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Wrestling with the Word, episode 80: Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost), Year C (July 4, 2010) June 27, 2010

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Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost)

God’s generosity can cause problems among people. For one reason or another, some folks think they have a corner on the market of God’s love and grace. The problem is as commonplace today as it was in the days of the Bible. The Jonah-syndrome occurred again and again among the people of Israel and in the early church. God, however, proves both persistent and consistent in extending to the world grace and forgiveness and love all the way into the kingdom to come.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 80: Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 66:1-9
Our verses belong to the first part of the psalm (vss. 1-12) in which a choir of singers praises the Lord, along with “all the earth.” The universal praise derives from God’s gracious actions for Israel when the Lord “turned the sea into dry land” so they could cross over—referring both to the exodus (Exod. 14:21-22) and to the gift of land (Josh. 3:14-17). The second part of the psalm is an individual thanksgiving as a grateful response to the Lord’s listening to the petitioner’s prayer. Whether for the community or the individual, God’s responds to cries for help with redemption.

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Isaiah 66:10-14
In response to the attitude that God’s salvation event is only partial, God assures that what has been conceived will culminate in the celebration of birth and in continuing nurture of God’s people while simultaneously the nations who had oppressed the “child” will know God’s judgment.

Context
Within a passage about God’s coming to judge the whole earth (vv. 6, 15-16), verses 7-14 form a separate unit describing the salvation of Israel in the post-exilic period.  In this way the promise of salvation to Israel is set within a larger apocalyptic event of God’s universal act.

Key Words
V. 10.  simchû … wegîlû … sîsû = “rejoice … be glad … rejoice”:  The call to rejoice over Jerusalem is common in Third Isaiah; see 61:10; 62:5; 65:18. The joy represents the opposite of what people were experiencing at the time.

V. 11.  tîneqû ûšeba’tem miššōd tanchûeyhā_ = “you will suck and be satisfied from her comforting breast”:  The imagery continues the miraculous birth of Zion’s children in vv. 7-9.

V. 12.  ûkenachal š_t_p kebôd g_yîm = “and like an overflowing stream the wealth of the nations”:  For similar imagery see 60:5; 61:6. Since Israel has been the pawn of the nations for the previous centuries, this image once more represents the opposite of what has been.

V. 13.  tenachamennû … ‘anachemkem … ten_ch_mû = “comforts … comfort … be comforted”:  The emphasis on “comfort” has been carried from Second Isaiah (40:1; 49:13 [also the reason for song]; 51:3, 12; 52:9 [// “redeemed”]).

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Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16
People who live by the Spirit are called to share all things with one another — burdens, the word, goodness, for they are a new creation to whom the world has been crucified.

Context
These words essentially bring the Epistle to the Galatians to a close.  Immediately preceding this pericope, however, is Paul’s discussion about people of the Spirit living by the Spirit, and that means above all harmony within the Spirit-filled community.

Key Words
V. 1.  hymeis hoi pneumatikoi = “you who are of the Spirit”:  RSV‘s “you who are spiritual” sounds a bit lofty and generally religious.  NRSV‘s “you who have received the Spirit” is more appropriate, particularly in light of the use of Spirit elsewhere in the epistle, even at the end of chap. 5.

V. 15.  kainē ktisis = “a new creation”:  Paul uses the same words to describe a Christian (whoever is “in Christ”) at 2 Cor. 5:17 where the eschatological emphasis is even clearer.  Here the allusion to people of the Spirit (à la Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) accomplishes the same purpose.

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Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In order to prepare people for his coming, Christ sends disciples ahead, commissioning them to proclaim the kingdom of God in word and deed and encouraging them to rejoice in the promised eternal home.

Context
Beginning at 9:51, Luke’s Gospel reports the itinerary of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.  At the outset of this trip, Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan villagers and then laid down the radical demands on those who would follow him.

Key Words
V. 1.  anedeixen = “appointed”:  For “70,” see Num. 11:16; Exod. 24:1, 9.

V. 1.  apesteilen = “sent”:  The term is common in LXX to describe the action of God in accomplishing divine purposes through humans; cf., e.g., Moses (Exod. 3:10), Isaiah (Isa. 6:8), the prophets in general (Jer. 7:25).

V. 2.  tou therismou = “of the harvest”:  See also Matt. 9:37f.; John 4:35.

V. 19.  “tread upon serpents and scorpions”:  Note the similarity with Ps. 91:13 where authority and power to do so are given to those who trust in God. The use of the serpent under the human foot is different at Gen. 3:15.

V. 20. chairete de hoti ta onomata hymōn eggegraptai en tois ouranois = “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”:  At Exod. 32:32-33 and Ps. 69:28 the blotting out of names from the book God has written comes as a result sinfulness. According to Isa. 4:3, inclusion in the book means “recorded for life.” Similarly, Paul’s uses that image for his co-workers in the gospel (Phil. 4:3). Further, the author of Hebrews speaks to the suffering Christians as the first-born who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). The expression, in other words, takes on eschatological significance.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 79: Lectionary 13 (5 Pentecost), Year C (June 27, 2010) June 16, 2010

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Lectionary 13 (5 Pentecost)

While a general human tendency is to “look out for yourself,” the Bible focuses on the opposite: look out for others. The new direction is not simply an ethical issue. It actually derives from the nature of God. Throughout the Bible God demonstrates unconditional loyalty to people and to fulfilling promises. God’s unswerving commitment calls for faithful discipleship. Since serving God as disciples has no real form except loving one another, then our call is to “get out of ourselves” and focus on others. In doing so, we worship the Lord our God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 79: Lectionary 13 (5 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 16
The psalm expresses the commitment and trust of the worshiper to the Lord. The psalmist attributes to God the good fortune that has come because of trusting in the Lord to the exclusion of all others, because of confessing that the Lord is “my chosen portion and my cup” (v. 5), and because of heeding the Lord’s instruction. 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.

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1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Against Elijah‘s attempt to seek refuge in the traditional “holy place,” God sent the prophet back into the realm of history to anoint kings to rule and a prophetic successor to bring God’s word.

Context
Elijah had won the contest against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and had the losers slain.  Jezebel, Ahab’s queen who worshipped Baal, threatened to kill Elijah.  The prophet took refuge on Mount Horeb.

Key Words
Vv. 15-16.  māšach = “anoint”:  The anointing of kings was common in biblical Israel; usually used of Davidic kings, although see Cyrus at Isa. 54:1.   Interestingly at the accession of Hazael there is no anointing mentioned (see 2 Kings 8:7-15), and Jehu was anointed not by Elijah or his successor Elisha but by one of Elisha’s disciples.

V. 19.  šenêm-‘āsār tsemādîm = “twelve yoke of oxen”:  A rather overwhelming herd to pull a wooden plow!  Heb. tsemed can also mean “a measurement of a field” and so could be translated “he was plowing twelve acres before him, and he was on the twelfth” (see 1 Sam. 14:14; Isa. 5:10).  Moreover, v. 21 seems to imply there was only one yoke (tsemed) of oxen.

V. 19.  ’addartô = “his mantle”:  See Zech. 13:4 for such a prophetic mantle; for the magical quality of Elijah’s mantle, see 2 Kings 2:8, 13, 14 where it plays a role similar to that of Moses’ hand (Exod. 14:21, 26).

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Galatians 5:1, 13-25
God calls people who live by the Spirit to share all things with one another — burdens, the word, goodness — for they are a new creation to whom the world has been crucified.

Context
In Chapter 5 Paul turns to the issue of freedom as the object of Christ’s gift through the gospel.  In the paragraph omitted from our pericope, verses 2-12, the apostle writes that by “adding” circumcision and other practices to the gospel, the people have severed themselves from Christ.

Key Words
V. 1.  tē eleutheria hēmas Christos ēleutherōsen = “for freedom Christ has set us free”:  The seemingly redundant expression emphasizes the nature of the gospel’s gift.  It calls to mind the image of the slave markets in the Graeco-Roman world, specifically the “sacred manumission” decrees. An inscription from 200-199 B.C. at a temple of Apollo at Delphi reads “The Pythian Apollo bought from Sosibus of Amphissa for freedom a female slave,…” (C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background:  Selected Documents [London:  SPCK, 1958]:  52).

V. 14. “For the whole law is fulfilled on one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”: The connection with Jesus’ teaching on the great commandments in Matt. 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28 is obvious. Paul, however, eliminates the “first” great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God …” Paul likewise settles on this one commandment at Rom. 13:9; see also James 2:8.

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Luke 9:51-62
Rebuking his disciples for desiring judgment on those who would not receive him and his destiny, Jesus calls people to unconditional discipleship within God’s reign.

Context
Following the Transfiguration, Jesus resumed his ministry of healing and teaching:  foretelling his death, settling the argument among the disciples about who was the greatest, and correcting the disciples when they forbade a non-disciple to cast out demons.  Our pericope begins a new section of Luke’s Gospel, one in which Jesus begins the journey toward Jerusalem and prepares his disciples for the tasks ahead.

Key Words
V. 51.  en tō symplērousthai tas hēmeras = “in the filling up of the days”:  The expression occurs also at Acts 2:1 to describe the arrival of Pentecost. The words here actually open a new section in Luke’s Gospel in which the “long” journey to Jerusalem will be filled with Jesus’ teachings and some miracle stories. It seems Luke uses this block of material as instruction for the missionary journey of the church in his own day.

V. 51.  tēs analēmpseōs autou = “of his being taken up”:  The verb form analambanein is used at Acts 1:2, 11, 22 for Jesus being taken up to heaven.  In OT traditions one thinks of the journey of Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11; cf. also 1 Macc. 2:58; Sirach 48:9).

Vss. 51-52.  apesteilen angelous pro prosōpou autou … hōs hetoimasai autō = “he sent messengers before him … to prepare for him”:  The words are not identical but similar to Mal. 3:1 where the messenger is Elijah (Mal. 4:5 English).

V. 54.  “to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them”:  The words are a quotation from 2 Kings 1:10, 12 where Elijah demonstrates he is a “man of God” by using such means to destroy King Ahaziah’s soldiers.

V. 55.  epetimēsen autois = “he rebuked them”:  The word appears in a technical sense of bringing chaos under control, thus the object of Jesus’ rebuke are unclean spirits (Mark 1:25), Satan in the words of Peter (Mark 8:33), and the stormy sea (Mark 4:35-41). Here his own disciples are standing in the way of Jesus’ determination to fulfill his mission. Simultaneously, Jesus’ words indicate he breaks with the Elijah tradition of demonstrating power in order to pursue the way of the cross.

V. 62.  “put the hand to the plow”:  See 1 Kings 19:19-20 where the words describe the daily work of Elisha at the moment of his call by Elijah to succeed him in the prophetic office

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.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 77: Lectionary 11 (3 Pentecost), Year C (June 13, 2010) June 8, 2010

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Lectionary 11 (Third Sunday after Pentecost)

Many of us have trouble with forgiveness. Sometimes the difficulty is granting forgiveness to someone who has deeply hurt, offended, or dishonored us. Sometimes the problem is with receiving forgiveness, either from another person or from God. The whole Bible, and indeed our lessons for the day make clear that whatever difficulties we might have with forgiveness, God is always reaching out to forgive our sin. God’s grace is abundant. Accepting the divine gift can change our lives. Through God’s forgiveness we can find peace and purpose.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 77: Lectionary 11 (3 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 32
The psalm is one of thanksgiving for the forgiveness the petitioner experienced from God, merely by acknowledging sin.  Prior to that expression of guilt and the reception of forgiveness the petitioner’s physical and emotional life was in ruin.  The difference in his own life leads him to invite others to follow his example (v. 6).  After this invitation the psalmist takes upon himself the role of a teacher, and so the psalm develops into a wisdom psalm as it concludes.

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2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15
In spite of the sinfulness of God’s people, God nevertheless forgives us and uses us in the pursuit of God’s mission on earth.

Context
Chapter 11 begins with David’s view of Bathsheba’s rooftop bath.  It goes on to relate the subsequent sexual intercourse between the two, her conception, and David’s strategy to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle.

Key Words
12:7.  mešachtîkā = “I anointed you”:  David was anointed as a young boy by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16:13), and later the elders of Israel anointed David king over Israel (2 Sam. 5:3).  Since the former anointing was said to be the act of YHWH, the allusion here is to 1 Sam. 16.

12:9. maddûa‘ bāzîtā ’et-debar YHWH = “Why have you despised the word of the Lord”:  According to Prov. 14:2, one who despises the Lord “is devious in his ways”; at 1 Sam. 2:30 the wicked priestly house of Eli will suffer disaster because they “despise” the Lord.  The “word of the Lord,” which is said to be despised here, are the commandments prohibiting murder (Exod. 20:13) and adultery (20:14).

12:15.  wayyiggōp YHWH = “and the Lord struck”:  For other examples of the Lord smiting an individual, see 1 Sam. 25:38 (Nabal); 26:10 (Saul); 2 Chron. 13:20 (Jeroboam); 21:18 (Jehoram).

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Galatians 2:15-21
Against those who would presume to contribute to their own innocence before God, God justifies (declares innocent) those who believe in Christ, calling them to surrender their old identity in order to live as persons in whom Christ resides.

Context
Paul concludes his discussion of the argument with Peter regarding the imposition of Jewish practices on Gentiles who have become Christians.  The apostle insists that such an intrusion into the gospel negates it and surrenders the gospel to the whims of human traditions.  Immediately prior to our pericope, Paul wrote of his encounter with Cephas:  before James’ representatives appeared on the scene, Cephas ate with Gentiles; after their coming, he withdrew.

Key Words
V. 16.  eidotes [de] hoti … dikaioutai anthrōpos dia pisteōs ’Iēsou Christou = “seeing that … a person is justified through faith in Jesus Christ”:  Note the change that occurs in Romans 3:24: dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō ’Iēsou = “they are justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Yet, at Romans 3:26, Paul writes that God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

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Luke 7:36–8:3
God in Christ forgives those who need forgiveness and come to him humbly, thereby enabling them to be “lovers” and to live in peace.

Context
Following his discussion about John the Baptist, Jesus spoke of the fickleness of the people of his times.  They accuse John of possessing a demon because he does not eat normal food or drink wine.  Yet they accuse Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of sinners.

Key Words
7:36.  tis … tōn Pharisaiōn = “one of the Pharisees”:  Elsewhere Jesus eats with Pharisees (11:37; 14:1) just as he also eats with those despised by the Pharisees:  Zacchaeus (19:5) and unnamed sinners (v. 34; also cf. 5:30; 15:2).

7:37, 39.  hamartōlos = “sinner”: The same word appears for Jesus’ associates at v. 34 and   often elsewhere in Luke (5:32; see also 15:7, 10).

7:44-46.  “tears … kiss … anoint”:  The terms describe here the woman’s love.  “Tears” demonstrate Paul’s love for the Corinthians at 2 Cor. 2:4.  “Kiss” denotes forgiving love at Luke 15:20; tender affection at Acts 20:37; Christian affection at Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20.  “Anointing” the head with oil is done by a host to an honored quest; see Ps. 23:5; Amos 6:6.

7:47, 48.  apheōntai (sou) hai hamartiai (autēs) = “Your/her sins have been forgiven”:  The perfect tense indicates the woman had already been forgiven; a theological passive. Jesus had already explained through his parable that forgiveness leads to her loving act rather than her action resulting in forgiveness.

7:50.  poreuou eis eirēnēn = “Go in peace”:  The same dismissal occurs at 8:48 where Jesus likewise commends a woman for her faith (following Mark 5:34).  See also 1 Sam. 1:17; 20:42; 29:7.

8:1.  kēryssōn kai euaggelizomenos tēn basileian tou theou = “preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God”:  The two verbs indicate one action, and that preaching of the kingdom of God is accomplishing its presence among the people.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 76: Lectionary 10 (2 Pentecost), Year C (June 6, 2010) May 19, 2010

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Lectionary 10 (Second Sunday after Pentecost)

In the chaotic and threatening times in which we live, some people long for the good old days when things were stable and peaceful. Some even say it was more obvious in those days that God was in heaven and all was right with the world. Strikingly, the biblical witnesses seem to have looked at life in quite the opposite way. When God stayed in heaven, life on earth was painful, even lamentable. God’s absence caused the afflicted and oppressed to cry out for help. When God showed up on the earth, things became topsy-turvy. Lamentation turned to rejoicing. Enemies became friends. Mourners became dancers. Judges and rulers became judged and ruled. Outsiders became caregivers. Outcasts were included. And death was transformed into life. Oh, for the good old days!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 76: Lectionary 10 (2 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 30
In spite of the initial words that attribute the psalm to the purification of the Jerusalem Temple in 164 B.C., the psalm is an individual thanksgiving in response to an individual lament. Verses 6-10 articulate the lament and the situation in which the worshiper had experienced. The summary of that suffering appears in verses 1-3: troubled by enemies, the psalmist cried to the Lord for help, even from the depths of Sheol, and the Lord heard and healed. In verses 6-10 the lament is described in more detail. Because of the psalmist’s arrogance over prosperity, the Lord hid away (see Pss. 10:1; 27:9; 55:1; 104:21), a truly “lamentable” situation. In response to the cries for the Lord’s help/strength, the Lord dressed up the petitioner for a new occasion—party clothes instead of mourning garments. In expressing gratitude for this divine response, the psalmist recognizes that the Lord’s deliverance served the purpose of opening his lips to give God thanks and praise (v. 12). The grateful petitioner, therefore, encourages the “faithful ones” gathered in the temple to join in the praises and thanksgivings to the Lord (v. 4).

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1 Kings 17:17-24
In response to the prophet’s plea for the dead widow’s son, the Lord extends mercy to the non-Israelite family who recognize the faithfulness of God’s word in the prophet.

Context
After predicting a drought in the land, Elijah heeded the word of the Lord and went to Zarephath in the vicinity of Sidon.  There he sojourned with a poor Canaanite widow and provided for her and her family a never-ending supply of meal and oil. That section of the story ends with the narrator’s remark that the miracle occurred “according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (v. 16).

Key Words
V. 17.  nešāmā = “breath”:  The same word appears at Gen. 2:7 when God breathes into the nostrils of Adam..

V. 18.  ma-llî wālāk = “what to me and to you” (LXX:  ti emoi kai soi):  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; John 2:4.

V. 21.  nepheš hayyeled = “the life of the boy”:  In Hebrew the word nepeš (sometimes translated “soul”) refers to the whole living body and is sometimes used for “life” itself.

V. 24.  ûdebar-YHWH bepîkā ’emet = “and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth (or truthful).” The expression indicates that the woman came to realize that Elijah was a prophet because the word of the Lord he had spoken came to pass. The effectiveness of God’s word distinguishes YHWH from the idols, probably even the gods the woman had been worshiping (see Isa. 44:6-8).

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Galatians 1:11-24
Against the distortion of his teachings by those followed him to Galatia, Paul insists that God called him and Christ instructed him in the truth of the gospel in order that God might be glorified.

Context
After the salutation of his letter, Paul moves immediately to the issue at hand:  the Christians of Galatia are “deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (v. 6).  Apparently after Paul’s initial visit there when he formed the Christian community in Galatia, some others followed him preaching and teaching a different message:  to the gospel of Jesus Christ must be added the Jewish law and the rite of circumcision.

Key Words
V. 11.  ouk estin kata anthrōpou = “is not human (in nature or origin):  Compare kata anthrōpon at Gal. 3:15; Rom. 3:5;  1 Cor. 3:3; 9:8; 15:32.

V. 13.  hoti kath’ hyperbolēn ediōkon = “that with violence I persecuted”:  See also 1:23; 4:29:5:11; 6:12.  The last reference implies the Christian responsibility to be persecuted for the cross of Christ (see Mark 8:34 and parallels).

Vss. 15-16.  eudokēsen [ho theos] …  apokalypsai ton huion autou en emoi = “God was pleased … to reveal his son to me”  For other cases where God is “pleased,” see Luke 12:32; 1 Cor. 1:21; Col. 1:19; cf. Psalm 40:13.

V. 15.  ho aphorisas me = “the One who set me apart”:  The word appears also at 2:12 but in terms of Peter’s withdrawing from Gentiles.  In LXX the term translates the Heb. verb qdš = “to be/make holy.”  It refers to the setting aside of objects (Exod. 19:23 and often) and persons like Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5) for divine purposes.

V. 15.  ek koilias mētros mou = “from the womb of my mother”:  See similar callings in the reports of the Servant of the Lord ( Isa. 49:1) and Jeremiah ( Jer. 1:5).

V. 16.  euangelizesthai auton = “proclaim him as the good news”:  For Christ as the content of the gospel, see Rom. 1:2-5; 16:25-27; 2 Cor. 1:19; Phil. 1:15.

V. 20.  hoti ou pseudomai = “I do not lie”:  Recall 2 Cor. 11:31, also citing God as witness; cf. 1 Thess. 2:5. Perhaps the statement of the woman to Elijah provides another parallel (1 Kings 17:24).

V. 24.  edoxazon en emoi ton theon = “they glorified God in (because of) me”:  Recall the words of the Servant of the Lord(  Isa. 49:3) and his role to “be a light to the nations (v. 6). Indeed, according to Acts 13:47, Paul quotes Isa. 49:6 as the explanation of his role in God’s mission to the gentiles/nations.

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Luke 7:11-17
In response to the grief of a mourning mother, Jesus Christ raises her son from the dead with the result that the people glorify God and recognize in Jesus the presence of God.

Context
Following the story about Jesus’ healing the centurion’s servant who was near death (vv. 1-10), Jesus enters the town of Nain where he meets the funeral procession for a young man who had died.  The two stories (and this one in particular) pave the way for the question which the disciples of John bring to Jesus in verses 18-23.

Key Words
V. 12.  monogenēs huios = “the only son”:  cf. another such son at 9:38; used of Christ as John 1:18.

V. 12.  chēra = “widow”:  See 4:26 where Jesus refers in his sermon to the widow of Zarephath, the story in our first lesson (1 Kings 17).

V. 14. hēpsato tēs sorou = “touched the bier”:  note the ancient view that proximity to a dead body defiles; cf. Num. 6:9-12; Sirach 34:25-26.

V. 16.  ēgerthē = “has arisen”:  The same word appears in Jesus’ command to the dead man at v. 14. Jesus, therefore, speaks a word that comes to pass.

V. 16.  epeskepsato ho theos ton laon autou = “God has visited his people”:  The statement appears in Zechariah’s prophecy at 1:68 in connection with God’s redemption. The noun form appears at 19:44 for God’s judgment. In the OT the expression appears in connection with both salvation and judgment.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 42: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 11, 2009) September 29, 2009

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Striving for a high level of personal morality is a very good thing. Keeping oneself pure in terms of God’s commandments and expectations should and can lead to admiration from others. Biblically-speaking, however, those personal goals are not sufficient. The God of the Bible, known in both testaments, pushes us beyond spiritual self-enhancement to responsibility for others, especially for the poor. Even more, that same God frees us from worrying about ourselves to enable us to serve our neighbors near and far, individually and collectively.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 42: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 90:12-17
This psalm is a lament much like many other laments in that it seeks the Lord to remedy a problem. Usually, however, the problem is with oppression by enemies; their taunting and isolating accusations leave the psalmist no option but to turn to the Lord for salvation. Sometimes the problem is sickness or the infirmities of old age, and the psalmist pleads for the Lord’s presence and comfort. This lament develops out of a more philosophical base. The influence of wisdom teachers on the worshiping community leads this lament to probe the meaning of life. It contemplates the immortality of God’s life with the numbered days of us mortals. The lament defines what a horrible existence they are leading under the continuing anger of God (vss. 3-11). It alludes to the despair over the “toil” of their work (v. 17). Our section of the psalm begins with a prayer that God give them “a heart of wisdom” to make the most out of their limited life spans. In lament-fashion, they ask the Lord, “How long?” until God comes to express pity on them. God’s “covenant loyalty” provides them the freedom to have mercy. As they lament God’s afflictions on them, so they realize that only the realization of God’s work among them can will enable them to experience rejoicing and gladness. Only then can their own work cease to be toil and become productive.

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Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Through Amos, YHWH implores Israel to live by seeking the Lord and goodness, loving goodness, and establishing justice in the courts.

Context
The earliest of the preaching prophets whose sermons have been preserved, Amos lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. His home was Tekoa, a little village not far from Bethlehem, but his call was to preach primarily to the northern kingdom. According to the superscription in the book (1:1), he prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah (783-742 B.C.) and Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746 B.C.). Israel’s sins were selling the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes, etc. (2:6-8), arrogance and pride (cf. 6:1ff.), too much stock in their own exodus tradition (9:7), and concern about making profits instead of worshiping YHWH (8:4-6). Above all, their optimism about the Day of YHWH is all wrong, because for them it will be a day of darkness and gloom (5:18-20).

What is missing from our pericope by the exclusion of vss. 8-9 is the second stanza of a three stanza hymn in Amos (4:13; 5:8-9; 5-6) that announces and praises the name of God for making the universe orderly rather than chaotic. Since such understandings of creation include God’s universal work of, and command for, “justice.”

Key Words
V. 6.  diršû ‘et-YHWH wichyû = “seek the Lord and live”:  Compare v. 14: “seek good and not evil, that you may live.” In Deut. life is based on keeping the commandments. Clearly, the Lord wants to provide the means for life to the people.

V. 7.  hahōphekîm lela‘anâ mišpāt ûtsedāqâ lā’āretz hinnîchû = “(You) who overturn justice into wormwood and have thrown righteousness to the ground”:  The word “wormwood” is used only figuratively in the OT, only in a negative sense. At Amos 6:12, a verse similar to this one, “wormwood” is parallel to rō’š = “bitter herb, venom,” and the perversions of justice and righteousness are there also the prophet’s concern. The same pair of “poison and bitter fruit” occurs at Deut. 29:17 (Eng. v. 18) where it results in stubbornness against the law of the Lord. At Jer. 9:14; 23:15, the pair of words describes God’s chastisement of the people against forsaking the Torah. At Lam. 3:19 the pair describes that chastisement as the reason for the lament. Likewise, the expression “throw down to the ground” is used at Isaiah 28:2 for the judgment that comes through the agent of the Lord. In our verse, of course, all this negative activity is descriptive of the people’s dishonoring God by forsaking his Torah.

V. 10.  sāne‘û bašša‘ar môkîach = “they hate the one who reproves in the gate”:  “The gate” is the place where court cases are tried. In the cities of old, the only space large enough for an assembly of persons to gather was the gateway. In rural societies, court was held on the threshing floor. The people show no respect for the judges who try cases in court or for the witnesses who testify to the truth (see v. 12; elsewhere Isa. 3:9).

V. 11. lākēn ya‘an bôšaskem ‘al-dāl = “Therefore, because you trample upon the poor”: The word “therefore” introduces a pronouncement of judgment when what precedes is a description of human activity. When an action of God precedes, the word “therefore” introduces a promise of salvation. Here, the judgment follows the perversion of justice and righteousness and includes the trampling of the poor. What follows immediately is their description of God’s judgment.

V. 11.  “houses … but you shall not dwell in them; vineyards … but you shall not drink their wine”:  This imagery for God’s judgment, like that of Deut. 28:30, indicates that all the work that the people do will be unproductive (“toil” in Gen. 3:17).  For the picture of the opposites in and through God’s salvation, see Josh. 24:13; Deut. 8:11-12; Isa. 65:21-23.

V. 12. Israel’s sins and transgressions take the form of oppressing the poor: afflict the righteous, take bribes, and push aside the needy in courts of law. See the parallel at Isa. 3:13-15. The context indicates that the opposite of “justice” and “righteousness” is sin.

Vss.14-15. In contrast to their prevailing behavior, God calls the people to opposites: pursue and love good (tôb) by establishing justice mišpāt in the court system,

V. 15. ’ûlay yechenan YHWH ’elōhê-tsebā’ôt še’ērît yôsēp = “Perhaps YHWH God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph”: The use of “perhaps” merely allows the possibility that God will show grace to what is left of the northern kingdom if they reverse their ways toward life and justice.

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Hebrews 4:12-16
Having encouraged the readers to persevere toward God’s promise of eschatological rest, the author warns of the Word’s ability to penetrate thoughts and simultaneously encourages them to hold firm to the confession in Jesus Christ through whom they can be confident of God’s mercy.

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Mark 10:17-31
Having demonstrated the difficulty of faith through the wealthy man who walked away from Jesus’ instruction to give all his possessions to the poor, Jesus teaches the disciples that the only way one can enter the kingdom of God is through the miraculous work of God.

Context
At 10:1 Jesus is in the region of Judea. At v. 32 he is headed toward Jerusalem, and so this teaching must be seen in terms of the movement toward his death.  Perhaps key to understanding this pericope is the previous paragraph, vv. 13-16, in which Jesus teaches that in order to enter the kingdom of God, one must be “as a little child” (v. 15).

Key Words
V. 17.  ti poiēsō hina zōēn aiōnion klēronomēsō = “What must I do in order that I might inherit eternal life”:  The issue of what we must do is the key to the passage. In Amos 5, the answer is “seek the Lord” and “seek life” by doing “justice and righteousness.” In Deuteronomy, life is acquired by keeping the Torah of YHWH (what is the way of “justice”). At the same time, the question itself is interesting, because in the OT, “inherit” usually refers to the land of Canaan or life in the land (Deut. 30:15ff.). In the NT, what Jesus bestows as inheritance is the kingdom of God. Note that Paul speaks of the gospel in terms of a “last will and testament” (Gal. 3:15).

V. 21. ho de Iēsous emblepsas autō ēgapēsan auton = “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him”: The report of Jesus loving the man is not because he kept the commandments but because he came seeking the answer to his question. It was in love that Jesus provided the answer. Keeping the commandments does not suffice. Giving all his possessions to the poor (see Amos 5:6-15) will indicate he throws his eternal existence on the love of God and becomes a disciple of Jesus. The focus on attaining one’s own salvation must give way to trusting in God and to focus on serving others, especially the poor. At Luke 19:1-10 Jesus commends Zacchaeus for giving half his possessions to the poor; even more striking is the tax-collector’s practice of giving back fourfold the amount he might have defrauded from anyone.

V. 21. kai deuro akolouthei moi = “And come, follow me”: The call to discipleship is the key to Jesus’ instruction to sell all and give it to the poor. He will explain this connection in v. 29 when he explains to the disciples the cost of their discipleship along with its eternal blessing. The instruction sounds much like the call of Amos to “seek the Lord and live” and to “seek good that you may live” (Amos 5:6, 14). Yet, Mark has already given us Jesus’ description of the cost of discipleship and its promise at 8:34-35.

V. 23. eis tēn basileian tou theou eiseleusontai =”to enter the kingdom of God”: Jesus uses here kingdom terminology in place of the man’s request for the way to “inherit eternal life” (v. 17).

V. 27.  para anthropois adynaton, all’ ou para theō = “not possible for humans, but not for God”:  This is the answer to the disciples’ question “Who can be saved?”  Recall the Lord’s statement at Gen. 18:14 where God indicates to Sara that while she is not physically capable of having the promised baby, God will make it happen.

V. 31. “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”:  The response is to Peter’s concern that since he and the others sacrificed so much, they should have no trouble entering the kingdom. It would appear that the primary problem here is Peter’s thinking that their own actions should qualify them for the kingdom. However, Jesus has already laid down different values in vs. 15: children who claim nothing to offer are the most qualified.

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Next week:
Psalm 91:9-16
Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 4, 2009) September 22, 2009

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christians have a much better chance to prove faithful when we move beyond ourselves to recall God’s commitment to the whole human race, even to the world. God’s call to discipleship and mission forces us to see the broad scope of God’s gifts. Our lessons for the day begin with these powerful insights that set the stage for Jesus’ teachings, to say nothing about Jesus’ identity.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm  8
This hymn glorifying God the Creator exults in the wonder of what it means to be human. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the worshipper casts in poetic form what Genesis 1 sets forth in praise, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity by God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” in verse 4, the early church interpreted the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In its own context, however, “son of man” is simply parallel to “humanity” (’ādām). The power of the poem lies in its amazement at the majesty of God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.

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Genesis 2:18-24
God’s will for humanity is community, and the primary expression of that community is the committed relationship of marriage.

Context
The creation story of the Yahwist (10th century B.C.) begins at 2:4b. In contrast to that of the Priest (Genesis 1:1–2:4a) which is universal in scope, the second story takes place at a local oasis. The Lord began by creating Adam, made the Garden of Eden for his dwelling place, planted trees for food and beauty, gave the man a garden and held him responsible for working and protecting it, and laid down the law forbidding eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Key Words
V. 18.  lō’-tôb heyôt hā’ādām lebaddô = “not good (is) the being of the man alone”:  Interestingly the “not good” contrasts sharply with the tôb = “good” which occurs repeatedly throughout Genesis 1, indicating that everything functions according to the purpose for which it was made.

V. 18.  ‘ēzer kenegdô = “a help/strength as his opposite”:  The word ‘ēzer appears elsewhere in the OT only in relationship to YHWH. Either YHWH is the source of help (Ps. 20:2; 121:1-2; 124:8) or YHWH is help/strength (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7; Ps. 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11). As for kenegdô, the preposition neged means “opposite,” and to it is attached the preposition and a pronominal suffix.

V. 21.  tardēmā = “a sleep”: The point is not so much an anesthesia against pain but an elimination of the possibility of observing God at work; cf. also Gen. 15:12 and the prohibition against looking back at Gen. 19:17.

V. 23.  ‘etsem mē‘atsāmay ûbāsār mibbesārî = “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”:  The expression occurs also at Gen. 29:14; 2 Sam. 5:1 = 1 Chron. 11:1; 2 Sam. 19:13-14 to indicate people formed of the same parents, i.e., the source is the same.

V. 24.  dābaq = “cleave to”:  The word is used at Deut. 30:20 where Israel is called upon to “cleave to YHWH.” The expression connotes fidelity in relationships as YHWH expected Israel to remain loyal in the covenant.

V. 24.  “a man leaves his father and mother”:  The expression appears to point to a societal arrangement when the wife was not considered the husband’s property. Contrast the law at Exod. 20:17 (although note the change at Deut. 5:21).

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Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Reflecting the glory of God and bearing God’s nature, Jesus Christ, superior to the angels, became less than the angels for our sakes in order to taste death and become perfect through suffering.

Context
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a powerful yet puzzling book. Evidence is not sufficient to identify the author, the date of its origin, or the place where the author wrote it. Even the audience called in the title “the Hebrews” is difficult to understand. In spite of these unanswerable questions, the book presents in eloquent Greek the announcement that Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system that God had given to Israel. Jesus Christ was the true and ultimate sacrifice that ends the system, but as Exalted One he serves as high priest in the sanctuary of heaven. The unknown author seems to expound this powerful testimony so that the unknown audience might persevere in faith and love.

Key Words
2:6-7. The use of Psalm 8:5-7 demonstrates that the expression “son of man” is a prophecy about Jesus Christ who seems to have used that expression as his favorite means of identifying himself.

2:12. The quotation of Psalm 22:22 (LXX 21:23) demonstrates that the speaker of the psalm of lament and its thanksgiving is the Risen Christ. Likewise, the author uses in the following verses (12-13) two verses from Isaiah (originally the voice of the prophet) as the words of Jesus regarding his disciples.

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Mark 10:2-16
Against a legalistic attempt to define what is legal or permissible in marriage and divorce, Jesus asserts the will of God for marriage, and at the same time indicates that the children (of marriage) demonstrate the required stance of us all before God.

Context
The action at the end of the ninth chapter took place in Capernaum. Now, according to 10:1, Jesus moves into Judea, the area where the passion and crucifixion will occur. In that area, the reader can expect the testing from the Pharisees that occurs in these verses. The first 31 verses of this chapter seem to be a list of catechetical instructions for the community of faith, much like the lists which occur in the pastoral epistles and 1 Peter 2:13–3:7; 5:1-5.

Key Words
V. 2.  ei exestin = “is it lawful?”:  The Pharisees knew very well the law of Moses at Deut. 24:1-4 which permitted a man to write a divorce decree. Jesus responds by going back beyond the law of Moses to God’s will at creation.

V. 13.  paidia = “children”:  From the use of the word we are not able to determine anything about their ages, for the word describes a baby at John 16:21 and a 12-year-old child at Mark 5:39-42.

V. 13.  hoi de mathētai epetimēsan autois = “but the disciples rebuked them”:  Throughout the Bible the only legitimate subjects of the verb epitimaō are YHWH in the OT and Jesus in the NT. Note the trouble Peter gets into by taking over the verb “rebuke” Jesus at 8:32.

V. 14. tōn gar toioutōn estin hē basilea tou theou = “for of/ to such (the children) is the kingdom of God”: Whether the passage should read “of such is” or “to such belongs” is difficult to determine, but in either case, the vulnerable little children and the kingdom belong together. Jesus had used little children as the example of discipleship at 9:36. Here and through v. 15, he uses the model of little children as the only way to receive the kingdom or the ones who comprise the kingdom. Elsewhere, the possession of the kingdom belongs to the “poor in spirit” and to “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” at Matt. 5:3, 10 (simply “the poor” at Luke 6:20).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 40: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 27, 2009) September 15, 2009

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Making human judgments is part of living together responsibly as a human community. God has given us the knowledge of God’s will and the gift of reason to make those necessary judgments. Yet, God takes a risk in giving us this responsibility because with it we can make judgments that actually limit God’s freedom to speak and act. On the one hand, the lessons for this Sunday extol the various ways God speaks in the world. On the other hand, they point to the dangers of our excluding others from doing the work of God because they do not fit the standards we impose. Doing God’s work is not limited to committed disciples, but disciples are committed to discipline.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 40: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 19:7-14

The first six verses of this psalm actually comprise a separate psalm, and so our loss by their absence here is their praise of the universe (three-storied) that speaks the glory of God apart from words. Actually, that theme would serve well the teaching of the lesson from Numbers 11 and of Jesus in the Gospel lesson. Nevertheless, the selected verses for today comprise two parts. The first part, verses 7-10, is a powerful hymn in praise of the Torah. It extols the Torah of God as the highest value, because the law serves as God’s means of bestowing benefits on the people. The second part, verses 11-14, is a prayer in which the worshipper acknowledges sinfulness, even when it is not discernible. Only God can make such discernment and protect the psalmist from domination by insolence (or insolent ones). Yet because of the graciousness of God, the worshipper can plead for God’s forgiveness and for guidance. Finally, the prayer itself asks humbly that its words are acceptable to the Lord, “my rock and my redeemer.”

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Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

In order to assist Moses in the pursuit of his difficult ministry, God inspired elders to prophesy among the people, even a few who were not among the designated group.

Context

At 10:33, the Sinai stopover ended, and the people reconvened their journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Picking up precisely where they left off in Exodus 16–17, the people complained about the journey, the so-called “murmuring motif.” Prior to the Sinai experience, that included making the golden calf, the murmuring centered on the lack of necessities for life. Following the Sinai narrative, the murmuring seems to be about the luxury of life.

Key Words

Vv. 4, 10, 13.  bākâ = “weep”:  the word provides the theme of this section of the pericope. Unlike some of the people’s murmuring, Moses recognizes a certain legitimacy about their weeping and turns to YHWH to provide.

V.  12.  he’ānōkî hārîtî ’et kol-hā‘ām hazze ’im-’ānōkî  yelidtîhû = “Did I conceive all this people?  Did I bear them?”:  The implication, of course, is that God gave birth to the people and God is responsible for feeding them (see Deut. 32:18; Isa. 49:14-15).

V. 14. lō’-’ûkal ’ānōkî lebaddî lāsē’t ’et-kol-hā‘ām hazzeh kî kābēd mimmennî = “Not able am I to carry alone all this people, for it is too heavy for me”: This stark reality of this complaint sounds like the laments of Jeremiah whose divinely ordained office led him to unbearable pain.

V. 25. wayyēred YHWH be‘ānān wayedabbēr ’ēlāyw = “and the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him”: YHWH had been guiding the people through the wilderness by a cloud during the day and by a torch during the night. Beyond the guiding function of the cloud, however, the cloud was a vehicle for divine travel in ancient mythology. That the Lord uses the cloud to “come down” (see Gen. 11:5, 7; Exod. 3:8) attests to God position in the heavens.

V. 25.  kenôach ‘alêhem hārûach wayyitnabbe’û = “and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied”:  For prophesy as a result of receiving the spirit, see also Isa. 61:1ff; Ezek. 37:1ff.; Joel 2:28-29; cf. John 20:22; Acts 2:17; 13:2.

V 28. “And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’” Joshua here plays the role of the adversary to the Lord’s generous spirit, expressing jealousy to protect Moses’ exclusive gift.

V. 29. ûmî yittēn kol-‘am YHWH nebî’îm kî-yittēn YHWH ’et-rûchô ‘alêhem = “Would that all the people of the Lord (were) prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”: The desire expressed by Moses here is unusual, but the prophecy about the Day of the Lord promises to pour out his spirit on men and women, old and young, slaves and free—indeed “all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29).

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James 5:13-20

The power of prayer is affirmed by examples of its effectiveness in the lives of people, and so God invites prayer not only for ourselves in suffering but also for others that they might be saved.

Context

These verses conclude the Epistle of James. Just prior to our reading, the author cites the example of suffering and patience “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (5:10). Now the book moves to the need in the community of the church to care for one another through prayer and mutual (or public) confession.

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Mark 9:38-50

Against attempts to exclude good deeds performed “in the name of Jesus” simply because they do not belong to “our group,” Jesus cautions against the church’s arrogance that insists only members can do God’s work in Jesus’ name, and he teaches that discipleship means living faithfully and with discipline.

Context

Following upon the disciples’ quarreling about greatness in 9:33-37, Jesus warns against exclusiveness and explains true discipleship in terms of willingness to be vulnerable. In our pericope, verses 38-41 appear to intrude into discussion of the disciples as “little ones” that started in vss. 36-37.

Key Words

Vv. 38, 39, 41. “name”:  Picking up the “name” from the previous verse (v. 37), these verses demonstrate the centrality of “the name” in the church. The expression “in the name of” is not typically Greek but belongs to the Old Testament (“the name of the Lord” beginning at Gen. 4:26; see also 12:8; 13:4; 21:33 and too often to mention) and appears in the NT elsewhere at Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 3:6; 4:7, 10; James 5:14.

V. 38.  kai ekōlyomen auton, hoti ouk ēkolouthei hymin = “and we tried to stop him, because he is not following us”:  John’s attempt to stop someone from exorcising demons in the name of the Lord recalls the attempt of Joshua to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying. The use of “follow” seems to be used in the technical sense of discipleship, and so John’s concern focuses on the exclusiveness of the group. See the interesting discussion on requirements for belonging by Eduard Schweizer, The Good News according to Mark (Atlanta:  John Knox, 1970), pp. 194f.

V. 42. ou mē apolesē ton misthon autou = “will not lose his reward”: This mention of “reward” is the only occurrence in Mark’s Gospel, and the same teaching occurs at Matt. 10:42. At Matt. 5:12, Jesus promises “reward in heaven” for those who are persecuted on Jesus’ account (also Luke 6:23). People can lose their reward from God by practicing false piety and hypocrisy (Matt. 6:1-2, 5, 16). The Apostle Paul uses the word for appropriate wages in the labor market (Rom. 4:4; 1 Cor. 3:8, 14). At 1 Cor. 9:17-18, Paul contrasts the reward of acting out of self-will with the reward of God’s commission (stewardship) which is proclaiming the gospel free of charge. (For other uses of “reward,” see 1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Pet. 2:13; 2 John 8; Jude 11; Rev. 11:18; 22:12.) “Reward” is, therefore, what God gives freely. Refusing the gift would mean losing the reward.

Vss. 42, 43, 45, 47. kai ean skandalizē se = “if … causes you scandal/to stumble/to sin”: The repetition of these words listing various sources for stumbling indicate a list to be memorized, probably for catechetical instruction. The first cause is an outsider. The remaining causes are our own body parts: hand, foot, eye. The teachings do not advocate self-mutilation, but warn disciples about the sources of temptation that could lead them to stumble from the faith.

VV. 43, 45, 47.  eiselthein eis tēn zōēn … eiselthein eis tēn zōēn … eiselthein eis tēn basileian tou theou = “enter the life … enter the life … enter the kingdom of God”:  The repetition of the phrases again points to a device for memorization. The interchangeability of these expressions shows that “the life” and “the kingdom of God” are one and the same. The interchangeability in Mark leads us to understand the use in John’s Gospel of “life” almost exclusively of “kingdom” (only John 3:3, 5; 18:36).

V. 48. “their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched”: Some ancient manuscripts repeat this verse as verses 44 and 46. The words quote Isaiah 66:24, the final verse of the Book of Isaiah. Strikingly, verses 22-23 promise that “all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord.” Then, another faction of ancient Judaism added the final verse, indicating that when the worshippers depart their worship in the temple on Mount Zion, they can look down into the Valley of Hinnom (Greek –  Gehenna; see Jer. 7:31-32; 19:2, 6; 32:35) to see the dead bodies of non-worshipers rotting in perpetuity. The universal eschatological expectation evident in the promise is dashed by the nationalistic, exclusive wishes of apocalyptists.

V. 50.  echete en heatois hala kai eir_neuete = “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another”:  This expression about salt is odd, especially in comparison with Jesus teaching on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). But salt and fire have something to do with each other in various contexts—preserving food, preparation for sacrifice, adding flavor, etc. Clearer and emphatic is the exhortation to be “at peace with one another.”

Wrestling with the Word, episode 39: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 20, 2009) September 4, 2009

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

It is not easy being a Christian in the world. It never has been, of course, because the message that Jesus preached and the gospel message about Jesus run contrary to everything the world stands for—power, control, success, and superiority over others. Those worldly traits often disguise themselves as religion of one form of another. If they indeed represent religion in and to the world, then Jesus calls his disciples to be irreligious in order to be faithful. In any case, Jesus puts his disciples in a precarious situation on planet earth. This call, however, lies at the very heart of the nature of God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 39: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 54
The psalm is a lament in which the worshipper pleads for vindication from God in the face of his enemies (called “insolent” and “ruthless”). The name of God and the might of God are used in synonymous parallelism as the means that YHWH uses to save and vindicate. The final verses (6-7), if interpreted as simultaneous with the lament, might be an attempt to please God. However, if these two verses are to be offered after experiencing God’s vindication, then they form part of a liturgy of thanksgiving—a sacrifice of thanksgiving, maybe even a todah meal. Whatever the connection between the two parts, the desire to gloat over the defeat of enemies is itself a lamentable piece of the psalmist’s theology. On that issue, however, the psalm joins many others (Ps. 23:5; 112:8; 118:7; also Judg. 16:27; Mic. 7:10, cf. Ps. 22:18).

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Jeremiah 11:18-20
Against the attempts of the wicked to stop prophetic preaching, Jeremiah uses the typical psalm of lament in order to effect satisfaction over his enemies.

Context
Because of his persistent condemnation of the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem, Jeremiah became the object of the community’s derision, and so the prophet uttered repeated laments regarding his rejection. These oft-called “confessions of Jeremiah” are typical of psalms of lament and might therefore be more stereotypical than autobiographical. Uncertain is whether or not these verses are connected with the preceding or with the following verses. If they are, as seems probable, related to vv. 21-23 and 12:1-6, then the schemes against the prophet are being made by “the people of Anathoth,” Jeremiah’s hometown. The problem is abundantly clear in their insistence that he “not prophesy in the name of the Lord” (v. 21). The Lord’s response, as Jeremiah reports it, will be to annihilate these wicked people before they blot out the remembrance of God’s prophet (vss. 22-23)—precisely what the prophet pleads for in v. 20..

Key Words
V. 19.  wa’anî  kekebes ’allup yûbal litbōach = “and I am like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”:  The terminology is similar the suffering servant at Isa. 53:7:  kasseh lattebach yûbal = “like a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

V. 19.  wenikretennû mē’erets chayyîm = “and let us cut him off from the land of the living”:  See the suffering servant of Isa. 53:8:  kî nigzar mē’erets chayyîm = “for he was cut off from the land of the living.”

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James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Christians are called to exhibit their faith by virtues that stand over against the world’s values and vices.

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. Lists of vices and virtues, as in vv. 17-18, are not common in the OT or in Palestinian Judaism. Such lists are common, however, in Hellenistic Judaism and in the NT (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Tim. 3:2-4; Gal. 5:20-21). Unfortunately, the pericope excludes verses 4-6 that speak both of “friendship with the world” as “enmity with God” as an explanation of wars, fighting, coveting. We also lose the important quotation from Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The quote is consistent with the teaching of Jesus in Mark 9:30-37.

Key Words
3:18.  tois poiousin eirēnēn = “to/by those who make peace”:  Like that of the beatitude of Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Making peace is the sacrificial act of Jesus in Col. 1:20 (see also Eph. 2:15). This teaching seems to mean act peaceably rather than to conciliate opponents. However, in the context of killing, fighting, and waging war in 4:1-3, it might also mean conciliate.

4:7.  hypotagēte oun tō theō = “submit yourselves, therefore, to God”:  The same exhortation appears at Heb. 12:9 for the willing submission to God’s discipline for the reward of life; see also 1 Cor. 15:27-28 as the eschatological fulfillment of Satan’s submission (as defeated) and of Christ’s submission (as faithful in transferring the kingdom to the Father). In terms of failing to subject oneself to God’s will and righteousness, see Romans 8:7; 10:3. For the subjection of Christ to God, see Eph. 5:24. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt.6:11).

4:8.  eggisate tō theō kai eggei hymin = “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”:  The expression appears in the LXX in terms of the priests who have opportunity to draw near to God (Exod. 19:22; Lev. 10:3), but in the NT the privilege of drawing near is extended to all believers (see also Heb. 7:19). The exhortation appears here as the opposite of “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (end of v. 7).

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Mark 9:30-37
Jesus’ prophecy about his own suffering, death and resurrection defines both God and discipleship in terms of vulnerability and service.

Context
When Jesus, Peter, James, and John had rejoined the rest of the disciples following the Transfiguration, they discovered a crowd, among whom were the scribes arguing with the disciples. Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about with them?” (cf. v. 33). They told him that the disciples were unable to exorcize a demon. Jesus rebuked the demon and drove him out of the child. Jesus and the twelve then went off together through Galilee.

Key Words
V. 30.  “Jesus did not want any one to know where he was”:  Once again, Mark emphasized Jesus’ secret—now about his imminent death–that only the disciples may hear.

V. 31. “The Son of Man will be delivered …” This is the second time the saying is reported by Mark. The first occurs at 8:31 and the third at 10:33-34.

V. 32.  hoi de egnooun to rēma = “but they did not understand the saying”:  The incomprehensibility of the disciples  is common in Mark’s Gospel (cf. 6:52; 8:17, 21; 9:6). Their fear of asking him makes sense in the progression of events in Mark’s Gospel. At 8:33 Jesus rebuked Peter and called him Satan when he would not accept Jesus’ first prophecy about his suffering and death (8:31).

V. 33. ‘What were you arguing about on the way?”: The same question Jesus asked the crowds in v. 16, he asks now of his disciples.

V. 34.  tis meizōn = “who (is) the greatest”:  The question links this saying to the previous one about his imminent sacrifice. The sequence contrasts with the way of Jesus as sacrifice and service with the human desire for greatness. Like the teaching in James 3—4, the way of God revealed in Jesus is submission to God’s will.

V. 35. ei tis thelei prōtos einai, estai pantōn eschatos kai pantōn diakonos = “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all (people) and servant of all (people)”: Losing is winning and vice versa. The saying sounds much like Jesus’ words at 10:44-45. The saying indicates that not everyone is equal in the eyes of God: some are first on the list and others are last. The Apostle’s Paul’s discussion of the crucified Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” conveys this same contrast with the ways of the world (1 Vor. 1:18-31)..

V. 37. “welcomes one such child … me … the one who sent me”: The message to the disciples is twofold. First, instead of striving for greatness, they should become like the little vulnerable ones. Second, welcoming such a child enables people to find him (Jesus), and through Jesus, they find the Father.

The whole message is quite a contrast to the desire to gloat over the destruction of one’s enemies. Finding Jesus in welcoming the vulnerable ones is so contrary to the ways of the world, even to the ways of religious people, that it seems downright irreligious.

Far more than a virtue, this life of service and submission and hospitality to the vulnerable lie at the heart of God’s identity.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 38: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 13, 2009) August 27, 2009

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The cause of suffering in the world has been a question for millennia. Some of the earliest pieces of literature in history have attempted to deal with this mystery. One thing is clear: any answer is too easy. Our lessons for this day look at one aspect of suffering—and only one: suffering because of faithfulness to a commission from God. Such suffering for God’s sake means facing a rebellious world that would rather pursue self-interest than listen to God’s word of grace and love.  While the costs to the world and to our rugged individualism might be too great a price to pay, ultimately the rewards of speaking and living God’s word loom astonishingly high.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 38: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 116:1-9
The psalmist expresses love for God as a result of God’s responding to his plea. The worshiper had cried out from the clutches of death and Sheol (v. 3), “O Lord, save my life!” (v. 4); the Lord listened and saved him from death (v. 6b, 8). The verses alternate between statements about God and prayers of thanksgiving to God. God is “gracious” (channûn), “righteous” (tsaddîq), and “merciful” (merachēm), and “protects the simple” (in wisdom teaching, those who are easily deceived). As a result of the Lord’s saving action, the psalmist confesses “I love the Lord” (v. 1) and commits a response to “walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 9).

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Isaiah 50:4-9a
God enables the servant to do what is required to be his 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. In this song, 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 a servant (see Exod. 3:7-10). Since the poem seems to establish the speaker as one commissioned by YHWH and then faces formidable persecution, the song resembles the laments of Jeremiah (see Jer. 11:18-20; 15:15-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18).

Key Words
V. 4.  limmuddîm = “those who are taught”:  Used twice in this verse, the expression does not appear exactly the same elsewhere. The term seems to betray a wisdom background, i.e., those who are wise. Strikingly at the beginning of the verse, the servant indicates the Lord has given him the tongue of a teacher; now he presents himself as the pupil.

V. 4. leda‘at lā‘ût ’et-yā‘ēp dābār = “in order to sustain the weary with a word”: The word translated “sustain” appears only here in the entire OT. Ancient Greek manuscripts understood the word to be one that means “answer.” As for “the weary,” Second Isaiah uses the word to describe the difference between YHWH (Isa. 40:28) and the exiles (Isa. 40: 29, 30) and the results for the salvation promised (40: 31). The prophet’s mission, then, is to fulfill the prophetic office of speaking God’s word of salvation to a disillusioned people.

V. 5.  ’adōnāy YHWH pātach-lî ’ōzen = “The Lord God has opened for me an ear”:  The expression is one more example of the servant being a wise pupil or disciple, but even his willingness to listen to his teacher is an act of God.

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)”:  This act of violence resembles that at Neh. 13:25. This passage appears to form the background to the saying by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek (Matt, 5:39). In the context of Second Isaiah, the persecution described here will become even more vivid in the Fourth Servant Song at 52:13—53:12.

V. 7.  wā’ēda‘ kî-lô ’ēbôš = “and I shall know that I shall not be put to shame”:  The same expression occurs in the wisdom Psalm 119:6 where the reason is based on the worshiper keeping the commandments. Note the repeated concern about not being put to shame in the face of persecution at Ps. 25:2, 3, 20. The wisdom features are prominent in that psalm, especially in the first half, before it turns to a lament. In the context of Isaiah 50, the reason for not being ashamed is the action of the Lord in helping the servant and in being present as his vindicator in a court of law. The ultimate outcome of this God-imposed suffering on the prophet will appear at 53:12.

V. 9.  kullām kabbeged yiblû = “all of them will wear out like a garment”:  The expression is used of the created order at Ps. 102:26 where it refers to the heavens and the earth, God’s own creation, in contrast to YHWH who remains forever. Here the reference is to the servant’s adversaries who have no power in contrast to the Lord who helps the servant.

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James 3:1-12
Since the tongue can be a source of blessing to God and simultaneously a source of curse, especially when used against those who are made in God’s likeness, we must keep it in check and take care how we use it to influence others.

Context
The author had just finished a section of his lecture in which he appears to oppose Paul’s teaching about faith and works. At 2:18 he provides the teaching that he will then illustrate. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” Citing the examples of Abraham and Rahab the prostitute, the author argues that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In this pericope, the discussion of “teacher” and “tongue” recall the words from Isaiah 50:4-9a.

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Mark 8:27-38
Having heard from the disciples who people think that he is and who they themselves think he is, Jesus defines himself as one who must suffer and die and rise and disciples as those who must follow him all the way.

Context
The 8th chapter of Mark begins with the second report of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes, this time 4000 people (note there were 5000 at 6:30-44). Following an argument with the Pharisees, Jesus departed in a boat with the disciples who were dismayed over their having forgotten to bring lunch. Jesus chided them for not grasping what the miracles with the 5000 and the 4000 were all about. Then in Bethsaida Jesus gave sight to the man who was blind. (This passage was discussed also in Episode 11 for the Second Sunday in Lent.)

Key Words
V. 28. “John the Baptist … Elijah … one of the prophets”: That people connected Jesus with John the Baptist and Elijah and one of the prophets can be seen at Mark 6:14-15 as a report to Herod. John the Baptist preached a sermon that was quite similar to the one Jesus preached (see 1:4 and 1:15; even closer, see Matt. 3:2 and 4:17). As for the Elijah (and Elisha) connection, Jesus performed feeding miracles (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:14-16; Elisha at 2 Kings 4:42-44), raised from the dead a woman’s only son (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:17-24; Elisha at 2 Kings 4:32-37), and cleansed people of leprosy (Elisha at 2 Kings 5). As a result, the people announced that the prophet has arisen (Matt. 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 6:14). As for the “one of the prophets,” Jesus sounded like a prophet in his teaching and preaching; he resembled Jeremiah in particular in his sermon about the destruction of the temple (see Jer. 7 and 26).

V. 29. apokritheis ho Petros legei autō su ei ho Christos = “Answering, Peter said, ‘You are the Christ/Messiah’”: What Peter meant by this statement is not clear, but unlike the affirming response from Jesus at Matt. 16:16, here Jesus commands silence about this confession.

V. 31.  dei ton huion tou anthrōpou polla pathein = “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things”:  While the expression Son of Man in Aramaic can refer simply to a personal pronoun (cf. Mark 8:27 and Matt. 16:13), the expression has an eschatological bent. It can indicate either one who suffers and then receives the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:13ff.) or as one who comes in clouds of glory (1 Enoch). Clearly, the context here favors the former option. At v. 8, however, the latter meaning seems obvious.

V. 31. kai apoktanthēnai kai meta treis hēmeras anastēnai = “and be killed and after three days rise again”: Mark repeats the same formula for the timing at 9:31 and 10:34. Matthew (16:21; 17:22; 20:19) and Luke (9:22; 18:33) change the formula to “on the third day.” Paul cites the wording “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:5) as part of the tradition he received and passed on. The only scriptural (OT) reference to God raising any one “on the third day” occurs at Hosea 6:2 (en tē hēmera tē tritē anastēsometha); there resurrection (perhaps metaphorical) follows a judgment from God.

V. 32. kai proslabomenos ho Petros auton ’ērxato epitiman autō = “and taking him, Peter began to rebuke him”: That any one other than God or God’s Son should become the subject of the verb rebuke is forbidden in both testaments.

V. 33.  epetimēsen Petrō … satana = “he rebuked Peter … Satan”:  See Zech. 3:1-2 where YHWH rebukes Satan for standing in the way of the installation of Joshua (in Greek Iēsous) to be the priestly anointed one. Note also the objects of rebuke thus far in Mark’s Gospel:  the unclean spirit (1:25) and the storm (4:39). For a detailed examination of Jesus’ rebuke of Satan, see Foster R. McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983, 2007: 63-67).

V. 34. kai proskalesamenos ton ochlon syn tois mathētais autou eipen autois = “And calling to him the multitude with his disciples, he said to them”: The discussion Jesus held privately with his disciples regarding his identity now becomes a public matter about discipleship. Once again, the experience of the one takes on universal proportions. Strikingly, Matthew sets a quite opposite direction when he uses the formula “from that time” first to begin Jesus’ public ministry (4:17) and then—precisely where Mark begins the public teaching about discipleship—to begin the “private ministry” at 16:21.

V. 34.  akoloutheitō moi = “let him follow me”:  For Jesus’ calling to follow, see also Matt. 4:19; 18:22; 9:9; Mark 1:17; 2:14; 10:21; Luke 5:27; 9:59; 18:22; John 1:43; 21:19, 22.

V. 35.  heneken emou kai tou euaggeliou = “for my sake and the gospel’s”:  In contrast with Matt. 10:39; Luke 17:33; John 12:25, only Mark adds the words “and the gospel’s.” It connects intimately Jesus and the message about him. It also indicates for the church after Jesus the same expectation through the cross. This submission to Christ and the gospel results in salvation (see the discussion on Isaiah 50:4-9a).

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In our next episode we’ll be looking at the lessons for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Psalm 54
Jeremiah 11:18-20
James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37