Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

This passage occurs on Christ the King Sunday, Year A, most recently November 2020.
Much like the beatitudes, it is hard to preach this text without steering off the cliff of works righteousness.  A few thoughts.  First, a goat and sheep are born that way; the sheep did not become sheep by their actions; neither for the goats.  They are declared righteous, but the text never declares them righteous because of their action.  It simply says they are righteous.  They did X, Y and Z good things.  Lutherans believe the righteous do good things.  Second, the sheep are not endeavoring to save their hides but they are simply helping people.  The goats were perfectly willing to help Jesus to help themselves, but they weren't interested if it didn't get them points.  The whole freedom in faith righteousness is that we no longer have to work about our own reputation (glory) or status before God but instead can worry about our neighbor.  The goats never got that far.  Lastly, for Matthew glory is found in judgment.  For Lutherans we believe that judgment comes on the cross, which points toward the cross being the center of glory.  Even if this seems stretching it the basic point of this text is a theology of the cross:  Jesus's glory is revealed, yet still somewhat hidden, in the brokenness of the world.

Key words:
δοξα ("glory"; 25.31)  It is interesting to note that in the Gospel of Matthew the word δοξα is connected with Jesus second coming and judgment (see 16:27; 19:28; 24:30).  Perhaps it is worth reflecting on -- what is so glorious about judging?  Perhaps it is the purification of the people?  Of creation?  While we obsess over the potentially painful and violent cleansing, it seems that for Jesus this is the means, not the end.  Jesus cleanses the temple; in Matthew's Gospel he restores it to a place of healing.  This is a reminder that there is not a linear path to healing; that it will take judgment and "birth pains." (Matthew 24:8)

εθνος ("gentiles" or "nations"; 25.32). When used in the plural it normally means "gentiles" ie, non-Jews.  Jesus will finally tell us to go to all the nations. 

κληρονομήσατε (from "κληρονομεω" meaning "inherit"; 25.34)  This word can mean receive, but it really involves inherit.  An inheritance means two things:  First, that someone died.  Second, that there is a gift.  The kingdom given to us is a gift in Jesus Christ and his death.

ξενος ("stranger"; 25.35) The phrase, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me' actually has the word: "xenos" as in xenophobia.  Furthermore, the verb is "synagagete," from which we get synagogue.  To translate a different way: "I was an outsider and you gathered me to worship." "Synag-oo" as a verb does not mean invite to church, but the word underneath means gather.  I think Jesus is implying something stronger than simply welcoming strangers but more like:  ushering in freaks. 

εμοι εποισητε ("You did to me", 25:40)  Jesus begins his teaching ministry with the beatitudes, a declaration that God doesn't operate like the world.  Here Jesus ends his teaching ministry by affirming that indeed, God doesn't operate like the world.  Jesus, as God, doesn't simply bless the weak and infirm from afar, but stands with us.  This helps us see what is truly happening in the cross, where God stands with the weak, with the condemned, with the one suffering, with the sinner.

It is interesting that the word δοξα can mean "reputation" or even "honor."  What is the honor of God?  To be with those whom the world has forgotten.  What is God's reputation?  To be with those whom the world doesn't care about.

κολασι(ς) (translated as "punishment", 25:46)  A quick look in almost Greek dictionary reveals this word has many shades of meaning and a fascinating entomology. David Bentley Hart, in his translation of the New Testament, offers the following footnote that helpfully summarizes what the Lexicons offer:  

"The word κολασις originally meant 'pruning' or 'docking' or 'obviating the growth' of trees or other plants, and then came to mean 'confinement', 'being held in check', 'punishment' or 'chastisement' chiefly in connection with correction.  Classically, the word is distinguished (by Aristotle, for instance) from τιμωρια which means retributive punishment only.  Whether such a distinction holds here is difficult to say, since by late antiquity kolasis seems to have been used by many to describe punishment of any kind.  But the only other use of the noun in the New Testament is in 1 John 4:18, where it refers not to retributive punishment, but to the the suffering experienced by someone who is subject to fear because not yet perfected in charity.  The verbal form (κολαζω) appears twice: in Acts 4:21, where is clearly references only to disciplinary punishment, and in 2 Peter 2:9 in reference to fallen angles and unrighteous men, where it probably means 'being held in check' or 'penned in' [until the day of judgment].

Grammar:  Unclear antecedents
Like in English, Greek uses pronouns.  Sometimes it is unclear what "it" is referring to.  For example, the Greek says, "throne of glory of his."  Is the throne his or the glory?  Probably doesn't matter in this case, but worth reminding ourselves that Greek does have ambiguities.
In 25.32 the object of the word "divide" is interesting.  Jesus has just finished talking about the εθνος (gentiles), which is a neuter noun.  The pronoun object of the word divide is a masculine plural, suggesting the nations are not what are divided, but the individuals in the nations (masculine plural pronouns can refer to a group that has both men and women).

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Matthew 25:14-30

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently November 2020.
Alas, another Matthew Parable that seems to preach the Law and not the Gospel.  As a person and as a congregational leader, this passage troubles me.  Yet there is a bit of Gospel is we pay close attention here.  The master gives talents to his slaves.  Talents are huge sums of money.  What kind of person gives someone 1 or even 2 or even 5 to 10 million dollars??  What kind of person gives slaves this kind of money?  Sure, this parable may serve as warning not to hide our gifts.  Law, law and more law.  But the good news is this:  God gives us his assets in a way that in unimaginable in the real world of money.  (You might also say that God blesses his slaves' investments in a way unimaginable in this real world of money...)

Lastly, I wonder if the real question is:  What do we view as our talents?  Our gifts and skills?  More and more I am coming to the conclusion that the people in our lives are the talents we have been given and how we treated them will be our judgement. 

Key words:

ταλαντον ("talent", a measure of gold weight worth roughly a million dollars or 20 years worth of a standard persons wages, 25:15).  While this parable may produce guilt and anxiety in us that we don't do enough, it is worth remembering that anyone who gives away 5 talents to his slaves (not friends, slaves) doesn't value money they way the rest of us do.  5 talents would be 5-10 million dollars; 100 years worth of human labor entrusted!

I think a sermon nugget here is realizing how much is entrusted to even the person with one talent.  Sometimes we compare ourselves to others and then convince ourselves that either we a) don't have responsibility to make an impact in the world or b) we have no capacity to do good.  We hide our talent.  Even when we are not given the "most" we still have more than we need and can work in the Kingdom with our gifts.

τα υπαρχοντα ("possessions", 25:16)  see below for a grammatical explanation of this word.  This word does mean possessions, but it comes from the verb for "to be" an does not simply mean goods, but really the entirety of one's resources and means.  For instance, in Genesis 12:5, Abraham and his family take τα υπαρχοντα of theirs when they are moving countries.  Second Peter 1:8 actually describes personality traits as υπαρχοντα.  This word is probably better translated as "assets."

εκερδησεν ("gain" from κερδαινω, 25:16)  Worth remembering that Paul said that all of his achievements were "dung" in order that he might gain Christ.  Also worth noting is that Jesus, in all three synoptics, warns of "gaining" the world (same word) but losing the soul.  Jesus is not simply teaching financial advice, but conveying a deeper meaning about the Kingdom of God.

εκρυψεν ("hide", κρυπτω, 25:18)  The word here literally means "encrypt."  The sin here is not having enough gifts, but hiding that which we have.  I wonder too if it is worth playing with this word "hide" and how people hide their gifts.

Grammar Review:  I thought substantive participles were easy!
Generally, one of the easiest participles to translate are a group called "substantive."  Basically, the form is 'the word the'+'participle' and it is translated the 'one(s)/thing(s) that do this verb'.  So in verse 14, you have τα υπαρχοντα.  The second word is a verb meaning "to be" so this substantive participle is translated, "the things that are."  In this case, this is an idiom which means something akin to "possessions" or "assets" but at its core, it is a participle made into a 'substance' by the word 'the'.

However, Greek can get pretty fancy with the substantive participle.  They can stick words in between the 'the' and the partciple.  For example, in 25:18
ο δε το εν λαβων means "But the one having one (talent)."  First, it is tricky because you have to figure out that the words το εν refer to "the one talent" but it is especially tricky because you have to realize that ο goes with λαβων and becomes "the one who has."  Lastly, you have to unpack the middle and put it on the end to translate it because in English you cannot have, outside of poetry, "the one one talent having." 

The nice thing about such participles is that they allow Greek to build some monster phrases, which ultimately are not that hard to translate.  You just have to identify the participle pieces (in this case the 'the' and the participle), translate them and then go after the middle.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Matthew 25:1-13

This passage occurs during year A in the Revised Common Lectionary season, most recently November 8, 2020.

Summary:  This is a tough passage to preach on!  I am still wrestling with this passage so I offer you some Greek insights that hopefully allow you to build a message!

I would offer, not so much a great point, but a basic exegetical point.  Matthew 25 has three parables.  Each point toward the reality of judgment.  But each successive parable gives us a sense of what is important.  Focus on Christ (1st parable); by using the gifts you have (2nd parable); for the sake of the least (3rd parable).  They need each other in many ways.

Note:  Because this parable involves a group of women (a bit unusual), the endings on words might be a bit unfamiliar!

παρθενοις (plural of parthenos, "virgin" or "young (unmarried)" woman; 25.1)  In our culture we hear the word virgin with all sorts of other connotations, related to sexual purity, as opposed to unmarried state.  Furthermore, I wonder if translating this as bridesmaids (see NRSV) makes the most sense.   First, there is no ceremony that includes the bridegroom marrying these women.  Second, Jesus doesn't advocate/project/encourage for polygamy anywhere else.  Third, the new testament presents the whole church as the bride collectively, not individually.  Finally, there is an alternate reading, "Bridegroom and bride."  The textual evidence is much stronger for "bridegroom" alone, but significant (western) manuscripts have both included.  In this case, I do not think one should add back in the words; they don't seem in the original.  But I think this textual problem, along with the other problems, suggests this word should be translated at least as maidens, if not bridesmaids, instead of the loaded term virgin. 

μωραι ("mooria" meaning "fool"; 25.2) The word for fool is "mooria"...like moron, or like "foolishness to Greeks."

φρονιμοι ("phronimoi" meaning "wise"; 25.2)  Again, a huge connection here with Paul's letters to the Corinthians.  Furthermore, this word will be turned upside down by Paul in many ways, as he fights against the notion that wisdom/wise thinking was being unmoved (ie, stoic), but instead argues that wisdom is about taking on the Christian character of being moved to suffer for others (Philippians 2).

ηγερθησαν (from εγειρω meaning "arise"; 25.2)  This is from the word stand/raise up that also means resurrected.

εκοσμησαν (from κοσμεω, like cosmos, meaning "trim"; 25:7)  The word for "trimmed" lamps here is actually "adorned" perhaps recalling for you the hymn: Soul adorn yourself in gladness.  To trim the lamp is to adorn the lamp, the light of Christ!; to adorn the soul!

εκλεισθη (from κλειω, meaning "close"; 25.10)  I don't like this image.  It suggests people that want to get into the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven cannot.  A silver lining?  Jesus is the one who opens up the doors (the word for the tomb's entrance is also "door" in Matthew 27:60).  The only one with the power to open the door is Christ, not us with our lamps.

γρηγορειτε (from γρηγορε, like the name gregory!, meaning "watch out"; 25:13)  This verb is in the present tense, suggesting this is to be an on-going activity.  My sense is that we have lost this sense of watching out for the coming of Christ in our churches today.  If we are to regain this though, we must offer people what the Bible offers them about Christ's return:  both fear and hope.

For those reading this with the Thessalonians text:
25:1 The word 'meet' in Matthew is similiar to the word meet that is found in the Thess. text for this week (απαντησις vs. υπαντησις). What a contrast of the meetings -- one of a king in power and the other of bridegroom.

25:5 The words here for 'sleep' are different from those in 1 Thess. (This does not mean one can/should not make a comparision; just pointing it out)

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently November 15, 2020.

Summary:  Hard words about the end times. Some nuggets below, although I doubt most of you will preach on this, although there is some really good material, especially about building up the Kingdom one person at a time.

Key Words/Constructions

ειρηνη και ασφαλεια (meaning 'peace and safety', 5:3)  These words are heard in every political cycle -- it is the basic promise of government, to provide us peace and safety.  Can it ever be delivered?  I wonder also, at whose cost do we accept peace and safety?  

ολεθρος (meaning "destruction", 5.3)  It is fairly rare in the NT (4x; only in Paul). This word only occurs, it seems, in connection with the destruction that God brings in judgment.

ενδυσαμενοι (aorist participle meaning "put on", 5:3).  This verb is not in the imperative.  It should be translated "let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love."  (θωρακα πιστεως και αγαπης)  Calm and collect thinking grows out of faith and love!   More technical grammar note:  The verb is in the aorist tense.  the actions of aorist participles precede the other verbs in the sentence). 

περιποιησις (meaning "preserve", 5:9).  This is really interesting.  This word can mean "obtain" but also "preserve."  In this case, the idea is that God's wrath will come upon all, but we will be protected -- our souls will be preserved.  The image almost seems to me akin to the angel of death in Revelation.

εις τον ενα (meaning one on one, 5:11).  Paul commends people to comfort one another (παρακαλεω) and then build each other up (οικοδομεω) one on one.  This is a week in which I feel a call to change the world.  Paul reminds us that this happens as the community builds each other up, one by one. 

Grammar review

5.3-5.6 have four different types of subjunctive clauses.  In Greek, you cannot simply say, oh, subjunctive means probable.  Each type of subjunctive clause and construction must be mapped into its English tranlation.

a) οταν:  An "hotan" clause = whenever 

b) ου μη:  A "ou mh" clause with the verb εκφευγω (flee), which suggests that they will NEVER flee. 

c) ινα:  A "hena" clause which suggests result or purpose (in order that the day might be a surprise). 

d) -ω-: An "horatory subjunctive" in 5.6 "Let us not sleep."