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Wrestling with the Word, episode 89: Lectionary 23 (15 Pentecost), Year C (September 5, 2010) August 17, 2010

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Lectionary 23 (15 Pentecost)

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus proves to be a chip off the old block. Whatever God does in the Old Testament, Jesus does in the New. The names for God in the Hebrew Bible become the names the early church used also for Jesus. And when it comes to faithfulness or discipleship, YHWH and Jesus insist on unswerving allegiance. Following that kind of God costs a great deal, but what God promises is life that is just out of sight!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 89: Lectionary 23 (15 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 1
The first psalm in the Bible is a wisdom psalm, like 112, 119, 127, 128, and 133. Wisdom teaching, found also throughout the Book of Proverbs, teaches the simple doctrine that the good (the wise) are rewarded with health and wealth, but the wicked (the fools) are destined for destruction. Reactions to this doctrine appear in the Book of Job and in Ecclesiastes. In the Psalter itself, such reactions appear in Psalm 49 (see Lectionary 18 [10 Pentecost] in Episode 84) and Psalm 73. This first psalm promises blessing for those who “delight in the torah of the Lord and meditate on the torah day and night.” Standing as the lead psalm, it establishes the context of the entire Psalter as fidelity to the instruction of the Lord. The benefits of this “righteousness” are fruitful and continuing life (v. 3). The wicked will not be acquitted in the court of God’s law (v. 5) and will, therefore, “perish” (v. 6).

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20
In setting before the people the decision to choose life or death, God exhorts the people to choose life and provides the means by which that life might be achieved.

Context
Chapters 27-28 of Deuteronomy list the blessings and curses which the people of Israel can expect on the basis of the keeping or disobeying the laws in 12—26.  Chapters 29—30 admonish the people of Israel to follow the same instructions, indicating in the paragraph prior to our pericope that keeping the instructions is not impossible.

Key Words
Vv. 15, 16, 18, 19.  hayyôm = “today”:  The use of the word throughout the book conveys the contemporary nature of YHWH’s address to Israel. It gives the impression the book is intended to preach to the people of a different day from that of Moses.

Vv. 15, 19.  chayyîm = “life”:  The choice God offers is between life and death, between good and harm. As the pericope progresses to its end, the real issue is worship of YHWH over against the worship of other deities; thus “YHWH is your life and length of days,” and idols are death and harm.

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Philemon 1-21
On the basis of our common faith in Christ, God changes the nature of all relationships so that even slaves and masters become siblings in Christ.

Key Words
V. 10.  Onēsimon = “Onesimus”: The name means “useful, allowing Paul to play on word in the following verse where euchrēston = “useful” is used to describe one who is named “Useful.” See also v. 20 where Paul uses the related word onaimēn where it is translated by RSV/NRSV as “benefit.”

V. 10.  Onesimos:  At Col. 4:9 he is called “the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of yourselves.” This verse is sometimes used to demonstrate that Philemon released his slave in order to join in the missionary work of the gospel.

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Luke 14:25-33
As a warning to those multitudes who would casually follow Jesus, Christ asserts that discipleship means the willingness to forsake all other relationships, one’s self, and possessions that might cause conflict of interest.

Context
The preceding verses told of Jesus’ instruction to the Pharisees at the dinner to which he was invited.  That instruction concluded with the Parable of the Great Banquet at which he emphasized the invitation of the kingdom to people of various sorts and in a variety of places. Now once more, Jesus defines the radical cost of discipleship.

Parallel Passages:  Matthew 10:37-38; Mark 10:29

Key Words
V. 26.  ei tis … ou misei = “if someone … does not hate”:  For misein as the opposite of agapēn = “love,” see 16:13. For hate as the attitude of outsiders toward Christians, see 6:22, 27.  Compare Genesis 29:30-33 where because Jacob is said to have loved Rachel more than Leah, the latter is said to be “hated.”  Likewise, in a similar situation at Deut. 21:15-17 the wife who is not loved is “disliked” (RSV/NRSV), a trans. of the verb misein. The version of this verse at Matt. 10:37 softens the condition by describing the problem as “loving more” the family member than Jesus. [Mark’s version is the least offensive since it speaks only of leaving family members “for my sake and the gospel” (Mark 10:29)]. In any case, the content follows from Jesus’ demands at 12:52-53 and his call to discipleship at 9:59-62. The difficulty is balancing this demand to “hate” family members with the command to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Luke 10:27) and to acknowledge our closest neighbors as the members of our families. Further, the author of 1 John writes that people who say they love God but “hate” (misē) their neighbors are liars (1 John 4:20). Indeed, the author interprets God’s command as follows: “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (v. 21).

V. 26.  ou dynatai einai mou mathētēs = “will not be able to be my disciple”:  The exact words repeated at vss. 27, 33.  Note the use of dynatai at 16:13 where “love” and “hate” appear as well in the context of God or mammon.

V. 26. eti te kai tēn psychēn heautou = “and yes, even his own life”: The words reflect Jesus’ teaching about cross-bearing at Mark 8:34: “let them deny themselves.” The prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to pray contains the words “your will be done” as an indication of self-surrender to God’s will.

V. 27.  hostis ou bastazei ton stauron heautou = “whoever does not bear his own cross”:  Recall 9:23.  stauros means an upright stake, used in ancient times as a means of torture and death by impaling or crucifying the victim.  Bastazein = carry” has no particular meaning in Luke.

V. 33.  pas ex hymōn hos ouk apotassetai pasin tois heautou hyparchousin = “whoever among you does not say farewell to everything that belongs to him”:  Note that apotassō = “say farewell” is used in the same sense at 9:61.  The same teaching appears at 12:33-34 where the treasures of this earth fail but that of the kingdom of heaven remains. At 18:22 Jesus commands the ruler to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor so that he “will have treasure in heaven.” However, at 18:30 Jesus implies that by leaving everything that he lists in our pericope a person will “get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” In Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts, he reports the fidelity of early Christians to these demands of Jesus (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 88: Lectionary 22 (14 Pentecost), Year C (August 29, 2010) August 10, 2010

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Lectionary 22 (14 Pentecost)

We spend a lot of time in church preaching and teaching about how to become better Christians. How does a good Christian act? Who are the role models for Christians? Good questions! Good issues to discuss. But for a moment, let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let us go for the big one: what would happen if God were our role model?  How does God act? How would we act if we were God? It sounds sacrilegious. Interestingly, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, called on his readers to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” What would it be like to imitate God? What would you do if God put divine identity and responsibility, even power, into your hands? May I read your minds? You are saying to yourselves, “I’d mess things up. The world would be more of a mess than it already is.” Maybe you’ve seen the movie “Bruce Almighty” where that is precisely what happens. But there is more to being like God, as our lessons for the day demonstrate.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 88: Lectionary 22 (14 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 112
The psalm, like Psalm 1, 19, 119, and others, is a wisdom psalm, written as an acrostic in which each half-verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its purpose is to instruct believers in righteous behavior and to promise rewards, that is, the Lord’s blessings, on their obedience. Living in the midst of darkness and evil tidings at the hands of their oppressors, the righteous demonstrate their fidelity to the Lord’s covenant by the way they conduct their lives. God is righteous. God’s people are righteous! God cares for the vulnerable. God’s people imitate God. Dealing generously with others and lending them money, conducting business with justice, acting with graciousness and mercy, giving to the poor—all result from their delight in the Lord’s commandments (recall Psalm 1:2; 111:2; 119:24 and often). The rewards promised for their righteousness include respected and blessed descendants, wealth and riches, security, fearlessness, and honored strength (exalted horn). The expectations for the “wicked” will result in such opposites that their fury will spell their end.

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Proverbs 25:6-7
Humility in the presence of royalty is far better than arrogance and haughtiness.

Context
These two verses conclude the first section of Book II in the Book of Proverbs.  According to the first verse in this chapter, “these also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.”  The cluster with which the second book begins contains four teachings about royalty.  Thus they are examples of royal wisdom taught to those who are to grow up as functionaries, even as princes, in the royal court.  These proverbs, like the rest of wisdom sayings, intend to educate youth in the ways of success.

Key Words
V. 6.  ‘al-hithhaddar liphnê-melek = “do not honor yourself in the presence of a king”:  RSV’s and NRSV’s “put yourself forward” does not do justice to the issue at hand, namely honoring oneself rather giving honor to others, e.g., the elderly (see Lev. 19:32).

V. 7.  mēhašpîlekā liphnê nādîb = “than to be humiliated in the presence of a noble”:  See among many other examples Prov. 29:23.  See the same use of the verb, even in a different form, at Isa. 2:9; 5:15.

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Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
The constancy of God lies at the heart of all that is expected of us in our relationship of praise to God and in our sharing with one another.

Context
The author of the epistle brings his major arguments to a conclusion at the end of chapter 12 with a call to be grateful for God’s gift of an unshakeable kingdom.  Now he turns to the conclusion of the work with exhortations, admonitions, and benediction.

OT Allusions and Quotations
V. 2.  “show hospitality … angels unawares”:  Recall Abraham at Gen. 18:1-8 and Lot at Gen. 19:1-11. For philoxenia/philoxenos = “hospitality” in NT, see Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9.

V. 3.  “those in prison”:  Recall the call in God’s kingdom to release the prisoners at Isa. 61:1; in Jesus’ prophecy about the day of judgment, recall the favor given to those who visited prisoners (Matt. 25:36, 39).

V. 4.  “marriage bed undefiled”:  Recall the commandment against adultery at Exod. 20:14.

V. 5.  “free from the love of money”:  Recall the fickleness of money and riches at Prov. 28:22; in NT see the exhortations at 1 Tim. 3:3, 6:10.

V. 5.  “never fail you nor forsake you”:  The expression sounds like Deut. 31:6, 8 where “the Lord your God will not fail you or forsake you”; for the same promise in the first person, see Josh. 1:5; cf. also the Lord’s promise to Jacob at Gen. 28:15. The resurrected Jesus makes a similar promise to the disciples in connection with “the great commissioning” at Matt. 28:20.

V. 6.  “The Lord is my helper …”:  The same confession occurs at Ps. 118:6-7 and is also similar to the confidence of the Servant at Isa. 50:9.

V. 8.  “the same”:  See Ps. 102:27 in the context of a confession in YHWH’s endurance even over the heavens and the earth that YHWH created. The blessing for those who make such confession are secure lives for themselves and a posterity that dwells in God’s presence.

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Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus points to the vision of the kingdom banquet in order to redefine table manners and guest lists here and now.

Context
Still on his fateful journey between Galilee and Jerusalem, Jesus had just been warned by Pharisees that Herod was out to kill him.  Jesus sent them off with a message to Herod that Jerusalem and his house are about to be destroyed.

Key Words
V. 1.  “into the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees to dine”:  For dining with Pharisees on other occasions see Luke 7:36; 11:37.  For dining occasions with other hosts, see 5:29; 10:38-42.  For meals at which Jesus is host see 9:13-17; 22:14; 24:30.

V. 1.  “and they were watching him”:  Note their observations of Jesus at 11:54; 20:20, in both cases with a view to catching him at something they could report to the authorities.

V. 7.  prōtoklisias = “the places of honor” beside the host of a dinner:  See also Matt. 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 20:46 (one of the practices for which the scribes will be condemned).

V. 11.  “exalts … be humbled … humbles … be exalted”:  For the opposites caused by the action of God, see Ezek. 17:24; 21:31; Matt. 23:12; Luke 18:14; Phil. 2:6-11; cf. Luke 1:52. In the spirit of the first lesson, recall also the beatitudes at Matt. 5:1-11 and Luke 6:20-26.

V. 12.  kai genētai antapodoma soi = “and repayment be yours”:  The word occurs in the good sense of “reward” (Isa. 1:23 [LXX] and here) or in the negative sense of “retribution” (usual in LXX and Romans 11:9).  The verb form appears in positive sense twice in v. 14.

V. 13. “But when you give a feast”: In light of Jesus’ statement in v. 14 about the resurrection, God’s hosting a feast comes to mind. At Isa. 25:6-8, the prophet envisions a feast that God will host “for all people” at which God will swallow up death and the invitees will enjoy the delicacies of meat and wine.

V. 13.  “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind”:  The same foursome appears at v. 21.  The “poor” (ptōchoi) have been a special concern in Luke’s Gospel since 4:18.  On “lame” (chōloi) and “blind” (typhloi) and “poor” (ptōchoi), see Luke 7:22 where their reversal of fortune at the hands of Jesus signifies the presence of the kingdom of God.  See Mic. 4:6-7.

V. 14.  “and you will be blessed”:  See the promise of God at Deut. 14:28-29 where God’s blessing the work of the people is the reward for tithing the harvest so that the Levites, the sojourners, the orphans and the widows might eat.

V. 14.  en tē anastasei tōn dikaiōn = “at the resurrection of the righteous”:   See Dan. 12:2-3 for resurrection of both righteous and wicked; for the promise of resurrection elsewhere in Luke, see 20:35.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 87: Lectionary 21 (13 Pentecost), Year C (August 22, 2010) August 3, 2010

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Lectionary 21 (13 Pentecost)

Far from programming us to live our days as mindless robots, God gives us freedom to make choices. Those freedoms, the Bible tells us, force us to make responsible decisions about priorities for doing the will of God. Our lessons for this day challenge us to choose between two of God’s commandments when they conflict with each other: the keeping of the sabbath and the love for our neighbors.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 87: Lectionary 21 (13 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 103:1-8
The psalm is a combination of a thanksgiving and hymn. It begins by calling upon the poet’s innermost being to bless the Lord for forgiving the individual’s sins and healing diseases, saving the worshiper from the clutches of death, and crowning the redeemed person with God’s loyalty and mercy. In verse 6 the psalm moves into the hymn, describing God as the one who establishes justice for the oppressed, even as the Lord revealed the entire torah to Moses. The words of verse 8 echo the self-revelation of God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6). As the psalm continues, the experience of the individual and the call to praise extends to the whole universe.

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Isaiah 58:9b-14
God promises the people of Israel divine guidance, light, restoration of city, delight, and nourishment on the conditions that they treat one another with respect and sharing and that they honor the Lord’s sabbath.

Context
The prophet called Third Isaiah faced the difficult problem of preaching the faithfulness of God when the experience of the people was still God’s absence.  The Lord’s absenteeism was all too prevalent during the exile in Babylon, and there it led to the refinement of the lament form.  The expectation preached by Second Isaiah was that the Lord would take them home and that their homecoming would coincide with the unambiguous reign of God over the world.  When they did return to Jerusalem sometime after 538 B.C., however, the scene was a far cry from God’s reign.  Some of the situation is described here.

Key Words
V. 10.  wetāphēq lārā‘ēb naphšekâ [lachmekâ] = “and (if) you pour out yourself [your food] for the hungry”:  The reading of NRSV in brackets is based on Syriac manuscripts; cf. v. 7. The parallelism “and satisfy life of the afflicted” does will fit either reading; the point is obviously the caring of the poor.

V. 10.  wezārach bachōšek ’ôrekā = “then your light will shine in the darkness”:  Whose light will shine? The temptation is to consider YHWH to be “your light” on the basis of 60:1 where “your light” stands in synonymous parallelism with “the glory of the Lord” and 10:17 where “the light of Israel” is parallel to “his Holy One” (cf. 9:2); above all, see 58:8 where “your light” appears to be the same as “your healing,” “your vindicator,” and “the glory of the Lord.”  On the other hand, see wisdom of Job’s friend Zophar at Job 11:17.

V. 11.  wehisbîa‘ betsachtsāchôt naphšekâ = “and he will satisfy your life in parched places”:  Compare this act of God with the expectation in verse 10 regarding the care of the needy.

V. 12.  weqōrā’ lekā gōdēd perets mešōbēb netîbôt lāšābet = “and you shall be called Repairer Of The Breach, Restorer Of Streets To Live In”:  Consider the various names by which Israel and the land will be called thanks to Yahweh’s acts:  “the City of God, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (60:14); “My Delight Is In Her,” “Married” (62:4); “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord,” “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken”(62:12).

Vv. 13-14.  weqārā’tā laššabbāt ‘ōneg liqdōš YHWH mekubbād  … ’az tit‘annag ‘al-YHWH = “if you call the sabbath a delight, the holy (one) of the Lord honorable … you shall delight in the Lord”:  The blessings correspond to the behavior as is typical of ancient Semitic thinking: What one does comes back to roost on one’s own head. With the repetition of the sabbath here following 56:2, the emphasis on the sabbath frames this section of the book. Surprisingly, prophetic references to the sabbath are few. The speech attributed to Jeremiah at 17:19-27 shows a similar benefit for the people by keeping the sabbath, but there the emphasis, like that of Exodus 16, focuses on the prohibition against work on that day. (For other judgment speeches regarding work and business on the sabbath, see Ezek. 20:12-26; 22:8;, 26; 23:28; Amos 8:5.) On the other hand, the prophet Isaiah reports God’s word that repudiates the sabbaths and new moons and appointed feasts in favor of seeking justice, correcting oppression, and caring for the orphans and the widows (Isa. 1:12-17).

V. 14. kî pî YHWH dibbēr = “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”: The effectiveness of God’s word—so common in Second Isaiah—assures the people that the prophecy will come true.

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Hebrews 12:18-29
In contrast to the people of Israel who had come to Mount Sinai, Christians have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to Jesus, in order to thank and praise God for an unshakeable kingdom.

Context
Having cited his cloud of witnesses in terms of the Old Testament examples of faith, the author opened chapter 12 with demonstrating that Jesus is the example to be followed, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  The writer indicates that Jesus’ example guides them through times of persecution and challenges them to pursue peace with one another. His concluding words of our pericope call the grateful people of God to “an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”

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Luke 13:10-17
In response to the needs of the crippled woman, Jesus healed her, even though the law about the sabbath was interpreted to exclude such acts of mercy to people.

Context
Prior to our pericope Jesus had told the parable of the fig tree, indicating the nature of God’s grace to allow sinners one more chance.  Following our pericope Jesus told parables about the kingdom of God:  the Mustard Seed (verses 18-19), the Yeast (verses 20-21), and then teaching about the narrow door which is the entrance to the kingdom of God (verses 22-30).  The context of the last day and the kingdom sets the sabbath law within a brand new understanding.

Key Words
V. 10.  “on the sabbath”:  The pericope focuses not merely on the healing but on the sabbath, particularly Exod. 20:9-10.  The sabbath day played an important role in the stories about Jesus. Elsewhere in Luke, see 4:16, 31; 6:1-5, 6-11; 14:1ff. Clearly Jesus’ repudiation of the sabbath law in chapters 6 and 13 (here) was an issue in the early church that decided on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, as the day for worship.

V. 11.  gynē pneuma exousa = “a woman having a spirit”:  In verse 16 that “Satan had bound her for eighteen years” indicates the origin of spirits in the New Testament world.  That Satan and his spirits stand against the kingdom of God is attested many times in the gospel stories.

V. 15.  Hypokritai = “Hypocrites”:  The word was used by the Greeks for actors on the stage.  At 6:42 the word describes people who make judgments on others, and at 12:56 Jesus uses the word for the crowds who do not know how to interpret the times.  hyopkrisis = “hypocrisy” at 12:1 is directed at the  Pharisees.

V. 17. autou katēskynonto pantes hoi antikeimenoi autō, kai pas ho ochlos echairen = “all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced”: The use of opposites in Luke’s Gospel is a common method for announcing the effects of kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate: mighty—low, humble—rich, rich—poor, etc.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 86: Lectionary 20 (12 Pentecost), Year C (August 15, 2010) July 26, 2010

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Lectionary 20 (12 Pentecost)

Our options for the day are either “Lectionary 20: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C,” or “Mary, the Mother of our Lord.” I have chosen to discuss the pericopes for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, because in previous episodes I had discussed some of the pericopes for Mary’s special day. If you are celebrating this festival on August 15, 2010, I invite you to listen to the podcast on Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Magnificat, in Episode 52, Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year C. For the psalm, Psalm 34:1-9, listen to Episode 33, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

So much of the Bible’s view of God runs smack against the views of religious and moral systems, especially when they get tied up with economic and political ideologies. It was as true in biblical times as it is in our day (and has been true over the millennia in between). Preaching and teaching on any of the lessons for this Sunday might raise the hackles of many listeners. However, failing to proclaim the news contained in these lessons throws us into the group of false prophets that Jeremiah emphatically denounces and into the multitudes that Jesus scolded for failing to catch on to the meaning of his mission.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 86: Lectionary 20 (12 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 82
The psalm is basically the report of a vision of an event that takes place “in the divine council.” [Psalm 29, 89, Job 1, Isaiah 6; comparisons in Babylon. Canaan. And Egypt] Yahweh, the judge of the assembly, accuses the gods of failing to live up to their divine identity. They have taken the side of the wicked who oppress the poor. Their responsibility as gods is to provide justice for the weak, the orphans, the afflicted, and the destitute. Neither the gods nor their followers, like the idol worshipers at Isaiah 44, 4, 18, have a clue about life and the world. Since the gods have failed to live up to their responsibility, Yahweh announces the verdict: they will lose their divine status and become mortal like human beings. The psalm concludes with a prayer that God establish justice in the earth, because all the nations of the world belong to the One who is known for justice and righteousness.

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Jeremiah 23:23-29
Against false prophets who side with the idols, God stands apart from  manipulative attempts, even by those who call themselves prophets, by remaining beyond reach and control.

OR

God makes prophecy true by providing the word and sending the prophet.

Context
The passage is part of a longer section running from v. 9 through 40 that falls under the heading “Concerning the prophets.” It actually includes priests as well from verses 33-40. After explaining their general wickedness and their impending judgment (vv. 9-15), the section details the particular problem:  the prophets fill the people with vain hopes, speaking visions of their own minds rather than the word from the Lord (vv. 16-22).  Following our assigned verses, the problems are that they steal words from one another (v. 30), they say, “Says the Lord,” (v. 31), they prophesy lying dreams and they lead the people astray (v. 32), and behind it all, they are not sent by God (v. 32).

Key Words
V. 23.  ha’elōhê miqqārōb ’ānî … welō’ ’’elōhê mērāchōq = “Am I a god from near … and not a god from far?”:  opposite in LXX:  “I am a god at hand … and not a god far off.”

V. 26.  šeqer = “deception”:  The word appears often in Jeremiah for false prophecy:  5:31; 14:14; 20:6; 27:10, 14, 16; 29:9, 21; perhaps the molten image as the great deception lies at the heart of the problem (10:14 = 51:17).

V. 25.  chālamtî = “I have dreamed”:  In a positive sense, see Jacob (Gen. 28:12); Joseph (Gen. 37:5-10); Daniel (Dan. 1:17); in a false sense, see  Deut. 13:1-6; Zech. 10:2.

V. 26.  tarmît = “deceitfulness”:  See Jer. 8:5 for the people’s deceit; elsewhere for prophets, see 14:14; for the “wicked” generally, see Ps. 119:118.

V. 27.  lehaškîach … še = “to make forget … my name”:  Note later in the same verse,  “their fathers forgot my name for Baal”; opposite is “remember YHWH’s name” at Ps. 119:55; or simply “remember YHWH” at Deut. 8:18; Isa. 64:4; Jer. 51:50; Ezek. 6:9; Zech. 10:9; “not remember” at Judg. 8:34; Isa. 17:10; 57:11.

V. 29.  ’ēš = “fire”:  See note on Luke 12:49 below.

For commentary see Robert P. Carroll, The Book of Jeremiah (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1986):  463-474.

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Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who by faith experienced miracles and endured persecutions, Christians look to Jesus to endure hardship so that, with him, they might share in the glory to come.

Context
After defining faith as the opposite of what is seen, the author began his long list of faith examples from the Hebrew Bible.  He illustrated faith by starting with Abel, who though dead is still speaking through faith.  The list continues to include Enoch who did not see death but lives with God, then Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses.  While they did not receive the fulfillment of God’s promise, because of their faith God has reserved a heavenly city for them.

V. 1.  ogkon apothemenoi panta = “let us lay aside every impediment”:  The expression appears only here in the NT.

V. 2.  tēs pisteōs archēgon kai teleiōtēn = “the originator and perfecter of faith”:  The term archēgos appears elsewhere in NT only at 2:10 where Jesus is described as archēgon tēs sōtērias = the originator of salvation.”

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Luke 12:49-56
Committed to establishing the promised kingdom, God sent Jesus Christ not merely to save and comfort but to judge the earth as well, pitting even family members against one another.

Context
Still on the way between Galilee and Jerusalem, Jesus turned from speaking to the multitudes (12:1-21) to addressing his disciples about God’s care for them and about God’s desire to give the kingdom to those who are ready.  Now Jesus continues talking to the disciples (vv. 49-53) before turning once again to address the crowds (vv. 54-59).

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Parallel Passage:  Matthew 10:34-36

Key Words
V. 49.  pur = “fire”:  The functions of fire in OT are [1] sign of the presence of God (Exod. 3:2; 19:18; Isa. 31:9); [2] purification from disease (Lev. 13:52); [3] ritual purification (Num. 31:23); and [4] judgment (Gen. 19:24; Isa. 33:14; 43:2; Jer. 23:29).

V. 50.  baptisma echō baptisthēnai = “I have a baptism to be baptized (with)”:  See Luke 3:16 where Jesus will baptize with the fire of eschatological judgment. Recall also Jesus’ question to the sons of Zebedee about their ability to endure the baptism that Jesus himself faces (Mark 10:38).

V. 50.  pōs synechomai = “how I am distressed/absorbed”:  The word appears elsewhere in Luke:  4:38 (“tormented” by a high fever; also 28:8); 8:37 (“seized” with terror); 8:45 (the multitudes “crowd” you); 19:43 (enemies “crowd” you); 22:63 (“were holding in custody”). The author uses the word also in Acts: 7:57 (“closed” ears); 18:5 (“absorbed” in the word).

V. 51.  diamerismon = “division, disunity”:  The verb forms follow in vv. 52-53 as the opposite of “peace.” Note the similarity to Micah 7:6 in the description of conflicts that exist, even within families, as they wait for the Day of the Lord.

V. 52.  apo tou nun = “from now on”:  In Luke-Acts, the phrase marks the beginning of the New Age:  1:48; 5:10; 22:18, 69; Acts 18:6.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 85: Lectionary 19 (11 Pentecost), Year C (August 8, 2010) July 22, 2010

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Lectionary 19 (11 Pentecost)

Around the world, people are participating in an internet treasure hunt called geocaching. My daughter, Dana, and her husband, Paul, have recently published a book about the phenomenon (The Joy of Geocaching). Their stories describe what the fuss is all about—what it has meant for people individually and in groups. Well over a million sites contain various treasures. Some geocaches are very tiny, fitting in a hole that might have once contained a bolt, and consist of nothing more than a piece of paper on which the finders register their names. Some geocaches are larger, even ammo boxes, that along with a little tablet for recording the finder’s name and notes, include a collection of items bought in a Dollar Store. My favorite sites are the ones that lead me on paths I have never been, observe things I never noticed, and teach me something I never knew— like moments of history or geological features. Certainly there is the promise of something at the end of the journey, but for me the joy and the challenge is the journey itself. Biblical faith is like that—a journey with a promise for the end but experiences and challenges on the way.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 85: Lectionary 19 (11 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 33:12-22
The psalmist calls the righteous to praise and to hope in the Lord because, as Creator of the universe, God looks upon humankind, promises covenant loyalty, and thereby proves to be “our help and shield.”

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Genesis 15:1-6
God considers as “righteousness” a faith that trusts and hopes in divine promises in spite of appearances to the contrary.

Context
In Genesis 12:1-3 God promised to Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation.  Since Abraham was 75 years old at the time and his wife Sarah only 10 years younger, they were past the time that such a blessed event could begin.  As they settled in the land of Canaan and sojourned for a time to Egypt, even more years passed by.

Key Words
V. 1.  sākār = “reward”: The word usually translates as “wages.” However, at Isa. 40:10; 62:11; Jer. 31:16 it appears in connection with God’s gift of deliverance from exile in Babylon; striking is Ps. 127:3 in terms of “the fruit of the womb.”

V. 1.  māgēn = “shield”:  Common in Psalms, therefore a cultic term, usually in regard to protection;  part. Interesting are Ps. 84:11; 115:9-11; also Prov. 30:5 where the parallel is “every word of God proves true.” Above all, the psalm for the day confesses confidence in waiting for the Lord, for “he is our help and our shield” (Ps, 33:20).

V. 4.  ’ašer yētsē mimmē‘ekā = “who comes out of your loins”:  For mē‘â as male reproductive organ, see 2 Sam. 7:12; 16:11, etc.,  as female organ = womb, see Gen. 25:23; Isa. 49:1; Ps. 71:6; Ruth 1:11.

V. 6.  wehe’emîn baYHWH = “and he believed in the Lord”:  RSV and NRSV translate “believed the Lord”; see Exod. 14:31; Num. 14:11; 20:12, and often.

V. 6.  wayachšebehâ lô  tsedāqâ = “and he accounted it to him as righteousness”:  chāšab = “account, reckon” is used in cultic situations in which a priest examines and determines the acceptability of a worshiper’s offering (Lev. 7:18; 17:4; Num. 18:27); as a neg. form of our text cf. Ps. 32:2:  “Blessed is the one to whom the Lord does not account iniquity.”

For further commentary see Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, rev. ed., trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1972):  181-185;  Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36, trans. John J. Scullion, S.J. (Minneapolis:  Augsburg, 1985):  217-223.

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Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
God enables us to believe in him, as Abraham did, apart from the experiences of life, enabling us to redefine reality and pursue life’s journey in faith and trust.

Context
The author ended the previous paragraph with the admonition to endure in faith in order to receive the promise of God.  Now he devotes all of chapter 11 to faith—its definition (Vss. 1-3) and examples of what faith has enabled people, including Abraham, to accomplish.

V. 1.  elpizomenōn hypostasis = “the reality of things hoped for”:  See 1:3 where hypostasis is the “nature” of God (parallel to his doxa = “glory”). At 3:14 “the beginning of hypostasis” refers to the reality of God on which the life of the community is based; at 11:1, therefore, hypostasis is the divine reality present in the faith of the community.  (See Koester, TDNT VIII:  584-88.)  For a different use of the term in Paul, see 2 Cor. 9:4; 11:17.

V. 1.  pragmatōn elegchos ou blepomenōn = “the proof of things one does not see”: The expression seems to mean that the heavenly world alone is reality. The definition of faith, however, recalls Jesus’ words at John 20:29.

V. 3. Pistei nooumen katērtisthai tous aiōnas rēmati thou theou = “By faith we understand that the world(s) was/were created/prepared by the word of God”: At 1:2 the author writes about God’s Son “through whom also he created (epoiēsen) the world(s) (tous aiōnos).” The understanding of God’s creating the world by the word begins, of course, in Genesis 1, but it also occurs at Psalm 33:6. See also Isa. 45:18-19. In the NT, John 1:3 attests to this same belief.

V. 12. kai tauta nenekrōmenou = “and him as good as dead”: The unflattering description of Abraham appears also at Romans 4:19 where Paul describes the patriarch’s faith. At Isaiah 51:2, the prophet calls his readers to remember their parents Abraham and Sarah, “for when he was but one, I called him,…”

V. 12. The quotation about the stars derives from Genesis 15:5, and the combination with the grains of sand has its origin in Genesis 22:17.

V. 13. kai homologēsantes hoti zenoi kai parepidēmoi eisin epi tēs gēs = “and having acknowledged that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”: Abraham makes such an admission at Genesis 23:4 when he asked the Hittites for a piece of property to bury Sarah. The Apostle Paul alludes to a similar understanding when he describes the Christian’s “commonwealth” as “in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). See v. 16 in the present paragraph.

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Luke 12:32-40
God is pleased to give the kingdom, the heavenly treasure, to those who are ready and wait in hope for the indeterminable day.

Context
Still on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the thousands of multitudes who were stepping on one another in 12:1-21.  At v. 22 Jesus turns his attention specifically to his disciples, admonishing them to put material things in perspective and trust in the loving care of God.  That conversation continues here.

Two Themes
(1)  The gift of the kingdom enables believers to determine what the treasure is and how we get it (vv. 32-34).
(2)  Watchfulness and faithfulness mark the life journey of the believer who knows where the treasure is (vv. 35-40).
(a) Admonition to watchfulness during master’s absence.
(b) Parable about a householder on guard against a burglar.

Key Words
V. 32.  mē phobou = “do not fear”:  The words are common in OT when overwhelming odds seem to face the people of God (Exod. 14:13; Deut. 7:21; 20″1) or when God is present to make an announcement of importance (Gen. 15:1; Isa. 41:14; 43:1; 54:4).  Common also in Luke: 1:13; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50.

V. 32.  eudokēsen ho patēr hymōn = “your Father is pleased”:  See also Gal. 1:15-16; Col. 1:19 for God as the subject of eudokeo.

V. 32.  dounai hymin tēn basileian = “to give you the kingdom”:  Recall Dan. 7:13-14 where the “one like a son of man” (the saints of the Most High, i.e., the faithful martyrs) “was given” the kingdom by the Ancient of Days.

V. 33.  thēsauron … en tois ouranois = “a treasure in the heavens”:  Elsewhere, see Luke 12:21; 16:9; 18:22. Paul refers to the gospel itself as the “treasure” we have in earthen vessels.

V. 35.  hymōn hai osphues periezōsmenoi = “gird your loins”:  Common in OT:  Exod. 12:11; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 4:29; 9:1 for tucking up the robe and moving on quickly.

For further commentary see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV).  The Anchor Bible.  (New York:  Doubleday, 1985):  977-989.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 84: Lectionary 18 (10 Pentecost), Year C (August 1, 2010) July 17, 2010

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Lectionary 18 (10 Pentecost)

Nothing, it seems, makes people more anxious than the daily gyrations in the stock market. The precipitous drops in the Dow Jones raise our insecurity levels over our pensions, our budgets, our present life-styles, and our well-strategized futures. All that is completely understandable for life in the world. The problem is that our stress over our attempts at security can rob us of the opportunity to receive what God is so willingly giving away free!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 84: Lectionary 18 (10 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 49:1-12
The poem, accompanied with music according to verse 4, is a wisdom psalm. The disharmony of the whole piece, however, is the fact that the composer uses all the ingredients at the disposable of an ancient wisdom teacher to put wisdom in its place. The song attacks the traditional teaching of wisdom that success is a matter of learning and doing all the right things. The tradition teaches that the good are rewarded and the wicked are punished. Yet the refrain in this psalm is that “Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish” (vss. 12, 20). Only one verse in the song of instruction provides the answer to this human dilemma: “”But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (v. 15).

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Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
The Preacher, impersonating King Solomon who was known for wisdom and pleasure, concludes, after having experienced both, that both are worthless goals in life even if both are gifts from God.

Context
In this first part of the book the Preacher judges everything to be vanity, that is, worthless striving.  Even the processes of nature are part of a monotonous cycle.  Portraying himself as King Solomon who had gained all that the human imagination could hope for, the Preacher indicates that he put all his wisdom and wealth and pleasure to the test, and discovered they were not worth the trouble in attaining them.

Key Words
2:18-24.  ‘āmēl = “labor” and “the results of labor”:  Here the Hebrew word is used with both meanings, thus “labor” and “wealth.”

2:19.  leya’ēš = “to despair”:  The same root word appears at Jer. 2:25; 18:12; Isa. 57:10 to express hopelessness.

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Colossians 3:1-11
God calls those who have been baptized into Christ’s death and raised to a new humanity to live according to their identity in the name of Christ.

Context
Beginning at 2:20 the author attempts to define what the new life in Christ means for the believer, particularly in terms of the contrast with the ways of the world.  According to the final verses of chapter 2, submission to regulations is part of worldly attitude which the Christian is to leave.

Key Words
V. 2.  ta anō … ta epi tēs gēs = “things above … things on earth”:  The “earthly things” are described in vv. 5, 8, 9;  the contrast appears in vv. 12-17.

V. 3.  apethanete = “you have died”:  According to  2:20, by baptism Christians died to the “elemental spirits of the universe”;  cf. Rom. 6:4; 7:4; 2 Cor. 14-15.

V. 5.  nekrōsate oun ta melē = “therefore mortify your limbs”:  What follows seems to mean immoral use of our limbs; cf. 1 Cor. 6:15.

V. 5.  tēn pleonexian hētis estin eidōlolatria = “covetousness which is idolatry”:  See the same formula at Eph. 5:5; for the relationship of pleonexia and sins of sensuality, see 1 Cor. 5:10; 6:10; 2 Pet. 2:14.

V. 10.  kat’ eikona tou ktisantos auton = “according to the image of its Creator”:  cf. Gen. 1:27; also Col. 1:15.

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Luke 12:13-21
Against our attempts to fragment ourselves and establish our importance in material possessions, God, Jesus the teacher tells us, requires of us to seek the kingdom and enjoy the nurturing of God.

Parallel Passage:  Psalm 49

Context
Before addressing the multitudes, Jesus warned his disciples about Pharisaic hypocrisy, about whom to fear, and about denying him. To be avoided, Jesus teaches, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, even when on trial. Now Luke, sometimes called “the gospel for the poor,” reports Jesus’ teaching about the vanity of wealth.

Key Words
V. 13.  tēn klēronomian = “the inheritance”:  See Num. 27:1-11; for the double portion of the inheritance assigned to the first-born and for the death penalty on one who complains about it (see also Deut. 21:15-21).

V. 14.  tis me katestēsen kritēn ē meristēn eph’ hymas = “Who made me judge and divider over you?”:  cf. Exod. 2:14 where the words Tis se katestēsen archonta kai dikastēn eph hēmōn = “Who made you ruler and judge over us” are addressed to Moses.

V. 15.  pleonexias = “covetousness”:  At Col. 3:5 and Eph. 5:5 the form of covetousness is idolatry.

V. 20.  “Whose will they be?”:  See Ps. 39:6:  “one who heaps up and knows not who will gather”;  cf. also Eccles. 2:18-19.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 83: Lectionary 17 (9 Pentecost), Year C (July 25, 2010) July 11, 2010

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Lectionary 17 (9 Pentecost)

Like Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, “I’m so sick of words,” especially my own, I admit. We hear thousands of words every day—words about the weather, the economy, the local and worldwide sports events, politics. We listen to words that range from brilliant to stupid. We stress over some words and laugh over others. We “get words all day,” says Liza. So does God! Yet God does not seem to get sick of our words. In fact, the biblical records indicate that God keeps inviting words. God seems particularly pleased when we use our words for the sake of others. The strange thing is that God keeps responding to our words and so keeps getting more of them. That response we call God’s Word, and if we would stop listening to all the people talk, then we might miss out on what God is saying to us even in the midst of the superabundance of their words.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 83: Lectionary 17 (9 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 138
The psalm of thanksgiving celebrates the realization that God answers prayers.  In doing so God enables the worshiper to see that his/her salvation is part of the ongoing work of God that reaches out to the lowly.  The recognition of this saving work causes even the kings of the earth to acknowledge the power and glory of God.  The experience of answered prayer leads the worshiper to plead that God’s work never cease.

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Genesis 18:20-32
Because of the divine promise given to Abraham, God revealed the purpose for the visit to Sodom and Gomorrah, allowing Abraham to advocate for those cities so that God remembers the promises about a nation.

Context
Genesis 12:1-3 announced to the Israel of the Davidic-Solomonic period both God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah and God’s use of them to be the source of blessing for the families of the land.  In 18:16-19 God deliberates over that call and responsibility.

Key Words
V. 18.  we’abrāhām hāyô yihyeh legôy gādôl we‘ātsûm wenibrekû bô kōl gôyê hā’ārets = “and Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed by him”:  Note the repetition of the promise at Gen. 12:3; 22:17, 18; 26:4; 28:14; Gal. 3:8.

V. 19.  kî yeda‘tîw = “for I have known him”:  For Hebrew yd‘ as entering into an intimate relationship, see Gen. 4:1; 19:8; then see Amos 3:2.

Vv. 20-21. za‘aqat sedōm wa‘amōrâ = “cry for help of Sodom and Gomorrah”:  za‘aqâ/tsa‘a is a technical term designating a cry for help in the face of injustice or oppression; cf. Exod. 3:7; Deut. 22:23-27; Judg. 3:9; Job 19:7; Ps. 72:12; Isa. 30:18-19.  It is a cry from the oppressed rather than indignation against sexual immorality.  The nature of Sodom’s sin in prophetic memory and tradition seems to have been injustice against the poor in the courts, failure to care for the poor and needy, and infidelity to YHWH (see Isa. 1:10-17; 3:9; Jer. 23:14; Ezek. 16:49).

Vv. 22-32.  The entire negotiation on Abraham’s part for the benefit of Sodom and Gomorrah needs to be seen in light of a verse that is not included in our pericope, i.e., v. 18.

V. 25.  hašōphēt kol-hā’ārets lô’ ya‘asê mišpāt = “shall the one who is responsible for justice (in) all the earth not do what is just?”:  For the close connection between YHWH and mišpāt (justice) see Isa. 30:18; Deut. 32:4; Ps. 89:14; 97:2; 111:7; Job 8:3; 34:12; 37:23, and often.

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Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Against all human attempts to inject foreign influences into the gospel of Jesus Christ, the author argues that in Christ we already have the fullness of life and the source of nourishment for growth that is from God.

Context
These verses indicate that the motive for writing this letter was to combat the enticements of heresies that were creeping into the gospel which brought the church at Colossae into being.

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Luke 11:1-13
Jesus provides to those who would pray the privilege to call God Father, so that they can ask for and expect the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Context
Somewhere between Galilee and Jerusalem, after Jesus had visited the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus spoke these words.

Key Words
V. 1.  en topō tini = “in a certain place”:  In Luke’s Gospel, topos is not so much a description of a locale as a space in which Jesus can be interrupted; cf. Luke 4:42; 9:12; 22:40; 23:33.

V. 1.  proseuchomenon = “praying”:  The act of prayer is an emphasis throughout Luke’s Gospel: cf. 3:21; 6:12; 9:28-29; 22:41-46.

V. 2.  Pater = “Father”:  In the OT God is called “Father” both in terms of the people of Israel (Exod. 4:22-23; Jer. 31:9 [cf. 3:19]) and of the Davidic king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:26).

V. 3.  to kath’ hēmeran = “daily”; cf. Matt. 6:11:  sēmeron = “today.” Luke saves the word sēmeron for eschatological purposes (2:11; 4:21; 19:9; 23:43).

V. 4.  tas hamartias hēmōn = “our sins”:  cf. Matt. 6:12:  ta opheilēmata hēmōn = “our trespasses.”

V. 13.  ho patēr ex ouranou = “the Father from heaven”:  Note connection with v. 2, now with the addition of “from heaven” (cf. Matt. 6:9).

V. 13.  pneuma hagion = “Holy Spirit”:  The gift of the Holy Spirit now is held out to all who pray to God.  Thus far in Luke, the Holy Spirit was granted to a select few:  Mary (1:35), Zechariah (1:67), Simeon (2:26), Jesus (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18).  Now Luke anticipates the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 82: Lectionary 16 (8 Pentecost), Year C (July 18, 2010) July 8, 2010

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Lectionary 16 (8 Pentecost)

In ancient times, hospitality was the means by which people cared for one another. Lacking Holiday Inns and McDonalds, the people opened to hungry travelers their kitchens and the shelter of their roofs. The practice was both functional and honorable. In more modern times the concept has taken spiritual form, especially in the writings of Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen writes of the obligation of Christians “to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings.” Biblically speaking, the hospitality that undergirds all our openness — physical and spiritual — to others, even strangers, is that of God. God the Father and God the Son welcome and serve people in order to be faithful to their promises.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 82: Lectionary 16 (8 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 15
Like Psalm 24 and other pilgrimage psalms, this one begins with the question on the part of the pilgrim about qualifications to enter the sanctuary of the Lord.  Far more than a building, the sanctuary is the earthly home of God where the Lord offers hospitality to the afflicted and to the humble. What follows the question of verse 1 is the answer of the priest in verses 2-5. Strikingly, the entrance ticket is not about ritual but ethical or moral requirements.  The assumption here is that humans are indeed capable of obedience, and that through their obedience they can enjoy the hospitality of God.

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Genesis 18:1-10a
Against the attempts of Abraham and Sarah to take the matter of progeny into their own hands and in spite of the laughing response, God, the guest, serves the aging couple by restating the promise of progeny made to them twenty-four years earlier.

Context
The first set of God’s promises to Abraham and Sara appear in Genesis 12:1-3. Among them is the promise that they will become “a great nation.” The first step toward realizing that promise requires the birth of their own children. Chapter 15:1-6 reports the attempt on the part of Abraham to adopt a son in order that they might have an heir, but God reiterates the promise that his own son will be born and through him a multitude of descendants will grow. Chapter 16 tells of the attempt of Abraham and Sarah to have a child through her maid Hagar. God responds negatively to both attempts, insisting once more (chap.17) that the promised heir will be born to the aging couple.

Key Words
V. 1.  be’ēlōnê mamrē’ = “by the oaks of Mamre”:  At 14:13, 24 Mamre is the name of an Amorite who was the brother of Eshcol and Aner.

Vv. 4-5.  “let a little water be brought … a morsel of bread”:  In contrast to the meager offerings, Abraham and Sarah prepare a feast of cakes, meat, curds, and milk.  The action is typical of Middle Eastern hospitality to invite as though it is no bother to the host and then to serve much more.

V. 10.  wehinne-bēn lesārâ ’ištekā = “behold, a son will be to Sarah your wife”:  At 17:19 the words are sârâ’ištekā yōledet lekā bēn = “Sarah your wife is bearing for you a son.”  The implication of the participle in 17:19 is that Sarah is already pregnant; see the use of the participle in the same sense at Isa. 7:14.  In any case, the promise is used by Paul at Rom. 9:9 to emphasize the role of God’s promise.

V. 10.  kā‘ēt chayyâ = “at the living time”: The time is the spring, when the animals bear their young and the crops grow in the fields; cf. 2 Kings 4:16, 17 in connection with the birth of a child.

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Colossians 1:15-28
On the basis of the identity of Christ as God’s image and his role in creation and redemption, God’s salvation extends to all, along with the responsibilities the gospel entails.

Context
Having written the salutation and the first part of the prayer for the community’s steadfastness (vv. 9-20), the author now expresses the reason for his interest in the Colossians.

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

Stanza one                                                        Stanza two

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

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

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

through him all things were                    and through him to reconcile to

created through him and for him                      himself all things

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

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Luke 10:38-42
In response to the frustration of those who “do” service continually, Jesus calls for hearing his word as the “good portion” which will not be taken away.

Context
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (vv. 25-37) dealt with the need to do service for the needy neighbor; now comes a warning about the frustrations of such service when one does not avail oneself of hearing the word of God as well.  As for the sisters Mary and Martha, while they have attained fame through this story, they appear nowhere else in Luke’s Gospel. However, they figure prominently in John (John 11–12) about the resurrection of Lazarus, their brother and the anointing of Jesus in advance for his burial.  When Jesus arrived at their home in Bethany, it was Martha who spoke with him first while Mary sat in the house (John 11:20).

Key Words
V. 38.  eis kōmēn tina = “a certain village”:  According to John 11:1ff; 12:2f., Martha and Mary lived in Bethany.  For Luke’s purposes, the location is so close to Jesus’ final destination in Jerusalem that he leaves the village unnamed.

V. 39.  ēkouen ton logon autou = “she listened to his word”:  The traditional role of the woman is broken here, and the change is affirmed by Jesus.  To “sit at the feet of” a master teacher appears at Acts 22:3 to describe Paul’s education as a Jew by Gamaliel.

V. 41.  merimnas kai thorubazē = “anxious and troubled”:  On “anxious” see 1 Cor. 7:32-35; also Matt. 5:27-34.

V. 42.  tēn agathēn merida = “the good portion”:  The expression sometimes occurs as a metaphor derived from a diner’s menu; see Gen. 43:34. The metaphor is appropriate in the context of the hospitality they offer Jesus and Jesus offers them.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 81: Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost), Year C ( July 11, 2010) June 28, 2010

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Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost)

How easy it is for groups of believers to lose the theological foundations that defined them in the first place! Sometimes cultural influences so overwhelm the communities of believers that they have trouble sorting out the foundation from the later construction. Sometimes attempts to control others by appealing to their fears causes the virtual replacement of basic beliefs by new requirements. In face of such human-caused confusion, God nevertheless sends spokespersons in every generation to call us back to basics, no matter how threatened the cultural and religious traditions might become.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 81: Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 25:1-10
This acrostic psalm is a lament in which a pious worshipper pleads that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame. Typical of a lament, the worshipper acknowledges a history of God’s mercy and counts on it in the present situation to forgive sins. Wrapped up in this divine mercy are God’s salvation (v. 5), steadfast love, and faithfulness (vss. 7, 10). Along with the petitions are elements of Wisdom as the psalmist prays for instruction to bear the present time in faithfulness. (The plea for forgiveness in v. 7 is repeated in vv. 11 and 18.)

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Deuteronomy 30:9-14
In response to the curses Israel brought upon herself through infidelity to the Lord, God promises to restore prosperity to the people and makes the word accessible to them so that they might do it.

Context
With the end of the so-called “covenant code” at 28:68, chapters 29-33 represent a collection of various kinds of material before the Book of Deuteronomy comes to a close with the death of Moses and the succession of Joshua. Chapter 29 attempts to link the book to the Sinai covenant by including exhortations to the people within the context of a historical summary. Chapter 30 reiterates the blessing and curse theme of 27:1ff. and looks forward to that distant future when the Lord will bring Israelites back to their land from their dispersion in other lands. This pericope is part of a promise to exiles that God has not and will not forsake them in their despair.

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Parallel Passage:  Jeremiah 32

Key Words
V. 9.  wehôtîre = “and (God) will cause to remain over”: God will prosper the people, i.e., make their lives abundant. For the opposite of the blessings promised here, see the results of the curses at 28:25-35.

V. 9.  kî yāšûb YHWH lāsûs ‘ālekā= “for the Lord will turn to rejoicing over you”:  Compare  Jer. 32:41:  wesastî ‘alêhem = “I will rejoice over you.”

V. 10.  hakketûbâ besēpher hattôrâ hazzeh = “which are written in this instruction”:  The torah mentioned here is the code of chaps. 12-26.

V. 12-13.  “ascend to heaven”:  Recall Ps. 139:8 which speaks of the impossibility of escaping the presence of God.

V. 14.  “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”:  To the exiles in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., these words responded to their cry that the Lord had forsaken them (see Isa. 40:27; 49:15; Ezek. 37:11). Note Paul’s use of this verse to speak of the gospel (Rom. 10:8).

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Colossians 1:1-14
The gospel of Jesus Christ fills the community with faith, love, and hope, causing the Apostle to give thanks and to pray that they lead lives worthy of the Lord in spite of the invasion of heresies (2:8).

Context
The congregation at Colossae, a city in Asia Minor, was founded by Epaphras (1:7) who was a native of the city (4:12). The purpose of the letter is to address the influence of heresies and to encourage the church to remain faithful to the traditions that they had learned from the beginning. This pericope includes the author’s salutation (vv. 1-2), the thanksgiving for the community’s faith (vv. 3-8), and the first part of the prayer for the community’s steadfastness (vv. 9-20).  While some scholars defend Pauline authorship, the style and content seem to point to someone else as the author of the epistle.

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Luke 10:25-37
In response to the lawyer’s testing Jesus about eternal life and the identity of one’s neighbor, Jesus responded with a parable about the Good Samaritan indicating how the lawyer can be a neighbor by doing the Torah.

Context
rom some point on the way between Samaria and Jerusalem, Jesus had received the seventy whom he had commissioned to announce the kingdom of God. On that occasion Jesus offered a prayer of thanksgiving that God had hidden “these things” from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes. In vv. 23-24 Jesus seems to identify the “babes” as the disciples who see him and hear his word.

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Parallel Passage:  2 Chronicles 28:1-15

Synoptic Parallels: Matthew 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31

Key Words

V. 25.  nomikos = “lawyer”:  The man is an expert in the law of Moses.

V. 27.  “You shall love the Lord …”:  The commandment appears at Deut. 6:5 which immediately follows the well-known Shema; cf. also Deut. 10:12; Josh. 22:5.

V. 27.  kai ton plēsion sou hōs seauton = “and your neighbor as yourself”:  The command appears at Lev. 19:18 (part of the Holiness Code) where “neighbor” is “one of your own people.”  Here “neighbor” is defined not according to Jewish law or even as the object of love but as the subject of loving care.

V. 28.  touto poiei kai zēsē = “do this and you shall live”:  Recall Lev. 18:5:  by doing God’s statutes and ordinances “a person shall live”; cf. also Deut. 30:9-14.  The gift of life is connected with a person’s repentance at Ezek. 18:32.  Jesus does not seem to have difficulty relating good works to the promise of life, as was indeed his tradition.

V. 30.  katebainen = “went down”:  The elevation of Jerusalem is above sea level, while Jericho is more than 800 feet below sea level.

Vv. 31-33.  antiparēlthen … antiparēlthen … ēlthen = “passed by … passed by … came”:  The Greek demonstrates the contrast by use of the same root word.  The word antiparēlthen appears only here in the entire NT.

V. 34. epemelēthē autou = “took care of him”:  The words also appear to describe the work assigned to the innkeeper in v. 35.  Apart from here the word occurs only in the LXX at Gen.44:21 (Joseph’s offer for Benjamin) and Sirach 30:25.

V. 37.  ho poiēsas to eleos met’ autou = “the one who did mercy with him”: then poreuou kai su poiei homoiōs = “go and do likewise.”  Note the connection with the command to keep the law in verse 28, indicating that the one who keeps the law about loving God and neighbor acts like the Samaritan in caring for a needy person.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 80: Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost), Year C (July 4, 2010) June 27, 2010

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Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost)

God’s generosity can cause problems among people. For one reason or another, some folks think they have a corner on the market of God’s love and grace. The problem is as commonplace today as it was in the days of the Bible. The Jonah-syndrome occurred again and again among the people of Israel and in the early church. God, however, proves both persistent and consistent in extending to the world grace and forgiveness and love all the way into the kingdom to come.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 80: Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 66:1-9
Our verses belong to the first part of the psalm (vss. 1-12) in which a choir of singers praises the Lord, along with “all the earth.” The universal praise derives from God’s gracious actions for Israel when the Lord “turned the sea into dry land” so they could cross over—referring both to the exodus (Exod. 14:21-22) and to the gift of land (Josh. 3:14-17). The second part of the psalm is an individual thanksgiving as a grateful response to the Lord’s listening to the petitioner’s prayer. Whether for the community or the individual, God’s responds to cries for help with redemption.

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Isaiah 66:10-14
In response to the attitude that God’s salvation event is only partial, God assures that what has been conceived will culminate in the celebration of birth and in continuing nurture of God’s people while simultaneously the nations who had oppressed the “child” will know God’s judgment.

Context
Within a passage about God’s coming to judge the whole earth (vv. 6, 15-16), verses 7-14 form a separate unit describing the salvation of Israel in the post-exilic period.  In this way the promise of salvation to Israel is set within a larger apocalyptic event of God’s universal act.

Key Words
V. 10.  simchû … wegîlû … sîsû = “rejoice … be glad … rejoice”:  The call to rejoice over Jerusalem is common in Third Isaiah; see 61:10; 62:5; 65:18. The joy represents the opposite of what people were experiencing at the time.

V. 11.  tîneqû ûšeba’tem miššōd tanchûeyhā_ = “you will suck and be satisfied from her comforting breast”:  The imagery continues the miraculous birth of Zion’s children in vv. 7-9.

V. 12.  ûkenachal š_t_p kebôd g_yîm = “and like an overflowing stream the wealth of the nations”:  For similar imagery see 60:5; 61:6. Since Israel has been the pawn of the nations for the previous centuries, this image once more represents the opposite of what has been.

V. 13.  tenachamennû … ‘anachemkem … ten_ch_mû = “comforts … comfort … be comforted”:  The emphasis on “comfort” has been carried from Second Isaiah (40:1; 49:13 [also the reason for song]; 51:3, 12; 52:9 [// “redeemed”]).

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Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16
People who live by the Spirit are called to share all things with one another — burdens, the word, goodness, for they are a new creation to whom the world has been crucified.

Context
These words essentially bring the Epistle to the Galatians to a close.  Immediately preceding this pericope, however, is Paul’s discussion about people of the Spirit living by the Spirit, and that means above all harmony within the Spirit-filled community.

Key Words
V. 1.  hymeis hoi pneumatikoi = “you who are of the Spirit”:  RSV‘s “you who are spiritual” sounds a bit lofty and generally religious.  NRSV‘s “you who have received the Spirit” is more appropriate, particularly in light of the use of Spirit elsewhere in the epistle, even at the end of chap. 5.

V. 15.  kainē ktisis = “a new creation”:  Paul uses the same words to describe a Christian (whoever is “in Christ”) at 2 Cor. 5:17 where the eschatological emphasis is even clearer.  Here the allusion to people of the Spirit (à la Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) accomplishes the same purpose.

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Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In order to prepare people for his coming, Christ sends disciples ahead, commissioning them to proclaim the kingdom of God in word and deed and encouraging them to rejoice in the promised eternal home.

Context
Beginning at 9:51, Luke’s Gospel reports the itinerary of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.  At the outset of this trip, Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan villagers and then laid down the radical demands on those who would follow him.

Key Words
V. 1.  anedeixen = “appointed”:  For “70,” see Num. 11:16; Exod. 24:1, 9.

V. 1.  apesteilen = “sent”:  The term is common in LXX to describe the action of God in accomplishing divine purposes through humans; cf., e.g., Moses (Exod. 3:10), Isaiah (Isa. 6:8), the prophets in general (Jer. 7:25).

V. 2.  tou therismou = “of the harvest”:  See also Matt. 9:37f.; John 4:35.

V. 19.  “tread upon serpents and scorpions”:  Note the similarity with Ps. 91:13 where authority and power to do so are given to those who trust in God. The use of the serpent under the human foot is different at Gen. 3:15.

V. 20. chairete de hoti ta onomata hymōn eggegraptai en tois ouranois = “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”:  At Exod. 32:32-33 and Ps. 69:28 the blotting out of names from the book God has written comes as a result sinfulness. According to Isa. 4:3, inclusion in the book means “recorded for life.” Similarly, Paul’s uses that image for his co-workers in the gospel (Phil. 4:3). Further, the author of Hebrews speaks to the suffering Christians as the first-born who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). The expression, in other words, takes on eschatological significance.