Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, year A, most recently July 2020

Rather than offer a summary of these parables, I will offer a word or two comment on each parable.  Hopefully this can offer a connection to a parable for you

Parable of the mustard seed
παραθηκεν ("put before", 13:31)  Jesus does not tell them parables, he puts them before his disciples.  A reminder that we are invited to consider their meaning.

βασιλεια των ουρανων ("kingdom of heaven", 31)  A reminder that Matthew Gospel does not discuss the Kingdom of God, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is in contrast to the other writers of the new Testament.  Perhaps Matthew's Jewish roots made him uncomfortable using the word God?

λαχανων (-ον, "shrub/herb", 32) The word for tree/plant here signifies an edible plant.  A reminder that the mustard seed is intended for consumption by another, just like our lives.  While I am on the mustard seed...interesting the mustard seed was used to make chemical weapons in world war I.  Also used to make the first chemotherapy drugs.  A reminder that all things can be used for God's purposes.  Or not.

κατασκηνουν (-οω, "live in tent", 32)  John's Gospel tells us that Jesus "dwelt"/"tented" among us (same word.)  Is Jesus like one of the birds that dwells in the tree?  I don't think so, but hey, its a parable and always fun to ask the question:  Where is Jesus in this parable?

Parable of the kneading woman
ενεκρυψεν (literally and in meaning "encrypted", 33)  The kingdom is somehow hidden -- literally encrypted -- into this world.  I appreciate that this is a feminine protagonist!  I wonder if this is the work of the Spirit, to mash the Word into the world!

ζυμη (yeast, 33)  Fascinatingly Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a single-celled micro-organism that is considered fungi.  I am not going to preach on this, but there is some potential here -- it makes things rise; it takes a bit of heat, but not much; it is a fun-guy ;-)

σατα (from σατον, 33)  This is a Hebrew measure of flour, a reminder that this parable is (almost certainly) translated from the original that Jesus told!

Parable of the field and treasure
αγοραζει ("agorize" meaning "to buy or sell", 13:44;46)  Interesting economic metaphor.  If Christ is the one who finds us, the pearl, then Christ is the one who sells all that he has to buy us.  This is a pretty way (the only way??) to use the buy/sell metaphor common in Christian soteriology.

μαργαριτας ("margarita" meaning "pearl", 45)  Just wanted to everyone to know the word for pearl is margarita.  The Kingdom of God is like a margarita :-)

ευρων (from ευρισκω meaning "find", 44; 46)  A reminder that there a many lost and found parables in the Bible!

Parable of the net
γενους (literally genous, meaning "type" or "species"; 47)  This word can even mean peoples or races.  The net is intended for all people!!  (Not just fish!)

συναγαγουση (from συναγω meaning "gather", 47)  The purpose of the net is to gather all people together.  The word literally means synagogue.  The net is to bring us all into the same synagogue...

συντελεια (meaning "completion", 48)  I have no idea why Christians don't call it the fullness of all time instead of the end of time.  The word is completion and fullness, not termination!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

This passage occurs in year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, most recently July 2020
Summary:  This passage lends itself very easily to a divided world in which there are good and bad people; the good get saved and the bad get punished in fire.  God tolerates the bad lest the good be obliterated.

One possible direction is one that Luther took, namely, using this passage as a plea for tolerance.

Another possibility is that each person is made up of both saint and sinner.  The sinner in each of us must be put to death.  Good religion is not what helps us divide the world into good and bad.  Good religion helps us purify the bad within each of us.

Key Words:
ζιζανια ("wheat resembling weed", 13:25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 36, 38, 40).  This likely refers to a particularly bad weed:

Lolium temulentum is a weed of wheat farmlands. Even a few grains of this plant will adversely affect crop quality. Its seeds are poisonous to people and livestock. It is very difficult to separate the seeds of L. temulentum from those of what and other small grain crops as they are similar in size and weight. L. temulentum can be a host to a variety of crop pests and diseases.


οικοδεσποτος ("master of the house", 13:27)  I saw on Facebook recently that someone did not like the metaphors of agriculture because God had too much power and ownership.  I am okay with these metaphors.

εχθρος ("enemy", 13:25 and 28)  This word comes from the word hate.

There are three "syn" words closely written together
συλλεγοντες (13:29):  Collect
συναυξανεσθαι  (13:30):  Grow together
συναγαγετε (13:30):  Gather
I am still pondering what to make of this.  Some things bound must be undone (the sinner and saint).  Some binding still is yet to come (the faithful gathered).

σκανδαλα (σκανδαλον, meaning stumbling block, 13:41)  Finally, in the eschaton there are no more scandals :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9;18-23

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2020.  Since the two sections have similar vocabulary, I will focus my comments on one section, namely 18-23.

Summary:  What is this parable about:  The soil?  The seed?  In the parable, certain individuals endure hardship, survive temptation and finally bear fruit.  How is that going to happen?  How will they, to use the metaphor of the parable, have deep soil?  As Jesus says, the parable is about the sower, the sower who constantly comes to us again and again, sowing the seed that we might finally be at a point in our lives where the soil is deep, that we might repent, turn and be healed (13:15), that we will bear fruit.

Key words: 
παραβολή ("parable"; 3, 18)  Just a reminder:  This is Jesus first parable! (In Matthew's Gospel and therefore, the New Testament!)

σπειραντος ("the one who sows", participle of σπειρω; 18)  There is nothing distinct about this word, but it is worth pointing out that Jesus says the parable is about this, namely, the one who throws his seed, even into wasteful places!

καρπος ("grain"/"fruit"; 8, 23)  The first time through the parable, most translators translate the word as "grain" or a "crop."  Which is too bad because one misses the crucial connection to bearing fruit, one of the few metaphors that is consistent across the entire New Testament.  I love this image, because you can do so much with it:
* Fruit is not for the sake of the tree that produced it (our life is about our neighbor)
* Fruit often takes a season if not years to produce (patience)
* Fruit doesn't last long (our good works are needed every day)
* Fruit needs pollination (need a word outside of ourselves)
* Fruit needs the death of a flower...

καρδια ("heart"; 19)  Interestingly, this word never refers to the actually beating heart inside the body in the NT!  Hebrew and Greek map the whole heart-brain-feelings-thoughts a bit differently, but the basic point is that the heart here is not the Hallmark center, but the core of who we are, including our thoughts.

πονηρος ("evil"; 19)  Jesus here personifies evil.  A couple of thoughts.  First, it could be that Jesus here simply describes evil as "the evil" rather than the "evil one."  He may leave evil more abstract.  Second, it is also interesting and scary that the devil can engage with the human heart.  Third, it is haunting how evil is portrayed as multi-faceted:  a personified agent that works against us, the structural oppression in the world and the selfish desires of the human.  As Luther said, "the devil, the world and the sinful self." 
see also
ερχεται ("coming"; 19)  This word is a word we learn in our first few Greek lessons.  What I want to emphasize in this case is the tense:  present tense.  Furthermore, the tenses of the participles starting the sentence are also in the present tense.  This means all of the actions are on-going and concurrent:  the listening, the not comprehending and the coming of the evil one are all happening at the same time.  I had always imagined the coming of the evil one happened after the fact.  But Jesus' use of present participles (or Matthew's) suggests these are all happening at the same time.  Scary.

Small but interesting words:
σπειρος  ("seed"; multiple times; also see 13:38)  In Greek the word "seed" is actually a participle made into a noun, literally "The thing that is sown."  It is worth point out that in verse 38 the good seed are the sons of the kingdom (as opposed to the seed being the Word).   Jesus switches the metaphor, reminding us, that these are parables and not allegories.

παντος ("all"; 19)  The Greek here reads literally, "Everyone hears the word and does not understand it."  It is a little suggestion in the Greek that all hear, even though all do not understand.

ακουω ("hear"; multiple times)   Warning:  Overly pietist comment coming up:  Hearing the word is not sufficient.  In this parable hearing must move to understanding.

σκανδαλιζεται ("stumble"; 21)  This means "scandalize"; how does the word scandalize you?
απατη ("deception"; 22)  An interesting side note on this word.  It closely sounds like "agape" which Christian communion meals were often called.  2 Peter 2:13 plays on this a bit a condemns the "apate" at the communion meals.

Grammar Review:  Substantive participles
In Greek, you can make "substantive" participles very easily.  They are also easy to translate.
They follow the following pattern:  "The one who does X/Y/Z"  In English, this idea is accomplished with a relative pronoun clause:  I like the woman who married me.  Greek also has relative clauses, but the substantive participle is common.  Here we have a nice one:
ο τον λογον ακουων
Step one:  Identify it as a substantive participle.  How?  Well, you have a "the" (ie a definite article:  ο) and you only have one, otherwise it would be an adjectival.
Step two:  Get the participle:  ακουων
Step three:  Translate the basics under the formula "the one who does X":  The one who hears
Step four:  Correct for voice and tense:  Don't have to hear.
Step five:  translate the other stuff:  "The one who hears the word."  Greek will often sandwich important stuff for the substantive participle clause in between the article and the participle

Give it a try, with the last five words of verse 19...

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Summary:  I had some other ambition in the post, but I ended up focusing on the idea of Woman Wisdom.  This is not a complete post on this topic, but hopefully something that whets your appetite for more reading!

Key Word
σοφια (wisdom):  Most Christians -- myself included -- likely grew up in a church that did not emphasize the personification of Wisdom in the bible.  But in the Old Testament, Wisdom not only personified, but almost deified. This happens most clearly in Proverbs but also in other "wisdom literature".  I have included long form Bible quotes because these are likely less familiar to many of us.

  • Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?  On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;  beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:  "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live..."  Proverbs 8:1-4 
  • While I was still young, before I went on my travels, I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.   Before the temple I asked for her, and I will search for her until the end.  From the first blossom to the ripening grape my heart delighted in her; my foot walked on the straight path; from my youth I followed her steps.  I inclined my ear a little and received her, and I found for myself much instruction.  I made progress in her; to him who gives wisdom I will give glory.  For I resolved to live according to wisdom, and I was zealous for the good, and I shall never be disappointed.  My soul grappled with wisdom, and in my conduct I was strict; I spread out my hands to the heavens, and lamented my ignorance of her.  I directed my soul to her, and in purity I found her. With her I gained understanding from the first; therefore I will never be forsaken. Sirach 51:13-20 (Sirach is a book in the apocrypha) 
That wisdom is to be desired is not necessarily a surprise.  But the Old Testament wisdom literature makes three crucial shifts.  First, the writers begin talking about wisdom as a woman; there is a big contrast in fact, between woman wisdom and the foolish woman (harlot)!  This is in itself interesting, but might be seen as a literary device to get the focus of young men.  But then the writers go further and begin to speak about Wisdom as one to be worshiped.  This might seem like a misguided step to worship an attribute of God.  But the writers double down and begin speaking about Wisdom's role in creation. 
  • The LORD created me (wisdom, identified in 8:2) at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.  Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.  When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.  Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth--  when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil.  When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,  when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. Proverbs 8:22-31
  • It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.  Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15 
  • O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.  Psalm 104:24 
  • Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south?   Job 39:26
For most of us as Christians we would associate the entity through whom God made all things as the "Word."  Yet, it is identified as wisdom here.  It seems as if there two schools of thought over time, one that emphasized the Word as a potentially divine agent within the God-head; another that emphasized Wisdom as a potentially divine agent within the God-head.  Both existed without great conflict, or at least, I cannot find any conflict.

The New Testament seems to break in the Word tradition.  It is the Word through which all things were made (John 1).  In fact, it is a bit pointless to find quotes explaining the importance of the Word within the New Testament understanding of God.  They are everywhere.

Yet the idea of a personified and feminine Wisdom remains.  There are a number of reflections on God's wisdom (notable 1 Corinthians 1).  Most importantly for this post, there are some strange verses about a seemingly personified Wisdom:
  • Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,'  so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world,  Luke 11:49-50  
  • ...for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.  Luke 21:15
  • The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!   Matthew 12:42
  • And there verse from this week's pericope:  "Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."   Matthew 11:19  
Where does this leave us?  Well, one can go all sorts of ways with this.  One can identify wisdom with the Spirit, allowing for a feminization of the Spirit.  One can identify wisdom with the Word and therefore Jesus, allowing for a feminization of Jesus.  Like all things with wisdom, it takes a bit of work to process!

One last connection to reflect on.  Jesus ends this section of teaching in Matthew's Gospel with an invitation to come to him, all who are weary.  Likewise, Woman Wisdom extends an invitation as well:
  • "You that are simple, turn in here!" To those without sense she says,  "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight."  Proverbs 9:4-6
And Proverbs nearly ends with someone complaining of their weariness:
  • Thus says the man: I am weary, O God, I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?  Surely I am too stupid to be human; I do not have human understanding.  I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.  Proverbs 30:1-3
That weary man must return to wisdom, as the weary in Matthew's Gospel must return to Jesus.  So don't discard the association of Woman Wisdom and Jesus too quickly...Like I said, Jesus may be willing to make things abundantly clear, but the Wisdom of God will always take a bit more wrestling to achieve and understand.