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Wrestling with the Word, episode 66: Sunday of the Passion, Year C (March 28, 2010) March 20, 2010

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Sunday of the Passion
Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, begins the most holy week in the church year. It is a week marked by sadness, by suffering that is both physical and relational. Jesus walked willingly the path that most—if not all—of us walk at one time or another in our lives. Just because he was the Son of God did not diminish the pain. It did not ease the agony of rejection and outright desertion by friends. He walked the tragic path willingly because he was faithful to his identity and to the mission on which God had sent him. The celebration we will hold next week is not possible without the agony of this one. Happily, living on this side of Easter, we do know how it will all end. We know the outcome does not “mean the world to us.” It means far more than that!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 66: Sunday of the Passion, Year C.

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Psalm 31:9-16
The psalm is one of lament and thanksgiving. The psalmist laments the suffering of some chronic malady and is now on the verge of a violent death. In verses 1 and 17 appears the plea “not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:7). The petitioner has become such a sorry sight that not only enemies but also friends have rejected him. In the midst of his worst hour the psalmist realizes that pouring out such a lament is not a complaint against God but a petition to a God who cares and understands. To this God the psalmist surrenders in faith and trust, especially in the words that Jesus quotes from the cross (Ps. 31:5 at Luke 23:46). The thanksgiving at verses 21-24 brings the psalm to a close.

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Isaiah 50:4-9a
God enables the servant to endure suffering in order to be the Lord’s witness in a hostile world.

Context
The passage is the third of the so-called “servant songs” in Second Isaiah, the others being (1) 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (4) 52:13–53:12. The speaker of songs 1 and 4 is the Lord, while in 2 and 3 the speaker is the servant himself. The identity of the servant has been the subject of scholarly debate for centuries, answers ranging from the prophet himself, to the king, to the exiled people of Jerusalem, and of course, to Jesus. The immediate context is interesting since vv. 1-3 speak of the Lord as having the power to deliver the people from their exile and then our verses attest to God’s accomplishing that deed through the servant.

Key Words
V. 4.  limmûddîm = “those who are taught”:  The expression appears twice in this verse but nowhere else in this exact form. The term seems to imply the gift of wisdom, i.e., those who are wise, perhaps even “a teacher” (NRSV). The purpose of this God-given wisdom is not for the servant’s own glory but “to sustain the weary (yā‘ēp) with a word.” The weary can include even “youths” who are exiles in Babylon, but the Lord who does not grow weary “shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:28-31).

V. 6.  gēwî nātattî  lemakkîm ûlechāyay lemōretîm = “I gave my back to those who smite and my cheek to those who make bare (by pulling out the beard)”:  The submission to an act of violence sounds like that at Neh. 13:25.

V. 7.  kî-lō’ ’ēbôš = “for I shall not be put to shame”:  The same expression occurs in the wisdom Psalm 119 at v. 6. The plea to never “be put to shame” appears in Ps. 31:1, 17. Note the repeated concern about not being put to shame at Ps. 25:2, 3, 20. This psalm of lament contains also the plea that the Lord “teach” the petitioner (vss. 4-5) along with all those “that fear the Lord” (v. 12).

V. 9.  kullām kabbeged yiblû = “all of them will wear out like a garment”:  The imagery appears also in terms of the created order at Ps. 102:26 and Isa. 51:16 in contrast to YHWH who remains forever.

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Philippians 2:5-11
The humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ causes the entire universe to bow at his name and confess him as Lord, so that God might be glorified.

Context
Paul wrote this epistle from prison, but we do not know which one. If this imprisonment was the one in Rome (Acts 28:14-31), he wrote the letter about 59-60. If his imprisonment was in the one in Caesarea, described at Acts 23:33—26:32), then he wrote about 56-58. If, however, this imprisonment is in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:30ff; 2 Cor. 1:8ff.), then he wrote this epistle between 53-55. In any case, at 1:27 Paul turns to issues of life style among the Christians at Philippi. Against opponents who teach a false gospel, Paul urges them to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving for the faith of the gospel.” Here he provides the hymn to demonstrate Jesus as the role model for humility. Jesus’ humiliation paves the way to exaltation, a theme that Paul takes in a slightly different direction at 2 Corinthians 8:9: “… that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Form
The verses represent a pre-Pauline hymn or creed. The word hos in v. 6 is typical of the beginning of creeds and hymns; see 1 Tim. 3:16. Attempts to define its origin have ranged from a Christian Aramaic psalm to a Hellenistic myth about the first human.

Key Words
V. 5.  phroneite = “have an attitude”:  While the words are different, especially in Greek, one wonders about the connection with the “transformed mind” Paul urges in Romans 12:2.

Vv. 6-7.  morphē theou … morphēn doulou:  “form of God … form of servant”:  The contrast alone explains the significance of the term for Paul. The LXX word for “image (of God)” in Gen. 1:26-27 is eikōn not morphē; only in Dan. 3:19 is Hebrew/Aramaic tselem (“image”) translated by morphē in LXX.

V. 6.  harpagmon = “robbery, prize, booty, a thing to be grasped for or held on to”:  Since Christ already had the “form” and did not need to grasp for it; the translation “held on to” seems more appropriate.

Vv. 10-11. The words “every knee should bow, and every tongue confess” are virtually identical to the LXX rendering of Isaiah 45:23. There “all the ends of the earth” shall worship God. Here the picture is even bigger.

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Luke 23:1-49
Against the innocence of Jesus and various declarations of his innocence, Jesus died the death of a condemned criminal out of faithfulness to his identity and to God’s mission to the world.

Context
The chief priests and captains of the temple arrested Jesus and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  There they asked him two questions:  (1) “If you are the Christ, tell us.”  (2) “Are you the Son of God, then?”  They interpreted his response as incriminating evidence, and they brought him before the secular ruler, the governor Pilate.

Key Words
V. 8.  sēmeion = “sign”:  At 2:12 and 2:34 Jesus himself is the “sign”; at 11:16, 29 the people demand a sign from Jesus; at 11:30 Jesus will be a sign like that of Jonah to Nineveh; at 21:7, 11, 25 apocalyptic signs are discussed.  “Sign” in 11:16; 23:8, and 2:12, 34 is unique to Luke.

V. 14.  outhen euron … aition = “I find … not guilty”:  That two (Pilate and Herod) came to the same conclusion should have satisfied the law that accusers and accused present their case to “the priests and the judges who are in office in those days” (Deut. 19:15-21). However, that priests were the chief accusers in this case made the law more complicated. See also the declaration of the thief (v. 41) and of the centurion at the foot of the cross (v. 47).

V. 33-34.  kai … ēlthon epi ton topon = “and … they came to the place”:  The words are virtually identical to Gen. 22:3, the sacrifice of Isaac.  Compare Jesus’ first word Pater (v. 34) (“Father”) with Isaac’s first word Pater (Gen 22:7).   On Luke’s use of topon, see also 4:42; 6:17; 11:1; 19:5; 22:40.

V. 35.  ei houtos estin ho christos tou theou ho eklektos = “if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen one”:  On the challenge, see the temptation by the devil in 4:1-13.  On the “Christ of God,” see Peter’s confession at 9:20. On “the Chosen one,” see God’s announcement at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:35).

V. 47. ho hekatontarchēs … edoxazen ton theon = “the centurion … praised God”: The representative of the Gentiles is the one who praises God at the foot of the cross, similar to the hymn Paul used at Philippians 2:5-11 and consistent with Luke’s emphasis throughout the Gospel.

Jesus Last Words
V. 43.  amēn soi legō, sēmeron met’ emou esē en tō paradeisō = “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise”:  For the significance of “today” in Luke’s Gospel, see Luke 2:11; 4:21; 19:9. That Jesus addressed these words to an outcast from society is consistent with Luke’s emphasis throughout his Gospel. Jesus acquits the guilty as only the Divine Judge can do (Acts 10:42). In this case, Jesus’ words respond to still one more person who declares Jesus’ innocence: Herod, Pilate, and soon the centurion.

V. 46. pater, eis cheiras sou paratithemai to pneuma mou = “Father, into your hands I commit me spirit.” The saying is a direct quote of Psalm 31:6. Like other “last words of Jesus” used in Matthew, Mark, and John, the psalm source for this saying is a lament.

Psalm 22:1: Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34
Psalm 69:21: John 19:28 (cf. Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36)

Wrestling with the Word, episode 38: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 13, 2009) August 27, 2009

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The cause of suffering in the world has been a question for millennia. Some of the earliest pieces of literature in history have attempted to deal with this mystery. One thing is clear: any answer is too easy. Our lessons for this day look at one aspect of suffering—and only one: suffering because of faithfulness to a commission from God. Such suffering for God’s sake means facing a rebellious world that would rather pursue self-interest than listen to God’s word of grace and love.  While the costs to the world and to our rugged individualism might be too great a price to pay, ultimately the rewards of speaking and living God’s word loom astonishingly high.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 38: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 116:1-9
The psalmist expresses love for God as a result of God’s responding to his plea. The worshiper had cried out from the clutches of death and Sheol (v. 3), “O Lord, save my life!” (v. 4); the Lord listened and saved him from death (v. 6b, 8). The verses alternate between statements about God and prayers of thanksgiving to God. God is “gracious” (channûn), “righteous” (tsaddîq), and “merciful” (merachēm), and “protects the simple” (in wisdom teaching, those who are easily deceived). As a result of the Lord’s saving action, the psalmist confesses “I love the Lord” (v. 1) and commits a response to “walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 9).

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Isaiah 50:4-9a
God enables the servant to do what is required to be his witness in a hostile world.

Context
The passage is the third of the so-called “servant songs” in Second Isaiah, the others being (1) 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (4) 52:13–53:12. The speaker of songs 1 and 4 is the Lord, while in 2 and 3 the speaker is the servant himself. The identity of the servant has been the subject of scholarly debate for centuries, answers ranging from the prophet himself, to the king, to the exiled people of Jerusalem, and of course, to Jesus. In this song, the immediate context is interesting since vv. 1-3 speak of the Lord as having the power to deliver the people from their exile and then our verses attest to God’s accomplishing that deed through a servant (see Exod. 3:7-10). Since the poem seems to establish the speaker as one commissioned by YHWH and then faces formidable persecution, the song resembles the laments of Jeremiah (see Jer. 11:18-20; 15:15-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18).

Key Words
V. 4.  limmuddîm = “those who are taught”:  Used twice in this verse, the expression does not appear exactly the same elsewhere. The term seems to betray a wisdom background, i.e., those who are wise. Strikingly at the beginning of the verse, the servant indicates the Lord has given him the tongue of a teacher; now he presents himself as the pupil.

V. 4. leda‘at lā‘ût ’et-yā‘ēp dābār = “in order to sustain the weary with a word”: The word translated “sustain” appears only here in the entire OT. Ancient Greek manuscripts understood the word to be one that means “answer.” As for “the weary,” Second Isaiah uses the word to describe the difference between YHWH (Isa. 40:28) and the exiles (Isa. 40: 29, 30) and the results for the salvation promised (40: 31). The prophet’s mission, then, is to fulfill the prophetic office of speaking God’s word of salvation to a disillusioned people.

V. 5.  ’adōnāy YHWH pātach-lî ’ōzen = “The Lord God has opened for me an ear”:  The expression is one more example of the servant being a wise pupil or disciple, but even his willingness to listen to his teacher is an act of God.

V. 6.  gēwî nātattî lemakkîm ûlechāyay lemōretîm = “I gave my back to those who smite and my cheek to those who make bare (by pulling out the beard)”:  This act of violence resembles that at Neh. 13:25. This passage appears to form the background to the saying by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek (Matt, 5:39). In the context of Second Isaiah, the persecution described here will become even more vivid in the Fourth Servant Song at 52:13—53:12.

V. 7.  wā’ēda‘ kî-lô ’ēbôš = “and I shall know that I shall not be put to shame”:  The same expression occurs in the wisdom Psalm 119:6 where the reason is based on the worshiper keeping the commandments. Note the repeated concern about not being put to shame in the face of persecution at Ps. 25:2, 3, 20. The wisdom features are prominent in that psalm, especially in the first half, before it turns to a lament. In the context of Isaiah 50, the reason for not being ashamed is the action of the Lord in helping the servant and in being present as his vindicator in a court of law. The ultimate outcome of this God-imposed suffering on the prophet will appear at 53:12.

V. 9.  kullām kabbeged yiblû = “all of them will wear out like a garment”:  The expression is used of the created order at Ps. 102:26 where it refers to the heavens and the earth, God’s own creation, in contrast to YHWH who remains forever. Here the reference is to the servant’s adversaries who have no power in contrast to the Lord who helps the servant.

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James 3:1-12
Since the tongue can be a source of blessing to God and simultaneously a source of curse, especially when used against those who are made in God’s likeness, we must keep it in check and take care how we use it to influence others.

Context
The author had just finished a section of his lecture in which he appears to oppose Paul’s teaching about faith and works. At 2:18 he provides the teaching that he will then illustrate. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” Citing the examples of Abraham and Rahab the prostitute, the author argues that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In this pericope, the discussion of “teacher” and “tongue” recall the words from Isaiah 50:4-9a.

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Mark 8:27-38
Having heard from the disciples who people think that he is and who they themselves think he is, Jesus defines himself as one who must suffer and die and rise and disciples as those who must follow him all the way.

Context
The 8th chapter of Mark begins with the second report of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes, this time 4000 people (note there were 5000 at 6:30-44). Following an argument with the Pharisees, Jesus departed in a boat with the disciples who were dismayed over their having forgotten to bring lunch. Jesus chided them for not grasping what the miracles with the 5000 and the 4000 were all about. Then in Bethsaida Jesus gave sight to the man who was blind. (This passage was discussed also in Episode 11 for the Second Sunday in Lent.)

Key Words
V. 28. “John the Baptist … Elijah … one of the prophets”: That people connected Jesus with John the Baptist and Elijah and one of the prophets can be seen at Mark 6:14-15 as a report to Herod. John the Baptist preached a sermon that was quite similar to the one Jesus preached (see 1:4 and 1:15; even closer, see Matt. 3:2 and 4:17). As for the Elijah (and Elisha) connection, Jesus performed feeding miracles (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:14-16; Elisha at 2 Kings 4:42-44), raised from the dead a woman’s only son (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:17-24; Elisha at 2 Kings 4:32-37), and cleansed people of leprosy (Elisha at 2 Kings 5). As a result, the people announced that the prophet has arisen (Matt. 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 6:14). As for the “one of the prophets,” Jesus sounded like a prophet in his teaching and preaching; he resembled Jeremiah in particular in his sermon about the destruction of the temple (see Jer. 7 and 26).

V. 29. apokritheis ho Petros legei autō su ei ho Christos = “Answering, Peter said, ‘You are the Christ/Messiah’”: What Peter meant by this statement is not clear, but unlike the affirming response from Jesus at Matt. 16:16, here Jesus commands silence about this confession.

V. 31.  dei ton huion tou anthrōpou polla pathein = “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things”:  While the expression Son of Man in Aramaic can refer simply to a personal pronoun (cf. Mark 8:27 and Matt. 16:13), the expression has an eschatological bent. It can indicate either one who suffers and then receives the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:13ff.) or as one who comes in clouds of glory (1 Enoch). Clearly, the context here favors the former option. At v. 8, however, the latter meaning seems obvious.

V. 31. kai apoktanthēnai kai meta treis hēmeras anastēnai = “and be killed and after three days rise again”: Mark repeats the same formula for the timing at 9:31 and 10:34. Matthew (16:21; 17:22; 20:19) and Luke (9:22; 18:33) change the formula to “on the third day.” Paul cites the wording “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:5) as part of the tradition he received and passed on. The only scriptural (OT) reference to God raising any one “on the third day” occurs at Hosea 6:2 (en tē hēmera tē tritē anastēsometha); there resurrection (perhaps metaphorical) follows a judgment from God.

V. 32. kai proslabomenos ho Petros auton ’ērxato epitiman autō = “and taking him, Peter began to rebuke him”: That any one other than God or God’s Son should become the subject of the verb rebuke is forbidden in both testaments.

V. 33.  epetimēsen Petrō … satana = “he rebuked Peter … Satan”:  See Zech. 3:1-2 where YHWH rebukes Satan for standing in the way of the installation of Joshua (in Greek Iēsous) to be the priestly anointed one. Note also the objects of rebuke thus far in Mark’s Gospel:  the unclean spirit (1:25) and the storm (4:39). For a detailed examination of Jesus’ rebuke of Satan, see Foster R. McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983, 2007: 63-67).

V. 34. kai proskalesamenos ton ochlon syn tois mathētais autou eipen autois = “And calling to him the multitude with his disciples, he said to them”: The discussion Jesus held privately with his disciples regarding his identity now becomes a public matter about discipleship. Once again, the experience of the one takes on universal proportions. Strikingly, Matthew sets a quite opposite direction when he uses the formula “from that time” first to begin Jesus’ public ministry (4:17) and then—precisely where Mark begins the public teaching about discipleship—to begin the “private ministry” at 16:21.

V. 34.  akoloutheitō moi = “let him follow me”:  For Jesus’ calling to follow, see also Matt. 4:19; 18:22; 9:9; Mark 1:17; 2:14; 10:21; Luke 5:27; 9:59; 18:22; John 1:43; 21:19, 22.

V. 35.  heneken emou kai tou euaggeliou = “for my sake and the gospel’s”:  In contrast with Matt. 10:39; Luke 17:33; John 12:25, only Mark adds the words “and the gospel’s.” It connects intimately Jesus and the message about him. It also indicates for the church after Jesus the same expectation through the cross. This submission to Christ and the gospel results in salvation (see the discussion on Isaiah 50:4-9a).

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In our next episode we’ll be looking at the lessons for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Psalm 54
Jeremiah 11:18-20
James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37