Wrestling with the Word, episode 109: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A (April 10, 2011) March 28, 2011Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
Tags: Bible studies, Christianity, Ezekiel 37:1-14, fostermccurley, John 11:1-45, lectionary, Lent, preaching, Psalm 130, religion, Revised Common Lectionary, Romans 8:1-11, WrestlingWithTheWord
Fifth Sunday in Lent
I confess. I am fascinated by the discoveries of science that help us understand the development of life and the rich variety of life on earth. I also celebrate the knowledge that every life form is the way it is because it needs to be the way it is! Yet I find the biblical understandings of life and death to be even more fascinating. Frankly, I do not see the two approaches – science and Bible — to be mutually exclusive. Celebrating human life as the Bible defines it enables me to consider the values and ethics and meaning of human living within this great biological, botanical, and bacterial diversity. The faith-inspired lessons for today can help us discern what life and death mean. Let us see whether together we can discover in the lessons some biblical under-standings about death and some values of life with God and with one another.
The psalm is that of an individual prayer. More specifically, it is a penitential prayer (like Psalm 51 and others). The psalmist begins with a cry to God from “the depths.” The depths represent darkness, isolation from God and others, even death. Death indeed is separation from God, and whatever led this petitioner to “the depths,” one thing is clear: The only way out is God’s forgiveness of iniquities. Apart from divine forgiveness, no one could possibly survive. God’s forgiveness has a purpose, however: “that you (God) may be revered” (v. 4). The psalmist confesses to God that this separation from God is unbearable and that the cry from the depths is the worshiper’s way of waiting for the Lord’s forgiveness. It is God’s “word” in which the God-forsaken one places “hope.” The final two verses change the flow dramatically from an individual prayer to an announcement to all Israel. The words call the people of Israel to “hope in the Lord” because in the Lord are covenant loyalty (steadfast love) and the power to redeem the people from their iniquities (vss. 7-8). This transition can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, they might be the words of a priest announcing publicly in the temple the need to “hope in the Lord,” in which case the individual making confession in verses 1-6 would find comfort and response from God. On the other hand, the final words might represent the psalmist’s announcement to others in the temple that the Lord has heard his cry and that they also should place their hope in God who forgives. In either case, the psalm makes abundantly clear that the loyalty of God gives us hope because the Lord does not allow us to remain in the clutches of death.
Although the people lost hope in God and knew only death, God, through the prophetic word, gives new life and reunites the hopeless and forsaken to himself.
The people of Israel had been exiled to the land of Babylon in 597 B.C. and again in 587 B.C. In the fifth year of the first exile, that is, in 593 B.C., God called Ezekiel, a priest, to prophesy to the exiles. Much of his prophecy was directed to a false optimism as he preached to the exiles the destruction of their city back home. Finally, according to 33:21, a messenger came with the word that Jerusalem had fallen. Thereafter, the word from Ezekiel was one of promise of restoration to the land.
V. 1. hāyetâ ’ēlay yad-YHWH = “the hand of the Lord was upon me”: See 3:22 where the “hand of the Lord” is the means by which God introduces a vision to the prophet, instructing him to go into the plain; there the spirit entered him and stood him up. See also 8:1 where “the hand of the Lord” falls on the prophet, again introducing him to a vision.
V. 1. wayyôtsî’ēnî berûach YHWH = “and the spirit of the Lord brought me out”: Note the connection of the Spirit with the hand of the Lord in the two passages cited previously, 3:22 and 8:1. More specifically, the movement by the spirit is attested at 3:12, 14. habbiq‘â = “the plain”: it is also in “the plain” that the vision of Ezekiel 3:22ff. occurs. There the plain is the space where judgment must be suffered, and that judgment falls upon Ezekiel to suffer vicariously for the sins of Israel and Judah. This plain is the one mentioned at Gen. 11:1 where the people built a tower with its top in the heavens, and thus experienced God’s judgment.
V. 3. ben-’ādām = “son of man”: God addresses Ezekiel with this title more than 80 times in the book, thereby contrasting the holy God and the mortal man (see also Ps. 8:4). YHWH ’attâ yādā‘tā_ = “Lord, you know”: For God’s power of life over death, see 1 Kings 17:17ff where the prophet Elijah was the vehicle by which God restored to life the only son of the widow of Zarephath; also 2 Kings 4:31ff. where Elisha raised from the dead the only son of the Shunamite woman.
V. 5. ‘anî mēbî’ bākem rûach wihyîtem = “I will keep bringing among you spirit/breath/wind, that you may live”: The word “spirit” is used is various ways in the prophecy; at v. 1 it seems to be God’s spirit; here it is the animating spirit for humans; at v. 9 it is the wind. That the rûach of God creates and restores life can be see also at Gen. 6:3; 6:17; 7:22 (all P); also Job 12:10; Ps. 104:30. Note the contrast with Gen. 2:7 where the force that God breathes into Adam’s nostrils is not rûach but neshāmâ = “breath.”
V. 6. wîda‘tem kî-’anî YHWH = “and you shall know that I am YHWH”: The expression occurs eighty-six times in the Book of Ezekiel; note the priestly emphasis (P) in the story of the exodus (Exod. 14:18).
V. 11. yābešû ‘atsmôtênû = “our bones are dried up”: The statement of the people indicates the meaning of death. Recall the warning of God to Adam and Eve regarding the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit: “on the day that you eat of it, you shall die” (Gen 2:17) yet they did not expire on that day; they died. Note Prov. 22:17 where “a downcast spirit” is what “dries up the bones.” we’ābedâ tiqwātēnû = “and our hope is perishing”: The object of Israel’s hope is exclusively YHWH (see Ps. 130:5; also 39:7); at times “hope” is even used as an epithet for YHWH (see Ps. 130:7; Jer. 14:8;17:13). nigzarnû lānû = “we are cut off”: for the impact of such exclusion see the use of nigzar at 2 Chron. 26:21; Ps. 88:6; Isa. 53:8.
V. 12. weha‘alêtî ’etkem miqqibrôtêkem = “and I will raise you from your graves”: The image is now changed, for here the corpses are buried in graves rather than scattered on the ground, as in v. 1.
V. 14. kî-’anî YHWH dibbartî we‘āsîtî = “for I, YHWH, have spoken and I have done it”: The notion that it is the spoken word that accomplishes the great acts of the Lord became particularly prominent and important during the Babylonian Exile; cf. Gen. 1; Isa. 55:10-11.
Left to our own devices (our sinfulness, our self-centered devotion to worldly success and comfort) that lead to death, God gives us the Spirit of life and peace by acquitting us of our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the early chapters of Romans, Paul has been contrasting the universality of human sinfulness with God’s gracious declaration of justification through the cross of Christ. He has insisted on the failure of our actions to secure God’s love through the law (even the law of Moses). The law focuses our minds on our selves, our deeds, our innocence. In Christ, however, God discharges us from the law that enslaves us and leads to death (7:6) to give us “the new life in the Spirit” (7:6). In chapter 8 Paul returns to that emphasis on life in and through the Spirit of God.
V. 1. ouden ara nun ,,, = “There is therefore now…”: In light of the context of chapter 7, the word “therefore” seems to pick up the thought and imagery of 7:6 rather than the immediately preceding verses of 7:21-25. The reference to “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” flows from “But now we are discharged from the law …” (7:6a), and the second verse regarding “life in the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” picks up the words “so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:6b). The word “Spirit” does not appear between 7:6 and 8:2, but it appears ten times in 8:2-11.
V. 3. ho theos ton heautou huion pempsas en homoiōmati sarkas hamartias kai peri hamartias = “God … sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin (or “as a sin offering”): The words raise the question whether Paul is taking the docetic view that the Son of God did not really take human flesh but appeared something like a ghost. Paul uses the word homoiōma elsewhere, even in this epistle (1:23 in terms of the idolatrous deeds of the gentiles; at 5:15 in terms of the nature of sin; in 6:5 of the similarity of Christ’s death to our own). In the hymn quoted by Paul at Phil. 2:6-11, the word appears in verse 7:
“But emptied himself, taking the form (morphē) of a slave,
being born in human likeness (en homoiōmati).
And being found in human form (schēmati … hōs anthrōpos),
He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.”
Many scholars argue that Paul added the words “even death on a cross” to the existing hymn in order to make abundantly clear that the Son of God did not merely appear to be human but was human, possessing flesh that nails would penetrate and blood that would emerge from the wounds. At Galatians 4:4, Paul wrote that “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,” indicating that his birth was like (not appeared to be) our own. Further, at Col. 1:22 appears the expression “And you … he has now reconciled in his fleshly body….”
For the reality of the incarnation in other NT writers, see among many others John 1:14; Heb. 2:17; 4:15.
V. 5. “set their minds on the things of the flesh … on the things of the Spirit”: The effect of the divine gift of the Spirit enables people to look at life differently. Focusing on the “things of the Spirit” is “life and peace” rather than hostility to God (vss. 6-8). The Spirit, therefore, is the only source of life and peace.
V. 8. hoi de en sarki ontes theō aresai ou dynantai = “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God”: The way of Christ is not to please oneself but to please others by edifying them (Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:33). By contrast, those who minds focus on the flesh (selfish worldly gain) will not know the life and peace that comes from God.
V. 9-11. Being “in the Spirit” rather than “in the flesh,” Christians belong to Christ. If indeed Christ is within (among) us, while our bodies attest to our mortality, the Spirit makes us alive because of God’s righteousness (acquitting us in spite of our sinfulness). The same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead already works in and among us to give us life that has no end.
Revealing himself as “the resurrection and the life,” Jesus makes possible the gift of faith so that others, too, might join him in the life to come and so that he and God might be glorified.
During the Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem, Jesus taught about his relationship with the Father that caused some Jews to want to stone him (10:31) and arrest him (10:39). Jesus crossed the Jordan to the point where John had been baptizing, and there many came to believe in him (10:40-42).
V. 2. “Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair”: The incident about Mary reported here actually appears in the next chapter (12:1-6). The story about such an act by a woman “who was a sinner” is reported at Luke 7:36-50 (see esp. v. 38), but in the Lukan story she is not named. At Mark 14:3-9 an unnamed woman who enters the house of Simon the leper at Bethany; her act involves pouring ointment on his head but nothing is said about anointing his feet or drying them with her hair.
V. 4. all’ hyper tēs doxēs tou theou, hina doxasthē ho huios tou theou di’ autēs = “but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God might be glorified through it”: See John 9:3 where Jesus describes for the disciples the role the man’s blindness will play: “that the works of God might be revealed in him.” At v. 27 Martha confesses to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” In v. 40 Jesus reminds Martha that he promised she would see “the glory of God” if she believed.
V. 25. egō eimi hē anastasis kai hē zōē = “I am the resurrection and the life”: At 14:6 Jesus announces to the disciples that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” To say here that he is “the resurrection” means he must act in order to prove the point in advance of his own resurrection, and so he raises Lazarus from the grave by uttering his effective word.
V. 45. “Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him”: Faith in who Jesus is seems once again to be the point of the story see vv. 27, 40; see also 2:23; 4:53; 9:35-38; 20:30-31. The result of such faith here, as in 20:30-31, is the gift of life.