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Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C (September 19, 2010) September 6, 2010

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Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost)

I confess I become upset at some people’s lack of concern for others and at systems in the world that favor the rich and powerful. That anger presents quite a dilemma when I join others in expressing that God is the God of all people, that God loves everyone, and that God wants all humanity to love one another. I feel like Jonah, I suppose, in denying the grace and love of God to “obvious” sinners. All together, our lessons for this day provide some challenges to my thinking and some implications of confessing the universality of God’s love. They help us ponder how the unfathomable and exalted God lives up to the name of Creator of the world and all that lives on it. They also demonstrate how God holds the rich accountable for the poor and simultaneously calls on the poor to pray for the powerful.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 113
The psalm is the first of six called the Hallel psalms because their purpose is to “praise God.” In Judaism this collection was used especially on such important festivals as Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Verses 1-3 invite the worshipers of God in all times and places to extol the name of the Lord. Verses 4-6 explain the reason for that call to praise in two ways:  first, God’s place is far above all the nations of the earth and even above all the heavenly spaces where divine beings dwell and contest for acclaim; second, the Lord is incomparable among all creatures, divine and human. (The question “Who is like the Lord, our God…?” is used in various types of psalms in order to extol YHWH’s supremacy; see Ps. 89:6). Verses 7-9 point to the uniqueness of YHWH in another sense. Though YHWH is so exalted above earth and heaven, that same God bends down to protect and care for the lowly, even exalting them to sit with princes. This lofty God enables outcast barren women to bear children and thus become an integral part of the day’s society.

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Amos 8:4-7
To those who hasten to do dishonest business in order to further oppress the poor and the needy, God promises an unforgettable experience of judgment.

Context
In the middle of the eighth century B.C., Amos, from Tekoa near Bethlehem, was called to preach judgment against the northern kingdom Israel. As it turns out, his judgment speeches in the first two chapters of the book reached out to the nations that surrounded Israel and Judah on all sides. According to his own words, he had not been an official prophet, i.e., ordained into the prophetic guild, but a simple “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” (7:14) when the Lord sent him to prophesy to Israel, the northern kingdom.  The people up there held an optimistic view of the Day of the Lord, and they did so on the basis of YHWH’s actions for Israel in the past. Amos, however, turned the view of the Day into a threat of judgment: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!” (5:18). The passage here consists of oracles which illustrate the vision of the fate of a basket of summer fruit (8:1-3).

Key Words
Vv. 4, 6.  ’ebyôn // ‘anivvê-’ārets … dallîm //we’ebyôn = “the needy // the oppressed of the land … the poor // and the needy”:  For oppression of these people by the rulers and rich of Israel, see 2:6-7.  In terms of YHWH’s ongoing concern for the vulnerable of the land, see also such random examples as Ps. 9:9-10, 18; 82:1-4; then as responsibility given to the Davidic king, see Ps. 72:1-4. 12-14; further as the responsibility given to the people see Exod. 22:21-24; 23:6-9; Deut. 24:10-15, 17-22.  Because the people failed to carry out this assignment, this prophet, along with others, delivers the Lord’s announcement of judgment (see. e.g., Isa. 3:13-15; Ezek. 16:49).

V. 5.  hachōdeš …wehaššabbāt = “the new moon … and the sabbath”:  For restrictions on sabbath activity, see Exod. 35:3; Num. 15:32-36; Jer. 17:21-27; and Neh. 13:15-22 where transacting business is expressly forbidden.

V. 5.  ’êphâ = “ephah”:  The word means a dry measure of about forty liters (a little over 36 quarts).  For laws about weights, see Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16.

V. 6. mappal bar = “refuse of the wheat”:  The noun mappal derives from the verb nāpal = “to fall,” thus wheat fallen to the ground, trampled, wet, inferior.

V. 7.  nišba‘ YHWH bige‘ôn ya‘aqôb = “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob”:  Previously in Amos, YHWH swears by himself (see 4:2; 6:8). As for “the pride of Jacob,” the words appear earlier at 6:8 in parallelism with “strongholds” of Israel and “the city”—all of which YHWH abhors. At Ps. 47:4 the expression stands parallel to “heritage,” that is, the land of Israel.

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1 Timothy 2:1-7
Since God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, the author instructs the leaders of the church to pray and give thanks for the emperor and other governmental authorities.

Context
The verses comprise the first instruction from the unknown apostle to Timothy, leader of the church. In the historical context of the 2nd century A.D., Christians were regarded by outsiders with suspicion and distrust. Above all, since the Christians confessed their faith in Jesus as Lord, their commitment to the emperor was questionable. The advice here (like that of Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 4:14-16) attempts to address this dilemma and ultimately to advance the spread of the gospel and the church within the constraints of the Roman Empire.

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Luke 16:1-13
Jesus calls upon his disciples to face the crisis of his kingdom preaching with the prudence with which those of this age use material possessions.

Context
Chapter 15 contains three parables about the lost and found, all addressed to the Pharisees and scribes. Continuing the theme of stewardship Jesus turns to the disciples to teach this parable of the Dishonest Steward (vv. 1-8a), several applications of the parable (vv. 8b-13), and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31).

Key Words
V. 1.  anthrōpos tis ēn plousios hos eichen oikonomon = “there was a rich man who had a manager”:  The rich man was probably someone like the absentee landowner of 12:37-38, 42-47; 20:9-16, who put someone else like an oikonomos = “manager” in charge of his property.

V. 1.  diaskorpizōn = “squandering”:  The same word appears in the same sense of  the Prodigal Son (15:13). More generally, the word means to “scatter, disperse” (see Luke 1:51; Matt. 25:24, 26; 26:31 = Mk. 14:27; John 11:52).

V. 6.  dexai sou ta grammata = “receive your letters”:  The letters refer to the promissory note signed by the debtor.

V. 8.  hoti phronimōs epoiēsen = “because he acted prudently”; Note the expression phronimōteroi = “more prudently” in the second half of the verse. For phronimos used elsewhere of an oikonomos, see 12:42 where the “faithful and wise steward” will receive blessing at the homecoming of the master. At 1 Cor. 10:15 the expression appears as a compliment, but at 4:10 it is sarcastic.  See 2 Cor. 11:19 (sarcasm) and Rom. 11:25 (negative). At Matt. 25:2, 4, 8, the word stands opposite “foolish” maidens.

V. 8.  hoi huioi tou aiōnos … tous huious tou phōtos = “the children of this age … the children of light”:  The contrast is not between “worlds” or “places” but “times”: Christians are “the children of the New Day/age” (cf. Rom. 13:11-13; John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 17: Second Sunday of Easter, Year B (April 19, 2009) April 2, 2009

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Second Sunday of Easter

The words “Second Sunday of Easter” have a peculiar ring. Since the Christian church has set aside the first of every week to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, every Sunday is Easter Revisited. Of course, the name given to the Sundays depends on the fact we celebrate the various seasons of the church year in order to focus on the coming of Christ, his birth and revelation among us, his sufferings, and his resurrection. It seems that no matter what we name the seasons or the Sundays or which lessons from the Bible we read aloud, we always hear about the God who sits enthroned above the world but nevertheless gets down to earth right smack in the middle of the fray, even in human form, to raise us up. Believing that is impossible. It contradicts our power or reason and logic and challenges our own pride. Actually only God can enable us to believe this unfathomable news, and so God gives us the gift of the Spirit. Then God sends us back into the fray.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 17: Second Sunday of Easter, Year B.

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Psalm 113
This psalm of praise is the first in the collection of Hallel psalms (113-118) that Judiasm used since biblical days at Passover and other festivals. This one calls the “servants of the Lord” to bless the “name of the Lord” for all time (v. 2) and through dimensions of space—left-right (v. 3) and up-down (vss. 5-6). The name of God is the Lord; the name represents the person. The portrayal of the Lord’s glory is impressively high and lofty (like Isa. 57:15), but distance matters little when it comes to the poor and needy on earth (v. 7). God raises them from their lowly estate to give them positions beside princes (v. 8). Like the song of Hannah rejoicing at the birth of Samuel when previously she had been a barren woman (1 Sam. 2:1-10), this psalm blesses the Lord for giving the barren woman a family and a bundle of joy (v. 9).

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Acts 4:32-35
Filled with the Holy Spirit, testifying to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and endowed with God’s grace, the new Christians in Jerusalem shared with one another all their possessions.

Context
Following the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42), the Christians “would sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (2:45). They ate together in homes and praised God. The author then reports the miraculous healing miracles performed by Peter and John in the portico of the temple. The miracle brought together a large crowd which provided Peter an audience for preaching a sermon on the people’s rejection of Jesus (3:1-26). The religious authorities and the Sadducees had Peter and John arrested, an act that provided the apostles with another audience for preaching the Word of God (4:1-12).

V. 32. Tou de plēthous tōn pisteusantōn hēn kardia kai psychē mia = “Of the plethora of those who believed, heart and soul were one”: The gift of the Holy Spirit, received in the previous verse, brought their diversity into a unity.

V. 32. all’ hēn autois apanta koina = “they all held everything in common”: The use of the word koina indicates that “fellowship” or “community” was the new social order in which possessions were distributed so that none would be poor (see also 2: 42-47). The concern that the community took the responsibility for sustenance for the poor sounds like the role of the people of Israel at Deuteronomy 15.

V. 33. kai dynamei megalē apedidoun to martyrion hoi apostoloi tēs anastaseōs tou kyriou Iēsous, charis te megalē hēn epi pantas autous = “And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon all of them”:  The content of the apostolic preaching focused on the resurrection of Jesus (see 2:32; 3:15, 26; 4:10). For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection is precisely why Jesus became kyrios = Lord, and through whom “we have received grace” (Rom. 1:4-5; 10:9).

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1 John 1:1–2:2
Against false claims of Christians to have fellowship with God no matter what, that they are without sin, and that they have no need of confession, God offers fellowship by forgiving those who confess their sinfulness to God and walk in the light.

Context
Unlike 2 John which is addressed to “the elect lady and her children” and 3 John which is addressed “to the beloved Gaius,” 1 John appears to be more of a sermon. The sermon begins to sound like a letter, especially at 2:1 with the words “I am writing this to you” along with mention of an addressee:  “my little children” (see also 2:12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; called “beloved” at 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7). The purposes of writing are several: “that our joy may be complete” (1:4), “that you may not sin” (2:1), to give “an old commandment” (2:7), “because your sins are forgiven for his sake” (2:12), “about those who would deceive you” (2:26), “that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).

Key Words
V. 3. ho heōpakamen kai akēkoamen apaaggellomen kai hymin, hina kai hymeis koinōnian echēte meth’ hēmōn, kai he koinōnian de hē hēmetera meta tou patros kai meta tou huiou autou Iesou Christou = “that which we have seen and heard we announce also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”: The apostles indicate that, like the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:1ff), they are passing on the message God has given them. The difference is that they have “seen and heard” the Resurrected Lord, but the recipients of their message are hearers only. In any case, the fellowship (koinōnia) is the same, extending from the eyewitnesses to the hearers. Indeed, the creation with the readers of the same fellowship the apostles have with the Father and the Son is the stated purpose of passing on this announcement. God’s will to extend the fellowship goes back to the OT in such prophecies as Isa. 25:6-8.

1:5.  Kai estin autē hē aggelia … hoti ho theos  phōs estin = “And this is the message … that God is light”:  For a similar description of God, see Gen. 1:3 (cf. vss. 14-19); Isa. 10:17; for Jesus as the “light” see Matt. 4:12-16; John 3:19; 8:12; Rev. 21:23. For the people of God as the “light” in the world or as those who walk in the light, see Isa. 49:6; Matt. 5:14; John 3:21.

1:8-9. These words about confessing sin and the faithfulness of God to forgive our sins have been used in various liturgies to assure worshipers of God’s grace.

2:1.  paraklēton echomen = “we have an advocate”:  lit. “one who stands beside another (to help)”; referring to Jesus see Rom. 8:34; to the Holy Spirit see John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Rom. 8:26; cf. Prov. 22:10-11.

2:2. kai autos hilasmos estin peri tōn hamartiōn … kai peri holou tou kosmou = “and he is the expiation for our sins … and for the whole world”: See the related word hilasterion at Romans 3:25 and the LXX at Lev. 16:13-15 where the word defines the “mercy seat” on which the priest poured and sprinkled sacrificial blood in order to make atonement for sins the sins of the people.

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John 20:19-31
While many people came to faith through seeing the signs which Jesus performed during his ministry, God offers the gift of life to others by providing written and spoken witnesses to the identity of Jesus Christ.
OR
Having accomplished the purpose of God’s mission through death and resurrection, the exalted Christ gives the Holy Spirit to the apostles and commissions the Spirit-filled church to act on his authority in forgiving and retaining sins.

Context
John 20 reports three resurrection appearances of Jesus. The first (verses 11-18) occurs “on the first day of the week, while it was still dark” (v. 1) when the Risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. The second happened the same day, that is, Easter evening (vss. 19-25), and the third happened a week later (vv. 26-29). Perhaps more significant is that in John 20, the resurrection, the ascension, and the gift of the Spirit all occur on the same day (unlike Luke-Acts: Luke 24—Acts 2).

Key Words
V. 19.  eirēnē hymin = “peace to you”:  Hebrew šālôm`alêkem or šālôm lekem can be used as a simple greeting; here, however, it seems to introduce a manifestation of God.  See, e.g., Judges 6:23; Daniel 10:19.

V. 21.  kathōs apestalken me ho patēr, kagō  pempō hymas = “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”:  also 17:18. Also note the connection at 1 John 1:3.

V. 22.  enephysēsin kai legei autois, labete pneuma hagion = “he breathed (on them) and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”:  In the creation story God breathed (LXX: enephysēsin) into the first human the “breath (Hebrew nešāmâ; Greek pnoēn) of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7; note the word is “breath” and not “spirit” (Hebrew rûach; Greek pneuma).  At Ezekiel 37:6-10, however, YHWH breathed into the dry bones rûach/pneuma.

V. 23. an tinōn aphēte tas hamartias apheōntai autois = “if/since you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”:  The aorist aphēte implies a specific act of forgiving. The passive apheōntai is probably a theological passive, indicating that God is the actor. Might the forgiving and retaining of sins reflect the blessing and cursing of Genesis 12:3?

Vss. 24-28. Thomas: Because of the several references to Thomas as “the twin,” a tradition arose in the early church that Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus. At 11:16, Thomas stands out as a disciples who is ready to go with Jesus all the way to death (cf. Rom. 6:8; 2 Cor. 5:14). At 14:6, it is Thomas who raises the well-known question to Jesus: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way.” Jesus once again used such a question to provide the basis for the profound teaching: I AM the way and the truth and the life.” In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, this apostle stands out as one who had a special relationship with Jesus, hearing from the Master teachings the others did not know.

V. 26. Kai meth’ hēmeras oktō = “and after eight days” (sometimes translated “eight days later” [RSV] or “a week later” [NRSV]): On the basis of the synonymous parallelism at Hosea 6:2, we would expect the time reference to be “on the ninth day.”

V. 29. makarioi hoi mē idontes kai pisteusantes = “Blessed (are) the ones who have not seen and have believed”:  The aorist is used, probably to indicate to those in John’s community, that they have come to faith without the benefit of signs. For the form of the beatitude, see Matthew 5.

V. 30. sēmeia = “signs”:  The Book of Signs in John’s Gospel (2:1–12:37) contains many signs or miracles which Jesus performed during his ministry; see 2:11; 4:5; 11:47. Some came to believe in him, but not all (12:37).

V. 31. kai hina pisteusontes zōēn echēte  en tō onomati autou = “that you may have life in his name”:  see 1:4; 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:21-29, 39-40; 6:27-68; 8:12; 10:10-28; 11:25. Note how the “name” of Jesus now takes the place beside the name attributed to God in the OT (see Psalm 113).