Wednesday, April 29, 2020

1 Peter 2:19-25

This passage occurs in the RCL year A during the Easter season, most recently May 3.  
Summary: Because this is paired with the Good Shepherd and Psalm 23 passage, I cannot see many people preaching on this.  It is also problematic in that the pericope is really part of instructions for slaves to obey their masters (and citizens their king).  While this makes a fascinating side point -- Christianity has thrived in a wide variety of economic and political arrangements -- it probably gives the preacher pause before commending these words for everyone. 

All of those warnings aside, here is a draft post on this passage:

Key words
χαρις ("grace", 2:19 and 20)  This word typically means grace.  Most translators struggle with this.  The literal translation would be "This is grace, if you suffer..."  Does Peter mean grace is the suffering itself or means to endure the suffering?  It is very hard to say that grace is receiving a beating from your master (vs 20).  I understand why the translators do not want to call this grace!  The NET Bible offers the following comment:
“For this [is] favor/grace with God,” used as a metonymy as in vs. 19 of that which pleases him, which he looks on with favor (cf. BDAG 1079 s.v. χάρις 2)."  (A metonymy means a word substituting for another set of words.)

I struggle with this, not simply because of the slave-master connotation, but because of the idea that our suffering pleases God.  I call to mind Psalm 56:8
"You have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your record?"

So I strongly disagree with the idea that God is pleased with unjust suffering, but we read on!
υποφερει (2:19) vs αναφερει (2:24)  We are to bear suffering (carry-down, literally); Jesus bears out sins (carry-up).  It is interesting to think about the two images here, of carrying down vs carrying up.
Note: In vs 24 this αναφερει appears in its aorist form ανηνεγκεν, which makes it difficult to see!)

πασχων (participle form of πασχω, meaning "suffer", 2:19, 20, 21 and 23)  The word here for suffer is the same that we use to describe the suffering of Christ (passion!).  Peter here links, correlates, if not equates our suffering with that of Christ.

υπογραμμον (from υπογραμμος, meaning "example", 2:21)  This word originally meant a list of all the letters in a language so you could start to learn it.  This is fascinating then, that suffering is the alphabet of Christian faith.

παραδιδου (παραδιδωμι, meaning "hand over," 2:23)  Typically we think of Jesus being handed over to the chief priests, etc.  Peter suggests that Jesus handed himself over to the true judge!

απογενομενοι (participle form of "die", 2:24) What I want to point out here is that this participle is in the nominative case, which means it refers to the subject of the sentence, which is us.  We still die.  Christ's death is for us, but it ultimately we must also die to sin. Also there is nothing subjective about this verb.  "In order that dying to sin, we began to live."  The word for live here (ζησωμεν) is in the subjunctive voice, which might leave the English reader thinking there is uncertainty.  No!  The subjunctive voice is used automatically in Greek within the ινα clause.  There is an if-then; the if is Jesus death (which happened), not our compliance!

επισκοπος ("overseers", 2:25) The word here for overseer comes into English as "Episcopal"  Can you imagine reading that in church: "Jesus is the Episcopal of your soul!"  "Epi" means over; "scope" means see.

ψυχων (from ψυχη, meaning "soul", 2:25)  Just a friendly reminder that in the Jewish mind (of which Peter or any of his students would come from), soul is not the wispy part of your body that lives on after you die.  Here are the verses that talk about a soul in 1 Peter:
  • 1 Peter 1:8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
  • 1 Peter 1:22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
  • 1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.
  • 1 Peter 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
  • 1 Peter 3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.
  • 1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God's will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.
On the one hand, the soul can refer to the whole person (3:20); it can also refer to the 'part' of the person opposed to the sinful flesh (2:11).  Worth some more reflection!!  Overall, it refers to the moral core of a person.  This soul is not like the body in that it transcends pain and pleasure, but I would not describe it as having transcended the physical reality of the body.  More to consider...on this passage I doubt any of us will ever preach on!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

John 20:19-31

In the RCL, this passage appears on Easter II (April 28, 2019)

Summary:  This is a rich enough story to preach on every year.  There are so many directions!

What stands out to me this year (2019) is that Jesus wounds do not go away with the resurrection.  They are healed, but still present.  Furthermore, the disciples, AFTER having seen the risen Lord, still lock their doors.  In short, the changes brought by the resurrection are more subtle, more of a dialectic: "crucified AND risen", "afraid AND hopeful", "doubting AND believing."

Key Words:
λεγει ("speak", 20.19)  The verb here for "speak" is the present tense, which suggests repeated action: He continually was saying to them, "Peace be with you."

υμιν ("you all" in the dative, 20:19).  The Greek leaves out the word "is" in the sentence, simply declaring "Peace to you."  Hence, the Greek is a bit more ambiguous here as to whether Jesus is offering a blessing or making a statement: "Peace is with you" could work. All that the Greek has is "Peace to/for/with/by/in you."

Always worth addressing to an American audience:  This you is a plural you.  The peace is among, with and for the whole group, not just an individual.

θυρα ("gate", 20.19)  The word for "door" or "gate" here is θυρα; this word is used in other Gospels to talk about the entrance to Jesus tomb.  It can be hard to make cross-Gospel connections, so a bit simpler:  Jesus calls himself the θυρα, or the Gate in John's Gospel (10:1-9).  See also:

κεκλεισμενων ("locked", 20.26) The text literally reads: "The Jesus of locked doors/gates came stood into the middle of them." This is a very odd placement/case of the expression "locked doors/gates."  It may modify the circumstances under which Jesus came (ie, Jesus came in after the gates were locked), but it might also modify Jesus.  This is the more exciting possibility.  As in, it could (and probably should) read "Jesus came while the doors were locked."  But it could read "Jesus of locked gates came." The former is the more likely translation, but John seems to suggest the latter through his narrative.  My point with the "locked gates" Jesus is that Jesus is very good at breaking down barriers that we establish.   

αποστελλω vs πιμπω ("send", 20.21) Jesus here will use different verbs for the father's sending and his sending of the disciples, αποστελλω vs πιμπω .  Don't read into this.  John just likes to use variety. See 8.29 and 17.18 for examples of Jesus using these verbs interchangeably.  The big deal is that Jesus sends the disciples.  Don't buy the idea that this is a core Johannine theme; this is a core New Testament and whole Bible theme!

ενεφυσησεν (aorist form of "breath-in", 20.22)  The verb "breath-in" is a rather rare verb in biblical Greek, appearing once in the NT and nine times in the OT Greek.  Significantly, in the OT it shows up in Genesis 2:7, when God breathes into the humans; in 1 Kings when Elijah revives a boy and also in Ezekiel 37, when God's Spirit breathes into the bones.  The disciples are coming alive! 

COVID-19 reflection.  It wasn't enough for Jesus to be raised from the dead.  It was also not enough for them to hear the news.  Jesus had to physically interact with them.  We are incarnate creatures.  Which means that the spiritual is also the physical.  The spirit itself is associated with breath, not internal mystical feelings.  We are inspirited creatures, something not opposed to incarnate creatures. 

αφεωνται & κεκρατηνται (perfect forms of αφηιμι & κρατω, meaning "forgive" and "hold", 20.23) The verb tenses of "forgiven" (αφεωνται) and "bound" (κεκρατηνται) are in the present for the disciple's actions, but in the perfect tense for the result -- the effect is lasting. Actually, the tense for forgive is in the aorist and the tense for bound is present.  This suggests that binding/retaining a sin takes energy -- we have to keep it up...I think this is true on an individual level, where retaining a sin takes energy as we hold a grudge. I think this also is true on a societal level, where calling something a sin and continuing to claim it as such takes energy too. 

τυπος ("mark", 20.25)  This word can mean "wound" or "mark" but clearly comes into English as another word:  "Type."  A τυπος originally meant a mark created by a blow or impression.  Eventually it came to mean a mold or form into which something could be made (you make such a form by impressing or blowing something!); then it came to mean example, often related to a set of teachings.  For example Paul writes in Romans 6:17 (NIV)
" wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted."

The idea being that Christ's teachings made an impression and formed a mold.

So what is the mold and form of the Christian teachings?  Resurrected wounds from the cross!!  Death that leads into life through the Spirit!  This is the substance of the Christian proclamation.

ου μη ("no-no", 20.25) The ου μη that Thomas uses is a strong future denial meaning "ou meh," as in "will never."

οκτω ("eight", 20.26) The number eight here is a reminder that Christians gather on the 8th day, the day after the (Jewish) Sabbath, the day of resurrection.  Baptismal fonts have eight sides...

απιστος ("unfaithful", 20.27)  Thomas never "doubts" as a verb. The word doubt is not used, but rather, unfaithful! Jesus says literally, "Do not be unfaithful but faithful."  Side note:  I've often wondered if Thomas struggled to believe the resurrection more emotionally than intellectually because he knew exactly what it meant if Jesus had been raised -- they would all have their lives totally changed...exactly what happened to Thomas, even traveling to India to proclaim Jesus is Risen!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Matthew 28:1-10 (Easter)

Here are links for Greek commentary on all four Resurrection Gospel accounts.
Matthew 28:1-10
Mark 16:1-8
Luke 24:1-12
John 20:1-18

Special note for 2020 and COVID:  "Afraid yet filled with joy..."  This passage definitely has a great deal of fear, change and uncertainty.  Yet at the heart of it is joy and resurrection.  I think this passage, while seemingly not as a emotional as John's Gospel, gets at the heart of the emotional ambiguity that Easter 2020 is bringing for all of us:  Afraid, yet filled with joy.

Summary:  The angel tells the people "no longer be afraid."  This command concerning fear is in an on-going tense.  We should never be afraid any more!  Jesus has won.  I would offer a pastoral way to hear the command to no longer be afraid.  As Christians, we can no longer be afraid of grief.  Not that we will avoid grief, but that we do not have to fear visiting the tomb.  We can "go there" and mourn and even mourn with others.  The power of the resurrection is revealed as we let our hearts experience the sadness of our goodbyes.  Only one who knows they will say hello again can give a proper good-bye and miss a person!

All in all, what strikes me this year about Matthew's account of the resurrection is still how chaotic is seems.  I have always pictured Mark as the chaotic writer, but Matthew's account seems very unsettled.  It does not even seem to calm down once Jesus shows up.

Key Words:
ταφος ("grave," 28.1):  The translators get this word right.  I point it out because I find a pastoral nugget in this: Amid the midst of grief and sorrow, the women want to look at the grave.  In our culture, we are often taught, especially as Christians, to avoid the grave, to avoid reflecting on grief.  We are taught to live in joy of resurrection.  This is true, but I sense that in order to experience the power of resurrection, we must also go to the grave and be confronted by the power of death.  Furthermore, I think our encounter with the news of the resurrection, even of our loved ones, produces a mixture of fear and joy, echoing the emotions of the first disciples.

σεισμος ("earthquake," 28.2):  We've had this idea before in Matthew...during Palm Sunday the whole city shook with the cheers of the people!  Also, after the crucifixion, an earthquake caused the centurion to confess his faith.  Interestingly, σεισμος can also mean storm.  Jesus slept in the boat during the storm in Matthew 8:24; he emerges from the hull to calm the storm and disciples.  Likewise, Jesus will emerge from the tomb to calm this σεισμος, including the disciples.  Perhaps in both stories the disciples remain of little faith...

See also εσεισθησαν ("shake," aorist passive of σειω, 28.4).  In this case, the guards were shaken.  The resurrection will shake everyone and admittedly cause fear.  The world has been turned upside down!

φοβου ("fear," 28.4 as a verb in 28.5):  While Matthew's portrayal of the resurrection is perhaps not as stark as Mark's, Matthew still has fear!  Worth noting is that the imperative verb (do not be afraid) is in the present tense:  "Stop being afraid and keep not being afraid."  The resurrection means we have nothing to fear, truly, nothing to fear.

φοβεισθε ("fear", as a verb, 28:5)  The verb here is the plural, something we do not observe in English. These are words to the community of faith, not just the individual.  They are also present tense, suggesting the disciples were afraid and that they are no longer to be afraid.

εσταυρωμενον ("crucify," passive perfect participle of σταυροω, 28.5):  The perfect tense in Greek implies that the action still results in a current state.  Jesus has been and still is in the state of crucifixion:  Resurrection did not negate crucifixion.  Jesus was and is eternally crucified!

ειπεν ("said" from λεγω, 28:6)  I would argue here that you could translate this verb as promise.  Why?  Well, for starters, we have a language problem.  Hebrew doesn't distinguish between "say" and "promise."  God and humans have the same verb for speech, and so the English authors translate God's speech as "promise" because what God says God will do, God does.  Admittedly, Greek does distinguish between the words.  BUT:  The authors of the Gospels never use the verb promise to describe Jesus' words, except the explicit promise of the Holy Spirit at the end of Luke's Gospel.  Functionally, when they writes Jesus "says" this means "promise" because what he says will happen.  So, I think you can go by the Old Testament/Hebrew rule:  Everyone speaks, but when Jesus speaks, you can translate it as promise...

It is also worth noting that the angel emphasizes that Jesus is risen, "just as he said."  The angel is challenging them to have faith, not just in the resurrection but in evidence of God's faithfulness.  Even the story that should be about all the proof in the world is still about trusting a word, the word of Jesus, the word of the angels and finally the word of the women.

αστραπη ("lightning," 28.3):  This word would be uninteresting to me except that it also appears in 24.27, "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."  Jesus also predicts earthquakes in the second coming (σεισμος in 24.7).  While Jesus has not returned a second time, lightning and earthquakes suggest a dawning of a new age in the resurrection.  As Jesus said,
"Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."  (16.28)"
The Son of Man has come in his Kingdom.

υπηντησαν ("meet," aorist of υπανταω, 28:9)  This word can mean meet, but it is also used in Matthew 8:28 (also in Acts 16:16) to mean confront or oppose.  This is an interesting idea of Jesus confronting them here!  It is also interesting that Jesus does better than his promise; he meets them long before Galilee!

χαιρετε ("rejoice," 28:9)  It means rejoice -- but it can be used as a greeting.  A few things to note.  First, in the LXX or New Testament, whenever it is used in the plural, it is a command, "Rejoice" and not a greeting.  However, I humbly suggest that in Matthew 28, Jesus is actually saying "Rejoice!"  He is meeting women at the crossroads of fear and joy - he commands them to rejoice.  And what do they do?  They fall down and worship!  If you think this is too much of a stretch, you can note the profound difference in the scenes of greeting in the last chapters of Matthew's Gospel:
Matthew 26:49  Judas says, "Greetings (χαιρε), Rabbi."
Matthew 27:29  The solider mock him saying, "Hail (χαιρε), King of the Jews."

εκρατησαν ("seize", from κρατω, 28:9)  This word actually comes into English in Demo-cracy.  The people (demo) seize/hold (krato) the power!  What is worth noting here is that there are only two times people seize Jesus:  soldiers to arrest him and now women to worship him.  There is something gripping -- literally -- about this scene.  They are suffering trauma and now comes along Jesus.  They hold him because they don't want to let him go.  (In 2020, I wonder how many of us will hold loved ones the first time we can see after this COVID lock-down is over!).

Grammar and translation:
There are two things you shouldn't waste time tying to learn in a dead language:  numbers and dates/times.  Why?  Because translators don't get these wrong!  For example, in 28:1 you have the phrase: εις μιαν σαββατων.  The literally means "the first of the sabbath."  Which means, as it turns out, on the first day after the sabbath (akin to Monday being the first day of the week).  It doesn't mean "the first thing on the Sabbath!)  Similarly, I would want to translate, οψε δε σαββατων as in "late on the Sabbath" but it really means, in this case, "after the Sabbath was over."  When it comes to time/dates, just trust the people that spend their lives translating.  There is nothing theological at stake; they just spent time learning the ancient idioms!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Philippians 2:5-11

This passage occurs Lectionary on Palm Sunday.   It also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary.  

For a look at the entire verse Philippians 2:1-13, check out this blog post.

Summary: Although this particular "pericope" misses 2:1-4 and then 12-13, it is so powerful that it can stand alone!  The Greek words are very rich, giving translators a tricky time.  Often they translate the verbs as nouns and vice versa!  The heart of the passage isn't about translation, though its about transformation, transformation of this world in Jesus Christ!

Key words
φρονειτε (φρονεω, meaning 'think', 2:5)  This means think, regard, have a mind.  This verb is also found twice in 2:2, in which Paul calls them to have the same mind as each other.  In 2010 when I was looking over this passage I was struck by how translators translated this verb (as a noun).  This doesn't interest me as much now, although how one translates this verse is fascinating.  In essence Paul is commending us to put the interests of others above ourselves, as Christ Jesus did.

To get a sense of this verb, rather than analyze the datives in 2:5 (which I can't really figure out!!), I want to look how this verb appears elsewhere in Philippians.

1:7  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart,
2:2  make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3:15  Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you.
3:19  Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.
4:2   I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.

What is interesting is that Paul presents two alternatives:
a)  Thinking about yourself first
b)  Thinking with he same mind with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul does not suggest there is
c) thinking for yourself and Jesus yet not being with your brothers and sisters.

Paul is suggesting that the way in which we think like Christ is to submit to the group.  This is a hard teaching for this American Christian!

A few other notes on this verb:
- Paul's inclusion of the Christ hymn (6-11) is built on the preceding verses, especially 3-4.
- Paul does not directly say, think as Christ thought.  What he literally says is this:  "This whole business of putting others first, upon this think, that was was in Christ."  In other words, he is not saying that loving the neighbor was something that Jesus thought about, but rather he is saying that the loving neighbors within a community was something internal, intrinsic to Jesus.

αρπαγμον (the α has a rough breathing, so it is pronounced 'harpagmon", meaning 'plunder', 2:6).  The standard translation here is to make "grasp" a verb. The underlying Greek word here is "harpagmon," which means booty, plunder, something to be seized (even violently, through robbing, etc). So the more natural translation is probably, "Jesus did not consider plunder to be commensurate with God."  I know that David Fredrickson of Luther Seminary definitely emphasized this!  The basic idea is that gods in the Greco-Roman world would have used their power to abuse, rape and plunder.  But Jesus did not.  This seems like a better translation in regards to the historical-cultural situation.

μορφη (morphe, meaning 'shape' or 'form', 2:6)  Jesus is said to be in the "morphe" of a God. Morph means form. The idea of form is important -- Greek gods, as any museum will show you, had beautiful forms, not those of slaves! Click here for more
I also unpack the significance of the word for the whole of Paul's letter here: Philippians 2:1-13Essentially Paul uses three separate words to describe the likeness of Jesus to God and humanity; μορφη (morphe); σχημα (like schematics); and homoioma (kind of sort of like homonym, but closer!) The most significant, I would argue is μορφη because Paul will use this word later in the letter to talk about how we will inherit the shape of Christ (symmorphos, 3:21).

κενω ('empty', 2:7).  This is a strong verb.  The power of this verb cannot be lost! Jesus emptied -- became nothing!  (Grammar Note: Paul uses a participle in an easy way to translate here-- He emptied himself, taking (participle) the form of a slave. Participles, especially in narrative, often flow much more naturally than we assume!

υπηκοος (hypokoos, meaning 'obey', 2:8)  The word obedient is found here. In Greek, the word is related to listen (ακουω).  Obey is "hypo-akou-oo" literallyr "under listening."  To put oneself under what one hears!
κυριος Ιησους Χριστος (Jesus Christ is Lord", 2:11)  The phrase to confess and profess loyalty to the Emperor was "κυριος καισαρος." (Caesar is Lord).  Christians early on made great sacrifices because they replaced Caesar with Christ.

Structural note:  I believe the Greek is structured much like a Psalm.  I believe it presents rhymes like in Hebrew, where you have pairs of connected images rather than pairs of similar sounding words.  For example:
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides still waters.
Same meaning, different images

In this passage, almost everything that is phrased, is paired:
He humbled himself; obedient unto death
Every knee shall bend...; every tongue confess