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Wrestling with the Word, episode 101: First Sunday of Advent, Year A (November 28, 2010) November 23, 2010

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First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Visionaries fascinate us. Many people stand in awe of the prophetic visions of Nostradamus to predict future events. More appropriately, we marvel at the visionary writings of Jules Verne who in the latter half of the 19th century wrote novels about traveling up into space and down to the depths of the sea. For people of faith, however, visionaries play particular roles. They portray the opposite of what we see and experience every day. In so doing, they can provide hope in dismal times, and they direct us to change the actions of our lives accordingly.

Download or listen Wrestling with the Word, episode 101: First Sunday of Advent, Year A.


Psalm 122
The psalm begins with its own claim that it is designed as “a song of ascents,” that is, for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. According to the decrees (v. 4) contained in the Torah (Exod. 23:17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16), all Israel appeared at the Temple three times each year. This individual pilgrim expresses delight at hearing the invitation issued in his village, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (v. 1) in order “to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (v. 4). The pilgrim, standing inside the gates of the city, marvels at its structure and strength (v, 3) and recognizes that herein lie the seats of justice that are occupied by the dynasty of David (v. 5; cf Ps. 72). The pilgrim then offers his prayer for the peace (šālōm) of Jerusalem (yerûšālayāim = “city of peace”) and for the prosperity (šālâ) of those who love Jerusalem (v. 6). The peace of Jerusalem determines the well-being of the pilgrim’s family and friends (vss. 7-8), and the pilgrim makes a commitment to “seek the good” of Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord’s temple (v. 9).


Isaiah 2:1-5
On the basis of the promise that God will call all people to himself and will also reconcile peoples to one another, God calls believers NOW to walk in that “future shock.”

The prophecy about the New Day is set within a host of prophecies announcing judgment on the people, particularly on the leaders because of their sins.  The central role of the Jerusalem temple is a key theme in the preaching of Isaiah, along with the election of the Davidic king.  For background on these themes, see Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol 2 (The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions), tran. D.M.G. Stalker (New York:  Harper & Row, 1965):  147-175.

Key Words
V. 1.  The heading appears to be a heading for a collection of prophecies, perhaps a collection within a collection which might extend as far as 4:6 or 9:7 or even 11:16.

V. 2.  be’achrît hayyāmîm = “in the latter days”:  a technical expression for the Day of the Lord on which God would establish the New Reign. Variants are “on that day,” “in those days,” or “the days are coming.”

V. 2.  wenāharû ’ēlāyw kol-haggôyîm = “and all nations shall flow to it”:  For Mount Zion as the place of pilgrimage for the nations. see also Isa. 49:18, 22-23; 45:14; 60:3; Hag. 2:6ff.; Zech. 14:10, 11, 16, 20.

V. 3. lekû wena‘aleh ’el-har-YHWH = “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord”: The expression on the part of the nations sounds remarkably similar to the one made by the people of Israel as they assembled to make their pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Ps. 122:1).

V. 5. wenēlekā be’ōr YHWH = “let us walk in the light of the Lord”: The place of the summons immediately following the vision sends the message that people of faith live their present lives not on the basis of what already exists but on what God promises. At Ps. 36:9 the worshiper confesses to YHWH that “in your light we see light,” admitting that the light of God inspires believers with hope and direction. That same teaching occurs in the long wisdom Ps. 119:105 regarding the word of God as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” That same divine light can also become, like the holiness of God, the fire that brings judgment (Isa. 10:17). Ultimately, of course, the sequence of created phenomena in Genesis 1 indicates that God provided light (perhaps even “was” the light) for three days prior to creating the sun and other heavenly luminaries.


Romans 13:11-14
On the basis of his conviction that the New Day has dawned in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul admonishes the Christians in Rome to live as though they know what time it is.

After discussing the doctrine of justification and its implications in the first eleven chapters of the epistle, Paul began in chapter 12 to discuss what was expected of those who were justified.  In chapter 13, immediately prior to our pericope, he wrote of the relationship of Christians to the governing authorities and then summed up the law with the words “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Key Words
V. 11.  kai touto eidontes ton kairon = “besides this, you know the appointed time”: The mention of time is not chronological (chronos) but eschatalogical (kairos). The timing is that of the Reign of God that fulfills the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (see Isa. 2:1-5). In the NT, note the significance of kairos in the preaching of Jesus and in the writings of Paul: Mark 1:15; 1 Cor. 7; 2 Cor. 6:2.

V. 12.  hē de hēmera ēggiken = “the Day is at hand”:  While the references to the coming Day of the Lord are numerous and of varied forms, the phrase here is identical to Zeph. 1:7, 14 (LXX).

V. 12.  endysōmetha de ta hopla tou phōtos = “put on the armor of light”;  The “put on” appears to be a baptismal formula derived from the apocalyptic battle of the end time; cf. 2 Cor. 6:7; 10:4; Eph. 5:11; 6:13.

V. 13.  hōs en hēmera = “as in the Day”:  The reference is not to “daytime” but to the Day of the Lord, the Yom YHWH expected by the prophets. As in the prophecy from Isa. 2:1-5, the vision of the end time determines present behavior among the faithful.


Matthew 24:36-44
Jesus warns that since the end time will come upon ordinary people doing ordinary things on what appears to be an ordinary day, every one needs to be on the alert at all times for the extraordinary Day.

The situation in which the saying occurs is described in 24:1-3.  Jesus was walking away from the temple when his disciples came to him pointing out the impressive buildings.  At that point Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple, and that prophecy led the disciples to pursue the questions “when will this be” and “what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”  This discussion with the disciples occurred while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple and the entire city.  Immediately prior to our pericope Jesus exhorted them to learn from the fig tree:  how it gives the sign of summer’s coming by the appearance of its leaves.  He also indicated the present generation would not pass away until these end-time events took place.

Key Words
V. 36.  Peri de tēs hēmeras ekeinēs kai hōras oudeis oiden = “But concerning that day and hour no one knows”:  The words “day” and “hour” appear to be used interchangeably in apocalyptic.  Note that v. 42 says no one knows the “day” the Lord is coming, and v. 44 indicates the Son of man is coming at an “hour” no one expects. (Recall the same interplay between “year” and “day” at Isaiah 61:2.)

V. 37. outōs estai [kai] hē parousia tou huiou tou anthrōpou = “so will be the coming of the Son of man”: While “the parousia of the Son of man” occurs again in this passage at v. 39, Matthew has already used the expression in verses 3 (the question about “your parousia) and 27. Therefore, the repetition of the expression is directly related to the disciples’ question that Jesus is answering.

V. 42. Grēgoreite oun, hoti ouk oidate hēmera ho kyrios hymōn erchetai = “Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”: Virtually the same warning about watching appears at 25:13 (see Mark 13:33, 35, 37).

V. 44. dia touto kai ginesthe hetoimoi = “therefore, you must be ready”: Luke uses the same expression at 12: 40 immediately following, as here, Jesus’ words about the preparedness of the householder for the thief. More obviously than Matthew, Luke’s version appears to connect to the preparation for the Passover, especially in his reference to having “loins girded” (Exod. 12:11). The same Greek word for “be ready” occurs also at Exod. 19:11 where the Lord instructs Moses to see that the people at Mount Sinai “be ready, for on the third day the Lord will come down … in the sight of all the people” (also v. 15).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 100: Christ the King Sunday, Year C (November 21, 2010) November 16, 2010

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Christ the King Sunday

As the season of Pentecost comes to an end, the entire church year concludes as well. How fitting that every church year ends with Christ the King Sunday. While the title for Jesus is not well attested in the New Testament, the announcement that the Reign of God has dawned in Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection jumps out at us paragraph after paragraph. Further, while Christ is seldom called “King,” he has what kings possess: a kingdom. Our challenge as the church in every generation is to ask what it means that by God’s grace we belong to the kingdom that belongs to the Crucified Christ. Perhaps we will identify ourselves with one of the men crucified beside him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 100: Christ the King Sunday, Year C.


Psalm 46
The song of trust expresses confidence that God will defend the city of Jerusalem in the midst of an attack—real or mythical. The tradition that the Lord will protect Jerusalem from chaos seems to have been rooted firmly for many centuries, perhaps even prior to David himself (see 2 Sam. 5:6). The tradition appears again in Psalm 48 and became a key element in the preaching of Isaiah when the Assyrians were besieging the city. Since the enemy is portrayed as watery chaos, the primordial enemy, God’s victory will not only make the city secure but also end future wars. In true mythic tradition, the victory exalts YHWH among the nations of the earth. The grateful recognition of YHWH in the midst of the people concludes the psalm.


Jeremiah 23:1-6
In contrast to the chaos brought upon the people of Israel by their leaders, God promises to provide faithful shepherds and to restore the people to pasture and posterity, all within the coming Reign of God and under the just and righteous rule of a Davidic king.

In 597 B.C. the Babylonians carried off to exile King Jehoiachin (Coniah in 22:24-30) and placed on the throne his uncle Mattaniah whom the Babylonians renamed Zedekiah (Hebrew tsidqiyyāhû = “Yahweh is my righteousness”).  At the conclusion of the exile, under Persian rule, the prophets Zechariah and Haggai pinned the hopes of Judah on Zerubbabel, the governor, who was a grandson of Jehoiachin (see Zech. 4:1-9a; note that the entire Book of Haggai is said to be the word of the Lord through Haggai to Zerubbabel).  If this historical period is the setting for our pericope, then we are studying a witness not from the beginning of the exile, the time of Jeremiah, but after the exile, about 520 B.C.

Key Words
V. 3.  ûpārû werābû = “and the people shall be fruitful and multiply”:  This promise was an emphasis in priestly writings during the exilic period:  Gen. 1:28; Exod. 1:7; Jer. 29:6; Ezek. 36:11.  The “creation” blessing appears to provide a sermon to exiles who need to be encouraged to procreate, even in a foreign land, so that there will survive a people to be delivered in due course.

V. 5.  ledāwid tsemach tsaddîq = “for David a righteous Branch”:  The same words occur at Jer. 33:15; see also Zech. 3:8 (used for Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin’s grandson);  a different Hebrew word (nētser) appears at Isa. 11:1 for the future ruler of Davidic descent.

V. 5.  mišpāt ûtsedāqâ bā’’ārets = “justice and righteousness in the land”:  This pair is the foundation of the reign of God (Ps. 97:2; 99:4), extended to the Davidic ruler in Jerusalem (Isa. 9:7; Ps. 72:1-2) and here to the Davidic ruler to come. Similarly, see Isa. 11:3b-5.

V. 5.  ûmālak melek wehaskîl = “and he will reign as king and act wisely”:  For wisdom as a required royal attribute, see the acclaim of Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kings 3:9-28; 4:29-34), as well as the qualities of the one to come:  “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2).

V. 6.  YHWH tsidqēnû = “Yahweh is our righteousness”:  The title might be playing on the name given to Uncle Mattaniah: “Yahweh is my righteousness.” In any case, the connection of “righteousness” with the kingdom of God is expected, because “righteousness,” along with “justice,” are the foundations of God’s throne (Psalm 97:2).


Colossians 1:11-20
On the basis of the identity of Christ as God’s image and his role in creation and redemption, God delivers us from darkness to the reign of his beloved Son and reconciles to himself all things.

The congregation at Colossae, a city in Asia Minor, was founded by Epaphras (1:7) who was a native of the city (4:12). The purpose of the letter is to address the influence of heresies and to encourage the church to remain faithful to the traditions that they had learned from the beginning. Prior to our pericope is the author’s salutation (vv. 1-2), the thanksgiving for the community’s faith (vv. 3-8), and the first part of the prayer for the community’s steadfastness (vv. 9-10).  While some scholars defend Pauline authorship, the style and content might point to someone else as the author of the epistle.

Structure of verses 15-20: a hymn of two stanzas

Stanza one: vss. 15-17 Stanza two: vss. 18-20

the image of the invisible God                  the head of the body, the church

the first-born of all creation                     the first-born from the dead

for in him all things                                  for in him all the fullness of God

through him all things were                       and through him to reconcile to

created through him and for him               himself all things

Key Words
V. 19.  eudokēsan pan to plērōma katoikēsai = “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”:  God is pleased with his Son (Matt.3:17 and parallels; 17:5).  God is pleased to “give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  God is pleased to “save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).  God “was pleased to reveal his Son to” Paul (Gal. 1:15).

V. 20. kai di’ autou apokatallaxai ta panta eis auton = “and through him to reconcile all things to himself”: The universality of the word “all” provides a breadth and Hebrew words as “peace” (šālōm = wholeness) and “justice” (mišpāt = harmony) convey. Recall the result of the servant’s suffering at Isaiah 53:11 (“many” probably means “all”). Recall also Jesus’ words of institution at Matthew 26:28: “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” But the “all things” in our passage removes any doubt about inclusivity by its following words: “whether on earth or in heaven.”


Luke 23:33-43
In response to the criminal’s plea and acknowledgement of Jesus’ kingship, Jesus promises him a share in the saving event of the kingdom.

Jesus had been led with two criminals to the place called the Skull where the three were crucified.  From the cross Jesus called on his Father to forgive his executioners while they played a game to win his clothes.

Key Words and Expressions

The taunters
V. 35.  the leaders
V. 37.  the soldiers
V. 39.  the one criminal

The taunt terms
V. 35.  exemyktērizon = “scoffed”
V. 36.  enepaixan = “mocked”
V. 39.  eblasphēmei = “blasphemed”

The taunts
V. 35.  “if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One”
V. 37.  “If you are the King of the Jews”
V. 39.  “Are you not the Christ?”

The challenge
V. 35.  “He saved others; let him save himself”
V. 37.  “save yourself”
V. 39.  “Save yourself and us”

V. 42.  mnēsthēti mou = “remember me”:  The expression resembles the plea in a lament; cf. Gen. 40:14; Ps. 74:2, 18, 22; 89:47, 50; 106:4.

V. 43.  sēmeron = “today”:  The word has a profound eschatological thrust in Luke:  see 2:10; 4:20; 5:26; 19:9.

V. 43.  en tō paradeisō = “in Paradise”:  See 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7. In OT the word describes Eden at Gen. 2:8; cf. 3:10; Ezek. 31:8-9. Later the word takes on eschatological meaning in intertestamental literature (see, e.g., Ps. Sol. 14:3).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 99: Lectionary 33 (25 Pentecost), Year C (November 14, 2010) November 7, 2010

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Lectionary 33 Pentecost 25
I shudder when I think of how I contribute to our country’s consumer spending problem. We have become accustomed to spending on just about everything and to satisfying our needs for instant gratification. We know the problems for the economy that go with that habit we share. At times of personal financial crises, we manage to cover the income loss by continuing our buying on credit, and, well, the results become more obvious all the time. Are we just spoiled? Oblivious to long term results? Or is it because we wait so long for the truly important things in life that we feel a need to treat ourselves in the meantime? God’s promises throughout the Bible are for the long term. They require divine repetition. God works hard to keep our trust in order to deliver the gratification that is still to come.

Download and listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 99: Lectionary 33 (25 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 98
The psalm summons worshipers to join the hymn of all creation because God has done wondrous things on the world’s behalf. The Lord has announced “his victory” (salvation) and revealed “his righteousness (recall Rom. 3:21). The motive for that universal saving event is God’s remembrance of “his steadfast love and faithfulness (chasdō we’emûnātō) to the house of Israel” (v. 3). Like 47, 93, 96-97, and 99, Psalm 98 acclaims the rule of YHWH on the basis of God’s victory (yešû’â in vss. 1, 2, 3) over the enemy. The nature of YHWH’s reign is announced: “he will judge the world with righteousness (tsedeq), and the peoples with equity (mêšārîm).”


Malachi 4:1-2a
To the post-exilic community in Jerusalem whose social life was disintegrating and when the pious had begun to wonder about the usefulness of serving God, the Lord promises a Day when the wicked will be judged but those who fear the Lord will.

This collection of prophecies is attributed to a certain “Malachi,” although that name is simply the Hebrew word for “my messenger.” The prophecies derive from between 500-450 B.C. on the basis of evidence regarding the religious and social institutions of the time.  The prophets Haggai and Zechariah had promised that when the temple was rebuilt following the return of the exiles from Babylon, the blessings of YHWH would finally become a reality. In fact, the people came to believe that the promised Day of the Lord would occur at the dedication of the new temple. However, after the temple had been rebuilt and the priesthood reestablished, religious and social life became lax and verged on disaster. It seemed to the people that God was absent: “Where is the God of justice?”(2:17). According to the prophet, the people were convinced that, if present at all, YHWH favored the wicked over the righteous.

Key Words
3:15.  gam bāchanû ʼelōhîm = “they put God to the test”:  While God tests humans in many places in the OT, God forbids humans from testing him. At Deut. 6:16 the word for “test” there is nāsâ rather than bāchan as here; however, Psalm 95:9 describes that same incident with the word bāchan.

3:17.  segullâ = “(a king’s) private treasure”: The word appears at Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 135:4 for the relationship between YHWH and Israel; at 1 Chron. 29:3, however, it refers to the private treasure of a king.

4:1. YHWH tsebāʼōt = “the Lord of hosts”: The title is common in Malachi, Haggai, and Zechariah. The word “hosts” can bear the meaning “armies” or at least military-like powers, and the title is especially appropriate here to point to God’s coming judgment on the wicked.

4:2.  šemeš tsedāqâ ûmarpeʼ biknāpehâ = “sun of righteousness and healing in its wings”: The imagery derives from ancient understandings of the sun with wings that enable it to fly across the sky. The promise of “righteousness” here appears to be God’s response to the people’s question, “Where is the God of justice? (mišpāt)” (2:17). That same lamenting question occurred among the exiles in Babylon: “My justice (mišpāt) is disregarded by my God” (Isa. 40:27).  The promise of healing recalls the lament in Jeremiah’s day when “healing” (//šālōm) were nowhere to be found in the land (Jer. 14:19). Here God promises healing and righteousness to those who fear God’s name, that is, God will answer their laments. The day of the Lord is still to come.


2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Called to be active in the world, Christians are called to participate in daily work, earning their own living rather than contributing to the idle chaos of the world.

Continuing some of the issues that were raised in 1 Thessalonians regarding the need to be about daily work as they await the coming of our Lord, the author here ostracizes those whose idleness leads to disorderliness.


Luke 21:5-19
In response to the fascination over the splendor of this age, Jesus speaks of its destruction and adds words of warning about false messiahs who presume to know when the end is coming, about persecutions of disciples, and about the ultimate deliverance of those who remain faithful.

Still teaching the people in the temple, Jesus dealt with the issue of Christ being David’s son and then proceeded to warn his disciples in the hearing of the people about the unscrupulous ways of the scribes.  Immediately prior to our pericope, Jesus commended the poor widow for her temple offering of two copper coins.

Parallel Passages:  Mark 13:5-8, 21-23; Matt. 24:4-8, 23-25

Key Words
Vv. 5-6.  “the temple”:  The destruction of the temple was already a theme in some OT prophets, particularly Jeremiah 7 and 26; also Micah 3:9-12.  Solomon’s temple built was destroyed in 587 B.C.  Rebuilt in 520 B.C. on a modest scale, it was enhanced and enlarged by Herod the Great in 40 B.C.  In this Second Temple Jesus is standing with the people.

V. 8.  mē planēthēte = “not led astray”:  The word appears only here in Luke but see John 7:47; cf. also 1 Cor. 15:33 (from the truth).

Vv. 8-11.  the signs of the end:  see Isa. 19:2; Jer. 4:20; Ezek. 38:19-22; Dan. 2:28; Joel 3:9-14; 2 Chron. 15:6; Rev 2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; etc.

V. 8.  egō eimi = “I am (he)”:  The claim, even title, comes from God in OT:  see Exod. 3:14; Isa. 43:10-11; 48:12; 52:6. As Son of God, Jesus used the title of himself at Mark 6:50; 14:62; John 8:24, 28 and, of course, the many “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel.

V. 8.  ho kairos ēggiken = “the time is at hand”:  Recall Mark 1:14-15 where it is clear the reference is not to the Messiah but to the reign of God; cf. Zeph. 1:7; Dan. 7:22; Rom. 13:12; Rev. 1:3.

V. 9.  mē ptoēthēte = “do not be afraid”:  The expression occurs often in LXX in regard to the facing of enemies:  Deut. 31:6; 2 Chron. 32:7; Jer. 1:17; Ezek. 3:9.

V. 10.  “Nation will rise against nation”:  2 Chron. 15:6 (contrast Isa. 2:2-4); “kingdom against kingdom”:  see 4 Ezra 13:31.

V. 12.  diōxousin = “they will persecute you”:  See 11:49; Acts 7:52.

V.  12.  hēgemonas = “prefects”:  Gentile governors such as Felix (Acts 23:24–24:27) and Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27–26:32); cf. the persecution of Stephen, Peter, James, and Paul in Acts.

V. 15.  egō gar dōsō hymin stoma kai sophian = “I will give you a mouth and wisdom”:  Recall God’s promises at Exod. 4:15; cf. Jer. 1:7, 9; cf. also Luke 12:11-12.

V. 16. “You will be given up even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends”: The list sounds like those who persecuted Jeremiah for preaching the word of God faithfully (Jer. 11:18-23; 20:10).

V. 18.  “not a hair of your head will perish”:  See 1 Sam. 14:45; 2 Sam. 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Acts 27:34.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 98: All Saints Sunday, Year C (November 7, 2010) November 1, 2010

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All Saints Sunday

This particular Sunday offers many people comfort and hope, often while stimulating feelings of pain and sadness, even guilt and anger over the death of loved ones. Many churches continue the tradition of reading aloud the names of those who died since the last All Saints Sunday, and frankly, I find it especially meaningful and challenging when those names ring familiar bells. The Sunday challenges us in another way also; it forces us to think about what we mean by the word “saints.” The Super Bowl winners of 2010 are, of course, the Saints from New Orleans. And on this day the word seems to focus on those who died. Who are “the saints” anyway? Perhaps we do well to recall the addressees of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “To all God’s beloved in Rome who are called to be saints.” Paul uses the term to define forgiven sinners. As for me, “I wanna be among that number,” because without God’s forgiveness I am only a sinner. And I want to be among them not only when the saints come marching home but when together we march together to a different drummer here and now.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 98: All Saints Sunday, Year C.


Psalm 149
The psalm summons the faithful to sing praises with voices, instruments, and dancing to the Lord their King and Creator.  The motive for all this praise is the Lord’s good pleasure that rests on his humble people who are faithful.  The second half of the psalm, however, moves in a different direction. The tone promises the wrath of God on the nations (the gentiles) and the promise of God’s people in the bloody vengeance.  In the glorification of God that will ensue, the people of God will also receive glory. (Constantine must have loved this psalm as he led his armies to conquer the world for God. So, I’m sure did Charlemagne and the Crusaders. And perhaps many people even today think that we should go to war on behalf of God. But all that contradicts the teaching of Jesus in our gospel reading for this day: “Love your enemies.”)


Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Although worldly powers come and go, God promises the gift of the kingdom to those who are faithful in the face of adversity and persecution.

The Book of Daniel was written between the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple by the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C. and the death of Antiochus in 164 B.C.  The years between those two dates were times of testing, persecution, and war.  Antiochus’ act, “the abomination of desolation,” led to such an uprising among the Jewish people that the Maccabean War resulted.  The Book of Daniel was written in these precarious times in order to give hope to the people while Antiochus attempted to universalize the religion in his domain.  The first half of the book (chapters 1—6) consists mostly of stories that demonstrate the rewards given to those who are faithful.  The second half conveys visions and dreams that offer hope in terms and images of an apocalyptic bent. (Apocalyptic is the “unveiling” of the end times and the timing of the end’s occurrence.) Much of the book of Daniel, including our pericope, appears in Aramaic. The omission of verses 4-14 in our pericope offers the interpretation without the occurrence of what Daniel saw before God’s throne.

Key Words
V. 1.  Belshazzar: The son of and co-regent with Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon (555-539 B.C.).  At the end of their reign Cyrus, King of Persia, defeated the Babylonians and took control of the empire.

V. 1.  chelmā’ ketab = “he wrote down the dream”:  One of the differences between prophecy and apocalyptic is that while prophecy is primarily conveyed by speaking, apocalyptic is written.

V. 2.  chāzēh chawêt becheznî ̒im-lêlyāʼ = “I saw in my vision by night”:  Like apocalyptic, prophecy also uses visions as the means by which the promises of God are conveyed to human beings (see, e.g., Isa. 6:1; Amos 1:1).  The difference, as here, is that apocalyptic tends to fill those visions with imagery that is somewhat bizarre while prophecy focuses on what will occur within history.

V. 18.  wîqabbelûn malkûtāʼ qaddîšê ̒elyônîn weyachsenûn malkûtāʼ ̒ād-̒almāʼ wad  ̒ālam ̒almayyāʼ = “But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever”:  In the vision everlasting dominion is given to the “one like a son of man” (v. 13), and so the interpretation seems to identify the humanlike recipient of the kingdom as the martyrs of the Maccabean revolt.


Ephesians 1:11-23
God has appointed the church to live for the praise of his glory, visioning rather than seeing, hoping rather than despairing, inheriting the kingdom rather than individual gain, and praising God as a community filled with Christ.

This Epistle to the Ephesians, more of a treatise than an epistle, appears to address the church in general rather than a specific congregation.  The primary purpose of the author, probably a devoted follower of Paul, is to define the unity of the church under the lordship of the cosmic Christ, the way they love all the saints, and the inheritance they share among the saints.


Luke 6:20-31
Having commissioned on the mountain twelve of his disciples to be apostles and having healed on the plain the crowds who came with their afflictions, Jesus announces the blessings of the kingdom for the poor as well as the woes of the judgment day on their counterparts.

The contrast between the events of the mountain commissioning of verses 12-16 and of the “level place” in verses 17 and following enables the reader to recognize the relationship between worship and service, both expressions of the kingdom of God.  The beatitudes here are, of course, similar to those at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:3-12.  The differences between the two reflect Luke’s special concerns for the poor and his contrasts with the rich.

Key Words
V. 17.  epi topou pedinou = “on a level place”:  Luke, following Mark, uses the word topos in a consistent way:  it is the space in which Jesus is interrupted by others who come to him with their needs (see 9:12; 11:1; 23:33).

Vv. 17-18.  “to hear … to be healed … were cured … healed”:  Jesus met the physical needs of the people, and then he then went on in the following verses to teach, as they had desired.

Vv. 20-23.  The address is to “his disciples,” and so in contrast to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks in the third person, here he uses the second person.  The blessings pronounced here indicate the reversal of fortune for those who hunger, weep, are hated.  This reversal occurs as the eschatological reality; note v. 23:  “Rejoice on that day.”

V. 21.  hoti gelasete = “for you will laugh”:  In Psalm 37:13 God “laughs at the wicked, for he knows that his ((God’s; NRSV:  their) day is coming.”  That eschatological laughter of God comes with the dawning of the Lord’s Reign when all things will be turned around (Ps. 2:4).  This blessing pronounced by Jesus seems to indicate that God will share his laughter with those who at present know only weeping and sorrow. (cf. Gen. 21:6).

Vv. 24-26.  The woes are addressed to other than disciples, perhaps to the scribes and Pharisees who had played such adversarial roles in the preceding material.  But beyond these groups, the specific reference is to those who are well off:  rich, full, laughing, praised.  They, too, will experience the reversals of their fortunes. Recall Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus(Luke 16: 19-31).

Vs. 27-31. The list of promises (or beatitudes and curses) for the future in verses 20-26 seems to provide the motive for the ethics of disciples here and now. The opposites promised now become the opposites of the ways of this age. Recall the call to different behavior on the basis of Isaiah’s vision of the Day of the Lord (Isa. 2:2-5).

V. 27. agapate tous echthrous hymōn = “Love your enemies”: Jesus will later in this Gospel redefine the command to “love your neighbor”  from a fellow-Israelite to any person whom you can serve in times of need (the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37). Here he extends object of the command to love to one’s enemies. This command stands completely opposite to the conclusion of Psalm 149, but it is consistent with Luke’s eschatological consciousness.

V. 28. eulogeite tous katarōmenous hymas = “bless those who curse you”: Blessing and cursing are common themes in the OT. The command of Jesus here sounds like a correction of Genesis 12:3 where God promises to bless those who bless Abraham but to curse the one who curses him.

V. 31. Kai kathōs thelete hina poiōsin hymin hoi anthrōpoi poiete autois homoiōs = “And as you wish that people would do to you, do so to them”: The so-called Golden Rule seems to rephrase the command to “love your neighbor as (you love) yourself” (Luke 10:29; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8).