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Wrestling with the Word, episode 28: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 5, 2009) June 23, 2009

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The word “mission” has become part of the language of many organizations in the world. The word usually appears in terms of a “mission statement” that defines what an organization is about, what its purpose is, what guides its policies and staff. Churches and church organizations emphasize “mission” to describe their purpose and work, even though the word “mission” never occurs in the Bible. The noun “mission” itself actually derives from a Latin word that means “send.” The verb “send” appears frequently throughout the Bible, and the subject of the verb is almost always God or Jesus. God the father or God the Son sends people to others with messages to deliver and with work to fulfill. Our biblical passages for today reveal one of the problems with God’s working this way: God’s role is ambiguous, at best. When God acts through such agents, those to whom God sends emissaries often encounter resistance. Yet, the church has no option. Participating in God’s mission (sending) is what it means to be God’s people in the world, to be Christ’s disciples to others, and to be the Spirit’s family spreading the good news in word and loving deeds.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 28: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 123
This prayer of an individual slides seamlessly into one of the community, one and all looking up toward the Lord for mercy. The people are like servants before their masters and mistresses waiting for favor. The master in the case is the “Lord, our God” (v. 2) who sits “enthroned in the heavens” (v. 1). Their plea for mercy might arise from many different situations, but it is tempting to consider their situation to be their exile in Babylon (597-538 B.C.); during that period, the people felt forsaken by God (Isa. 40:27; 49:14; Ezek. 37:11). That forsakenness itself leads to mockery and contempt from their enemies (vss. 3-4), much like the similar situation at Ps. 42:3, 10: “Where is your God?” Out of his profound piety, the psalmist refrains from blaming God for their trouble (see Ps. 89:38-51).

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Ezekiel 2:1-5
The people of Israel refuse to listen to the spirit-endowed prophet, but his presence through the Word cannot be denied.

Context
Like Ezekiel 1, this pericope reports the call of the priest to be a prophet. That event occurred in Babylon during the fifth year of the “exile of King Jehoiachin,” thus 593 B.C. The awesome sight leading to our pericope was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (1:28b). Like the calls of Moses (Exod. 3:1-12) and Isaiah (6:1-8), the signs simply pave the way for the call.

Key Words
V. 2. wattābō’ bî rûach ka’ašer dibber ’ēlay = “And into me entered the Spirit as he spoke to me”: The connection between the word and the Spirit is common in Ezekiel (see especially 37:1-14).

V. 3.  šōlēach ‘ani’ōte= “I am sending you”:  For the words of God “I send you” to others, see Judg. 6:14 (Gideon); Jer. 1:7; 25:15 (Jeremiah). Jesus becomes the “I” who sends disciples at Matt. 10:16(= Luke 10:3); 23:34; John 20:21 and Paul at Acts 26:17.

V. 5.  bêt merê hēmmā = “they are a rebellious house”:  The expression occurs only in Ezekiel, often in regard to Israel:  2:6, 7; 3:9, 26, 27; 12:3.

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2 Corinthians 12:2-10
God calls us to translate our weaknesses into our strengths in order to demonstrate the power that is God’s.

Context
Beginning at 10:1 and continuing through 13:10 the apostle defends his apostleship in a variety of ways:  refuting slanderers (10:1-11), demonstrating his authority (10:12–11:21), showing the bases for his boasting (11:22–12:13).

Key Words
V. 7.  edothē moi skolops tē sarki, aggelos satana = “a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan”:  Some interpreters have suggested a physical malady such as epilepsy, malaria, or the like; others have maintained a spiritual affliction like not really wanting Satan to let go. On the basis of the thorn (skolops) in Ezek. 28:24 it might even be a person who treats him “with contempt.”

V. 9.  kauchēsomai en tais astheneiais mou = “I will boast of my weaknesses”:  Paul warns against boasting in the self or in human matters (1 Cor. 1:29; 3:21; Rom. 4:2; 11:18). The only legitimate object of boasting is either the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31 = 2 Cor. 10:17) or one’s own weaknesses so that the power of Christ might be known (2 Cor. 11:21; 12:5).

V. 10.  hyper Christou = “for the sake of Christ”:  For the phrase in connection with suffering see Phil. 1:29; 3:7.

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Mark 6:1-13
Since the people of his own country took offense at Jesus who marveled at their unbelief, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to preach and to heal, in spite of the rejection that might come to them as well.

Context
In the previous chapter Jesus had performed several miraculous signs:  driving Legion out of the man (5:1-20), healing the woman with the endless flow of blood (vv. 24b-34), the raising of Jairus’s daughter (vv. 35-43). Obviously, reports of his deeds spread like wildfire.

Key Words
V. 1.  eis tēn patrida autou = “to his own country”:  apart from the Synoptic parallel at Matt. 13:54 (Luke mentions “Nazareth” specifically), the phrase occurs in the OT for Jethro at Exod. 18:27 and for each exile at Jer. 51:9.

V. 2.  tis hē sophia hē dotheisa toutō_ = “what is the wisdom given to him?”:  Jesus demonstrates wisdom in his youthful experience in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), but he is also portrayed as being wisdom at Luke 11:49 (cf. parallel at Matt. 23:34) and at Matt. 11:25-30 (speaking Wisdom’s words from Sirach 51:23ff.).

V. 3. kai eskandalizonto en autō = “they were offended/scandalized at him”: Their awareness of Jesus’ family and occupation made his teaching in the synagogue scandalous to their ears. Jesus was too ordinary to speak with such authority

V. 6.  dia tēn apistian autōn = “on account of their unbelief”:  Mark reported the unbelief of the religious authorities and governing at 3:6. The disciples are upbraided for their lack of faith (4:40; 6:52; 14:18, 66-72; 16:14). As here, Paul speaks of the “unbelief” of the Jewish people who were Jesus’ own (Rom. 11:20, 23), and, of course, John’s Gospel indicates that “his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11), and even after the raising of Lazarus, the people rejected him (11:45-50).

V. 7.  edidou autois exousian = “he gave them authority”: Jesus gave them authority in preaching and teaching and power over unclean spirits, precisely what Jesus has been demonstrating in his own ministry; see 1:22-27; 3:11-12.

V. 12. kai exelthontes ekēryxan hina metanōsin = “And so they went out and preached that they (people) should repent”: The preaching of the apostles at this point was similar to that of John the Baptizer (1:4) and to part of Jesus’ preaching (1:15), but the healing that resulted from their ministry was due to the authority Jesus had given them. Those healings represent the dawning of the kingdom of God that was the major element of Jesus’ preaching.