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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.

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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).”

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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.

Context
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.

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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.

Context
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.

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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.

Context
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.

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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.”)

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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.

Context
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.

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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.

Context
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.

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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.

Context
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).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 97: Reformation Sunday, Year C (October 31, 2010) October 27, 2010

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Reformation Sunday

We celebrate the day because on this date, the Eve of All Saint’s Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. But what stands out for us, and what makes this day worth celebrating, is not the hammer and the nail in Luther’s hands that day, but his rediscovery of the meaning of the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross somewhere about A.D. 30.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 97: Reformation Sunday, Year C.

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Psalm 46
The hymn about God’s defense of Jerusalem in the midst of chaos calls for a confident faith in the Lord. As Psalm 91 (last week) was a powerful expression of trust from an individual, this psalm demonstrates the same within the community. The imagery of a river in Jerusalem is quite unreal (like the sea battle in Psalm 48), but the divine protection of Jerusalem from attack assures the people and magnifies the Lord’s glory.

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Jeremiah 31:31-34
In spite of all appearances to the contrary, God promises that in the New Day to come, God will reconcile the people to himself, even giving them new hearts so that they will not again rebel.

Context
The prophet Jeremiah was called to “pluck up and break down” but also to “build and to plant” (1:10). While much of the prophecies speak of God’s judgment, there are many from the same prophet which promise God’s restoration and forgiveness. Jer. 30:1–31:22 contain poems about the restoration to come, while 31:23 through chap 33 deal with the same theme in prose.

Key Words
V. 31.  hinnē yāmîm bā’îm = “behold, (the) days are coming”:  One of the characteristic expressions to introduce a prophecy about the coming Day of the lord when the Reign of God would be established over all.

V. 31.  wekārattî … berît chadāšâ = “and I will cut … a new covenant”:  The former covenant was the one made by God through Moses at Mount Sinai.  Interestingly, the “cutting of the covenant” actually occurred with the slaughtering of an animal, the sprinkling of blood on an altar and on the people, as the people themselves committed themselves to do what the Lord had spoken (Exod. 24:3-8). That commitment was not long lasting.

V. 32.  hēpērû ’et-berîtî = “they broke my covenant”:  See most directly 11:10; 33:20; cf. also 14:21. We can understand the power and passion of the words from the perspective that the covenant was a marriage and a parent-child relationship, spelled out most clearly by Jeremiah and Hosea.

V. 32.  we’ānōkî bā‘altî bām = “and I was husband/owner/ba`al over them”:  The word ba`al can carry all the above meanings, presumably on the basis that ba`al was the one who fertilizes (the land, thus its owner; a wife, thus her husband). The same words appear at 3:14 (translated “master”) because of the reference to Israel as “children”). YHWH is portrayed in Jer. as husband on other occasions; cf. 2:2; 3:20.

V. 33.  nātattî ’et-tôrātî beqirbām we‘al-libbām ’ektabennâ = “I will put my instruction/law within them, and upon their heart I will write it”:  See. 32:38-41 where the human heart is also God’s tablet and an “everlasting covenant” is mentioned, that is, one which cannot be broken. There also appears the promise of God “with all my heart and soul.” Ezekiel also uses the theme of a new heart so that God’s commandments might be kept (see Ezek. 36:26-27). That same prophet also writes of God’s promise of an “everlasting covenant” which will be “a covenant of peace” (Ezek. 37:26).

V. 34.  kî-kûllām yēde‘û ’ôtî = “for all of them shall know me”:  The Hebrew for “know” here is not intellectual but relational, as at Gen. 4:1; 19:8; Amos 3:2. “Knowledge of God” and “steadfast love” are God’s desires (Hos. 6:6).

V. 34.  ’eslach la‘avônām = “I will forgive their iniquity”:  Forgiveness is a common theme in Jeremiah; see 5:1, 7; 33:8; 36:3; 50:20. Recall also Isa. 53:11.

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Romans 3:19-28
In the new time begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God freely declares and makes us and all people innocent and free through faith.

Context
Beginning at 1:18 Paul set forth the sinfulness of humanity, both Gentiles who live apart from the law and Jews who have the law. All are included because “God shows no partiality” (2:11). Based on the universal experience, it would appear that humankind is in a hopeless state, especially based on 2:5-6.

Key Words
V. 21.  nuni de = “but now”:  the word “now” occurs in an eschatological sense throughout this epistle:  5:9, 10, 11; 6:19, 21, 22; 7:6; 8:1, 22; 11:30, 31; 13:11; 16:26.  Paul’s understanding of time is divided into two periods: the time before Christ came, and the time since Christ.  See also 2 Cor. 5:16–6:2; Gal. 3:23-26.

Vv. 21, 22.  dikaiosynē  theou = “the righteousness of God”:  Also see 25b.  At 1:17 “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “God’s word of righteousness” is what brings the world from chaos to order (Isa. 45:18-19), responds to cries for help under injustice (Psalm 7:17), saves the exiles from their bondage (Isa. 46:13), and much more. In the OT “righteousness” (tsedeq or tsedāqâ) is the activity that fulfills the obligations of a relationship, and so the Hebrew tsedāqâ is sometimes translated “saving acts” (1 Sam. 12:7) or “victory.”

V. 23.  pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou = “all have sinned and keep falling short (pres. ptc.) of the glory of God”:  The expression “glory of God” appears also at 5:2 and 15:17; humanity, all of it, has from the very beginning failed to attain the glory of God (see 11:32). The consequences for the “day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5-6) are obvious (see Psalm 62:12).

V. 24.  dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti = “they are justified/made righteous as a gift by his grace”:  That “justified” is a key to the Epistle to the Romans see its use also at 2:13; 3:4, 20; 4:2; 5:1, 9; 8:30; 10:4, 10. As a law court term it means to be declared innocent and thus made innocent and free, and in the OT the suffering of the Servant of the Lord “makes many to be righteous” (Isa. 53:11). The God of justice who declares the righteous innocent and the wicked guilty (1 Kings 8:32; Exod 23:7; Psalm 82:3; Isa. 5:23; cf. Prov. 17:15) “now” acts out of character.

V. 24. dia tēs apolytrōseōs en Christō ‘Iēsou = “through the redemption in Christ Jesus”: The term appears in documents concerning the release of slaves to belong to another (even to a god). In the NT the term appears frequently: as Jesus’ promise for his return (Luke 21:28; for the coming “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18-23); as the content of the “new covenant” begun with the death of Jesus (Heb. 9:15); as a parallel expression for “the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7; also Col. 1:14); as the promised gift through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).

V. 25. hilasterion = “expiation” (RSV) or “a sacrifice of atonement”: The term derives from Lev. 16:2, 13-15 where it is used for the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant on which sacrificial blood was spilled for making atonement for the holy place.

V. 27.  pou oun hē kauchēsis = “Where then is boasting?”:  For proper and improper boasting see the references at 2:17, 23; 4:2; 11:18. Faith is the opposite of faith that accepts God’s unconditional and unmerited grace. Recall Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

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John 8:31-36
Against all the forces of sin and evil that would constrain us, Jesus Christ, the Truth, came to set us free.

Context
According to 7:2 Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. There he was challenged by some and lauded by others. Some believed, while others, especially the chief priests and the Pharisees, tried to arrest him. In chapter 8 Jesus speaks of himself as “the light of the world” (8:12) and as the “I AM” (8:24).

Key Words
V. 31. elegen oun ho ’Iēsous pros tous pepisteukotas autō ‘Ioudaious = “Then Jesus said to those who had come to believe in him”:  The perfect tense of pisteuō appears here as it does elsewhere in John’s Gospel at 3:18; 6:69; 11:27; and 16:27. Only in this verse is the Greek verb translated “had believed,” giving the impression they once did believe but believe no longer. At 3:18 the verb is “have (not) believed.” At 6:69; 11:27; and 16:27 the word indicates present faith and is translated not with “had” believed but with “believe” or “have believed.” Therefore, Peter said to Jesus, “we have believed and have come to know … (6:69). Martha said, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,…” (11:27). Jesus said to the disciples, “because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father … (16:27). In all those passages, the verb is in the perfect tense.

The verb tense at 8:31, therefore, does not imply that the listeners once did believe but believe no longer or that they once believed but now doubt their belief. The real problem lies not in the tense of the verb but in the context. The statement about “the Jews who believed in him” is a logical follow up to verse 30: “As he spoke thus, many believed (aorist) in him.” The problem is that immediately following verses 31-32, the responders seem to be not those who have come to believe in him but those who did not come to believe in the first place and in fact who were prepared to kill him. It is that group’s reaction and action that culminates in their attempt to stone him in verse 59.

V. 32.  kai gnōsesthe tēn alētheian kai hē alētheia eleutherōsei hymas = “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”:  One must allow the possibility that “knowing” here has the same intimate sense as in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Further, in John’s Gospel “the truth” and Jesus seem to be identified as one and the same (1:14; 14:6; 18:37-38; cf. v. 36.

V. 36.  ean oun ho huios eleutherōsē, ontōs eleutheroi esesthe = “if the son makes you free, you will be free indeed”:  When one considers Galatians 5:1, one wonders whether Paul might not have had an effect on the author of this Gospel, since “freedom” is not a major theme in the synoptics.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 96: Lectionary 30 (22 Pentecost), Year C (October 24, 2010) October 19, 2010

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Lectionary 30 (22 Pentecost)

One of the last, if not indeed the final, message Martin Luther wrote in his deathbed was one of his most profound and succinct expressions of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “We are beggars, that is true.” As he lay dying, Luther anticipated what it would be like to stand before the Almighty and Enthroned God. What could he offer to escape the well-deserved judgment of God? What can any of us offer that would compensate for our lives as rebels against God’s honor? Our lessons for this Sunday steer us along several related courses as we make our pilgrimages through life.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 96: Lectionary 30 (22 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 84:1-7
The psalm belongs to the category of Zion psalms and was probably used by, and for, pilgrims who were entering the temple for some festival like the Feast of Tabernacles. Particularly striking is the awe the pilgrim experiences after longing for this next visit to the temple where the Lord was present in a particular way: seated as King on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The worshiper finds comfort in observing the birds fly here and there within the Temple structures, acknowledging that even they find security and comfort in the near presence of God.  As for the pilgrims “dwelling” in the precincts during this festival time, they express their blessedness in song. Strikingly, even though the journey to Mount Zion was filled with physical challenges and with some fear, the pilgrims experienced along the way the blessings still to come—watering holes filled by the “early rain.” They even increased their strength on the journey rather than became weary, because they knew God would appear to them in Zion.

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Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Because the people of Israel had so dishonored God by their infidelities with other gods, the Lord rejects their lament and their confession and continues toward the judgment of the city and land.

Context
In Jeremiah’s day, the people of God in Israel and in Judah experienced tragic times. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 721 B.C. and so God’s promise of the land came to a crushing disconnect. While the Assyrians controlled Judah for the following century, other countries were vying for control of the land. Egypt defeated and controlled the land for a few years, but in 605 B.C. the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians, and Judah now belonged to Babylon. In 597 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s armies crushed an uprising and carried leading citizens off to Babylon as exiles. In 587, the Judeans revolted again Nebuchadrezzar again responded, this time destroying the temple and the walls of the city, besides carrying off more people to exile. During this entire period, the Lord seemed to have reneged on promises: the land, the Davidic dynasty, the temple, and the city of Jerusalem. In the process, God appeared to have abandoned the covenant with the people of Israel. The laments from the people rose to heaven, and so did those of Jeremiah whom God had called as a prophet to “pluck up and to break down” (Jer. 1:4-10). It is possible that 14:1—15:21 reports a dialogue between God and Jeremiah who speaks both his own words and those of the people: Jeremiah speaks in 14:2-9, 13, 19-22; 15:10, 15-18; God speaks in 14:10-12, 14-18; 15:1-9, 11-14, 19-21.

Key Words
V. 7. YHWH ‘aseh lema‘an šemekā = “O, Lord, act for your name’s sake”: The call on God to act for lamenters on the basis of his own identity is common in such laments (see Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 143:11). The expression will return in v. 21.

V. 8. miqwēh yisrā’ēl mewōšî‘ô be’ēt tsārâ = “O Hope of Israel, its Savior in time of trouble”: Throughout the Bible the people of Israel expressed their hope in the Lord (see v. 22; Ps. 39:7). Here, however and elsewhere (17:13; 50:7) their hope is the Lord. As for the title “Savior,” the root of the word means “wide, spacious” and seem to point to freedom from confinement (see Exod. 3:8).

Vss. 8-9. lāmâ = “why?” The question is typical of laments as people struggle with the apparent absence of God during their tribulations. See, e.g., Ps. 10:1; 22:1 (Heb. v. 2). Another common word for the same interrogative (maddûa‘) appears at v. 19.

V. 9. kegibbōr lō’-yûkal lehôšîa‘ = “like a hero who cannot save”: This ridicule against the lord will one day fly in their faces when God comes to take the exiles in Babylon home (Isa. 50:2).

V. 9. we’attâ beqirbēnû YHWH = “But you (are) in our midst, O YHWH”: The conjunction can mean “and,” “but,” or often “yet.” The expression often appears in psalms of lament in the midst of the questions and complaints; see Ps. 22:3, 9, 19.

V. 20. kî chātā’nû lāk = “for we have sinned against you”: The same confession appeared in v. 7.

V. 22. magšimîm = “that bring rain”: The word serves two purposes here. First, it appears to connect this lament with the setting described in 14:1, namely, that this word of God came to Jeremiah “concerning the drought” (see vs. 2-4). Second, the people had spent centuries idolizing Baal, the Canaanite god, as the fertility deity who brings rain. That devotion now lay at the heart of their rejection by YHWH.

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2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Having finished the race and fought the good fight, the author/apostle faces an imminent death fully hopeful of the prize, “the crown of righteousness,” and thankful for the Lord’s loyal presence throughout his mission to the gentiles.

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Luke 18:9-14
Against those who feel they are righteous in God’s sight, God declares righteous the outcast who brings before God only his confession about his own unworthiness.

Context
The first eight verses of the chapter deal with the importance of incessant prayer to God.  Now appears this parable stressing the importance of approaching God in humility and asking for mercy. The emphasis on Jesus at prayer is again indicated to be a mark of discipleship.

Key Words
V. 9.  tous pepoithotas eph’ heautois hoti estin dikaioi = “those who were convinced about themselves that they were righteous”:  The lawyer in 10:29 tried to “justify himself” by asking Jesus to identify his neighbor. At 16:15, Jesus told the Phatisees “who were lovers of money, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others.” The use of dikaios here paves the way for the contrast made by the Pharisee about the “unjust” (adikoi) in v. 11 and for the judgment made by Jesus at the conclusion (dedikaiōmenos) in v. 14.

V. 10.  anebēsan eis to hieron = “went up to the temple”:  Pilgrims always “went up” to the temple because of its height on the summit of the mount (see Ps. 24:3; 121:1; 122:1-4).

V. 10.  proseuxasthai = “to pray”:  The author of Luke-Acts begins his book with the people and  Zechariah at prayer in the Temple (Luke 1:8-13) and virtually concludes with Paul at prayer over Publius who lay sick (Acts 28:8).

V. 11.  houtos ho telōnēs = “this tax-collector”:  Tax collectors appear regularly in the Pharisees’ lists of “sinners”:  see 5:30; 7:34; 15:1; 19:2-7.

V. 11.  harpages … moichoi = “robbers … adulterers”:  Listed on either side of the general term adikoi = “unrighteous”; these two groups describe persons who transgress God’s commandments, at least two:  Exod. 20:15 and 14 respectively.

V. 12.  apodekatō = “I tithe all that I get”:  The Torah instructs tithing at Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:12; Deut. 14:22-27; 14:28-29. The patriarchal role model is Jacob (Gen. 28:22).

V. 14. dedikaiōmenos = “having been justified”:  The passive indicates that God is the subject of “justifying” and thus emphasizes that any claim to be dikaios = “just(ified)” or “righteous” on one’s own is in error. For the declaration of righteousness or innocence in its profound theological sense, see Isa. 53:11 and Romans 3:24.

V. 14.  “everyone … exalted”:  The same words appear at 14:11 to conclude Jesus’ instruction to the guests at the banquet about seating arrangements;  for OT background, see Ezek. 21:26.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 95: Lectionary 29 (21 Pentecost), Year C (October 17, 2010) October 5, 2010

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Lectionary 29 (Pentecost 21)

The title for this series of podcasts is “Wrestling with the Word.” Thanks to Google Alerts, I have learned that the expression occurs in many conversations regarding just about any issue in the world. In this series, however, the “word” is specifically God’s word. Here we wrestle with biblical texts as God speaks through inspired witnesses of biblical times about the intimate involvement of God in creation and in history. Those whose writings came down to us wrestled, as we do, to determine how God comforts us and accuses us as we live out our lives in God’s world. In the face of the challenges in their day, the biblical writers announced God’s identity and grace, God’s hiddenness and judgment, God’s will and action, God’s pleasure and displeasure. To accomplish their proclamation, they wrestled, as we do, with nothing and no one less than God. While we do not have the opportunity that Jacob had to wrestle with God at a river, God does invite us to a wrestling match. It happens in our prayers that enable us to trust in God and stand firm against all the odds.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 95: Lectionary 29 (21 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 121
While the original purpose of this psalm is not certain, its beauty and comforting expressions give it a place of favor among devout people of all times. The first verses introduce the psalm as a dialogue. Verse 1 comes from the lips of a person about to begin a journey. The speaker looks to the mountains ahead, awesome to behold yet full of potential danger. An imminent journey across and through their heights causes the worshiper to ask about the source of “help” or “strength” on the way. Unlike the answer to a similar question regarding wisdom (Job 28:12, 20), the response here provides the traveler hope and promise: “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (v. 2). Whoever speaks that answer—either the worshiper or a priest—the following verses appear to flow from the lips of a priest. The journey itself is often assumed, therefore, to be the homeward trip from the temple in Jerusalem following a pilgrim’s required visit.) It is also possible that the setting takes place outside the home of the pilgrims as they set out for the temple. In that case, the answer might come from a Levite.) In any case, the Lord who will be the “help” will remain constantly alert to keep the traveler from harm (vss. 3-4). YHWH will protect and guard the pilgrim, even from the blistering sun and the mysterious moon (vss. 5-6). Even beyond the immediate journey, the Lord will maintain such diligence on the worshiper’s behalf in every place and at all times.

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Genesis 32:22-31
As Jacob returns home to meet his brother Esau, God wrestles with him and changes him to equip him for the reunion.

Context
Isaac and Rebekah gave birth to twins. The first to emerge was called Esau, but close behind, hanging on to his brother’s heel, was Jacob. Rivalry between the two ensued because Isaac favored Esau, and Rebekah loved Jacob. The story of Jacob eventually buying Esau’s birthright for a bowl of lentil soup is well known (Gen. 265:29-34). Also familiar is the report of Jacob’s disguise (with Mom’s assistance) to resemble his brother and their deception to have vision-challenged Isaac bless the second son instead of the first (Gen. 27). At this point Rebekah advised her younger son to leave town and live for a while with her brother Laban the Aramaean. On the way Jacob spent the night “at a certain place” where he received the vision of the mound on which the angels of God ascended and descended. There the Lord appeared to Jacob and promised to bring him “back to this land” (Gen. 28:10-17). Working for, and plotting against Laban, Jacob left years later with two of Laban’s daughters and a considerable amount of his wealth. Our story occurs the night before Jacob will meet his brother accompanied by 400 men.

The Story
As we have it, the story has developed through many layers of oral and written traditions. Perhaps at its most basic level, the story is a legend about contesting a nocturnal river demon before crossing the river. While that kind of tale is strange in the Bible, something similar appears in the story of Moses at Exodus 4:24-26 where “the Lord” met Moses on his journey “and sought to kill him.” There also the villain seems to have been a nocturnal demon who eventually became “the Lord.” Likewise, here in our story, no identity is given to “the man” who came to wrestle until just before daybreak “the man” announces to Jacob that he has spent the night striving with God (v. 28).

The Names and Places
Names: While in our usage, names basically identify us, in ancient societies names more closely resembled identity. People did not have names so much as they were their names. When confronted by beings possibly divine or angelic, people asked for the names. Moses offered the request subtly (Exod 3:13), while Manoah was more blunt (Judges 13:17). People could gain access to (perhaps even control) if they knew the divine being’s name.

Jabbok: The Jabbok River is a tributary that flows into the Jordan about 15 miles north of the Dead Sea. The Hebrew word for the river (yabbōq) sounds quite similar to the word for “wrestle” (’ābaq), and the word play is rather obvious as the reader moves from v. 23 to v. 25. Unfortunately, this verb for “wrestle” appears only in this passage.

Jacob: The stories included in the Jacob traditions offer several interpretations for the patriarch’s name. One tradition bases his name Ya‘aqōb on his grabbing his brother’s “heel” (‘āqēb) at their birth (Gen. 25:24-26; see also Hos. 12:4). Another connects his name to a verb for “cheat” (‘āqab) which he richly deserves, according to Esau, after cheating him twice. According to the pattern for naming in the Bible, the patriarch’s handle would likely have been something like Ya‘aqōb-El = “May God Protect.”

Israel: If the word sārâ = “strive, persevere” is indeed part of the name, Yisrā’ēl would probably mean “May God persevere” rather than “You have striven with God and prevailed.” But the tradition that the patriarch’s name developed from this story is attested in the 8th century B.C. prophet Hosea: “in his manhood he strove with God (sārâ ’et-’elōhîm); he strove (sārâ) against the angel and prevailed” (Hos. 12:3-4). Hosea considers Jacob’s striving with God as one more example of his wickedness. However, if the campfire stories of Genesis prevail, Jacob “the cheater” has now been changed to Israel, “the one who persevered against God/God’s angel.”

In addition to changing Jacob’s name to Israel, however, the story serves to identify the two names as one and the same. While the name Jacob usually refers to the patriarch, the name is used also, especially in poetic literature, for the nation Israel. Likewise, while Israel is usually the name of the nation, the name also occurs sometimes for the patriarch. With that flexibility of terminology, it is not always apparent in a given passage whether either name describes the patriarch or the nation. A narrative or poetic reference to the patriarch Jacob might be an allusion to or description of the nation’s experience.

Peniel: The name of the town appears as Penuel in a non-complimentary story at Judges 8:8-9 17. Our story explains the name Penî’ēl on the basis of Jacob’s words: “I have seen God face to face …” (v. 30).

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2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
In times of persecution and stress, the author exhorts his reader (Timothy) to stand firm in the faith he learned from his childhood (from his mother and grandmother) and to regard the written scriptures (the Old Testament) as the source of faith for salvation in Christ Jesus.

Context
Whether the author of the epistle was Paul or, more likely, an anonymous disciple in the second century, the inspired scriptures mentioned in 3:15-16 can only have been what we call the Old Testament. The New Testament, as we know and call it, did not yet exist. The writings of Judaism, however, were the Bible of Jesus and the early church and were considered “inspired” on the basis of various criteria toward the end of the first century A.D. They served even early Christians to provide the equipment “for every good work” and to encourage them “to be persistent whether the time if favorable or unfavorable” (4:2).

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Luke 18:1-8
Encouraging his disciples to pray constantly and not lose heart, Jesus assured them of God’s response to their petitions by telling the parable about the widow who hounded a judge until he vindicated her in a court case.

Context
Still on the fateful journey toward Jerusalem (beginning at 9:51), Jesus has been preparing his disciples and his adversaries for what would happen. Through his teaching and by engaging  in dialogue over their questions, Jesus used many parables in this section of Luke’s Gospel. In the previous chapter, he dealt with the disciples request for an increase of faith, healed the 10 lepers, and responded to the Pharisees’ question about the timing of the kingdom of God. Now he addresses disciples on the faith-driven life.

Key Words
V. 1. pros to dein pantote proseuchesthai autous = “concerning the necessity of praying always”: One of the major emphases in Luke’s Gospel is prayer. Jesus sought temporary solitude “on the mountain” in order to pray (6:12) and at “the Mount of Olives” he prayed that God’s will be done (22:41). At the request of the disciples Jesus taught them to pray (11:1-5) the prayer that included “Your kingdom come” (cf. 17:20-37). He instructed his disciples to pray for strength when the times of tribulation came (21:36) and commanded them to pray that they not enter into temptation (21:40).

V. 2. kritēs tis … ton theon phoboumenos kai anthrōpon mē entrepomenos = “a certain judge … who neither feared God or had any concern for people”: The lack of fear of God and concern for people reveals the judge as the exact opposite of the two great commandments (Luke 10:27). This description of the man might be the reason why Jesus refers to him in v. 6 as ho kritēs tēs adikias = “the judge of unrighteousness.” Recall that in Luke 16:1-9 the master commended “the dishonest steward” (ho oikonomos tēs adikias) for his prudence.

V. 3. chēra = “a widow”: Throughout the OT, widows, along with orphans and sojourners, are specifically named as the most vulnerable and who by God’s command are protected by laws. YHWH actually “executes justice” for those people (Deut. 10:18; see Ps. 68:5) and forbids lawmakers from perverting justice due to them (Deut. 24:17). God summons the people of Israel to advocate in courts of law for the widow and condemns them for failing to do so (Isa. 1:17, 23). Elsewhere in Luke Jesus condemns the scribes for robbing widows of their houses (20:47) and uses another widow as an example for disciples (21:1-4). The failure of the judge in our case to delay executing justice for the widow (Deut. 24:17) would qualify him for the title “judge of unrighteousness” (v. 6).

V. 7. ho de theos ou mē poiēsē tēn ekdikēsin tōn elektōn autou tōn boōntōn autō hēmeras kai nyktos = “And will not God perform vindication of the elect who cry out to him day and night?”: The comparison between the “judge of unrighteousness” and “God the righteous judge” is interesting. Jesus’ point is simply: If an unrighteous judge who cares nothing about God or people can vindicate the widow because of her incessant pleading, how much more will the God of righteousness respond to a petitioner’s persistent cries for help! After all, YHWH consistently proves to be one who hears the laments (cries for help) from the oppressed; see Exod. 3:7; Isa. 41:17). Because of that reputation, YHWH graciously invited the laments of the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, and all oppressed and afflicted person. Here Jesus repeats the invitation through the teaching of this parable.

V. 8. “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth”: The faith described in this passage is the trust and confidence that God will respond to prayer.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 94: Lectionary 28 (20 Pentecost), Year C (October 10, 2010) September 26, 2010

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Lectionary 28 (Pentecost 20)

I can never understand why I periodically resent the teachings of the Bible. I suspect, though, that what bothers me is God’s generosity. You would think that God prefers people who are religiously connected, even properly religious people, like those of my own religion and denomination. But the Bible has a way of kicking my legs out from under me sometimes, and our lessons selected for this day prove I stand on unstable foundations.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 94: Lectionary 28 (20 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 111
This acrostic psalm is somewhat unusual in the sense that each half verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The forced structure, as with all acrostic psalms, leads to a rather uneven presentation of thoughts.  In a sense, the lack of flow matters little, because proverbial wisdom teachings (“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”; cf. Prov. 1:7) do not require smooth transitions. More important is to remember the maxims through the sequence of the alphabet. In any case, the psalmist does achieve his goal of presenting an individual hymn of praise in which he lauds the redemptive work of God simultaneous with the role of God as Creator in providing food for the faithful.  Perhaps the connection with the first lesson is best made by the testimony “Great are the works of the Lord” (verse 2) and “He has shown his people the power of his works” (verse 6). Typical of wisdom teachings, the maxims can apply to human beings in general, although the reference to “his people,” “the heritage of the nations,” and “his covenant” are expressions Israel used of herself. Above all, however, the psalm’s call to praise the Lord (v. 1; cf. v. 10) resounds at the conclusion of the story about Naaman and Elijah and in the story of Jesus’ healing of the leper—both Gentiles.

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2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
God provides knowledge of himself to those outside the community of faith through the words of people and above all through the divine word itself.

OR
Reaching out to those beyond the covenant people of Israel, the Lord heals the Syrian leper and thereby provides the means for Naaman’s confession about the power and universality of Yahweh.

Context
Receiving the cloak of succession from Elijah, the prophet Elisha followed his mentor until that day when the whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12).  As evidence of his succession Elisha performed at the outset many of the same acts as the predecessor, including the miracle of the abundance of oil out of small beginnings, the raising from the dead the son of the Shunamite woman, and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.  Furthermore, like his master his miracles and ministry extended to the Gentiles.

The omission of verses 4-6 from the pericope presents a problem of narrative flow because the mention of the king reading “the letter” (v. 7) has no background.

Key Words
V. 1.  “The Lord had given victory to Syria”:  The extension of the Lord’s power already reaches beyond the boundaries of Israel by this gift of victory to a commander of a non-Israelite army.

V. 7.  ha’elōhîm ’ānî lehāmît ûlehachavôt = “Am I god, to kill and to make alive,…?”:  The view that God alone was responsible for life and death is attested several times in the Old Testament.  In the Song of Hannah both weal and woe are the responsibility of the Lord who “kills and brings to life” (1 Sam. 2:6).  Also the familiar words of Job ring out here:  “the Lord gave, and the Lord had taken away” (Job 1:21).

V. 8.  weyēda‘  kî nā_bî’ beyisrā’ēl = “that he may know there is a prophet in Israel”:  (1) The expression “that someone may know” appears in the story of the exodus (Exod. 9:14; 10:2) and in the promises of the return from Babylon (cf. Ezek. 35:9; 36:11; 37:14) as indicating that through a salvation act of the Lord others will come to know who he is.  (2) What it takes for people to know there is a prophet is among them is quite different at Ezekiel 33:33 where the Lord promises such awareness when the people ignore the prophecies.

V. 14. “according to the word of the man of God”: The effectiveness of God’s word in accomplishing what it says is a key theological concept in the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings). Significant is the use of a similar expression in the miracle that Elijah performed in raising from the dead the son of the Zarephath widow (1 Kings 17:24).

V. 15. hinnēh-nā’ yāda‘tî kî ’ên ’elōhîm bekōl hā’ārets kî ’im-beyisrā’ēl = “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”: The confession of Naaman goes beyond the desire and promise of  Elisha in v. 8.  The knowledge of the Lord by people outside Israel serves as the motive for many divine actions in the OT: see, e.g., Exod. 14:18; Isa. 45:5-6; Ezek. 37:28.

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2 Timothy 2:8-15
In the midst of the people’s suffering and persecution, God promises salvation and eternal glory through Jesus Christ to all who endure in the Gospel.

Context
Encouraging Timothy to be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ and to rightly explain the word of God in the face of encroaching heresies, the author uses here what appear to be elements of a hymn. The content includes both the proclamation about the Davidic descent of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead along with the promise of our dying and rising with him (cf. Romans 1:1-3; 6:5).

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Luke 17:11-19
Jesus commends and heals the Samaritan who gave thanks to him and who praises God in response to the miracle of curing his leprosy and restoring him to his community.

Context
Luke’s division of Jesus’ itinerary from Galilee to Jerusalem into several parts is indicated by specific references to that journey.  The first occurred at 9:51 where Samaritans reject Jesus, the second at 13:22, and the third appears here at the beginning of the pericope.  In this instance Luke betrays his uncertain knowledge of Palestinian geography by his allusion to a location “between Samaria and Galilee” on the way to Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 12.  hoi estēsan porrōthen = “who stood at a distance”:  The divine law established procedures whereby lepers would be separated and would warn other of their presence (see Lev. 13:45-46; Num. 5:2-3).

V. 13.  Iēsou epistata = “Jesus Master”:  epistata is used only in Luke among the Synoptics and apart from this instance only by Jesus’ disciples (see 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49, always in connection with a miracle.  In Greek literature the word is used for a “commander,” thus one who has authority.

V. 14.  epideixate tois hiereusin = “show yourselves to the priests”:  The procedure for reinstatement into the community involves examination by the priest plus physical and ritual cleansing (see Lev. 14:1-20).

V. 15.  dozazōn ton theon = “praising God”:  For giving praise as a response to a healing miracle, see 13:13; 18:43; as the shepherds’ response to the birth of Jesus (2:20); as the centurion’s response to the crucified Christ (23:47).

V. 18.  ho allogenēs houtos = “this other-race person”:  The expression occurs only here in the NT; in LXX is appears often for non-Israelites (see, e.g., Gen. 17:27).

V. 19.  hē pistis sou sesōken se = “your faith has saved you”:  Jesus addresses the words  to the woman of the city at 7:50; to the woman who touched Jesus’ garment at 8:48; to the blind beggar near Jericho at 18:42. The announcement of “salvation” to the Samaritan will loom larger as the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem conspire against Jesus and succeed in executing him on religious grounds.

NEXT WEEK:
Psalm 121
Genesis 32:22-31
2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Wrestling with the Word, episode 93: Lectionary 27 (19 Pentecost), Year C (October 3, 2010) September 25, 2010

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Lectionary 27 Pentecost 19

There is a four-letter word that ruffles feathers, pumps up blood pressure, and causes arguments. It’s the word W-A-I-T. It seems like a complete waste of time to you and me and countless others. Yet God reiterates promises that are worth waiting for and calls us to make productive use of our waiting time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 93: Lectionary 27 (19 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 37:1-9
The content of the psalm with its proverbial wisdom teachings serves the acrostic structure of the psalm very well. Having to begin every verse (or in this case, every other line) with the succeeding letter of the alphabet challenges the poet to maintain a flow of movement for the poem, except when a series of short maxims make up the whole alphabet. The psalm is, in other words, a collection of wisdom teachings offered by an “old” man who has observed life for many years (v. 25). This “wise” teacher emphasizes the positive role of faith and trust in the Lord rather than fretting over the success of the wicked. According to his instruction, hope and trust in the Lord, waiting for the Lord, and taking refuge in the Lord are the ways of the righteous. The future reward for the righteous, first appearing in v. 9, is repeated 4 times as the psalm continues towards its end: “they shall inherit/possess the land/earth.” The promise flows from the lips of Jesus in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:5). Jesus promises and delivers that inheritance to “the meek,”as does v. 11 of the psalm.

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Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
In response to the prophet’s questions and complaints about the apparent injustices that God allows in the world, the Lord answers there is an end to the waiting and toward that end the righteous shall live on the basis of faithfulness.

Context
While the precise historical situation is difficult to determine on the basis of the evidence supplied, the mood and style of the book seem to reflect the period immediately prior to the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.  In particular, the material in 1:2–2:4 represents a dialogue between the prophet and God, the words of Habakkuk expressed in terms and forms characteristic of a lament. 1:2-4: Habakkuk asks about the Lord’s apparent absence and lack of concern. 1:5-11: YHWH answers in terms of promised action. 1:12—2:1: Habakkuk continues his questions and challenge. 2:2-4: YHWH answers with divine assurance and calls for faithful waiting.

Key Words
1:2.  ‘ad-’ānâ = “how long”:  The question is a characteristic element in a lament; see Ps. 13:1; 74:10; 89:46; cf. Lam 5:20.  šivva‘tî welō’ tišmā‘ = “I cry for help but you do not answer”:  For the best-known example of the question, see Ps. 22:1-2, 11 (cf. Mark 15:34; Matt. 27:46).

2:4/  wetsaddîq be’emûnātô yichyeh = “but (the) righteous will live by their (his faithfulness”; cf. Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38.  For ’emûnâ = “steadfastness, loyalty, faithfulness” see Exod. 17:12; 2 Kings 12:16.

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2 Timothy 1:1-14
Having provided the opportunity for Timothy to grow up in the faith of his family, God through the apostle now challenges that same believer to hold firm to the true faith in spite of other teachings and even in the face of persecution.

Context
The authorship of the three pastoral epistles–1 and 2 Timothy, Titus–has been debated since the beginning of the 19th century. At present, many scholars believe they were written not by Paul but by an anonymous writer who addressed the church at Ephesus on a variety of issues.  The nature of this correspondence only enables us to conclude in general terms that the issues were Gnostic teachings finding their way into the church and the danger of the world’s antagonism toward the Christians of the time.  Further, the departure of many from Paul’s teachings indicates a falling away of Christians in the face of persecution (1:15-16). Many date the authorship sometime in the second century, probably in the first half.  The reference to Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (v. 5) see Acts 16:1) seems to indicate the sequence of three generations of Christians.  The challenge to Timothy is to maintain “the faith of the mothers” in the midst of some trials confronting the church at Ephesus.

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Luke 17:5-10
Addressing his disciples, Jesus Christ demands among the daily “duties” of Christian discipleship the avoidance of stumbling blocks (vss. 1-2), a boundless willingness to forgive (vss. 3-4), a faith that has power to accomplish the impossible (vss. 5-6), and a commitment to faithful service (vss. 7-10).

Parallel passage: Matthew 17:20 where the faith can move a mountain rather than a sycamore tree as here.

Context
Immediately after the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke has gathered into one place four separate sayings on discipleship.  Previous to our pericope are the first two, both addressed to “his disciples.” The first, vv. 1-3a, is a warning against inevitable stumbling blocks to faith.  The second, vv. 3b-4, deals with the limitlessness of Christian forgiveness.  Our pericope begins with the final two, both addressed to “the apostles.” The third, vv. 5-6, illustrates the power of faith.  The fourth, vv. 7-10, explains the duty of the servants of Christ.

Key Words
V. 1.  ta skandala = “stumbling blocks”:  The word appears often in LXX as a “stumbling block” or “snare” to someone’s fidelity to God:  see Josh. 23:13 (Canaanites);  Judg. 2:3 (gods of the Canaanites); Judg. 8:27 (a golden ephod, a fertility idol?).  For people enticing Christians away from the faith by lies and a false gospel, see Acts 20:29-30; Gal. 1:6-9. For Christians causes fellow believers to stray from their faith by offensive demonstrations of freedom, see Rom. 14:13. On the other hand, Paul portrays the cross of Jesus Christ as the stumbling block (skandalon) that causes people to stumble (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11).

V. 5. prosthes hēmin pistin = “add to us faith”: Usually the word prostithēmi means to increase something that is already present. Unless insisting that the word here is used differently, the implication is that the apostles already have faith and that they are requesting an increase of faith. They are, after all, “the apostles” (see Luke 6:12-16).

V. 6.  ei echete pistin = “if you have faith”:  The present tense implies a “real” condition:  the apostles do have faith; some mss. read ei eichete pistin = “if you had faith,” implying that the apostles do not (so RSV/NRSV).  Strikingly, what follows, elegete = “you could say,” introduces a contrary-to-fact condition, supporting the variant reading “if you had faith.”

V. 10. douloi achreioi esmen, ho ōpheilomen poiēsai pepoiēkamen = “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we are obligated to do”: The duties of plowing and serving (vss. 6, 8) might reflect Pauline terminology for Christian disciples. For plowing and harvesting, see 1 Cor. 9:7b-12a. For the description of Paul himself and other Christians as “servants,” see Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:21-23; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1, etc. The function of shepherd will develop in such Johannine passages as John 21:15-17. Ultimately, the point of Jesus’ saying here is that even the everyday work of disciples does not earn God’s reward; our “unprofitable” labors cannot accomplish that. Only God’s grace accomplishes the reward—a contrast to the teaching of Psalm 37.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 92: Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost), Year C (September 26, 2010) September 10, 2010

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Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost)

The summer vacations have come to their annual end, and so have the emails or phone calls from family and friends that so often include the words “Wish you were here!” On the one hand, the cliché makes me jealous of their experiences. On the other hand, precisely because they are family and friends, I rejoice both over their good fortune and over the affirmation they give me by wishing I were there. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if they did not offer their love and concern with such words. I wonder also how many people in the world never hear those words “Wish you were here.” How many people go through life with the feeling that others wished they were not here? How many people are treated in such a way that their being here is not even noticed? Mother Teresa put it like this:

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,
I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat…. We must find each other.”

Our lessons for today call on us to recall that God honors the unnoticed in the world and that God calls us to honor them as well by showing them we are delighted they are here.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 92: Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost), Year C .

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Psalm 146
The psalm, like Psalms 113-118, qualifies as a Hallel psalm, that is, a psalm of praise that begins with “Hallelujah.” This praise begins (vss. 1-2) with a summons to one’s own “soul” to praise the Lord for a whole lifetime and to express those praises with song along the way. The individual then instructs an audience with the warning against putting trust in successful persons, because, like all humans, they and their strategies will perish (vss. 3-4). On the other hand, looking to YHWH for help and hope leads to blessing (v. 5), and the psalmist/teacher provides two reasons for that instruction. First, YHWH is the Creator of the universe and all living things on earth, and as Creator, God demonstrates faithfulness by executing justice for the oppressed and by feeding the hungry (vss. 6-7). Second, YHWH is the savior/deliverer who, as in Isaiah 42:7 and 62:1-2, sets prisoners free and opens the eyes of the blind (vss. 7b-8). Further, this God protects strangers in their wanderings and supports the vulnerable orphans and widows, but brings devastation upon the wicked that oppress them (v. 9). The psalm concludes with a summons to the people of Jerusalem to praise YHWH who “will reign forever” (v. 10). The combination of creation and salvation themes within the context of the reign of God betrays dependence on the preaching of Second Isaiah.

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Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Against those who trust for their security in their luxury and conceit, God promises a most insecure future.

Context
In the midst of a variety of judgment speeches, a series of woe-cries beginning with 5:18 describes the nature of the northern kingdom’s behavior which will lead to the inevitable result of disaster.

Key Words
V. 1.  hôy = “woe”:  A woe-oracle is introduced by this particle and always followed by a plural participle describing an action of an unnamed group which leads to God’s judgment. This woe-oracle addresses those who feel all too comfortable both in Jerusalem and in Samaria.

V. 1.  wehabbōtechîm = “and who trust”:  For the problem of trusting in things which give false security see Prov. 11:28; 14:16.

V. 2.  Calneh … Hamath … Gath:  These cities were conquered by the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser III between 738 and 734 B.C.

V. 3.  hamenaddîm leyôm rā‘ = “who keep thrusting aside the evil day”:  The series of oracles requires that we assume a hôy = “woe” before the participle. For the “evil day,” see the interesting saying at Prov. 16:4: “YHWH.has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (leyōm rā‘ā).

V. 3.  šebet chāmās = “throne/seat or cessation of violence”:  For šebet (root šābat) as “cessation,” see Exod. 21:19; Prov. 20:3; šebet (root yāšab) as “that on which one is enthroned,” see 1 Kings 10:19 = 2 Chron. 9:18.

V. 4. haššōkebîm ‘al-mittôt šēn ûserûchîm ‘al-‘aršōtām = “who lie upon beds of ivory and sprawl upon their couches”: In light of the participles in the continuing series, the “woe to” must be read here, as it is in most translations.

V. 6. welō’ nechlû ‘al-šēber yōsēp = “but have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph”: Here lies the reason for the “woe.” In the midst of their luxurious lifestyles, they pay no attention to the suffering of the people who live in the territory that traditionally belonged to the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh).

V. 7.  lākēn = “therefore”:  When following a description of the activity of people, “therefore” almost always introduces a judgment of YHWH.

V. 7.  berōš gōlîm = “at the head of the exiles”:  See the play on words with rēšît hagôyyîm = “head/first of the nations” in v. 1 and werēšît šemānîm = “head/first (finest) of the oils” at v. 6.

V. 7.  wesār mizrach serûchîm = “and the revelry of sprawlers will pass away”:  Note the play with “those who sprawl (serûchîm) upon their beds” to whom the “woe” is addressed in v. 4. Now it will “pass away.”

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1 Timothy 6:6-19
Exhorting Timothy to shun the false teaching about the love of money, the apostle instructs him aim at the qualities that God loves and to charge the rich to set their hopes on God in whom they can be certain of a sure foundation for the future.

Context
The apostle brings his epistle to a conclusion by giving Timothy advice regarding the dangers of loving wealth and a charge to the wealthy that they should express their faith by showing they are “rich in good deeds, liberal and generous.”

“Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”  –Mother Teresa

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Luke 16:19-31
Addressing those who love money, Jesus warns of future shock by providing a story of eschatological transformations for the rich who neglect the poor and for the poor who are neglected.

Context
In chapter 15 Luke has Jesus telling the Pharisees and scribes the parable about the son who had squandered his wealth.  In chapter 16 (vv. 1-13) Jesus relates to the disciples the parable about the dishonest manager. There he includes the note about making friends by means of their unrighteous wealth so that “they may receive you into the tents of eternity.”  At 16:14-18 Jesus turns again to address the Pharisees, identified as “lovers of money,” on the continuing value of the Torah.  Now still speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus.

Key Words
V. 19.  anthrōpos de tis ēn plousios = “there was a certain rich man”:  The words are identical to 16:1, the beginning of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

V. 19.  euphrainomenos kath’ hēmeran lamprōs = “who kept on enjoying himself splendidly every day”:  On euphrainomenos as a favorite in Luke, see 12:19 (“be merry”); 15:23, 24, 29, 32 (“make merry”). While lamprōs appears in this form only here, see ta lampra = “splendid things” in which the rich delight at Rev. 18:14.

V. 20.  ptōchos = “a poor man”:  For the contrast between “rich” and “poor” in Luke’s Gospel, see 1:53; 6:20, 24; for Jesus as bringer of good news to the “poor,” see also 4:18-20; 7:22.

V. 20.  Lazarus:  a form of the Hebrew name ’El‘azar = “God has helped.” The Hebrew word for “help” is the one used at Psalm 146:5 (in parallel to “hope”) where blessing is promised to those who look to YHWH as their “help” “and hope.”

V. 22.  eis ton kolpon Abraham = “to the bosom of Abraham”:  For one’s bosom as a place of endearment, see the place of Christ at John 1:18 and the disciple Jesus loved at 13:23. In OT see Num. 11:12; Deut. 13:6; 28:54, 56.

V. 24, 30.  pater Abraam = “father Abraham”:  See John 8:33, 37 for the paternity claim of the Judaeans to Jesus.

V. 25.  nun de hōde parakaleitai = “but now he is comforted”:  The passive denotes that God is the comforter; see Isa. 40:1; 51:3; above all see 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

V. 26.  chasma mega estēriktai = “a great chasm has been fixed”:  Once again, Luke uses a theological passive. As for the chasm, contrast Gen. 28:12 where “the ladder” (actually “the mound”) connects heaven and earth.

V. 29. “They have Moses and the prophets”: The reference to Moses, of course, is to the Torah, the “book of Moses: and “the law of Moses” where laws about caring for the poor and afflicted abound; see, e.g., the Book of the Covenant at Exod. 21—23; the priestly laws at Lev. 25; the Code of Deuteronomy, especially Deut. 24. As for the prophets, their preaching against the injustice done to the poor and oppressed fill the pages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C (September 19, 2010) September 6, 2010

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Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost)

I confess I become upset at some people’s lack of concern for others and at systems in the world that favor the rich and powerful. That anger presents quite a dilemma when I join others in expressing that God is the God of all people, that God loves everyone, and that God wants all humanity to love one another. I feel like Jonah, I suppose, in denying the grace and love of God to “obvious” sinners. All together, our lessons for this day provide some challenges to my thinking and some implications of confessing the universality of God’s love. They help us ponder how the unfathomable and exalted God lives up to the name of Creator of the world and all that lives on it. They also demonstrate how God holds the rich accountable for the poor and simultaneously calls on the poor to pray for the powerful.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 113
The psalm is the first of six called the Hallel psalms because their purpose is to “praise God.” In Judaism this collection was used especially on such important festivals as Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Verses 1-3 invite the worshipers of God in all times and places to extol the name of the Lord. Verses 4-6 explain the reason for that call to praise in two ways:  first, God’s place is far above all the nations of the earth and even above all the heavenly spaces where divine beings dwell and contest for acclaim; second, the Lord is incomparable among all creatures, divine and human. (The question “Who is like the Lord, our God…?” is used in various types of psalms in order to extol YHWH’s supremacy; see Ps. 89:6). Verses 7-9 point to the uniqueness of YHWH in another sense. Though YHWH is so exalted above earth and heaven, that same God bends down to protect and care for the lowly, even exalting them to sit with princes. This lofty God enables outcast barren women to bear children and thus become an integral part of the day’s society.

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Amos 8:4-7
To those who hasten to do dishonest business in order to further oppress the poor and the needy, God promises an unforgettable experience of judgment.

Context
In the middle of the eighth century B.C., Amos, from Tekoa near Bethlehem, was called to preach judgment against the northern kingdom Israel. As it turns out, his judgment speeches in the first two chapters of the book reached out to the nations that surrounded Israel and Judah on all sides. According to his own words, he had not been an official prophet, i.e., ordained into the prophetic guild, but a simple “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” (7:14) when the Lord sent him to prophesy to Israel, the northern kingdom.  The people up there held an optimistic view of the Day of the Lord, and they did so on the basis of YHWH’s actions for Israel in the past. Amos, however, turned the view of the Day into a threat of judgment: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!” (5:18). The passage here consists of oracles which illustrate the vision of the fate of a basket of summer fruit (8:1-3).

Key Words
Vv. 4, 6.  ’ebyôn // ‘anivvê-’ārets … dallîm //we’ebyôn = “the needy // the oppressed of the land … the poor // and the needy”:  For oppression of these people by the rulers and rich of Israel, see 2:6-7.  In terms of YHWH’s ongoing concern for the vulnerable of the land, see also such random examples as Ps. 9:9-10, 18; 82:1-4; then as responsibility given to the Davidic king, see Ps. 72:1-4. 12-14; further as the responsibility given to the people see Exod. 22:21-24; 23:6-9; Deut. 24:10-15, 17-22.  Because the people failed to carry out this assignment, this prophet, along with others, delivers the Lord’s announcement of judgment (see. e.g., Isa. 3:13-15; Ezek. 16:49).

V. 5.  hachōdeš …wehaššabbāt = “the new moon … and the sabbath”:  For restrictions on sabbath activity, see Exod. 35:3; Num. 15:32-36; Jer. 17:21-27; and Neh. 13:15-22 where transacting business is expressly forbidden.

V. 5.  ’êphâ = “ephah”:  The word means a dry measure of about forty liters (a little over 36 quarts).  For laws about weights, see Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16.

V. 6. mappal bar = “refuse of the wheat”:  The noun mappal derives from the verb nāpal = “to fall,” thus wheat fallen to the ground, trampled, wet, inferior.

V. 7.  nišba‘ YHWH bige‘ôn ya‘aqôb = “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob”:  Previously in Amos, YHWH swears by himself (see 4:2; 6:8). As for “the pride of Jacob,” the words appear earlier at 6:8 in parallelism with “strongholds” of Israel and “the city”—all of which YHWH abhors. At Ps. 47:4 the expression stands parallel to “heritage,” that is, the land of Israel.

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1 Timothy 2:1-7
Since God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, the author instructs the leaders of the church to pray and give thanks for the emperor and other governmental authorities.

Context
The verses comprise the first instruction from the unknown apostle to Timothy, leader of the church. In the historical context of the 2nd century A.D., Christians were regarded by outsiders with suspicion and distrust. Above all, since the Christians confessed their faith in Jesus as Lord, their commitment to the emperor was questionable. The advice here (like that of Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 4:14-16) attempts to address this dilemma and ultimately to advance the spread of the gospel and the church within the constraints of the Roman Empire.

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Luke 16:1-13
Jesus calls upon his disciples to face the crisis of his kingdom preaching with the prudence with which those of this age use material possessions.

Context
Chapter 15 contains three parables about the lost and found, all addressed to the Pharisees and scribes. Continuing the theme of stewardship Jesus turns to the disciples to teach this parable of the Dishonest Steward (vv. 1-8a), several applications of the parable (vv. 8b-13), and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31).

Key Words
V. 1.  anthrōpos tis ēn plousios hos eichen oikonomon = “there was a rich man who had a manager”:  The rich man was probably someone like the absentee landowner of 12:37-38, 42-47; 20:9-16, who put someone else like an oikonomos = “manager” in charge of his property.

V. 1.  diaskorpizōn = “squandering”:  The same word appears in the same sense of  the Prodigal Son (15:13). More generally, the word means to “scatter, disperse” (see Luke 1:51; Matt. 25:24, 26; 26:31 = Mk. 14:27; John 11:52).

V. 6.  dexai sou ta grammata = “receive your letters”:  The letters refer to the promissory note signed by the debtor.

V. 8.  hoti phronimōs epoiēsen = “because he acted prudently”; Note the expression phronimōteroi = “more prudently” in the second half of the verse. For phronimos used elsewhere of an oikonomos, see 12:42 where the “faithful and wise steward” will receive blessing at the homecoming of the master. At 1 Cor. 10:15 the expression appears as a compliment, but at 4:10 it is sarcastic.  See 2 Cor. 11:19 (sarcasm) and Rom. 11:25 (negative). At Matt. 25:2, 4, 8, the word stands opposite “foolish” maidens.

V. 8.  hoi huioi tou aiōnos … tous huious tou phōtos = “the children of this age … the children of light”:  The contrast is not between “worlds” or “places” but “times”: Christians are “the children of the New Day/age” (cf. Rom. 13:11-13; John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 90: Lectionary 24 (16 Pentecost), Year C (September 12, 2010) August 29, 2010

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Lectionary 24 (16 Pentecost)

When life takes its well-known detours that result in anguish of our souls, we sometimes stretch an accusing finger at God. Those unexpected turns seem at times to demonstrate that God is not faithful to promises—whether they were made or we imagine they were. We might find a biblical passage here or there that promises health or wealth or peace or security in our lifetimes, and there is plenty of evidence in the world to indicate we are not on the road we were hoping for. But the promise of God that occurs everywhere in the Bible, the one that provides hope and healing, even on the worst of roads, is forgiveness of our sin. That promise lies at the very nature of God, and it is the assurance of God’s forgiveness that enables us to negotiate the bumps and turns on our journey.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 90: Lectionary 24 (16 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 51:1-10 (NRSV 1-9)
Like Psalms 38 and 130, the psalm is a penitential psalm. Accordingly, the psalm was used by someone suffering various torments as a result of one’s sinfulness against God. The plea for forgiveness in verses 1-2 sets the tone for the entire psalm and is offered only because of trust in God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” The acknowledgement of guilt and confession in verses 3-6 moves beyond the understanding of sin as an ethical code. Verse 5 (NRSV) has sometimes been used to connect the origin of human sinfulness to the sexual act by which the person was conceived.  The intent of the words, however, is to indicate that from the very beginning of his existence the psalmist has been a sinner and a member of a world which has always been at odds with God. The depth of sin is nothing less than the dishonoring of God by all of humankind (see Isa. 6:5; Rom. 1—2; 11:32). The petition for forgiveness comes to focus in verses 7-12 with such words as “purge me,” “wash me,” “fill me,” “blot out all my iniquities.” As the psalm continues, such forgiveness results in the newness of life that can come only from God (see Jer. 31:31-34).

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Exodus 32:7-14
The Lord encourages those who have access to God to intercede even for those who make and worship false gods.

Context
Chapters 32-34 make up a relatively separate block of narrative material that separates the instructions of 25–31 from those in 35–40.  Chapter 32 is influenced by the account of the golden calves installed at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12).  Jeroboam’s infamous act following the division of the monarchy probably led the Jerusalem religious establishment to “prove” the error of his ways by demonstrating God’s judgment on a similar act back in the days of Moses.

Key Words
V. 8.  “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”:  The statement already appeared at v. 4.  Note the request of the people at v. 1 contains:  “Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt”:  The same expression comes out of the mouth of God at v. 7.

V. 10.  we’e‘eseh ’ôtekā legôy gādôl = “and I will make you a great nation”:  The promise is identical to the words God uttered to Abraham at Gen. 12:2.

V. 13.  “multiply your descendants … and all this land … I will give …”:  These promises made to the patriarchs appear at Gen. 12:7; 15:1-6, 17-21; 17:4-8; 22:17; 26:4; 28:13-14.

V. 14.  wayyinnāchem YHWH = “and the Lord repented”:  That God changes the plan from judgment due to a human intercession, see also Amos 7:3 and Abraham’s attempt at Gen. 18:16-33.

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1 Timothy 1:12-17
As he begins his instruction and exhortation to Timothy, leader of the church in Ephesus, the apostle expresses thanks and praise for the goodness of the gospel to himself in words that sound like “amazing grace.”

Context
The authorship of the Pastoral Epistles has been debated for some time.  Whether or not this letter comes from Paul’s hand, the hand of a secretary, or from someone else entirely, the epistle, like that of 2 Timothy and Titus, provides us with instructions to individuals who are leaders of the churches in their respective geographical areas.  As such, they serve to remind leaders of the church at all times of the responsibilities they carry to prevent false teachings from entering the church and to abstain from the ways of the world.

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Luke 15:1-10
Addressing some prevailing religious positions of his day, Jesus explains his hospitality to outcasts on the basis of God’s love for the lost and joy over their recovery.

Context
In contrast to the preceding paragraphs which related Jesus’ teaching about the demands of discipleship to the crowds who had joined him on his journey, Jesus now deals with the grumbling on the part of the “religious” folk over the kinds of people to whom Jesus has been relating.

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Parallel Passage:  Matthew 18:12-13
In Matthew, Jesus addressed the parable to the disciples, making the point that the disciples should not extol themselves and despise the “little ones” but recognize that God rejoices at finding those who have gone astray. In Luke, Jesus addressed the parable to his religious opponents regarding God’s forgiveness of sin and the divine joy over the sinners’ restoration.

Key Words
Vv. 1-2.  pantes hoi telōnai kai hoi hamartōloi … diegoggyzon hoi te Pharisaioi kai hoi grammateis = “all the toll-collectors and sinners … the Pharisees and the scribes murmured”:  See 5:29-30 and 7:33-34 for similar reaction to the company Jesus was keeping.

V. 2.  diegogguzon = “kept murmuring”:  The imperfect tense of the verb indicates the continuing nature of their complaining (see 19:7). Their response to Jesus’ companions is not an isolated one; neither is his hospitality to the outcasts.

V. 4.  poreuetai epi to apolōlos heōs heurē auto = “goes after the lost one until he finds it”:  Forms of apollymi = “ruin, lose” appear to describe “lost sheep” at Matt. 10:6; 15:24; in OT cf. Ezek. 34:4 (11-16); Ps. 119:176.  God is the good shepherd who seeks out the lost (see John 10:11-12).  On the mission of Jesus to seek and save the “lost,” see Luke 19:10.

Vv. 6, 9.  sygcharēte moi = “rejoice with me”:  Joy is something to be shared, as in festal events (cf. Deut. 12:7; Pss. 33; 95; 98; Is. 9:3).

Vv. 7, 10.  chara en tō ouranō … chara enōpion tōn aggelōn tou theou = “joy in heaven … joy before the angels of God”:  For moments when God rejoices, see the new creation bliss at Isa. 65:19, the restoration of the people of Israel to God at Isa. 62:5, and the renewal of love with the people at Zeph. 3:17.  On God’s pleasure at having a wicked person repent and live, see Ezek. 18:23.  For the assembly before the throne of God, see 1 Kings 22:19-23; Job 1; Isa. 6:1-3; Ps. 82; 89:5-8, and often.