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Wrestling with the Word, episode 92: Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost), Year C (September 26, 2010) September 10, 2010

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Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost)

The summer vacations have come to their annual end, and so have the emails or phone calls from family and friends that so often include the words “Wish you were here!” On the one hand, the cliché makes me jealous of their experiences. On the other hand, precisely because they are family and friends, I rejoice both over their good fortune and over the affirmation they give me by wishing I were there. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if they did not offer their love and concern with such words. I wonder also how many people in the world never hear those words “Wish you were here.” How many people go through life with the feeling that others wished they were not here? How many people are treated in such a way that their being here is not even noticed? Mother Teresa put it like this:

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,
I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat…. We must find each other.”

Our lessons for today call on us to recall that God honors the unnoticed in the world and that God calls us to honor them as well by showing them we are delighted they are here.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 92: Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost), Year C .

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Psalm 146
The psalm, like Psalms 113-118, qualifies as a Hallel psalm, that is, a psalm of praise that begins with “Hallelujah.” This praise begins (vss. 1-2) with a summons to one’s own “soul” to praise the Lord for a whole lifetime and to express those praises with song along the way. The individual then instructs an audience with the warning against putting trust in successful persons, because, like all humans, they and their strategies will perish (vss. 3-4). On the other hand, looking to YHWH for help and hope leads to blessing (v. 5), and the psalmist/teacher provides two reasons for that instruction. First, YHWH is the Creator of the universe and all living things on earth, and as Creator, God demonstrates faithfulness by executing justice for the oppressed and by feeding the hungry (vss. 6-7). Second, YHWH is the savior/deliverer who, as in Isaiah 42:7 and 62:1-2, sets prisoners free and opens the eyes of the blind (vss. 7b-8). Further, this God protects strangers in their wanderings and supports the vulnerable orphans and widows, but brings devastation upon the wicked that oppress them (v. 9). The psalm concludes with a summons to the people of Jerusalem to praise YHWH who “will reign forever” (v. 10). The combination of creation and salvation themes within the context of the reign of God betrays dependence on the preaching of Second Isaiah.

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Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Against those who trust for their security in their luxury and conceit, God promises a most insecure future.

Context
In the midst of a variety of judgment speeches, a series of woe-cries beginning with 5:18 describes the nature of the northern kingdom’s behavior which will lead to the inevitable result of disaster.

Key Words
V. 1.  hôy = “woe”:  A woe-oracle is introduced by this particle and always followed by a plural participle describing an action of an unnamed group which leads to God’s judgment. This woe-oracle addresses those who feel all too comfortable both in Jerusalem and in Samaria.

V. 1.  wehabbōtechîm = “and who trust”:  For the problem of trusting in things which give false security see Prov. 11:28; 14:16.

V. 2.  Calneh … Hamath … Gath:  These cities were conquered by the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser III between 738 and 734 B.C.

V. 3.  hamenaddîm leyôm rā‘ = “who keep thrusting aside the evil day”:  The series of oracles requires that we assume a hôy = “woe” before the participle. For the “evil day,” see the interesting saying at Prov. 16:4: “YHWH.has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (leyōm rā‘ā).

V. 3.  šebet chāmās = “throne/seat or cessation of violence”:  For šebet (root šābat) as “cessation,” see Exod. 21:19; Prov. 20:3; šebet (root yāšab) as “that on which one is enthroned,” see 1 Kings 10:19 = 2 Chron. 9:18.

V. 4. haššōkebîm ‘al-mittôt šēn ûserûchîm ‘al-‘aršōtām = “who lie upon beds of ivory and sprawl upon their couches”: In light of the participles in the continuing series, the “woe to” must be read here, as it is in most translations.

V. 6. welō’ nechlû ‘al-šēber yōsēp = “but have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph”: Here lies the reason for the “woe.” In the midst of their luxurious lifestyles, they pay no attention to the suffering of the people who live in the territory that traditionally belonged to the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh).

V. 7.  lākēn = “therefore”:  When following a description of the activity of people, “therefore” almost always introduces a judgment of YHWH.

V. 7.  berōš gōlîm = “at the head of the exiles”:  See the play on words with rēšît hagôyyîm = “head/first of the nations” in v. 1 and werēšît šemānîm = “head/first (finest) of the oils” at v. 6.

V. 7.  wesār mizrach serûchîm = “and the revelry of sprawlers will pass away”:  Note the play with “those who sprawl (serûchîm) upon their beds” to whom the “woe” is addressed in v. 4. Now it will “pass away.”

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1 Timothy 6:6-19
Exhorting Timothy to shun the false teaching about the love of money, the apostle instructs him aim at the qualities that God loves and to charge the rich to set their hopes on God in whom they can be certain of a sure foundation for the future.

Context
The apostle brings his epistle to a conclusion by giving Timothy advice regarding the dangers of loving wealth and a charge to the wealthy that they should express their faith by showing they are “rich in good deeds, liberal and generous.”

“Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”  –Mother Teresa

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Luke 16:19-31
Addressing those who love money, Jesus warns of future shock by providing a story of eschatological transformations for the rich who neglect the poor and for the poor who are neglected.

Context
In chapter 15 Luke has Jesus telling the Pharisees and scribes the parable about the son who had squandered his wealth.  In chapter 16 (vv. 1-13) Jesus relates to the disciples the parable about the dishonest manager. There he includes the note about making friends by means of their unrighteous wealth so that “they may receive you into the tents of eternity.”  At 16:14-18 Jesus turns again to address the Pharisees, identified as “lovers of money,” on the continuing value of the Torah.  Now still speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus.

Key Words
V. 19.  anthrōpos de tis ēn plousios = “there was a certain rich man”:  The words are identical to 16:1, the beginning of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

V. 19.  euphrainomenos kath’ hēmeran lamprōs = “who kept on enjoying himself splendidly every day”:  On euphrainomenos as a favorite in Luke, see 12:19 (“be merry”); 15:23, 24, 29, 32 (“make merry”). While lamprōs appears in this form only here, see ta lampra = “splendid things” in which the rich delight at Rev. 18:14.

V. 20.  ptōchos = “a poor man”:  For the contrast between “rich” and “poor” in Luke’s Gospel, see 1:53; 6:20, 24; for Jesus as bringer of good news to the “poor,” see also 4:18-20; 7:22.

V. 20.  Lazarus:  a form of the Hebrew name ’El‘azar = “God has helped.” The Hebrew word for “help” is the one used at Psalm 146:5 (in parallel to “hope”) where blessing is promised to those who look to YHWH as their “help” “and hope.”

V. 22.  eis ton kolpon Abraham = “to the bosom of Abraham”:  For one’s bosom as a place of endearment, see the place of Christ at John 1:18 and the disciple Jesus loved at 13:23. In OT see Num. 11:12; Deut. 13:6; 28:54, 56.

V. 24, 30.  pater Abraam = “father Abraham”:  See John 8:33, 37 for the paternity claim of the Judaeans to Jesus.

V. 25.  nun de hōde parakaleitai = “but now he is comforted”:  The passive denotes that God is the comforter; see Isa. 40:1; 51:3; above all see 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

V. 26.  chasma mega estēriktai = “a great chasm has been fixed”:  Once again, Luke uses a theological passive. As for the chasm, contrast Gen. 28:12 where “the ladder” (actually “the mound”) connects heaven and earth.

V. 29. “They have Moses and the prophets”: The reference to Moses, of course, is to the Torah, the “book of Moses: and “the law of Moses” where laws about caring for the poor and afflicted abound; see, e.g., the Book of the Covenant at Exod. 21—23; the priestly laws at Lev. 25; the Code of Deuteronomy, especially Deut. 24. As for the prophets, their preaching against the injustice done to the poor and oppressed fill the pages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 46: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (November 8, 2009) October 28, 2009

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Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

The amazing news of the Bible is that God loves everyone, but when push comes to shove, God takes the side not of the powerful but of the oppressed and vulnerable. The other side of that same coin is that the oppressed and the vulnerable appear repeatedly as examples of faith and generosity. In part, these people appear as role models, but in another sense, they point to the role of Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 46: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 146
The psalm is one of praise to the Lord who can accomplish what no mortal human can. A beatitude is expressed for those who count on the God of Jacob for help. As Creator of the universe, the Lord is faithful, executes justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry. As Savior of prisoners, healer of the blind, and lover of justice, the Lord protects the most vulnerable people in the land—sojourners, widows, and orphans. With all these wondrous acts of God in mind, the psalm calls on hearers to trust, not in humans, even royal ones, but in the Lord and to acclaim Yahweh as king forever.

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1 Kings 17:8-16
No matter how difficult it is to trust in the promises of God, the Lord demonstrates through repeated occasions that his word can be trusted.
OR
The word of the Lord comes through inspired spokespersons to address all people in need, even those who stand outside the confessing community.
OR
The Lord calls upon even the poor to share what they have in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes and to bring people to faith.

Context
The Elijah cycle (1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2) opens with an introduction of Elijah from Tishbe in Gilead. The introduction occurs in the context of an address from the prophet to King Ahab (869-850 B.C.) regarding a drought that would continue in the land until Elijah said otherwise. The drought continued until Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal (18:41-45). For the prophet himself to survive the drought, God provided means of sustenance for Elijah—first the ravens fed him in verses 4-7. Now God appoints someone else.

Key Words
V. 8.  wayehî debar-YHWH ’ēlāw = “and the word of the Lord was to him”:  The formula is common in the preaching prophets to indicate that their speeches were not their own but YHWH’s. Furthermore, almost every speech is unique.

V. 14.  kî kōh ’āmar YHWH ’elōhê yisrā’ēl = “for thus says YHWH the God of Israel”:  This expression is another formula used by the preaching prophets to introduce an oracle from the Lord.

V. 16.  kidbar YHWH ‘ašer dibbēr beyad ’ēlîyyāhû = “according to the word of the Lord which he spoke through Elijah”:  This formula is critical and expected because it indicates that the promise of God stated in v. 14 has come true. Note that at the conclusion of the following paragraph, the woman recognizes the power and effectiveness of God’s word when she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is faithful” (v. 24). Thus, the non-Israelite woman is brought to faith in the Lord and his promises because of his bringing to pass what was promised.

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Hebrews 9:24-28
In contrast to the ongoing process of priests entering the earthly temple in order to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus offered the once for all sacrifice and entered the heavenly temple, from which he will come again, not to deal with sin but to save those who are waiting for him.

Context
Beginning at 8:1 and continuing through 10:18, the author describes the ministry of Jesus as that of a high priest. Leading the readers from Jesus’ role as high priest in the heavenly sanctuary and contrasting him with the priests of the earthly sanctuary (8:1-5) and to the establishing of the promised new covenant (8:6-13), the author contrasts the sacrifices of animals with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ own body and blood (9:1-14). As a result of his sacrifice, Jesus “is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (9:15ff.).

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Mark 12:38-44
Jesus condemned the scribes for making show of everything they do, but Jesus commended the poor widow who, like himself, gave up everything in quiet and faithful obedience to God.

Context
In Mark’s Gospel, the Transfiguration story marks the turning point from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his fateful journey toward Jerusalem which he entered at the beginning of chap. 11. Having cleansed the temple, Jesus left the city and returned on two other occasions, each time confronted by various groups of people: chief priests, scribes, and elders (11:27); Pharisees and Herodians (12:13); Sadducees (12:18); scribes (12:28). In our pericope, Jesus, still teaching in the temple, takes aim at the scribes. In a sense, this passage concludes the accounts of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, for following this pericope is the Apocalypse of Mark and then the narratives about the plot to capture Jesus and kill him.

Key Words
V. 40.  hoi katesthiontes tas oikias tōn chērōn = “who devour widows’ houses”: At Isa. 10:1-2, judges and scribes are guilty of oppressing the poor and making widows their spoil. Such oppression runs counter to the explicit command of God at Exod. 22:22 where widows and orphans fall under the watchful eye of God because they are the most vulnerable in the land. Compare this indictment with the one at Matt. 23:1-11.

V. 41.  chalkon eis to gazophylakion = “money into the treasury”:  Perhaps the treasury Jesus is watching is similar to the one in the first temple mentioned at 2 Kings 12:9. There the reference is to a chest with a hole in it so that contributors would make their offerings for the payment of the artisans who worked on the temple building project and maintained it.

V. 42.  mia chēra ptōchē = “a poor widow”:  Jesus’ example of generous faith in this widow is apparently the only reason for the selection of 1 Kings 17 as the first lesson.

V. 43.  “and he called his disciples to him”:  This formula is a favorite device of Mark to mention that Jesus took the disciples aside to teach them things that were not said to the general public audience (see, e.g., 4:33-34; 6:45ff.; 9:33; 10:10).

V. 44.  panta hosa eichen … holon ton bion autēs = “everything which she had, her whole living”:  The final four Greek words might be translated literally “her whole life” and thus point ahead to the sacrifice of Jesus in giving up his life.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 37: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (September 6, 2009) August 25, 2009

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The words “sight” and “vision” take a variety of interesting twists in the English language, particularly in some of the expressions we commonly use. “You are a sight for sore eyes” is a welcome compliment to receive, but “You are a sight today” is enough to make you hide your head. We speak of “vision” as eyesight, and that you are a treat for someone’s eyes comes out in the compliment, “You are an absolute vision this evening.” In the Bible, “sight” and “vision” seem to portray different realities. “Sight” and “seeing” define present experience, but “vision” unveils the opposite of what is, more like a promise. The New Testament distinguishes explicitly between “sight” and “faith,” but faith and vision are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Vision, like faith, enables us to believe in something or Someone beyond what we see, experience, measure, and calculate day in and day out. If “sight” determines the meaning of life, we are stuck with the local and global news. After all, it is no secret that “the world is a sight” and that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18, KJV). By those definitions, our lessons for this Sunday are truly out of sight!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 37: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 146
The psalm is one of praise to the Lord who can accomplish what no mortal human can. A beatitude is expressed for those who count on the God of Jacob as their help/strength, for the Creator of the universe is faithful, establishes justice for the oppressed and feeds the hungry. As Savior, the same Lord sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind (see Isa. 35:3; 61:1-2). Loving the righteous, the Lord exalts the humble, watches over the most vulnerable in the land (sojourner, widow, orphan) and promises ruin to the wicked. The psalmist acclaims this Creator-Redeemer as God as ruler for all eternity. This final verse sets justice and reversal of fortune in the vision of the Reign of God.

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Isaiah 35:4-7a
On the coming Day of the Lord, God will transform the sufferings of the present time into their opposites.
OR
From the confinement of despair, hopelessness, and God-forsakenness, the Lord comes to rescue his people to shalom.

Context
The style and some of the major themes are virtually identical to the material in chapters 40—55. The situation is probably one of exile, that is, a fear of forsakenness by God (see Isa. 40:27; 49:14) and a feeling of being hopeless and cut off (see Ezek. 37:11).

Form Criticism
The passage resembles the idyllic portrayals of the Day of the Lord like those of Isaiah 2:2-4 and 11:6-9, and is called a “portrayal of salvation.” Such a portrayal depicts in vivid imagery a vision completely opposite the experience of present time.

Key Words
V. 4.  chizqû ’al-tîrā’û hinnê ’elōhêkem nāqām yābô’ = “Be strong, do not fear; behold, your God comes with vindication”:  See Isa. 40:9-10 and 62:11. The word nāqām reflects the Lord’s action at 61:2 and 63:14, where the meaning is “vindication” rather than “vengeance.” The vision is positive for Israel but negative toward Israel’s enemies (47:3; 59:17).

V. 4.  hû’  yābô’ weyôša‘akem = “he will come and he will save you”:  The message of salvation is the critical issue for Second Isaiah. No idol cane save the people (45:20; 46:7; 47:13, 15). Only Yahweh can save, and Yahweh has promised to do so (43:12; 49:25; cf. also 59:1).

V. 6.  kî-nibqe‘û … mayim = “for waters will burst open”:  The expression occurs at Exod. 14:21 to describe the act of God in dividing the Reed Sea. Here it promises return from exile as a new exodus (cf. 40:3, 10, 11; esp. 43:14-21; 48:10, 20-22; 50:2; 51:9-11.

V. 6.  bammidbār = “in the wilderness”: In Second Isaiah the wilderness is a place of loneliness and desolation (50:2), but Yahweh comes to change it into a place of joy (41:18-19; 51:13) and to build a highway within it (40:3; 43:19-20).

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James 2:1-17
In contrast to the way of God who chose the poor as heirs of the kingdom, the addressees of this epistle have chosen to honor the rich, thereby failing to obey that royal law of scripture about loving the neighbor as yourself.

Context
In the previous chapter, the author has written what Psalm 146 and Isaiah 35 promised, namely that in the new time of God’s reign, the fortunes of the poor and the rich will be reversed (see 1:9-10) and explained this reversal in terms of the fortunes of nature.(like Isaiah 35). The present pericope picks up the thought in terms of appropriate action toward the poor in the Christian congregation, above all, following the royal law of scripture (see Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14).

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Mark 7:24-37
As demonstration that the “kingdom is at hand,” Jesus exorcises a demon from the daughter of a Greek woman and then reverses the fortunes of the man who was deaf and unable to speak, with the result that the witnesses spoke of the deed openly and zealously.

Context
At the beginning of chapter 7, Jesus appears to be on the east side of the Sea (see 6:53). There he responded to the challenge from the Pharisees and scribes who had come from Jerusalem and deplored the fact that his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders in washing their hands before eating. Then he turned to the people and explained to them that defilement comes from what comes out of the mouth rather than from what enters it.

Key Words
V. 24. “the region of Tyre and Sidon”: The section of the land is far to the west of Jesus’ usual stage of ministry. Jesus’ forays into non-Jewish, that is, Gentile, areas are few. In v. 31 Jesus returns to the area around the Sea of Galilee. The Decapolis, Ten Cities, was a federation of originally Greek-constructed cities that lay in the so-called Trans-Jordan (the area east and southeast of the Sea of Galilee). Several of the cities had once been populated and controlled by Jews, but long before Jesus’ time, the cities of the Decapolis came under Roman authority.

V. 25. all’ euthus = “but immediately”: Mark demonstrates an urgency about the gospel of Jesus Christ by using the word “immediately” forty-two times.

V. 26.  hē de gynē hēn Hellēnis, Syrophoinikissa tō genei = “Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth”: The author could hardly have taken any more pains to emphasize that the woman was a Gentile. It is her faith in Jesus in contrast to the legalism of the Jews in the preceding paragraphs that forms the focus of this entire story. It is tempting to recall here the story of the widow of Zarephath in Sidon with whom Elijah performed miracles (1 Kings 17:8-24); Luke uses this story as part of  Jesus’ hometown sermon that emphasized God’s grace among Gentiles (Luke 4:26). Mark had earlier indicated that people from the area of Sidon and Tyre had been among the crowds who followed him (3:7-8).

V. 26. hina to daimonion ekbalē ek tēs thygatros autēs = “that he might cast the demon out of her daughter”: According to Mark, Jesus had been exorcizing demons/unclean spirits since his ministry began (1:23-26, 32-34, 39; 3:11-12, 22-23; 5:1-20; 9:14-29). He had also commissioned his twelve apostles to preach and to cast out demons (3:13-15; 6:7; cf. 9:38-39). The battle against demons was in fact the eschatological battle against Satan (see 3:23)—a necessary prelude to the reign of God.

V. 33.  kat idian = “privately”:  The word helps focus on the secrecy with which Jesus has been carrying out miracles. Note in the previous story (v. 24) he did not want anyone to know he was in town.

Vss. 34-35. estenazen kai legei autō Ephphatha, ho estin dianoichthēti kai eutheōs … “he sighed and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened,’ and immediately …”:  The word for “sigh” usually occurs in the NT as an expression of something undesirable, like anxiety or resignation (see Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 5:2, 4; Heb. 13:17). Here, however, Jesus’ sigh paves the way for his word of healing. His word accomplishes “immediately” what it says (see 1:41). The reversal of fortune for those unable to hear or to speak is part of the vision of the Day of the Lord and the Reign of God at Isa. 35:5-6 (cf. Matt. 11:5; Luke 7:22).

V. 36. kai diesteilato autois hina mēdeni legōsin, … de … =  “And he charged them to tell no one, … but …” The crowd on this occasion is no more obedient than the leper who was cleansed earlier (see 1:44-45).