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Wrestling with the Word, episode 36: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (August 30, 2009) August 22, 2009

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

One of the dangers of “religion” is that it can distort the simple message of the gospel of God. In fact, the announcement that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and that Jesus called the reconciled world to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) can sneak off into dusty corners when the room fills up with superfluous furniture. Our lessons for the day uphold the honor of God and God’s law while simultaneously focusing our attention on the beauty of interior design.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 36: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 15
Like other such psalms that deal with entrance into the sanctuary (e.g., 24), this one begins with the question about who may enter and sojourn as a guest within God’s Temple. Apparently, the priests of the various sanctuaries and certainly those of Jerusalem established the requirements for entrance. What is striking here is that the priest’s answer to the question about cultic observances has nothing to do with cultic rites. Almost like the prophets, this psalm establishes purity in moral responsibilities to the neighbor and in honoring the neighbor.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Because of God’s commandments, Israelites might live and Gentiles might know of the intimate relationship between God and God’s people.

Context
The first five chapters of Deuteronomy are essentially introductory material that has been added to an original core. That original, perhaps indeed the scroll found by Josiah’s men during the remodeling of the Temple in 621, seems to have begun with 6:4. These introductory chapters tend to provide an introduction not only to the Book of Deuteronomy but to the entire Deuteronomistic history which runs through 2 Kings.

Key Words
V. 1.  lema‘an tichyû = “in order that you may live”:  The expression occurs often in the Deuteronomic material but also in wisdom teachings; e.g., Prov. 4:4; 7:2; 9:6. Life comes also by recognizing the healing presence of God (Num. 21:9); by repentance (Ezek. 18:32); by worshiping the Lord with faithfulness (Amos 5:4, 6); through the healing hand of Christ (Mark 5:23).

V. 1. ûbā’tem wîrištem ’et-hā’āts ’ašer YHWH ’elōhê ’abōtêkem nōtēn lākem = “and go in and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving to you”: The translation “take possession of the land” (RSV) and “occupy the land” (NRSV) fail to take into account that the Hebrew word yrš, like the word nchl, can convey the meaning “inherit.” The notion of inheriting the land also fits better with the following verb “is giving.”

V. 6. “for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples”: Usually the theme of impressing the nations follows some action of God like judgment or salvation, but here the onus lies on Israel to impress the nations by its honoring the Lord through obeying the law.

V. 7. ašer-lô ‘elōhîm qerōbîm ’ēlāw = “for whom God is (so) close”:  God’s nearness and his commandments are attested again near the end of the book:  “the word is very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart” (30:14). It was a necessary word for those who felt only God’s absence in their lives. Simultaneously, the expression here demonstrates the special—even unique—covenant relationship that God has established with Israel.

V. 9.  “Make them known to your children and to your children’s children”:  The need to teach the statutes and ordinances of God from generation to generation was an essential part of the societal structure in which ancient Israel lived, but at the same time the content of that teaching, namely God’s laws and the reasons for them, is uniquely Israelite.

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James 1:17-27
The person of faith does not simply believe with the lips but acts out that faith in doing the word of God by honoring and serving other people.

Context
The Epistle of James is a collection of teachings instructing Christians how to live out their faith in the world. The collection resembles the Book of Proverbs in contrasting the wisdom that brings God’s pleasure and the folly that destroys. On the other hand, lists of vices and virtues are not common in the OT or in Palestinian Judaism; they are present in Hellenistic Judaism and in the NT (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Tim. 3:2-4; Gal. 5:20-21). As for authorship, it is difficult to maintain the traditional view that the author was James, the brother of Jesus, primarily because the author seeks authority for his sayings in other literature rather than in his own personal experience. To date the book is difficult because the “letter” is so general and is intended for a widespread audience. It would appear to be a reaction to an exaggerated Pauline understanding which might have arisen toward the end of the first century. If one takes seriously only certain sections of Paul’s letters, then the doing of good in the world is irrelevant. The author of James focused on that problem, and in the process never got around to announce the gospel of justification by grace through faith alone.

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Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
In response to those Pharisees who charged that Jesus’ disciples did not observe ritual purity, Jesus charged them with honoring human traditions rather than God’s will.

Context
According to Mark, Jesus had performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Having crossed the sea by walking on it, Jesus cured many people of diseases on the eastern shore of the sea and throughout the whole territory, wherever people sought him (6:53-56). In our pericope, Pharisees and some scribes challenge Jesus because his disciples have been eating their meals without the ritual washing they required. While they come off badly in this scene, the omission of verses 17-20 deprives us of another example of Marks’ emphasis that even his disciples fall in the same legalistic camp and reject Jesus.

Key Words
V. 6. peri hymōn hypokrtōn =  “concerning you hypocrites”: In ancient Greece, the word “hypocrite” described often an actor on stage. The most well known examples of this use occur in Jesus’ words at Matt. 6:2, 5, and 16 where the word points to those who make public demonstrations of their piety. Jesus’ purpose here seems directed against those who use their legalistic interpretations to bring honor to themselves rather than to God and to others.

Vss. 6-7. The prophecy Jesus quotes appears at Isaiah 29:13 where the prophet announces that the result of their dishonoring God by their deeds is the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the divine obliteration of their wisdom and discernment—precisely what they could demonstrate to the nations by honoring the Lord through obedience to the law (Deut. 4:6-8).

V. 8.  tēn entolēn tou theou = “the command of God”:  While Jesus does not say here which command of God he has in mind, he repeats the same expression in the following verse (v. 9) where Jesus moves on immediately to discuss “Honor your  father and your mother” (v. 10). This commandment seems to provide the key example of the “word of God” that Jesus calls them to respect (v. 13).

Vv. 21-22.  “evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness”: Such lists of vices were common in the ancient world of Hellenistic Judaism, some of which found their way into the NT books (see Rom. 1:29-31; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5, 8; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5). The sequence of theft, murder, adultery, coveting sounds quite similar to the listing of the Decalogue. Note that the combination of stealing–murder appears also at Hos. 4:2; Rom. 13:9 (the sequence at Matt. 19:18-19 is completely obscure).

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Next week we will talk about the lessons for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B. You will benefit, I think, from reading in advance of the podcast

Psalm 146
Isaiah 35:4-7a
James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17
Mark 7:24-37