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Wrestling with the Word, episode 54: Second Sunday of Christmas, Year C (January 3, 2010) December 28, 2009

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Second Sunday of Christmas

The early church worked earnestly at many issues regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, struggling at times to explain his unique person as both human and divine. The struggle is evident in the way the four Gospels describe when Jesus’ divinity began. The earliest Gospel, Mark, tells us nothing about Jesus as Son of God until his baptism as an adult by John the Baptizer. The next Gospels to appear, Matthew and Luke, announce that his conception in Mary’s womb marked the beginning of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The fourth Gospel, the last to be written, gives us a completely new perspective. The Gospel from John announces that the Word that became flesh existed from all eternity as the Son of God. The connection between God’s “son” and salvation has its background in the first lesson from Jeremiah 31, and the eternal existence of the Word has its background in the alternate lesson from Sirach 24. The psalm for the day, Psalm 147, praises God for the sending the word to the earth, and the second lesson, a hymn in Ephesians 1:3-14, announces that the coming of Christ was God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 54: Second Sunday of Christmas, Year C.

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Jeremiah 31:7-14
Just as the Lord sent Israel into exile, so will the Lord bring back his first-born with singing, reversing their fortunes that they know shalom.

Context
At his call to be a prophet (1:4-10) God told Jeremiah that his role would be not only to pluck up and break down but also to build and to plant.  While most of the preceding oracles are ones of judgment, in chap. 30 is a series of good news promises regarding restoration begins.

Key Words
V. 10.  šim‘û debar YHWH = “hear the word of the Lord”:  the precise expression occurs 33 times in the OT, but only here and in Ezek. 20:47; 25:3 as an address to anyone other than Israelites.

V. 10.  wehaggîdû ba’’iyyîm = “declare in the coastlands”:  often used as a synonym for “nations” or “earth” to focus on God’s reach beyond the confines of Israel:  Ps. 97:1; Isa. 24:15 (where people in the coastlands give glory to the Lord); 41:1; 42:4, 10, 12 (universal praise of God); 49:1.

V. 13.  wenichamtîm = “and I will comfort them”:  the expression is common in regard to the exiles in Second Isaiah:  40:1; 51:3, 12; 52:9 (// “redeemed”).

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Sirach 24:1-12 (alternate)
Like the word of God, the wisdom of God came forth from God’s mouth to cover the earth but eventually pitched a tent in Jerusalem to be present in a special way as God’s torah.

The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (alias Ecclesiasticus) is one of the key books included in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The 15 books in this collection did not fit the criteria of the Jewish community at the end of first century for inclusion into its approved writings (or canon).  The Hebrew Bible comprised basically the 39 books many Christians know as the Old Testament. Other books that were not written in Hebrew but in Greek and other languages and were not believed to have been written between the time of Moses and that of Ezra made up the separate collection of “hidden books” (the meaning of Apocrypha). These books were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and were used by early Christian writers.

The work of Jesus ben Sirach was produced in Hebrew in the early decades of the second century B.C.E , but his grandson’s translation of the work into Greek at least 5o years later is the only manuscript available.

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Psalm 147:12-20
The psalm of praise extols the power and the grace of God. The portion assigned here looks to the word of God that both controls nature and instructs Israel in a unique way because of its election.

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Ephesians 1:3-14
Having adopted us as children through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ’s death, God calls the church and each of us to live out our future inheritance by glorifying God here and now.

Context
The Epistle to the Ephesians is not in the strictest sense an epistle, and it might not have been addressed to the Ephesians. Furthermore, in spite of its first word, it was probably not written by Paul. Written sometime before A.D. 95, this essay by an admirer of Paul was apparently intended as a theological teaching about the unity of the church under the leadership of Christ, its head. That unity was emphasized because of the growth of the church in Gentile circles and the apparent difficulty of remembering the church’s origin among Jewish people and Jewish traditions. The piece selected as our pericope is a hymn about God’s blessedness and how that blessing affects the life of the baptized.

Key Words
V. 5.  en agapē  proorisas hēmas eis huiothesian dia ’Iēsou Christou = “in love having destined us for adoption through Jesus Christ”:  The term huiothesia = “adoption” is used at Rom. 9:5 for the relationship of Israel to God and also at Gal. 4:5 for the relationship of Christians to God through baptism.

V. 7.  en hō  echomen tēn apoltrōsin dia tou haimatos autou, tēn aphesin tōn paraptōmatōn = “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins”:  These expressions in the hymn indicate that by the time of the writing of this epistle, they had become common liturgical expressions and are quoted without explanation. Interestingly, while Paul used the word apoltrosis = “redemption” in the sense of freedom from the power of sin and death (slave market imagery), the apposition here appears to define  ”redemption” as God’s pardoning of our sins.

V. 10. eis oikonomian tou plērōmatos tōn kairōn = “as a management of the fullness of time”: Mark summarizes the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in terms of “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes of the “fullness of time” as the incarnation of God’s Son in the world to redeem those under the law in order that our adoption might occur (Gal. 5:4-5). Here, the words point to the grand purpose of God, namely, to “manage” the promise of a new order for the entire universe over which Christ will rule.

V. 12. eis to einai hēmas eis epainon doxēs autou = “for us to exist for the praise of his glory”: The hymn defines Christian responsibility to be and do what God created humanity for: the glory of God. Note the climax to the hymn Paul quotes at Phil. 2:5-11.

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John 1: (1-9) 10-18
The eternal Word of God who existed alongside God from all eternity and who was God has become one of us to share in our lives, our sufferings, and in all the conditions known to humanity.

Context
Some NT scholars regard the background of the piece in an ancient wisdom hymn or at least from ancient wisdom themes. In the OT and in the Apocrypha “wisdom” seems to have been personified in several ways (Prov. 8:22-31; 9:1-6; Sirach 24:1-12). Verses 9-15 might be interpreted in light of these wisdom traditions, particularly in light of Sir. 24:  “light … in the world … came to his own home … children of God.”  On the other hand, other scholars see the outline as a historical reflection of Israel’s past and the coming of Christ:  “in the world … yet the world did not known him” (the period from Adam to Moses), “came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (the Sinai law), “children of God” (the faithful remnant of Israel), “the Word became flesh” (Incarnation), “and we have seen his glory” (the Transfiguration). Whether or not either of those backgrounds provides wording and imagery for this hymn, the content describes the story of Jesus quite well.

Key Words
V. 1. en archē = “in (the) beginning”: The same words the LXX uses at Gen. 1:1. Note that Mark’s Gospel also starts with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” (1:1). The Gen. 1 themes of darkness and light follow here in John 1.

V. 14. kai eskēnōsen en hēmin = “and pitched a tent among us”: Compare Sirach 24 where the Creator assigned for Wisdom “the tent” (skēnēn, v. 8), ordered Wisdom to “tent (kataskēnōson, v. 9); “in the holy tent” (skēnē) Wisdom ministered before the Creator (v. 10).

V. 14. plērēs charitas kai alētheias = “full of grace and truth”: For the intimate relationship between  Jesus and “truth” in John, see 8:32, 36; 14:6; 19:37-38.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 29: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 12, 2009) June 24, 2009

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Distinguishing between Christian faith on the one hand and worldly power and control on the other hand has been the Christian’s dilemma since the time of Constantine. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead promises God’s plan for the future of world and for all eternity. In the meantime, that hope for a new time, God’s reign, enables us to endure hardships and sufferings, even rejections that resemble more the way of the cross than the victory over death. Furthermore, trying to discover the world’s adoration of God in the present time can lead us to utter frustration and even a feeling that God has failed. Our lessons for this day run the gamut from salvation achieved but yet to come, of rejection and failure by the world powers to acknowledge the reign of God, and God’s management plan for the universe that flies far beyond what we hope to see in the present time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 29: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 85:8-13
The psalm is a wondrous mixture of praise, lament, and the promised word. The period immediately after the return of the exiles from Babylon seem to fit the movement of the psalm. We know about that plight and the reasons for it as we move from the preaching of Second Isaiah (Isa. 40—55) to that of Third Isaiah (Isa. 56—66). In our psalm, verses 1-3 praise the Lord for having forgiven the people of their sins and restoring them to the land (see Isa. 40:1-11). Verses 4-7 express the lament that the homecoming did not fit the prophesied and expected results see Isa. 56—66). Verses 8-13 provide the report of the official prophet as he had listened carefully to the Lord’s promise and now delivers what the word promised. Powerfully, the actions of God as steadfast love (covenant loyalty), faithfulness, righteousness, and peace will join together for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

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Amos 7:7-15
Having provided a vision portraying divine testing of the trueness of the house of Jeroboam, the Lord called the herdsman Amos to prophesy in spite of his lack of training and in spite of the inevitable rejection of his message.

Context
In the days of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.) God called a herdsman named Amos to leave his home at Tekoa near Bethlehem to prophesy in the northern kingdom of Israel. With the exception of the final two prophecies in his book, Amos preached only judgment, not only against Israel but also against Judah. Immediately prior to our pericope, God had provided a different image of destruction for Israel that prompted the prophet to intercede successfully on behalf of the land and its people.

Key Words
V. 7.  anāk = “a plumb line”:  This is the only occurrence of the word in the Hebrew Bible; however, it seems to be used in a way similar to mišqelet and qāv at Isa. 28:17. The plumb line does not indicate judgment per se but indicates the work of a builder who is testing a wall to determine its soundness and trueness.

V. 9.  bāmôt yischāq = “the high places of Isaac”:  bāmôt is the name given to “sanctuaries” (see the parallelism here), usually Canaanite holy places. Here the word refers to Israel’s rival sanctuaries to Jerusalem (especially Dan and Bethel) that have cropped up in the northern kingdom.

V. 10. qāšar = “conspire”: It is not clear with whom Amos would have been conspiring. However, the history of Israel might have served as a warning to Amaziah, because internal rebellions had in the past followed prophetic oracles of judgment (see 1 Kings 11:29ff. and 12:16; 19:15ff. and 2 Kings 8:7ff.; 9:1ff.).

V. 10.  Bethel: According to the biblical tradition at Genesis 28:10-22, the ancestor nearest and dearest to the northern kingdom, Jacob, founded that sanctuary on his way to sojourn with Laban the Aramean.  Bethel became notorious from the Judean point of view when Jeroboam I established that sanctuary and the one at Dan as rivals to the Jerusalem temple by setting up a golden calf in each place. That Bethel “is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the temple of the kingdom” (v. 13) indicates that “church and state” were combined there just as they were in Jerusalem.

V. 14.  lō’-nābî’ ’ānōkî welō’  ben-nābî’ ’ānōkî = “not a prophet I and not a son of a prophet I”:  The tense to be supplied is uncertain.  Was he not a prophet previous to his call but now is a prophet? Or is he referring to a class of prophets of which he is not a member?

V. 15.  wayyiqqachēnî YHWH mē’acharê hatstsōn = “the Lord took me from following the flock”:  See the Lord’s words to David at 2 Sam. 7:8:  “I took you … from following the flock, to be prince.”

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Ephesians 1:3-14
Having adopted us as children through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ’s death, God calls the church and each of us to live out our future inheritance by glorifying God here and now.

Context
The Epistle to the Ephesians is not in the strictest sense an epistle, and it might not have been addressed to the Ephesians. Furthermore, in spite of its first word, it was probably not written by Paul. Written sometime before A.D. 95, this essay by an admirer of Paul was apparently intended as a theological teaching about the unity of the church under the leadership of Christ, its head. That unity was emphasized because of the growth of the church in Gentile circles and the apparent difficulty of remembering the church’s origin among Jewish people and Jewish traditions. The piece selected as our pericope is a hymn about God’s blessedness and how that blessing affects the life of the baptized.

Key Words
V. 5.  en agapē  proorisas hēmas eis huiothesian dia ’Iēsou Christou = “in love having destined us for adoption through Jesus Christ”:  The term huiothesia = “adoption” is used at Rom. 9:5 for the relationship of Israel to God and also at Gal. 4:5 for the relationship of Christians to God through baptism.

V. 7.  en hō  echomen tēn apoltrōsin dia tou haimatos autou, tēn aphesin tōn paraptōmatōn = “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins”:  These expressions in the hymn indicate that by the time of the writing of this epistle, they had become common liturgical expressions and are quoted without explanation. Interestingly, while Paul used the word apoltrosis = “redemption” in the sense of freedom from the power of sin and death (slave market imagery), the apposition here appears to define  “redemption” as God’s pardoning of our sins.

V. 10. eis oikonomian tou plērōmatos tōn kairōn = “as a management of the fullness of time”: Mark summarizes the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in terms of “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes of the “fullness of time” as the incarnation of God’s Son in the world to redeem those under the law in order that our adoption might occur (Gal. 5:4-5). Here, the words point to the grand purpose of God, namely, to “manage” the promise of a new order for the entire universe over which Christ will rule.

V. 12. eis to einai hēmas eis epainon doxēs autou = “for us to exist for the praise of his glory”: The hymn defines Christian responsibility to be and do what God created humanity for: the glory of God. Note the climax to the hymn Paul quotes at Phil. 2:5-11.

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Mark 6:14-29
Trying to understand who Jesus was on the basis of reports of his miracles, Herod could find explanation only in the rumor that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.

Context
Chapter 6 begins with the account that Jesus was rejected even in his hometown (vv. 1-6a). Then occurs a paragraph about his commissioning the twelve to continue his ministry of casting out demons and healing those who were sick (vv. 6b-13).

Key Words
Vss. 14-15. The range of rumors about the identity of Jesus occurs again at 8:27-28. The connection between John the baptizer and Elijah occurs elsewhere (see Mark 1:4, 6; 9:13; Matt. 11:7-14). Note the similarity between John’s reproach of Herod Antipas and Herodias with Elijah’s reproach of Ahab and Jezebel at 1 Kings 21:17-29).

V. 16. “John, whom I beheaded”: Herod’s admission and the following story of explanation provide further testimony for Mark’s emphasis that the world rejected Jesus and the God who sent him. The list on the opposition team includes the priestly and governing authorities, the people, and the disciples. The inevitability of Jesus’ death and the way of discipleship will stand out when Jesus speaks explicitly at 8:31-38.

V. 29.  kai ethēkan auto en mnēmeiō = “and laid it in a tomb”:  The same words are used for the burial of Jesus at 15:46. The result for John, God’s representative, is, like that of Amos, failure to be recognized. The effect for John, however, is capital punishment rather than dismissal.

Wrestling With The Word, episode 2: Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B (Jan. 4, 2009) December 9, 2008

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This second episode of the Wrestling with the Word podcast discusses the biblical passages assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary for January 4, 2009, or the second Sunday after Christmas, Year B. The Gospel from John 1 announces that the Word-become-flesh in Jesus Christ existed from all eternity as the Son of God. The connection between God’s son and salvation has its background in the first lesson from Jeremiah, and the eternal existence of the Word has its background in the alternate lesson from Sirach. The psalm for the day, Psalm 147, praises God for the sending of the word, and the second lesson, a hymn in Ephesians 1:3-14, announces that the coming of Christ was God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 2: Second Sunday after Christmas.

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Jeremiah 31:7-14

Just as the Lord sent Israel into exile, so will the Lord bring back his first-born with singing, reversing their fortunes that they know shalom.

Context

At his call to be a prophet (1:4-10) Jeremiah was told his role would be not only to pluck up and break down but also to build and to plant.  While most of the preceding oracles are ones of judgment, in chap. 30 is a series of good news promises regarding restoration begins.

Key Words

V. 10.  šim‘û debar YHWH = “hear the word of the Lord”:  the precise expression occurs 33 times in the OT, but only here and in Ezek. 20:47; 25:3 as an address to anyone other than Israelites.

V. 10.  wehaggîdû ba’’iyyîm = “declare in the coastlands”:  often used as a synonym for “nations” or “earth” to focus on God’s reach beyond the confines of Israel:  Ps. 97:1; Isa. 24:15 (where people in the coastlands give glory to the Lord); 41:1; 42:4, 10, 12 (universal praise of God); 49:1.

V. 13.  wenichamtîm = “and I will comfort them”:  the expression is common in regard to the exiles in Second Isaiah:  40:1; 51:3, 12; 52:9 (// “redeemed”).

———-

Sirach 24:1-12 (alternate)

Like the word of God, the wisdom of God came forth from God’s mouth to cover the earth but eventually pitched a tent in Jerusalem to be present in a special way as God’s torah.

The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (alias Ecclesiasticus) is one of the key books included in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The 15 books in this collection did not fit the criteria of the Jewish community at the end of first century for inclusion into its approved writings (or canon).  The Hebrew Bible comprised basically the 39 books many Christians know as the Old Testament. Other books that were not written in Hebrew but in Greek and other languages and were not believed to have been written between the time of Moses and that of Ezra made up the separate collection of “hidden books” (the meaning of Apocrypha). These books were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and were used by early Christian writers.

The work of Jesus ben Sirach was produced in Hebrew in the early decades of the second century B.C.E , but his grandson’s translation of the work into Greek at least 5o years later is the only manuscript available.

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Psalm 147:12-20

The psalm of praise extols the power and the grace of God. The portion assigned here looks to the word of God that both controls nature and instructs Israel in a unique way because of its election.

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Ephesians 1:3-14

Praise to God who has unveiled the mystery of the new community, a community identified by baptism and waiting confidently for the inheritance to come.

Context

Scholars debate whether the Apostle Paul was the author of this epistle. In either case, the letter provides a profound discussion about the universal extent of God’s creation and redemption in Jesus Christ. It also calls on Christians to live in love to one another as a community of persons baptized in Christ. The passage is a hymn like those in 1 Cor. 13, Col. 1, and Phil 2.

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John 1: (1-9) 10-18

The eternal Word of God who existed alongside God from all eternity and who was God has become one of us to share in our lives, our sufferings, and in all the conditions known to humanity.

Context

Some NT scholars regard the background of the piece in an ancient wisdom hymn or at least from ancient wisdom themes. In the OT and in the Apocrypha “wisdom” seems to have been personified in several ways (Prov. 8:22-31; 9:1-6; Sirach 24:1-12). Verses 9-15 might be interpreted in light of these wisdom traditions, particularly in light of Sir. 24:  “light … in the world … came to his own home … children of God.”  On the other hand, other scholars see the outline as a historical reflection of Israel’s past and the coming of Christ:  “in the world … yet the world did not known him” (the period from Adam to Moses), “came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (the Sinai law), “children of God” (the faithful remnant of Israel), “the Word became flesh” (Incarnation), “and we have seen his glory” (the Transfiguration). Whether or not either of those backgrounds provides wording and imagery for this hymn, the content describes the story of Jesus quite well.

Key Words

V. 1. en archē = “in (the) beginning”: The same words the LXX uses at Gen. 1:1. Note that Mark’s Gospel also starts with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” (1:1). The Gen. 1 themes of darkness and light follow here in John 1.

V. 14. kai eskēnōsen en hēmin = “and pitched a tent among us”: cf. Sir. 24 where the Creator assigned for Wisdom “the tent” (skēnēn, v. 8), ordered Wisdom to “tent (kataskēnōson, v. 9); “in the holy tent” (skēnē) Wisdom ministered before the Creator (v. 10).

V. 18. “full of grace and truth”: for Jesus as “truth” in John see 8:32, 36; 14:6; 19:37-38.