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Wrestling with the Word, episode 6: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B (Feb. 1, 2009) January 14, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

We say that this person is an authority on global economics or that person is an authority on birds of prey and another is an authority on black holes. But to say that people are authorities in various fields is not the same as saying they have authority. Having authority is a power that comes with an office like king or queen, president or judge. Such authority can be designated to others by someone of higher authority, and so in various realms and at various levels persons demand and command. Different people have influence and respect. Superiors with higher authority can always control those of lesser authority, and so there are limits to authority. There is another side to authority. It includes the right to do something or the right over something, and so having authority sometimes means the freedom to act. The lessons for this day deal in various ways with being authorities (possessing wisdom and skill), with having authority (power and influence), and with limiting one’s authority or freedom.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 6: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B.


Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Because the people realized they were not able to hear the word of God directly, God promised to raise up a prophet after Moses through whom God would speak authoritatively.

Deuteronomy 12—26 comprises the Code of Deuteronomy. Considered an updating of the much older Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21—23) couched in the words of Moses, the code expresses God commands for living in the land of Canaan. Chapter 18 describes the kind of leadership–priests, soothsayers, mediums, prophets–the people should or should not have in their lives in Canaan. In our pericope God promises for the people “a prophet” to serve as spokesperson for God’s word.

V. 15.  nābî’ … yāqîm lekā YHWH = “a prophet … YHWH shall establish for you”:  used for the kinds of leaders YHWH will provide for the people:  judges (Judg. 2:16, 18; 3:9, 15), a priest (1 Sam. 2:35), a king (1 Kings 14:14; cf. also 2 Sam. 7:12; 1 Kings 15:4).

V. 15. ΄ēlāw tišmā‘ûn = “to him you shall listen”: LXX renders these words quite literally as autou akousasthe = “to him you shall listen.” The commissioning of such a Moses figure will convey to him an authority based on speaking the prophetic word of God. The command seems to lie behind God’s concluding words from the cloud at the Transfiguration where akouete autou = “listen to him” is addressed to the three disciples concerning Jesus (Mark 9:7; note the presence of Moses on the mountain).


Psalm 111
Like Psalm 112 and others, this psalm is an acrostic in which each half verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This structure accounts for its different style—not a parallelism of two lines as is true of most Hebrew poetry. According to v. 1, the psalm is a song of thanksgiving delivered in the sanctuary in the midst of the worshiping congregation. Yet usually a worshiper uses a thanksgiving psalm following the deliverance of a particularly lamentable situation (see the sequence of lament to thanks in Psalm 22). Here, however, the public thanksgiving is based on the ongoing goodness of God in delivering Israel from bondage and in establishing the covenant with Israel. Within that covenant God has uttered commands (like the Code of Deuteronomy) that are just, and God has remained ever loyal to the relationship (the meaning of “righteousness”). The lesson to be learned from all this praise to the Lord is that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” –exactly as the wisdom teacher instructed in Proverbs 1:7. The statement would bear on Paul’s concerns about the true definition of wisdom in 1 Cor. 8.


1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Responding to a question about the relationship of Christian freedom and the practice of eating meat offered to idols, Paul reframed the question to focus on freedom and love.

Having begun at 7:1 to answer questions raised in a letter from the Corinthian congregation, Paul now turns to the question “concerning food sacrificed to idols.”

Key Words
V. 1. hē gnōsis physioi, hē de agapē oikodomei = “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”: Paul is contrasting knowledge and love on the grounds that the former leads to individual pride, but the latter builds community. In 14:4 he will use a similar contrast between speaking in tongues and prophesying.

V. 3. ei de tis agapa ton theon, houtos egnōstai = “”but anyone who loves God is known by him”: Paul is not simply writing about a reciprocal relationship between believer and God (a Gnostic teaching) but about the Hebrew understanding of divine election (see Num. 16:5), a thought that appears also at 2 Tim. 2:19.

V. 5. hōsper eisin theoi polloi kai kyrioi polloi = “as in fact there are many gods and many lords”: Paul’s belief that other gods and lords (and spirits) exist is consistent with some of his writings elsewhere (Rom. 8:38; Gal. 4:8-9) and with the gospel stories about the ministry of Jesus. Strikingly, Satan and his armies of spirits have “authority” (exousian) in their own spheres of influence and in their own time (see the Temptation story at Luke 4:6 and the account of Jesus’ arrest at Luke 22:53). Having been conquered by Jesus Christ, however, they have no power and are “weak and beggarly” (Gal. 4:9).

V. 6. “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”: The style seems to represent a creed or a hymn that Paul might be quoting here (cf. Col. 1:15-20). This is the Christian claim that the one God is revealed in Jesus Christ and that creation and redemption come together in this one God (a teaching introduced in Second Isaiah).

V. 9. “Take care that this liberty (exousia) of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block (proskomma) to the weak”: the more common word for “stumbling block” in the LXX is skandalon, a word which Paul pairs with proskomma at Rom. 14:13 (see Exod. 23:33 for proskomma). Note that exousia here has the meaning “freedom.”

V. 11. ho adelphos di’ hon Chistos apethanen = “the brother (or sister) for whom Christ died”: the death of Christ for our sins is the supreme act of divine love, as is clear from the use of the aorist tense in such passages as John 15:12: “that you love one another, as I have loved (ēgapēsa) you.”


Mark 1:21-28
On the basis of his teaching and exorcising, Jesus is revealed as the one who, with the authority of God, brings chaos under control, as was expected on the Day of the Lord.

Parallel passage at Luke 4:31-37

Following his baptism by John and his temptation by Satan, Jesus began his preaching ministry in Galilee (1:14-15) and called to be his disciples two sets of brothers:  (1) Simon and Andrew and (2) James and John (1:16-20). Now Jesus continues to demonstrate the signs that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Key Words
V. 21. Capernaum: A town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. According to Mark 2:1, Capernaum was Jesus’ home, as also seems to be true for Peter and Andrew (Matt. 8:14 and parallels). The synagogue there was the scene of several events in Jesus’ ministry in addition to this one; see Matt. 8:5-13; John 6:16-59.

V. 22. kai exeplēssonto epi tē didachē autou hēn gar didaskōn autous hōs exousian echōn kai ouch hōs hoi grammateis = “and they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”: While the scribes were authorities on the law, they did not have authority. They were interpreters or expositors of the word of God; they did not proclaim the word like prophets. The response occurs at the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:28-29). The only differences are the specific subject “the crowds” and the possessive “their” scribes at the end. The wording is somewhat abbreviated in Luke’s version of the crowd’s astonishment (Luke 4:32).

V. 23. euthus … anthrōpos en pneumatic akathartō = “immediately … a man with an unclean spirit”: At Mark 3:23-26 Jesus equates the unclean spirits with Satan (and Beelzebul) as one enemy he must conquer. Note the urgency conveyed by the world “immediately.”

V. 24 ti hēmin kai soi = Lit. “what to us and to you”: The expression is a common one when a person (or spirit) is confronted by a person who threatens them; see 1 Kings 17:18; Mark 5:7; the use by Jesus to his mother at John 2:4 is surprising indeed.

V. 25.  epetimēsen autō = “he rebuked him”:  A technical term for putting chaos in its place, that is, controlling its rage against the orderly reign of God.  In the OT, YHWH rebukes the primordial waters (Ps. 104:5-9; Nahum 1:3-5; Ps. 18:15; Isa. 50:2), the armies attacking Jerusalem (Ps. 76:6; Isa. 17:13), the oppressors of the poor (Ps. 9:5), and Satan himself (Zech. 3:1-2). God’s rebuke of the sea monster Leviathan will prove to be the eschatological victory that ushers in God’s kingdom (Isa. 27:1). Jesus rebukes the unclean spirits (here and at 3:12), the raging sea (4:39), and Peter when he plays the role of Satan (8:33)–all agents of the chaos that must be brought under control.  For a fuller discussion see Foster McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith (Fortress, 1983, reprint 2007: 11-71)

V. 27. didachē kainē kat exousian = “a new teaching with authority”: Ancient manuscripts differ on how the phrases should be divided, but the point nevertheless is that Jesus’ teaching carries a power that brings to submission the armies of Satan.

V. 27. kat exousian kai tois pneumatic tois akathartois epitassei kai hypakouousin autō = “With authority he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him”: That the unclean spirits “obey” the commands of Jesus connects with the teaching of the first lesson in which the people will obey the words/commands of the prophet like Moses. Further, Jesus’ extends this authority to cast out demons to the apostles, giving them his authority (exousian) to defeat chaos (see Matt. 10:1)