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Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 4, 2009) September 22, 2009

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christians have a much better chance to prove faithful when we move beyond ourselves to recall God’s commitment to the whole human race, even to the world. God’s call to discipleship and mission forces us to see the broad scope of God’s gifts. Our lessons for the day begin with these powerful insights that set the stage for Jesus’ teachings, to say nothing about Jesus’ identity.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


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 praise, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity by God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” 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 God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.


Genesis 2:18-24
God’s will for humanity is community, and the primary expression of that community is the committed relationship of marriage.

The creation story of the Yahwist (10th century B.C.) begins at 2:4b. In contrast to that of the Priest (Genesis 1:1–2:4a) which is universal in scope, the second story takes place at a local oasis. The Lord began by creating Adam, made the Garden of Eden for his dwelling place, planted trees for food and beauty, gave the man a garden and held him responsible for working and protecting it, and laid down the law forbidding eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Key Words
V. 18.  lō’-tôb heyôt hā’ādām lebaddô = “not good (is) the being of the man alone”:  Interestingly the “not good” contrasts sharply with the tôb = “good” which occurs repeatedly throughout Genesis 1, indicating that everything functions according to the purpose for which it was made.

V. 18.  ‘ēzer kenegdô = “a help/strength as his opposite”:  The word ‘ēzer appears elsewhere in the OT only in relationship to YHWH. Either YHWH is the source of help (Ps. 20:2; 121:1-2; 124:8) or YHWH is help/strength (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7; Ps. 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11). As for kenegdô, the preposition neged means “opposite,” and to it is attached the preposition and a pronominal suffix.

V. 21.  tardēmā = “a sleep”: The point is not so much an anesthesia against pain but an elimination of the possibility of observing God at work; cf. also Gen. 15:12 and the prohibition against looking back at Gen. 19:17.

V. 23.  ‘etsem mē‘atsāmay ûbāsār mibbesārî = “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”:  The expression occurs also at Gen. 29:14; 2 Sam. 5:1 = 1 Chron. 11:1; 2 Sam. 19:13-14 to indicate people formed of the same parents, i.e., the source is the same.

V. 24.  dābaq = “cleave to”:  The word is used at Deut. 30:20 where Israel is called upon to “cleave to YHWH.” The expression connotes fidelity in relationships as YHWH expected Israel to remain loyal in the covenant.

V. 24.  “a man leaves his father and mother”:  The expression appears to point to a societal arrangement when the wife was not considered the husband’s property. Contrast the law at Exod. 20:17 (although note the change at Deut. 5:21).


Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Reflecting the glory of God and bearing God’s nature, Jesus Christ, superior to the angels, became less than the angels for our sakes in order to taste death and become perfect through suffering.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is a powerful yet puzzling book. Evidence is not sufficient to identify the author, the date of its origin, or the place where the author wrote it. Even the audience called in the title “the Hebrews” is difficult to understand. In spite of these unanswerable questions, the book presents in eloquent Greek the announcement that Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system that God had given to Israel. Jesus Christ was the true and ultimate sacrifice that ends the system, but as Exalted One he serves as high priest in the sanctuary of heaven. The unknown author seems to expound this powerful testimony so that the unknown audience might persevere in faith and love.

Key Words
2:6-7. The use of Psalm 8:5-7 demonstrates that the expression “son of man” is a prophecy about Jesus Christ who seems to have used that expression as his favorite means of identifying himself.

2:12. The quotation of Psalm 22:22 (LXX 21:23) demonstrates that the speaker of the psalm of lament and its thanksgiving is the Risen Christ. Likewise, the author uses in the following verses (12-13) two verses from Isaiah (originally the voice of the prophet) as the words of Jesus regarding his disciples.


Mark 10:2-16
Against a legalistic attempt to define what is legal or permissible in marriage and divorce, Jesus asserts the will of God for marriage, and at the same time indicates that the children (of marriage) demonstrate the required stance of us all before God.

The action at the end of the ninth chapter took place in Capernaum. Now, according to 10:1, Jesus moves into Judea, the area where the passion and crucifixion will occur. In that area, the reader can expect the testing from the Pharisees that occurs in these verses. The first 31 verses of this chapter seem to be a list of catechetical instructions for the community of faith, much like the lists which occur in the pastoral epistles and 1 Peter 2:13–3:7; 5:1-5.

Key Words
V. 2.  ei exestin = “is it lawful?”:  The Pharisees knew very well the law of Moses at Deut. 24:1-4 which permitted a man to write a divorce decree. Jesus responds by going back beyond the law of Moses to God’s will at creation.

V. 13.  paidia = “children”:  From the use of the word we are not able to determine anything about their ages, for the word describes a baby at John 16:21 and a 12-year-old child at Mark 5:39-42.

V. 13.  hoi de mathētai epetimēsan autois = “but the disciples rebuked them”:  Throughout the Bible the only legitimate subjects of the verb epitimaō are YHWH in the OT and Jesus in the NT. Note the trouble Peter gets into by taking over the verb “rebuke” Jesus at 8:32.

V. 14. tōn gar toioutōn estin hē basilea tou theou = “for of/ to such (the children) is the kingdom of God”: Whether the passage should read “of such is” or “to such belongs” is difficult to determine, but in either case, the vulnerable little children and the kingdom belong together. Jesus had used little children as the example of discipleship at 9:36. Here and through v. 15, he uses the model of little children as the only way to receive the kingdom or the ones who comprise the kingdom. Elsewhere, the possession of the kingdom belongs to the “poor in spirit” and to “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” at Matt. 5:3, 10 (simply “the poor” at Luke 6:20).