Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mark 1:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently January of 2021.
Summary:  The Greek highlights Mark's excellent dramatic skills.  He uses tight language and subtle details to present the conflict of Jesus against the mysterious and powerful forces of evil.  Evil is quite powerful here:  It has invaded the synagogue; it knows more than the crowd; it is vulgar and disobedient to Jesus; its number is unknown.  Yet Jesus will vanquish it and affirm the claim of the crowd, that he is one with authority.  As Staupitz declared to Luther in the movie:  "You are too hard on yourself; the devil has been around for thousands of years.  Cling to Christ and his mercy."

Alternate thought:  I am coming back to this passage nearly a decade after I first did a Greek post on this passage.  What stood out to me this time was:  What does it mean that Jesus interprets Scripture with authority?  My sense is that we are moving away from an academic sense of authoritative interpretation of Scripture -- but what replaces it?  In our 2018 American context, do we ascribe authority to someone when they confirm our previous held biases?  How is authority related to authenticity?  Must authority be proved?  Perhaps the test of Scripture interpretation should be this passage:  If it does not drive demons out of the congregation, it has no authority.

How Mark employs Greek to add drama to the story:
1:21 and 1:22 All of the indicative verbs in this sentence have verbs in the present or imperfect, suggesting a lot of movement and continuous action.  The story continues the whirlwind pace of Mark chapter 1. 

1:23 Mark puts the word "unclean" (ακαθαρτος) last in this clause, so it reads "there was in the synagogue a man in spirit unclean." A bit of suspense because as a reader it would not be entirely surprising to find a spirit in a synagogue.  It is worth noting that the unclean spirit is not found outside the house of God, but inside the house of God! 

Also, a side note, 1:23/26  the word for unclean is "ακαθαρτος" as in the man needs a cathartic experience...

1:23 The first aorist verb is ανεκραξεν ("cry out") suggesting an abrupt change in the action after all the other present/imperfect verbs.

1.24 The phrase here in Greek that the unclean spirit uses is "What to you and to us?" This is essentially what Jesus to his mother at Cana: "What to me and to you." In other words, this is not a very kind way to talk!   A sort of "What the hell do you want?"

1.24  The spirit switches back and forth between the singular and the plural, presenting an uncomfortable ambiguity:  How many are there?  "Have you come to destroy us (ημας)?  I know (οιδα) who you are"

1.26   Interesting that even though the unclean Spirit obeys Jesus by leaving the man, it still gives off a μεγαλη (large) scream. Jesus had commanded the spirit to be silenced; this shows its disobedience!

All of this drama and even highlighting of evil's power is designed to affirm the original claim of the people, namely, that Jesus is one with εξουσια (1:22), that is power!  

The authority of Jesus, it seems, resides in a few areas.  Perhaps asking ourselves if we still believe as stewards of the word that we have this authority!

  • Teaching.  The crowd believes Jesus teaching has authority (1:22).  
  • Casting out demons (1:28); the disciples will be given this power (3:15; 6:7)
  • Forgive sins (2:10)
  • One could also add up-end the temple sacrifice system (11:28-33)!

Monday, January 25, 2021

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently 2021.

Summary:  We are infected with the same demon as the Corinthians:  We use our 'freedom' for our own benefit, not the building up of the kingdom. Paul here makes two profound arguments that the world still needs to here:  True knowledge comes from God's love.  True freedom is found in serving others.

Warm-up note:  Knowing the geography of Corinth helps explain the whole eating meat to idols; in an areas about the size of 5 football fields are three markets and eight temples. The social events in downtown Corinth were meals at the temples; the meat that was bought at the markets was likely from these temples. See:http://www.zionsjonestown.com/paul/corinth/home.htm for more on this. 

φυσιοι (meaning "puff up", 8:1)   The word for puff up is "physio-oo" is related to the word for "natural" but in this case derives from the word for bellows (the things you use to build up a fire).  This is interesting then -- is Paul saying that knowledge is like vanity in ecclesiasties -- simply smoke?  Or is Paul asserting that knowledge can serve a purpose but it is not that which can sustain?   

(This word only appears 7 times in the whole NT/OT; 6 of those in 1 Cor!)

ουπω (not yet)   Paul makes an interesting parallel argument here

if anyone seems to know something, they do not yet know what it is necessary to know

if anyone loves God, they are already known by God.  

Paul is not suggesting that knowledge about the world is bad, it is simply incomplete.  Real knowledge, then is derived from love. 

εγνωσται (γινωσκω, 8:2 and 8:3 and throughout!)  Τhe word for "known" here (gninoosk-oo) here is in the perfect. In otherwords, this verse should read "The one who loves God has already been known by God." Paul's use of the perfect here emphasizes the fact that God already knew us and we continue in a state of being known. But this is really fascinating.  What does it mean to be the state of being known by God?  And can some folks not be known by God?

ημιν (for us, 8:6)  This word opens us some interesting translation possibilities.  Does Paul mean that God is for us as in a) on our behalf b) for our vantage point or c) there are many gods but only one God matters to us?  ( I don't think c))

Nearly every preposition in the book...

Within verse 6 there is parallel structure

one God the father, of whom all things and we are for him

one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we are through him

The wording is so tight in 8:6, in fact, I wonder if this suggests it existed in Christian worship.

The he moves to say that the knowledge is not in everyone.  That is fascinating.  Paul wants this knowledge to get into our hearts!!

εξουσια (translated here as "liberty" or "freedom", 8:9).  Fascinating:  The word in the corresponding Gospel passage for Sunday (Mark 1:21-28) is translated there as authority.  Here it is translated as freedom!!  I am gonna have to ponder that one!!

οικοδομθησεται (from οικοδομει, 8.9)  Most translations here use the word "encourage" or "strengthened" for the word "oikodome-oo." This word Paul uses earlier to talk about love "building" up people. I think Paul's use of this word twice points out that are actions within the Christian community WILL build people up -- that is not the question; the question is whether we will build each other up for good or for licentiousness. 

8:8 Paul uses the word abound here (perisseu-oo). Later in chapter 14, he will return to this verb, saying, since you do want to abound...and then tell them to hold their tongues in worship!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Mark 1:14-20

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B, during the Epiphany Season (most recently Jan 2021)
I am struck this time by the word repent.  What does this word really mean?  As Lutherans we often combine this word with forgiveness and dream of our Lenten sacrifices.  Yet the word in Greek literally means "new way of thinking."  While I would not want to make repentance into simply a "head" thing, I am wondering what about my worldview, my thinking, is different because I am a Christian?  Am I more hopeful?  What about my own perspective needs repenting?  What makes me hold onto the nets instead of jumping into the water?

Key words:
ευθυς  ("immediately"; 1.18,20)  The word "immediately" is used 11 times first chapter alone!  You can actually mark the tempo of Mark's Gospel by this word alone, used 40 times throughout the whole book!  It drops off quite noticeably after chapter 6, is almost non-existent in chapters 10-13 and then drops back in for the passion narrative!  As one of my profs put it:  the first eight chapters cover three years; the last eight three months, with chapter 14, 15 and 16 covering the last week!

κηρυσσω ("proclaim"; 1:14)  Mark loves this word, using it more than any other author.  This makes sense -- for Mark the disciples are a bunch of sinners who don't do much right, so at least they should proclaim what Christ has done!  This also builds off of the perfect tenses used with the verbs "arrived" and "fulfilled."  We are simply announcing what God has done.

ευαγγελιον ("good news"; 1:14)  This word is rather difficult to interpret (always, right!) in the Gospel of Mark.  It is never really defined, but Jesus refers to its importance in connection with death (8:35) and salvation (16:15).  The Gospel opens by declaring that the whole book is about the Gospel, but it is worth us considering, especially as we head into a year of preaching from Mark's Gospel, what we consider to be our own and Mark's understanding of the Gospel.  I wrote above that in Mark's Gospels, the disciples don't do a lot right.  But yet in our story this week they drop everything they have to follow Jesus.  God's Word, however hard human hearts may be, still achieves its purpose.

μετανοεω ("repent"; 1:14)  This word sort of drops out of Mark, almost suggesting that it drops out of Jesus' own ministry as he discovers the limitations of the disciples.  Another way to think about this is to consider the Greek meaning of the word, which literally means "new mind."  Stories later in the Gospel -- Bartimaues or the woman anointing Jesus -- show someone whose life is transformed by Jesus.  So it may not be explicit, but the repentance continues.  In Lidell-Scott's ancient (and secular) Greek lexicon, repent means to change one's mind or purpose.  We often put repentance together with sin, a fine thing, but perhaps we need to consider that repentance means often more than simply a struggle against temptation, but a paradigm shift, a transformation of our whole outlook, if not way of life and even being.  Jesus is one whose power and even charisma compel us to switch our worldview, our words and finally our actions.

παραδιδημι ("betray"; 1:14)  This verb will come back into Mark's Gospel when Jesus is betrayed by Judas.  We say this word each week in our communion liturgy.  This verb serves a double purpose:  It lets us know why Jesus got into ministry in the FIRST place...and the FINAL place, the real FIRST place anyway.

2020-2021 Reflection:

καταρτιζοντας (καταρτιζω, meaning "restore", 1:19)  I love this word!  It means to 'restore' in a specific sense -- like restoring nets, but also in a broader sense -- like restoring a community. 

  • to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12)
  • My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. (Galatians 6:1)
  • Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  (1 Corinthians 1:10)
  • Then we spoke to those elders and asked them, 'Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?'   (Ezra 5:9)
  • Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.  (2 Corinthians 13:11)

I think much of our efforts in ministry is the word of restoring the nets -- mending the broken lives, the broken community, the broken church.  Yet we can't lose right that in our efforts to be build the kingdom, we lose the KING!  We can't lose sight of Christ in our effort to make Christians.

Grammar review: Thesis number 1:  When our Lord and master Jesus Christ commanded us to repent, he willed that the whole life should be one of repentance.

Luther read the Bible in Greek and therefore discovered that Jesus' command to repent is in the present tense, suggesting an on-going nature to his command.  We are to continually repent is what Jesus said and what Luther captured in his 95 thesis.  The Latin translation did not capture this on-going nature to Jesus command and had been transformed into "do penance."  Who says Greek exegesis cannot change the world?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

John 1:43-51

This passage is found in Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany 2, Year B (Most recently, Jan 17, 2021).  It also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 (Most recently Jan 14, 2018).
Summary:   This is a great passage, as are all passages from John's Gospel.  I want to play around with the OT imagery found in John and go out on a limb, a fig limb that is.  The first time we hear of figs is in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve adorn themselves, out of shame, with fig leaves.  The fig tree reminds us of human shame but also God's abundance.  It is fitting that Jesus finds a new disciple underneath a fig tree because this is where we find ourselves.  At the crossroads of sin and mercy.  It also reminds us of Jesus' purpose as the gardener:  To usher us into a new garden brought about by the cross of sin and mercy.

Key words:
ακολουθει  ("follow"; vs. 43)  This means follow.  Jesus here puts his invitation so gently.  Most times "follow me" texts are associated with the cross and temptation.  Here we simply have a friendly "come and stop by my house if you get a chance" kind of invitation!

ερχομαι & οραω (1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 11:34, 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see").  These two verbs come together a number of times in John's Gospel. A quite impressive list actually:
A) When Jesus begins his ministry
B) When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C) When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb
D) When they find Jesus on the cross
E) When they come to the empty tomb.

John's Gospel invites us to come and see, even Jesus on the cross and finally the empty tomb.  The result of coming and seeing is believing.

συκη ("fig tree"; vs 1.48 and 50).  The Bible contains numerous references to fig trees.  Jesus preaches parables on them.  Metaphors about the end times allude to the both the weakness of the fig leaves but also the bounty of figs.  As the NET Bible notes:  "Many have speculated about what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. Meditating on the Messiah who was to come? A good possibility, since the fig tree was used as shade for teaching or studying by the later rabbis (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 5:11). Also, the fig tree was symbolic for messianic peace and plenty (Mic 4:4, Zech 3:10; You shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.)"

I have a more "out there" connection.  It is clear that John 1 drips with OT references.  Nathaniel calls Jesus the king of Israel.  Alone in this pericope, Jesus declares himself to the be son of Man with angels descending on him.  This calls to mind all sorts of OT passages, including Jacob's ladder.  So I venture that the fig tree here is a reference to figs in the garden of Eden.  Where do we find ourselves?  In a broken world covered by fragments of God's mercy.  God intends better than fragments; indeed, heaven's gate is reopened in Jesus Christ; the Garden's door is no longer barred by a flaming sword.

Grammar concept:  Present tense in John's Gospel.

The present tense often signifies repeated action, in contrast to the aorist tense.  The produces some very nice theological conclusions.  For example, "follow me" is in the present tense in vs 43, ακολουθω.  The idea is that we are to keep following Jesus.  It doesn't work as well in vs 43, however, with the verb "find", ευρισκω.  This is also in the present tense. Does Jesus keep finding Philipp?  It seems unlikely within the context of the story, although it makes for a very nice sermon point ;-)  Sometimes it is hard to know, when John is simply being poetic and when he is deeply theological. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Mark 1:4-11

This passage occurs for the Baptism of Jesus, year B, most recently Jan 10, 2021.

The first chapter of Mark appears in various snippets in Scripture.  I commend on the textual and theological issues of Mark 1:1-8 here.  For this passage I will look carefully at 9-11.  This is my first cut at a commentary on these verses, so its a bit more of nuggets and ore than processed pre-sermon metal!!

Γαλιλαια (Galilee, 1:9)  Jesus is coming from the north country, not the power base in Jerusalem.  It turns out that there is some controversy regarding the exact location of Jesus baptism!!  Jesus may have needed to cross through Samaria to get to the the location of the baptism. 

εβαπτισθη (aorist form of baptize, 1:9)  The word for baptism has its own fascinating meaning, explored lots in other posts, but I want to simply offer here a reminder that it doesn't have the same ritual and theological connotations here yet.  It simply met he was washed.  More significant than any conjugation of this verb, however, is its placement within the overall story of Mark.  What happens before the Baptism doesn't matter to Mark!!  (And to Paul either, really).

present participles:  The next verse (10) has three present participles:


Before analyzing what each means, pay attention to the fact they are all in the present.  As participles, this means they are happening at the same time.  Jesus was coming up out of the water, the heavens were ripping and the Holy Spirit was descending into him!  It is as if Mark is drawing three harsh brushstrokes.  One up, one across and one down.  The world is changing.  The energy in Jesus cannot be contained.  A superhero is born, folks!!

The word most worth pay attention to here is the word, "σχιζομενους", literally, schism!  The heavens are being torn apart.  The next time something will get torn apart is the curtains in the temple at the end of Mark.  First, Mark posits that Jesus Baptism changes the relationship between God and humanity; second, Jesus Baptism and cross are related

εις (into, 1:10).  For the other three Gospel writers, the Spirit rests upon Jesus.  Not for Mark; the Spirit goes into Jesus! 

The next two sentences offer a jarring juxtaposition:

"My beloved son, with whom I am well pleased"

"The Spirit cast him out into the wilderness."

The love of God doesn't preclude suffering and challenge!