow me" makes it sound like Jesus even gave them more instructions than he did.

ποιησω (4:19; "I will make"):  It is helpful to remember that the task of becoming disciples is not one that we accomplish, but rather Jesus says he will make them fishers (of men).  Jesus is the subject of transformation; we are the object.

Grammar review/ sentence translation:  Let me know if anyone reads this section.  I am trying a different format here.
4:14  ινα πληρωθη το ρηθεν δια Ησαιου του προφητου λεγοντος
NRS Matthew 4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

A couple of points:
1)  When you have a ινα, expect a verb in the subjunctive form.  Don't translate it with "would" as you might; just know that in Greek the ινα demands a subjunctive verb:  "in order to do X"  In this case, "in order to be fulfilled"
2)   Notice the -ου suffix train?  Three words in a row.  Nice to connect them:  "the prophet Isaiah." 
3)   There are two participles.  One is nice.  One is not.  The nice one is λεγοντος.  This circumstantial is surprisingly nice because your brain can probably recognize the root verb and figure out...the prophet Isaiah is saying something.  Although circumstantial participles are often difficult to translate, λεγοντος is so common you might even be able to recognize it and simply translate it "saying."  Lastly, even if you don't include it, you still get the sentence correct, "What was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:"
The hard participle is το ρηθεν.  It is hard to recognize the participle, in this case the aorist passive form of  λεγω.  It is also a substantive, so you translate it in the form, "The one who/what/which XYZ."  Because it is passive, it is "The one who/which/what XYZ (in passive form)"  In this case, "The one which is said."  Since it is aorist, it is the "the one which was said."  "The one" sounds silly so we just make it:  The thing.
4)  The preposition is δια.  So, you could read it, "The word spoken by the prophet Isaiah."  However, this stretches the preposition's meaning.  The more natural reading is, "The thing spoken through the prophet Isaiah."  Who says Matthew doesn't have a concept of the word as an eternal substance coming down to earth??

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

John 1:29-42

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 15, 2017.
Summary:  John's narrative is very basic to read...because he only uses about 30 words in 14 verses!  He invites us into the world of the Old Testament, he invites us to follow Jesus, and he also invites us into witnessing ourselves to the lamb of God.  Speaking of the lamb of God, what is John getting at here?  There is no lamb in the OT who takes away the sins on the day of atonement.  The main lamb in the Old Testament is the passover lamb, which has nothing to do with sins!  John's creativity, hopefully, inspires our preaching and teaching.

ερχομαι & οραω (1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 11:34, 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see")  These two verbs come together s number of times in John's Gospel.  A quite impressive list actually: 
A) When Jesus begins his ministry
B)  When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C)  When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb
D)  When they find Jesus on the cross
E)  When they come to the empty tomb. 

John's Gospel invites us to come and see again and again, ultimately even the resurrection (20:8).

αμνος  (1:29; 36, "lamb").  The imagery of "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" often makes us think of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament.  However, the main sacrifices on Yom Kippur (day of atonement) were not lambs, but a bull and two goats!  In fact, other sin offerings (Lev 4&5) are not lamb offerings but again bulls and goats.  I am sure that many other summaries would be better than this one, but the lamb was used in OT times for sacrifices in the following manner:
Daily offerings (Exodus 29):  To please the Lord and welcome his presence
Lepers (Leviticus 14):  To cleanse the lepers by its blood
Passover Meal (Exodus 12):  To protect the Israelites from the angel of death by its blood marking the door panes.

A lamb could be used a burnt offering, a type of sin offering, but we are getting further afield here.  The point of this discourse is to say that in the Jewish sacrifice model of the Old Testament, you do not find a theology where a lamb is constantly being used to take away the sins of the individuals.  Isaiah 53 develops the idea of the suffering servant as a lamb led to slaughter, but again the point here is that one cannot simply draw a nice line from OT sacrifice to Messiah predictions to Gospel of John.  Okay, you can, but it is not so simple.

More deeply, I do not think the Gospel of John is advocating an angry God who slaughters Jesus to be happy.  I think John is riffing on Old Testament themes here, but the connection between Lamb of God, Jesus and "taking away" the sins of the world, moves far beyond what the Old Testament was prepared to acknowledge.  Is this a problem?  Not for this Christian.  I just want to point out that John 1:29 is probably not a good time to bring out angry God needs a Jesus animal sermon.

μαρτυρεω (1:32, "witness")  This verb appears 33 times in the Gospel of John!!  It means to testify.  It came to take on the connotation of "martyr" as people began to die for testifying to the truth.  Stephen is often considered the first martyr (Acts 7 and 8), but it is worth remembering that John the Baptist also died.
Cheap sermon insight:  3+3=6.  Bad number.  Needs one more witness to be complete.  That witness is you.

επαρυριον (1:29, 1:35, 1:43, "tomorrow")  This little word appears three times in this section.  It is kind of a nice progression.  The first day Jesus is pointed out to the people.  On the second day, the people begin following Jesus.  On the third day they begin to invite others.

Grammar note: 
The present tense often connotes continuous action.  This can create some great insights but also make the narrative illogical.  For example, in verse 1:43, Jesus goes to find (ευρισκω; present tense) Philipp.  In the narrative this makes no sense that he "continually is finding" Philipp.  On the other hand, it does make sense  in theological terms that Jesus always is finding Philipp!  Then Jesus is saying (λεγω in the present), or really "continually saying" to Philipp, follow me.  This could make sense in both the narrative and in theology.  In fact, even the verb for follow (ακολουθεω), is in the present, meaning Jesus intends for Philipp to keep following him.  This all works out great on a theological level, but it pushes the narrative to the limits.  This is especially true when these verbs are used in the present tense in verse 41, when Andrew finds his brother to tell him about Jesus.  Is Andrew also continually finding Jesus and continually telling Peter about Jesus?   It was ingrained into me the "continuous" nature of the present tense.  This can create some great theological insight, but we cannot completely rest on it because authors often stretch the tenses more than we might expect.

John 1:41
ευρισκει ουτος προτον τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα και λεγει αυτω  ευρηκαμεν τον Μεσσιαν ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον χριστος
John 1:41:    He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed).

We divide by punctuation and conquer: 
1)  ευρισκει ουτος προτον τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα και λεγει αυτω
We find the subject and verb:
ευρισκει:  he/she/it finds - main verb
ουτος:  he -- subject!
προτον:  adjective in accusative case as an adverb: "first" or really "firstly"
τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα:  His own brother Simon
και λεγει αυτω:  Another sentence:  "He is saying to him."
   Tricky to recognize this as another subject and verb combo, but the familiarity of the verb should make it possible.
2)  ευρηκαμεν τον Μεσσιαν
We have found the Messiah.  We is implicit in the verb.
3)  ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον χριστος
who/what/which is translated Christos.  Notice the o has a an accent and rough breathing accent, which means it is a relative pronoun.
So this sentence can almost be read word for word, once you divide it up.  The complicated part, as a we discussed in the grammar review, is translating the present tenses of the verb.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Matthew 3:1-17, Jesus Baptism, (and Mark 1:4-11)

I have done a number of blog posts in the past on the Baptism of Jesus:

A further comment for this year, especially for those preaching on the Gospel of Matthew.

A key word in Matthew's portrayal of the Baptism is:

μετανοια (metanoia, meaning "repentance", 3:8)  It might be tempting to dismiss these harsh words: "bear fruit worthy of repentance" or "the axe is ready..." We might want to view them simply as words of John the Baptist.  This would neglect the subsequent call of Jesus to repentance (Matthew 4:17) or his praise of repentance (Matthew 11:21).  Furthermore, it would dismiss the repeated passages where Jesus promises to burn away that which does not yield fruit (καρπος): 

Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 13:5-6  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  

Matthew 13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' (In Greek the wheat "grain" is actually the word for fruit).

One could argue that in Matthew's Gospel, the Gospel in a nutshell is, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his son burn all that was not good."  In short, Matthew's Gospel and the words of John the Baptist provide the antidote to Baptismal theology robbed of its roots in repentance and destruction of the old Adam.  For Lutherans we have the language of this in our catechisms - what does Baptism mean for daily living?  "It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever."

How do we preach this?  One could finesse; one could beat people down.  It is okay to start a fire this Sunday.  Just make sure you use the waters of Baptism to put out the fire and bring forth the new life.