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Wrestling with the Word, episode 26: Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (June 21, 2009) June 4, 2009

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Third Sunday after Pentecost

It seems difficult enough these days to talk about God as the Creator of the universe and everything in it. Such a basic confession does not seem possible for those who insist that everything they believe must be observable, measurable, and repeatable. How much more challenging is it today to speak of Jesus as both divine and human? I suspect it is not any more difficult today than it was two thousand years ago. The early apostles and disciples, the early church, tried all kinds of formulas and confessions. But sometimes nothing works better than a powerful story. The story about Jesus calming the sea is our topic for the day.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 26: Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
The psalm, a thanksgiving which follows lament, celebrates the deliverance of those who, caught in the fear of the tossing sea, cried to the Lord and were rescued when he stilled the storm and hushed the waves of the sea.  The verb used to describe this action in other places is gā’ar = “rebuke” (see Ps. 18:15; 104:7; Isa. 50:2; Nah. 1:4).


Job 38:1-11
Pointing to his work of creating the world, God announces superiority over the human who questions the divine ways.

Throughout the dialogues Job challenges the Lord to a legal contest to prove he is suffering unjustly. His friends have been expounding the traditional answer about suffering:  the good are rewarded and the wicked punished. According to their wisdom, Job is responsible to learn what the sin is so that he might repent.

Key Words
V. 4.  ’ēphô hāyîtâ beyosdî-’ārets = “where were you at the foundations of the earth”:  At Isa. 48:13 the Lord is the one who laid out those foundations and also established the heavens. For the three-storied universe, see also Phil. 2:10.

V. 7.  “all the sons of God shouted for joy”:  The presence of a multiplicity of beings around the throne of God appears in a variety of forms in the OT. At Isa. 6 there are the strange-looking seraphim. At 1 Kings 22 they are spirits. At Job 1 they are divine beings, among them Satan. At Ps. 29 they are also divine beings, sons of God, who indeed are called to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord.

Vv. 8-11.  “shut in the sea with doors … prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, … here shall your proud waves be stayed”:  The imagery is strikingly similar to the Babylonian myth about Marduk’s victory over Tiamat (the Deep) and to the Canaanite myth about the victory of Baal over Yamm (Sea).  Such allusions appear also in Job at 26:11-13 (cf. then 9:9, 13; see also Ps. 74:13-14; 89:9-10, 25; Isa. 50:2; 51:9-10; Nahum 1:3b-4; Hab. 3:8, 13-15). The control over the forces of water indicate the reign of God over chaos.


2 Corinthians 6:1-13
In this new age of salvation which has already dawned, God turns what the world considers to be failure into accomplishment through faithful ministry and open hearts.

The apostle has concluded chapter 5 by citing the ministry of reconciliation which is endowed on all who have become a new creation in Christ.  He regards as a new time all that has ensued since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the time of the kingdom in which we ourselves are new and in which we regard others in a new way also.

Key Words
V. 2.  kairō dektō  epēkousa sou kai en hēmera sōtērias eboēthēsa soi = “at an acceptable time I have listened to you and on a day of salvation I have helped you”:  The NRSV eliminates the RSV‘s definite articles, thus its rendering is more akin to the Greek text and to the Hebrew of Isa. 49:8 of which it is a quotation. The omission of the article makes less certain that the expression refers to the eschatological day of the Lord.


Mark 4:35-41
Jesus’ calming of the sea accomplishes the promised end-time victory of God over the chaos that threatens to wreak lives and destroy God’s rule.

At 4:1 Mark indicates a new section by reference to Jesus teaching “beside the sea.”  The teaching consists of five parables about the kingdom of God.  The stage is thus set for the action at the sea in terms of the day of the Lord which inaugurates the kingdom of God.

Key Words
V. 35.  en ekeinē  tē hēmera = “on that day”: This phrase appears in the LXX for the day of the Lord on which God will be victorious over the forces of evil; cf. especially Isa. 27:1.

V. 39.  epetimēsen tō anemō kai eipen tē thalassē, siōpa, pephimōso = “he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, `Peace, be still'”:  All this is to be seen as one act, not two, as can be demonstrated by the rebuking of the demons at 1:25 and by the parallel account at Matt. 8:27. Other objects of rebuke in Mark are thus the demons (1:25) and Satan in the form of Peter (8:33).  Essential to the interpretation of this passage is the recognition that in the OT the verb epitimaō = “rebuke” (Heb. gā‘ar) is used legitimately only by Yahweh. Thus, in the NT it is used legitimately only by the Son of God (note the problem at Mark 8:32).

V. 41.  tis ara houtos estin = “Who then is this”: The entire story is told in order to explain who Jesus is and what he is accomplishing in terms of the victory of the Day of the Lord.  The disciples’ failure to comprehend is typical of their response in Mark’s Gospel. See the similar lack of understanding at 6:51-52; 9:5-6.

For further discussion of order versus chaos, please see my text Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith published by Fortress Press in 1983 and rereleased in 2007.


Looking Ahead
Lessons for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B:
Psalm 30
Lamentations 3:22-33
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Wrestling with the Word, episode 13: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 22, 2009) February 28, 2009

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

The lessons for this day move from small beginnings to a big ending, from quite local scenes to universal ones. What holds them together is the saving work of God. God responds to cries for help by people in distress—no matter what the cause—and ultimately performs acts of salvation that reach out to people who do not even know who God is.

Couched in each passage is a special protocol: How do we respond to God’s gracious deeds? In thanksgiving? In faith? In good deeds? Actually, all of the above.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 13: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B.


Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
This psalm is both a liturgy of thanksgiving used in connection with the sacrifice of thanksgiving (vss. 1-32. 22) and a hymn or poem (vss. 33-43). The thanksgiving liturgy reiterates a variety of distressful situations in the life of the community: desert wanderers like caravan traders (vss. 4-5), prisoners (vss. 10-12), and the sick (vss. 17-18). In each case, the Lord delivered people from their distress after they had cried to the Lord for help (vss. 6, 13, 19, 28). The refrain calling for thanks (vv. 8-9, 15-16, 31-32) appears in our selected portion at vv. 21-22. Although the situation in these verses might sound like the wilderness event at Numbers 21:4-9, the situation is more general than that. Its message is that however often the people cried to the Lord for help, the Lord saved them from their fears. For that dependable response, the psalm calls on the people to give thanks through a meal (“thanksgiving sacrifices”) shared in the community of the faithful.


Numbers 21:4-9
God directs the people of Israel in spite of themselves and even against their wills toward the accomplishment and fulfillment of his promise.
God confronts the redeemed people on the frustrating road between salvation and fulfillment–judging them when they reject the gift of deliverance and preserving them when they look to the Lord in faith.

In some of Israel’s creeds (Josh. 24:2-13; see also Exod. 19:3-5), the wilderness tradition appears between the exodus and the entrance into the Promised Land. Canonically, the wilderness tradition occurs in Exodus 16-18 and picks up again after the Sinai tradition (Exod. 19–Num. 10) at Numbers 11. Throughout this material the people of Israel “murmur” against the Lord and against Moses for bringing them into this wasteland where there is neither water (Exod. 15:22-24; 17:2-3) nor food (Exod. 16:2-3). As the journey continues, they complain about the non-protein diet (Num. 11); about the authority of Moses (Num. 12); about enemies (Num. 14); again about Moses’ authority (Num. 16); again about lack of water (Num. 20). So outstanding is their murmuring that it became part of the history of the people, remembered even in their hymns (Ps. 78:17-20; 106:13-33).

Biblical Allusions
OT: Deuteronomy 8:11-20; 2 Kings 18:4
Apoc:    Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7
NT: John 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 10:9-10

Key Words
V. 4.  wattiqtsar nepheš hā‘ām baddarek = “the breath of the people became short at the journey”:  When the verb hiqtsît is used with nepheš (here) or rûach, both of which can mean “breath,” the expression means “reaching one’s limit of endurance” (cf. Job 21:4; Judg. 10:16; 16:16; Mic. 2:7; Zech. 11:8). At Judg. 10:16 and Zech. 11:8 the object of utter discouragement is introduced by the preposition b, as here. Thus, the people became discouraged not simply “on the way” but with/at the journey itself.

V. 6.  hannechāšîm hasserāphîm = “fiery serpents”:  One never knows what troubles one will find in the wilderness desert. The word is simply hannāchāš = “the serpent” in vv. 7 and 9. What Moses makes in v. 8 is simply a sārāph and in v. 9 a nechaš hannechōšet.

V. 8. asēh lekā sārāph wesîm ’ōthō ‘al-nēs = “Make for yourself a serpent and place it on a standard”: The translation of nēs as “pole” is understandable, but it would be the only time in the Hebrew Bible. Normally the word is translated as “standard,” “sign,” or “signal” (often in war). The LXX translates the Hebrew word with the Greek sēmeion = “sign,” and that might have been a reason the passage caught the attention of the evangelist John.

V. 9. wehibbît ‘el-nechaš hannechōšet wāchāy = ‘and one looked at the serpent of bronze, one would live.” The author(s) of the Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7 make clear that it is not the visible sign that “saved,” but “you, the Savior of all.”


Ephesians 2:1-10
Because Christians have died to sins and the way of life connected to sin, God makes us alive together with Christ so that we are what God has made us, created in Jesus Christ for good works.

This epistle by an unknown follower of Paul was probably written prior to A.D. 95. Though following Paul’s theology in many ways, the author makes some modifications, including the notion presented here that salvation by grace is a past act rather than one belonging to the present and future. In addition, that the good works to which the Christian is called have been prepared beforehand (v. 10) is a departure from Pauline theology. Nevertheless, the powerful contribution of this author is his understanding of the church as universal rather than simply a congregation (as in Paul). The lordship of Christ over the universe stands hand in hand with his description of the church.

Vss. 1-3: What is death and what is it like
Vss. 4-7:  What life is and what it’s like
Vss. 8-10: Amazing grace at work

Key Words
V. 2: kata ton aiōna tou kosmou toutou = “according to the aeon of this world”: Much of the distinction in the NT is not a matter of place but of time. See Romans 12:1-2.

V. 2. kata ton archonta tēs exousias tou aeros, tou pneumatos tou nun energountos = “according to the ruler of the authority of the air”: In the period of the NT writers, the devil, alias Satan, had authority over the present age. He promised to give it to Jesus if the Son of God would worship him (Luke 4:6). The authority of Jesus as God’s Son, however, was more powerful than that of Satan, and so Jesus was able to defeat the armies of Satan, the unclean spirits.


John 3:14-21
Just as the uplifted serpent served as God’s means of saving the lives of the rebellious people of Israel, so the crucified and resurrected Son of Man is God’s means of drawing the world to the cross to receive the gift of eternal life.

The pericope is set within the context of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus. Jesus responds to each of Nicodemus’ questions with an answer that begins “Truly, truly I say to you” (vv. 3, 5, 11). Scholars differ on how far to extend the third response. RSV, for example, concludes the quotation at the end of v. 15, while NRSV continues it through v. 21.

Key Words
V. 14.  kai kathōs Mōysēs hypsōsen ton ophin en tē  erēmō, houtōs hypsōthēnai dei ton huion tou anthrōpou = “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”:  The “lifting up” is an important expression in John’s Gospel. Here, by comparison to the visible raising of the bronze serpent, and at 8:28, the verb appears to refer to the crucifixion. At 12:32, 34 the word refers to the resurrection/ascension. Strikingly, the word dei = “must” is used here, as it is in the synoptic tradition, regarding the necessity of the suffering and resurrection of the Son of Man (see Mark 8:31). The result of looking at the uplifted serpent is “life” in Num. 21:9 and “salvation” at Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7.

V. 16. houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon, ōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken = “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”: The tense of the verb for “loved” signifies a once for all act. It thus points to the crucifixion rather than to a more general affection for the created world. Believing this message results in “eternal life.”

V. 17. “For God sent the Son into the world (eis ton kosmon), not to condemn the world (ton kosmon), but that the world (ho kosmos) might be saved (sōthē) through him”:  While the work of God in Jesus is described here in the third person, at 12:47, Jesus speaks in the first person of his purpose in the same terms: not to condemn but to save the world. At 1 John 4:14 the author writes similarly: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world (sōtēra tou kosmou). Recall that according to the angel’s words to Joseph, the name of the baby Mary will bear will be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

V. 19. “the light has come into the world”: John’s use of “light” to describe the Son’s appearance begins at 1:5-9, continues here through v. 21, and comes to particular focus at 8:12 and 9:5: “I am the light of the world” where, as here, the contrast is with “darkness.” The opening words of John’s Gospel “In the beginning” connect with Genesis 1:1-5 where “light” is the first creation of God in the midst of the chaos of darkness.

V. 21. “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his/her works have been worked in God”: At 6:28 the disciples ask Jesus what they must do to “work the works of God”; Jesus tells them that “the work of God is to believe in” him whom God sent. At 9:4 “the works of God” focus on the “light” that is Jesus for the man who had spent his life in darkness (blind). Here the contrast is the realm in which people do bad deeds or good deeds. The wicked perform in darkness so as not to be seen, but the disciples of Christ come into the light so that others may see clearly that the deeds they do are done in God.