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Wrestling with the Word, episode 21: Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 17, 2009) April 30, 2009

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Describing the relationship between God and the world in one sentence presents a significant challenge for Christians. On the one hand, God is the Creator of the world. On the other hand, the world does not acknowledge God to be the Creator. On the one hand, God made the world to be good and the people in it to care for one another and for the environment. On the other hand, the history of humanity and a walk in the park demonstrate that “the ground is cursed” (Gen. 3:17), along with the air and the water, because of humanity’s sinfulness. On the one hand, God loves the world. On the other hand, God is determined to “overcome the world.” Our lessons for this Sixth Sunday of Easter show us how God accomplishes that necessary victory.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 21: Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 98
The psalm summons worshipers to join the hymn of all creation because God has wondrous things on the world’s behalf. The motive for that universal event is God’s remembrance of “his steadfast love and faithfulness (chasdō we’emûnātō) to the house of Israel” (v. 3). Like 47, 93, 96-97, and 99, Psalm 98 acclaims the rule of YHWH on the basis of God’s victory (yešû’â in vss. 1, 2, 3) over the enemy. The victory of YHWH results in his reign in which “he will judge the world with righteousness (tsedeq), and the peoples with equity (mêšārîm).”


Acts 10:44-48
In the name of Jesus Christ, Peter ordered the baptizing of the Gentiles on whom the Holy Spirit fell though the preaching of the word — much to the surprise of the Jewish Christians present.

Having described the visions to Cornelius in Caesarea and then to Peter in Joppa, the author brings the two together in Caesarea where each one shares his vision with the other. There follows Peter’s sermon about God’s refusal to show partiality, and so the gospel of Jesus Christ is shared with Jew and Gentile alike.

Key Words
V. 44. epepesen to pneuma to hagion epi pantas tous akouontas ton logon = “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word”: The preaching of the gospel, as Peter had just delivered it in the home of Cornelius, brings people to faith through the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul emphasized this critical role for preaching at Romans 10:13-17.

V. 46. ēkouon gar autōn lalountōn glōssais kai megalynontōn ton theon = “For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolled the Lord”: At Acts 19:17 the same word for “extol” describes the response of the people-both Jews and Greeks-at the miracle of Paul. At Psalm 69:30 the word appears in synonymous parallelism with “praise the name of God with a song” (see Psalm 98). With a human object, the author of Luke-Acts describes the “high honor” with which the people regarded the apostles (Acts 5:13). As for the “speaking in tongues,” the broken language that occurs out of religious ecstasy, Paul’s laying on of hands in Acts 19:6 endowed the people in Ephesus with the Holy Spirit and they “spoke with tongues and prophesied.” The practice apparently loomed large in Corinth, because Paul addressed the practice at length in 1 Corinthians 12-14.


1 John 5:1-6
God calls us to love him by loving one another, thus demonstrating the faith which overcomes the hostile ways of the world.

The last verses of chapter 4 indicate the necessary relationship between loving God and loving one another in visible ways. Indeed, it is God’s command that we love one another if we are truly to love God (4:21).

Key Words
Vv. 1-2.  ho christos, ek tou theou gegennētai, kai pas ho agapōn ton gennēsanta agapa [kai] ton gegennēmenon ex autou … agapōmen ta tekna tou theou = “Christ who was born from God and all who love the bearer (parent) love also the one born from him (the child)  … we love the children of God”:  Note the different words applied to Christ (ek tou theou gegennētai … ton gegennēmenon ex autou) and to Christians (ta tekna tou theou).

V. 4-5.  hoti pan to gegennēmenon ek tou theounika ton kosmon … hē pistis hēmōn … ho pisteuōn hoti ‘Iēsous estin ho huios tou theou = “for whatever is born from God overcomes the world … our faith … the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”: The theme of victory Brings us back to Psalm 98, but the means of victory is no longer “the right hand and the holy arm of God” but faith that Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus himself told his disciples, “I have overcome the world,” and so they might have peace even with the tribulation of the world (John 17:33).

V. 6. houtos estin ho elthōn di’ hydatos kai haimatos, ‘Iēsous Christos = “This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ”: The description of Jesus points to his own baptism (John 1:32-33) and to his sacrificial death (John 19:34). The one who was baptized with water is the same as the one who died on the cross.


John 15:9-17
Jesus calls his disciples to love one another as he has loved us by the sacrifice of himself on the cross.
On the basis of his sharing with his disciples all that he heard from his Father, Jesus changes their identity from servants to friends.

After Jesus shared with his disciples a meal prior to the feast of the Passover (13:1-2), he washed their feet as an example of how the disciples are to treat one another (13:5ff.). Having spoken of the coming betrayal (13:21ff.), he promised to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house and the coming of the Counselor (the Holy Spirit; 14:16, 25) in the meantime. Then he related to them the analogy of the Vine and the branches (15:1-8).

Key Words
Vv. 9, 10, 12, 13, 17.  agapaō = “love”:  When the author here speaks of God’s love for Jesus or for Jesus’ love for his disciples, the aorist tense is used:  a single act of love is nothing other than Christ’s death on the cross.  The same verb tense is used at 17:24, 26 (the so-called priestly prayer). The present tense of agapaō is used at John 3:35 and 10:17 to express the ongoing love of God for Jesus. When used of the disciples’ love for one another, the present tense appears as an indication of the continuing nature of the act.

V. 11. hina chara hē emē en hymin hē kai hē chara hymōn plērōthē = “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full”: The author already spoke of “joy” at 14:28 where he virtually defined Jesus’ joy as going to be with the Father. In 16:20-24, the author writes of the joy the disciples will experience when Jesus comes to them again after his resurrection (see 4:36). They did experience that promised joy according to 20:20.

V. 13.  tis tēn psychēn autou thē hyper tōn philōn autou = “someone lays down his life for the sake of his friends”:  Peter offers to lay down his life at 13:37; doing so is evidence that Jesus is the Good Shepherd at 10:11; and such an act is the means by which we know the love of God at 1 John 3:16.

V. 15.  ho doulos ouk oiden … egnōrisa hymin = “the servant/slave does not know … I have made known to you”:  the distinction drawn here between slaves and friends is that of those in the dark and those in the know. Friends (philoi) are those who have heard and heeded the word that Jesus received from the Father and taught to them.

V. 16.  ouck hymeis me exelexasthe all’ egō exelexamēn hymas kai ethēka hymas, hina hymeis hypagēte kai karpon pherēte …= “you did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit …”:  Jesus himself is the “chosen one” at Matt. 12:18 (quoting Isa. 42:1); Luke 9:35; 23:35; 1 Peter 2:4, 6 (quoting Isa. 28:16). Jesus had earlier (John 6:70) talked of choosing “the twelve,” even though “one of you is a devil” (Judas). At John 13:18, Jesus uses the verb to speak of Judas and his role in betrayal. While the election of the twelve to be apostles occurs elsewhere (see Acts 1:2; 10:41), the “chosen” comes to include many more (see Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 1:26-28, etc.). Being Christ’s disciples is not a matter of our choice but of his choice. That election commissions us to “bear fruit” (see vss. 5, 8), that is, love one another.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 20: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 10, 2009) April 20, 2009

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

People tend to regard their faith in God as a private matter. That spiritual privacy might be true in some religions. It is certainly not true in the spirituality of Christianity. The lessons for this Fifth Sunday of Easter all agree that the love of God propels, even compels, us into a worldwide community where our love for God and our love for one another is completely transparent. God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love of one another are matters for public consumption.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 20: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 22: 24-30 (21b-31)
The psalm is a lament in which a person who is being persecuted complains of the silence of God in spite of constant cries for help (vss. 1-21a). Beginning with verse 22b, the psalm changes to a thanksgiving, because the one who was afflicted has now been heard by the Lord and delivered.

The thanksgiving includes the following: (1) the report of the Lord’s deliverance to friends, (2) the call to praise the Lord, (3) the fulfillment of vows in the worshipping community, (4) a meal with the community, and (5) the recognition that joining in the praise of the Lord will be all the people of the earth, including not only the present generation but those who have gone before and those yet to be born.


Acts 8:26-40
God brings people on the outside to faith through the mediation of those who already believe.

Following the martyrdom of Stephen (7:54-60) and the great day of persecution against the church in Jerusalem (of which Saul was a chief instigator; see 8:1-3), Philip was among those who were scattered (8:4ff.). He went to a city of Samaria where he preached the gospel and people were baptized, including one named Simon, a magician (8:9-13). When the apostles in Jerusalem heard of the response in Samaria, Peter and John joined Philip, bringing by the laying on of hands the gift of the Holy Spirit (8:14-24). The three apostles then returned to Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 26. aggelos de kuriou elalēsen pros Philippon= But an angel of the Lord said to Philip”: Note how the apostle is driven by an angel or more often by the Spirit (vv. 29, 39). The evangelizing is not something Philip does on his own.

V. 27. “an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians“: Candace is a title of Ethiopian queens or queen-mothers rather than the name of a particular queen. Her identity is not at all important to the message of this story. The message is that the gospel reaches out to a man that comes from a different country and belongs to a different race.The universality of the gospel’s outreach is emphasized here by the clear message that the man comes from a different country and belongs to a different race. In the Hebrew Bible an Ethiopian is called a Cushite, and so the stories regarding Cushites are to be considered as proclamations of such universality among the Jews; see especially Gen. 10:6-8; Num. 12:1. Note the role of Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch, at Jeremiah 38:7-13 in saving Jeremiah’s life.

Vss. 32-33. The passage from scripture was Isaiah 53:7-8, the fourth “servant song” in Second Isaiah. Quite naturally, this song of the “suffering servant” rang familiar tones in the ears of the early church. 1 Peter 2:22-25 cites Isa. 53:4, 5-6, 9, 12. According to Luke 22:37, Jesus refers to Isa. 53:12 but not in connection with vicarious suffering. Matthew 8:17 cites Isaiah 53:4 in regard to Jesus’ healing ministry rather than to explain his own suffering.

V. 35. euēggelisato autō ton ’Iēsoun= “he preached to him the good news (about) Jesus”: This 8th chapter asserts emphatically the primary role of the apostles as preaching the good news as the means by which people are brought to faith (see vss. 4, 12, 25, and 40). The content of the apostolic “good news” is both “the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” (See the summary of Paul’s ministry at Acts 28:31). The kingdom of God, of course, is the content of the good news Jesus himself preached (Mark 1:15//Matt. 4:17; Matt. 9:35), but Jesus himself connected the good news and himself (Mark 8:35). Here Philip focuses exclusively on Jesus as the content because of the question raised by the Ethiopian eunuch.

V. 39. pneuma kyriou hērpasen ton Philippon = “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away”: The verb appears at Wisdom of Solomon 4:11 for the righteous one who is snatched away (by God?) “lest evil change his understanding.” The Apostle Paul writes about the man he knows (!) who was “caught up into the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2). According to 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when the trumpet sounds at the last day, those who are still alive “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” The child of the mysterious woman in Revelation 12:1-6 “was caught up to God and to his throne” (v. 5). Here the Spirit dropped Philip in Azotus, known in the OT as Ashdod, about halfway between Gaza and Joppa.


1 John 4:7-21
Confessing that God sent Jesus Christ into the world and made him the atoning sacrifice for our sins leads us to such a response that we cannot love God without loving one another

Beginning at 3:11, the author works on the necessity of loving one another as essential to Christian life. This love is not only by word but by deed (3:18), and it is fulfillment of the commandment of Christ (3:23). Such loving goes hand in hand with the abiding of the Lord in and among us (3:24).

The pericope does not follow a logical train of thought but rather jumps back and forth to thoughts and expressions used previously.

Key Words
V. 7. Agapētoi, agapōmen allēhous, hoti hē agapē ek tou theou estin= “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God”: The source of the love that the author calls for is not human nature but God who demonstrated that love in the sacrifice of his Son (vss. 10, 19).

V. 10. hilasmon peri tōn hamartiōn hēmōn = “the expiation for our sins”: The author uses the word “expiation” also at 2:2 in a universal sense. At Romans 3:25 Paul uses a different form of the word: hilastērion. The word appears at Lev. 16:13-15 for the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant where the spilled blood accomplishes atonement for the people’s sins.

V. 13. “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit”: Only through the gift of God’s Spirit do we and can we “know” that we live in God’s presence. In chapter 2, the author writes that to know God is to obey God’s commandment to love one another. Earlier in the chapter, the author had written that the Spirit that comes from God is the one results in confessing that Jesus Christ has come n the flesh (4:2).

V. 17. En toutō teteleiōtai hē agapē meth’ hēmōn = In this love is perfected/fulfilled among us”: The perfect/fulfilled love is defined here by its result: “confidence for the day of judgment.” At 2:3-11, perfected love is a matter of keeping God’s word to love one another. In Jesus’ prayer at John 17, he speaks of his “finishing (teleiōsas) the work that you gave me to do” (v. 4). Thus, “perfect” love is that which Jesus did and then passed it to us so that we might love one another as he loved God and us: perfect/fulfilling/finishing the work of God.

V. 21. hina ho agapōn ton theon apaga kai ton adelphon autou = “that whoever loves God loves their sisters and brothers also”: The commandment knits together the so-called Great Commandment and the second one like it (cf. Matt. 22:37-39//Mark 12:29-31//Luke 20:39-40).  What happened to the first commandment when Paul sums up the whole law in one commandment: “You shall love you neighbor as yourself”? (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14)


John 15:1-8
Jesus identifies himself as the true vine and calls his disciples to become fruitful branches in order to prove they belong to him.

The discussion occurs within the context of the supper Jesus was having with his disciples prior to the Feast of the Passover (13:1ff.). Jesus spoke of his betrayal and Judas left the room (13:21-30), and Jesus gave the new commandment “that you love one another, even as I have loved you,…” (13:34) and told them this love will enable people to know whose disciples they are (13:35). Jesus then spoke of his departure and the Counselor (14:1-31).

Key Words
V. 1. egō eimi hē ampelos hē alēthinē= “I am the true vine”: In the OT Israel is called the vine or the vineyard on several occasions. In every case without exception, however, the vine/vineyard called Israel does not produce the desired fruit (Isa. 5:1-7; Ps. 80:8-13; Ezek. 19:10). By contrast, Jesus is the “true” vine and gathers around him a community that will bear fruit. “I AM” (egō eimi) in itself is a divine title in the LXX (Isa. 43:10, 25; 51:12; 52:6; cf. Exod. 3:14) and is used by Jesus in Mark 6:50; John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-6.

V. 4. meinate en emoi, kagō en hymin = “Abide in me and I in you”: The theme of remaining in God/Jesus and God/Jesus in us occurs more times than there are verses in this pericope (see also the lesson from 1 John 4). In verses 7, when Jesus tells the disciples “my words abide in you,” he is not saying something different; Jesus’ himself is present in his word(s) (John 1:14).

V. 8. en toutō edoxasthē ho patēr mou, hina karpon polyn pherēte kai genēsthe emoi mathētai = “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples”: The fruit to be born is the love of Christ that God calls us to share with one another. At 13:31, Jesus announces after Judas’ departure, that “Now the Son of man is glorified and in him God is glorified.” At 17:4, Jesus prays to the Father, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” At Matthew 5:16, Jesus taught that the good works the disciples of Christ perform in public glorify God.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 3, 2009) April 15, 2009

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

The image, indeed the title, of shepherd holds two of our passages together. Just as the people of Israel praised the Lord as their shepherd in the familiar Psalm 23, so Jesus claims the title for himself in John 10. Most of us have little or no experience of sheep and shepherding. The image might not speak very well to our technological age. We do not like to think of ourselves as sheep that are herded here and there. But in ancient times, the relationship between shepherd and sheep was a critical one, and it served in many ways to describe leadership and security. When people felt harassed and helpless, for example, they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Much larger than that, various nuances of the shepherding in the Bible range from intimacy to royalty.

Besides shepherding in our passages for the day is another motif. It is the name of God and of Jesus. What the name meant in ancient times might not seem any more relevant than the image of shepherd. But the divine name lies at the heart of biblical faith. Name and person are intimately tied together also. A person and his or her name are virtually one and the same. Calling God’s name honors God, recognizes God for whom God is, and the name we call God assures us of divine faithfulness.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 23
This powerful psalm of trust looks to the Lord as shepherd to guide the individual worshiper and as king to protect and nourish him/her in the temple. The confession of the Lord as a shepherd is indeed a divine title at Ezek. 34:15 and a royal one at verse 23 (see also Mic. 5:5). This Shepherd King gets up close and personal. The Lord restores the petitioner’s spirit, leads, and guides the person in ways that reflect the saving action (righteousness) of God within the community. This guiding by the Lord is “for your name’s sake” (see Isa. 43:25; 48:9-11), that is, God’s name assures faithfulness to promises made, especially God’s presence to save the afflicted (Exod. 3:7-15; see also Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; 109:21; 148:5, 13). Even through the “valley of darkness,” the Lord will walk beside the psalmist, bringing comfort. This God has the reputation of protecting the poor from their foes (enemies, wicked, evildoers, godless, etc.), and this petitioner has experienced that protection personally. The mention of a meal might refer to the thanksgiving meal that follows God’s response to a lament in the face of such enemies (Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). Here the meal is even prepared and offered by the Lord in the temple as the enemies watch. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available but indeed pursue the person for a lifetime. The psalmist’s expression of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” does not mean entering the priesthood but taking this powerful experience of God’s presence into daily life.


Acts 4:5-12
The healing in the name of Jesus of the man born lame gave opportunity for the apostles to announce that same name is the means by which all people might be saved.

Following the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate, the captain of the temple, the priests, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John for preaching resurrection in Jesus. By their testimony, about five thousand people came to believe.

Key Words
V. 6. “the rulers and elders and scribes … with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family”: The prestigious group made up the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one persons who served as the supreme court for the Jews. The head of this assembly was the high-priest, along with ex-high priests and members of the priestly family. Annas was appointed as high priest by Quirinius (see Luke 2:2; 3:2) in A.D. 6/7 but was deposed in A.D. 15. His son-in-law Caiaphas (Luke 3:2;  occupied the office from A.D. 18-36. The two played key roles in the trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:3-4, 57-68; John 18:12-28). Alexander and John are not known apart from their family membership.

V. 7. “By what power or by what name did you do this?”: The reference is to the healing of the man who had been lame from birth. Note the connection between power and name is the question.

V. 8. Tote Petros plētheis pneumatos hagiou = “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit”: in Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit is a predominant theme, starting with the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35), inspiring others (Elizabeth at 1:41; Simeon at 2:25-27, etc.), descending on Jesus at his baptism (3:21), and eventually on the people gathered on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

V. 9-12. en tini houtos sesōtai … kai ouk estin en allō oudeni hē sōtēria, … en hō dei sōthēnai hēmas = “in what way this one was healed … and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heavens given by which we must be saved”:  The play on words between the healing of the man and the salvation of us all brings the two into one context:  the kingdom of God. Recall the summary of Jesus’ ministry at Matthew 4:23; 9:35. The combination of preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus Christ sums the preaching of Paul (Acts 28:31). The significant change from Jesus’ own ministry to that of the apostles here is that the “name” that heals/saves is Jesus (see Matt. 1:21). He is “ Savior” according to Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 John 4:14, just as YHWH was Isaiah 43:3. Jesus’ name and his activity come together.

V. 11. “This is the stone that was rejected by you builders but that has become the head of the corner”: This quotation from Psalm 118:22 is quoted by Jesus at Matthew 21:42 (and parallels) where he promises that the kingdom will be taken away from the people of Israel and given to the nations because they reject him. In its original setting, this Hallel psalm uses these words to speak of the enemies, apparently ‘the nations,” from whom the Lord saved the petitioner. The words also appear at 1 Peter 2:7 to speak of Jesus the rejected one.


1 John 3:16-24
Because Jesus Christ demonstrated true love by laying down his life for us, God calls us to believe in Jesus’ name and love one another just as actively by helping those in need.

At the beginning of the chapter the author called on his readers to be who they are, God’s children, and that definition distinguished them from the children of “the evil one.” Like Cain who hated his brother and killed him, so are all who hate brothers and sisters. They do not have eternal life abiding in them.

Key Words
V. 16. en toutō egnōskamen tēn agapēn, hoti ekeinos hyper hēmōn tēn psychēn autou ethēken … = “In this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,…”: The act of sacrifice for others demonstrates the truth of “no greater love” at John 15:13. The connection between God’s/Christ’s love and our love for one another is a key theme throughout the Bible (e.g., Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 24:16-22). The two great commandments in the synoptics, the Lord’s Prayer, the gift of money (2 Cor. 9:13-15).

V. 17.  kai theōrē ton adelphon autou chreian echonta = “and sees his brother (or sister) having need”:  The same expression appears at Acts 2:45; 4:35 in terms of the early Christians sharing all their goods so that they might help “any that had need.” At Eph. 4:28 the expression appears as part of the instruction to a thief to earn a living so that he might give to any who have need.

V. 19.  hoti ek tēs alētheias esmen = “that we are from the truth”:  In v. 12 Cain is identified as “from the evil one,” and v. 10 indicates that all who do not do right are “not from God.” The “from” seems to indicate descendance, and so “from the truth” in our verse seems to indicate that our origin is in God. At John 14:6 Jesus asserts that he is “the truth.”

V. 23. “And this is his commandment”: The commandment is twofold: (1) “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ” and (2) “love one another, just as he commanded us.” This twofold command sounds like the great commandment and a second like it (Matt. 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). In that combination also the love of God is so intimately tied to loving the neighbor that they can hardly be separated. The difference here is that believing in the name of Jesus leads to loving one another.


John 10:11-18
On the basis of his willingness to die for his flock and because of his intimate knowledge of his flock, Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd of his people.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had an encounter with the Pharisees over several issues surrounding his healing of the man who had been blind since birth (9:1-34). When the Pharisees later heard Jesus telling the man about his coming into the world “that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind,” they asked him if they were blind. Jesus’ response, in effect, was affirmative. Jesus then turns to the image of shepherding, indicating in 10:7 that “I AM the door/gate of the sheep.”

Key Words
V. 11.  egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos = “I am the good shepherd”: In the OT, YHWH is called Israel’s Shepherd at Gen. 49:24, and at Ezek. 34:15 the Lord announces “ I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” At Psalm 23, the Lord is the individual petitioner’s Shepherd. At Ps. 78:52-53 YHWH functions as Shepherd while guiding the people of Israel through the wilderness. The “I am” in this context and in the other “I am” passages in the Gospel of John is sometimes compared to “I am” declaration of YHWH at Exod. 3:14 (see Isa. 43:10, 13, 25; 51:12; 52:6). The combination of “I am” with the image of “good shepherd” thus connects Jesus with the YHWH, the one he calls Father. God transfers to Jesus “the name” that God took in the OT.

V. 11.  tēn psychēn autou tithēsin = “lays down his life”:  Peter offers to do lay down his life for Jesus at 13:37; it’s the “greater love” at 15:13 and the means by which we know the love of God and Christ at 1 John 3:16.

V. 14.  ginōskō ta ema kai ginōskousi me ta ema = “I know my own and my own know me”:  This second proof that Jesus is the good shepherd picks up a theme begun at v. 3:  the shepherd calls the sheep by name, and the sheep know his voice. The relationship between Jesus and his flock is like that between YHWH and the people of Israel:  the Semitic understanding of “know” goes beyond intellectual awareness to involve intimacy (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Amos 3:2; Nah. 1:7). At John 18:37, Jesus says to Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

V. 16. kai alla probate exō ha ouk estin ek tēs aulēs tautēs = “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold”:  The author of this gospel makes abundantly clear that God’s love and the coming of Jesus are intended for the world and not simply to the people of Israel. Even Jesus’ announcement that his “hour has come” takes place when the Greeks arrive to see him (12:20-23).

V. 16.  eis poimēn = “one shepherd”:  the expression is used at Eccles. 12:11 as a description of God, but at Ezek. 34:23 and 37:24 it is a designation for the Davidic king. Now, however, the flock extends beyond the people of Israel.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 18: Third Sunday of Easter, Year B (April 26, 2009) April 9, 2009

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Third Sunday of Easter

We expect the theme of resurrection to play a predominant role in the lessons for this Third Sunday of Easter, and indeed, it does. But there are other themes intertwined in some of the lessons that grow out of the announcement that God raised Jesus from the dead. The word “righteousness” appears in three of the passages, and the apostolic commission to be “witnesses” to the resurrection of Jesus occurs in two. We will explore in our discussions how God’s righteousness–and that of Jesus–calls and enables us to be righteous in our witnessing today.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 18: Third Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 4
This psalm contains most of the characteristics of a lament, the most common type in the Psalter. More specifically, this lament is part of an “incubation” in which the petitioner spends the night in the security and sanctuary of the temple, waiting for God to respond with help. The lament opens with the familiar cry to God to intervene into the dismal situation to save (see Ps. 3:7; 7:1, 6; 10:12 for just a few examples). The familiar lament words “how long” occur twice in verse 2. The suffering in this case, as in many other cases, is due to the presence of enemies who plot against the petitioner (see other examples at Ps. 3:4; 5:6; 7:6; 12:2; 22:6-8, 16-18; 26:4; 35:20). In verse 3, the psalmist places confidence in the Lord because God has the reputation of responding to such cries for help (see Ps. 6:8-9; 22:3-5; 69:33 and the narrative of Exod. 3:7-8). Rather boldly, according to verse 5, the psalmist instructs his enemies to offer “sacrifices of righteousness” (NRSV “right sacrifices”) so that they might place themselves under the righteousness of God. “Righteousness” in the Old Testament is a relational term. It often means an action that fulfills the obligations of a relationship (see Genesis 38:26). God’s righteousness takes the form of acts of salvation and deliverance out of the relationship that God has with Israel and indeed with the world. By offering sacrifices of righteousness, these enemies will act differently to the petitioner, even restore the honor of the one they are persecuting. Confident that the Lord will indeed hear this cry for help, the petitioner already feels joy (v. 7) and will spend the night in peace and safety (v. 8).


Acts 3:12-19
Addressing the people in Solomon’s Portico who rushed toward Peter and John when they had healed the man lame from birth, Peter announced that the name of Jesus, whom they rejected, had restored the man’s health, just as it can restore them to God.

The first eleven verses of the chapter describe the healing by Peter and John of the man lame from birth. The event occurred at the Beautiful Gate leading into the Temple precincts, the place where the man sat daily asking for alms. Peter commanded him to walk “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” and when he did, people ran to see the man clinging to Peter and John, now within Solomon’s Portico.

V. 12. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors”: The naming of God with these words recalls the self-introduction of God to Moses at the scene of the burning bush (Exod. 3:6). That God is the one who “glorified his servant Jesus,…”

Vss. 13-18. The names for Jesus: “his servant Jesus … the Holy and Righteous One … the Author of life … his Messiah”: The names range from subservience and mission (Isa. 42:1; 52:13; 53:11) to titles and attributes used for God (Lev. 19—26; Isa. 6:3) to the Davidic king who would rule over God’s kingdom (Psalm 2; 89, 110). “And by faith in his name, his name itself, has made this man strong…” The author of Luke-Acts uses the title for the Righteous One as a title for Jesus also at 7:52. At Acts 22:14 Paul uses the title in reporting his conversion. He writes that a man named Ananias restored his sight that he lost when the Risen Christ confronted him on the Damascus road. Then Ananias explained to Paul “The God of our ancestors appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all people….”

V. 15. hon theos ēgeiren ek nekrōn hou hēmeis martyres esmen = “whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses”: That certain folks were eye witnesses of the resurrection, that is, seeing the Resurrected Lord, qualified them to be apostles who spoke with authority.

V. 18. “In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer”: Peter offers the reason that Christ died, namely as the fulfillment of God’s word through the prophets (compare with the statement of the Risen Christ at Luke 24:44-46; also 1 Cor. 15:3-4). The people merely acted out of ignorance.

V. 19. metanoēsate oun = “repent therefore”: The call to repentance follows the announcement about the death and resurrection of Jesus according to the scriptures also at Luke 24:47 and in Acts 2:38. It is consistent with Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:15).


1 John 3:1-7
On the basis of God’s unmerited love, we already have our identity as God’s children, even as we wait to become like Christ, and we are called to live accordingly.

The author has indicated to his readers they have the means to arm themselves against the antichrist: their faith in Christ and God’s promise of eternal life (2:18-25). He then encourages them to abide in Christ as the message Christ’s anointing of them abides in them (2:26-27). He further exhorts them to abide in Christ by pointing to the parousia (“when he appears”) at which time they will not be ashamed “at his coming” (2:28). The previous chapter then concludes, “If you know that he (Christ) is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does righteousness is born of him” (2:29).

Key Words
V. 1. potapēn agapēn = “what a size of love”: On the quantitative side, see the use of potapos at Mark 13:1 where the disciples are awed by the large stones from which the Temple is made. On the qualitative side, the love is agapē, that unmerited act of God that makes us God’s children.

V. 2. nun … oupō = “now … not yet”: For the contrast between what we have already received and what is still to come see Rom. 5:1-11 and 1 Cor. 2:9.

V. 2. ean phanerōthē homoioi autō esometha = “when he appears, we shall be like him”: The promised glory at the parousia occurs also at Rom. 8:17-19; Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4.

V. 2. opsometha auton kathōs estin = “we shall see him as he is”: cf. 1 Cor. 13:12; see also 2 Cor. 3:18.

V. 5. hina tas hamartias arē = “in order to bear away sins”: In v. 8 the purpose of Christ’s coming was to “destroy the works of the devil.” As for this reference, the bearing away of sins sounds like the function of the suffering servant at Isa. 53:4-5, 11-12.

V. 7. ho poiōn dikaiosynēn dikaios estin, kathōs ekeinos dikaios estin = “Every one who does righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous”: The allusion to Isaiah 53:11 is clear: “the righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” “Righteousness” is the act of the servant atoning for others through suffering. It is God’s righteousness that makes us righteous, that is, justifies us (see Rom. 3:25-26). Righteousness is the power of God, revealed in the gospel, that gives life (Rom. 1:16-17; see also 1 Peter 3:18). In 1 John 1:9, it is God who “will cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” that is, God’s righteousness will make us righteous. At 2:1-2 and here at 3:7, Jesus is righteous; by his righteousness he atones for our sins and will intercede for us. That we can “do righteousness” is only because we are “born of him” (2:29); we are born anew to be “children of God” (3:1).


Luke 24:36b-48
In the face of the disciples’ doubt, fear and disbelief, the Risen Christ instructs them about his suffering, resurrection, repentance and forgiveness as the fulfillment of Scripture and calls them to be witnesses of these things to all the nations.

Chapter 24 begins with the report of the empty tomb to the women who had traveled with Jesus in Galilee. Two apostles—Cleopas and anonymous–were met on the road to Emmaus by a “stranger” who explained to them that the women were to be believed because the suffering and resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of “Moses and the prophets” (v. 26-27). The two apostles invited “the stranger” to stay with them, and in the breaking of bread, they recognized him as the Lord. Immediately they left for Jerusalem to tell the others who already knew that “the Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon.” The report the two shared is the conversation alluded to in the opening words of verse 36. Our pericope bears many similarities to John 20:19-31 and seems, therefore, to be part of a fixed tradition in the early church (see also 1 Cor. 15:1ff.).

Key Words
V. 41. eti de apistountōn autōn apo tēs charas = “and while they still disbelieved for joy”: Only the author of Luke-Acts used this verb, although in other cases there is no joy connected with the lack of faith (Acts 19:9; 28:24).

V. 46. pathein ton christon = “the Messiah/Christ should suffer”: We search in vain for a prophecy about vicarious suffering on the part of the “anointed one.” The servant suffers, even vicariously (Isa, 53:4-5, 11). A prophet suffers vicariously (Ezek. 4:1-8) and laments his persecution from enemies (Jeremiah).

V. 46. anastēnai ek nekrōn tē tritē hēmera = “rise from the dead on the third day”: Only here and at 18:33; 24:7 is the indication that Jesus “rose on the third day.” More common is “raised on the third day” (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 1 Cor. 15:4; cf. also Acts 10:40). In the OT, only Hosea 6:2 speaks of someone being raised “on the third day,” but that usage is metaphorical rather than literal. Other interesting uses of “on the third day” are Gen. 22:4; Exod. 19:11; Lev. 7:17; Num. 19:12; 2 Kings 20:5, 8.

V. 47. eis panta ta ethnē = “to all nations”: The same expression occurs in reference to preaching the gospel at Matt. 24:14 and Mark 13:10. “All nations” here and elsewhere represents the universal claim of God on the creation: elsewhere in Luke—Acts, Luke 12:30; Acts 14:16; 15:17; in addition, see Ps. 67:2; 117:1; Isa. 66:18; Jer. 3:17; Hab. 2:5; Matt. 28:19; Rev. 15:4.

V. 48. hymeis martures toutōn = “You are witnesses of these”: Note the use of witnesses in the “trial speeches” of Second Isa. (Isa. 43:10, 12; 44:8) in which Israel is called to testify on behalf of YHWH in the midst of claims of others to be gods; see also Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:37-43; 1 Thess. 2:10.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 17: Second Sunday of Easter, Year B (April 19, 2009) April 2, 2009

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Second Sunday of Easter

The words “Second Sunday of Easter” have a peculiar ring. Since the Christian church has set aside the first of every week to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, every Sunday is Easter Revisited. Of course, the name given to the Sundays depends on the fact we celebrate the various seasons of the church year in order to focus on the coming of Christ, his birth and revelation among us, his sufferings, and his resurrection. It seems that no matter what we name the seasons or the Sundays or which lessons from the Bible we read aloud, we always hear about the God who sits enthroned above the world but nevertheless gets down to earth right smack in the middle of the fray, even in human form, to raise us up. Believing that is impossible. It contradicts our power or reason and logic and challenges our own pride. Actually only God can enable us to believe this unfathomable news, and so God gives us the gift of the Spirit. Then God sends us back into the fray.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 17: Second Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 113
This psalm of praise is the first in the collection of Hallel psalms (113-118) that Judiasm used since biblical days at Passover and other festivals. This one calls the “servants of the Lord” to bless the “name of the Lord” for all time (v. 2) and through dimensions of space—left-right (v. 3) and up-down (vss. 5-6). The name of God is the Lord; the name represents the person. The portrayal of the Lord’s glory is impressively high and lofty (like Isa. 57:15), but distance matters little when it comes to the poor and needy on earth (v. 7). God raises them from their lowly estate to give them positions beside princes (v. 8). Like the song of Hannah rejoicing at the birth of Samuel when previously she had been a barren woman (1 Sam. 2:1-10), this psalm blesses the Lord for giving the barren woman a family and a bundle of joy (v. 9).


Acts 4:32-35
Filled with the Holy Spirit, testifying to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and endowed with God’s grace, the new Christians in Jerusalem shared with one another all their possessions.

Following the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42), the Christians “would sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (2:45). They ate together in homes and praised God. The author then reports the miraculous healing miracles performed by Peter and John in the portico of the temple. The miracle brought together a large crowd which provided Peter an audience for preaching a sermon on the people’s rejection of Jesus (3:1-26). The religious authorities and the Sadducees had Peter and John arrested, an act that provided the apostles with another audience for preaching the Word of God (4:1-12).

V. 32. Tou de plēthous tōn pisteusantōn hēn kardia kai psychē mia = “Of the plethora of those who believed, heart and soul were one”: The gift of the Holy Spirit, received in the previous verse, brought their diversity into a unity.

V. 32. all’ hēn autois apanta koina = “they all held everything in common”: The use of the word koina indicates that “fellowship” or “community” was the new social order in which possessions were distributed so that none would be poor (see also 2: 42-47). The concern that the community took the responsibility for sustenance for the poor sounds like the role of the people of Israel at Deuteronomy 15.

V. 33. kai dynamei megalē apedidoun to martyrion hoi apostoloi tēs anastaseōs tou kyriou Iēsous, charis te megalē hēn epi pantas autous = “And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon all of them”:  The content of the apostolic preaching focused on the resurrection of Jesus (see 2:32; 3:15, 26; 4:10). For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection is precisely why Jesus became kyrios = Lord, and through whom “we have received grace” (Rom. 1:4-5; 10:9).


1 John 1:1–2:2
Against false claims of Christians to have fellowship with God no matter what, that they are without sin, and that they have no need of confession, God offers fellowship by forgiving those who confess their sinfulness to God and walk in the light.

Unlike 2 John which is addressed to “the elect lady and her children” and 3 John which is addressed “to the beloved Gaius,” 1 John appears to be more of a sermon. The sermon begins to sound like a letter, especially at 2:1 with the words “I am writing this to you” along with mention of an addressee:  “my little children” (see also 2:12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; called “beloved” at 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7). The purposes of writing are several: “that our joy may be complete” (1:4), “that you may not sin” (2:1), to give “an old commandment” (2:7), “because your sins are forgiven for his sake” (2:12), “about those who would deceive you” (2:26), “that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).

Key Words
V. 3. ho heōpakamen kai akēkoamen apaaggellomen kai hymin, hina kai hymeis koinōnian echēte meth’ hēmōn, kai he koinōnian de hē hēmetera meta tou patros kai meta tou huiou autou Iesou Christou = “that which we have seen and heard we announce also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”: The apostles indicate that, like the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:1ff), they are passing on the message God has given them. The difference is that they have “seen and heard” the Resurrected Lord, but the recipients of their message are hearers only. In any case, the fellowship (koinōnia) is the same, extending from the eyewitnesses to the hearers. Indeed, the creation with the readers of the same fellowship the apostles have with the Father and the Son is the stated purpose of passing on this announcement. God’s will to extend the fellowship goes back to the OT in such prophecies as Isa. 25:6-8.

1:5.  Kai estin autē hē aggelia … hoti ho theos  phōs estin = “And this is the message … that God is light”:  For a similar description of God, see Gen. 1:3 (cf. vss. 14-19); Isa. 10:17; for Jesus as the “light” see Matt. 4:12-16; John 3:19; 8:12; Rev. 21:23. For the people of God as the “light” in the world or as those who walk in the light, see Isa. 49:6; Matt. 5:14; John 3:21.

1:8-9. These words about confessing sin and the faithfulness of God to forgive our sins have been used in various liturgies to assure worshipers of God’s grace.

2:1.  paraklēton echomen = “we have an advocate”:  lit. “one who stands beside another (to help)”; referring to Jesus see Rom. 8:34; to the Holy Spirit see John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Rom. 8:26; cf. Prov. 22:10-11.

2:2. kai autos hilasmos estin peri tōn hamartiōn … kai peri holou tou kosmou = “and he is the expiation for our sins … and for the whole world”: See the related word hilasterion at Romans 3:25 and the LXX at Lev. 16:13-15 where the word defines the “mercy seat” on which the priest poured and sprinkled sacrificial blood in order to make atonement for sins the sins of the people.


John 20:19-31
While many people came to faith through seeing the signs which Jesus performed during his ministry, God offers the gift of life to others by providing written and spoken witnesses to the identity of Jesus Christ.
Having accomplished the purpose of God’s mission through death and resurrection, the exalted Christ gives the Holy Spirit to the apostles and commissions the Spirit-filled church to act on his authority in forgiving and retaining sins.

John 20 reports three resurrection appearances of Jesus. The first (verses 11-18) occurs “on the first day of the week, while it was still dark” (v. 1) when the Risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. The second happened the same day, that is, Easter evening (vss. 19-25), and the third happened a week later (vv. 26-29). Perhaps more significant is that in John 20, the resurrection, the ascension, and the gift of the Spirit all occur on the same day (unlike Luke-Acts: Luke 24—Acts 2).

Key Words
V. 19.  eirēnē hymin = “peace to you”:  Hebrew šālôm`alêkem or šālôm lekem can be used as a simple greeting; here, however, it seems to introduce a manifestation of God.  See, e.g., Judges 6:23; Daniel 10:19.

V. 21.  kathōs apestalken me ho patēr, kagō  pempō hymas = “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”:  also 17:18. Also note the connection at 1 John 1:3.

V. 22.  enephysēsin kai legei autois, labete pneuma hagion = “he breathed (on them) and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”:  In the creation story God breathed (LXX: enephysēsin) into the first human the “breath (Hebrew nešāmâ; Greek pnoēn) of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7; note the word is “breath” and not “spirit” (Hebrew rûach; Greek pneuma).  At Ezekiel 37:6-10, however, YHWH breathed into the dry bones rûach/pneuma.

V. 23. an tinōn aphēte tas hamartias apheōntai autois = “if/since you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”:  The aorist aphēte implies a specific act of forgiving. The passive apheōntai is probably a theological passive, indicating that God is the actor. Might the forgiving and retaining of sins reflect the blessing and cursing of Genesis 12:3?

Vss. 24-28. Thomas: Because of the several references to Thomas as “the twin,” a tradition arose in the early church that Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus. At 11:16, Thomas stands out as a disciples who is ready to go with Jesus all the way to death (cf. Rom. 6:8; 2 Cor. 5:14). At 14:6, it is Thomas who raises the well-known question to Jesus: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way.” Jesus once again used such a question to provide the basis for the profound teaching: I AM the way and the truth and the life.” In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, this apostle stands out as one who had a special relationship with Jesus, hearing from the Master teachings the others did not know.

V. 26. Kai meth’ hēmeras oktō = “and after eight days” (sometimes translated “eight days later” [RSV] or “a week later” [NRSV]): On the basis of the synonymous parallelism at Hosea 6:2, we would expect the time reference to be “on the ninth day.”

V. 29. makarioi hoi mē idontes kai pisteusantes = “Blessed (are) the ones who have not seen and have believed”:  The aorist is used, probably to indicate to those in John’s community, that they have come to faith without the benefit of signs. For the form of the beatitude, see Matthew 5.

V. 30. sēmeia = “signs”:  The Book of Signs in John’s Gospel (2:1–12:37) contains many signs or miracles which Jesus performed during his ministry; see 2:11; 4:5; 11:47. Some came to believe in him, but not all (12:37).

V. 31. kai hina pisteusontes zōēn echēte  en tō onomati autou = “that you may have life in his name”:  see 1:4; 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:21-29, 39-40; 6:27-68; 8:12; 10:10-28; 11:25. Note how the “name” of Jesus now takes the place beside the name attributed to God in the OT (see Psalm 113).