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Wrestling with the Word, episode 13: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 22, 2009) February 28, 2009

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

The lessons for this day move from small beginnings to a big ending, from quite local scenes to universal ones. What holds them together is the saving work of God. God responds to cries for help by people in distress—no matter what the cause—and ultimately performs acts of salvation that reach out to people who do not even know who God is.

Couched in each passage is a special protocol: How do we respond to God’s gracious deeds? In thanksgiving? In faith? In good deeds? Actually, all of the above.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 13: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
This psalm is both a liturgy of thanksgiving used in connection with the sacrifice of thanksgiving (vss. 1-32. 22) and a hymn or poem (vss. 33-43). The thanksgiving liturgy reiterates a variety of distressful situations in the life of the community: desert wanderers like caravan traders (vss. 4-5), prisoners (vss. 10-12), and the sick (vss. 17-18). In each case, the Lord delivered people from their distress after they had cried to the Lord for help (vss. 6, 13, 19, 28). The refrain calling for thanks (vv. 8-9, 15-16, 31-32) appears in our selected portion at vv. 21-22. Although the situation in these verses might sound like the wilderness event at Numbers 21:4-9, the situation is more general than that. Its message is that however often the people cried to the Lord for help, the Lord saved them from their fears. For that dependable response, the psalm calls on the people to give thanks through a meal (“thanksgiving sacrifices”) shared in the community of the faithful.

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Numbers 21:4-9
God directs the people of Israel in spite of themselves and even against their wills toward the accomplishment and fulfillment of his promise.
OR
God confronts the redeemed people on the frustrating road between salvation and fulfillment–judging them when they reject the gift of deliverance and preserving them when they look to the Lord in faith.

Context
In some of Israel’s creeds (Josh. 24:2-13; see also Exod. 19:3-5), the wilderness tradition appears between the exodus and the entrance into the Promised Land. Canonically, the wilderness tradition occurs in Exodus 16-18 and picks up again after the Sinai tradition (Exod. 19–Num. 10) at Numbers 11. Throughout this material the people of Israel “murmur” against the Lord and against Moses for bringing them into this wasteland where there is neither water (Exod. 15:22-24; 17:2-3) nor food (Exod. 16:2-3). As the journey continues, they complain about the non-protein diet (Num. 11); about the authority of Moses (Num. 12); about enemies (Num. 14); again about Moses’ authority (Num. 16); again about lack of water (Num. 20). So outstanding is their murmuring that it became part of the history of the people, remembered even in their hymns (Ps. 78:17-20; 106:13-33).

Biblical Allusions
OT: Deuteronomy 8:11-20; 2 Kings 18:4
Apoc:    Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7
NT: John 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 10:9-10

Key Words
V. 4.  wattiqtsar nepheš hā‘ām baddarek = “the breath of the people became short at the journey”:  When the verb hiqtsît is used with nepheš (here) or rûach, both of which can mean “breath,” the expression means “reaching one’s limit of endurance” (cf. Job 21:4; Judg. 10:16; 16:16; Mic. 2:7; Zech. 11:8). At Judg. 10:16 and Zech. 11:8 the object of utter discouragement is introduced by the preposition b, as here. Thus, the people became discouraged not simply “on the way” but with/at the journey itself.

V. 6.  hannechāšîm hasserāphîm = “fiery serpents”:  One never knows what troubles one will find in the wilderness desert. The word is simply hannāchāš = “the serpent” in vv. 7 and 9. What Moses makes in v. 8 is simply a sārāph and in v. 9 a nechaš hannechōšet.

V. 8. asēh lekā sārāph wesîm ’ōthō ‘al-nēs = “Make for yourself a serpent and place it on a standard”: The translation of nēs as “pole” is understandable, but it would be the only time in the Hebrew Bible. Normally the word is translated as “standard,” “sign,” or “signal” (often in war). The LXX translates the Hebrew word with the Greek sēmeion = “sign,” and that might have been a reason the passage caught the attention of the evangelist John.

V. 9. wehibbît ‘el-nechaš hannechōšet wāchāy = ‘and one looked at the serpent of bronze, one would live.” The author(s) of the Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7 make clear that it is not the visible sign that “saved,” but “you, the Savior of all.”

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Ephesians 2:1-10
Because Christians have died to sins and the way of life connected to sin, God makes us alive together with Christ so that we are what God has made us, created in Jesus Christ for good works.

Context
This epistle by an unknown follower of Paul was probably written prior to A.D. 95. Though following Paul’s theology in many ways, the author makes some modifications, including the notion presented here that salvation by grace is a past act rather than one belonging to the present and future. In addition, that the good works to which the Christian is called have been prepared beforehand (v. 10) is a departure from Pauline theology. Nevertheless, the powerful contribution of this author is his understanding of the church as universal rather than simply a congregation (as in Paul). The lordship of Christ over the universe stands hand in hand with his description of the church.

Outline
Vss. 1-3: What is death and what is it like
Vss. 4-7:  What life is and what it’s like
Vss. 8-10: Amazing grace at work

Key Words
V. 2: kata ton aiōna tou kosmou toutou = “according to the aeon of this world”: Much of the distinction in the NT is not a matter of place but of time. See Romans 12:1-2.

V. 2. kata ton archonta tēs exousias tou aeros, tou pneumatos tou nun energountos = “according to the ruler of the authority of the air”: In the period of the NT writers, the devil, alias Satan, had authority over the present age. He promised to give it to Jesus if the Son of God would worship him (Luke 4:6). The authority of Jesus as God’s Son, however, was more powerful than that of Satan, and so Jesus was able to defeat the armies of Satan, the unclean spirits.

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John 3:14-21
Just as the uplifted serpent served as God’s means of saving the lives of the rebellious people of Israel, so the crucified and resurrected Son of Man is God’s means of drawing the world to the cross to receive the gift of eternal life.

Context
The pericope is set within the context of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus. Jesus responds to each of Nicodemus’ questions with an answer that begins “Truly, truly I say to you” (vv. 3, 5, 11). Scholars differ on how far to extend the third response. RSV, for example, concludes the quotation at the end of v. 15, while NRSV continues it through v. 21.

Key Words
V. 14.  kai kathōs Mōysēs hypsōsen ton ophin en tē  erēmō, houtōs hypsōthēnai dei ton huion tou anthrōpou = “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”:  The “lifting up” is an important expression in John’s Gospel. Here, by comparison to the visible raising of the bronze serpent, and at 8:28, the verb appears to refer to the crucifixion. At 12:32, 34 the word refers to the resurrection/ascension. Strikingly, the word dei = “must” is used here, as it is in the synoptic tradition, regarding the necessity of the suffering and resurrection of the Son of Man (see Mark 8:31). The result of looking at the uplifted serpent is “life” in Num. 21:9 and “salvation” at Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7.

V. 16. houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon, ōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken = “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”: The tense of the verb for “loved” signifies a once for all act. It thus points to the crucifixion rather than to a more general affection for the created world. Believing this message results in “eternal life.”

V. 17. “For God sent the Son into the world (eis ton kosmon), not to condemn the world (ton kosmon), but that the world (ho kosmos) might be saved (sōthē) through him”:  While the work of God in Jesus is described here in the third person, at 12:47, Jesus speaks in the first person of his purpose in the same terms: not to condemn but to save the world. At 1 John 4:14 the author writes similarly: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world (sōtēra tou kosmou). Recall that according to the angel’s words to Joseph, the name of the baby Mary will bear will be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

V. 19. “the light has come into the world”: John’s use of “light” to describe the Son’s appearance begins at 1:5-9, continues here through v. 21, and comes to particular focus at 8:12 and 9:5: “I am the light of the world” where, as here, the contrast is with “darkness.” The opening words of John’s Gospel “In the beginning” connect with Genesis 1:1-5 where “light” is the first creation of God in the midst of the chaos of darkness.

V. 21. “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his/her works have been worked in God”: At 6:28 the disciples ask Jesus what they must do to “work the works of God”; Jesus tells them that “the work of God is to believe in” him whom God sent. At 9:4 “the works of God” focus on the “light” that is Jesus for the man who had spent his life in darkness (blind). Here the contrast is the realm in which people do bad deeds or good deeds. The wicked perform in darkness so as not to be seen, but the disciples of Christ come into the light so that others may see clearly that the deeds they do are done in God.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 12: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 15, 2009) February 27, 2009

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Third Sunday in Lent

The Bible is a theological book. That means, in the strictest sense, that the Bible is a study about God. But the passages for the day literally attack the view that God can be studied like some subject that requires logic and consistency and observation and formulas. God cannot be studied simply because God reveals the divine identity, purpose, instruction, wisdom, and power in totally different ways from anything we humans could develop. In short, the lessons portray views of God we could never come up with on our own. God appears so ungodlike. God seems even to turn the tables on religion.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 12: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 19
The psalm is a combination of  several psalm types. Verses 1-6 is a hymn of praise to God the Creator by creation itself. Verses 7-11 praises God for providing the Torah to maintain order and joy among the people with many beneficial results. Verses 11-13 extol the Torah for its function of warning “your servant” against errors and of offering guidance to walk blameless and innocent. The final verse expresses the well-known petition that the use of these words prove acceptable to the Lord, identified as “my rock and my redeemer” (gō’ēl).

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Exodus 20:1-17
On the basis of the Lord’s identity as the savior of the oppressed, the Lord commands the redeemed community to respond in obedient praise by honoring God and the neighbor.

Context
Exodus 1-15 tells the story of the bondage of Israel in Egypt and of God’s deliverance of the people through the agency of Moses. Chapters 16-18 describe the journey of the people from Egypt through the wilderness to the foot of Mount Sinai, the place where God commissioned Moses and revealed the personal name Yahweh (3:1-15). Chapter 19 tells of the Lord’s instructions to Moses to prepare the people for meeting the Lord at the mountain in a spectacular theophany.  At the end of the chapter Moses descends the mountain to be with the people. The implication here–explicit in Deuteronomy 5–is that God addressed the Ten Commandments to all the people who stood with Moses at the bottom of the mountain.

Structure of the Decalogue
Option A

TABLET A
I No other gods
II Name of God
III Sabbath Day
TABLET B
IV Honor parents
V No killing
VI No adultery
VII No stealing
VIII No false witness
IX No false witness
X No coveting

Option B

TABLET A
I    No other gods
III  Name of God
V    Honor parents
VII  No killing
IX   No false witness
TABLET B
II No graven image
IV Sabbath Day
VI No adultery
VIII No stealing (kidnapping)
X No coveting

Key Words
V. 2.  “I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt”:  This self-definition on the basis of the salvation event from Egypt occurs also at Lev. 11:45; 25:38; 26:13; Deut. 5:6; Ps. 81:10; cf. also Gen 15:6. In Priestly writings, the self-identification “I am the Lord” asserts divine authority as the basis for obedience (Lev. 18: 2-6, 21, 30; 19:3-18, 36, etc.), always in response to the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt. In Second Isaiah the self-identification is sometimes connected with the role of God as Creator but ties together so closely with the coming redemptive event that scholars have coined the phrase “creative redemption” (Isa. 44:24; 45:7; cf. 51:15).

V. 5.  ’ēl qannā = “a jealous God”:  One of the issues that distinguishes Israel’s God from all others is the claim to exclusive worship (monolatry). It is not an accident that the prohibition against other gods is the first commandment. See also Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; Josh. 24:19; Nahum 1:2.

V. 5.  “the third and the fourth generation”:  beside the parallel passage at Deut. 5:9, see Exod. 34:7.

Vss. 13-14. The sequence of these verses is just the opposite in two of the oldest manuscripts of Exodus 20: the LXX (probably third century B.C.E.) and the Nash Papyrus (second to first centuries B.C.E.). Therefore, the commandments about honoring parents and adultery appear together, as do those regarding killing and stealing/kidnapping. Why the sequence changed cannot be determined with certainty.

V. 15. lō’ tignōb = “You shall not steal (a person)”: The direct object of the verb is sometimes a person (Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7; 2 Sam. 19:42). Note that the prohibition against killing in v. 13 likewise bears no object but assumes it means a person since killing animals is not forbidden elsewhere.

Allusions to the Commandments
OT:   Hosea 4:2
NT:   Matt. 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:8-13.

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1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Over against the demands of the Jews for signs and the Gentiles for wisdom, God gives to humankind the only wisdom necessary to know God:  the crucified Christ.

Context
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian congregation about A.D. 54-55, some four to five years after he had established the congregation there. He is responding to reports about matters of the congregation that came to him through messengers (“Chloe’s people,” 1:11) as well as through direct questions from the people through correspondence. Among Paul’s major concerns were the divisions in the congregation among such groups that aligned themselves according to Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. Paul asserts that it is not a matter of who baptized them but for what reason Christ sent him to them: “to proclaim the gospel” (1:17). Our passage provides the definition of the gospel he preached.

Key Words
V. 19. “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’”:  Paul demonstrates by the use of Isa. 29:14, that he is Editnot the first to challenge the wisdom tradition and those who claim to know it all. See also the premise of the Book of Job and the preaching of Jeremiah 8:8-9.

V. 21. eudokēsen ho theos = “it pleased God”: What pleases God in the NT is essentially what God gives. In Col. 1:19 “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the Son” and thereby to reconcile all things to Godself. Paul writes in Gal. 1:16 that God “was pleased to reveal the Son” to him so that he might preach among the Gentiles. And at Luke 12:32, Jesus taught that “it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom….”

V. 22. “For Jews demand signs (sēmeia) and Greeks seek wisdom (sophian)”: For the desire for signs see Numbers 14:11-25 where God says that the people of Israel received many signs but rejected God and God’s deliverance nevertheless. The people do not trust the Lord to keep the promises. In the Gospel stories, the Pharisees stand out as those who demand signs from Jesus “to test him” (Matt. 16:1-4; 12:38-39; Mark 8:11-13). At Luke 11:29. Jesus regards as “evil” this requiring of signs. Our Gospel from John 2:18 demonstrates the people’s demand to have Jesus prove his authority for house cleaning the temple by providing a sign. As for the wisdom sought by the Greeks, wisdom was a human attempt to discover the world of the gods and of humans through philosophies of various kinds.

V. 23. hēmeis de kēryssomen Christon estaurōmenon = “but we preach Christ crucified”: The content of the gospel that Paul preaches is completely contrary to signs and wisdom and, therefore, in the minds and eyes of the world, it is a stumbling block and folly. See Rom. 1:17-17 for “power of God” to save.

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John 2:13-22
On the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his disciples remembered and understood what he had said about destroying and rising and then they believed.

Context
John moves the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple from his final week of earthly life (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46) to quite early in Jesus’ ministry. In the process of moving the event, John makes some significant emphases that weave into the fabric of this Gospel.

John’s Gospel makes abundant use of signs. Chapters 2—12 comprise what is called “The Book of Signs.” Various acts of Jesus serve as signs that lead to faith. Indeed, John concludes his Gospel with stating the purpose about the reporting of signs that lead to faith in Jesus and to the gift of life. While Jesus performed his “first sign” in verses 1-11 and the “second sign” at 4:46-54, his saying here is in response to a request for a sign and the following paragraph alludes to other signs Jesus performed in Jerusalem. This passage, therefore, does not qualify as one of the signs because it points to an event yet to occur.

Key Words
V. 16. “You shall not make my father’s house a house of trade”: The allusion to Zech. 14:21 is clear, but it is itself more of a sign than the people imagined. Zechariah uses the elimination of traders as a promise given under the heading “on that day.” Jesus’ cleansing the temple is, therefore, an eschatological act.

V. 17. “Zeal for your house will consume me”: The quotation derives from Ps. 69:10. Psalm 69 is a psalm of lament by a person under persecution from others. It places the suffering in the context of faithfulness to God: “for your sake” (v. 7); “for zeal for your house” (here). That the psalm was important in the early church is clear from the use in all four gospels in telling the story of the crucifixion: “and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. 69:21; see Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:29).

V. 19. lysate ton naon touton kai en trisin hēmerais egerō auton = “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”:  While the people and the disciples did not understand his saying, the disciples would finally get it after the resurrection. Then, John reported, they would “remember” the saying and believe “the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” For John, the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to believe occurred on the same day.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 11: Second Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 8, 2009) February 22, 2009

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Second Sunday in Lent

We live in a day when “those who have” become more obsessed with keeping it and with increasing it that we work very hard at not recognizing the price others pay for our habits. Our unwillingness to adjust our lifestyles and our goals decreases even more the quality of life for others in the world. The likelihood is that the world’s population will increase from a little over 6 billion people today to over 9 billion in the next fifty years. Where will all those people get food, useable water, and energy?

The lessons for this day challenge us to consider the meaning of discipleship in the world. They also enable us to see that the discipleship — the faith and even the sacrifice of some — has universal implications for many others. Above all, we see how the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus offers worldwide benefits to generations of others, including ourselves. How does Jesus’ own suffering enable and guide us to live the words we pray: “Thy will be done on earth…”?

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 11: Second Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 22:23-31
These words represent the thanksgiving following the Lord’s response to the lament in three stanzas (vss. 1-21. In our verses the lamentable scene diminishes, and the psalmist breaks into thanksgiving (a todâ meal) in the congregation. Their expressions of gratitude and praise extend throughout the world and throughout all generations. The experience of the single individual has become a universal message.

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Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
To the aged Abram and Sarai, God came to establish an everlasting covenant in which God promised worldwide posterity and an unconditional relationship with himself.

Context
This pericope represents the first major section of the Abraham-Sarah stories in the priestly source, probably composed during the exilic period of the sixth century B.C. The hand of the priest has been at work, however, in keeping track of the ages of the couple. The priest noted at 12:4 that Abram was seventy-five when the family departed from Mesopotamia. The covenant according to the Yahwist involved the promise of land (15:7-21), also included in the priestly record at 17:8.

Key Words
V. 1. ’anî-‘ēl šadday = “I (am) El Shaddai”: This epithet for God, usually translated “God Almighty,” is used only by the priestly source. El was the name of the chief deity in the Canaanite pantheon. The word šadday might be related to Babylonian šadu = “mountain” and might be rendered, “God the Mountain One.”

V. 2. weettenâ berîtî bênî ûbêneykā = “and I will make my covenant between me and you”: In addition to the expression “establish a covenant” (Gen. 9:9, 11 and at 17:7), the priestly source uses “give a covenant” (nātan berît). That this covenant is “everlasting” indicates, as the one with Noah, that God is obligating only Godself.

Vv. 2, 6. we‘arbeh ‘ôtekā bime’ōd me’ōd … mehiprētî ‘ôtekā  bime’ōd me’ōd = “and I will multiply you exceedingly … and I will make you exceedingly fruitful”: The “fruitful and multiply” theme is occurs at key points for the priestly authors (Gen. 1:28; Exod. 1:7) and in other priestly trained writers (Jer. 29:6). One of the dangers in wallowing in exile for such a long time was the neglect of having families. The priests interpreted the multiplication of progeny not as a command but as a blessing from God.

Vv. 5-6, 16. “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations…. and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you…. moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall come forth from her”: The movement from the “promise” of posterity in general to that of a son in particular guides the story-line; it also provides a balance between male and female, as the priestly source does also at Gen. 1:27-28. Note that in Hebrew there is no word for “promise” apart from the normal words for God’s speaking.

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Romans 4:13-25
While the law can only bring wrath, the promise of God, made to Abraham and believed by him and extending universally to us, will reckon righteousness to us on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

Context
Paul begins chapter 4 with an introduction to Abraham and then to David in order to demonstrate that the way of God is to reckon righteousness on the basis of faith rather than law. Even circumcision was the sign of the righteousness he had by faith, but he had the faith prior to the circumcision. That sequence enables Paul to conclude the previous section by indicating the purpose of it all was to make Abraham the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that is, the Gentiles.

Key Words
V. 13. hē epaggelia tō Abraam = “the promise to Abraham”: God’s promises(s) to Abraham form a critical function for Paul in his letters. In the previous verse, he had referred to the faith of “our father Abraham before he was circumcised.” In Galatians, Paul described God’s promise to Abraham as “the gospel preached before hand” in referring to God’s justifying the Gentiles by faith (Gal. 3:8-9). He wrote there that in Jesus Christ the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles (3:14), even that Christ is the offspring of Abraham (3:16) and that through baptism Christians become “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:29).

V. 13. dia dikaiosynēs pisteōs = “through the righteousness of faith”: Paul repeatedly connects righteousness and faith. In the previous chapter, he speaks of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” as God’s justifying act “for all who believe” (3:22). God’s making us righteous means that God justifies us, gives us the verdict of acquittal even though all humankind is guilty. Accepting that verdict in faith allows us to hope in the resurrection in the end time and to live that hope here and now. God makes something out of nothing, calls into existence the things that do not exist, life out of death.

V. 22. dio kai elogisthē autō eis dikaiosynēn = “Therefore it was reckoned to him as righteousness”: The quote from the Abraham cycle belongs to the story at Genesis 15:1-6, the Yahwist’s version of God’s promise of so many descendants that the number matched those of the stars in the sky.

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Mark 8:31-38
Having set aside the satanic attempt to keep religion safe, Jesus announces his own suffering and death and calls his disciples to follow him with the cross.

Context
On the road to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples for the popular opinion about him. They told him people thought he was a prophet. Then Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ/Messiah, a confession which Jesus insisted be kept within the family (8:27-30). Now Jesus announces his own view of who he is, what is his fate, and what it means to be his disciple.

Key Words
V. 31. dei ton huion tou anthrōpou polla pathein = “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things”: In Aramaic “Son of Man” can be simply a personal pronoun (cf. Mark 8:27 and Matt. 16:13). It also has an eschatological, even apocalyptic, bent: either as one who suffers (Dan. 7:13; possibly Ezekiel) or as one who comes in the clouds of glory (Enoch). The necessity of the suffering points to such an eschatological promise of resurrection for Jesus and for us.

V. 31. kai apoktanthēnai kai meta treis hēmeras anastēnai = “and be killed and after three days rise again”: Mark repeats the same formula for the timing at 9:31 and 10:34. Matthew (16:21; 17:22; 20:19) and Luke (9:22; 18:33) change the formula to “on the third day.” Paul cites the wording “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:5) as part of the tradition he received and passed on. The only scriptural (OT) reference to God raising any one “on the third day” occurs at Hosea 6:2 (en tē hēmera tē tritē anastēsometha) ; there resurrection (perhaps metaphorical) follows a judgment from God.

V. 32. kai proslabomenos ho Petros auton ’ērxato epitiman autō = “and taking him, Peter began to rebuke him”: That any one other than God or God’s Son should be the subject of the verb rebuke is forbidden in both testaments.

V. 33. epetimēsen Petrō … satana = “he rebuked Peter … Satan”: See Zech. 3:1-2 where YHWH rebukes Satan for standing in the way of the installation of Joshua (in Greek Iēsous) to be the priestly anointed one. In the OT the word “rebuke” is reserved exclusively for YHWH. For a detailed examination of Jesus’ rebuke of Satan, see Foster R. McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983, 2007: 63-67).

V. 34. kai proskalesamenos ton ochlon syn tois mathētais autou eipen autois = “And calling to him the multitude with his disciples, he said to them”: The discussion Jesus held privately with his disciples regarding his identity now becomes a public matter about discipleship. Once again, the experience of the one takes on universal proportions. Strikingly, Matthew sets a quite opposite direction when he uses the formula “from that time” first to begin Jesus’ public ministry (4:17) and then—precisely where Mark begins the public teaching about discipleship—to begin the “private ministry” at 16:21.

V. 34. akoloutheitō moi = “let him follow me”: For Jesus’ calling to follow, see also Matt. 4:19; 18:22; 9:9; Mark 1:17; 2:14; 10:21; Luke 5:27; 9:59; 18:22; John 1:43; 21:19, 22.

V. 35. hos d’ an apolesei tēn psychēn autou heneken emou kai tou euaggeliou sōsei autēn = “whoever loses his/her life on account of me and the gospel will save it”: Mark adds the words “of me” to announce that the gospel is no longer simply that of “the kingdom of God” (1:15), but also about Jesus himself.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 10: First Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 1, 2009) February 15, 2009

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First Sunday in Lent

As we begin to discuss the Sunday lessons for the season of Lent, we encounter some powerful passages that enable us to realize—not only that we are walking with Christ through his sufferings but, above all, that Christ is walking with us through our sufferings and promising light at the end of the tunnel. The lessons for this First Sunday in Lent are vivid demonstrations of that experience. The psalm was written for, and used by, troubled and persecuted people who realized that they were hopeless if left to their own doings; hope lay in calling on God to “remember” them in grace. The story of Noah assures that God will “remember” the everlasting covenant God made with all humankind after God delivered the ark-load of living things from the devastating waters of the flood. The water of baptism leads to the divine declaration about the identity and purpose of Jesus, both of which Satan challenges. And the water of baptism is the vehicle by which God gives to Christians the hope of resurrection, even in the midst of the trials of persecution.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 10: First Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 25:1-10
The acrostic psalm is an individual lament on the part of a person who turns to the Lord for help and consolation. The psalmist is “lonely and afflicted” (v. 16) and cries out for forgiveness (v. 18). In typical lament terms, the petitioner seeks safety from enemies (vss. 2, 19) and calls the Lord to “remember” (vs. 7). The psalmist’s trust in God and the profound piety out of which he/she speaks illustrates confidence that only with the Lord is faithfulness (steadfast love = covenant loyalty, vss. 7, 10). That confidence arises from what the community has experienced, namely, that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame (vs. 3). What the petitioner seeks from the Lord is instruction to live rightly (vss. 4-5), because the Lord is known to teach the afflicted. He/she asks the Lord to “remember me” with divine grace rather than by the person’s past deeds (vs. 7).

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Genesis 9:8-17
Aware that the future of the earth cannot depend on human activity and faithfulness, God pledges an everlasting covenant and a sign that never again shall the earth be destroyed by water.

Context
In Genesis 6 God decided to put an end to the human race because they corrupted the whole earth with their wickedness. Only Noah was warned, instructed to make an ark, and take on board his immediate family and a representation of all living species. The flood lasted a long time, and it appeared everything, including the ark, was lost. Then God remembered Noah and the contents of the ark and shut off the spigots. When the ark landed on dry ground, God gave Noah and his wife the same blessing given to the first humans: “Be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” The Lord realized that the human heart could not be trusted, and so God promised without condition to maintain the earth for habitation.

Key Words
Vv. 9, 11. wa`anî hinnî mēqîm ‘et-berîtî ‘ittekem = “And as for me, I am establishing my covenant with you”: among the many possibilities for the verb, this one, namely hēqîm, signifies the writer as the Priest.

V. 12. zō’ ’ôt-habberît = “this is the sign of the covenant”: the Priest elsewhere uses signs as a way of confirming the promise of the covenant; see the circumcision at Gen. 17:11. What is unusual here is that the sign is used for God to remember the promise, whereas the sign of circumcision appears to be a reminder to the people involved and a mark of identity.

V. 13. ‘et-qaštî nātattî be‘ānān = “my bow I will set in the clouds”: the bow was one of the major weapons that Marduk took to battle against Tiamat. Yahweh generally uses other weapons such as hailstones (Josh. 10) or hornets (Deut 7:20; Josh. 24:12) or wind (Exodus 14; Ps. 48). Likely, then, the bow here is not a weapon.

V. 16. berît ‘ôlām = “covenant of eternity”: other “everlasting covenants” in the OT are the one with Abraham (Gen 17:7,8,19), with Phinehas (Num. 25:12-13), with David (2 Sam. 23:5). The oaths God made to these individuals obligate only God. Any arrangement based on human cooperation could hardly be everlasting, especially considering what the Lord had acknowledged at 8:21. See the new covenant at Jer. 32:40.

Vv. 15, 16. wezākartî ’et-berîtî = “and I will remember my covenant”: the promise is God’s response to the cry of the laments that God remember what he had done or promised in the past. The primary characteristics were (1) lament over the silence/absence of God, (2) the question “How long?” would the silence continue, and (3) the calling upon God to “remember” promises and actions of old (cf. Ps. 74:18, 20, 23; 89:47, 50).

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1 Peter 3:18-22
In face of his readers’ imminent persecution because of their faith, the author announces that Jesus Christ died for them to bring them to God and was raised to serve as Risen Lord, leaving them with the gift of baptism by which they are saved even now and for the resurrection to come.

Context
Whether the letter was composed by Peter just before the persecutions under Nero in A.D. 64 or later at the time of another persecution, the theme of trouble brewing occurs at 1:6-7; 3:16-17; 4:12-19; 5:9. The author has addressed the letter to the “exiles of the dispersion” (1:1). The writer has announced that the Christians have been “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … through the living and abiding word of God” (1:3, 23). The result of that new birth is their “exile” in the world (cf. Phil. 3:20), an identity that calls them to live honorably in the midst of others in the world.

Key Words
Vv. 18-19. The verses are probably a hymn on the basis of its structure, proclaiming the suffering and death of the righteous (Christ) for the unrighteous (humanity). The words hoti gar Christos hapax peri hamartiōn epathen = “for Christ suffered for sins once for all” call to mind the vicarious suffering of the servant in Second Isaiah 52:13—53:12. At 2:24 the author alludes to Isa. 53:5-6, 12.

V. 19. en hō kai tois phylakē pneumasin poreutheis ekēryxen = “in which, going to the spirits in prison, preached to them”: The notion that Jesus ministered even to the dead (those in Sheol) appears again at 4:6, indicating that those who have already died might experience the blessings of new life.

V. 20. diesōthēsan di’ hydatos = “saved through water”: The author alludes to the salvation of Noah and his family in order to lead to the use of water in Christian baptism which saves the readers “now” by their being born anew as exiles (1:1, 3, 17, 23). This new birth leads to resurrection, an imperishable inheritance (1:4, 23) and thus provides hope to those in times of persecution.

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Mark 1:9-15
Baptized as God’s Son and tempted by Satan, Jesus acts out his identity by announcing the good news of the kingdom’s nearness and exhorting the hearers to repent and believe.

Context
Addressing his gospel to readers in the mid-sixties when danger and revolt encompassed both the Jewish and Christian communities in Israel, the author combines tightly the sequence of baptism-temptation-ministry. This beginning of the story about Jesus introduces the entire gospel.

Key Words
V. 11. su ei ho huois mou ho agapēs, en soi eudokēsa = “You are my son, the beloved; in you I am well pleased.”: The words “You are my son” convey the formula at Ps. 2:7 where God adopts the Davidic (Messianic) king on coronation day in Jerusalem. The combination of the words huois and agapētos as “beloved son” occurs in the LXX only at Genesis 22: 2, 12, 16 where the expression refers to Isaac at the time he is to be sacrificed. The final expression “in you I am well pleased” recalls the description of the Servant of Second Isaiah as the Lord seems to introduce him to the heavenly court; the identity of th Servant seems to be Israel in exile (cf. Isa. 41:8-9).

V. 12. kai euthus = “and immediately”: The word euthus occurs frequently in Mark, providing a sense of urgency; see also vv. 18, 20, 21, 23, 29, 30, 42.

V. 13. “tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him”: In OT Satan is one of the heavenly court of God who tests faith (see Job 1; Zech 3:1ff) and at times leads someone to commit an iniquity (1 Chron. 21:1). In the intertestamental period he became the leader of the forces who oppose God’s reign. Coexisting with the wild beasts points to the Messianic reign of harmony (Isa. 11:6-9); for the angels, see Job 5:22; Ps. 91:11-12.

V. 13. kai ēn en tē erēmō tesserakonta hēmeras peirazomenos hypo tou satana = “and he was in the wilderness/desert forty days, tested by Satan”: In OT Satan is one of the heavenly court of God who tests faith (see Job 1; Zech 3:1ff) and at times leads someone to commit an iniquity (1 Chron. 21:1). In the intertestamental period, Satan became the leader of the forces who oppose God’s reign. On the other hand, the LXX uses the same word for “test” to describe God’s activity, as in the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22:1), of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exod 20:20) and during her 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:1-2). Such testing by God is even desired by a person who regards God’s testing of faith as the way to growth and maturity (Ps. 26:2; cf. Job 5:17 where the resulting blessings include peace with the animals).

V. 13. kai ēn meta tōn thēriōn = “and he was with the animals”: Coexisting with the animals points to the creation story of Genesis 1 (Gen. 1:24, 25, 30), to the blissful condition of the one God reproves (Job 5:22-23), and to the Peaceable Kingdom of the Messianic reign (Isa. 11:6-9). Conservation International is one of the organizations today that tracks the well-being of animals and other species of life on the earth.

V. 13. kai hoi aggeloi diēkonoun autō = and the angels ministered to him”: Such an angelic role is not common in the Bible, but see Ps. 91:11-12, a passage which Matthew (4:6) and Luke (4:10-11) cite with a quite different twist as part of their expanded temptation story.

V. 15. peplērōtai ho kairos kai ēggiken hē basileia tou theou = “the anticipated time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near”: Probably a synonymous parallelism: Jesus’ words signal the fulfillment of prophecy about the Day of the Lord and the beginning of God’s reign.

V. 15. metanoiete kai pisteuete en tō euaggeliō_ = “repent and believe in the gospel”: The kingdom’s beginning calls for the people’s response of repentance. The word euaggelion = “gospel, good news” does not appear in the Septuagint. In LXX the word appears only in verb forms for announcing such good news as the victory on a battlefield (2 Sam. 18:19-31) or the birth of an baby (Jer. 20:15).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 9: Transfiguration of our Lord, year B (Feb. 22, 2009) February 3, 2009

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Transfiguration of our Lord


The Transfiguration of our Lord occurs at a strategic place in the church year. On the one hand, it closes the Epiphany Season in which we focused on the various ways Jesus is revealed–as the Son of God with authority to preach and teach, cast out demons and heal the sick. Our gospel readings for the past two months have taken us through the first chapter of Mark.

We are about to embark on the season of Lent. During this time, we focus, on the one hand, on walking with Jesus through his sufferings to his tragic and untimely death. On the other hand, we celebrate that we confess our faith in the Lord who walks with us in our sufferings–physical and emotional, spiritual and social We worship a living Lord who knows intimately the sorrows we experience. “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 9: Transfiguration of our Lord, Year B.

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2 Kings 2:1-12
For some unwritten reason the Lord took Elijah the prophet up to heaven in a whirlwind, leaving behind the prophetic successor Elisha to carry on his work.

Context
The first chapter of 2 Kings places the prophet Elijah squarely once more within the context of history, for it describes the role he played in dealing with Ahaziah, King of Israel. Having suffered a serious accident, the king sought healing from the Canaanite god Beelzebul, but Elijah prevented the mission from taking place. As a result, three regiments of fifty men each, sent to bring Elijah to court, were destroyed by fire from heaven. Finally, after hearing Elijah’s prophecy that the king would surely die, Ahaziah expired, paving the way for  Jehoram to succeed to the throne.

Key Words
Vv. 3, 5.  hechešû = “be silent”:  the curious command might be related to the controlling of the chaotic waves at Ps. 107:29. The order seems to have become part of Jesus’ responsibility in the NT when he silences the demons/unclean spirits and the storm (see Mark 1:25; 4:39).

V. 8.  wayyakkeh ‘et-hammayim wayyēchātsû hēnnā wāhēnnā = “and he struck the waters and they were parted to the one side and to the other”:  cf. the parting of the “sea” by Moses at Exod. 14:22, and of the Jordan by Joshua at Josh. 3:17 and by Elisha at 2 Kings 2:14.

V. 11.  wayya`al ’ēlîyāhû base‘ārâ haššāmāyim = “and Elijah went up in the cloud (to) heaven”:  Until this point in the Bible the only one who has gone up without record of his dying is Enoch (Gen. 5:24). Mystery over Moses’ actual death arose because no one knows where his grave is located (Deut. 34:6). Because of these peculiarities regarding their deaths, Enoch, Elijah, and Moses came to play important roles in later apocalyptic expectations.

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Psalm 50:1-6
The psalm appears to form part of a liturgy in which the Lord comes into the presence of the people during worship, perhaps even a specific festival, in order to judge their sins and to promise ultimate salvation. These introductory verses describe a theophany, that is, a God-appearance, in terms of the customary signs and wonders. In verse 5 the Lord refers to the covenant with the people made with a sacrifice (perhaps a reference to the blood spilled and sprinkled at Mount Sinai at Exodus 24:3-8).

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2 Corinthians 4:3-6
While Satan has blinded the eyes of unbelievers from seeing God’s light in Christ, God has manifested the divine glory in the face of Christ to those whom God sends to proclaim the word.

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Mark 9:2-9
After hearing a variety of understandings about the identity of Jesus, God settles the issue by announcing that Jesus is God’s “beloved Son” and does so in such a way that all the expectations about who Jesus is come together in an unexpected way.

Context
Beginning at 8:27 Jesus raises questions to his disciples about his own identity in terms of (1) what do the crowds say about him (vv. 27-28, (2) what do the disciples themselves say about him (v. 29), and (3) what does Jesus say about himself (v. 31). Discussion and debate ensue over the necessity of Jesus’ suffering, and so Jesus proceeds to talk about discipleship in terms of bearing the cross. Now occurs the answer to the question in terms of what God says about him.

Key Words
V. 2.  kai meta hēmeras hex = “and after six days”: At Hos. 6:2 the expression “after two days” is synonymous with “on the third day.” If “after six days” is the same as “on the seventh day,” we have here a poetic expression that indicates the climactic act to some preceding activity (see Gen. 2:2; Exod. 24:16; Josh. 6:15).

V. 2.  oros hypsēlon = “a high mountain”:  a technical term in the LXX for mountains or hills or even sanctuaries which serve as holy places, points of contact between heaven and earth. Such mountains are sometimes called the “navel of the earth”  (see Judg. 9:37; Ezek. 38:12). At 2 Peter 1:17-18 the author speaks of “the holy mountain” as the one on which the transfiguration occurred.

Mountain functions in the Bible, especially Sinai/Horeb and Zion
Invitation (Exod. 3:2-3; 19:20; 24:1-2, 12-14)
Theophany signs (Exod. 3:1-6; Exod. 19:16-17; 20:18; Isa. 6:1-8 )
Revelation of divine name (Exod. 3:1-17)
Revelation of divine will (saving at Exod. 3; commandments at Exod. 20)
“On that day” (Isa. 2:2-4)
Eating and drinking (Exodus 24:9-11; Deut. 12:7; 14:26)
“On that day” (Isa. 25:6-8 )
Commissioning (see Exod. 3:10; Ps. 2:6; Mark 3:13-19)

V. 2.  metemorphōthē = “he was transfigured”:  compare the change in Moses’ face as he spoke with God on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:29-30), causing Moses’ to put a veil on his shining face (see the second assigned lesson for the day from 2 Cor. 4:3).

V. 4.  “Elijah with Moses”:  the only two persons with whom God spoke directly on Mount Sinai/Horeb (Exod. 24:19ff; 34:10-28; 1 Kings 19:15-18). Further, the OT tradition allows the hope that the two will reappear by raising questions about each of their deaths. Elijah’s assumption into heaven (2 Kings 2) and the unknown site of Moses’ burial (Deut. 34:6) contributed to this tradition. At 9:12-13 Jesus tells his disciples that Elijah must come before the end to prepare all things. Indeed, he has already come (apparently in John the Baptizer), setting the stage for the suffering of the Son of Man. John the Seer apparently alludes to this tradition in referring to the “two witnesses” of the end time (Rev 11:3). Their appearance here confirms that the end time has already begun in Jesus. Note that in the LXX there is “Jesus” on the mountain also at Exod. 24:13.

V. 5. poiēsōmen treis skēnas = “let us make three booths”: Peter’s remark seems to relate to the Festival of Booths but the intention is not clear. Or he might have considered the appearance of Elijah, Moses, and Jesus (the Messiah) indicates the kingdom has come on earth and that the three need somewhere to live. Yet, Mark suggests in the next verse that he did not know what he was saying.

V. 6. ou gar ēdei ti apokrithē, ekphoboi gar egenonto = “for he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid”: Through Mark’s Gospel runs a theme called “the incomprehensibility of the disciples” (see 4:41; 6:51-52; 8:32; 14:40). He had not yet received the message of the event.

V. 7.  “a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud”:  note the similarity with the Sinai tradition at Exod. 24:15-18. At Exod. 40:34, the cloud is related to glory of the Lord, both indicating God’s presence at the tent of meeting/tabernacle.

V. 7.  houtos estin ho huios mou ho agapētos, akouete autou = “This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him”:  The secret is out! Not only the unclean spirits and demons know who Jesus is. The first part of the announcement “you are my Son” confirms Peter’s confession (8:29) that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah (see Ps, 2:7). The combination “beloved son” (huios agapētos) appears in the LXX only to define Isaac at the point at which he is to be sacrificed (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16), thus confirming Jesus’ contention that he is the one who must suffer and die (8:31). The third part “listen to him” alludes to Deut. 18:15 and thus confirms the popular view that he is the eschatological prophet like Moses. That we understand the identity of Jesus on the basis of God’s revelation is demonstrated further by Martin Luther’s teaching about the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.