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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)