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Wrestling with the Word, episode 79: Lectionary 13 (5 Pentecost), Year C (June 27, 2010) June 16, 2010

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Lectionary 13 (5 Pentecost)

While a general human tendency is to “look out for yourself,” the Bible focuses on the opposite: look out for others. The new direction is not simply an ethical issue. It actually derives from the nature of God. Throughout the Bible God demonstrates unconditional loyalty to people and to fulfilling promises. God’s unswerving commitment calls for faithful discipleship. Since serving God as disciples has no real form except loving one another, then our call is to “get out of ourselves” and focus on others. In doing so, we worship the Lord our God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 79: Lectionary 13 (5 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 16
The psalm expresses the commitment and trust of the worshiper to the Lord. The psalmist attributes to God the good fortune that has come because of trusting in the Lord to the exclusion of all others, because of confessing that the Lord is “my chosen portion and my cup” (v. 5), and because of heeding the Lord’s instruction. Those who choose other gods will not find favor with the Lord, but those who, like himself, choose only YHWH will experience blessing and joy.

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1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Against Elijah‘s attempt to seek refuge in the traditional “holy place,” God sent the prophet back into the realm of history to anoint kings to rule and a prophetic successor to bring God’s word.

Context
Elijah had won the contest against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and had the losers slain.  Jezebel, Ahab’s queen who worshipped Baal, threatened to kill Elijah.  The prophet took refuge on Mount Horeb.

Key Words
Vv. 15-16.  māšach = “anoint”:  The anointing of kings was common in biblical Israel; usually used of Davidic kings, although see Cyrus at Isa. 54:1.   Interestingly at the accession of Hazael there is no anointing mentioned (see 2 Kings 8:7-15), and Jehu was anointed not by Elijah or his successor Elisha but by one of Elisha’s disciples.

V. 19.  šenêm-‘āsār tsemādîm = “twelve yoke of oxen”:  A rather overwhelming herd to pull a wooden plow!  Heb. tsemed can also mean “a measurement of a field” and so could be translated “he was plowing twelve acres before him, and he was on the twelfth” (see 1 Sam. 14:14; Isa. 5:10).  Moreover, v. 21 seems to imply there was only one yoke (tsemed) of oxen.

V. 19.  ’addartô = “his mantle”:  See Zech. 13:4 for such a prophetic mantle; for the magical quality of Elijah’s mantle, see 2 Kings 2:8, 13, 14 where it plays a role similar to that of Moses’ hand (Exod. 14:21, 26).

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Galatians 5:1, 13-25
God calls people who live by the Spirit 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
In Chapter 5 Paul turns to the issue of freedom as the object of Christ’s gift through the gospel.  In the paragraph omitted from our pericope, verses 2-12, the apostle writes that by “adding” circumcision and other practices to the gospel, the people have severed themselves from Christ.

Key Words
V. 1.  tē eleutheria hēmas Christos ēleutherōsen = “for freedom Christ has set us free”:  The seemingly redundant expression emphasizes the nature of the gospel’s gift.  It calls to mind the image of the slave markets in the Graeco-Roman world, specifically the “sacred manumission” decrees. An inscription from 200-199 B.C. at a temple of Apollo at Delphi reads “The Pythian Apollo bought from Sosibus of Amphissa for freedom a female slave,…” (C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background:  Selected Documents [London:  SPCK, 1958]:  52).

V. 14. “For the whole law is fulfilled on one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”: The connection with Jesus’ teaching on the great commandments in Matt. 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28 is obvious. Paul, however, eliminates the “first” great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God …” Paul likewise settles on this one commandment at Rom. 13:9; see also James 2:8.

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Luke 9:51-62
Rebuking his disciples for desiring judgment on those who would not receive him and his destiny, Jesus calls people to unconditional discipleship within God’s reign.

Context
Following the Transfiguration, Jesus resumed his ministry of healing and teaching:  foretelling his death, settling the argument among the disciples about who was the greatest, and correcting the disciples when they forbade a non-disciple to cast out demons.  Our pericope begins a new section of Luke’s Gospel, one in which Jesus begins the journey toward Jerusalem and prepares his disciples for the tasks ahead.

Key Words
V. 51.  en tō symplērousthai tas hēmeras = “in the filling up of the days”:  The expression occurs also at Acts 2:1 to describe the arrival of Pentecost. The words here actually open a new section in Luke’s Gospel in which the “long” journey to Jerusalem will be filled with Jesus’ teachings and some miracle stories. It seems Luke uses this block of material as instruction for the missionary journey of the church in his own day.

V. 51.  tēs analēmpseōs autou = “of his being taken up”:  The verb form analambanein is used at Acts 1:2, 11, 22 for Jesus being taken up to heaven.  In OT traditions one thinks of the journey of Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11; cf. also 1 Macc. 2:58; Sirach 48:9).

Vss. 51-52.  apesteilen angelous pro prosōpou autou … hōs hetoimasai autō = “he sent messengers before him … to prepare for him”:  The words are not identical but similar to Mal. 3:1 where the messenger is Elijah (Mal. 4:5 English).

V. 54.  “to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them”:  The words are a quotation from 2 Kings 1:10, 12 where Elijah demonstrates he is a “man of God” by using such means to destroy King Ahaziah’s soldiers.

V. 55.  epetimēsen autois = “he rebuked them”:  The word appears in a technical sense of bringing chaos under control, thus the object of Jesus’ rebuke are unclean spirits (Mark 1:25), Satan in the words of Peter (Mark 8:33), and the stormy sea (Mark 4:35-41). Here his own disciples are standing in the way of Jesus’ determination to fulfill his mission. Simultaneously, Jesus’ words indicate he breaks with the Elijah tradition of demonstrating power in order to pursue the way of the cross.

V. 62.  “put the hand to the plow”:  See 1 Kings 19:19-20 where the words describe the daily work of Elisha at the moment of his call by Elijah to succeed him in the prophetic office

Wrestling with the Word, episode 78: Lectionary 12 (4 Pentecost), Year C (June 20, 2010) June 11, 2010

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Lectionary 12 (4 Pentecost)

Literary critics define a tragedy as a story that ends with the major character excluded from his or her community. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, therefore, qualifies as a tragedy. The closing words describe the creature’s fate: “He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance. The End.” By contrast, a comedy is a story in which the major character is incorporated (or re-incorporated) into the community of which she or he is a part. The Bible abounds in comedy, especially because God is committed to renewing people to himself and to one another. That divine commitment prevails, even to the consternation of those who insist the seats to the play have been sold out.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 78: Lectionary 12 (4 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 22:19-28
The first three verses of our psalm sum up a three-stanza lament that the psalmist has been singing since the first verse. Typical of a lament is the claim that God is distant precisely when needed most. The familiar cry to hasten to deliver the lamenting soul immediately follows. Then in verses 22 occurs the praise and thanksgiving expressed to God for having broken the painful silence. The thanksgiving for God’s deliverance extends from a todah meal in the temple with intimate family and friends to the nations of the world and to generations past and future.

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Isaiah 65:1-9
Heartbroken over the people’s refusal to hearken to the invitation, the Lord assures appropriate judgment on them but simultaneously promises to deliver their descendants and make them heirs of the chosen land.

Context
Sometime in the post-exilic period these sermons were collected under the general heading of Third Isaiah. They expressed some of the difficulties during that period of disillusionment. The people who had listened to the preaching of Second Isaiah in Babylon expected the return from exile to coincide with the Day of the Lord and the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Failing to observe the fulfillment of that promise, many of the people turned their backs on the God who had spoken so eloquently for a time but now again seemed to retreat into silence. The pericope demonstrates a new perspective in the post-exilic period, namely that the people of Israel are divided among those who are faithful and trusting and those who are not.

Key Words
V. 1.  nidraštî = “I was ready to be sought”:  The verb begins a three-fold parallelism in which YHWH expresses the repeated offer of divine presence. The verse as a whole expresses the Lord’s heartbreak over the people’s refusal to respond to the Lord’s invitation.  In some ways the pathos of God here sounds like that expressed in the Book of Hosea (see especially 6:4-6) and in the Book of Jeremiah (see especially 3:19-20).

V. 2.  hahōlekîm hadderek lō’-tôb ’achar machšebōtêhem = “who keep walking the road (that is) not good, pursuing their own devices”:  The concept sounds like sin in Genesis 3 where the first couple defy the Lord in order to pursue their own desires, that is, autonomy versus the reign of God. The same term appears at Isa. 55:7, 8, 9; 59:7; 66:18, and it is nowhere complementary to human beings.

V. 3-4.  The entire list of offenses involves cultic practices forbidden in Israel:  offering worship and sacrifices at the old familiar “high places” of Canaanite origin (see the reference to “mountains” and “hills” in v. 7), consulting the dead for oracles, and eating forbidden foods.

V. 5.  ’ēlleh ‘āšān be’appî ’ēš yōqeret kol-hayyôm = “These (are) smoke in my nostrils, a fire burning all the day”:  Fire and smoke in the nostrils of God describes divine anger (see, e.g., Jer. 17:4; Deut. 32:22).  Pleasing to God is when the scent in God’s nostrils is sweet (see Gen. 8:21; Mal. 3:4).

V. 6.  lō ’echeseh kî ’im-šillamtî = “I will not keep silent but I will repay”:  Consider the petition on the part of the prophet at 64:12:  “Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?”  Now God breaks silence.

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Galatians 3:23-29
Since God’s law has served its purpose, God has in Christ begun here and now that new humanity of the End Time in which ethnic, sociological and sexual distinctions have no meaning.

Context
Continuing his argument that those who impose Jewish law and the rite of circumcision on the Galatian Christians actually distort the gospel, Paul has been stressing the “oneness” of the faith:  one gospel (1:6-9), one offspring which is Christ (3:16), one God (3:20). With these verses, Paul moves from his discussion about Jewish Christians to focus on Gentile Christians. His words here appear to derive from an early baptismal formula (see similarly 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:1) which he uses as a reminder of their identity and status before God.

Key Words
Vv. 23-25.  pro tou de elthein tēn pistin … eis Christon … ouketi =  “before faith came … until Christ … no longer”:  Note the temporal distinction between periods; cf. “from now on … once … no longer” at 2 Cor. 5:16.

V. 23.  sugkleiomenoi = “confined, imprisoned”:  The same word appears in v. 22 with hē graphē = “the scriptures” as subject:  “the scriptures confined all things under sin.”

V. 24.  paidogōgos = “custodian, pedagogue”:  In ancient times the word described a slave who accompanied a boy to and from school, was responsible for the safety and manners of the child, could be a rod-wielding authoritarian.

V. 26.  pantes gar huoi theou este tēs pisteōs en Christō Iēsou = “for you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus”:  The announcement of identity as God’s children was familiar to the Jewish people (Deut, 14:1; cf. Jer. 3:19; 31:9). Further, note the structural parallel with v. 28:  pantes gar hymeis eis este en Christō Iēsou = “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

V. 27.  ebaptisthēte … evedysasthe = “you were baptized … you put on”:  For “putting on Christ” in terms of baptism, see also Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24.  Different is the “putting on” of an immortal nature (1 Cor. 15:53-54), of a heavenly dwelling (2 Cor. 5:2-3); for such heavenly attire see Rev. 15:6 (angels); 19:14 (the armies of heaven).

V. 29. ara tou Abraam sperma este = “then you are Abraham’s offspring”: The reminder of the baptismal status of Gentile Christians surely came to the Jewish Christians as lightning striking the same persons twice. The Jewish people grew up believing that they were the children of Abraham and even reminded Jesus of their status (John 8:33). At their baptism and here once more, the universality of God’s people in Christ challenges their exclusivity.

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Luke 8:26-39
Confronted by the Gentile demoniac who had been cut off from his community, Jesus exorcised Legion–driving some people away in fear and inviting the healed recipient to participate in the kingdom by announcing what God had done.

Context
The story takes place on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, and the journey that led Jesus and the disciples to that side of the lake provided the opportunity for Jesus to exert his power over the chaos of the sea (vss. 22-25). The territory was part of the section known as the Decapolis and was home to Gentiles, many of whom were pagans.

Key Words
V. 28. ti emoi kai soi = “What have you to do with me?” (lit., what to me and to you?): The expression is usually used by one who is threatened by another:  “what do we have to do with each other?”  See Judg. 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chron. 35:21.  In NT see Mark 1:24//Luke 4:34; Matt. 8:29; somewhat different, see John 2:4.

V. 28.  “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”: The recognition of Jesus’ identity by these non-human creatures (see also Mark 3:11) is striking in light of the failure of humans to know who he was.

V. 31. eis tēn abysson = “into the abyss”: The word translates the Hebrew tehōm at Gen. 1:2. At Romans 10:7, the abyss is the place of the dead. In the Book of Revelation, the word appears as the abode of the Antichrist (the beast, Abaddon/Apollyon) at 9:11; 11:7; 17:8, and ultimately the place to which the devil/Satan is thrown (20:3). Apparently, since the abyss is the home of demons, the NRSV translates the demons’ pleas that Jesus “not to order them to go back into the abyss.”

V. 39. hypostrepse eis ton oikon = “return to your home”: Jesus’ command fits the report that he had “healed” (esōthē) the demoniac (v. 36), because the restoration to community is the saving wholeness that healing conveys.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 77: Lectionary 11 (3 Pentecost), Year C (June 13, 2010) June 8, 2010

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Lectionary 11 (Third Sunday after Pentecost)

Many of us have trouble with forgiveness. Sometimes the difficulty is granting forgiveness to someone who has deeply hurt, offended, or dishonored us. Sometimes the problem is with receiving forgiveness, either from another person or from God. The whole Bible, and indeed our lessons for the day make clear that whatever difficulties we might have with forgiveness, God is always reaching out to forgive our sin. God’s grace is abundant. Accepting the divine gift can change our lives. Through God’s forgiveness we can find peace and purpose.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 77: Lectionary 11 (3 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 32
The psalm is one of thanksgiving for the forgiveness the petitioner experienced from God, merely by acknowledging sin.  Prior to that expression of guilt and the reception of forgiveness the petitioner’s physical and emotional life was in ruin.  The difference in his own life leads him to invite others to follow his example (v. 6).  After this invitation the psalmist takes upon himself the role of a teacher, and so the psalm develops into a wisdom psalm as it concludes.

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2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15
In spite of the sinfulness of God’s people, God nevertheless forgives us and uses us in the pursuit of God’s mission on earth.

Context
Chapter 11 begins with David’s view of Bathsheba’s rooftop bath.  It goes on to relate the subsequent sexual intercourse between the two, her conception, and David’s strategy to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle.

Key Words
12:7.  mešachtîkā = “I anointed you”:  David was anointed as a young boy by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16:13), and later the elders of Israel anointed David king over Israel (2 Sam. 5:3).  Since the former anointing was said to be the act of YHWH, the allusion here is to 1 Sam. 16.

12:9. maddûa‘ bāzîtā ’et-debar YHWH = “Why have you despised the word of the Lord”:  According to Prov. 14:2, one who despises the Lord “is devious in his ways”; at 1 Sam. 2:30 the wicked priestly house of Eli will suffer disaster because they “despise” the Lord.  The “word of the Lord,” which is said to be despised here, are the commandments prohibiting murder (Exod. 20:13) and adultery (20:14).

12:15.  wayyiggōp YHWH = “and the Lord struck”:  For other examples of the Lord smiting an individual, see 1 Sam. 25:38 (Nabal); 26:10 (Saul); 2 Chron. 13:20 (Jeroboam); 21:18 (Jehoram).

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Galatians 2:15-21
Against those who would presume to contribute to their own innocence before God, God justifies (declares innocent) those who believe in Christ, calling them to surrender their old identity in order to live as persons in whom Christ resides.

Context
Paul concludes his discussion of the argument with Peter regarding the imposition of Jewish practices on Gentiles who have become Christians.  The apostle insists that such an intrusion into the gospel negates it and surrenders the gospel to the whims of human traditions.  Immediately prior to our pericope, Paul wrote of his encounter with Cephas:  before James’ representatives appeared on the scene, Cephas ate with Gentiles; after their coming, he withdrew.

Key Words
V. 16.  eidotes [de] hoti … dikaioutai anthrōpos dia pisteōs ’Iēsou Christou = “seeing that … a person is justified through faith in Jesus Christ”:  Note the change that occurs in Romans 3:24: dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō ’Iēsou = “they are justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Yet, at Romans 3:26, Paul writes that God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

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Luke 7:36–8:3
God in Christ forgives those who need forgiveness and come to him humbly, thereby enabling them to be “lovers” and to live in peace.

Context
Following his discussion about John the Baptist, Jesus spoke of the fickleness of the people of his times.  They accuse John of possessing a demon because he does not eat normal food or drink wine.  Yet they accuse Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of sinners.

Key Words
7:36.  tis … tōn Pharisaiōn = “one of the Pharisees”:  Elsewhere Jesus eats with Pharisees (11:37; 14:1) just as he also eats with those despised by the Pharisees:  Zacchaeus (19:5) and unnamed sinners (v. 34; also cf. 5:30; 15:2).

7:37, 39.  hamartōlos = “sinner”: The same word appears for Jesus’ associates at v. 34 and   often elsewhere in Luke (5:32; see also 15:7, 10).

7:44-46.  “tears … kiss … anoint”:  The terms describe here the woman’s love.  “Tears” demonstrate Paul’s love for the Corinthians at 2 Cor. 2:4.  “Kiss” denotes forgiving love at Luke 15:20; tender affection at Acts 20:37; Christian affection at Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20.  “Anointing” the head with oil is done by a host to an honored quest; see Ps. 23:5; Amos 6:6.

7:47, 48.  apheōntai (sou) hai hamartiai (autēs) = “Your/her sins have been forgiven”:  The perfect tense indicates the woman had already been forgiven; a theological passive. Jesus had already explained through his parable that forgiveness leads to her loving act rather than her action resulting in forgiveness.

7:50.  poreuou eis eirēnēn = “Go in peace”:  The same dismissal occurs at 8:48 where Jesus likewise commends a woman for her faith (following Mark 5:34).  See also 1 Sam. 1:17; 20:42; 29:7.

8:1.  kēryssōn kai euaggelizomenos tēn basileian tou theou = “preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God”:  The two verbs indicate one action, and that preaching of the kingdom of God is accomplishing its presence among the people.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 76: Lectionary 10 (2 Pentecost), Year C (June 6, 2010) May 19, 2010

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Lectionary 10 (Second Sunday after Pentecost)

In the chaotic and threatening times in which we live, some people long for the good old days when things were stable and peaceful. Some even say it was more obvious in those days that God was in heaven and all was right with the world. Strikingly, the biblical witnesses seem to have looked at life in quite the opposite way. When God stayed in heaven, life on earth was painful, even lamentable. God’s absence caused the afflicted and oppressed to cry out for help. When God showed up on the earth, things became topsy-turvy. Lamentation turned to rejoicing. Enemies became friends. Mourners became dancers. Judges and rulers became judged and ruled. Outsiders became caregivers. Outcasts were included. And death was transformed into life. Oh, for the good old days!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 76: Lectionary 10 (2 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 30
In spite of the initial words that attribute the psalm to the purification of the Jerusalem Temple in 164 B.C., the psalm is an individual thanksgiving in response to an individual lament. Verses 6-10 articulate the lament and the situation in which the worshiper had experienced. The summary of that suffering appears in verses 1-3: troubled by enemies, the psalmist cried to the Lord for help, even from the depths of Sheol, and the Lord heard and healed. In verses 6-10 the lament is described in more detail. Because of the psalmist’s arrogance over prosperity, the Lord hid away (see Pss. 10:1; 27:9; 55:1; 104:21), a truly “lamentable” situation. In response to the cries for the Lord’s help/strength, the Lord dressed up the petitioner for a new occasion—party clothes instead of mourning garments. In expressing gratitude for this divine response, the psalmist recognizes that the Lord’s deliverance served the purpose of opening his lips to give God thanks and praise (v. 12). The grateful petitioner, therefore, encourages the “faithful ones” gathered in the temple to join in the praises and thanksgivings to the Lord (v. 4).

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1 Kings 17:17-24
In response to the prophet’s plea for the dead widow’s son, the Lord extends mercy to the non-Israelite family who recognize the faithfulness of God’s word in the prophet.

Context
After predicting a drought in the land, Elijah heeded the word of the Lord and went to Zarephath in the vicinity of Sidon.  There he sojourned with a poor Canaanite widow and provided for her and her family a never-ending supply of meal and oil. That section of the story ends with the narrator’s remark that the miracle occurred “according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (v. 16).

Key Words
V. 17.  nešāmā = “breath”:  The same word appears at Gen. 2:7 when God breathes into the nostrils of Adam..

V. 18.  ma-llî wālāk = “what to me and to you” (LXX:  ti emoi kai soi):  The expression is usually used by one who is threatened by another:  “what do we have to do with each other?”  See Judg. 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chron. 35:21.  In NT see Mark 1:24//Luke 4:34; Matt. 8:29; John 2:4.

V. 21.  nepheš hayyeled = “the life of the boy”:  In Hebrew the word nepeš (sometimes translated “soul”) refers to the whole living body and is sometimes used for “life” itself.

V. 24.  ûdebar-YHWH bepîkā ’emet = “and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth (or truthful).” The expression indicates that the woman came to realize that Elijah was a prophet because the word of the Lord he had spoken came to pass. The effectiveness of God’s word distinguishes YHWH from the idols, probably even the gods the woman had been worshiping (see Isa. 44:6-8).

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Galatians 1:11-24
Against the distortion of his teachings by those followed him to Galatia, Paul insists that God called him and Christ instructed him in the truth of the gospel in order that God might be glorified.

Context
After the salutation of his letter, Paul moves immediately to the issue at hand:  the Christians of Galatia are “deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (v. 6).  Apparently after Paul’s initial visit there when he formed the Christian community in Galatia, some others followed him preaching and teaching a different message:  to the gospel of Jesus Christ must be added the Jewish law and the rite of circumcision.

Key Words
V. 11.  ouk estin kata anthrōpou = “is not human (in nature or origin):  Compare kata anthrōpon at Gal. 3:15; Rom. 3:5;  1 Cor. 3:3; 9:8; 15:32.

V. 13.  hoti kath’ hyperbolēn ediōkon = “that with violence I persecuted”:  See also 1:23; 4:29:5:11; 6:12.  The last reference implies the Christian responsibility to be persecuted for the cross of Christ (see Mark 8:34 and parallels).

Vss. 15-16.  eudokēsen [ho theos] …  apokalypsai ton huion autou en emoi = “God was pleased … to reveal his son to me”  For other cases where God is “pleased,” see Luke 12:32; 1 Cor. 1:21; Col. 1:19; cf. Psalm 40:13.

V. 15.  ho aphorisas me = “the One who set me apart”:  The word appears also at 2:12 but in terms of Peter’s withdrawing from Gentiles.  In LXX the term translates the Heb. verb qdš = “to be/make holy.”  It refers to the setting aside of objects (Exod. 19:23 and often) and persons like Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5) for divine purposes.

V. 15.  ek koilias mētros mou = “from the womb of my mother”:  See similar callings in the reports of the Servant of the Lord ( Isa. 49:1) and Jeremiah ( Jer. 1:5).

V. 16.  euangelizesthai auton = “proclaim him as the good news”:  For Christ as the content of the gospel, see Rom. 1:2-5; 16:25-27; 2 Cor. 1:19; Phil. 1:15.

V. 20.  hoti ou pseudomai = “I do not lie”:  Recall 2 Cor. 11:31, also citing God as witness; cf. 1 Thess. 2:5. Perhaps the statement of the woman to Elijah provides another parallel (1 Kings 17:24).

V. 24.  edoxazon en emoi ton theon = “they glorified God in (because of) me”:  Recall the words of the Servant of the Lord(  Isa. 49:3) and his role to “be a light to the nations (v. 6). Indeed, according to Acts 13:47, Paul quotes Isa. 49:6 as the explanation of his role in God’s mission to the gentiles/nations.

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Luke 7:11-17
In response to the grief of a mourning mother, Jesus Christ raises her son from the dead with the result that the people glorify God and recognize in Jesus the presence of God.

Context
Following the story about Jesus’ healing the centurion’s servant who was near death (vv. 1-10), Jesus enters the town of Nain where he meets the funeral procession for a young man who had died.  The two stories (and this one in particular) pave the way for the question which the disciples of John bring to Jesus in verses 18-23.

Key Words
V. 12.  monogenēs huios = “the only son”:  cf. another such son at 9:38; used of Christ as John 1:18.

V. 12.  chēra = “widow”:  See 4:26 where Jesus refers in his sermon to the widow of Zarephath, the story in our first lesson (1 Kings 17).

V. 14. hēpsato tēs sorou = “touched the bier”:  note the ancient view that proximity to a dead body defiles; cf. Num. 6:9-12; Sirach 34:25-26.

V. 16.  ēgerthē = “has arisen”:  The same word appears in Jesus’ command to the dead man at v. 14. Jesus, therefore, speaks a word that comes to pass.

V. 16.  epeskepsato ho theos ton laon autou = “God has visited his people”:  The statement appears in Zechariah’s prophecy at 1:68 in connection with God’s redemption. The noun form appears at 19:44 for God’s judgment. In the OT the expression appears in connection with both salvation and judgment.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 75: Holy Trinity, Year C (May 30, 2010) May 19, 2010

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Holy Trinity

The church’s doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an intellectual puzzle. At the same time, it integrates for us the witnesses of God throughout the Scriptures. While any particular passage that we study, even the ones for today, might in themselves be puzzling, the whole testimony to God from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 is even more of a mystery. Only God can enable us to believe that it all fits together, that God acts as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And even though we do not comprehend things completely, God gives us enough to live by now and promises the rest for our living eternally. The significance of wrestling with the mystery is this: that whatever we say about the three persons of God, we are confessing what God has come to mean to us. There is no talk about God—and there never has been–apart from God’s role in our lives and in the life of the world. Let us listen to some of that talk from our lessons for the day.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 75: Holy Trinity, Year C.

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Psalm 8
This hymn glorifying God the Creator exults in the wonder of what it means to be human. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the worshipper casts in poetic form what Genesis 1 sets forth in prose, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity be God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” (NRSV: “mortals”) in verse 4, the early church interpreted the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In its own context, however, “son of man” is simply parallel to “humanity” (’ādām). The power of the poem lies in its amazement at the majesty of the Creator God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.

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Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Before anything else was made, the Lord created wisdom, who, like a child, delighted in observing God’s structuring of the world and in understanding how it all belongs together.

Context
Part of the tenth and final discourse developed in Proverbs 1–9, wisdom now takes on personalized forms, first that of a person who speaks, then that of a little child, and in chapter 9 of a virtuous woman who invites the simple to walk in her way.

Key Words
V. 22. YHWH qānānî = “created me”:  For qānā as ancient term for “create”; see Gen. 14:19 of El Elyon. Some scholars prefer to understand the word as referring to birth, that is, begetting.

V. 22.  darkô = “his dominion”:  The word derek usually means “way,” but for the use of drk(t) with the meaning “dominion,”see also Job 26:14; 40:19; Ps. 18:31 (substitute for RSV’s “ways”).

V. 23.  nissaktî = “I was set up/installed”; See only other use of verb at Ps. 2:6 (Heb. 7) where it refers to the installation of the Davidic king on Mount Zion.

V. 24.  tehōmōt = “deeps”: To capture the imagery the word conveyed, read as the Babylonian Ti’amat, the chaos monster vanquished by Marduk who then used her body to create the firmament and the earth (Enuma Elish IV).

V. 24.  nikbaddê-mayim:  Read nibkê-yam = “springs of Yamm,” the Canaanite sea monster subdued by Baal, the god of fertility.  For parallelism of tehom(t) and yam, see Job 38:16.

VV. 24-25.  chōlāltî = “I was delivered (at birth)”:  For a similar use of chûl, see Deut. 32:18; Job 39:1; Ps. 29:9; Isa. 51:2.

V. 30.  ’āmôn = “little child”:  The translation seems better than “master workman” although certainty is impossible because the word appears only here in Hebrew Bible. The functions of delight and rejoicing seem more appropriate for the child image than for that of an architect.

V. 31.  betēbēl ’artsô = “in the world of his earth”:  The expression is due to poetic redundancy, like Job 37:12; usually the words stand in parallelism.

V. 31. weša‘ašû‘ay ’et-benê-’ādām = “my delights (are) with humans (lit., “sons of man”): While Wisdom delights in people on the earth, elsewhere God delights in the having planted the vineyard called Israel (Isa. 5:7). In the Wisdom Psalm 119, the psalmist delights in the law/laws of God (vss. 24, 77, 92, 143, 174).

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Romans 5:1-5
By justifying us through faith in Christ Jesus, God gives us that peace which enables us to give honor to God through the tribulations of life here and now.

Context
In 4:1-8 Paul had explained that Abraham was justified by faith, and in 4:13-25 he writes that as with Abraham, the promise of God is only to faith.  Now he begins a section which runs through 8:39 about the reality of the righteousness of faith as Christian freedom.

Key Words
V. 1.  oun = “therefore”:  At the end of chap.4, Paul spoke of God’s giving to us righteousness on the basis of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

V. 1.  eirēnēn … pros ton theon = “peace with God”:  The announcement of peace with God occurs in Romans prior to this verse:  1:7 (“peace from God” as a Christian greeting); 2:10 (along with glory and honor is given to those who do good); 3:17 (in OT quote). Following  this verse, God’s peace appears at  8:6 (along with life it is the result of setting one’s mind on the Spirit); 14:17 (along with righteousness and joy it constitutes the reign of God); 14:19 (along with mutual upbuilding it is the goal of the Christian community); 15:13 (along with joy it is the gift of God which enables the Christian to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit); 15:33 and 16:20 (a characteristic which defines God: “the God of peace”).

Vv. 2-3.  kauchōmetha = “we boast”:  Paul uses the word negatively in Romans at 2:17, 23; 3:27 (noun); positively here and v. 11; 15:17 (noun). The positive use by a Christian indicates a confession in which the believer acknowledges belonging to Christ. The negative use indicates that a person belongs to himself/herself.

V. 3.  thlipsis = “affliction”:  The word describes evildoers at 2:9; that which has no power to separate us from the love of God at 8:35; here and at 12:12, the New Time suffering of the followers of Christ.

V. 5.  ou kataischynei = “not put to shame” (RSV, NRSV: “disappoint”):  The expression originates in Ps. 22:6 (Eng. v. 5) and 25:20 where the loyalty and love of God protect the believer from hostile forces.  Used in Romans also at 9:33 and 10:11 in quote of Isa. 28:16 where it promises the same protection for anyone who believes in the Lord.

V. 5. hoti hē agapē tou theou … dia pneumatos hagiou tou dothentos hēmin = “because God’s love … through the Holy Spirit given to us”: The gift of God’s love can be believed and appropriated by us only because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

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John 16:12-15
Preparing the disciples for his own departure, Jesus promises the Spirit who will guide them in truth, declare the things to come, and glorify Jesus.

Context
Still addressing the disciples after supper the night before the Passover, Jesus had promised following his departure the gift of the Counselor (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Key Words
V. 12. all’ ou dynasthe bastazein arti = “but you cannot bear them now”: As elsewhere in John’s Gospel, the expression probably refers to the deeper understanding of Jesus’ words the disciples will have following the resurrection and gift of the Spirit. Recall the author’s words at 2:22 concerning raising the temple in three days. Note also the author’s comment about the disciples remembering Jesus’ words regarding the king’s entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey (12:6). The, there is Jesus’ remark to them that “afterward” they will understand his words and acts regarding foot washing (13:7).

V. 13. … to pneumas tēs alētheias … hodēgēsei hymas en tē alētheia pasē = “the Spirit of truth … will guide you in all truth”: The function of the Spirit as the “guide” or “teacher” of truth sounds much like the role of Wisdom in the OT, particularly the Wisdom woman who invites students to “walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:6) and promises that “whoever finds me finds life” (Prov. 8:35).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 74: Day of Pentecost, Year C (May 23, 2010) May 13, 2010

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Day of Pentecost

The human mind is a marvelous instrument. It helps us find our way in the world. It enables us to plan, to measure, to reflect, to calculate, and to take responsibility for ourselves and for others. Our minds can develop instruments to see so far out into space that we can look back in time, determine the origins of life, and calculate genetic structures. Yet, the human mind has its limits (and that is not only because of aging). Its limits are due to our inability to believe things that are beyond the scope of human reason. My mind cannot bring me to believe that God is the Creator of the universe, although I would love to figure out how God and evolutionary processes exist side by side. My mind cannot lead me to believe that the death of a Jewish man on a cross about the year A.D. 29 could accomplish God’s forgiveness of sin for the whole world. Nor will my mind enable me to grasp that the same person was raised from the dead only a couple of days later. It is no wonder that the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this gift enables us to believe what our minds cannot comprehend.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 74: Day of Pentecost, Year C.

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Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
The psalm is a hymn of praise to God the Creator. It bears striking similarities both to the Egyptian “Hymn to the Sun God” and to Genesis 1. All three have in common the belief that each phenomenon of nature exists to fulfill a particular function. Further, like Genesis 1, the sea and its creatures (even Leviathan here) do not represent chaos but playful things in which God delights. Our verses summarize the preceding material with the confession that “in wisdom” (v. 24) and with divine “spirit” or “breath” (v. 30), God not only creates everything but sustains all creation with appropriate nourishment. For all these wonders, the psalmist offers praise with song, music, and poetic meditation (vss. 33-34).

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Genesis 11:1-9
Against humanity’s attempts to play God, the Lord exercises royal authority by turning their plans against them and separating them from one another.

Context
The story concludes the history of the brokenness of humanity which began in Genesis 3.  One story after another depicts humanity’s attempts to “be like God” – to use the serpent’s words. Each attempt results in humanity’s alienation from God and from one another.

Key Words
V. 2. biq‘â be’erets šin‘ar wayyēšebû šām = “a plain in the land of Shinar and dwelt there”: The word Shinar seems to describe an area that comprised the ancient land of Sumer and the land that later became Babylonia. The term appears in the OT also at Gen. 14:1, 9; Isa. 11:11; Dan. 1:2, and Zech. 5:11—all apparently as a name for the area that later generations knew as Babylon.

V. 4.  ‘îr ûmigdāl werōšô baššāmayim = “a city and a tower and its top in the heavens”:  In ancient Babylon the temple abode for the gods Marduk, Enlil, and Ea was called E.SAG.ILA = “house of the lofty top.”  The tower in the complex was called E.TEMEN. AN.KI = “House of the Bond of Heaven and Earth.”

V. 4.  wena‘aseh-llānû šēm = “and let us make a name for ourselves”:  To understand the expression as a claim to fame, see ’anšê haššēm = “men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). The problem is that humanity is created to acclaim the name of God as great (see Psalm 76:1; 86:12; 92:1; 96:4, 8; 99:2-3). In order for humans to have a “great name” requires the gift and blessing of God; see Gen. 12:2; waagaddelâ šemekâ = “and I will make your name great” (cf. 2 Sam. 7:9).

V. 7.  nēre wenābelâ šām sephātām = “let us go down and confuse there their language [lip]”:  For Yahweh’s heavenly court as a possible addressee here, see 1 Kings 22:19-23; Isa. 6:1ff.; Job 1; Ps. 81; 89, etc.  Note the word for “confuse” (nābelâ) derives from the root bll and not from bbl from which Babel comes.

V. 9.  ‘al-kēn qārā’ šemāh bābel = “one called its name Babel”:  In the Babylonian language bab-ilāni or bab-ilî means “the gate of the gods.”  Cf. Gen. 28:18 where at Beth-el (House of God) Jacob declares he is at ša‘ar haššāmayim = “the gate of heaven.”

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Acts 2:1-21
God confirms the prophetic promise of a New Day by sending the Holy Spirit to inspire a universal audience to speak/hear the word of God in his/her own language so that the community of the new time might be realized.

Context
After the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives, the disciples, about 120 in number, gathered in Jerusalem to choose a twelfth apostle to take the place of Judas.  The lot fell on Matthias.  Still in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles experienced the birth-day of the church. The excitement of the scene should not detract the reader from Peter’s explanation of the event and his sermon that follows our pericope.

Key Words
V. 1.  “the day of Pentecost”:  The festival was known in the OT period as “the feast of the harvest of the first fruits” (Exod.23:16), “the feast of weeks, the first fruits of the wheat harvest” (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:9-12), “the day of the first fruits” (Num. 28:26).  It was one of three festivals each year when all the males of Israel were to appear at the Jerusalem temple.

V. 2.  pnoē = “wind”:  One would expect pneuma here for “wind”; This term appears in NT elsewhere only at Acts 17:25 for “breath.”

V. 3.  glōssai hōsei pyros = “tongues as fire”:  For the connection of the Holy Spirit and fire, see Matt. 3:11 (//Luke 3:16); for fire as a visible manifestations of God (see Exod. 3:2; 19:18; Isa. 31:9). Perhaps more important, the final chapter of Isaiah prophesies an eschatological theophany in terms of fire, storm-wind, flames of fire; it goes on to describe God’s gathering of “all nations and tongues” and the divine promise that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (Isa. 66:15-23)

V. 17-21. The words are Joel 2:28-29 with additions.  In v. 17 ev tais eschatais hēmerais = “in the last days” recalls Isa. 2:2 to refer to the New Day. The Lord’s promise to “pour out my spirit on all flesh” has taken audible and visible form in the scene that has just occurred, and the universality of that prophecy in Joel becomes the critical issue for the author of Luke-Acts through the interpretation and sermon of Peter.  In v. 18 the final words kai prophēteusousin = “and they shall prophesy” reflect the thought of Num. 11:29 where Moses desires that “all the Lord’s people were prophets.”

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John 14:8-17 (25-27)
In response to Philip’s request that Jesus show the disciples the Father, Jesus indicates that he and the Father are one and that when he goes away, he will pray that the Father send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who will teach them all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus had told them.

Context
After Judas had left the room of the final supper, Jesus began the Last Discourse (13:31).  He said that by loving one another, others will know they are his disciples (13:31-35).  Peter offered to lay down his life that he might go with Jesus, but Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times (13:36-38).  Jesus then promises to prepare a place for his disciples in his Father’s house (14:1-6).

Key Words
V. 9. kai ouk egnōkas me = “and you do not know me”: The verb “know” should probably be understood in the OT sense of “know” where it means not intellectual awareness of a personal relationship. See Jer. 31:34; Hos. 6:6; Amos 3:2. At John 1:10, the world does not “know” the light that has come into the world. At John 10:38, Jesus connects “knowing” the relationship between the Father and the Son on the basis of the works that Jesus performs, just as in the following two verses here.

Vss. 10, 11. “I am in the Father and the Father in me”: The identity of God the Father and God the Son is attested throughout John’s Gospel, including Jesus’ claim to the divine title I AM. The same theme appears in Matt. 11:27//Luke 10:22.

Vv. 15, 21.  “my commandments”:  Whatever commandments Jesus intends, the saying is similar to 15:10 where the commandments involve “abiding in love.” When Jesus teaches the “new commandments” at 15:12, he focuses exclusively on a specific kind of love: “that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

V. 16.  allon paraklēton dōsei hymin = “he will give you another Paraclete/Advocate/Counselor/Helper”:  While this is the first occurrence in John’s Gospel, the term appears as the title/function for the Holy Spirit also at 14:26 (see note on v. 26); 15:26 (function of bearing witness to Jesus); and 16:7 (function of convincing the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment).

V. 17.  ho ho kosmos ou dynatai labein, hoti ou theōrei auto oude ginōskei = “whom the world is not able to receive, because it neither sees nor knows him”:  cf. 1:10:  “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him,” referring to the Word/Wisdom.  Although the world does not know and see the person of God, God loves the world (3:16), and Jesus prays that the world might believe that God sent him (17:20-26).

V. 26. ekeinos hymas didaxei panta kai hypomnēsei hymas ha eipon hymin egō = “that one will teach you many things and remind you of the things I said to you”: The teaching function of the Spirit recalls that of Wisdom in the traditions of the OT (see Prov. 8:1ff.; 9:1-6; and the seven “wisdom”gifts of the spirit at Isa. 11:2-3). As for the reminder of things Jesus had said to the disciples, note John 2:22 on the resurrection.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 73: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 16, 2010) May 10, 2010

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

In the musical Camelot, King Arthur tells Guinevere on the day of their meeting about his teacher Merlin. Arthur says, “He lives backwards… He can remember the future… He can tell you what is in it.” The Bible abounds in visions of the future. Those visions give us hope in difficult times. But they also give us direction in how we live our lives in the present. That guidance is not the result of magic but of revelation. Committing ourselves to follow the guidance begins and ends with confession and praise.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 73: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C.

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Psalm 97
This psalm extolling the glorious reign of God, like the similar Pss. 47, 93, 95, 96, 98, 99, bases the reign of God on the divine act of creation. Clearly, since God is the creator of the entire universe, God cannot be made like the idols of the peoples. Clear also is the promise of the Creator God to preserve the life of the saints and deliver them from the wicked. That posture of God is appropriate because God rules with “justice and righteousness (as) the foundation of his throne” (v. 2).

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Acts 16:16-34
Though the messengers of God are constantly opposed by religious, political, and financially-threatening forces, God manages to bring the risk of witnessing to fruition, with the result that others come to rejoice over their belief in God.

Context
The immediate context is the city of Philippi where the apostles are guests in the home of Lydia. The larger context of opposition and imprisonment continues the experience of Jesus, the other apostles, and certainly Stephen.  Paul and his group experienced such opposition in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), in Beroea (17:10-14), in Corinth where he was imprisoned, and in Ephesus where he escaped the crowd’s wrath.

Key Words
V. 16.  pneuma pythōna = “a spirit, a divination”:  Young women with such gifts of divination were called pythōnes, literally pythons.  They were persons inspired by Apollo, the Pythian god who was symbolized by a snake (the Python) at Delphi.  Like the oracle at Delphi, such persons of divination brought visitors from far and wide, seeking to receive answers to their puzzling questions. Obviously, such oracle-giving could become a profitable business, as indeed it was for this woman’s owners. Interestingly, although Paul was annoyed by her constant presence, she spoke the truth.

V. 30.  kyrioi, ti me dei poiein hina sōthō = “Lords, what must I do to be saved?”:  Recall the question of the Jewish lawyer at Luke 10:25:  ti poiēsas zōēn aiōnion klēronomēsō = “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  The response to the question after the resurrection is different from the one Jesus gives in Luke 10.

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Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
To those suffering persecution for their faith, the Risen Christ promises to come soon with the gift of life in the New Day.

Context
In the final vision John the Seer saw a tree of life on each side of the river and a city with nothing accursed in it.  Now in the conclusion to the book, these themes occur in regard to the coming of Christ.

Key Words and OT Allusions
V. 12.  On the Lord coming with recompense see esp. Isa. 40:10; on repaying everyone according to deeds, see Ps. 28:4; Jer. 17:10.

V. 14.  On the righteous entering the city by the gates see Ps. 24:3-6; on the tree of life, see v. 2; Gen 2:9; 3:22, 24; and especially Ezek. 47:12.

V. 16.  On `riza as descendant of David see Isa. 11:10 (Rom. 15:12); Sir. 47:22 (Rev. 5:5); on the star as a royal Davidic image see Num. 24:17

V. 17.  hydōr zōēs dorean = “water of life as a gift”:  Recall Jesus’ words at John 4:14. In OT see Ezek. 47:1, 6b-12; Zech. 13:1; 14:8. On dorean = “as a gift,” “without price” see Isa. 55:1.

V. 20.  “I am coming soon”:  cf. Paul’s closing at 1 Cor. 16:22.

V. 21.  hē charis tou kyriou ‘Iēsou meta pantōn = “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all”:  some ancient manuscripts add hagiōn = “the saints.”  In any case, the concluding blessing is potent in its indication that even now, while the faithful wait the new day to come, the grace of the Lord Jesus is present even in the midst of their persecution (cf. 2 Thess. 3:18).

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John 17:20-26
Jesus prays that the love of God and of Jesus for the disciples and their love for one another become the means by which the world will believe that God sent Jesus into it.

Context
In his prayer to God on the night of his betrayal, Jesus had just prayed that God not take the disciples out of the world but to protect them from the evil one.  Indeed, Jesus indicated that he has sent them into the world, just as God sent him into the world.

Key Words
V. 21.  ho kosmos = “the world”:  occurs 57 times in John’s Gospel against 9 in Matt. and 3 in Mark and in Luke.  The lack of the world’s knowledge of God is attested at 1:9-10; God’s love for the world at 3:16-17; God’s desire to save the world at 1:29; 4:42, etc.

V. 23.  teteleiōmenoi eis hen = “they might be brought to completion as one” (passive):  The same verb (active) appears only for the completion of the work of Jesus at v. 4; 4:34; 5:36; 19:28.

V. 23.  hina ginōskē ho kosmos hoti = “in order that the world may know that”:  This theme is common in OT that by some miraculous deed others would know that Yahweh is God:  used of the Egyptians at the exodus event at Exod. 7:5; 10:2; 14:18.  The expression appears most frequently in Ezekiel both for Israel’s knowledge of God through judgment, e.g., 12:16, 20; 13:9, 14, 23, and for the nations’ knowledge of God through the salvation of Israel from exile (36:23; 37:28).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 72: Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 9, 2010) May 3, 2010

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Sixth Sunday of Easter
Looking at the events that occur around us can give the impression that God is absent from the world. That impression provided the basis for apocalyptic literature in the Bible. When the world seemed hopeless and godless, then the people’s only hope was for the end, the promised reign of God. Certainly that promise appears throughout the Old and New Testaments, and thank God that it does. It provides us, as the prophet Jeremiah expressed it, “a future with hope.” At the same time, however, the Bible abounds in the announcement that God is with us here and now. Our lessons for the day, especially Acts 16 and John 14, announce that God is in our midst.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 72: Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C.

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Psalm 67
The psalm is a community thanksgiving, set in the context of a harvest festival (“The earth has brought forth her increase,” v. 6), but the peculiarly Israelite connection is the revelation of the Lord through “salvation,” most particularly the deliverance from the land of Egypt.  The divine gifts to Israel, however, do not give that people alone the right to praise the Lord, for here the prayer is that “all the peoples praise you” (vv. 3, 5), that “the nations be glad and sing for joy” (v. 4), and that “all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him” (v. 7) — all in response to God’s justice (v. 4) and abundant blessings on the whole earth.

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Acts 16:9-15
Working through the vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for help, God called Paul and the others to preach the gospel in Philippi where Lydia, upon hearing the word, offered the apostles the hospitality of her home.

Context
Beginning in 15:36, the author of Luke-Acts reports the second missionary journey of Paul and others; it will continue through chapter 18. The second journey was intended to revisit every city where they preached on the first journey (15:36).  Some controversy arose in regard to the entourage, but Paul ended up refusing to take John called Mark because of his withdrawing on the earlier trip.  As a result, Paul selected Silas to accompany him.  They then journeyed through Syria and Cilicia, to Derbe (14:20-23) and Lystra (14:8-19).  At Lystra Paul met Timothy and was sufficiently impressed to take him along.  Immediately preceding our passage, the Holy Spirit would not allow the group to go to Bithynia. Instead they traveled to Troas where this vision occurred.

Key Words
V. 9.  “a man of Macedonia”:  The vision was understood by Paul as God’s calling them to Macedonia. The Macedonian’s identity is irrelevant.

V. 12.  Philippi:  The city was founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.  An imposing sight on the mountain and protected by a wall all around it, the city was an important site for establishing the first Christian congregation in Europe.

V. 14.  Lydia:  The woman is described as “a worshiper of God” (sebomenē ton theon), a term that describes a gentile who, though not yet a full proselyte, attached him/herself to Jewish religion, attending the synagogues and observing Sabbath and food laws. The word first appears in the Book of Acts at 13:43 where the expression describes a group people who are not Jews but worshipers with Jews in the synagogue (see also 17:17). At 13:50 the word appears for the “devout women of high standing” along with the leading men of the city, and at 17:4 it refers to “devout men.”  The same words used of Lydia describe Titius Justus at 18:7.

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Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5
God provides hope for the persecuted by giving a vision of a new Jerusalem in which the presence of God and of the Lamb will eliminate the need for any other source of light and in which two trees of life will provide healing for the nations.

Context
At the beginning of the chapter, John the seer writes that God gave him a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, one that existed without the chaos of the sea. Within that vision, one of the seven angels invites him to see the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.

Key Words
V. 10.  epi oros mega kai hypsēlon = “upon a mountain great and high”:  In the LXX oros hypsēlon is used only for holy mountains (Deut. 12:2; Isa. 14:13; 40:9; 57:7; Jer. 3:6; Ezek. 17:22; 40:2 [the place of Ezekiel’s vision of the temple]).  In NT the words describe the scene of the third temptation (Matt. 4:8) and the site of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2 and Matt. 17:1).

V. 23.  “the glory of God is its light”:  For God as the source of light, see Gen 1:3-13; Isa. 10:17; 60:19-20. Then note how God transfers this honor and responsibility to God’s Son (John 1:4; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46) and even to God’s people (Isa. 49:6; Matt.5:14).

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John 14:23-29
In response to concerns about Jesus’ going away to be with the Father, Jesus assures the disciples through the promised word that he, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, will be present to those who love him.

Context
Continuing his discourse after Judas had left the meal, Jesus responded to questions the disciples asked.  One of those asked by the other Judas was about Jesus manifesting himself to them but not to the world.

Key Words
V. 23.  “If someone loves me, that person will keep my word (logos)”:  Note v. 15 where “commandments” is used in place of “word.” At 12:50. Jesus tells that the commandment God has given him to say and speak is “eternal life.” At 15:12, the commandment that Jesus gives the church is “love one another as I have loved you.”

V. 23.  kai monēn par’ autō poiēsometha = “and we will make a dwelling place with them”:  See Ezek. 37:27 where God promises “my dwelling place will be with them.”  Note the different use of the theme at 14:2. The same promise appears in the final vision of John the seer at Rev. 21:3.

V. 26.  ho paraklētos = “the Paraclete”: The word describes one who appears on another’s behalf, like an attorney. Only here does the word appear in explicit connection with the Holy Spirit.  For the same functions of guiding and teaching, see 16:13.  For other occurrences of Paraclete in John’s Gospel (in reference to the Holy Spirit), see 14:16; 15:26; 16:7).  At 1 John 2:1 Jesus Christ is the paraklētos who advocates for us before God.  The related noun paraklēsis means “comfort, exhortation, encouragement.” The function of the Spirit here is to “teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Recall the note at John 2:22: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

V. 27.  eirēnēn tēn emēn = “peace”:  The word “peace” is the English translation of the Hebrew shalom which is a common greeting from one to another.  Here, however, it is “my peace” that Jesus leaves behind for his disciples.  As greeting among Christians, see Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; Col. 3:15.

V. 28.  hypagō  kai erchomai pros hymas = “I go and I come to you”:  For previous references to Jesus’ going, see 13:33; 14:4; for coming, see 14:3-4, 18.

V. 29.  kai nyn eirēka hymin prin genesthai … = “now I have told before it takes place … “:  Note the similarity with 13:19 where is added “that I am (he)” (egō eimi); cf. also 16:4.  In Second Isaiah God’s speaking beforehand what will come to pass is evidence that Yahweh and not the idols is God (Isa. 43:12; 44:6-8; 48:3-5; 55:10-11). That same prophet introduces the divine title “I AM HE” (Isa. 43:10, 13, 25; 51:12; 52:6); in all cases the LXX renders egō eimi.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 71: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 2, 2010) April 22, 2010

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Some people are big picture folks. Others focus on details. When we speak of God as a person (or three persons), how do we imagine God? Big picture? Details? The lessons for today enable us to see that God is both. God is so big that the whole universe owes its origin and its praise to God. God is so detailed that God wipes away tears from the cheeks of those who weep and mourn. Nothing demonstrates the universal and personal nature of God better than the love God gave in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 71: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C.

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Psalm 148
The psalm is a hymn of praise.  It calls for the whole creation to join in a hymn to glorify the name of God.  It begins with a call to the heavens (vv. 1-6), then moves to earth to summon natural phenomena and animals (vv. 7-10), addresses humanity from royalty to children (vv. 11-12), and focuses finally on the people of Israel for whom the Lord has given strength (a horn) and who “are close to him.”

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Acts 11:1-18
On the basis of the commission to baptize with the Holy Spirit and persuaded in a dream of the inclusive nature of that commission, Peter explained why he had brought Gentiles to faith by baptizing them.

Context
The pericope actually summarizes events of the previous chapter, culminating in the baptism of Cornelius and his family.  The sermon Peter preached on that occasion (10:34-43) about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ led to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles who heard the word.

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Revelation 21:1-6
Against the present reality of chaos, death, and mourning, God will make a new creation in which God’s presence with humanity will end all the horrors of the present.

Context
John the Seer had just reported the vision of the demise of Satan and of the judgment before the great white throne.  Now the Seer begins his report of the final vision.

Key Words
V. 1.  “a new heaven and a new earth”:  Note the similarity to the vision reported in Isa. 65:17-22, along with Genesis 1:1.  The new represents the opposite of what is experienced in the present universe.

V. 1.  hē thalassa = “the sea”:  The sea is an image of the chaotic force which is opposed to God’s Reign.  In OT often portrayed as a sea monster (sometimes called Leviathan or Rahab); see Job 9:8; Psalm 74:12-14; Isaiah 27:1; 50:2; 51:9-10; Nahum 1:4; and often.  In NT see Mark 4:35-41 and parallels; also Mark 6:45-52 and parallels.  (For a discussion of the theme throughout the Bible and in ancient Near Eastern stories, see my book Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith [Phila.:  Fortress, 1983] 11-71.)

V. 2.  “the holy city,… Jerusalem”:  An eschatological reference with the same words occurs at Isa. 52:1 where Zion is commanded to put on power and glory; the context there is the coming salvation of the exiles from Babylon.  See also Neh. 11:1, 18.

V. 2. katabainousan ek tou ouranou apo tou theou = “coming down out of heaven from God”: The expression seems to imply the collapse of the three-storeyed universe (recall 5:13; Phil. 2:11) in order to remove the barriers between God and people.

V. 2.  “a bride adorned for her husband”:  See 19:7.  Cf. Isa. 61:10 where an individual represents the community redeemed by the Lord and dressed for the occasion.  On the image of marriage between Yahweh and Israel, see Hos. 1:1-3; 2:15; 3:1ff.; also Ezek. 20; Isa. 54:5-8.  On marriage as an image for Christ and the church, see 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32, and here.

V. 3.  hē skēnē  tou theou … kai skēnōsei met’ autōn = “the dwelling/tent of God … and he will dwell with them”:  skēnē appears in the LXX for the tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build in order to be present with the people (Exod. 26–27); for similarity of this whole expression, see Exod. 29:45 (although a different verb used in LXX).  On God’s presence among the people, see also Lev. 26:11-12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27.  On God’s dwelling place in heaven, see Deut. 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49.

V. 4.  “wipe away every tear from their eyes”:  See Isa. 25:8, a vision of the Day of the Lord. The same sentence appeared at Revelation 7:17.

V. 4.  “mourning … crying … pain”:  See the prophecies about the eschaton at Isa. 35:10 = 51:11; esp. 65:17, 19 in the new creation.

Vv. 4-5.  “former things … things new”:  For the contrast elsewhere, see Isa. 43:18-19. In Second Isaiah, the “former things” are the acts of divine judgment that will disappear in order for the act of salvation to occur.

V. 6. egō  tō dipsōnti dōsō ek tēs pēgēs tou hydatos tēs zōēs dōrean = To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment”:  See the background in Isaiah 55:1-2 and Jeremiah 2:13. Then see the use  of the same imagery at John 4:13-14; 7:37-38; and then surprisingly 19:28.

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John 13:31-35
Even though Jesus Christ departed physically from the world, his presence continues through Christians loving one another.

Context
At supper Jesus spoke of a disciple who would betray him (v. 21).  When Satan entered Judas (v. 27), that disciple went out into the night (v. 30).

Key Words
Vv. 31-32.  edoxasthē = “glorified”:  While the word “glory” has many ramifications, it can be, as apparently here, a visible form of God’s power.  Cf. 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16, 23, 28; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4, 5, 10; 21:19. While the passage does not say directly, the context of Jesus’ teaching seems to focus the glory of God in Jesus’ imminent crucifixion.

V. 33.  eti mikron = “yet a little while”: For the same sense in John’s Gospel, namely, the limited time left for Jesus’ earthly life, see also 7:33; 12:35; 14:19.  In LXX the expression signifies that God’s wrath against Israel will come to an end (Isa. 10:25) and that God’s judgment against Babylon will occur (Jer. 51:33; LXX 28:33).

V. 34.  hina agapate allēlous, kathōs ēgapēsa hymas hina kai hymeis agapate allēlous =”so that you love one another; just as I have loved you so that you also love one another”:  The love of Christ appears in the aorist (ēgapēsa), thus the single act of passion and crucifixion, while the love for one another is the continuing present (cf. also 15:12). At 17:26, Jesus attributes his love for the disciples to be from God and prays that divine love may be in them.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 70: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C (April 25, 2010) April 16, 2010

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

We have finished the Lenten season four weeks ago. The suffering of Christ has ended, and since then we are still enjoying the celebration of his resurrection. But for us, suffering continues, as it did for the early disciples of Jesus. We still get ill and suffer accidents. We still know the pain of rejection by friends and family. We still get traumatized over what people do to one another—individually or collectively. We still die, and so do our loved ones. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us all hope even in our tough times. It announces victory over the death that would keep us from one another and from God. It promises a future with hope that contrasts sharply with what we see and experience everyday. The Resurrection faith points to a party—a big party open to many people of different nationalities and races and agendas. It seems that the only ticket necessary is what names we call Jesus.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 70: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C.

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Psalm 23
This psalm of trust is based on the development of the image of YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80; Ezekiel 34) to the intimate relationship of YHWH to the individual worshiper.  The imagery speaks of the Lord’s guidance, presence, and protection through the valley of darkness.  (The traditional translation “the valley of the shadow of death” was based on reading Hebrew tsalmût = “darkness” as tsalmāwet = “valley of death”; however, there are no compound nouns in biblical Hebrew.)  The scene switches in verses 5-6 to a festive meal in the temple where the worshiper exults in the ongoing joy at participating in this different kind of intimacy with the Lord.  The worshiper has confidence for the future because of the constancy of God’s care past and present.

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Acts 9:36-43
Continuing the healing ministry of Jesus and endowed with the Holy Spirit, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and restored her to her community, an act that inspired others to the faith.

Context
After reporting the conversion of Saul on the Damascus road earlier in the chapter, the author of Luke-Acts brings that section to a conclusion by announcing that the church in Judea and Galilee and Samaria walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  Although in our liturgical calendar, we still wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, this chapter in the Book of Acts occurs nine chapters after that event.  It is important to realize that the church and its apostles have already been endowed with the Spirit as they go about their ministry.

Key Words
V. 36.  Joppa:  Jaffa, the modern name, is a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, only a couple of miles from the modern-day city of Tel Aviv.  The city is known in the OT as the place where Jonah tried to flee from the Lord’s command to preach to the city of Nineveh.

V. 38.  Lydda, also known as Lod, is located about 11 miles southeast of Joppa.  It plays an important role in the previous paragraph as the home of Aeneas, a man bedridden for 8 years, whom Peter healed.  The miracle brought many of the residents of Lydda and nearby Sharon to faith.

V. 40. Tabitha, anastēthi = “Tabitha, arise”: When Jesus performed a similar miracle for the daughter of Jairus, he said to the dead girl, “Talitha, cumi” (Aramaic) which means in Greek “Little girl, … arise” (Mark 5:41; however, the Greek word in Mark is egeire). The presentation of live Tabitha to others is similar to that of the little girl in Mark. The story recalls the miracles of the prophets Elijah (1 Kings 17) and Elisha (2 Kings 4).

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Revelation 7:9-17
Gathered around the throne of God and comprised of people from every nation, the community of the faithful singing the “hymn of all creation” learn the blessings to come in the kingdom.

Context
The vision of John the Seer throughout the entire book is written to provide people with hope in the midst of the persecution under Emperor Domitian in the year A.D. 95.  This particular piece is part of the vision that resulted from the Lamb opening the sixth seal.

V. 9. kai enōpion tou arniou = and before the Lamb”: Using a different Greek word (amnos), other NT writers speak of Jesus “as a lamb” (Acts 8:32) or “like a lamb without blemish” (1 Peter 1:19), although the author of John’s Gospel puts the title into the mouth of John the Baptist: “Behold the lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).(This word amnos appears frequently in the LXX for the lamb in the sacrificial system.) As for the word arnios used here, John the Seer uses the word as a designation of Christ 28 times. Elsewhere in the NT, the word appears only of Jesus’ “flock” at John 21:15.

V. 14. en tō aimati tou arniou = “in the blood of the Lamb”: Clearly the sacrificial use of the lamb is clear here, especially as the title appears in v. 10 in regard to “salvation.”

V. 16. A quotation of Isaiah 49:10 where God’s word of salvation is addressed to the exiles in Babylon.

V. 17. hoti to arnion to ana meson tou thronou poimanei autous = “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd”: The change from “lamb” to “shepherd” of the flock is striking, but with the title “shepherd” comes a rich OT image of God and of the Messiah (see Psalm 23:1: Ezek. 34:15, 23; note God’s naming Cyrus, king of Persia, as “my shepherd” at Isa. 44:28). In the ancient world, the title “shepherd” was common for royalty, used by such leaders as Hammurabi, king of Babylon, and Sennacherib, king of Assyria.

V. 17. kai exaleipsei ho theos pan dakryon ek tōn ophthalmōn autōn = “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”: The quotation of Isaiah 25:8 enhances the image of the eschatological blessings for those who in faith endure tribulations.

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John 10:22-30
More powerful than all others, Jesus and the Father can assure the sheep of the flock that no one can snatch them away and deprive them of eternal life.

Context
Jesus had just finished the saying about himself as the Good Shepherd (see Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34; Psalm 80) and as one who had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again.  These words caused division among the Judeans in the temple, some saying he has a demon and others claiming that no one with a demon could have performed such miracles as healing the blind. The conclusion of the dissenters was: “Why listen to him?”

Key Words
V. 22.  “the feast of the Dedication“:  The feast is Chanukkah, the celebration of the purification of the temple (164 B.C.) after it had been desolated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167 B.C.).

V. 24.  heōs pote tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis = “How long will you take away our breath/life”:  In vv. 11, 15-18 Jesus speaks of giving his psychē for the sheep and having the power to give it and take it again.

V. 24.  “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”:  See the question of the Sanhedrin at Luke 22:67, as well as Jesus response there. Here the question comes from the Judeans who had gathered around him in the temple’s portico of Solomon.

V. 27-28. ta probata ta ema tēs phōnēs mou akouousin, kagō ginōskō auta kai akolouthousin moi, kagō didōmi autois zōēn aiōnion = “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life”: The connection among hearing, being known, following is essential for discipleship and for the reward of eternal life. Voice recognition becomes critical for distinguishing those who hear and those who do not. For the result of life, see John 3:15-16.