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Wrestling with the Word, episode 94: Lectionary 28 (20 Pentecost), Year C (October 10, 2010) September 26, 2010

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Lectionary 28 (Pentecost 20)

I can never understand why I periodically resent the teachings of the Bible. I suspect, though, that what bothers me is God’s generosity. You would think that God prefers people who are religiously connected, even properly religious people, like those of my own religion and denomination. But the Bible has a way of kicking my legs out from under me sometimes, and our lessons selected for this day prove I stand on unstable foundations.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 94: Lectionary 28 (20 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 111
This acrostic psalm is somewhat unusual in the sense that each half verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The forced structure, as with all acrostic psalms, leads to a rather uneven presentation of thoughts.  In a sense, the lack of flow matters little, because proverbial wisdom teachings (“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”; cf. Prov. 1:7) do not require smooth transitions. More important is to remember the maxims through the sequence of the alphabet. In any case, the psalmist does achieve his goal of presenting an individual hymn of praise in which he lauds the redemptive work of God simultaneous with the role of God as Creator in providing food for the faithful.  Perhaps the connection with the first lesson is best made by the testimony “Great are the works of the Lord” (verse 2) and “He has shown his people the power of his works” (verse 6). Typical of wisdom teachings, the maxims can apply to human beings in general, although the reference to “his people,” “the heritage of the nations,” and “his covenant” are expressions Israel used of herself. Above all, however, the psalm’s call to praise the Lord (v. 1; cf. v. 10) resounds at the conclusion of the story about Naaman and Elijah and in the story of Jesus’ healing of the leper—both Gentiles.

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2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
God provides knowledge of himself to those outside the community of faith through the words of people and above all through the divine word itself.

OR
Reaching out to those beyond the covenant people of Israel, the Lord heals the Syrian leper and thereby provides the means for Naaman’s confession about the power and universality of Yahweh.

Context
Receiving the cloak of succession from Elijah, the prophet Elisha followed his mentor until that day when the whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12).  As evidence of his succession Elisha performed at the outset many of the same acts as the predecessor, including the miracle of the abundance of oil out of small beginnings, the raising from the dead the son of the Shunamite woman, and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.  Furthermore, like his master his miracles and ministry extended to the Gentiles.

The omission of verses 4-6 from the pericope presents a problem of narrative flow because the mention of the king reading “the letter” (v. 7) has no background.

Key Words
V. 1.  “The Lord had given victory to Syria”:  The extension of the Lord’s power already reaches beyond the boundaries of Israel by this gift of victory to a commander of a non-Israelite army.

V. 7.  ha’elōhîm ’ānî lehāmît ûlehachavôt = “Am I god, to kill and to make alive,…?”:  The view that God alone was responsible for life and death is attested several times in the Old Testament.  In the Song of Hannah both weal and woe are the responsibility of the Lord who “kills and brings to life” (1 Sam. 2:6).  Also the familiar words of Job ring out here:  “the Lord gave, and the Lord had taken away” (Job 1:21).

V. 8.  weyēda‘  kî nā_bî’ beyisrā’ēl = “that he may know there is a prophet in Israel”:  (1) The expression “that someone may know” appears in the story of the exodus (Exod. 9:14; 10:2) and in the promises of the return from Babylon (cf. Ezek. 35:9; 36:11; 37:14) as indicating that through a salvation act of the Lord others will come to know who he is.  (2) What it takes for people to know there is a prophet is among them is quite different at Ezekiel 33:33 where the Lord promises such awareness when the people ignore the prophecies.

V. 14. “according to the word of the man of God”: The effectiveness of God’s word in accomplishing what it says is a key theological concept in the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings). Significant is the use of a similar expression in the miracle that Elijah performed in raising from the dead the son of the Zarephath widow (1 Kings 17:24).

V. 15. hinnēh-nā’ yāda‘tî kî ’ên ’elōhîm bekōl hā’ārets kî ’im-beyisrā’ēl = “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”: The confession of Naaman goes beyond the desire and promise of  Elisha in v. 8.  The knowledge of the Lord by people outside Israel serves as the motive for many divine actions in the OT: see, e.g., Exod. 14:18; Isa. 45:5-6; Ezek. 37:28.

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2 Timothy 2:8-15
In the midst of the people’s suffering and persecution, God promises salvation and eternal glory through Jesus Christ to all who endure in the Gospel.

Context
Encouraging Timothy to be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ and to rightly explain the word of God in the face of encroaching heresies, the author uses here what appear to be elements of a hymn. The content includes both the proclamation about the Davidic descent of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead along with the promise of our dying and rising with him (cf. Romans 1:1-3; 6:5).

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Luke 17:11-19
Jesus commends and heals the Samaritan who gave thanks to him and who praises God in response to the miracle of curing his leprosy and restoring him to his community.

Context
Luke’s division of Jesus’ itinerary from Galilee to Jerusalem into several parts is indicated by specific references to that journey.  The first occurred at 9:51 where Samaritans reject Jesus, the second at 13:22, and the third appears here at the beginning of the pericope.  In this instance Luke betrays his uncertain knowledge of Palestinian geography by his allusion to a location “between Samaria and Galilee” on the way to Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 12.  hoi estēsan porrōthen = “who stood at a distance”:  The divine law established procedures whereby lepers would be separated and would warn other of their presence (see Lev. 13:45-46; Num. 5:2-3).

V. 13.  Iēsou epistata = “Jesus Master”:  epistata is used only in Luke among the Synoptics and apart from this instance only by Jesus’ disciples (see 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49, always in connection with a miracle.  In Greek literature the word is used for a “commander,” thus one who has authority.

V. 14.  epideixate tois hiereusin = “show yourselves to the priests”:  The procedure for reinstatement into the community involves examination by the priest plus physical and ritual cleansing (see Lev. 14:1-20).

V. 15.  dozazōn ton theon = “praising God”:  For giving praise as a response to a healing miracle, see 13:13; 18:43; as the shepherds’ response to the birth of Jesus (2:20); as the centurion’s response to the crucified Christ (23:47).

V. 18.  ho allogenēs houtos = “this other-race person”:  The expression occurs only here in the NT; in LXX is appears often for non-Israelites (see, e.g., Gen. 17:27).

V. 19.  hē pistis sou sesōken se = “your faith has saved you”:  Jesus addresses the words  to the woman of the city at 7:50; to the woman who touched Jesus’ garment at 8:48; to the blind beggar near Jericho at 18:42. The announcement of “salvation” to the Samaritan will loom larger as the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem conspire against Jesus and succeed in executing him on religious grounds.

NEXT WEEK:
Psalm 121
Genesis 32:22-31
2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
Luke 18:1-8

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

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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel passage at Luke 4:31-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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