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Wrestling with the Word, episode 43: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 18, 2009) September 30, 2009

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

The Bible is full of surprises. Perhaps we miss some of them because either they do not fit our established views of God or the ways we live to which we are accustomed. Maybe we miss them for the same reason that writers cannot proofread their own material: their eyes see what they expect to see rather than what appears on the printed page. But for those of us who keep missing the surprises, the Bible keeps blaring them out. The lessons for today offer once again the surprise that power and life result from weakness, suffering, and service.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 43: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 91:9-16
The psalm is a powerful attestation to the strength that comes with an individual’s trust in God. Verses 9-13 represent a priest’s promise to such a faithful individual who regards the Lord as “my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust” (v. 2). The priest responds with colorful imagery, some of it familiar, like verses 11-12. That color is matched only by the confirming response from the Lord who promises deliverance, protection, response to prayers, rescue, honor, and long life with salvation (verses 14-16).

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Isaiah 53:4-12
Because of the servant’s vicarious suffering to make others righteous, God will give the servant a share of the spoils due to heroes.

Context
These final verses of the fourth Servant Song move the issue of suffering in general to more specifically portray a servant who suffers for the sake of others (cf. Ezek. 4:1-8). In the first two servant songs (42:1-4; 49:1-6) the identity of the servant, especially in the present context, appears to be the exiled people of Jerusalem who have been dwelling for years in Babylon. At the third song, 50:4-11, the identity is not as clear, although it still could be that of the people. In this last song (52:13–53:12) many scholars argue that along with the new twist of vicarious suffering is a new identity that has more to do with an individual than with the people collectively. The difficulty caused by that interpretation is then identifying the individual the poet-prophet had in mind — a king, a prophet, and which one of those in particular.

Key Words
V. 4.  ’ākēn cholāênû hû’ nāsā  ûmak’ōbênû sebālām = “Surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains”:  The connection of the Servant and suffering is not new in this fourth song. The Servant suffers the feeling of failure in the second song at Isa. 49:4. In the third song the Servant undergoes physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his adversaries (50:6). Here, however, the terminology introduces vicarious suffering by the servant, an emphasis that is continued in vv. 5, 10, 11, 12. The words that describe the people (speaking in the first person plural) are infirmities and diseases (v. 4), transgressions and iniquities (v. 5), iniquity (vss. 6, 11), transgression/transgressors (vss. 8, 12). [The use of the verse at Matt. 8:17 has nothing to do with vicarious suffering but with Jesus’ healing miracles.]

Vv. 5-6.  The use of these verses at 1 Peter 2:24-25 is the only time in the NT that precise words of this Song are used for the vicarious suffering of Jesus.

V. 7.  kasseh lattebach yûbal = “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”:  An almost identical expression appears in one of the laments of Jeremiah at Jeremiah 11:19. The similarity has led some to believe that the servant is a prophetic figure like Jeremiah. This entire verse and the next one appear at Acts 8:32-33 to point to Jesus’ death, but not to its vicarious effect.

V. 8.  kî nigzar mē’erets chayyîm = “he was cut off from the land of the living”:  See Jer. 11:19 (again, note the comment on the previous verse); Ezek. 37:11 where the expression is figurative for a “dead” community, that is, the exiles in Babylon.

V. 11. yatsdîq tsaddîq ‘abdî lārabbîm = “The righteous one will make many to be righteous”:  The parallelism is instructive: “he will forgive their iniquities.” The causative form of the verb tsdq appears elsewhere with YHWH as the subject. At 1 Kings 8:32 the Lord is praised for “vindicating” the righteous according to his righteousness” in contrast to “condemning the guilty.” (see secular sense at Deut. 25:1; 1 Sam. 15:4). At Psalm 82:3 God charges the “gods” to “vindicate the afflicted and the destitute” (//give justice to the weak and the orphan”). The Servant of Second Isaiah finds strength in the belief that YHWH who “vindicates” him is near (Isa. 50:8). Even though YHWH declares he will “not acquit” the guilty (Exod 23:7) and promises judgment on “those who acquit the guilty” in courts of law (Isa. 5:23; cf. Prov. 17:15), he the object of the Lord’s “acquitting” are those who are sinners (see vss. 5, 8, here, and 12). [The LXX reads here dikaiōsai, the verb that Paul uses for “justify” (see especially Rom. 3: 24, 26).] As for the object of the verb here, the word rabbîm sometimes distinguishes “many” from “all”; however, the word might be idiomatic for “all,” a common idiom in several Semitic languages. The same appears to be true of the apocalyptic resurrection promised at Daniel 12:2.

V. 12.  The use of “numbered with transgressors” at Luke 22:37 is related to the poverty of Jesus and his disciples. That the servant identified with the sinners for whom he suffered and died sounds like Paul’s announcement that Jesus became cursed for us (Gal. 3:13).

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Hebrews 5:1-10
Like high priests chosen in human circles, Jesus Christ, having learned obedience through suffering and made perfect, was designated by God to be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

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Mark 10:35-45
Against the world’s way of making hierarchies among people, Jesus teaches that discipleship means the first must become slaves of others.

Context
After teaching the ways of discipleship, Jesus spoke for the third time about his death and resurrection waiting in Jerusalem, the opposite of what the disciples wanted or could handle.

Key Words
V. 35.  “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward”:  Mark is never afraid to portray the disciples in their frailty, their incomprehension, or their brazenness. Matthew, usually concerned to whitewash the disciples’ blemishes, has their mother come forward to present this proposal on her sons’ behalf.

V. 38.  ouk oidate ti aiteisthe = “You do not know what you are asking”:  The words could be a natural response to a preposterous request, but in Mark the disciples’ incomprehension is a consistent theme.

V. 38.  dynasthe piein to potērion ho ego pinō = “Are you able to drink the cup which I am to drink”:  The “cup” here, of course, is the fate which awaits Jesus in Jerusalem, as the same image is used by Jesus in Gethsemane at 14:36. In the OT “the cup” is a metaphor for divine judgment: “cup of the wine of wrath” (Jer. 25:15); “a cup of horror and devastation” (Ezek 23:32-34), “the cup of his wrath” (Isa 51:17, 22), and “a cup of reeling” (Zech 12:2). See also Jer 51:7; Obad 16; Hab 2:16; Lam 4:21; Ps 75:9.

V. 45.  kai dounai tēn psychēn autou lytron anti pollōn = “and to give his life as a ransom for many”:  While one is reminded of the terms in Isaiah 53:10-12, this verse is not precisely a quotation of that passage. As indicated in the discussion of the first lesson, the vicarious nature of the servant song is not used often in the NT. The allusion of this passage to the end of the song, however, might be one of the rare exceptions, along with 1 Peter 2:24-25.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 42: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 11, 2009) September 29, 2009

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Striving for a high level of personal morality is a very good thing. Keeping oneself pure in terms of God’s commandments and expectations should and can lead to admiration from others. Biblically-speaking, however, those personal goals are not sufficient. The God of the Bible, known in both testaments, pushes us beyond spiritual self-enhancement to responsibility for others, especially for the poor. Even more, that same God frees us from worrying about ourselves to enable us to serve our neighbors near and far, individually and collectively.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 42: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 90:12-17
This psalm is a lament much like many other laments in that it seeks the Lord to remedy a problem. Usually, however, the problem is with oppression by enemies; their taunting and isolating accusations leave the psalmist no option but to turn to the Lord for salvation. Sometimes the problem is sickness or the infirmities of old age, and the psalmist pleads for the Lord’s presence and comfort. This lament develops out of a more philosophical base. The influence of wisdom teachers on the worshiping community leads this lament to probe the meaning of life. It contemplates the immortality of God’s life with the numbered days of us mortals. The lament defines what a horrible existence they are leading under the continuing anger of God (vss. 3-11). It alludes to the despair over the “toil” of their work (v. 17). Our section of the psalm begins with a prayer that God give them “a heart of wisdom” to make the most out of their limited life spans. In lament-fashion, they ask the Lord, “How long?” until God comes to express pity on them. God’s “covenant loyalty” provides them the freedom to have mercy. As they lament God’s afflictions on them, so they realize that only the realization of God’s work among them can will enable them to experience rejoicing and gladness. Only then can their own work cease to be toil and become productive.

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Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Through Amos, YHWH implores Israel to live by seeking the Lord and goodness, loving goodness, and establishing justice in the courts.

Context
The earliest of the preaching prophets whose sermons have been preserved, Amos lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. His home was Tekoa, a little village not far from Bethlehem, but his call was to preach primarily to the northern kingdom. According to the superscription in the book (1:1), he prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah (783-742 B.C.) and Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746 B.C.). Israel’s sins were selling the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes, etc. (2:6-8), arrogance and pride (cf. 6:1ff.), too much stock in their own exodus tradition (9:7), and concern about making profits instead of worshiping YHWH (8:4-6). Above all, their optimism about the Day of YHWH is all wrong, because for them it will be a day of darkness and gloom (5:18-20).

What is missing from our pericope by the exclusion of vss. 8-9 is the second stanza of a three stanza hymn in Amos (4:13; 5:8-9; 5-6) that announces and praises the name of God for making the universe orderly rather than chaotic. Since such understandings of creation include God’s universal work of, and command for, “justice.”

Key Words
V. 6.  diršû ‘et-YHWH wichyû = “seek the Lord and live”:  Compare v. 14: “seek good and not evil, that you may live.” In Deut. life is based on keeping the commandments. Clearly, the Lord wants to provide the means for life to the people.

V. 7.  hahōphekîm lela‘anâ mišpāt ûtsedāqâ lā’āretz hinnîchû = “(You) who overturn justice into wormwood and have thrown righteousness to the ground”:  The word “wormwood” is used only figuratively in the OT, only in a negative sense. At Amos 6:12, a verse similar to this one, “wormwood” is parallel to rō’š = “bitter herb, venom,” and the perversions of justice and righteousness are there also the prophet’s concern. The same pair of “poison and bitter fruit” occurs at Deut. 29:17 (Eng. v. 18) where it results in stubbornness against the law of the Lord. At Jer. 9:14; 23:15, the pair of words describes God’s chastisement of the people against forsaking the Torah. At Lam. 3:19 the pair describes that chastisement as the reason for the lament. Likewise, the expression “throw down to the ground” is used at Isaiah 28:2 for the judgment that comes through the agent of the Lord. In our verse, of course, all this negative activity is descriptive of the people’s dishonoring God by forsaking his Torah.

V. 10.  sāne‘û bašša‘ar môkîach = “they hate the one who reproves in the gate”:  “The gate” is the place where court cases are tried. In the cities of old, the only space large enough for an assembly of persons to gather was the gateway. In rural societies, court was held on the threshing floor. The people show no respect for the judges who try cases in court or for the witnesses who testify to the truth (see v. 12; elsewhere Isa. 3:9).

V. 11. lākēn ya‘an bôšaskem ‘al-dāl = “Therefore, because you trample upon the poor”: The word “therefore” introduces a pronouncement of judgment when what precedes is a description of human activity. When an action of God precedes, the word “therefore” introduces a promise of salvation. Here, the judgment follows the perversion of justice and righteousness and includes the trampling of the poor. What follows immediately is their description of God’s judgment.

V. 11.  “houses … but you shall not dwell in them; vineyards … but you shall not drink their wine”:  This imagery for God’s judgment, like that of Deut. 28:30, indicates that all the work that the people do will be unproductive (“toil” in Gen. 3:17).  For the picture of the opposites in and through God’s salvation, see Josh. 24:13; Deut. 8:11-12; Isa. 65:21-23.

V. 12. Israel’s sins and transgressions take the form of oppressing the poor: afflict the righteous, take bribes, and push aside the needy in courts of law. See the parallel at Isa. 3:13-15. The context indicates that the opposite of “justice” and “righteousness” is sin.

Vss.14-15. In contrast to their prevailing behavior, God calls the people to opposites: pursue and love good (tôb) by establishing justice mišpāt in the court system,

V. 15. ’ûlay yechenan YHWH ’elōhê-tsebā’ôt še’ērît yôsēp = “Perhaps YHWH God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph”: The use of “perhaps” merely allows the possibility that God will show grace to what is left of the northern kingdom if they reverse their ways toward life and justice.

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Hebrews 4:12-16
Having encouraged the readers to persevere toward God’s promise of eschatological rest, the author warns of the Word’s ability to penetrate thoughts and simultaneously encourages them to hold firm to the confession in Jesus Christ through whom they can be confident of God’s mercy.

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Mark 10:17-31
Having demonstrated the difficulty of faith through the wealthy man who walked away from Jesus’ instruction to give all his possessions to the poor, Jesus teaches the disciples that the only way one can enter the kingdom of God is through the miraculous work of God.

Context
At 10:1 Jesus is in the region of Judea. At v. 32 he is headed toward Jerusalem, and so this teaching must be seen in terms of the movement toward his death.  Perhaps key to understanding this pericope is the previous paragraph, vv. 13-16, in which Jesus teaches that in order to enter the kingdom of God, one must be “as a little child” (v. 15).

Key Words
V. 17.  ti poiēsō hina zōēn aiōnion klēronomēsō = “What must I do in order that I might inherit eternal life”:  The issue of what we must do is the key to the passage. In Amos 5, the answer is “seek the Lord” and “seek life” by doing “justice and righteousness.” In Deuteronomy, life is acquired by keeping the Torah of YHWH (what is the way of “justice”). At the same time, the question itself is interesting, because in the OT, “inherit” usually refers to the land of Canaan or life in the land (Deut. 30:15ff.). In the NT, what Jesus bestows as inheritance is the kingdom of God. Note that Paul speaks of the gospel in terms of a “last will and testament” (Gal. 3:15).

V. 21. ho de Iēsous emblepsas autō ēgapēsan auton = “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him”: The report of Jesus loving the man is not because he kept the commandments but because he came seeking the answer to his question. It was in love that Jesus provided the answer. Keeping the commandments does not suffice. Giving all his possessions to the poor (see Amos 5:6-15) will indicate he throws his eternal existence on the love of God and becomes a disciple of Jesus. The focus on attaining one’s own salvation must give way to trusting in God and to focus on serving others, especially the poor. At Luke 19:1-10 Jesus commends Zacchaeus for giving half his possessions to the poor; even more striking is the tax-collector’s practice of giving back fourfold the amount he might have defrauded from anyone.

V. 21. kai deuro akolouthei moi = “And come, follow me”: The call to discipleship is the key to Jesus’ instruction to sell all and give it to the poor. He will explain this connection in v. 29 when he explains to the disciples the cost of their discipleship along with its eternal blessing. The instruction sounds much like the call of Amos to “seek the Lord and live” and to “seek good that you may live” (Amos 5:6, 14). Yet, Mark has already given us Jesus’ description of the cost of discipleship and its promise at 8:34-35.

V. 23. eis tēn basileian tou theou eiseleusontai =”to enter the kingdom of God”: Jesus uses here kingdom terminology in place of the man’s request for the way to “inherit eternal life” (v. 17).

V. 27.  para anthropois adynaton, all’ ou para theō = “not possible for humans, but not for God”:  This is the answer to the disciples’ question “Who can be saved?”  Recall the Lord’s statement at Gen. 18:14 where God indicates to Sara that while she is not physically capable of having the promised baby, God will make it happen.

V. 31. “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”:  The response is to Peter’s concern that since he and the others sacrificed so much, they should have no trouble entering the kingdom. It would appear that the primary problem here is Peter’s thinking that their own actions should qualify them for the kingdom. However, Jesus has already laid down different values in vs. 15: children who claim nothing to offer are the most qualified.

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Next week:
Psalm 91:9-16
Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 4, 2009) September 22, 2009

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christians have a much better chance to prove faithful when we move beyond ourselves to recall God’s commitment to the whole human race, even to the world. God’s call to discipleship and mission forces us to see the broad scope of God’s gifts. Our lessons for the day begin with these powerful insights that set the stage for Jesus’ teachings, to say nothing about Jesus’ identity.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm  8
This hymn glorifying God the Creator exults in the wonder of what it means to be human. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the worshipper casts in poetic form what Genesis 1 sets forth in praise, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity by God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” in verse 4, the early church interpreted the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In its own context, however, “son of man” is simply parallel to “humanity” (’ādām). The power of the poem lies in its amazement at the majesty of God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.

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Genesis 2:18-24
God’s will for humanity is community, and the primary expression of that community is the committed relationship of marriage.

Context
The creation story of the Yahwist (10th century B.C.) begins at 2:4b. In contrast to that of the Priest (Genesis 1:1–2:4a) which is universal in scope, the second story takes place at a local oasis. The Lord began by creating Adam, made the Garden of Eden for his dwelling place, planted trees for food and beauty, gave the man a garden and held him responsible for working and protecting it, and laid down the law forbidding eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Key Words
V. 18.  lō’-tôb heyôt hā’ādām lebaddô = “not good (is) the being of the man alone”:  Interestingly the “not good” contrasts sharply with the tôb = “good” which occurs repeatedly throughout Genesis 1, indicating that everything functions according to the purpose for which it was made.

V. 18.  ‘ēzer kenegdô = “a help/strength as his opposite”:  The word ‘ēzer appears elsewhere in the OT only in relationship to YHWH. Either YHWH is the source of help (Ps. 20:2; 121:1-2; 124:8) or YHWH is help/strength (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7; Ps. 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11). As for kenegdô, the preposition neged means “opposite,” and to it is attached the preposition and a pronominal suffix.

V. 21.  tardēmā = “a sleep”: The point is not so much an anesthesia against pain but an elimination of the possibility of observing God at work; cf. also Gen. 15:12 and the prohibition against looking back at Gen. 19:17.

V. 23.  ‘etsem mē‘atsāmay ûbāsār mibbesārî = “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”:  The expression occurs also at Gen. 29:14; 2 Sam. 5:1 = 1 Chron. 11:1; 2 Sam. 19:13-14 to indicate people formed of the same parents, i.e., the source is the same.

V. 24.  dābaq = “cleave to”:  The word is used at Deut. 30:20 where Israel is called upon to “cleave to YHWH.” The expression connotes fidelity in relationships as YHWH expected Israel to remain loyal in the covenant.

V. 24.  “a man leaves his father and mother”:  The expression appears to point to a societal arrangement when the wife was not considered the husband’s property. Contrast the law at Exod. 20:17 (although note the change at Deut. 5:21).

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Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Reflecting the glory of God and bearing God’s nature, Jesus Christ, superior to the angels, became less than the angels for our sakes in order to taste death and become perfect through suffering.

Context
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a powerful yet puzzling book. Evidence is not sufficient to identify the author, the date of its origin, or the place where the author wrote it. Even the audience called in the title “the Hebrews” is difficult to understand. In spite of these unanswerable questions, the book presents in eloquent Greek the announcement that Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system that God had given to Israel. Jesus Christ was the true and ultimate sacrifice that ends the system, but as Exalted One he serves as high priest in the sanctuary of heaven. The unknown author seems to expound this powerful testimony so that the unknown audience might persevere in faith and love.

Key Words
2:6-7. The use of Psalm 8:5-7 demonstrates that the expression “son of man” is a prophecy about Jesus Christ who seems to have used that expression as his favorite means of identifying himself.

2:12. The quotation of Psalm 22:22 (LXX 21:23) demonstrates that the speaker of the psalm of lament and its thanksgiving is the Risen Christ. Likewise, the author uses in the following verses (12-13) two verses from Isaiah (originally the voice of the prophet) as the words of Jesus regarding his disciples.

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Mark 10:2-16
Against a legalistic attempt to define what is legal or permissible in marriage and divorce, Jesus asserts the will of God for marriage, and at the same time indicates that the children (of marriage) demonstrate the required stance of us all before God.

Context
The action at the end of the ninth chapter took place in Capernaum. Now, according to 10:1, Jesus moves into Judea, the area where the passion and crucifixion will occur. In that area, the reader can expect the testing from the Pharisees that occurs in these verses. The first 31 verses of this chapter seem to be a list of catechetical instructions for the community of faith, much like the lists which occur in the pastoral epistles and 1 Peter 2:13–3:7; 5:1-5.

Key Words
V. 2.  ei exestin = “is it lawful?”:  The Pharisees knew very well the law of Moses at Deut. 24:1-4 which permitted a man to write a divorce decree. Jesus responds by going back beyond the law of Moses to God’s will at creation.

V. 13.  paidia = “children”:  From the use of the word we are not able to determine anything about their ages, for the word describes a baby at John 16:21 and a 12-year-old child at Mark 5:39-42.

V. 13.  hoi de mathētai epetimēsan autois = “but the disciples rebuked them”:  Throughout the Bible the only legitimate subjects of the verb epitimaō are YHWH in the OT and Jesus in the NT. Note the trouble Peter gets into by taking over the verb “rebuke” Jesus at 8:32.

V. 14. tōn gar toioutōn estin hē basilea tou theou = “for of/ to such (the children) is the kingdom of God”: Whether the passage should read “of such is” or “to such belongs” is difficult to determine, but in either case, the vulnerable little children and the kingdom belong together. Jesus had used little children as the example of discipleship at 9:36. Here and through v. 15, he uses the model of little children as the only way to receive the kingdom or the ones who comprise the kingdom. Elsewhere, the possession of the kingdom belongs to the “poor in spirit” and to “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” at Matt. 5:3, 10 (simply “the poor” at Luke 6:20).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 40: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 27, 2009) September 15, 2009

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Making human judgments is part of living together responsibly as a human community. God has given us the knowledge of God’s will and the gift of reason to make those necessary judgments. Yet, God takes a risk in giving us this responsibility because with it we can make judgments that actually limit God’s freedom to speak and act. On the one hand, the lessons for this Sunday extol the various ways God speaks in the world. On the other hand, they point to the dangers of our excluding others from doing the work of God because they do not fit the standards we impose. Doing God’s work is not limited to committed disciples, but disciples are committed to discipline.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 40: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 19:7-14

The first six verses of this psalm actually comprise a separate psalm, and so our loss by their absence here is their praise of the universe (three-storied) that speaks the glory of God apart from words. Actually, that theme would serve well the teaching of the lesson from Numbers 11 and of Jesus in the Gospel lesson. Nevertheless, the selected verses for today comprise two parts. The first part, verses 7-10, is a powerful hymn in praise of the Torah. It extols the Torah of God as the highest value, because the law serves as God’s means of bestowing benefits on the people. The second part, verses 11-14, is a prayer in which the worshipper acknowledges sinfulness, even when it is not discernible. Only God can make such discernment and protect the psalmist from domination by insolence (or insolent ones). Yet because of the graciousness of God, the worshipper can plead for God’s forgiveness and for guidance. Finally, the prayer itself asks humbly that its words are acceptable to the Lord, “my rock and my redeemer.”

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Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

In order to assist Moses in the pursuit of his difficult ministry, God inspired elders to prophesy among the people, even a few who were not among the designated group.

Context

At 10:33, the Sinai stopover ended, and the people reconvened their journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Picking up precisely where they left off in Exodus 16–17, the people complained about the journey, the so-called “murmuring motif.” Prior to the Sinai experience, that included making the golden calf, the murmuring centered on the lack of necessities for life. Following the Sinai narrative, the murmuring seems to be about the luxury of life.

Key Words

Vv. 4, 10, 13.  bākâ = “weep”:  the word provides the theme of this section of the pericope. Unlike some of the people’s murmuring, Moses recognizes a certain legitimacy about their weeping and turns to YHWH to provide.

V.  12.  he’ānōkî hārîtî ’et kol-hā‘ām hazze ’im-’ānōkî  yelidtîhû = “Did I conceive all this people?  Did I bear them?”:  The implication, of course, is that God gave birth to the people and God is responsible for feeding them (see Deut. 32:18; Isa. 49:14-15).

V. 14. lō’-’ûkal ’ānōkî lebaddî lāsē’t ’et-kol-hā‘ām hazzeh kî kābēd mimmennî = “Not able am I to carry alone all this people, for it is too heavy for me”: This stark reality of this complaint sounds like the laments of Jeremiah whose divinely ordained office led him to unbearable pain.

V. 25. wayyēred YHWH be‘ānān wayedabbēr ’ēlāyw = “and the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him”: YHWH had been guiding the people through the wilderness by a cloud during the day and by a torch during the night. Beyond the guiding function of the cloud, however, the cloud was a vehicle for divine travel in ancient mythology. That the Lord uses the cloud to “come down” (see Gen. 11:5, 7; Exod. 3:8) attests to God position in the heavens.

V. 25.  kenôach ‘alêhem hārûach wayyitnabbe’û = “and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied”:  For prophesy as a result of receiving the spirit, see also Isa. 61:1ff; Ezek. 37:1ff.; Joel 2:28-29; cf. John 20:22; Acts 2:17; 13:2.

V 28. “And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’” Joshua here plays the role of the adversary to the Lord’s generous spirit, expressing jealousy to protect Moses’ exclusive gift.

V. 29. ûmî yittēn kol-‘am YHWH nebî’îm kî-yittēn YHWH ’et-rûchô ‘alêhem = “Would that all the people of the Lord (were) prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”: The desire expressed by Moses here is unusual, but the prophecy about the Day of the Lord promises to pour out his spirit on men and women, old and young, slaves and free—indeed “all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29).

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James 5:13-20

The power of prayer is affirmed by examples of its effectiveness in the lives of people, and so God invites prayer not only for ourselves in suffering but also for others that they might be saved.

Context

These verses conclude the Epistle of James. Just prior to our reading, the author cites the example of suffering and patience “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (5:10). Now the book moves to the need in the community of the church to care for one another through prayer and mutual (or public) confession.

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Mark 9:38-50

Against attempts to exclude good deeds performed “in the name of Jesus” simply because they do not belong to “our group,” Jesus cautions against the church’s arrogance that insists only members can do God’s work in Jesus’ name, and he teaches that discipleship means living faithfully and with discipline.

Context

Following upon the disciples’ quarreling about greatness in 9:33-37, Jesus warns against exclusiveness and explains true discipleship in terms of willingness to be vulnerable. In our pericope, verses 38-41 appear to intrude into discussion of the disciples as “little ones” that started in vss. 36-37.

Key Words

Vv. 38, 39, 41. “name”:  Picking up the “name” from the previous verse (v. 37), these verses demonstrate the centrality of “the name” in the church. The expression “in the name of” is not typically Greek but belongs to the Old Testament (“the name of the Lord” beginning at Gen. 4:26; see also 12:8; 13:4; 21:33 and too often to mention) and appears in the NT elsewhere at Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 3:6; 4:7, 10; James 5:14.

V. 38.  kai ekōlyomen auton, hoti ouk ēkolouthei hymin = “and we tried to stop him, because he is not following us”:  John’s attempt to stop someone from exorcising demons in the name of the Lord recalls the attempt of Joshua to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying. The use of “follow” seems to be used in the technical sense of discipleship, and so John’s concern focuses on the exclusiveness of the group. See the interesting discussion on requirements for belonging by Eduard Schweizer, The Good News according to Mark (Atlanta:  John Knox, 1970), pp. 194f.

V. 42. ou mē apolesē ton misthon autou = “will not lose his reward”: This mention of “reward” is the only occurrence in Mark’s Gospel, and the same teaching occurs at Matt. 10:42. At Matt. 5:12, Jesus promises “reward in heaven” for those who are persecuted on Jesus’ account (also Luke 6:23). People can lose their reward from God by practicing false piety and hypocrisy (Matt. 6:1-2, 5, 16). The Apostle Paul uses the word for appropriate wages in the labor market (Rom. 4:4; 1 Cor. 3:8, 14). At 1 Cor. 9:17-18, Paul contrasts the reward of acting out of self-will with the reward of God’s commission (stewardship) which is proclaiming the gospel free of charge. (For other uses of “reward,” see 1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Pet. 2:13; 2 John 8; Jude 11; Rev. 11:18; 22:12.) “Reward” is, therefore, what God gives freely. Refusing the gift would mean losing the reward.

Vss. 42, 43, 45, 47. kai ean skandalizē se = “if … causes you scandal/to stumble/to sin”: The repetition of these words listing various sources for stumbling indicate a list to be memorized, probably for catechetical instruction. The first cause is an outsider. The remaining causes are our own body parts: hand, foot, eye. The teachings do not advocate self-mutilation, but warn disciples about the sources of temptation that could lead them to stumble from the faith.

VV. 43, 45, 47.  eiselthein eis tēn zōēn … eiselthein eis tēn zōēn … eiselthein eis tēn basileian tou theou = “enter the life … enter the life … enter the kingdom of God”:  The repetition of the phrases again points to a device for memorization. The interchangeability of these expressions shows that “the life” and “the kingdom of God” are one and the same. The interchangeability in Mark leads us to understand the use in John’s Gospel of “life” almost exclusively of “kingdom” (only John 3:3, 5; 18:36).

V. 48. “their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched”: Some ancient manuscripts repeat this verse as verses 44 and 46. The words quote Isaiah 66:24, the final verse of the Book of Isaiah. Strikingly, verses 22-23 promise that “all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord.” Then, another faction of ancient Judaism added the final verse, indicating that when the worshippers depart their worship in the temple on Mount Zion, they can look down into the Valley of Hinnom (Greek –  Gehenna; see Jer. 7:31-32; 19:2, 6; 32:35) to see the dead bodies of non-worshipers rotting in perpetuity. The universal eschatological expectation evident in the promise is dashed by the nationalistic, exclusive wishes of apocalyptists.

V. 50.  echete en heatois hala kai eir_neuete = “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another”:  This expression about salt is odd, especially in comparison with Jesus teaching on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). But salt and fire have something to do with each other in various contexts—preserving food, preparation for sacrifice, adding flavor, etc. Clearer and emphatic is the exhortation to be “at peace with one another.”

Wrestling with the Word, episode 39: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 20, 2009) September 4, 2009

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

It is not easy being a Christian in the world. It never has been, of course, because the message that Jesus preached and the gospel message about Jesus run contrary to everything the world stands for—power, control, success, and superiority over others. Those worldly traits often disguise themselves as religion of one form of another. If they indeed represent religion in and to the world, then Jesus calls his disciples to be irreligious in order to be faithful. In any case, Jesus puts his disciples in a precarious situation on planet earth. This call, however, lies at the very heart of the nature of God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 39: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 54
The psalm is a lament in which the worshipper pleads for vindication from God in the face of his enemies (called “insolent” and “ruthless”). The name of God and the might of God are used in synonymous parallelism as the means that YHWH uses to save and vindicate. The final verses (6-7), if interpreted as simultaneous with the lament, might be an attempt to please God. However, if these two verses are to be offered after experiencing God’s vindication, then they form part of a liturgy of thanksgiving—a sacrifice of thanksgiving, maybe even a todah meal. Whatever the connection between the two parts, the desire to gloat over the defeat of enemies is itself a lamentable piece of the psalmist’s theology. On that issue, however, the psalm joins many others (Ps. 23:5; 112:8; 118:7; also Judg. 16:27; Mic. 7:10, cf. Ps. 22:18).

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Jeremiah 11:18-20
Against the attempts of the wicked to stop prophetic preaching, Jeremiah uses the typical psalm of lament in order to effect satisfaction over his enemies.

Context
Because of his persistent condemnation of the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem, Jeremiah became the object of the community’s derision, and so the prophet uttered repeated laments regarding his rejection. These oft-called “confessions of Jeremiah” are typical of psalms of lament and might therefore be more stereotypical than autobiographical. Uncertain is whether or not these verses are connected with the preceding or with the following verses. If they are, as seems probable, related to vv. 21-23 and 12:1-6, then the schemes against the prophet are being made by “the people of Anathoth,” Jeremiah’s hometown. The problem is abundantly clear in their insistence that he “not prophesy in the name of the Lord” (v. 21). The Lord’s response, as Jeremiah reports it, will be to annihilate these wicked people before they blot out the remembrance of God’s prophet (vss. 22-23)—precisely what the prophet pleads for in v. 20..

Key Words
V. 19.  wa’anî  kekebes ’allup yûbal litbōach = “and I am like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”:  The terminology is similar the suffering servant at Isa. 53:7:  kasseh lattebach yûbal = “like a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

V. 19.  wenikretennû mē’erets chayyîm = “and let us cut him off from the land of the living”:  See the suffering servant of Isa. 53:8:  kî nigzar mē’erets chayyîm = “for he was cut off from the land of the living.”

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James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Christians are called to exhibit their faith by virtues that stand over against the world’s values and vices.

Context
The Epistle of James is a collection of teachings instructing Christians how to live out their faith in the world. The collection resembles the Book of Proverbs in contrasting the wisdom that brings God’s pleasure and the folly that destroys. Lists of vices and virtues, as in vv. 17-18, are not common in the OT or in Palestinian Judaism. Such lists are common, however, in Hellenistic Judaism and in the NT (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Tim. 3:2-4; Gal. 5:20-21). Unfortunately, the pericope excludes verses 4-6 that speak both of “friendship with the world” as “enmity with God” as an explanation of wars, fighting, coveting. We also lose the important quotation from Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The quote is consistent with the teaching of Jesus in Mark 9:30-37.

Key Words
3:18.  tois poiousin eirēnēn = “to/by those who make peace”:  Like that of the beatitude of Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Making peace is the sacrificial act of Jesus in Col. 1:20 (see also Eph. 2:15). This teaching seems to mean act peaceably rather than to conciliate opponents. However, in the context of killing, fighting, and waging war in 4:1-3, it might also mean conciliate.

4:7.  hypotagēte oun tō theō = “submit yourselves, therefore, to God”:  The same exhortation appears at Heb. 12:9 for the willing submission to God’s discipline for the reward of life; see also 1 Cor. 15:27-28 as the eschatological fulfillment of Satan’s submission (as defeated) and of Christ’s submission (as faithful in transferring the kingdom to the Father). In terms of failing to subject oneself to God’s will and righteousness, see Romans 8:7; 10:3. For the subjection of Christ to God, see Eph. 5:24. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt.6:11).

4:8.  eggisate tō theō kai eggei hymin = “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”:  The expression appears in the LXX in terms of the priests who have opportunity to draw near to God (Exod. 19:22; Lev. 10:3), but in the NT the privilege of drawing near is extended to all believers (see also Heb. 7:19). The exhortation appears here as the opposite of “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (end of v. 7).

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Mark 9:30-37
Jesus’ prophecy about his own suffering, death and resurrection defines both God and discipleship in terms of vulnerability and service.

Context
When Jesus, Peter, James, and John had rejoined the rest of the disciples following the Transfiguration, they discovered a crowd, among whom were the scribes arguing with the disciples. Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about with them?” (cf. v. 33). They told him that the disciples were unable to exorcize a demon. Jesus rebuked the demon and drove him out of the child. Jesus and the twelve then went off together through Galilee.

Key Words
V. 30.  “Jesus did not want any one to know where he was”:  Once again, Mark emphasized Jesus’ secret—now about his imminent death–that only the disciples may hear.

V. 31. “The Son of Man will be delivered …” This is the second time the saying is reported by Mark. The first occurs at 8:31 and the third at 10:33-34.

V. 32.  hoi de egnooun to rēma = “but they did not understand the saying”:  The incomprehensibility of the disciples  is common in Mark’s Gospel (cf. 6:52; 8:17, 21; 9:6). Their fear of asking him makes sense in the progression of events in Mark’s Gospel. At 8:33 Jesus rebuked Peter and called him Satan when he would not accept Jesus’ first prophecy about his suffering and death (8:31).

V. 33. ‘What were you arguing about on the way?”: The same question Jesus asked the crowds in v. 16, he asks now of his disciples.

V. 34.  tis meizōn = “who (is) the greatest”:  The question links this saying to the previous one about his imminent sacrifice. The sequence contrasts with the way of Jesus as sacrifice and service with the human desire for greatness. Like the teaching in James 3—4, the way of God revealed in Jesus is submission to God’s will.

V. 35. ei tis thelei prōtos einai, estai pantōn eschatos kai pantōn diakonos = “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all (people) and servant of all (people)”: Losing is winning and vice versa. The saying sounds much like Jesus’ words at 10:44-45. The saying indicates that not everyone is equal in the eyes of God: some are first on the list and others are last. The Apostle’s Paul’s discussion of the crucified Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” conveys this same contrast with the ways of the world (1 Vor. 1:18-31)..

V. 37. “welcomes one such child … me … the one who sent me”: The message to the disciples is twofold. First, instead of striving for greatness, they should become like the little vulnerable ones. Second, welcoming such a child enables people to find him (Jesus), and through Jesus, they find the Father.

The whole message is quite a contrast to the desire to gloat over the destruction of one’s enemies. Finding Jesus in welcoming the vulnerable ones is so contrary to the ways of the world, even to the ways of religious people, that it seems downright irreligious.

Far more than a virtue, this life of service and submission and hospitality to the vulnerable lie at the heart of God’s identity.