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Wrestling with the Word, episode 47: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (November 15, 2009) October 29, 2009

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Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Throughout history, human beings have sought hope and comfort in the teachings of apocalyptic writings. Those end-time writings—filled with stop watches and calendars—become important whenever people lose confidence that historical trends can reverse their spiraling course. The good news of apocalyptic is that God will intervene at some point to create new heavens and a new earth. The bad news is that the same teaching can offer people an excuse to withdraw from the world and leave it all up to judgment of God. The Old and the New Testaments of the Bible, therefore, use apocalyptic only moderately. The apocalyptic writings in Daniel, sections of Isaiah and Ezekiel, Revelation, and sections of the gospels and epistles announce the intervention of God into human history. At the same time, they exhort believers not to cop out on the world but to engage the world, to bear witness to the gospel of Christ and to make the world more just and merciful. The end will come by God’s will and through God’s own timing, just as the dawning of the Kingdom began “in the fullness of time” with God’s sending and offering as sacrifice God’s only Son. People of faith, enabled and encouraged by that sacrificial act, wait for the end with a “meantime ethos.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 47: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 16
The psalm expresses the worshiper’s exclusive commitment to the Lord in whom the psalmist places trust. The psalmist recognizes that those who choose other gods will not find favor with the Lord, but those who, like himself, choose only YHWH will experience blessing and joy. Some parts of the psalm allude to deliverance from death, and so they appear in the New Testament as virtual prophecies about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The author of Acts cites Peter as quoting verses 8-11 (Acts 2:25-28 and 31), and Paul uses verse 10 in a sermon in Antioch’s synagogue (Acts 13:35). It is somewhat doubtful that the psalm speaks about resurrection from the dead. More likely, the psalmist praises the Lord for divine rescue from peril. In its own context, the psalm teaches about rewards for the upright and sorrows for those who worship a different god. This teaching is quite consistent with the themes of wisdom teachers, and the words about divine “counsel” and instruction in verse 7 seem to support this view. In any case, the psalmist praises the Lord for showing the way to life and a fullness of joy!

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Daniel 12:1-3
In the midst of trial and persecution because of their faith, God promises to the people the apocalyptic appearance of Michael, Israel’s patron angel, on the day of resurrection to salvation and to judgment.

Context
The Book of Daniel, purported to be written at the end of the Babylonian Exile, in the sixth century B.C., was composed between 167 and 164 B.C. The years set the book between the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his death, described only by wishful thinking, at 11:45. The biblical prophecy sees him dying between the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Jerusalem, but in fact, Antiochus died at Tabal in Persia of a mysterious disease in 164 B.C. Those three years of persecution and suffering and rebellion separated the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful, and the promise of the book is that the end is coming, and it is coming soon

Typical of hope in apocalyptic is the limit to the time of suffering (see 11:24c, 27c, 35c, 36c, 40a), specifically “for a time, two times, and a half time” (12:7).

Key Words
V. 1.  “Michael the great prince”:  Michael appears at 10:13 as one of the chief princes whom God (or God’s messenger) left with the prince of the kingdom of Persia to help the righteous. At 10:21, the messenger tells Daniel that “Michael, your prince” is the only one left to contend against the powers of Persia.

V. 1.  kol-hannimtsā’ kātûb bassēpher = “all who are found written in the book”:  The so-called “book of life” appears elsewhere in the Old Testament at Exod. 32:32; Mal. 3:16; Ps. 69:29.

V. 1.  wehāyetâ ‘ēt tsārâ = “and there shall be a time of trouble”:  Typical of apocalyptic is the notion that just prior to the end of times, particularly perilous times will occur for the people of God; see the uproar caused when the devil, defeated in heaven, is thrown down to earth (Rev. 12:12).

V. 2.  werabbîm miyyešēnê ’admat-‘āphār yāqîtsû = “and many of those who sleep in the land of dust shall arise”:  Since the division that follows speaks of “some” who will rise to life and “some” to contempt, the likelihood is that the meaning of “many” here is “all.”

V. 3. wehammaskîlîm yizhîrû kezōhar hārāqîa‘ = “and those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament”: The wise in Daniel, as often in the Book of Proverbs, are those who learn and live the Torah of God. As in the old wisdom traditions, the wise will reap divine rewards (often expressed in beatitudes like Psalm 1), while the fools will entrap themselves in the snares of death. While the Book of Daniel is usually known as an apocalyptic book on the basis of chaps. 7—12, the first part of the book seems to present a collection of wisdom stories and wise people who serve as role models for others.

V. 3. ûmatsdîqê hārabbîm kakkōkābîm le‘ōlām wā‘ed = “and those who make many righteous (will be) like the stars forever and ever”: The verb to “make righteous” appears usually in connection with acquitting someone. Those who are indeed righteous deserve the verdict (1 Kings 8:32; Ps. 82:3), but acquitting the guilty represents an injustice in the court system (Isa. 5:23), except when it is done by the Servant of the Lord (Isa. 53:11).

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Hebrews 10:11-25
The forgiveness of sins given through the sacrifice of Christ provides the basis for the author’s exhortations to persist in faith and in hope, to encourage love and good works, and to meet together while they wait for the dawning of the Lord’s Day.

Context
Starting at 8:1 and continuing through 10:18, the author defines the ministry of Jesus as high priest as a unique action in which the sacrificial system ended. From 10:19 through 12:29 appear the exhortations to persevere in the faith. Our pericope ends the previous section and begins the next. The transition between the two sections is the word “therefore” (v. 19), one of the key theological words in the Bible!

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Mark 13:1-8
Against all human claims to greatness through our own achievements, Jesus speaks of the coming time of war and destruction that will demolish all such human claims to greatness.

OR

In response to questions about when the end will come, Jesus turns the attention of his disciples to warnings against false teachers who will claim to know more than they do about the timing.

Context
At the end of chapter 12 Jesus finished his ministry among people as he moved from Galilee in the first half of the Gospel toward and into Jerusalem in the second half. Now the shadow of the cross which falls all the way back to the second chapter becomes much more prominent as talk of the end and end time increases. One can understand why many scholars have dated Mark’s Gospel around the time of the persecution under Nero in A.D. 64 or around the time of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, for the questions raised by the disciples here were surely ones that the people were asking several decades after Jesus’ resurrection.

It is most unfortunate that the lectionary cuts off the lesson at the end of v. 8, thereby depriving preachers and readers of Jesus’ command that until the end the gospel must be preached to all nations (v. 10).

Key Words
V. 2.  “there will not be left here one stone upon another”:  The destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple was prophesied already in the OT period, first by Micah (3:12) in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. and then a century later by Jeremiah (7:14; 26:6). Like the prophecy about the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Daniel 11:45, this prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem seems to originate prior to the destruction in A.D. 70, because the method for destroying the Temple was burning with fire and not dismantling stone from stone.

V. 4.  pote tauta estai kai ti to sēmeion hotan mellē tauta synteleisthai panta = “when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be consummated/fulfilled?”:  The question “when” is the typical apocalyptic question which some believed could be answered (cf. Daniel’s “a time, two times and a half time”). The issue of signs became an increasingly important issue in the community, and occupied much attention and energy. The question about the consummation connects in the minds of some at least the destruction of the local Temple with the goal of all history.

Vv. 7-8.  The signs that Jesus mentions are those that derive from OT prophecies about the Day of the Lord, especially Isa. 13:2-10 which connects the eschatological War of Yahweh with the effects on sun and moon, and Amos 8:8-10 which relates sun and moon phenomena with earthquakes. General signs of conflict and turbulence appear also at such places as Isa. 3:5; Jer. 9:4; Ezek. 38:21; Mic. 7:6 — family conflicts prevail at the end. All this indicates that both Jewish and Christian folks held similar views about the signs preceding the end.

V. 8. esontai limoi archē ōdinōn tauta = “this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs”: The imagery of birth-pangs appears in the prophecy about the Day of the Lord at Isa. 13:8. The same imagery describes the agony of the people who have been exiled to Babylon (Mic. 4:9-10), a passage that continues the same imagery to prophesy the coming of a Davdic king who will rule over the rescued exiles (Mic. 5:2-4).