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Wrestling with the Word, episode 65: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C (March 21, 2010) March 3, 2010

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Fifth Sunday in Lent

The biblical passages burst with God’s promises of salvation. Since such promises are never conditioned on human behavior, we can attribute those promised acts and God’s past acts to God’s amazing grace. The Bible also makes no secret about the praise God expects for such graciousness. The responsibility of the people of God in each generation is to determine what forms that praise should take.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 65; Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C.


Psalm 126
The psalm presents the dreaming or visioning of those who wait for salvation. Their dream enables them to anticipate the time of their deliverance from adversity; then the nations will recognize the work of God and the people of Israel will join in their praise. The psalm returns to reality, pleading with God to fulfill the dream by turning sorrow into joy and hunger into harvest.


Isaiah 43:16-21
To a people suffering the results of their sinfulness, God promises a new act of salvation that will result in the people’s declaration of divine praise.

The prophet delivered his sermons to a people who had been in exile for some 40 to 50 years. His preaching seems to have occurred close to the end of the exile since he mentions by name Cyrus, King of Persia, who in fact defeated the Babylonians and signed in 538 B.C. an edict allowing the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Lament:  a complaint by the people over the absence of God, often including a reminder of what God had done for the people in the past.

Salvation promise:  a statement from God about what God would do to remedy the situation, that statement in the past tense indicates the promise was as good as done.

Result:  the ultimate outcome of God’s deed was not simply the rescue of the people but their praise of God.

Passages to Compare
41:17-20:  Promise of salvation
42:14-17:  Promise of salvation
51:9-11:   Second exodus
45:5-6:    Result
48:9-11:   Result

Key Words
V. 16.  netîbâ = “path”:  The word appears often in parallelism with “way,” but only here in referring to a new exodus:  usually a moral path.

V. 17.  hammôtsî = “who brings forth”:  The word is a technical term in the exodus traditions to describe the deliverance from Egypt. It is unusual here since it refers to the Egyptians rather than to Israelites.

V. 18.  ‘al tizkerû rišônôt = “Remember not the former things”:  In Second Isaiah “the former things” seems to refer to the acts of judgment which brought them to exile: see 41:22; 42:9; 43:9; 46:9; 48:3.

V. 19.  hinenî ‘ôsê chadāšâ = “Behold I am doing a new thing”:  The new thing is the salvation act which replaces the judgment act; see 42:9; 48:6.

V. 21.  yātsartî = “I formed”:  The word presents the image of a potter at work. It describes God forming Israel at 43:1, 7; 44:2, 21; cf. 45:9.

V. 21. tehillātî yesappērû = “that they declare my praise”: The same goal of God’s salvation work for the people in exile appears also at 48:9-11. In the NT the conclusion of the hymn Paul uses at Phil 2:5-11 describes the purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation to be “to the glory of God the Father.”


Philippians 3:4b-14
Counting as nothing his religious past and accomplishments, and having been made Christ’s by Jesus himself through the righteousness of God, the apostle urges the Christians in Philippi to “forget what lies behind” and press onward toward the goal.

Paul had just finished discussing Timothy and Epaphroditus, confirming the personal aspect of his and their relationship with the congregation at Philippi. He begins chapter 3 with warnings against those who would persuade them to return to such former requirements as circumcision. The true circumcision, he indicates, is the Christian.

Key Words
V. 8.  skubalon = “rubbish, dung, garbage left after a feast.”

V. 9. alla tēn dia pisteōs Christou, tēn ek theou dikaiosynēn epi tē pistei = “but that (righteousness) through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God (based) upon faith”: The statement sums up the essence of Paul’s preaching and teaching and bears strong similarity to his writing at Romans 3:21-26.

V. 10.  summorphizomenos = “investing with the same form”:  The word appears only in Christian writings and only here as a verb; see v. 21; Romans 8:29.

V. 11.  exanastasin tēn ek nekrōn = “resurrection from the dead”:  Usually the word refers to the resurrection of the righteous to a glorified life (see Luke 20:35; Acts 4:2; 1 Peter 1:3). “Resurrection of the dead” (cf. 1 Cor, 15:42) might be more general:  some to life, some to judgment.


John 12:1-8
Faced with his imminent arrest and execution, Jesus appeared in Bethany where he received Mary’s anointing for his burial and left a message for the church to praise him thereafter.

Having raised Lazarus from the dead in the previous chapter, Jesus became the object of contempt among the chief priests and Pharisees. Perhaps unknowingly, Caiaphas, the high priest, prophesied that Jesus would die both for the nation and for all the children of God who were scattered abroad. With awareness of their plans, Jesus went off to the town of Ephraim where he stayed with his disciples. At the time of the Passover, people wondered if Jesus would come; the Pharisees gave orders to reveal his whereabouts so that he might be arrested.

Compare Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50

Key Words
V. 5. dia ti touto to myron ouk triakosiōn dēnariōn kai edothē ptōchois; = Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”: According to Matt. 20:2, a denarius represented one day of labor in the fields. Therefore, the cost of the ointment was almost an annual wage.

V. 8. tous ptōchous gar pantote echete meth’ heautōn, eme de ou pantote echete = “the poor you always have with you; you do not always have me”: The same words appear at Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9)

A common temptation is to miss the meaning of the story by losing ourselves in the details. Indeed, some of the details result simply from the ways stories developed in the early church. The “woman” in Matthew and Mark becomes identified as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, in John. The location of the incident moves from the home of Simon the leper in Matthew and Mark to the home of Mary and Martha in John. The woman anointed Jesus’ head in Matthew and Mark, while in John (and in Luke’s version of the anointing incident) Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. The indignation arises from “some” in Mark to “the disciples” in Matthew and to “Judas” in John. Mark, the earliest gospel, continues Jesus’ statement about the continuing presence of the poor with the words “and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish” (vs. 7). Both Matthew and John eliminated that part of the saying. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus commends the woman and promises that people throughout the world will hold her in remembrance whenever the gospel is preached.

Luke eliminated the entire quotation from his gospel and moved the anointing event out of the Passion story into the first of a series of reports about a growing cadre of women who became disciples; the anointing of Jesus’ feet by a woman known as “a sinner” became a story of forgiveness (Luke7: 36-50). Did Luke think that Jesus’ saying detracted from his gospel’s focus on the poor?

Jesus is quoting the first part of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need, therefore, I command you, You shall open wide your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” For the practice of citing half of a verse to call to mind the whole verse, see 2 Peter 2:22: “The dog turns back to its own vomit” (Prov. 26:11).


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