Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL, year A (most recently Aug 30, 2020).
Summary:  Whatever one does, we shouldn't water down this passage.  It is harsh.  As I reflect on it this year, I am really struck by the tenses of the verbs, that "deny" and "pick up" are aorist or one-time events, yet follow is a present, or on-going event.  This suggests to me, with a Lutheran understanding of Baptism and vocation, of a life-long cross that we inherit in our Baptisms, the cross of service to our neighbor.  We are always following Jesus, discovering what this cross entails.  It looks different, but it is always the same -- care of our neighbor.   Lastly, I think the good news for me is actually found in the next story, the transfiguration.  We get overwhelmed by the cross but then Jesus opens our eyes to his glory -- and we can carry on.

Some words I'm chewing on:

διεκνυειν (-υμι, "show", 16:21)  Although it is translated as 'explain' it has a more visual sense.  See the following examples.

  • "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8, Phillip to Jesus)
  • "...show yourself to the priest" (Luke 5:14, Jesus to a Leper)
  • "He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready..." (Mark 14:15, Jesus to disciples)
  • "The devil ...showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor..." (Matthew 4:8)

This makes me wonder -- how was Jesus communicating the necessity of the cross?

ιλεως ("merciful", 16:22)  This is a fascinating word here.  Perhaps you recognize "eleison" as its sibling?  Anyway, Peter is saying, something akin to "Forgive you, Lord" or "God be merciful."  He is not saying, "Never!"  He is saying that Jesus' prediction is antithetical to God's purposes.

οπισω ("behind", 16:23,24)  This word appears twice:  'Get behind me Satan' and then 'if you want to come behind me'.  The second time its often translated as follow, yet its the same word.  Either we are left behind or we get behind him.

απαρνησασθω ("deny", 16:24) and αρατω ("pick up", 16:24)  What I have always struggled with here is that these verbs are in the aorist tense, which suggests a one-time event.  Does this mean we should move toward a decision/one-time event understanding of faith?  Keep reading...

ακουλουθειτω ("follow", 16:24) this is in the present tense.  We are to pick up the cross one time, but then continue to follow Jesus are whole lives?  Rather than understand this to mean that we make a one-time decision to follow Jesus, I argue we need to re-think what Jesus means by cross here.  When I think of picking up my cross, I think of my baptism.  The cross given to me in a my baptism confers on me the life orientation of living a disciple.  In my life, this same cross -- living as a disciple -- unfolds in different ways, always through service to the neighbor.   It is always the same cross-  dying to myself and to the world, but it looks different -- patiently bearing the criticism of others, apologizing to my colleages when I am wrong, listening to my neighbor whine, potty training my daughter and so forth.  In life, we don't get one particular cross, one challenge to bear, but the whole weight of our neighbor's needs is ever upon us.

To put it another way, the cross of life should weigh upon us so heavy that we call out to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness.  And he then can carry the cross for us.

σταυρον ("cross" 16:24)  Just a quick reminder that before we get to sentimental about cross, this was an ancient capital punishment device.  We need to make the cross abstract to make sense of it (ie, we don't need to nail wood planks and walk around with them); but we need to not make it too abstract that we lose the challenge of it.

ψυχη(ν) ("soul", 16:25)  This word is very tricky to translate.  The NET Bible offers a good reflection:

The Greek ψυχή (psuchē) has many different meanings depending on the context. The two primary meanings here are the earthly life (animate life, sometimes called “physical life”) and the inner life (the life that transcends the earthly life, sometimes called “the soul”). The fact that the Greek term can have both meanings creates in this verse both a paradox and a wordplay. The desire to preserve both aspects of ψυχή (psuchē) for oneself creates the tension here (cf. BDAG 1099 s.v. 1.a; 2.d,e). Translation of the Greek term ψυχή (psuchē) presents a particularly difficult problem in this verse. Most English versions since the KJV have translated the term “life.” This preserves the paradox of finding one’s “life” (in the sense of earthly life) while at the same time really losing it (in the sense of “soul” or transcendent inner life) and vice versa, but at the same time it obscures the wordplay that results from the same Greek word having multiple meanings. To translate as “soul,” however, gives the modern English reader the impression of the immortal soul at the expense of the earthly life. On the whole it is probably best to use the translation “life” and retain the paradox at the expense of the wordplay.  NET Bible: Matthew

πραξιν (-ς, "actions", 16:27)  While Jesus may call us to set out mind of things of God and not "of people" (vs. 23), we are evaluated on our "praxis."  Praxis means "business" or "actions", what we actually do.  The godly life then, does not consist of other worldly activities, but activities in this world that somehow involve God.  What might that mean for you?  For your congregation?

Romans 12:9-21

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year A, most recently August 30 , 2020.

Summary:  When I did a Bible study on this portion of Romans with my folks, they were less interested in the Greek and more interested in the challenging ethics of loving your neighbor.  The Greek adds color but doesn't challenge the cruciform ethics that are laid out here.

Key Words/Concepts:

η αγαπη ανυποκριτος:  "Love is sincere" (Vs 12:9)  Paul does not include a verb here, simply "The love sincere."  Since the whole section is exhortation, it seems permissible to translate it "Let love be sincere."  But Paul is also stating something:  THE Love is without hypocrisy.

ανυποκριτος ("sincere", 12:9)  This word literally means no-hypocrisy.  A hypocrite in Greek was an actor wearing a mask on stage.  Love should not wear a mask!

Side note:  The word hypocrite has a fascinating meaning in Greek.  Hypo means under.  The Greek actors wore masks; they were "under" the mask.  But why the word "crite"?  This is really curious.  This word (from κρισις) means "judgment."  The actors were giving their judgement; their interpretation as they acted.  They were the under-mask-interpreters! 

κολλωμενοι (passive participle of κολλαομαι, meaning "cling", 12:9)  The verb here for "cling" is in the passive, literally "be clung." Although BDAG suggests this is a passive verb that can be translated in the active, perhaps we once again have a case where Paul threads the needle of agency between us and God.  

Also fascinating to think about another Pauline use of this word:  The one who unites (κολλωμενος) himself with a prostitute...(1 Cor 6:16)  Paul really is calling us to cling to the good!

Paul uses three words related to φιλος, which means love (typically in a friendly way)

φιλαδελφια (philadelphia, 12:10)  This word means sibling love, sometimes called "brotherly love"; although given that its feminine, one could argue it is sisterly love just as much!

φιλαστοργοι (philastorgos, 12:10)  The fourth Greek word for love, στοργη, is rare in Scripture.  It means family love, typically of parents and child.  It is fascinating then to compound it with φιλος.  Love your friends in a family way!

φιλαξενια (philaxenia, 12:13) Sometimes translated hospitality, it means something greater than this:  love of strangers or even love of foreigners.  I think most churches do hospitality well, which typically means welcoming like people.  But loving the stranger, this is tougher.  It is interesting that Paul combines this with striving (διωκω), acknowledging, it seems, that this is hard and much be sought after.

προηγουμενοι (particle form of προηγεομαι, "out do", 12:10)  The NRSV renders this verb as "Out do one another (in showing honor)."  The verb has a strong connotation of leadership and thus could also have the sense of "take leadership in showing honor."  This might be helpful words at a wedding, reminding a couple to take the lead in showing honor!

ζεοντες (participle of ζεω, meaning "zeal")   This word Paul uses for "zeal" or "fervor" literally means to boil over. (Same verb as in Job says his heart is like new-wine skins, ready to burst)

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Romans 12:1-8

This passage appears as the New Testament Reading in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Pentecost/Ordinary Season.  Most recently, August 23, 2020.

Summary:  This passage is about living.  About a living God at work in our lives...so that we may live, live for Christ and in communion with others.

Key Words:

παρακαλεω (meaning "encourage", 12:1)  This word means a range of things from exhort to encourage to comfort. The noun of it is the word for the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel, the "Paraclete."

οικτριμων (-ος, meaning "mercies", 12:1)  The word for mercies here found in the plural. As BDAG points out, is used to suggest the activities/signs/deeds of God's mercy rather than the general characteristic. I.e., we can always praise God in general for his mercy, but this day we praise God for his mercies, namely, the things God has done for us. 

ευαρεστος (meaning "pleasing", 12:1) This word can be translated acceptable, but it could also mean "pleasing."  For example, this word is used to describe the fruit in the garden of Eden.  This word can mean both flattering or truly pleasing, but in the God-direction it always has a positive connotation. Paul will also use word in Romans 14:18 to say that "the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God."  We may not be able to justify ourselves before God, but our work in Christ is pleasing to God!

ζωσαν (from ζαω, meaning "live", 12:1)  The word for "alive" here is a present participle, not an adjective; living is more appropriate.  Interestingly, this is the same word in Peter's confession:  You are the Christ, the son of the living God.  (It doesn't look exactly light because of how the participle is conjugated).  

While I realize as Christian teachers we tend to spent a great deal of time on the importance of Jesus as both Lord and Savior, the fact that God is a living God may be just as important as anything.  We live in age of moralistic-therapeutic-deism.  What is the counter to this?  A living God who transforms us!!

λογικην (-ος, meaning "rational" or "spiritual", 12:1) The word here for spiritual is "logikos" is literally logical. Enlightenment distinctions make this one difficult to translate because the Western tradition, since then, has tended to view "logical" and "reasonable" as something opposed to "spiritual."  No easy translation, but it is not fair to Paul to make this simply a cognitive activity, but it definitely is cognitive!

μη συσχηματιζεσθε (from συσχηματιζομαι, meaning "conform", 12:2).  The form of the verb:  negative, present, imperative suggests that the people actually have been conforming to the world.  It is time to no longer do the previous action!  

The verb has a cognate in English "schema"  No longer be in the mold of the world's schemes!  Don't let yourself be built according to the world's schematics!

It is also interesting that this word is in the passive, suggestion we do not actually control how we are molded to the world -- it happens to us.

μεταμορφουσθε (from μεταμορφοομαι, meaning "transform", 12:2)  This (like conform) is also in the passive, suggesting we are not the agent of change.  This is the word that Paul uses in 2 Cor 3:18 to talk about being transformed from one glory into another; it is also the word that Matthew and Mark use to talk about the transfiguration in their Gospel's.  

Most basic point:  The world is at work seeking to make us conform to its design; the living God is at work changing us, conforming us to the cross.

ανακαινωσει (-ις, meaning "renewal", 12:2).  Renewal is the literal translation, which fits; interesting note -- the word is not found outside of Christian literature!  Renewal is in the dative here, which means that the renewal is the means by which something else is accomplished, namely, the transforming.  The renewal is the means, not the end. 

In fact the εις + infinitive construction means "for the purpose of X", in this case "testing."  The renewing is for a purpose, discerning the will of God.  This is fascinating that the process of transformation is that which allows us -- pay attention here -- not to get into heaven, but to have the mind of God in us that we might live!!  Live here on earth and live as part of something bigger than ourselves -- the community of faith!

Some other notes I may flesh out someday:

  12:2 The word for "testing" is in an "eis+infinitive" clause suggesting purpose. That is, the testing is the result or purpose of the renewal. 12:2 Paul's word for "perfect" here is teleios, just like in Matthew 5:48, that we are to be perfect as our heavenly father. 12:3 The word for think highly is "hyper-phroneoo," rahter Paul encourages us to think "sus-phroneoo," which means to have a sound or sane manner. (More intense grammer note: 12:3 A bunch of the participles in the verse are adjectival or substantive, a good verse to review how these work) 12:4/5 In verse one, Paul told the people to present their bodies; now he tells them that one body has many members...which is a helpful reminder that all of the verb tenses in this passage have been you plural. This does not mean Paul did not intend these exhortations for individuals (technically: distributive plural), but this entire passage is aimed at the community. 12:6 Paul uses the same grammatical construction (adjectival participle) to talk about "the grace given..." as he did in verse 3. 12:6 The word here for different is "diaphoros," which can also mean excellent. 12:7 The word here for ministry is "diakonia" 12:8 BDAG suggests that the word here the NRSV translates as "generously" which is "aplotehs" means more "with simplicity" or "without guile." 12:8 The word here for "diligence" is "spoudaeh," which can mean haste or speed. However, BDAG points out that this means, "oft. in Gr-Rom. lit. and inscriptions of extraordinary commitment to civic and religious responsibilities, which were freq. intertwined, and also of concern for personal moral excellence or optimum devotion to the interests of others."



Matthew 16:13-20

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently Aug 23, 2020.
Summary:  This passage of Peter's confession has a number of familiar theological words that I try to unpack a bit.  This year I want to unpack the setting, Caesarea Philippi, home to all sorts of crazy, pagan, awful stuff.  It can be easy to look at our world, even our country, even our community, and feel overwhelmed and disgusted.  Even at those times our job as a church is to confess Christ, in and out of season, whether it is popular or not.  What is our confession?  It is that he is the Christ, the anointed savior, son of the living God.

Idea for a children's sermon:  the whole fish i-ch-th-u-s thing (Jesus Christ God's Son Savior) as the most basic confession.

καισαρειας φιλιππι (Caesarea Philippi, 16:13):  This town is not a coincidental mention.  It was a trading hub, located along some major land routes.  It had been associated, in the past, with Baal (OT Canaanite god) and Pan (Greek god).  In Jesus day, it was one of the Roman capitals in the area, with immense building projects undertaken by Herod, including the construction of a temple in honor of Augustus.  In fact, one of the temples was believed to be located at the gates of Hades, a direct connection to the underworld.  Philippi epitomized the Greco-Roman religious mileau of the day: a pantheistic cult that continued to give more space to emperor worship; above all, a worship of beauty, sex, power and money. 

One can go even further though and think about the extent to which these are all not simply dead gods, but gods of death.  At the main temple in Caesarea Philippi, which was a temple believed to be the gates of Hades, people would offer dead animal sacrifices  (http://www.generationword.com/Israel/caesarea_philippi.htm good pictures!).  Hence the importance in Peter's confession that God is a living God! 

If you want to go even further, you can study more about what worship of Pan actually entailed, but now we have an adult only sermon.

υιος του ανθροπος  (Son of Man 16:13).  As Christians we instantly recognize this title to refer to Jesus.  In fact, we often look at this title as one that uplifts Jesus as the pinnacle of humanity.  That he was the pinnacle of humanity is not arguable; but what exactly does this mean?  In the Old Testament, this particular title for an individual or humanity seems to suggest humanity's weakness:
- What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4; See also Psalm 144:3)
If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot-- a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
God also calls Ezekiel the Son of Man a number (80?) times; it is a way of reminding Ezekiel he is not divine.  In short, to Bible calling Jesus the Son of Man ascribes both majesty but also humility to Christ.  (I even checked with Wikipedia to see if I was missing something here; in fact, its article emphasizes my point about this title and humility.)

χριστος  (Christos, Messiah, 16:16)  Christos is Greek for anointed.  In Hebrew, the word for anointed is Messiah.  Peter is calling Jesus the Messiah.  The Old Testament strongly associates Messiah with a king, in the line of David, one who leads and protects the people.  The idea seems to be that a Messiah is a divine talisman, in that he has special protection (1 Sam 26:23; Psalm 20:6).  Interestingly, in Leviticus (4:6 eg) the High Priest is also referred to as the "anointed" or "Messiah."  Furthermore, Isaiah in chapter 61, declares himself anointed for his vision, hence prophet could also be understood as the role of the anointed (Psalm 105:15 connects this as well).  As Messiah then could be understood to capture three offices:  king, priest and prophet, which matches up with Calvin's understanding of Christ and his offices.  

The question for me is whether there is really a developed understanding as the Messiah as one who will suffer in the Old Testament.  While Kings, priests and especially prophets may suffer, there seems a much stronger note of victory, even theology of glory, surrounding this term.  As NT Wright puts it:  "Everyone knew that a crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah." (p. 230, The New Testament and Its World.) This would explain why Peter so soon afterwards does not want Jesus to suffer!  (In short, Peter knew his Old Testament!).  It also shows a great contrast with the term son of Man! 

I would also add that NT Wright does a great job of unpacking the Jewish understanding of "son of man" and "messiah."  In his mind they work together, in that the Son of Man refers to Daniel 7 and comes with hopes of Israel's redemption over the foreign and invading empires.  While even Wright admits the Daniel 7 is bit more ambiguous of a connection, he helpfully demonstrates the Jewish people of the 1st century had very earthly hopes.  They all wanted an end to their situation as a puppet regime of Rome; they may have understood this happening in different ways, but ultimately, it was for the same reason.  In short, no first century Jew would have said:  "I want the Messiah to come, die in a humiliating fashion, be resurrected and then promise us that if we follow him, we will die and then enter into a non-earthly eternity with God that will include lots of non-Jews."  The Messiah was to bring about the new reign of God on earth, which included the vindication of Israel (p. 234, The New Testament and Its World).

πετρος /πετρα Petros Petra:  We've all heard that Peter's name means Rock, because he was the Rock on which the church would be built.  Both words clearly have a the same first few letters (Petr), but I am not sure if we must necessarily infer that Peter the person is what the church will be built on.  Beyond some linguistic oddities (Petra is a feminine noun and ends in an a, nothing like Peter's name's ending), the far more logical thing is that the church will be built on the confession, which comes from heaven.  I think the Bible really underscores this by showing Peter's misunderstanding just a few sentences later.

αδης hades:  See my blog post on words for hell in the Bible.  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/09/mark-938-50.html

Grammar note 1:  Verb tenses -- when Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" the verb is in the imperfect, noting a repeated action.  Jesus continually asks and continues to this day to ask:  Who do you say that I am?

Grammar note 2:  In the infinitive phrase "Who do you say that I am" the word "I" is in the accusative (me).  Why?  Because in the subject of an infinitive clause is in the accusative, not the nominative.