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Wrestling with the Word, episode 35: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (August 23, 2009) August 5, 2009

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Commitment is not an unknown commodity in our world. We know about and laud commitment in terms of personal relationships—marriage, family, friends, and we make sacrifices for the sake of those commitments. We rejoice that some people are so committed to their work of serving and caring for people that they call what they do a calling rather than a job. On the other hand, the recent revelations about the financial industry provide abundant evidence that many folks are committed to making money, lots of it. I am not taking about the well publicized scandals, but the accepted way of doing business in the world. How else can we explain that a well-known financial company gave $5.3 billion in bonuses to its managers, more money than it made in profits for the year? If we dare enter the world of the Bible, we find, first and foremost, that God is committed to us. Commitment is primarily God’s pledge to Israel in the Hebrew Bible and to the world according to the New Testament. God’s actions to support that commitment constitute God’s righteousness. As we appropriate that divine commitment to our lives, we discover that God calls us make commitments in return—to God and to one another. The result is abundant and eternal life, even if it means struggling to defy the commitments that would lead us to death.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 35: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 34:15-22
After the thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance from a lamentable situation (vss. 1-8) and the wisdom teaching to those gathered round the psalmist in the temple (vss. 9-15), this section of the acrostic psalm stresses the Lord’s commitment to save the righteous. God hears their cries for help and comes near to those in need. Against the teaching of optimistic wisdom, the psalmist recognizes that the righteous indeed suffer many things, but the Lord is present in the midst of suffering, rescues them from afflictions, and “redeems the life of his servants” … “who take refuge in him.” The conviction that the Lord will not allow a bone of the righteous to be broken (v. 20) became part of the crucifixion tradition at John 19:33-36.

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Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Having heard the recitation of the mighty acts of God, the people of Israel follow Joshua’s lead in committing themselves to serve the Lord alone.

Context
This last chapter of the Book of Joshua brings to an end the so-called Hexateuch. The traditions of the patriarchs, the story of the exodus, the wilderness wanderings, and the gift of the land–all conclude here. Some scholars have called the assembly here at Shechem the “constituting convention” of the twelve-tribe league. In other words, at this point one can begin to speak of Israel historically, for all the traditions and stories before this moment belonged to and were cherished by different groups. At Shechem when they came together, the tribes gave up their former gods and simultaneously brought together under one God their separate histories. When the story-line picks up again at Judges 2:6, the people’s commitment moves elsewhere

Key Words
V. 1.  kol-šibtê yisrā’ēl = “all the tribes of Israel”:  Chapters 13-19 describe the distribution of the land to the tribes.  In all likelihood, these boundaries were the ones that already existed for this or that tribe, and so the descriptions in the Book of Joshua are probably descriptive rather than prescriptive. In terms of structure:  individuals formed families; families bound together to constitute clans; clans formed tribes; tribes formed the league organized here (see Josh. 7:10-18 for the structure).

V. 15.  “the gods which your ancestors served/worshiped in the region beyond the River”:  The “River” is the Euphrates, and so beyond the River is Mesopotamia from which Abraham came (see Gen. 11:27-32). One can imagine that over the course of the second millennium B.C. many other migrations brought people from Mesopotamia to Canaan, and that they brought with them their gods.

V. 15.  “the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living”:  The name “Amorite” is variously used in the OT. It would appear that Abraham was an Amorite or at least closely associated with them (see Genesis 14:13; even his name appears to be Amorite). But here and in other cases, the term seems synonymous with Canaanites, and it is their gods — Baal, Asherah, etc — that need to be cast away for the sake of worshiping Yahweh.

V. 18. gam-’anachnû na‘abōd ’et-YHWH kî-hû’ ’elōhēnû = “indeed we will serve the Lord, for he is our God:” The commitment follows the people’s confessional statement that the Lord is the one who brought them out of the bondage in Egypt, guided them though the wilderness, and conquered for them the land of Canaan. Their confession repeats the recital of history delivered by Joshua at vss. 2b-13.

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Ephesians 6:10-20
In the face of evil and spiritual warfare, God provides Christians with the same armor God uses against evil — truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, the Spirit — and offers the gift of prayer to enable us to remain committed to proclaim the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Context
Between the last reading from this epistle and this pericope, the author discussed relationships among Christians within their households — husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters. In each case, the author emphasizes loyal obedience but not servile capitulation.

Key Words
V. 10. en tō kratei tēs ischyos autou = “in the strength of his might”: The expression sounds quite similar to the LXX at Isa. 40:26 where the prophet points to the Lord’s incomparable strength as evidence of the divine ability to deliver the exiles.

V. 14. perizōsamenoi tēn osphyn hymōn en alētheia = “having girded your loins with truth”: The expression recalls the quality with which the future messianic king will render justice in the land (Isa. 11:5).

Vss. 14-17. “the breastplate of righteousness … the helmet of salvation”: The combination appears at Isaiah 59:17 as the armor of God by which the Lord will judge even the redeemed people of Israel for the lack of justice and righteousness among them.

V. 19 gnōrisai to mysterion tou euaggeliou = “to proclaim the mystery of the gospel”: At 3:3, the author writes that the “mystery” of the gospel was made known to him by revelation. The same word appears for the gospel at Col. 4:3. The Apostle Paul speaks of “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” at 1 Cor. 2:6-13 that the Holy Spirit has revealed.

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John 6:56-69
Having alienated some disciples who were scandalized at his words about being the Bread from heaven, Jesus looked for a commitment on the part of the Twelve, among whom Peter confessed that Jesus was the Holy One of God and that in him are the words of eternal life.

Context
The verses of this pericope pick up the discussion of vv. 35-50, giving the impression that the discussion about the sacrament in vv. 51-59 was a later addition. See the discussion by Raymond Brown, The Gospel according to John I-XII, pp. 281–303.

Key Words
V. 61.  touto hymas skandalizei = “Does this scandalize you?”:  The literal translation is sharper than RSV‘s and NRSV‘s “offend.” The scandal is Jesus’ claim to be the Bread from heaven who is given in order that the eaters might live. Eating flesh and particularly drinking blood was indeed scandalous (see Genesis 9:4; Lev. 3:17), but so also was the claim of Jesus that he is the source of eternal life.

V. 63.  to pneuma estin to zōopoioun, hē sarx ouk ōphelei ouden ta rēmata … pneuma estin kai zōe estin = “the spirit is life-making, the flesh is useless; the words … are spirit and are life”:  The contrast between “flesh” as of no use and “words” being spirit and life sounds like the contrast of Isa. 40:6, 8 which contrasts “flesh” and the Word of the Lord. The life-giving words here are the ones that Jesus had just spoken about his identity as the bread of life.

V. 65. oudeis dynatai elthein pros me ean mē hē dedomenon autō ek tou patros = “no one can come to me unless it is given by the Father”: The need for God to give faith in Jesus has already been stated by John the Baptizer at 3:27. The words are similar to those Jesus said to Peter at his confession at Matthew 16:16-17; there, as here in v. 63, “flesh” and blood are useless as a source for knowing who Jesus is. See also Paul’s teaching at 1 Cor. 15:50; Gal. 1:16. Compare Martin’s Luther’s Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Small Catechism: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel….”

V. 69.  su ei ho hagios tou theou = “you are the Holy One of God”:  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is identified with these words by the unclean spirit in Capernaum (Mark 1:24). More important, the confession of Peter here sounds like the one he gave on the road to Caesarea Philippi:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). In LXX the expression “Holy One” is used as a synonym for Nazirite (Judg. 13:7; 16:17), thus describing one who is separate from others on the basis of his vows. However, from the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus is distinct from others on the basis of his origin. Since the confession follows Jesus’ teaching at v. 65, only God could have given Peter the faith to make this statement (again, cf. Matt. 16:16-17).

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Bible passages for next week
Psalm 15
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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