Tuesday, July 20, 2021

John 6:1-21

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2021, for July 25, 2021.
 
Summary: 
John 6 is vital for understanding the ministry of Jesus and the church.  First, Jesus' work builds on the Old Testament.  With this story, Jesus revisits the Passover.  Yet Jesus renews and redirects the OT tradition.  In the case, Jesus presents himself as the one who provides the bread.  The Gospel message is not found simply by making this academic comparison, but by driving it home toward proclamation: God provides, he becomes the Passover lamb, taking away the sin of the world, for you...even when all you felt like was a wasted fragment.

Links to Passover:
The key to this passage, I offer, is John 6:4, where we learn the Passover is near.  Further links to the Passover:
*The last verse of chapter 5 also references Moses and people not listening to him (whole book of Exodus)
*Jesus and then others cross the sea because they have seen the deeds of power (Red sea crossing)
*Jesus feeds the people from basically nothing (manna in the wilderness)
*Jesus even uses the food from the smallest boy (akin to a passover!!)
*John refers to this meal of bread with the term Eucharist

Key words:
χορτος ("hay" or "grass", 6:10):  They are sitting on grass.  They believe themselves in a forsaken place, but are surrounded by God's bounty!

συναγαγετε ("gather"; 6:12):  It is interesting here because Jesus tells the disciples to gather the missing pieces.  This is in the mission of the church, to gather the missing pieces. What intensifies this connection is the verb for gather, which is literally:  synagate -- synagogue them!  Lead them into the community centered on the Word!

κλασματα ("fragments"; 6:12):  It seems strange the bread fragments are so valuable.  Was Jesus a spend thrift??  It seems that Jesus has a spiritual meaning here.  I think it is fair to say the fragments represent us, broken pieces, whom God has blessed, broken and then gathered into one.

ευχαριστω ("give thanks"; 6:23):  While neither the words "Holy Communion" nor "Eucharist" appear in 1-14, the word Eucharist does appear in 6:23:  "The place where they had eaten the bread after Jesus had given thanks [eucharisted]"  Christians took up this word in a different manner -- Paul begins this in 1 Cor 10:16.  They transformed the word for Thanksgiving and turned into a significant meal -- much like America's November holiday!  In this case, Jesus is taking the world's oldest Thanksgiving meal and giving it new meaning.  The full meaning of this meal will not be clear until Jesus dies and rises.

απολλυμι ("perish" or "lose"; 6:12):  Fascinating here -- Jesus discusses the collecting the fragments, lest they get "lost".  The word here for lost also means "perish" as in John 3:16 or John 18:9, "I did not lose a single one whom you gave me."

Two other tid bits:
6:9 The words for bread and fish here (krithinos and opsaria) denote common bread and fish, almost like "cheap bread and fish tidbits"

6:17 The word σκοτια is darkness; that is what is occurring here; yet, John 1 said the darkness could not grasp/overcome the light!


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Mark 6:14-29

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, most recently for July 2021

Summary:  It is quite odd that this story appears as a lectionary text.  There are no words or teachings of Christ.  I will pair this up with Jesus feeding everyone immediately following all of this.

It is quite striking the contrast between the work of the powers in this world and the powers of Christ:  Throw a banquet for pleasuring the wealthy with sex and macabre vs feeding the poor; decapitation of the noble; recapitulation of all things, including human failings, into the cross.

Some words of juxtaposition:  Herod's meal vs Jesus' meal
Note I will also bring in Ephesians 1:3-14, which is the selected New Testament paired with this Gospel.  

ενεχω ("hold a grudge", 6:19) The word for "hold a grudge" is literally "have-in (ενεχω)" kind of like have it in for someone.  Jesus, on the other hand, has compassion (6:34)

αγιος ("holy", 6:20) There is an odd juxtaposition this week: Ephesians says we will be holy before God; here John is considered holy (αγιος) before Herod.

δειρνον ("banquet", 6:21) Herod throws a banquet here (δειρνον). The next chapter Jesus will throw a meal for his disciples and the 5,000.

μεγιστασιν χιλιαρχοις πρωτοις ("magistrates, high captains and 'the firsts', 6:21)  Mark really lay it on thick here letting us know the power and status of the guests.  Quite a contrast to the poor nameless masses whom Jesus serves.  Interestingly, the word for "groups" as in Jesus puts the people in groups is πρασια, which Liddel Scott says is "properly a bed of leeks: generally, a garden-plot."  Instead of divisions Jesus puts them into groups for planting!!

ηρεσεν ("please" from αρεσκω, 6:22)  Herod's main goal it seems, is to please himself and his guests.  Jesus goal is not to please himself but to χορταζω (satisfy!) the people.  This is a distinction worth pondering.

περιλυπος ("grieve", 6.26) Herod is deeply grieved (περιλυπος), the same word of Jesus in the Garden (I am deeply grieved).  Interesting to observe how quickly Herod goes from enjoyment to grief.  This is a reminder about a world in which pleasure becomes our main objective, for its thrills are fleeting!

αποστελλω ("send", 6:27)  Herod sends (like as in sends an apostle) to order the execution of John the Baptist.  Jesus on the other hand, sends his disciples to feed people.

αποκεφαλιζω ("behead", 6.27) Herod orders John αποκεφαλιζω (beheaded); this then presents a fascinating juxtaposition between the Ephesians 1 text and this one; Jesus ανακεφαλιοω (Eph 1:10, recapitulates, brings all things together, heads all things up) whereas all Herod can do is decapitate.

Some other minor comments:

6:14 Herod hears that Jesus' name has become known (or manifest: phaneros/φανερος). Jesus warned in 3.12 not to make known (phaneros) what had happened; and that in 4.22, things will be made known. Well, now things have been made known and the result is not good.

6:14 The word "dyanmis" (δυναμις) continues to "manifest" itself in Mark; here it is in the plural which means it should be translated miracles.


Monday, June 28, 2021

Mark 6:1-13

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B (most recently Summer 2021)
 
To summarize: 
In recent years, Christians (in America) have often felt discouraged by the social setting in which we find ourselves.  In this passage, the Greek makes it abundantly clear that Jesus sends out his disciples into a very difficult world, one that basically rejects him.  Into this world, the disciples are sent out
A) in teams
B) to proclaim, call to repent, and heal
C) to move on from those who reject them (ie, not live in anger, but in hope for the next interaction!). 

Sounds like good advice for the missionary church in the West today!

χειρων (from χειρ, meaning "hand", 6:2,5)  Jesus does not just preach to people, he touches their lives.  Even the disciples who go out proclaiming Christ use oil, suggesting they too touched people!  The church is a mouth-house of the word, indeed, but proclamation is not separate from getting our hands dirty!

A trifecta of words Mark words uses to show just how bad it was for Jesus:
εσκανδαλιζοντο (from σκανδαλιζω, meaning, "to take offense", 6:3):  The word comes into English as scandalized; the world was scandalized by the teachings of Jesus!  Our goal is not to make the teachings of Jesus inoffensive to the world!

ελεγεν (imperfect of λεγω, 6:4)  Jesus is repeatedly saying he has no honor!  The imperfect tense means on-going action; Jesus did not say once, but continually was telling them he had no honor.

εθαυμαζεν...απιστιαν (amaze (θαυμαζω) and unbelief (απιστια), 6:6); In spite of the fact that the crowd is amazed at Jesus' teaching, they still are reluctant to believe.  This is a great reminder that there is a long gap between people saying "I think that church is doing great stuff" or "I hear that pastor is an excellent preacher" to confessing Christ as Lord.

In short, the environment in which Jesus sends out his disciples is one where
- Jesus teaching is offense, in spite of wisdom (σοφια, 6:2) and miracles!
- Jesus repeatedly acknowledges the difficulty he is facing
- Jesus is not recognized as Lord and Savior

εδυνατο...δυναμιν (both from the word power/ability, ie, dynamite; as a plural noun meaning miracles, 6:5)   The word for "able" as in "able to cure them" is "dyna-mai" which in noun form is "dynamis," or power comes from.  For those preaching the 2nd Corinthians Text, this is the same power that Paul talks about.

μαρτυριον (witness, 6:11) The testimony we are to offer is not necessary against them; the Greek is ambiguous. It could actually be as witness to or for them.  Regardless, we are not supposed to exhaust our resources fighting those who do not accept Jesus.

εθεραπευον (from θεραπευω, to heal, 6.5 and 6.13) I wrote about this word in a previous blog post:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/05/acts-1722-31.html
Basically, Jesus turns the Bible upside-down by actually doing the service toward people, something that did not happen in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, he sends out his people into the world to serve (therapy) the world!

Monday, June 21, 2021

Mark 5:21-43

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary, year B, Pentecost Season (Most recently Summer 2021).  Also it is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Epiphany Season, Year 2. 

Summary:  This story is classic Mark:  A power struggle is at hand, between Jesus and the world, between the crowds and the religious leadership, between life and death, between despair and faith.  In the end, Jesus will serve as champion, or perhaps in a surprising way, a calm, peaceful and loving savior.  Regardless of what tact one takes in working through this passage, one should wrestle with what it means to "save."  This passage, like most in Mark, suggests a far bigger definition of save than our typical religious discourse!

Key words:
συνηχθη (aorist passive from of συναγω, meaning "gather", 5:21).  This verb has a clear English cognate:  Synagogue, where folks were gathered.  In this case we have two synagogues -- the unofficial gathering (συνηχθη) around Jesus and the synagogue (συναγωγος).  Mark lets us know that the real power is in the gathering around Jesus.

σωθη (aorist passive subjunctive of σωζω, meaning "save"; 5:23).  In American Christianity, the word save almost always connotes a future state, often hell, from which one is "saved."  In this πασσαγε, the word σωθη is best translated "heal", as it can be in Greek.  A few points here:
- In the Bible, saving and healing are neither distant linguistically nor conceptually.
- Salvation grows out of faith.  In both stories, faith is needed.  In the second story, Jesus supplies the faith when we have lost it.
- Salvation is necessary for living.  It proceeds it grammatically in vs 23 and in our lives!
- Salvation brings new life.  In both stories, Jesus salvation brings NEW life.
- Salvation does not simply come from the spoken word.  In the later case, Jesus speaks and the girl arises.  But in the first case, simply the touch of Jesus heals the woman.  Jesus is the incarnate word -- when we think about how to heal people, it it not only our words, but also our touch - how we embody the word makes a difference.
- Saving is also for this life; I do not mean to juxtapose the importance of ultimate salvation against earthly in-breakings of the Kingdom of God.  They are related.  We can embrace the work of our savior in this life time.  

As I said earlier, most American Christians narrowly define "salvation" as "afterlife."  While I think the authors of the NET Bible understand this point, they offer that the saving in this story, "should not be understood as an expression for full salvation in the immediate context; it refers only to the woman’s healing."  Again, there is a real discomfort among Christians about talking about the work of Jesus Christ outside of life after death.  It is always seen as an either/or rather than both/end.  To put it another way, I am becoming more convinced that when people show up at church on a Sunday, they are dying.  One could argue, they are already dead.  They need to be saved, that is, encounter the living Christ and hear his word, in order to live.

ελεγεν (imperfect of λεγω, meaning "say", 5:28)  The woman is repeatedly saying to herself -- not once -- that if she touches him, she will be healed.

μαστιγος ("whip" or "illness", 5:29)   The word for "disease" here comes from the word for whip; as in Jesus was whipped.  Jesus later tells her she is healed from this.  We must wonder -- how bad had things unraveled for her (v. 26).

εξ αυτου ("of him", 5:30).  Here I beg to differ with the translation, "The power went out from him."  The Greek here does not say this.   It reads "The from him (εξ αυτου) power went."  The positioning of "of him" likely means that it modifies the noun (power) not the verb (going-out).  The translators are lumping this preposition in with the verb and missing the connection between Jesus and the power.  Furthermore, this "of/from him" (εξ αυτου) power is kind of interesting...the power that arises from him?  Again, the preposition εκ/εξ can describe all sorts of relationships that encompass movement from/out of/originating in.  The power originating in him?  The power arising out of him?  The power belonging to him?  Regardless, the power is connected to Jesus, not simply in the air!

αλαλαζοντας ("wail" in prepositional form, 5:38)  Just a reminder that in Biblical times, people mourned!

"Get up".  In vss 41 and 42, two words are used to describe the young girl getting up:  either εγειρω in vs. 41 or ανεστη in vs. 42.  Both are words used for resurrection in the New Testament; the reaction of those around, εκστασει (if you sound it out in English, ecstasy!), is that of the women at the tomb in Mark 16.  Lots of foreshadowing to resurrection here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Mark 4:35-41

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B (Most recently Summer 2021)
 
A guest post for this week by Rev. James Rowe of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kingston, NY

The assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lectionary 12) is the powerful story of Jesus calming the storm. By itself, it is a wonderful story. But knowing the surrounding context can be quite helpful. This story begins with the little phrase "on that day, when evening had come" (4:35a) which means that Mark has set this story as a continuation of the parables of the kingdom Jesus has just spoken (4:1-34). In addition, it also serves as the introduction to story about the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), the first Gentile encounter Jesus has in Mark's Gospel.  The calming of the storm can serve both as a reflection on what the kingdom is like and also as an introduction to what it means to live in that kingdom as disciples.

Mark's Gospel tends to use the disciples as foils to Jesus, people who witness the unbelievable in Christ again and again and still struggle to understand who he is and what he is up to. Mark 4:35-41 highlights that usage in a few ways. First, Jesus is referred to as "he" (αυτον) as distinct from the  disciples.  Second, when they wake up Jesus, they do not refer to him as "Lord" (κυριος) but as "Teacher" (διδασκαλος) which seems to imply that the disciples still do not know who he truly is. 
Finally, the question of the disciples ("Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" 4:41b) goes unanswered, both showing their unbelief and also giving us readers a question to ponder as Jesus will soon be casting a legion of demons into pigs and ultimately into the sea he has just overpowered with a word.

When it comes to preaching this text, it could be interesting to end the sermon with the same question: "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" We preachers tend to tie our sermons off with pretty bows and end with "amen" or some Pauline phrase, but Mark's Gospel gives us a variety of texts where the lack of conclusion opens us up to the possibility of what God is doing in the "storms" of the world and in our lives. 

Rob's response to Jim's post:
In Jim's post, he put something in parenthesis that I wanted to unpack.  He wrote, "The Greek for awake is actually 'arose'."  Indeed, the word here is εγειρω, which also means raised up or even resurrected.  Once again, a subtle foreshadowing of the unfolding mystery in Mark's Gospel.  In this passage of Jesus calming the storm, the word μεγας (mega, meaning big) shows up three times:  a BIG storm; a BIG calm and a BIG fear.  When Jesus power is revealed, it brings both calm and fear, an ironic, if not dialectical combination of emotions.  Perhaps the bigger the demonstration, the bigger the fear!  This also points to the resurrection in Mark's Gospel, when the full revelation of Jesus power is accompanied by great calm in the tomb but also also fear in the first witnesses (φοβεω, Mark 16.8).  

One other little grammar point on fear:
Cognate Accusative:  This fancy term is when the verb and object both are from the same word, like "I rode a ride."  It is considered bad English, but is quite common in Hebrew and in NT Greek.  In this case, Mark says they "feared a big fear" (εφοβηθησαν φοβον)  The weird conjugation of an aorist passive 3rd person plural makes this tough to see.  But it is really simple:  They feared a big fear!


Monday, June 7, 2021

Mark 4:26-34

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2021.
 
Summary:  When I first studied this passage for preaching, I was just finishing my first year of parish ministry.  At that point, two things stood to me.  First, the motif of "death and resurrection" in the first parable and the idea of "service to the neighbor" in the second parable.   As I re-read this passage in 2012, I focused more on how this passage relates to congregational leadership and fostering faith.  In 2015 through, I propose that Jesus is the mustard seed that dies to become the tree.  In 2021, I read what I wrote in 2015.  I am not satisfied with how I "settle" the meaning of the word "παραδοι"  However, I feel confident that Jesus is pushing us toward a more collective image of faith, one in which we become the tree of life for the world.  While Mark's Gospel as a whole is characterized by the failure of people and even disciples to understand, I believe this is a word of hope from Jesus about what happens through the community of faith.

Key Words:

Some words on church growth and leadership:
βαλη (from βαλλω; "thrown", 4:26)  The most famous "sower" parable, which is found earlier in chapter 4, has a professional sower "sowing" (σπειρω) the seed.  In this parable, we simply have a man throwing the seed.  This reminds us that the sowers of the Word need not be simply authorized and trained clergy, but that God chooses the foolish and insignificant to do the work of the Kingdom! 

Side note on Google:  Part of Google's success as a company is their willingness to try things.  They have created a culture where people are willing to throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks.  In fact, when it comes to advertising, Google encourages companies to try as many permutations of their wording as possible to see what works.  Churches tend to be much more cautious.  These parables encourage us to try stuff without as much planning!

ελεγεν (from λεγω; "was speaking", 4:26) The imperfect tense is used here to portray Jesus speaking; this means that Jesus likely was repeating these parables more than once! Throughout this section, Jesus speaks in the imperfect tense, suggesting that he did not simply say this word but repeated it.  In order for Jesus to get his message across, he needs to say it over and over.  To go back to Google; Jesus has to try it in many ways to get it through!

αυτοματη ("automatically", 4:28)  This is a humble reminder for all pastors that growth in the church is not a result of our own efforts, but the will of the Spirit, manifesting itself!

Some words on death and resurrection, as well as classic Lutheran themes:
καθευδη and εγειρηται (εγειρω)  ("sleep and awake", 4:27):  These words can also mean to die and to rise.  This is a reminder that those of us that sow the seed will also experience death and resurrection.  I know I have often felt crushed as a pastor by the inability of people to hear the word.  And then risen to new life through worship and the Word!  It also strongly suggests daily dying and rising to live out our vocation of sharing the Word.

χροτον...πληρυς σιτον ("grass...full grain"; "4:28")  I am going to go out here on a limb, but I think this parable shows that sanctification and justification, while of the same movement, are not entirely the same.  To be raised up (justified) does not suggest that God's work in our lives is done.  The grass, while growing, must still grow into maturity. As χροτον (grass) it could still be eaten, but it will take time in order for it to become σιτον (seed itself) that could be used for next year's harvest.  Similarly, we are reborn in Baptism and renewed in our weekly confession and forgiveness; God's Spirit still works on us, through this renewal, to transform and grow us, so that we might be of use to our neighbor.  All metaphors are imperfect, but the emphasis here is not simply on the moment of receiving faith, but growing in the soil of the Word.  As a confessional Lutheran, I would want to add that growth means more faith, which means simply becoming more dependent on God.  To put this in a sound bite:  the taller the plant...the more it needs it roots.

επελυεν (imperfect form of επιλυω, meaning "settle or explain", 4:34)  First, this word is in the imperfect, suggesting the action is not perfect; it is incomplete.  Jesus began to or Jesus was continually explaining is a better translation.  These parables take a life time to understand!  The word itself means to settle, literally to untie.  Jesus is untying the parable!

Some words I put together to think about Jesus Christ as the seed and the church as the plant:

καρποφορεω ("bear fruit", 4:28)  The point of our dying and rising is to bear fruit (Romans 7:4).  In fact, one could argue that the seed that is being sown in this case is not simply Scripture but Jesus Christ, because the verb for the maturation of the seed is "παραδοι" from paradidemi.  This word means betray, which is a word that links and moves the plot ahead in Mark's Gospel.  Strangely, this is the only time this verb appears with the word fruit; perhaps a further suggestion that Mark is referring to Jesus as the word of God that dies for us to become the tree.

αναβαινει ("ascend"; here meaning grow; 4:30)  Jesus does not say that "once the plant has grown" he says, "growS and becomeS and makeS" all in the present tense.  The growth of the mustard plant continues on and on.  In this sense, I see the mustard plant (in the parable) as something supernatural; I offer it is the church, born by the death of Jesus Christ.

 πετεινα του ουρανου ("bird"..."bird of heaven"; 4:32)  The NET Bible suggests this phrase means "wild birds" as opposed to "domesticated birds."  Even if the NET Bible overstates its case, a few points we can make if we compare the tree to the kingdom of God to the Christian community on earth, to finally, a congregation:
* The tree does not live for itself; the Christian life is not a life lived for oneself.  This is true for an individual and for a congregation. (Vocation 101)
* To be the church is to host not simply nice people that "look like us" but all sorts of wild birds, maybe even ones harsh to the church!

Monday, May 31, 2021

Mark 3:20-35

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2021.

Summary:  For this week I have intensely looked at 3:29, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven."  While many other images and motifs stand out in this passage, I have noticed my lay people gravitate toward this passage.  First a correction in translation and then an explanation.  Long story short:  Forgiveness is complex, but awesome and possible.

New in 2015:  I added a bit more on the Holy Spirit.

First, a correction in translation:  3:29
NRSV/NIV, etc, read:  "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin "

This is not correct.  The Greek literally reads: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, he does not have forgiveness eternally and is guilty of an eternal sin."
To make clear:
* The verb forgive is not used
* The word never (or its Greek equivalent ου μη) is not used
* The "But" to start of the sentence is δε, a very weak conjunction, often not translated; it normally indicates a change in subject more than a change in thought.

What this means:
  • Jesus never denies the possibility of forgiveness; he says this person is not in a state of forgiveness at when he/she deny the Holy Spirit.
  • However, denying the existence of the Spirit, which means denying the work of God to forgiveness sins, make the church and raise the dead, is not simply an earthly matter, but an eternal one.
  • Third, Jesus says that all sins can be forgiven (even eternal ones); however, one cannot deny the existence of God's activity in this world (the Spirit) and still receive this forgiveness. I would argue here that experiencing forgiveness is an act of faith.  See Babylonian Captivity of the Church if you think this is not Lutheran.  But to really solve this dilemma of forgiveness, let's press ahead


More on forgiveness
αφεσις:  (3:29)
Liddell-Scott offer a few images of this word in classic Greek:
1) a letting go, dismissal
2) a quittance or discharge from a bond: exemption from service: a divorce
3) a letting go of horses from the starting-post, and then the starting-post itself

Often times we as (Lutheran) Christians have focused on the second notion of forgiveness.  "The debt is paid."  Perhaps some Buddhists focus on the first -- simply "let go" of your anger.  But I think the third point is perhaps the most Christian:  Forgiveness is the letting go of us, setting us free for life in the Kingdom.

In this sense, the words of Jesus make the most sense.  If you don't believe in the Holy Spirit, and God's work of forgiveness, holiness, the church and resurrection, then you will never be free.  Ever. 

Yet ironically, this passage shows the Spirit at work; the church is being created, brothers and sisters in Christ, over and against hostility, disbelief and betrayal (vs 19)!   Indeed:  

αδελφος (brothers, but meaning brothers and sisters ; 3:32)  I offer this word as an example of what forgiveness does:  It creates a new family.  

More on the Holy Spirit
ο πνευμα ο αγιος ("The Holy Spirit"; 3:29)
Mark only references the Holy Spirit a few times besides this episode in chapter three (NRSV):
1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13:11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
12:36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet." '

One could argue that the Holy Spirit is conferred in Baptism and gives the ability to proclaim the Word of God (1:8 and 13:11).  However, it seems that this far too domesticates Mark's sense of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit pops up in times of conflict:  the ministry of John the Baptist (who will be beheaded); the temptation against Satan in the wilderness; casting out demons in chapter 3 and conflict with teachers of the law; prophecies about oppression; David's declaration about victory over enemies.  The Holy Spirit is still a source of comfort, but more in the battle medicine kind of way.  I think this speaks to Mark's theology of the cross.  Where is holiness found?  In the midst of turmoil.



Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Romans 8:12-25

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2020.   A portion of it (Romans 8:12-17) occurs on Holy Trinity Sunday in Year B, most recently May 2021.

Summary:  Paul describes in some beautiful and novel ways our relationship to God through the work of the Holy Spirit.  First, Paul uses the word adoption (υιοθεσια); he, alone among NT writers, uses this concept to talk about our relationship to God.  Second, Paul uses a string of "συν" verbs to talk about our togetherness with God:  We have inheritance, suffering and glorification WITH Christ.  Lastly, Paul says we have the first-fruit of the Spirit.  EVERY time before this, first-fruits went to God to appease him.  Now, God is offering us the first-fruit (απαρχη) of the Spirit.  I am still pondering the interpretation of verse 23, but it is clear that Paul is pushing the dimensions of the God-humanity relationship in new (and strange) directions, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ.

Key Words:
υιοθεσια ("adoption"; 8:15, 23)  Paul employs the imagery of adoption to describe our relationship with God.  Rather profound, not only because of the metaphor itself, but because Paul had no Biblical antecedents.  Paul claims that our adoption comes with rights, including inheritance and glorification.  (oh, yes, and suffering too).

ει ("if"; 13, 25)  This word is often translated as "if" but it can also mean "since."  For example, in verse 25, it would be a much more natural reading in English: "Since we hope for what we have not seen, we wait in patience."  I've written about this word before in grammar reviews, but in this passage it does have an impact on translation, especially in verse 13.  [Basic review:  "ει" with subjunctive verb means "if"; with an indicative verb it can range from "if" to "since under the condition of X."  The verbs in vs. 13 are indicative, so we have some flexibility.]  If you read verse 13 with "if" it reads like a moral imperative:  sin and die or put to death the body and live.  But if you read it with "since" it makes a much more Lutheran reading:  "Since you are sinning, you will die; since you, by the Spirit, putting the deeds of the body to death, you will live."  In other words, Paul may simply be describing a situation rather than prescribing a situation.

ματαιοτης ("futility" or "vanity" 8:20)  This is the main word of the book of Eccles. in the OT.  I think keeping it as "vanity" might be a better translation.  This is life before Christ:  not simply dark or evil, but vain and rather pointless.

απαρχη ("first-fruit"; 8:23)  Paul employs this word in a striking way.  Normally this word refers to the choice part of the sacrifice offered to God.  God explicitly commands this part; the rest can be used for secular (i.e. our) use.  Paul says that we now have the first-fruit of the Spirit.  There a number of ways to read this passage (I assume) but one that strikes me is this:  We have Christ, the first fruit sacrifice of God.  This means the age of sacrifice is over.  We no longer have to live in fear of appeasing God, but we can live as his children, assured of his mercy and grace.  Another way to think of it is this.  The Spirit is the first-fruit, in the sense of the Spirit is the down-payment, the promise, the sealed legal papers, of our future glory with God.  This word remains an enigma to me, but it is clear that Paul is pushing beyond the bounds of its normal cultic and OT usage.

σαρξ:  (Note:  This is a much longer entry)
Paul uses σαρξ three times in this passage (8:12 (twice); 8:13). It seems to have a variety of meanings concretely and abstractly related to “flesh.” Although Paul uses the word in various ways, in Romans he tends to offer a negative view of σαρξ, presenting it as hostile to the purposes of God.

BDAG suggests a variety of meanings for σαρξ ranging from purely physical to more abstract. Although BDAG suggests that Paul uses σαρξ to signify a variety of these possible meanings, it also indicates that

“in Paul’s thought especially, all parts of the body constitute a totality known as sarx or flesh, which is dominated by sin to such a degree that whatever flesh is, all forms of sin are likewise present, and no good thing can live in the σαρξ.”

The Theological Lexicon of the New Testament offers a similar assessment: “Paul treats the flesh – the inferior part of the person – as the locus of the passions and covetousness.”

In the beginning of the book, Paul seems more neutral on flesh.  His argument against flesh grows!  For example, although Jesus is the descendant of David according to the flesh, he is designated son of God in power according to the Spirit (1:4). Indeed, faith, not our fleshly ancestry in Abraham, provides us with justification (Romans 4:24; Paul reiterates this point in chapter 9). Paul even writes that the inward – real – circumcision is not in the flesh, but in the heart by the Spirit (2:28-29). It is clear that even when Paul uses σαρξ in a more neutral manner, he views it as incomplete, if not incompatible, with God’s purposes and the work of the Spirit.

Although Paul uses σαρξ throughout Romans, it overwhelmingly appears in the middle of his letter. Here Paul explicitly describes σαρξ as hostile to purposes of the God. He writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (7:18).” Most of chapter 8 negatively contrasts the flesh against the Spirit. For example, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (8:6).”

In conclusion, Paul uses this word generally and also specifically in chapter 8 of Romans to describe something in our human nature opposed to God and the work of the Spirit. Paul seems more concerned with what it does (causes us to sin) than what it is (some entity in us). The Spirit will not work to improve the flesh, but the flesh and its works must be put to death.

Translation/Grammar Review:  συν verbs
Greek can easily make new verbs by combining prefixes to existing verbs.  In English, we could do this too, but perhaps not as easiliy:  "Co-suffering" would make sense, but it would be bad English.  But in Greek writers will often add suffixes freely to verbs to slightly modify their meaning.  Paul does this a number of times in this passage, see, for example, verses 16, 17 and 22.  Here Paul adds the prefix συν, which means "with" to a number of verbs.  Some words in English still have this prefix, for example:  "synergy" or "syntax."   But mostly in English we have words with the Latin "con" or "co" as their prefix (which also means "with").

At first, you might not notice the verbs because you don't see συν.  Don't worry!  The problem is "n" is a weak sound, so it often gets dropped -- in every language.  For example, it is not "con"operation, but cooperation.  It is not "con"munication, but communication.  The "n" is dropped or moved to another sound.  (In Hebrew this makes certain verbs very difficult to detect after they have been conjugated). 

This happens in verse 17: συγκληρονομοι, συμπασχομεν, συνδοξασθωμεν.  The point for translation is that you have to try to capture, in both 16-17 and 22 the great amount of "co"working that is happening:
We are "co" witnesses (16); "co" inheritors"; "co" sufferes and "co" glorifieders (spelling intentional).

Monday, May 24, 2021

Isaiah 6:1-8

This passage occurs on Holy Trinity Sunday in Year B, most recently May 2021

Summary:  This passage beautifully contrasts Uzziah and the Lord as kings of Israel.  What emerges is a profoundly beautiful version of God's holiness...and also love for this world.  It is also a deeply political passage, reminding us, as Psalm 146 says, do not put your trust in princes; Yet Isaiah is not given permission to abandon this world (or the temple, or the state!)  This is a great word for us in 2021, as we recover from a year of death, a year in which our cynicism grew by leaps and bounds.  God has not given up on the world!

Key Words
- Contrasting Uzziah and the Lord
שנח-מוח ("year of death", vs 1)  This passage begins with an ominous wording:  "The year of death."  This will set up the contrast for the living Lord.  Someone asked in the comments if this word order was significant.  Perhaps I make too much of it, but it further adds to the contrast:  Death of earthly king.  Life of eternal king.  A nice connection to the Gospel passage paired with this, John 3:16

Also interesting to consider in 2021, given that we have lived through a year of death!

המלך ("king", vs 1 and vs 5)  Whether the people cried to return to their fleshpots in Egypt or called on Samuel to anoint a king, the question for Israel is always:  Who is your king?  The king on the "so-called" throne has died but the living Lord abides.  This is a king who is worshiped by eternal messengers

מלא ("full", 6.4) The word "full" is used three times in this section; the robe fills the temple; the house is filled with smoke; the earth is filled with God's glory.  It is a reminder that with God there is always abundance even amid deep scarcity.

המןבח ("altar", 6.6)  First point:  the word for altar comes from the word for sacrifice.  This connotation, clear in both Greek and Hebrew, is lost in English.  The sacrament of the altar then, is the sacrament of the place of sacrifice.  

Second point:  Uzziah ends his life with leprosy, punished by God for attempting to make a sacrifice -- instead of the priests -- in the temple.  (2 Chronicles 26)  Uzziah tried to claim to much power -- state and temple -- and God would have none of it.  A reminder that the kings of earth always try for more than is granted to them.  Also interesting that it will be the altar, where Uzziah sinned, where Isaiah will be commissioned to preach.

- Some further thoughts on holiness:
קדיש ("qadesh" meaning "holy", vs 3)  Hebrew does not use many adjectives; it simply repeats words to add emphasis.  To use a word three times means something is really holy.   This is the only time that the word Holy is repeated in the entire OT; in the book of Revelation the phrase will be used again threefold.  The use of holy three times here suggests that the temple is the location of the fullness of God's glory on earth -- heaven on earth!

It is also worth pointing out that Isaiah is acutely aware that he is unclean and not holy.  What keeps him unholy, most noticeably, is not simply his own sin but the collective sin.  

שרפים ("Seraphin" meaning "angels", 6.2)  The word "Seraphim" comes from the Hebrew word for snake, which comes from the Hebrew verb, "burn"; this is in fact, what the Seraphim will do, burn pure the lips of Isaiah.  This is terrifying image of angels!


As Fausset's Bible Dictionary says:
"3152.01 Isa. 6:2,3. God's attendant angels. Seraphim in Num. 21:6 means the fiery flying (not winged, but rapidly moving) serpents which bit the Israelites; called so from the poisonous inflammation caused by their bites. Burning (from saraph to burn) zeal, dazzling brightness of appearance (2 Kings 2:11; 6:17; Ezek. 1:13; Mt. 28:3) and serpent-like rapidity in God's service, always characterize the seraphim..."

צבאית ("Sabboth" meaning "army", 6.3) The word "Sabboth" or "hosts" here does not mean dinner or Sabbath; it means legions of war.  This is fascinating the long form of God's holy name in the Bible includes a title of war.  I believe this must be contrasted with Isaiah 2, where the swords will be transformed into plowshares on the mount of Lord.  God's "warrior" side is always a secondary or penultimate side, designed to purify and cleanse.  Obviously the problem is that people always believe their war is to purify and justify terrible atrocities.

כפר ("cover" or "atone"; 6:7)  Isaiah's sins are "blotted out" or "cleansed" or "covered" depending on the translation.  The root word here means atone.  It is interesting that the literal meaning of atone in Hebrew is cover, as in Noah covered (same word) his boat with pitch.  What might that mean to understand our sins as being covered?

שלחני ("Send" in this case (שלח) with (ני) on the end for "me!", 6.8)  We are forgiven and sent out into the world.  This idea of being sent is not a concept made up in the Gospel of John (or anywhere else in the New Testament.)  It is core to the prophets.  God gathers -- in this cases draws us into the temple -- to cleanse and send us.  Our holiness - our sanctification - is all about being made useful to God.  Why does God cleanse Isaiah?  Ultimately for the redemption of Israel.

Holy Trinity Sunday: John 3:1-21, Romans 8:12-25 and Isaiah 6:1-8 (Year B)

There is a lot of rich and beautiful imagery, word play and of course, theology in this week's passages. (Holy Trinity for Year B).

John 3:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2014/01/john-31-21-nicodemeus.html
This is a broad look at the story of Nicodemus.  I find an interesting connection with the Holy Trinity Isaiah text in this way -- In Isaiah, there is a death.  The story of Israel's people seems coming to a grinding halt, if not end.  But God is King and so the story moves on.  In the same way, Nicodemus' story seems at an end; but God is King; the Spirit is ALIVE and so the story moves on.

http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/03/john-314-21.html
breaks down John 3:16
We've heard John 3:16 a million times before. For this week, I broke it down, word by word. Awful for a sermon, yes, but a closer look reveals how this really is the Gospel in a nutshell. Fun Greek fact: The phrase eternal life is literally "eons of a zoo." God's eternal party is a zoo! Helpful Greek fact: This eternal zoo is not a future reality, but a present one, available here and now.


Romans 8:12-25
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/07/romans-812-25.html
is a very thorough review of Romans 8:12-25.  Summary:
Paul describes in some beautiful and novel ways our relationship to God through the work of the Holy Spirit. First, Paul uses the word adoption (υιοθεσια); he, alone among NT writers, uses this concept to talk about our relationship to God. Second, Paul uses a string of "συν" verbs to talk about our togetherness with God: We have inheritance, suffering and glorification WITH Christ. Lastly, Paul says we have the first-fruit of the Spirit. EVERY time before this, first-fruits went to God to appease him. Now, God is offering us the first-fruit (απαρχη) of the Spirit. I am still pondering the interpretation of verse 23, but it is clear that Paul is pushing the dimensions of the God-humanity relationship in new (and strange) directions, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ.


Also, here is the link to my previous work on Isaiah:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2009/06/isaiah-61-8.html

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Acts 2:1-11

Summary:   Luke's use of language in his first two sentences of Acts chapter 2 sets up an incredible contrast.   Verse one captures the togetherness of the pre-Pentecost community; verse two shows the Holy Spirit bursting the community into the world.  As I contemplate the church over the centuries, I wonder if we always stand between verse 1 and 2; full of love and community, but waiting for the awesome movement of the Spirit to push us outside of ourselves.   Moving churches out of their walls is a Herculean task, but God is up to it!

Image one: The pre-Pentecost community (Verse 1 captures all of Acts chapter 1)

ομου + επι το αυτο ("together" and "all together") Luke uses a rather redundant phrase. Both halves mean "together"; in English he basically wrote "They were together with each other in the same place." Luke wants to drive the point across that they were united. It is important to note that a united church is not a church in mission; a united church is a church waiting for mission.

I used to see the church of Acts 1 as "First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem."  Great doctrine.  Great fellowship.  Perfect Committee Structure.  No outreach.  Overtime I have softened on this, as I begin to see how unity is a precursor to ministry.

εν τω συμπληρουσθαι (συμπληροω; fulfill)  To the point: By employing this particular construction, Luke makes it clear that they did not simply come together on Pentecost, but they had been together for a while. A few other points here about the verb fulfill:
* The verb fulfill occurs three times in just a few verses. The days of Pentecost were being fulfilled; the house was filled; now the people are filled.
* The verb is in the present  suggesting it is ongoing action; especially when paired with an imperfect as the main verb. The notion suggested here is that they have been together (rather obediently!) since Jesus told them to wait.
* Purely grammar note: Chapter two begins with an articular infinitive using the construction, εν τω + infinitive which means "During the ..." In this case, the verb is "fulfill."

In summary, Luke does not simply imply "The group was assembled for the celebration" but rather, "As the day of Pentecost approached, they were continually together in the same place."

Image two: The Spirit comes (vs 2 and the rest of Acts)

ηχος ("sound"; literally echo!) The Spirit comes as an echo...that has reverberated across the years.

φερημενης (φερω; "carry") The wind that comes is a carrying wind; a wind that will carry the disciples outside of their walls.

βιαιος ("violent") When this word occurs in the OT, it describes the wind blowing back the waters during Exodus.   Maybe that is one metaphor for the Spirit's activities during the 21st century: Making a way through the troubled waters for the church. Interestingly, this word is used in classical Greek to describe the "power" or "strength" of Hercules. This may also be a way to think about the Spirit -- overcoming the Herculean task of getting Christians to leave the door. Sometimes this might take shaking things up a bit!

To put this together, the Spirit carries with it...a hint of upheaval...that echoes across the centuries.'

διαμεριζομεναι (from διαμεριζω, meaning divide, 2:3, 2:45)  The spirit divides tongues among them; later they divide their property among each other!  It is interesting how the spiritual leads to the material -- they are related!

A few other points:
ευλαβης ("devout"; 2:5)  The men in Jerusalem are considered "devout".  Interestingly, Simeon (Luke 2) was labeled as devout as well -- a rather rare term in the NT (only used four times). As Jesus was revealed (as a baby) to a devout man, the church was revealed (as a baby!) to devout men and women.

ιδια διαλεκτω ("Our own language" literally "the idiom dialect"; 2:6) Luther hits the nail on the head: Muttersprache.

ακουω ("hear"; 2:6,8 and 11)  This verb means listening.   While the tongues of flames get the attention, the Holy Spirit tends to work just as much through the ears as through the eyes!