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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.