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Wrestling with the Word, episode 57: Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (January 24, 2010) January 13, 2010

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Third Sunday after Epiphany

Many people have told me over the years that they get so little out of reading the Bible. Some have said that they feel they are reading somebody else’s mail. Others have told me it just does not make any sense in our day; it is just too old, too disconnected from issues in our time. All those concerns are completely understandable. Yet, the biblical records tell us that people who lived in biblical times had similar concerns. They needed to have the Bible read to them and interpreted. Sometimes in the process, those ancient people discovered to their surprise that they were part of the unveiling of a new day. It just happens to be the one Jesus started with his first sermon. It’s the day they share with us and we with them. We have all received the same letter.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 57: Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year C.

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Psalm 19
The psalm is a combination of several psalm types. Verses 1-6 is a hymn of praise to God the Creator by creation itself, glorifying God without words but with sound. Verses 7-10 praise God for providing the words of the Torah to maintain order and joy among the people with many beneficial results. Verses 11-13 extol the Torah for its function of warning “your servant” against errors and of offering guidance to walk blameless and innocent. The final verse expresses the well-known petition that the use of these words prove acceptable to the Lord, identified as “my rock and my redeemer” (gō’ēl).

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Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
When Ezra read aloud the book of the law of Moses while other people interpreted (or translated) the reading for the people, Ezra and Nehemiah announced “the day is holy to the Lord your God,” encouraging the people to rejoice over their understanding of the words.

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1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Continuing his teachings about the one Spirit distributing various gifts to the members of the church “for the common good,” Paul uses the human body and the correlation of all its parts as the image to teach the oneness of the body of Christ, the church.

Context
Already in the first chapter of this epistle, the Apostle thanks God for the fullness of spiritual gifts bestowed on the congregation in Corinth. Immediately, however, he pleads “that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you” (1:7, 10). Having written about many questions the people themselves asked via mail, Paul also had some things of a theological nature to say about their obvious divisions—among them spiritual gifts. While he does not use the word in this chapter, Paul speaks of “upbuilding” (oikodomeō/oikodomē) seven times in chapter 14 as his reason for relegating speaking in tongues to a lower level of importance than other spiritual gifts. More valuable, according to Paul, are those gifts of the Spirit that employ articulate and edifying speech.

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Luke 4:14-21
On the basis of Scripture’s promise of a new day to come for those who suffer, Jesus announces that his presence is the dawning of that new day.

Context
Like Mark and Matthew, Luke follows the temptation story with the beginning of Jesus’ preaching about the new day promised in Scripture. While Mark and Matthew summarize that preaching in terms of the “kingdom of God/heaven at hand” (Mark 1:15-16; Matt. 4:17), Luke tells it in terms of “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Moreover, unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke places this initial preaching not merely in Galilee but in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, where he is rejected by his own people.  This rejection in Nazareth Mark (6:1-6) and Matthew (13:54-58) postpone until later in the story. However, Luke wants to place the rejection at the very beginning of the story in order to move quickly to Jesus’ ministry among the Gentiles for whom Luke wrote his Gospel.

Key Words
V. 14.  en te dynamei tou pneumatos = “in the power of the Spirit”:  Luke emphasizes the role of the Spirit beyond the other synoptic writers. Zechariah and Elizabeth and their son John are filled with the Holy Spirit (1:15, 41, 67); the Holy Spirit was involved in Jesus’ conception (1:35); the Holy Spirit descended at Jesus’ baptism (3:22); Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he faced his temptations (4:1), and now Jesus begins his ministry “in the power of the Spirit.”

Vv. 18-19.  The quotation comes from Isaiah 61:1-2. However, added to the reference is Isa. 58:6: “to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Note that the second line of Isa. 61:2 is missing (“the day of vengeance/vindication of our God”) perhaps because it could have sounded a negative note against Gentiles who are in fact the audience of Luke’s Gospel. Perhaps also the line is saved for the brief sermon Jesus preaches in the next verse.

V. 21.  sēmeron = “today”:  Luke uses this word to announce the birth of Jesus (2:11), the salvation of the outcast Zacchaeus (19:9), and the entrance into the kingdom by the repentant thief on the cross (23:43). All cases have an eschatological thrust, but none more strongly than here. The passage from Isaiah 61 indicates that part of that prophet’s message concerning the transformations of the kingdom to come is proclaim “the day of vindication of our God” (Isa. 61:2), that is, the Day of the Lord.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 12: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 15, 2009) February 27, 2009

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Third Sunday in Lent

The Bible is a theological book. That means, in the strictest sense, that the Bible is a study about God. But the passages for the day literally attack the view that God can be studied like some subject that requires logic and consistency and observation and formulas. God cannot be studied simply because God reveals the divine identity, purpose, instruction, wisdom, and power in totally different ways from anything we humans could develop. In short, the lessons portray views of God we could never come up with on our own. God appears so ungodlike. God seems even to turn the tables on religion.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 12: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 19
The psalm is a combination of  several psalm types. Verses 1-6 is a hymn of praise to God the Creator by creation itself. Verses 7-11 praises God for providing the Torah to maintain order and joy among the people with many beneficial results. Verses 11-13 extol the Torah for its function of warning “your servant” against errors and of offering guidance to walk blameless and innocent. The final verse expresses the well-known petition that the use of these words prove acceptable to the Lord, identified as “my rock and my redeemer” (gō’ēl).

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Exodus 20:1-17
On the basis of the Lord’s identity as the savior of the oppressed, the Lord commands the redeemed community to respond in obedient praise by honoring God and the neighbor.

Context
Exodus 1-15 tells the story of the bondage of Israel in Egypt and of God’s deliverance of the people through the agency of Moses. Chapters 16-18 describe the journey of the people from Egypt through the wilderness to the foot of Mount Sinai, the place where God commissioned Moses and revealed the personal name Yahweh (3:1-15). Chapter 19 tells of the Lord’s instructions to Moses to prepare the people for meeting the Lord at the mountain in a spectacular theophany.  At the end of the chapter Moses descends the mountain to be with the people. The implication here–explicit in Deuteronomy 5–is that God addressed the Ten Commandments to all the people who stood with Moses at the bottom of the mountain.

Structure of the Decalogue
Option A

TABLET A
I No other gods
II Name of God
III Sabbath Day
TABLET B
IV Honor parents
V No killing
VI No adultery
VII No stealing
VIII No false witness
IX No false witness
X No coveting

Option B

TABLET A
I    No other gods
III  Name of God
V    Honor parents
VII  No killing
IX   No false witness
TABLET B
II No graven image
IV Sabbath Day
VI No adultery
VIII No stealing (kidnapping)
X No coveting

Key Words
V. 2.  “I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt”:  This self-definition on the basis of the salvation event from Egypt occurs also at Lev. 11:45; 25:38; 26:13; Deut. 5:6; Ps. 81:10; cf. also Gen 15:6. In Priestly writings, the self-identification “I am the Lord” asserts divine authority as the basis for obedience (Lev. 18: 2-6, 21, 30; 19:3-18, 36, etc.), always in response to the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt. In Second Isaiah the self-identification is sometimes connected with the role of God as Creator but ties together so closely with the coming redemptive event that scholars have coined the phrase “creative redemption” (Isa. 44:24; 45:7; cf. 51:15).

V. 5.  ’ēl qannā = “a jealous God”:  One of the issues that distinguishes Israel’s God from all others is the claim to exclusive worship (monolatry). It is not an accident that the prohibition against other gods is the first commandment. See also Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; Josh. 24:19; Nahum 1:2.

V. 5.  “the third and the fourth generation”:  beside the parallel passage at Deut. 5:9, see Exod. 34:7.

Vss. 13-14. The sequence of these verses is just the opposite in two of the oldest manuscripts of Exodus 20: the LXX (probably third century B.C.E.) and the Nash Papyrus (second to first centuries B.C.E.). Therefore, the commandments about honoring parents and adultery appear together, as do those regarding killing and stealing/kidnapping. Why the sequence changed cannot be determined with certainty.

V. 15. lō’ tignōb = “You shall not steal (a person)”: The direct object of the verb is sometimes a person (Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7; 2 Sam. 19:42). Note that the prohibition against killing in v. 13 likewise bears no object but assumes it means a person since killing animals is not forbidden elsewhere.

Allusions to the Commandments
OT:   Hosea 4:2
NT:   Matt. 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:8-13.

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1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Over against the demands of the Jews for signs and the Gentiles for wisdom, God gives to humankind the only wisdom necessary to know God:  the crucified Christ.

Context
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian congregation about A.D. 54-55, some four to five years after he had established the congregation there. He is responding to reports about matters of the congregation that came to him through messengers (“Chloe’s people,” 1:11) as well as through direct questions from the people through correspondence. Among Paul’s major concerns were the divisions in the congregation among such groups that aligned themselves according to Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. Paul asserts that it is not a matter of who baptized them but for what reason Christ sent him to them: “to proclaim the gospel” (1:17). Our passage provides the definition of the gospel he preached.

Key Words
V. 19. “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’”:  Paul demonstrates by the use of Isa. 29:14, that he is Editnot the first to challenge the wisdom tradition and those who claim to know it all. See also the premise of the Book of Job and the preaching of Jeremiah 8:8-9.

V. 21. eudokēsen ho theos = “it pleased God”: What pleases God in the NT is essentially what God gives. In Col. 1:19 “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the Son” and thereby to reconcile all things to Godself. Paul writes in Gal. 1:16 that God “was pleased to reveal the Son” to him so that he might preach among the Gentiles. And at Luke 12:32, Jesus taught that “it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom….”

V. 22. “For Jews demand signs (sēmeia) and Greeks seek wisdom (sophian)”: For the desire for signs see Numbers 14:11-25 where God says that the people of Israel received many signs but rejected God and God’s deliverance nevertheless. The people do not trust the Lord to keep the promises. In the Gospel stories, the Pharisees stand out as those who demand signs from Jesus “to test him” (Matt. 16:1-4; 12:38-39; Mark 8:11-13). At Luke 11:29. Jesus regards as “evil” this requiring of signs. Our Gospel from John 2:18 demonstrates the people’s demand to have Jesus prove his authority for house cleaning the temple by providing a sign. As for the wisdom sought by the Greeks, wisdom was a human attempt to discover the world of the gods and of humans through philosophies of various kinds.

V. 23. hēmeis de kēryssomen Christon estaurōmenon = “but we preach Christ crucified”: The content of the gospel that Paul preaches is completely contrary to signs and wisdom and, therefore, in the minds and eyes of the world, it is a stumbling block and folly. See Rom. 1:17-17 for “power of God” to save.

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John 2:13-22
On the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his disciples remembered and understood what he had said about destroying and rising and then they believed.

Context
John moves the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple from his final week of earthly life (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46) to quite early in Jesus’ ministry. In the process of moving the event, John makes some significant emphases that weave into the fabric of this Gospel.

John’s Gospel makes abundant use of signs. Chapters 2—12 comprise what is called “The Book of Signs.” Various acts of Jesus serve as signs that lead to faith. Indeed, John concludes his Gospel with stating the purpose about the reporting of signs that lead to faith in Jesus and to the gift of life. While Jesus performed his “first sign” in verses 1-11 and the “second sign” at 4:46-54, his saying here is in response to a request for a sign and the following paragraph alludes to other signs Jesus performed in Jerusalem. This passage, therefore, does not qualify as one of the signs because it points to an event yet to occur.

Key Words
V. 16. “You shall not make my father’s house a house of trade”: The allusion to Zech. 14:21 is clear, but it is itself more of a sign than the people imagined. Zechariah uses the elimination of traders as a promise given under the heading “on that day.” Jesus’ cleansing the temple is, therefore, an eschatological act.

V. 17. “Zeal for your house will consume me”: The quotation derives from Ps. 69:10. Psalm 69 is a psalm of lament by a person under persecution from others. It places the suffering in the context of faithfulness to God: “for your sake” (v. 7); “for zeal for your house” (here). That the psalm was important in the early church is clear from the use in all four gospels in telling the story of the crucifixion: “and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. 69:21; see Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:29).

V. 19. lysate ton naon touton kai en trisin hēmerais egerō auton = “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”:  While the people and the disciples did not understand his saying, the disciples would finally get it after the resurrection. Then, John reported, they would “remember” the saying and believe “the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” For John, the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to believe occurred on the same day.