Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Matthew 10:40-42

This passage occurs as a RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently June 2020. 

Summary:  We are familiar with the Great Commission of Matthew:  Go therefore...  This week we hear the Least Commission:  We are sent to do small things to the least of these.

Key Words
αποστειλαντα ("send" aorist participle of αποστελλω 10:40)  Perhaps you might be familiar with the phrase or concept:  "The sending of the Trinity."  This idea develops out of verses like this one:  The Father sends the Son; who sends the Spirit; who, along with Jesus, sends the disciples.  This motif is most recognizable in John (John 3:16 for Father sending son; John 14:26 and 15:26 for the sending of the Spirit; John 20:21 for Jesus sending the disciples.).  Luke has a similar phrase in 10:16:  "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me"
a)  Trinitiarian thinking is deeper in Matthew (and the other Gospels) than we often give credit. 
b)  The idea within the Trinity is a procession of sending is not simply a later construct.
c)  Even in Matthew's Gospel Jesus equates action done to him as action done to God. 

This ties also back to Matthew 10:5 and the sending of the disciples by Jesus.
δεχομενος ("welcome" present participle of δεχομαι; 10:40).  This word can also mean accept (See Matt 18:5).  Instead of accepting Jesus, you need to accept your pastor, who stands in line of the apostles :-)

μισθος ("wages" or "reward" 10:41,42)  I am not sure what to make of it, but Matthew uses this word way more than the other Gospels.  Perhaps Matthew aims at the working class, who would be well aware of the reality of wages and rewards?  For the most part Matthew is telling others that they already have their reward or that they will not get theirs!  In this case though, Matthew quotes Jesus offering a promise:  If you welcome a prophet, you get your reward; if you give a small cup of water, you also gain your reward.  The question remains, what is the reward?

προφητης ("prophet" 10:41)  Worth noting:  For Matthew, the notion of prophecy is very important; the word appears 34 times.  By comparison, in Mark the word only appears 5 times!  Luke 28; John 14.  (While OT connections are important for Matthew, Luke doesn't leave them out)

μικρων ("least of these" from μικρος 10:42).  This phrase is often understood to mean "children."  This is because in Matthew 18 Jesus explicitly connects the phrase little ones with the word for children.  Also, Jesus says, "Who welcomes children, welcomes me" in all three synoptics.  So, it is probably a fair translation to say, "children" here.  However, I think that Matthew 25 and "Do unto the least of these" are helpful to keep in mind as we examine this passage.  Jesus is always concerned about the least in society, of which children are an example.  I'd rather leave the translation as the "least of these" instead of "children" to leave open this ambiguity.  As a side note, some manuscripts use the word "least" that is found in Matthew 25 (ελαχιστος).

Grammar Review:  ου μη
In Greek the strongest denial of a possibility is ου μη.  It probably best means "It ain't never ever gonna happen."  Whenever you see this, you can know the speaker is completely and totally sure about something.  In this case, we will never lose our reward when we give a cup of cold water to the least of these.

Romans 6:12-23

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A.  It appeared most recently in June 2020.

Summary:  Paul reminds everyone that the freedom we have in Christ is not to pursue our own pleasure, but to serve him. 

Words worth exploring:

ζωντας (participle form of ζαω, meaning "living", 6.13)  The Greek packs a bit more punch than the English here.  Paul says that we are from death-living.  The English translations typically make the living seem like a past activity.  Paul commends us that the living continues.  The death is what is in the past!

οπλα ("instrument", 6.13)  The word can mean a variety of weapons and instruments.  For all the other Civilization computer game fans -- this is where the word "hoplite" comes from.  Interestingly, a hoplite military unit was based on using your shield to protect others in the formation.  Paul here commends us to present ourselves as instruments...used in battle for the protection of others.

παραδοθητε (from "παραδιδημι", meaning betray or handover, 6.17)  This word can mean handover, as in betray, or handover, as in tradition.  In this case it means that the Roman Christians were handed over something from other Christians.  A reminder that we did not discover Christianity on our own, but received it from others!

τυπον διδαχης (τυπος and διδαχη, meaning "figure" and "teaching", 6:17)  This word literally means "form of teaching."  First, Paul does not really use the word "teaching" a great deal; although other Christians would pick up on the word διδαχη and call teacher a διδασκαλος.   So what is Paul referring to with teaching?  It is meaningful, I believe, to consider the combination of "form" (τυπος) and "teaching."  τυπος means a mold or a form.  The teaching of Paul was not simply of the head, but included a way of living, of conforming our lives to Christ.  This is clearly presented in Philippians 3:17

Philippians 3:17-21   Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example (τυπος) you have in us.  For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.  Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

ελευθερωθεντες (passive participle of ελευθεροω, meaning "free", 6:18)  This word means to free.  For Americans, we hear freedom as the right to do what we want.  For Paul, freedom means the ability to do what God wants.

αγιασμον ("sanctification", 6:22)  Sanctification often is seen as an individual journey toward holiness.  But Paul's whole argument here is about a movement away from the self, toward Christ and others.  Sanctification, it would seem, is about becoming useful to God, not becoming 'holy' in the abstract.   (I realize there are two big strands of holiness thinking:  personal morality and corporate usefulness.  I do not wish to say the two are unrelated or opposed.  I just think most American Christians emphasize the former at the expense of the later).

χαρις ("grace", 6.17)  Little play on words here; typically translated as thanks, but it is literally "Grace to God!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Matthew 10:24-39

This passage occurs in year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, during "ordinary" or "proper" or weeks after Pentecost" time.  Most recently, June 21, 2020.

Summary thoughts:  I sense that Jesus is challenging his disciples about fear and anxiety.  As disciples we will fear and get anxious about the wrong things: Our physical comfort (even health!) and our reputation.  Jesus is calling us to fear the proper thing: God. I am still working through this passage, but I think it can speak to us today as disciples in a time of great fear and anxiety.

Lastly, I don't think that verse 34 needs to be in this pericope!

Some words that drew me into further study:

βεελζεβουλ ("Beelezboul" or "Beelezbub"10:25)  Literally Lord of the "flies." This is the name of a Philistine god.  In the Old Testament, he is referenced when an Israelite king grows sick:  

  • "Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and he became ill; and he sent messengers and said to them, 'Go inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this illness.'" 2 Kings 1:2  (Elijah promptly condemns this king for inquiring of another god).
So why flies?  Flies are attracted to that which is sick and dying, so flies would come and pester humans who were sick.  Turns out that people would perform rituals for flies to ward them off.  The god who could take away the flies would be the god who would have brought about healing. 

It also may be a play on words that allowed the Israelites to insult another god -- calling him the lord of the Flies.

See: and'

Perhaps just as important for understanding this passage is reminding ourselves that others will claims Jesus is working through Beelzeboul (12:24; 12:27).  Jesus is warning his disciples here of insults they will receive for following him.

αποκαλυφθησεται (from αποκαλυπτω, meaning "reveal", 10:26)  In everyday language, apocalypse means the end.  But it literally just means the "revealing."  Perhaps in this way, we are living through the apocalypse now in that so much of what is problematic in our culture has been revealed.

των αποκτεννοντων ('the ones who kill', 10.27)  This is a substantive participle (in the genitive).  It literally means the ones who kill.  This is rather fascinating.  Jesus is likely referring to individuals who will persecute his followers.  But in 2020, we could hear it as an admonishment NOT to fear the corona virus, but fear the things that take away our humanity (racism!)

γεεννα (Gehenna, 10:28)  Gehenna; not hell as we often think of it.  However, Jesus uses it symbolically here, I think, to denote more than simply a bad place south of Jerusalem.

  • "Literally valley of Hinnom, a ravine south of Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to consume the dead bodies of animals, criminals, and refuse; figuratively in the Gospels and James for hell, a fiery place of eternal punishment for the ungodly dead (MT 5.22)"  Friberg Lexicon, accessed through Bible Works
  • It was the location, in all likelihood, of childhood sacrifices ( 

υηεις (10.31)  When Jesus says that "you" are worth more than sparrows, it is a you plural -- you all are worth more, not just you as an individual!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Matthew 9:35-10:8

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), year A.  Depending on when Easter falls, it moves; most recently it was the Gospel passage for June 14, 2020.

Summary:  I am surprised that somehow I've never done a Greek look at this passage before.  A couple of preaching thoughts
- Jesus does not have compassion fatigue.  We do!
- Jesus realizes he must equip others to accomplish the ministry of God
- Jesus connects healing, preaching and teaching.  Body, mind and soul are connected.
- Jesus instructs the disciples to heal people even though they will get sick again.  The point is not always fundamentally to solve the problems of the world, but to faithfully respond to Jesus call.

πασας, πασαν (all forms of πας, meaning "all", 9:35; 10:1).  Jesus goes to ALL the towns healing ALL diseases and ALL sickness.  Likewise, Jesus disciples are given authority over ALL diseases and ALL sickness.

διδασκων...κηρυσσων...θεραπευων (9:35, see also 4:23)  It is interesting that we find these three verbs connected with each other.  For Jesus, preaching and teaching were connected with healing.  Have we separated these actions?  In the ancient world, healing was seen as divine, but often associated with sacrifice, not preaching and teaching!

θεραπευω (or its noun form, θεραπεια, "healing", 9:35)  This is where we get the word "therapy."  The word original meant service to the gods.  Those who served gods, especially those who served the ancient god of medicine, Asclepius, would make sacrifices on behalf of the sick and then interpret their dreams to develop a treatment recommendation.  So the therapists brought healing.  The ancient world saw no fine line between body, mind and spirit.

εσπλαγχνισθη (form of σπλαγχνιζομαι, meaning "have compassion", 9:36)  I've pointed it out many times; we likely all remember from Greek at Seminary, but the word for compassion comes from intestines.  Jesus gut turns over!  Again, body and mind are connected!

ερριμμοι (participle from ριπτω, meaning "thrown", 9:36)  This participle is translated as helpless, which is fine, but it is a bit more moving to hear it in the Greek -- "thrown down."  I think of how many people in our culture feel knocked down these days.

αυτου ("his", 9:38)  A reminder that the harvest belongs to God, not churches or their leaders!

νεκρους εγειρετε (meaning "raise the dead", 10:8)  Interestingly, a number of later manuscripts drop this phrase.  It seems too powerful.  Jesus can't really mean to have the disciples raise the dead.  Or can he?!  Jesus gives a great deal of authority and powers to his followers.  For what do we use this power?  How do we ignore it?

It is also worth noting that the healing sickness and leprosy as seen as similar actions to raising the dead and casting out demons.  Body, mind and spirit, all related!

δωρεαν ελαβετε, δωρεαν δοτε:  Without cost you have received, without cost give.  The word δωρεαν comes from the word for gift.  God gives and so we give too.  (For those looking to go further: Romans 3:24 indicates that our justification is δωρεαν.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

The Narrative Lectionary begins the Year 4 cycle with this lesson.  The Revised Common Lectionary includes it for Holy Trinity Sunday (Year A); it is also part of the Easter Vigil
Summary:  In Genesis 1 order is not a bad thing.  The enemy seems to be a lack of structure, authority and clarity.  To be brought into God's creative task, namely, to be reestablished in his image, is to be brought into the task of organizing creation.  This is likely surprising because much of the creative task of today's world seems to be the breaking free of authority.  

Fragmented or autonomous living is not the intention of God's creation.  I do not argue, nor do I think Genesis 1 justifies, huge systems that simply promote uniformity if not excessive consumption of resources.  Yet, Genesis 1 does speak against an understanding, particularly 21st century American, that autonomy is the goal of the human, if not even the spiritual human.

2020 note:  It is strange to read my previous comments about authority and order given the complex context of this summer, when we've had three months of battles over authority vs individual rights regarding COVID and race.

Key Words/Concepts:
ברה (b-r-h, "create", Genesis 1:1, 1:27, 2:3)  The Bible uses many words to describe God's creative activity in Genesis 1.  Surprisingly, many of the words are common verbs that Adam, other humans and the rest of creation do:  speak, name, divide and bring forth.  This is not the case with "barah."  Only God can create, not just in Genesis, but throughout Scripture. The use of verbs throughout chapter 1 suggests there is something co-creative about creation, but yet God's creative capacity as the creator stands beyond any other entity in creation.

As a side note, in Psalm 51, when David prays for a new heart, the verb is "barah", suggesting that a new heart is only possible from God.

רףה (r-ph-h, "bear fruit", Gen. 1:22, 28).  I like this verb because it reminds me of Jesus' injunction to "bear fruit."  But in this particular story, I find it helpful to remember that just as God tells humans to be fruitful, he also commands the birds and fish the same way.  Creation is not simply our domain!  
צלמ (ts-l-m, "image", Gen 1:26,27).  What does it mean, after all, that we are in the image of God?!  Tomes have been written about this.  A few comments
  • There is no simply linguistic analysis that will solve this debate, as in, this is what this word originally met.  You can't undo 3,000 year of reflection on this with one look in a Hebrew dictionary!
  • Genesis 1:26 isn't the only data on what it means to be in the image of God.  Even if one does not look at all of Scripture, certainly one needs to consider all of Genesis 1, seeing  who God is and then reflecting on what being in that image might mean.
  • My suggestion is that the image of God is less about an individual capacity but rather a collective capacity -- let us make humankind in our image -- does not read like a statement about one human.
  • When used elsewhere in the Old Testament, it often refers to idols of gods.  It is helpful to consider that idols were believed in themselves to have power -- to be portals to the gods and even their eyes in the world.
  • What might this mean then for us to be THE God's idols, the God's portals and sentinels in the world?  The NET captures discussions about this topic very well, crouching its discussion within the confines of the book of Genesis:  The "image of God" would be the God-given mental and spiritual capacities that enable people to relate to God and to serve him by ruling over the created order as his earthly vice-regents.
משל (m-sh-l, "rule", Gen 1:18 as verb; 1:16 as noun).  There are a whole series of words relating to power and authority in these verses.  Many of these words are poured over and often critiqued in a post-colonialism world. 

First, it is helpful to consider the string of actions here -- the purpose of the power of the sun and moon:
to give light upon the earth
to rule over the day and over the night
and to separate the light from the darkness

This rule is not harsh, but is intended to provide order and life.

I appreciate how TWOT (Bible works) gives a helpful insight on this verb: "There is no specific theology to be drawn from the meaning of the word. Yet the passages cited and the seventy or so others not cited demonstrate the importance of the principle of authority, the absolute moral necessity of respect for proper authority, the value of it for orderly society and happy living and the origin of all authority in God, himself. Authority is of many degrees and kinds. It has various theoretical bases. It originates in God. Man has no authority at all as man but simply as God's vice regent."
While our society today may be very afraid of power in the hands of super governments and super corporations, there is an instinct in the OT, certainly in Genesis, that anarchy is not a good thing.  Indeed, creation is a story of God providing order over chaos.  Of course ancient humans needed to subdue creation.  "It was a jungle out there."  But of course too, the total destruction of habitat for countless animals was also not desired either.

"Us" - Let us create mankind in our image.  There are a number of ways to think about this verse.  One possibility is that the "us" reflects the Trinity; another is that the "us" is the "royal we"; another is that the "us" reflects angels, ie, the heavenly court.  I don't think we will ever solve this linguistic and theological conundrum.  However, I offer another idea and that is that God is saying to the rest of creation, let's create out of you something in my image.  Elsewhere in Genesis 1, God invites creation into participation in the act of creation.  Given that humanity comes from genetically and is dependent biologically on the rest of creation and that creation has already been involved in creation itself, I think this makes sense.

כבש (c-v-sh, "enslave", Gen 1:28)  In every other Biblical instance this word means some kind of conquering, subduing, enslaving or possibly even raping.  This is difficult for us as modern readers because we do not want to understand our relationship to the earth as one of enslaving it.  While the word rule (רדה, Gen 1:26-1:28) is slightly less problematic, we cannot escape כבש!   My thoughts are
  • Farming before technology was difficult work.  Clearing and plowing fields would have felt like an act of battle in many ways against the forces - the ground, the weather, the insects, the other animals.  In this context, that kind of combat verb might have made sense.
  • Second, everything that God tells the humans is governed by them being in God's image.  The kind of rule and even dominion that we are to offer is to reflect God's intended rule.
  • Third, there is a parallel structure in Genesis 1, with days 1 and 4; 2 and 5 and 3 and 6 corresponding to each other.  This means that our ruling is previously modeled by the moon and sun, providing organization and order.
רדה (r-d-h, "rule", Gen 1:28)  This word means to rule.  It can refer to royal rule (Psalm 72:8, 110:2) or even oversight at a construction site (1 Kings 5:30).  It can be both helpful but also cruel (see Leviticus 25:43 or Ezekiel 34.4).  It is in itself not problematic as "c-v-sh."  Again, see comments above on image and enslave.
נתנ (n-t-n, "give", Gen 1:17, 1:29) The final statement of God about creation is that it is a gift!