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Wrestling with the Word, episode 30: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 19, 2009) June 26, 2009

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

How can we understand or speak of God without metaphors? The reality of God is so far beyond our comprehension that we humans can only use metaphorical language to approximate who God is and how God acts. The biblical writers had no advantage over us. They were fortunate enough to be the inventors of language forms that described a unique and unfathomable God for their time. They, after all, wrote the Bible—the collection of books we use as our norm for understanding God and God’s work. We are both blessed and challenged by the metaphorical language they chose.

To many readers, the image of shepherd and sheep has little relevance to today’s audience. Happily, in many parts of the world the role of shepherding continues and provides some insights into the biblical image. When we recognize that in the ancient world, kings frequently called themselves “shepherds of the people, we are not much better off since many of us have no more familiarity with kings than with shepherds. Whether or not modern day readers have ever seen a shepherd or a king, however, the biblical metaphor — used in both testaments — convey some powerful messages about the work of God: the pasturing, the gathering, the protecting, and the guidance back to the fold. Several of our lessons use these images for announcing the relationship between God and God’s people, while Ephesians 2 manages to probe the depths of the flock’s oneness without resorting to “sheep” or to “kings” but to “the cornerstone” of the structure that holds originally separate parts of the church together as the dwelling of God. Ultimately, as is true throughout the New Testament, all the metaphors come together in Jesus Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 30: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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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 in this psalm. 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 lives up to the name YHWH by assuring faithfulness to past 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 the party with envy. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available to the psalmist 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.

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Psalm 89:20-37
This psalm is an intriguing combination of several themes. Verses 5-18 praise the Lord as the incomparable God in the divine assembly, the one who established supremacy by conquering the forces of chaos (the sea, its waves, Rahab, the enemies). Verses 1-4, 19-37 take the form of a Davidic royal psalm, announcing that the Lord made an everlasting covenant with David to rule from Jerusalem’s throne over God’s people and to assert divine authority over the forces of chaos (sea and rivers). This royal power derives from the Father-son relationship God established with David and his descendants. Verses 38-51 become a powerful lament on the part of the people who in 597 B.C. have seen their Davidic king dragged off to exile in Babylon, calling into question the power and fidelity of God to the promises made long ago to David (2 Samuel 7:1-14).

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2 Samuel 7:1-14a
In contrast to the trivial matter of a house for the Lord, God promises to David an enduring house (dynasty) through which God will rule over the chosen people in a new way.

Context
David had been king over Judah for seven years before the people of Israel came to him at Hebron and asked him to be their king, too (2 Sam. 5:1-5). Once that transaction was accomplished, David established Jerusalem as his capital city because it was a site with connections neither to Judah nor to Israel (5:6-10). Having settled and made himself strong, David brought the ark of the covenant from the home of Obed into the city of Jerusalem and placed it in the tent of meeting on the slope that was called Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 1.  waYHWH hēnîach-lô missābîb mikkol-’ōyebāyw = “and the Lord gave him rest from all his enemies round about”:  an expression typical of the Deuteronomistic history (see Deut. 3:20; 12:10; 25:19; Josh. 21:44; 23:1).

V. 8. ’anî leqachtîkā min-hannāweh mē’achar hatstsō’n lihyôt nāgîd ‘al-‘ammî ‘al-yisrā’ēl = “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be prince over my people Israel”: The expression ties together the imagery of kings and shepherds known from the Bible and elsewhere. Furthermore, the words appear at Amos 7:15 to describe the Lord’s snatching Amos from his job as a shepherd to the function of prophet.

V. 9.  we‘āsîtî lekā šēm gādōl = “and I will make for you a great name”:  cf. the similar expression wa’agaddelā šemekā = “I will make great your name” in God’s promise to Abraham at Gen.12:2.

V. 11.  wehiggîd lekā YHWH kî-bayit ya‘ase-llekā YHWH = “and the Lord declares that the Lord will build a house for you”:  the word play on “house” (Heb. bayit) first as a building which David wants to build for YHWH, then as a dynasty which the Lord will establish for David. Note the metaphorical use of building parts to describe Jesus as a “cornerstone” at Ephesians 2:20-21.

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Jeremiah 23:1-6
In contrast to the shepherds who have scattered the flock, God will bring them home and provide good shepherds for their care.

Context
At the time of Jeremiah’s call, Josiah was king of Judah (640-609 B.C.).  Josiah was succeeded by Jehoaz who ruled only a few months. Jehoiakim became king and ruled from 609-598. Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.) was among the first exiles taken to Babylon. In order to maintain the appearance of a native ruler, Nebuchadnezzar picked Mattaniah, changed his name to Zedekiah (“Yah is my righteousness”), and the puppet king reigned until the second deportation in 587 B.C.

Key Words
V. 1.  mephitsîm ‘et-tsōn = “who scatter the flock”:  The same allusion occurs at Ezek. 34 (esp. vv.6, 7, 12) to speak of the failure of the appointed leaders of Judah.

V. 3.  wa’anî ’aqabbēts ’et-še’ērît tsōnî = “and I will gather the remnant of my flock”:  Note the contrast between the shepherds who scatter and the Lord who gathers at Ezek. 34.

V. 4. wahaqîmōtî ‘alêhem rô‘îm = “And I will appoint shepherds over them”: The following paragraph leads to the assumption that the shepherds will be Davidic kings who will fulfill the obligations of their office, especially hearing the needy when they cry out for help (Ps. 72:2, 4, 12-14). This connection of the appointed shepherd with a future Davidic king is much like the prophecy in Ezekiel 34. By contrast, according to Second Isaiah, the Lord designates as Cyrus, king of Persia, as “my shepherd” and “my anointed” (Isa. 44:28; 45:1), even though Cyrus does not know the Lord (45:5).

V. 5.  wahaqîmōtî ledāwid tsemach tsaddîq = “And I will raise up for David a righteous branch”:  The promise of the renewal of the covenant with David is stated here at a time when the dynastic succession has been broken. The image of the branch (tsemach) is used at Zech. 3:8 for Zerubbabel. The “branch” at Isa. 11:1 is a different Hebrew word: nētser.

V. 6.  YHWH tsidqēnû = “the Lord is our righteousness”:  One can only conjecture about whether the name of the truly chosen and legitimate Davidic ruler is a take-off on the name Zedekiah = “the Lord is my righteousness.”

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Ephesians 2:11-22
Against social and religious issues that divide people, the cross of Christ makes peace between us and God and peace with one another in Christ’s body, the church.

Context
Chapters 2 and 3 of the epistle focus on the central theological issue for the author, namely, the unity of the church. The first ten verses of this section explain how the resurrection of Christ had made the Christians alive, and on that basis, the author turns to the matter of reconciliation with God and with one another, especially in terms of the unity of Gentiles and Jews.

Key Words
Vv. 12-13.  tō_ kairō ekeinō … nuni de = “at that time … but now”:  The contrast defines the earlier time as the period when the Gentiles were separated from Christ, from the community of God’s people Israel, and from the covenant promise of God. “But now,” thanks to the sacrifice of Christ, the separation has disappeared.

V. 14.  Autos gar estin hē eirēnē hēmōn_ = “For he is our peace”:  Jesus is for the church “our peace, and “the church has “peace” in terms of the reconciliation of Gentile and Jew (v. 15), because he preached peace to all (v. 17).

V. 14.  kai to mesotoichon tou phragmou lysas = “and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility”: In light of the following words, the dividing wall appears to be that between God and humanity as well as the commandments and ordinances of Judaism (v. 15) which separated Israel from the Gentiles and which God has now “abolished” in order to create a new humanity.

V. 17.  “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near”:  The thought is probably taken from Isaiah 57:19 (“Peace, peace, to the far and the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal them”). The expressions here refer to the Gentiles (you who were far off) and to the Jews (those who were near).

V. 20. ontos akrogōniaiou autou Christou ‘Iēsou = “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”: The metaphor is used only of Christ in the NT. The author of 1 Peter 2:6 quotes Isa. 28:16 (a message that God will write as a cornerstone for the salvation from judgment of those who believe in the Lord). Here the author describes Jesus as the one who binds together the whole community in/as the temple of the Lord in which the God will dwell (vss. 21-22).

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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Like a shepherd caring for his flock, Jesus had compassion on the restless crowds who interrupted his plans for rest and leisure.

Context
The action follows the commissioning of the twelve to continue Jesus’ ministry (6:7-13) and the report about the beheading of John (vv. 14-29).

Key Words
Vv. 31, 32, 35.  erēmon topon = “a lonely/desert place”:  The expression recalls the wilderness experience of Israel. In Mark and Luke, a place (topos) often indicates a spot where people set the agenda by interrupting Jesus. His response to their interruptions indicates his hospitality and a model for discipleship. See Luke 4:42; 6:17; 9:12 and parallels; 11:1; 22:40: 23:33 and parallels.

V 34. kai esplagchnisthē ep’ autous = “and he had compassion on them”: See also1:41 (the leper); 8:2 (similar to the present text); 9:22 (a plea from the father of a boy with an unclean spirit).

V. 34.  hōs probata mē echonta poimena = “like sheep not having a shepherd”:  The quote comes from Num. 27:17 where God appoints Joshua to work with Moses so that the people do not wander aimlessly.

V. 56. kai hosoi an ēpsanto autou esōzonto = “and as many who touched it were healed”: For the healing touch in Jesus ministry, see Mark 1:41; 4:28-31. For the continuation of the healing touch into Paul’s ministry, see Acts 19:11.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 29: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 12, 2009) June 24, 2009

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Distinguishing between Christian faith on the one hand and worldly power and control on the other hand has been the Christian’s dilemma since the time of Constantine. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead promises God’s plan for the future of world and for all eternity. In the meantime, that hope for a new time, God’s reign, enables us to endure hardships and sufferings, even rejections that resemble more the way of the cross than the victory over death. Furthermore, trying to discover the world’s adoration of God in the present time can lead us to utter frustration and even a feeling that God has failed. Our lessons for this day run the gamut from salvation achieved but yet to come, of rejection and failure by the world powers to acknowledge the reign of God, and God’s management plan for the universe that flies far beyond what we hope to see in the present time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 29: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 85:8-13
The psalm is a wondrous mixture of praise, lament, and the promised word. The period immediately after the return of the exiles from Babylon seem to fit the movement of the psalm. We know about that plight and the reasons for it as we move from the preaching of Second Isaiah (Isa. 40—55) to that of Third Isaiah (Isa. 56—66). In our psalm, verses 1-3 praise the Lord for having forgiven the people of their sins and restoring them to the land (see Isa. 40:1-11). Verses 4-7 express the lament that the homecoming did not fit the prophesied and expected results see Isa. 56—66). Verses 8-13 provide the report of the official prophet as he had listened carefully to the Lord’s promise and now delivers what the word promised. Powerfully, the actions of God as steadfast love (covenant loyalty), faithfulness, righteousness, and peace will join together for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

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Amos 7:7-15
Having provided a vision portraying divine testing of the trueness of the house of Jeroboam, the Lord called the herdsman Amos to prophesy in spite of his lack of training and in spite of the inevitable rejection of his message.

Context
In the days of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.) God called a herdsman named Amos to leave his home at Tekoa near Bethlehem to prophesy in the northern kingdom of Israel. With the exception of the final two prophecies in his book, Amos preached only judgment, not only against Israel but also against Judah. Immediately prior to our pericope, God had provided a different image of destruction for Israel that prompted the prophet to intercede successfully on behalf of the land and its people.

Key Words
V. 7.  anāk = “a plumb line”:  This is the only occurrence of the word in the Hebrew Bible; however, it seems to be used in a way similar to mišqelet and qāv at Isa. 28:17. The plumb line does not indicate judgment per se but indicates the work of a builder who is testing a wall to determine its soundness and trueness.

V. 9.  bāmôt yischāq = “the high places of Isaac”:  bāmôt is the name given to “sanctuaries” (see the parallelism here), usually Canaanite holy places. Here the word refers to Israel’s rival sanctuaries to Jerusalem (especially Dan and Bethel) that have cropped up in the northern kingdom.

V. 10. qāšar = “conspire”: It is not clear with whom Amos would have been conspiring. However, the history of Israel might have served as a warning to Amaziah, because internal rebellions had in the past followed prophetic oracles of judgment (see 1 Kings 11:29ff. and 12:16; 19:15ff. and 2 Kings 8:7ff.; 9:1ff.).

V. 10.  Bethel: According to the biblical tradition at Genesis 28:10-22, the ancestor nearest and dearest to the northern kingdom, Jacob, founded that sanctuary on his way to sojourn with Laban the Aramean.  Bethel became notorious from the Judean point of view when Jeroboam I established that sanctuary and the one at Dan as rivals to the Jerusalem temple by setting up a golden calf in each place. That Bethel “is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the temple of the kingdom” (v. 13) indicates that “church and state” were combined there just as they were in Jerusalem.

V. 14.  lō’-nābî’ ’ānōkî welō’  ben-nābî’ ’ānōkî = “not a prophet I and not a son of a prophet I”:  The tense to be supplied is uncertain.  Was he not a prophet previous to his call but now is a prophet? Or is he referring to a class of prophets of which he is not a member?

V. 15.  wayyiqqachēnî YHWH mē’acharê hatstsōn = “the Lord took me from following the flock”:  See the Lord’s words to David at 2 Sam. 7:8:  “I took you … from following the flock, to be prince.”

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Ephesians 1:3-14
Having adopted us as children through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ’s death, God calls the church and each of us to live out our future inheritance by glorifying God here and now.

Context
The Epistle to the Ephesians is not in the strictest sense an epistle, and it might not have been addressed to the Ephesians. Furthermore, in spite of its first word, it was probably not written by Paul. Written sometime before A.D. 95, this essay by an admirer of Paul was apparently intended as a theological teaching about the unity of the church under the leadership of Christ, its head. That unity was emphasized because of the growth of the church in Gentile circles and the apparent difficulty of remembering the church’s origin among Jewish people and Jewish traditions. The piece selected as our pericope is a hymn about God’s blessedness and how that blessing affects the life of the baptized.

Key Words
V. 5.  en agapē  proorisas hēmas eis huiothesian dia ’Iēsou Christou = “in love having destined us for adoption through Jesus Christ”:  The term huiothesia = “adoption” is used at Rom. 9:5 for the relationship of Israel to God and also at Gal. 4:5 for the relationship of Christians to God through baptism.

V. 7.  en hō  echomen tēn apoltrōsin dia tou haimatos autou, tēn aphesin tōn paraptōmatōn = “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins”:  These expressions in the hymn indicate that by the time of the writing of this epistle, they had become common liturgical expressions and are quoted without explanation. Interestingly, while Paul used the word apoltrosis = “redemption” in the sense of freedom from the power of sin and death (slave market imagery), the apposition here appears to define  “redemption” as God’s pardoning of our sins.

V. 10. eis oikonomian tou plērōmatos tōn kairōn = “as a management of the fullness of time”: Mark summarizes the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in terms of “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes of the “fullness of time” as the incarnation of God’s Son in the world to redeem those under the law in order that our adoption might occur (Gal. 5:4-5). Here, the words point to the grand purpose of God, namely, to “manage” the promise of a new order for the entire universe over which Christ will rule.

V. 12. eis to einai hēmas eis epainon doxēs autou = “for us to exist for the praise of his glory”: The hymn defines Christian responsibility to be and do what God created humanity for: the glory of God. Note the climax to the hymn Paul quotes at Phil. 2:5-11.

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Mark 6:14-29
Trying to understand who Jesus was on the basis of reports of his miracles, Herod could find explanation only in the rumor that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.

Context
Chapter 6 begins with the account that Jesus was rejected even in his hometown (vv. 1-6a). Then occurs a paragraph about his commissioning the twelve to continue his ministry of casting out demons and healing those who were sick (vv. 6b-13).

Key Words
Vss. 14-15. The range of rumors about the identity of Jesus occurs again at 8:27-28. The connection between John the baptizer and Elijah occurs elsewhere (see Mark 1:4, 6; 9:13; Matt. 11:7-14). Note the similarity between John’s reproach of Herod Antipas and Herodias with Elijah’s reproach of Ahab and Jezebel at 1 Kings 21:17-29).

V. 16. “John, whom I beheaded”: Herod’s admission and the following story of explanation provide further testimony for Mark’s emphasis that the world rejected Jesus and the God who sent him. The list on the opposition team includes the priestly and governing authorities, the people, and the disciples. The inevitability of Jesus’ death and the way of discipleship will stand out when Jesus speaks explicitly at 8:31-38.

V. 29.  kai ethēkan auto en mnēmeiō = “and laid it in a tomb”:  The same words are used for the burial of Jesus at 15:46. The result for John, God’s representative, is, like that of Amos, failure to be recognized. The effect for John, however, is capital punishment rather than dismissal.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 28: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 5, 2009) June 23, 2009

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The word “mission” has become part of the language of many organizations in the world. The word usually appears in terms of a “mission statement” that defines what an organization is about, what its purpose is, what guides its policies and staff. Churches and church organizations emphasize “mission” to describe their purpose and work, even though the word “mission” never occurs in the Bible. The noun “mission” itself actually derives from a Latin word that means “send.” The verb “send” appears frequently throughout the Bible, and the subject of the verb is almost always God or Jesus. God the father or God the Son sends people to others with messages to deliver and with work to fulfill. Our biblical passages for today reveal one of the problems with God’s working this way: God’s role is ambiguous, at best. When God acts through such agents, those to whom God sends emissaries often encounter resistance. Yet, the church has no option. Participating in God’s mission (sending) is what it means to be God’s people in the world, to be Christ’s disciples to others, and to be the Spirit’s family spreading the good news in word and loving deeds.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 28: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 123
This prayer of an individual slides seamlessly into one of the community, one and all looking up toward the Lord for mercy. The people are like servants before their masters and mistresses waiting for favor. The master in the case is the “Lord, our God” (v. 2) who sits “enthroned in the heavens” (v. 1). Their plea for mercy might arise from many different situations, but it is tempting to consider their situation to be their exile in Babylon (597-538 B.C.); during that period, the people felt forsaken by God (Isa. 40:27; 49:14; Ezek. 37:11). That forsakenness itself leads to mockery and contempt from their enemies (vss. 3-4), much like the similar situation at Ps. 42:3, 10: “Where is your God?” Out of his profound piety, the psalmist refrains from blaming God for their trouble (see Ps. 89:38-51).

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Ezekiel 2:1-5
The people of Israel refuse to listen to the spirit-endowed prophet, but his presence through the Word cannot be denied.

Context
Like Ezekiel 1, this pericope reports the call of the priest to be a prophet. That event occurred in Babylon during the fifth year of the “exile of King Jehoiachin,” thus 593 B.C. The awesome sight leading to our pericope was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (1:28b). Like the calls of Moses (Exod. 3:1-12) and Isaiah (6:1-8), the signs simply pave the way for the call.

Key Words
V. 2. wattābō’ bî rûach ka’ašer dibber ’ēlay = “And into me entered the Spirit as he spoke to me”: The connection between the word and the Spirit is common in Ezekiel (see especially 37:1-14).

V. 3.  šōlēach ‘ani’ōte= “I am sending you”:  For the words of God “I send you” to others, see Judg. 6:14 (Gideon); Jer. 1:7; 25:15 (Jeremiah). Jesus becomes the “I” who sends disciples at Matt. 10:16(= Luke 10:3); 23:34; John 20:21 and Paul at Acts 26:17.

V. 5.  bêt merê hēmmā = “they are a rebellious house”:  The expression occurs only in Ezekiel, often in regard to Israel:  2:6, 7; 3:9, 26, 27; 12:3.

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2 Corinthians 12:2-10
God calls us to translate our weaknesses into our strengths in order to demonstrate the power that is God’s.

Context
Beginning at 10:1 and continuing through 13:10 the apostle defends his apostleship in a variety of ways:  refuting slanderers (10:1-11), demonstrating his authority (10:12–11:21), showing the bases for his boasting (11:22–12:13).

Key Words
V. 7.  edothē moi skolops tē sarki, aggelos satana = “a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan”:  Some interpreters have suggested a physical malady such as epilepsy, malaria, or the like; others have maintained a spiritual affliction like not really wanting Satan to let go. On the basis of the thorn (skolops) in Ezek. 28:24 it might even be a person who treats him “with contempt.”

V. 9.  kauchēsomai en tais astheneiais mou = “I will boast of my weaknesses”:  Paul warns against boasting in the self or in human matters (1 Cor. 1:29; 3:21; Rom. 4:2; 11:18). The only legitimate object of boasting is either the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31 = 2 Cor. 10:17) or one’s own weaknesses so that the power of Christ might be known (2 Cor. 11:21; 12:5).

V. 10.  hyper Christou = “for the sake of Christ”:  For the phrase in connection with suffering see Phil. 1:29; 3:7.

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Mark 6:1-13
Since the people of his own country took offense at Jesus who marveled at their unbelief, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to preach and to heal, in spite of the rejection that might come to them as well.

Context
In the previous chapter Jesus had performed several miraculous signs:  driving Legion out of the man (5:1-20), healing the woman with the endless flow of blood (vv. 24b-34), the raising of Jairus’s daughter (vv. 35-43). Obviously, reports of his deeds spread like wildfire.

Key Words
V. 1.  eis tēn patrida autou = “to his own country”:  apart from the Synoptic parallel at Matt. 13:54 (Luke mentions “Nazareth” specifically), the phrase occurs in the OT for Jethro at Exod. 18:27 and for each exile at Jer. 51:9.

V. 2.  tis hē sophia hē dotheisa toutō_ = “what is the wisdom given to him?”:  Jesus demonstrates wisdom in his youthful experience in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), but he is also portrayed as being wisdom at Luke 11:49 (cf. parallel at Matt. 23:34) and at Matt. 11:25-30 (speaking Wisdom’s words from Sirach 51:23ff.).

V. 3. kai eskandalizonto en autō = “they were offended/scandalized at him”: Their awareness of Jesus’ family and occupation made his teaching in the synagogue scandalous to their ears. Jesus was too ordinary to speak with such authority

V. 6.  dia tēn apistian autōn = “on account of their unbelief”:  Mark reported the unbelief of the religious authorities and governing at 3:6. The disciples are upbraided for their lack of faith (4:40; 6:52; 14:18, 66-72; 16:14). As here, Paul speaks of the “unbelief” of the Jewish people who were Jesus’ own (Rom. 11:20, 23), and, of course, John’s Gospel indicates that “his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11), and even after the raising of Lazarus, the people rejected him (11:45-50).

V. 7.  edidou autois exousian = “he gave them authority”: Jesus gave them authority in preaching and teaching and power over unclean spirits, precisely what Jesus has been demonstrating in his own ministry; see 1:22-27; 3:11-12.

V. 12. kai exelthontes ekēryxan hina metanōsin = “And so they went out and preached that they (people) should repent”: The preaching of the apostles at this point was similar to that of John the Baptizer (1:4) and to part of Jesus’ preaching (1:15), but the healing that resulted from their ministry was due to the authority Jesus had given them. Those healings represent the dawning of the kingdom of God that was the major element of Jesus’ preaching.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 27: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (June 28, 2009) June 20, 2009

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
God calls us to love our neighbors in a variety of ways. People call out to the Lord for help on a daily basis, and God’s response so often requires our hands or our feet or our quiet presence. Sometimes the neighbors who cry out are the people close at hand like next-door-neighbors, and sometimes they are people far off. Sometimes when we are off to serve one neighbor, another one interrupts with needs of his or her own. Jesus’ ministry was like that, too. Interruptions can became opportunities for ministering.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 27: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 30
The psalm is a hymn of praise used by an individual after a lament (or series of them) had been offered. Characteristics of the lament are many, above all “you hid your face; I was dismayed” (v. 7). The absence of the Lord caused the worshiper to “cry for help” (vss. 2, 8), a cry to which the Lord responded. The effects of the Lord’s ultimate intervention appear in virtually every verse by way of contrasts. The result of the deliverance is not only the individual’s praise but the call on the community of the faithful to join in the joyful song.

The NRSV has provided its own superscription to the psalm, indicating an individual’s “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness.” The Hebrew Bible (and thus RSV) read “A Song at the dedication of the Temple.” That reference to the Festival of Chanukah (celebrating the purification of the Temple after the desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes from 167-164 B.C.) was obviously added at a later date to an existing individual song of praise.

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Lamentations 3:22-33
In spite of disaster all around, the faithfulness of God startles us anew each day and without ceasing.

Context
In our Christian Bible, the Book of Lamentations follows the Book of Jeremiah on the basis of 2 Chron. 35:25. In the Hebrew Bible it is positioned between Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) and Esther. Authorship by Jeremiah is not likely, though the material derives from the period of the exiles of 597 and 587 B.C. Chapter 3 is a personal reflection of tragedy and hope in the midst of the national crises that the first two chapters attribute to the Lord. The five chapters comprise five laments that appear in Hebrew as acrostics. Uniquely, chapter 3 uses the same letter of the alphabet (at times the same word) for 3 couplets of each stanza. The assigned pericope begins without the description of the previous verse that defines “hope” (v. 21).

Key Words
Vss. 22-24.  chasdê … chadašîm … chelqî = “acts of covenant loyalty … new things … my portion”:  Each line begins with the Hebrew letter chet.

V. 22.  chasdê YHWH = “the Lord’s acts of covenant loyalty”: The rendering “steadfast love” (RSV, NRSV) misses the action and the specificity of the word. Chesed is the faithfulness that exists within a covenant relationship. When used in the plural, as here, the word means the acts carried out to manifest that faithfulness.

V. 24.  chelqî YHWH = “the Lord is my portion”:  For use of the epithet elsewhere see Ps. 73:26; 119:57. In normal usage, the word refers to a tract or territory. In the psalms, however, the word points to the Lord as the one who, like a field, sustains life.

Vss. 25-27. tôv … tôv …  tôv … = “good … good … good”: Each line begins with the same letter (and word): t.

Vss. kî … kî … kî … = “for … for … for”: Again, each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet: k.

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2 Corinthians 8:7-15
On the basis of the Lord becoming poor that we might become rich, God calls us to demonstrate genuine love in liberal giving for the poor.

Context
The chapter begins with Paul’s announcement to the people at Corinth that the churches of Macedonia, though themselves suffering from poverty, had contributed generously to the poor saints in Jerusalem. They begged for the favor of taking part in the relief effort out of their abundance of joy in the gospel.  For the notion of the Son of God surrendering a throne in order to serve, see Philippians 2:6-11.

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Mark 5:21-43
Jesus demonstrates his power over sickness and death by healing the woman with the issue of blood and by raising from the dead the daughter of Jairus, thus giving to all who believe, as the woman and Jairus did, wholeness and the hope of resurrection.
OR
Concerned for the whole person in any kind of affliction, Jesus heals those who believe and commends them for their faith.

Context
At 4:1 Jesus begins teaching a series of five parables about the kingdom of God as he and a large crowd gather “beside the sea.” At 5:1 Jesus and the disciples arrived at the other side of the sea, the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where he exorcises “Legion.” Our pericope traces the itinerary back to the western shore, probably in the vicinity of Capernaum.

Key Words
V. 34.  thugatēr, hē pistis sou sesōken se = “Daughter, your faith has saved you”:  Jesus said the same to the woman of ill reputation who washed Jesus’ feet in connection with the forgiveness of her sins (Luke 7:50) and to the leper who returned to give thanks (Luke 17:19). The word is translated “save” or “heal.” The word is more comprehensive than the “curing” described at 1:34: 3:2, 10; 6:5, 13 (therapeuō) and earlier in our own story at v. 29 (iaomai).

V. 34. hypage eis eirēnēn = “Go in peace!”: With these words the priest dismissed the 5 Danites who had come seeking an inheritance (Judg. 18:6), and the priest Eli sent Hannah away with the assurance that the Lord will respond to her prayer for a child (1 Sam. 1:17). At 2 Sam. 15:9, the king dismissed Absalom to pay his vows to the Lord. At Luke 7:50, Jesus uses these words to dismiss the woman whose sins he had just forgiven,

V. 36. mē phobou, monon pisteuete = “Do not fear, only believe”: Mark has already demonstrated that fear is unnecessary when Jesus is present (4:40) and will continue to make the same point (6:50).

V. 43.  kai diesteilato autois polla hina mēdeis gnoi touto = “and he strictly charged that no one know this”:  The secrecy is characteristic of Mark; see the command to the leper at 1:44 and the response of Jesus to Peter’s confession at 8:30.

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Next week we will talk about the lessons for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B. You will benefit, I think, from reading in advance of the podcast:
Psalm 123
Ezekiel 2:1-5
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Wrestling with the Word, episode 26: Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (June 21, 2009) June 4, 2009

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Third Sunday after Pentecost

It seems difficult enough these days to talk about God as the Creator of the universe and everything in it. Such a basic confession does not seem possible for those who insist that everything they believe must be observable, measurable, and repeatable. How much more challenging is it today to speak of Jesus as both divine and human? I suspect it is not any more difficult today than it was two thousand years ago. The early apostles and disciples, the early church, tried all kinds of formulas and confessions. But sometimes nothing works better than a powerful story. The story about Jesus calming the sea is our topic for the day.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 26: Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
The psalm, a thanksgiving which follows lament, celebrates the deliverance of those who, caught in the fear of the tossing sea, cried to the Lord and were rescued when he stilled the storm and hushed the waves of the sea.  The verb used to describe this action in other places is gā’ar = “rebuke” (see Ps. 18:15; 104:7; Isa. 50:2; Nah. 1:4).

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Job 38:1-11
Pointing to his work of creating the world, God announces superiority over the human who questions the divine ways.

Context
Throughout the dialogues Job challenges the Lord to a legal contest to prove he is suffering unjustly. His friends have been expounding the traditional answer about suffering:  the good are rewarded and the wicked punished. According to their wisdom, Job is responsible to learn what the sin is so that he might repent.

Key Words
V. 4.  ’ēphô hāyîtâ beyosdî-’ārets = “where were you at the foundations of the earth”:  At Isa. 48:13 the Lord is the one who laid out those foundations and also established the heavens. For the three-storied universe, see also Phil. 2:10.

V. 7.  “all the sons of God shouted for joy”:  The presence of a multiplicity of beings around the throne of God appears in a variety of forms in the OT. At Isa. 6 there are the strange-looking seraphim. At 1 Kings 22 they are spirits. At Job 1 they are divine beings, among them Satan. At Ps. 29 they are also divine beings, sons of God, who indeed are called to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord.

Vv. 8-11.  “shut in the sea with doors … prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, … here shall your proud waves be stayed”:  The imagery is strikingly similar to the Babylonian myth about Marduk’s victory over Tiamat (the Deep) and to the Canaanite myth about the victory of Baal over Yamm (Sea).  Such allusions appear also in Job at 26:11-13 (cf. then 9:9, 13; see also Ps. 74:13-14; 89:9-10, 25; Isa. 50:2; 51:9-10; Nahum 1:3b-4; Hab. 3:8, 13-15). The control over the forces of water indicate the reign of God over chaos.

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2 Corinthians 6:1-13
In this new age of salvation which has already dawned, God turns what the world considers to be failure into accomplishment through faithful ministry and open hearts.

Context
The apostle has concluded chapter 5 by citing the ministry of reconciliation which is endowed on all who have become a new creation in Christ.  He regards as a new time all that has ensued since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the time of the kingdom in which we ourselves are new and in which we regard others in a new way also.

Key Words
V. 2.  kairō dektō  epēkousa sou kai en hēmera sōtērias eboēthēsa soi = “at an acceptable time I have listened to you and on a day of salvation I have helped you”:  The NRSV eliminates the RSV‘s definite articles, thus its rendering is more akin to the Greek text and to the Hebrew of Isa. 49:8 of which it is a quotation. The omission of the article makes less certain that the expression refers to the eschatological day of the Lord.

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Mark 4:35-41
Jesus’ calming of the sea accomplishes the promised end-time victory of God over the chaos that threatens to wreak lives and destroy God’s rule.

Context
At 4:1 Mark indicates a new section by reference to Jesus teaching “beside the sea.”  The teaching consists of five parables about the kingdom of God.  The stage is thus set for the action at the sea in terms of the day of the Lord which inaugurates the kingdom of God.

Key Words
V. 35.  en ekeinē  tē hēmera = “on that day”: This phrase appears in the LXX for the day of the Lord on which God will be victorious over the forces of evil; cf. especially Isa. 27:1.

V. 39.  epetimēsen tō anemō kai eipen tē thalassē, siōpa, pephimōso = “he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, `Peace, be still'”:  All this is to be seen as one act, not two, as can be demonstrated by the rebuking of the demons at 1:25 and by the parallel account at Matt. 8:27. Other objects of rebuke in Mark are thus the demons (1:25) and Satan in the form of Peter (8:33).  Essential to the interpretation of this passage is the recognition that in the OT the verb epitimaō = “rebuke” (Heb. gā‘ar) is used legitimately only by Yahweh. Thus, in the NT it is used legitimately only by the Son of God (note the problem at Mark 8:32).

V. 41.  tis ara houtos estin = “Who then is this”: The entire story is told in order to explain who Jesus is and what he is accomplishing in terms of the victory of the Day of the Lord.  The disciples’ failure to comprehend is typical of their response in Mark’s Gospel. See the similar lack of understanding at 6:51-52; 9:5-6.

For further discussion of order versus chaos, please see my text Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith published by Fortress Press in 1983 and rereleased in 2007.

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Looking Ahead
Lessons for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B:
Psalm 30
Lamentations 3:22-33
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43