Wednesday, March 18, 2020

John 9:1-41

This passage occurs in the RCL during Lent (year A), most recently March 22, 2019.  This passage also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary for Transfiguration Sunday, most recently 2018.

Summary:  Jesus' claim to be the light of the world doesn't simply put him above it all.  Rather it puts him in the midst of it all, even amid people's problems and divisions.

Some key words:

ημαρτεν (aorist form of αμαρτανω, meaning "sin", 9:2 and 9:3)  A few comments here
- The Pharisees want to ascribe sin as the cause for problems in this man's life.  Jesus says that this problem is really an opportunity for God's glory.  There is always a tendency in us to ascribe God's judgement to a situation rather than see things as an opportunity for transformation and God's goodness.
- Afterwards the Pharisee's obsession with sin and the law means they cannot see God's goodness at work.  Even after the healing, they shun the man.  This is a passage that personally challenges me.  I can easily find fault in situations rather the see God's goodness.

του πεμψαντος (from πεμπω, "to send"; substantive participle here meaning "the one who sent", 9:4)  The idea of "sending" is crucial in all of the Gospels, but especially in John.  After the resurrection, Jesus is the one who sends (πεμπω) the disciples as the Father has sent him (20:21).  Jesus also promises that he will send the Spirit (15:26; although in 14:26, it is the Father who will send).  That this is not random is reinforced by the use of the word:

Σιλωαμ/απεσταλμενος (Siloam and apostalmenos, Hebrew and Greek for "sent", 9:7)  The pool's name is "sent"; John makes sure we catch this by adding the translation.  The Father has sent Jesus who sends the man to the pool called "sent" to be healed.  A couple of thoughts
- Baptism is a pool called sent for all of us!
- The Christian life is one of being sent in Christ's name to announce (and deliver) God's healing.
- In order to be healed we must be sent, which includes taking a risk at the obedience of God.

επτυσεν πτυσματος ( "spit" (aorist form) and "saliva", 9:6)  In order for Jesus to give man sight -- to be the light of the world -- he must spit.  John uses the word as a noun and verb to make sure we picked this up.

οφθαλμος ("eye", 9:6)  This word appears 10 times in these verses.  I especially like the phrase "open my/your eye."  I can't help but think that John wants to draw attention to the physicality of everything.  Jesus is literally touching this man's eyes!

νιψαι ("wash", from νιπτω, 9:7)  This word comes back into John's Gospel at another interesting juncture:  When Jesus washes their feet!  Again a reminder that being the light of the world, washing people, is a very humble and earthly task.

αποσυνάγωγος (literally apo-synagogos, meaning "banish from synagogues", 9:6)  This word appears three times in the Gospel of John (12:42, 16:2)  John is the only biblical writer to use the word.  It is hard not to imagine that this was becoming an issue for people as John's Gospel was being written -- that claiming Christ was getting people kicked out of their religious communities.  It is a reminder that claiming Christ has a cost.

ευρων (from ευρισκω, "find", 9:35)  In the very next story, Jesus talks about how he is the good shepherd.  Well, in the Gospel of Luke we hear about a shepherd that finds lost sheep.  Here Jesus is finding lost sheep.

φος ("light", 9:5)  One can go many directions with light.  It is interesting to see where the word light appears in John's Gospel.  Almost all the time there is a contrast of living in the dark vs living in the light.  Can we read John's Gospel (and preach on it) without getting into the current cultural clashes over a variety of issues?  The Jesus of John's Gospel is a prophet in many ways, who speaks out against the church and culture of his day.

Here are the light passages in John that reference light vs dark

John 1:5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
John 3:19:  This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
John 8  Jesus says he is the light of the world, but immediate the pharisees protest against this
John 11:9-10  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.

John 12:35-37 Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.  Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

John 12:46
I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Ezekiel 37 and a Chaism

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Advent Cycle.  It also occurs during the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Lent, most recently March 22, 2020.

Chiastic structure of Ezekiel 37. 
This week I'd like to show how the language Ezekiel points toward a chiasm.  A chiasm is a structure, used very often in Hebrew, along the lines of this
Point A
  Point B
     MAIN Point C
  Counterpoint/echo B
Counterpoint/echo A

Repetition of words and themes points toward the middle, which reveals the author's main point.  This is a valuable tool for teaching, but I would also argue, for remembering stories as well.  It works very well in Hebrew, a language with a fairly small vocabulary.  English authors cover up these structures by translating the same word in various ways.  In Ezekiel 37, this happens most meaningfully with  (דוח) , which means Spirit, wind or breath. 

Once you start laying out the words, a strong argument for a chaism emerges, with the key verse in the middle: "You shall live and know that I am the Lord"

Point A:  The Spirit (דוח) leads Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones (עצם)
   Point B:  Even prophet (literally, son of Adam) is uncertain about fate of bones (עצם); only God knows (ידע)
     Point C:   Command to prophesy (נבא), to speak the Word of the LORD (דבד) with the promise of the Spirit  (דוח)
                       1)  Bones (עצם) will take on flesh
                       2)  Flesh will come alive (חיה) through Spirit (דוח)
        Point D:  MAIN POINT:  People will be alive (חיה) and know (ידע) that the LORD is God!
     Point C':  Ezekiel Prophesies (נבא)
                        1)  Bones (עצם) take on flesh
                        2)  Flesh comes alive  (חיה) as Spirit  (דוח) comes at Word of God. 
In fact, a whole multitude has been resurrected
   Point B':  People said they did not know their fate, their bones (עצם) had dried up; command to prophesy (נבא) the promise of God's Spirit to the people
Point A:  Spirit (דוח) will be with everyone (not just Ezekiel); they will be in Israel, not in valley; people will be alive (חיה) and know (ידע) that the LORD is God!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

John 4:1-42 (woman at well)

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Lenten Cycle (most recently March 15, 2020); in the narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten Cycle.
Summary:  Chapter 3 and 4 couldn't be more opposite:  man vs woman; Pharisee Jew vs sinful non-Jew (a dig at the Samaritan people, Jews intermixed with five other tribes); night vs day.  There is fertile ground here for many sermons.  What struck me this time was the continuity in both chapters regarding the notion of salvation, and life -- it is found in Christ; it begins now here on earth. 

A question this text leaves me pondering:  How does Jesus convert her?  He says to her brutal truth:  her religion isn't complete and she is a sinner.  What converts her?  What converts all of them?  Simply his word of promise?  Actually, he is only proclaimed as savior after he stays with her.  I suggest it is also his vulnerability, his admission that she can help him and finally, his willingness to be with them.  To evangelize entails meeting people where they are, but also staying where they are until they are ready to move ahead.  This passage demonstrates a profound truth about cross-cultural evangelism and listening -- it begins with acknowledging the gifts of the other, not rebuking their sin.

Low hanging fruit:
ωρα εκτη (sixth hour, 4:6)  This means noon.  Don't miss the obvious symbolism.  Nicodemus comes at night (chapter 3); the woman comes in the day (chapter 4).

γυνη Σαμαριας (Samaritan women, 4:7)  Again, don't miss the obvious symbolism.  Samaritan woman means total outsider; someone powerless in the whole system.  Obvious symbolism again:  Nicodemus gets a name; this woman doesn't.

Slightly more interesting:
εις τον αιωνα ("eternally," literally "into this age," 4:14)  This really struck me.  The word for forever or everlasting in Greek means "into this age," literally that which keeps going into this age.  In short, when we hear "forever" we assume this means "life after death," but nothing grammatically or even theologically in John's Gospel, certainly in this chapter, suggests this.  This is a continuing theme in John's Gospel:  life in Christ begins now and continues even through death.

σωτερια ("salvation" in the sense of saving, preserving, delivering, 4:22; σωτηρ 4:42)  Christians again assume that salvation means heaven, specifically life after death.  The word in Greek means saving, simply delivering, including if not primarily a very earthly sense.  John's Gospel includes resurrection and this is ultimate salvation, but this does not cover the entirety of Jesus' ministry.

μενω ("abide" 4:40) This is theme word in John's Gospel.  In this case, it was only after he abided with them that they declared him savior of the world.  This is a reminder that to me that the promise is truly incarnational.  In order for us to do better evangelism, we have to meet and STAY with people where they are.

κοσμος ("world" 4:42) A reminder that even though salvation comes FROM the Jews it is FOR the world...see last week's post --  The world doesn't love God!

κεκοπιακως ("labored", 4:6 and 4:38) John describes Jesus as having labored.  First, this is interesting because it reminds us that Jesus was a human who worked and got physically tired!  Second, Jesus tells the disciples that they will harvest where others have labored (same word!).  Perhaps Jesus acknowledges here that others have gone before him in their prophetic ministry?  This passage should cause us to be more humble when people we know do convert -- we are reaping where others labored.  Also, it should comfort us when people do not convert -- we are laboring where others will reap.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

John 3:1-21; Nicodemeus

This passage occurs in both the Narrative and Revised Common Lectionaries.  The Revised Common Lectionary breaks it up into two separate passages; the narrative leaves it as one.

Summary:  I don't know if one truly can summarize John 3.  One could describe it as THE chapter of Scripture.  The Greek shows a number of interesting wrinkles in the text, each of which can help get at the core message about the work of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in saving the world.  Perhaps one little tidbit: eternal life doesn't begin after death in the Gospel of John.

Νικόδημος ("Nicodemus" vs 1):  It is worth noting that Nicodemus gets a name; the woman at the well in chapter 4 will not.  Nicodemus, like the woman at the well, misunderstands Jesus.  His story should end in chapter 3, but it does not.  It keeps going.  Because God is author of our story, our own failures do not end the narrative.  In chapter 7 Nicodemus will defend Jesus; at the end of the Gospel he will help bury Jesus (19).  Jesus invites people to come and see.  For Nicodemus, this invitation changed his life, as he came and saw, and was drawn in. 

Little side note:  Nicodemus' general confusion is emphasized in the Greek that he repeatedly says "How can it be that..."  (The tense of λεγω in 3:4 is present tense).

ο διδασκαλος ("the teacher", vs 2)  Nicodemus calls Jesus "a" teacher; Jesus calls Nicodemus "THE teacher."  Obviously Jesus is catching Nicodemus in his words!

βασιλεια του θεου ("Kingdom of God", vs 3).  It is interesting that Nicodemus didn't ask about the Kingdom.  Jesus seems to give a strange reply.  One might argue that Jesus is simply pushing his own agenda.  However...Jesus never will use the phrase Kingdom of God in the Gospel of John outside of this conversation.  He somehow is addressing a concern specifically for Nicodemus.  I wonder if one could make the argument that Jesus whose listening is so powerful that he can force us not only to listen to him, but somehow to listen to ourselves.  Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus?  Because he wanted to enter into the Kingdom of God.  Nicodemus must realize that this is both a gift but also comes with a profound transformation of Nicodemus' life, one akin to a new birth.  Jesus will not tell him this directly, but will lead him there.

ανωθεν ("again" or "above" vs 3)  I would argue that 'above' is a better translation here. Not simply because of the context (Jesus says you don't have to come out of the womb, but must be born of the water and Spirit), but because above includes again.  If you are born from above, this is the second birth anyway!  We must be born again, but this birth isn't through human agency, but God alone.

πνευμα (literally, "pneuma"; meaning "spirit" vs 5, 6 and 8)  The word Spirit is related to breath, but also blow and wind.  So the verse that reads "The wind blows where it will" could and arguably should be translated "the Spirit blows where it will."  In fact, one could read it as "The spirit spirits where it will."

πιστευω ("believe" vs 15 and 16, etc).  Believe is only a verb in the Gospel of John.  It means trust; it is an action not a thing.  It is also in the present and active tense:  the one is who is trusting...

εχη ("have" vs 16)  The word here is in the present tense.  ETERNAL LIFE begins NOW.  It is not a future reality, but a present one found in Christ!  Whoever is trusting in God has life which continues into eternity.

κοσμος ("world" vs 16).  Throughout the Gospel of John, the world doesn't like God.  It doesn't understand God (1:10); it doesn't give like God (14:27) ; in fact, it hates God (7:7).  This is the world God loves!