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Wrestling with the Word, episode 81: Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost), Year C ( July 11, 2010) June 28, 2010

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Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost)

How easy it is for groups of believers to lose the theological foundations that defined them in the first place! Sometimes cultural influences so overwhelm the communities of believers that they have trouble sorting out the foundation from the later construction. Sometimes attempts to control others by appealing to their fears causes the virtual replacement of basic beliefs by new requirements. In face of such human-caused confusion, God nevertheless sends spokespersons in every generation to call us back to basics, no matter how threatened the cultural and religious traditions might become.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 81: Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 25:1-10
This acrostic psalm is a lament in which a pious worshipper pleads that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame. Typical of a lament, the worshipper acknowledges a history of God’s mercy and counts on it in the present situation to forgive sins. Wrapped up in this divine mercy are God’s salvation (v. 5), steadfast love, and faithfulness (vss. 7, 10). Along with the petitions are elements of Wisdom as the psalmist prays for instruction to bear the present time in faithfulness. (The plea for forgiveness in v. 7 is repeated in vv. 11 and 18.)

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Deuteronomy 30:9-14
In response to the curses Israel brought upon herself through infidelity to the Lord, God promises to restore prosperity to the people and makes the word accessible to them so that they might do it.

Context
With the end of the so-called “covenant code” at 28:68, chapters 29-33 represent a collection of various kinds of material before the Book of Deuteronomy comes to a close with the death of Moses and the succession of Joshua. Chapter 29 attempts to link the book to the Sinai covenant by including exhortations to the people within the context of a historical summary. Chapter 30 reiterates the blessing and curse theme of 27:1ff. and looks forward to that distant future when the Lord will bring Israelites back to their land from their dispersion in other lands. This pericope is part of a promise to exiles that God has not and will not forsake them in their despair.

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Parallel Passage:  Jeremiah 32

Key Words
V. 9.  wehôtîre = “and (God) will cause to remain over”: God will prosper the people, i.e., make their lives abundant. For the opposite of the blessings promised here, see the results of the curses at 28:25-35.

V. 9.  kî yāšûb YHWH lāsûs ‘ālekā= “for the Lord will turn to rejoicing over you”:  Compare  Jer. 32:41:  wesastî ‘alêhem = “I will rejoice over you.”

V. 10.  hakketûbâ besēpher hattôrâ hazzeh = “which are written in this instruction”:  The torah mentioned here is the code of chaps. 12-26.

V. 12-13.  “ascend to heaven”:  Recall Ps. 139:8 which speaks of the impossibility of escaping the presence of God.

V. 14.  “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”:  To the exiles in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., these words responded to their cry that the Lord had forsaken them (see Isa. 40:27; 49:15; Ezek. 37:11). Note Paul’s use of this verse to speak of the gospel (Rom. 10:8).

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Colossians 1:1-14
The gospel of Jesus Christ fills the community with faith, love, and hope, causing the Apostle to give thanks and to pray that they lead lives worthy of the Lord in spite of the invasion of heresies (2:8).

Context
The congregation at Colossae, a city in Asia Minor, was founded by Epaphras (1:7) who was a native of the city (4:12). The purpose of the letter is to address the influence of heresies and to encourage the church to remain faithful to the traditions that they had learned from the beginning. This pericope includes the author’s salutation (vv. 1-2), the thanksgiving for the community’s faith (vv. 3-8), and the first part of the prayer for the community’s steadfastness (vv. 9-20).  While some scholars defend Pauline authorship, the style and content seem to point to someone else as the author of the epistle.

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Luke 10:25-37
In response to the lawyer’s testing Jesus about eternal life and the identity of one’s neighbor, Jesus responded with a parable about the Good Samaritan indicating how the lawyer can be a neighbor by doing the Torah.

Context
rom some point on the way between Samaria and Jerusalem, Jesus had received the seventy whom he had commissioned to announce the kingdom of God. On that occasion Jesus offered a prayer of thanksgiving that God had hidden “these things” from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes. In vv. 23-24 Jesus seems to identify the “babes” as the disciples who see him and hear his word.

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Parallel Passage:  2 Chronicles 28:1-15

Synoptic Parallels: Matthew 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31

Key Words

V. 25.  nomikos = “lawyer”:  The man is an expert in the law of Moses.

V. 27.  “You shall love the Lord …”:  The commandment appears at Deut. 6:5 which immediately follows the well-known Shema; cf. also Deut. 10:12; Josh. 22:5.

V. 27.  kai ton plēsion sou hōs seauton = “and your neighbor as yourself”:  The command appears at Lev. 19:18 (part of the Holiness Code) where “neighbor” is “one of your own people.”  Here “neighbor” is defined not according to Jewish law or even as the object of love but as the subject of loving care.

V. 28.  touto poiei kai zēsē = “do this and you shall live”:  Recall Lev. 18:5:  by doing God’s statutes and ordinances “a person shall live”; cf. also Deut. 30:9-14.  The gift of life is connected with a person’s repentance at Ezek. 18:32.  Jesus does not seem to have difficulty relating good works to the promise of life, as was indeed his tradition.

V. 30.  katebainen = “went down”:  The elevation of Jerusalem is above sea level, while Jericho is more than 800 feet below sea level.

Vv. 31-33.  antiparēlthen … antiparēlthen … ēlthen = “passed by … passed by … came”:  The Greek demonstrates the contrast by use of the same root word.  The word antiparēlthen appears only here in the entire NT.

V. 34. epemelēthē autou = “took care of him”:  The words also appear to describe the work assigned to the innkeeper in v. 35.  Apart from here the word occurs only in the LXX at Gen.44:21 (Joseph’s offer for Benjamin) and Sirach 30:25.

V. 37.  ho poiēsas to eleos met’ autou = “the one who did mercy with him”: then poreuou kai su poiei homoiōs = “go and do likewise.”  Note the connection with the command to keep the law in verse 28, indicating that the one who keeps the law about loving God and neighbor acts like the Samaritan in caring for a needy person.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 49: First Sunday of Advent, Year C (November 29, 2009) November 12, 2009

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First Sunday of Advent

The time of Advent calls on us to perform an unnatural act: wait. The word “advent” means “coming,” and the arrival we await is (1) the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, to become one of us and live among us, (2) Christ’s appearance at the end time (the Second Coming). The first two Sundays of Advent focus on the Second Coming of Christ. The third Sunday focuses on the announcement of John the Baptizer who pointed to the coming ministry of Jesus. The fourth Sunday centers on Mary who, as God’s faithful servant, waited for Jesus’ birth. The New Testament writings developed after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus but obviously before the Second Coming when all things will become new. The critical question from New Testament times until this very day is not really the apocalyptic question about how long must we wait. Rather the question for the church in any day is: what do we do with our lives in the meantime? How do we wait? For what do we wait? Why do we wait?

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 49: First Sunday of Advent, Year C.

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Psalm 25:1-10
This acrostic psalm is a lament in which a pious worshipper pleads that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame. Typical of a lament, the worshipper acknowledges a history of God’s mercy and counts on it in the present situation to forgive sins. Wrapped up in this divine mercy are God’s salvation (v. 5), steadfast love, and faithfulness (vss. 7, 10). Along with the petitions are examples of Wisdom as the psalmist prays for instruction to bear the present time in faithfulness. (The plea for forgiveness in v. 7 is repeated in vv. 11 and 18).

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Jeremiah 33:14-16
In the midst of disaster all around and in spite of Jeremiah’s own personal tragedy, God promises through that prophet the new day when God will establish a peaceful reign and set over the kingdom a Davidic ruler.

Context
At the time of Jeremiah’s call, Josiah was king of Judah (640-609 B.C.). Josiah was succeeded by Jehoaz who ruled only a few months. Then Jehoiakim, king from 609-598 B.C., was succeeded by Jehoiachin who was king at the time of the first deportation to Babylon (598-597 B.C.). Jehoiachin himself was among the first deportees, and so Nebuchadnezzar put on the throne Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah and changed his name to Zedekiah (“Yah is righteousness” or perhaps “Yah is legitimate”). This puppet king, not directly of Davidic lineage, reigned until 587 B.C. (Note: this passage is virtually identical to Jer. 23:5-6.)

Key Words
V. 14.  wahaqîmōtî ’et-haddābār hattôb = “and I will establish the good word”:  The word is the promise God made to David (2 Sam. 7). That there was now an uncle rather than a succeeding son makes Zedekiah, the present king, illegitimate.

V. 15.  ’atsmîach ledāwid tsemach tsedāqâ = “I will cause to spring up for David a righteous branch”:  The image of the royal family tree as roots and branches occurs at Isa. 11:1. The prophecy there interprets the future king’s reign as one on which he judges the poor with righteousness and even wears “righteousness” as his intimate apparel. Further, at Zech. 3:8; 4:12 the candidate for the royal office is the “legitimate” successor Zerubbabel.

V. 15.  mišpāt ûtsedāqâ = “justice and righteousness”:  “Justice and righteousness” are the means by which YHWH rules the world, “the foundation of his throne” (Ps. 89:14; 97:2), and so the Davidic king, as the representative of God, reigns with the same foundations (Ps. 72:2).

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1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
In anticipation of the coming again of the Lord, Paul prays for reunion with the congregation, for their abundance of love to one another and to all, so that the Lord might make their hearts unblamable in holiness before God.

Context
Cassander, a general in Alexander’s army, founded Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia, in 316 B.C. When Macedonia became a Roman province in 146 B.C., Thessalonica became the capital. The city’s prosperity was due in large part to its location along the Via Egnatia. According to Acts 17:1-9 Paul visited the city (Acts 17:1-9), accompanied by Silas and perhaps Timothy (Acts 16:1; 17:14-15; 18:5; 1 Tim. 1:1). His letter, written probably from Corinth in A.D. 50-51, seeks to guide the congregation that he founded and had to leave prematurely. His teachings focus on the Second Coming of Christ, the glories it will bring, the ethical responsibilities in the meantime, and the unpredictability of its timing.

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Luke 21:25-36
In response to the concern about the sign for the Day of the Lord, Jesus tells of a variety of signs common to human existence, and he urges constant preparedness to stand before the Son of man on the last day.

Context
Whether or not the author of Luke-Acts was the Luke that traveled with Paul, he wrote some time between A.D. 70 and 90, probably in the 80s. The author addressed his work to an audience consisting primarily of Gentile Christians. He quoted the Old Testament in the LXX version rather then the Hebrew. He used no Hebrew words, as did the other evangelists. Further, the content of his writing betrays a broader, even universal, message than that of the other synoptic gospels. In his two-volume work, the author presents the history of salvation in three periods: (1) the time prior to Jesus Christ; (2) the time of Jesus; (3) the time of the church.

As he presented the passion story, Luke began his account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at 19:28. Jesus’ teachings in the city and the temple had, in the previous verses, prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24), a subject raised earlier in the chapter (21:5-6).

Key Words
V. 25.  ēchous thalassēs kai salou = “at the roaring of sea and waves”:  The words recall the chaotic force of the sea versus the orderly reign of God (see Isa. 17:12-14; Ps. 46:1-3; in NT see Mark 4:35-41 and parallels).

V. 27.  ton huion tou anthrōpou erchomenon en nephelē = “the son of man coming in a cloud”: In Dan. 7:13, the source of the quotation, the direction is from earth to the heavenly throne of God.

V. 28.  dioti eggizei hē apolytrōsis hymōn = “because your redemption is near”:  Luke uses the expression “is near” in reference to the kingdom of God at 10:9 and at 21:31, and then connects the coming kingdom with Jesus’ coming near Jerusalem (18:35; 19:29, 37, 41). The nearness of the kingdom, of course, lies at the heart of Jesus’ own preaching (Mark 1:14-15).

V. 32.  hē genea autē = “this generation”:  In light of the date of Luke in the 70s or 80s, the author would know that many people in Jesus’ generation did pass away. Perhaps the expression refers to the kinds of people who seek signs, indicating it is evil (see 11:29).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 10: First Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 1, 2009) February 15, 2009

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First Sunday in Lent

As we begin to discuss the Sunday lessons for the season of Lent, we encounter some powerful passages that enable us to realize—not only that we are walking with Christ through his sufferings but, above all, that Christ is walking with us through our sufferings and promising light at the end of the tunnel. The lessons for this First Sunday in Lent are vivid demonstrations of that experience. The psalm was written for, and used by, troubled and persecuted people who realized that they were hopeless if left to their own doings; hope lay in calling on God to “remember” them in grace. The story of Noah assures that God will “remember” the everlasting covenant God made with all humankind after God delivered the ark-load of living things from the devastating waters of the flood. The water of baptism leads to the divine declaration about the identity and purpose of Jesus, both of which Satan challenges. And the water of baptism is the vehicle by which God gives to Christians the hope of resurrection, even in the midst of the trials of persecution.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 10: First Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 25:1-10
The acrostic psalm is an individual lament on the part of a person who turns to the Lord for help and consolation. The psalmist is “lonely and afflicted” (v. 16) and cries out for forgiveness (v. 18). In typical lament terms, the petitioner seeks safety from enemies (vss. 2, 19) and calls the Lord to “remember” (vs. 7). The psalmist’s trust in God and the profound piety out of which he/she speaks illustrates confidence that only with the Lord is faithfulness (steadfast love = covenant loyalty, vss. 7, 10). That confidence arises from what the community has experienced, namely, that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame (vs. 3). What the petitioner seeks from the Lord is instruction to live rightly (vss. 4-5), because the Lord is known to teach the afflicted. He/she asks the Lord to “remember me” with divine grace rather than by the person’s past deeds (vs. 7).

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Genesis 9:8-17
Aware that the future of the earth cannot depend on human activity and faithfulness, God pledges an everlasting covenant and a sign that never again shall the earth be destroyed by water.

Context
In Genesis 6 God decided to put an end to the human race because they corrupted the whole earth with their wickedness. Only Noah was warned, instructed to make an ark, and take on board his immediate family and a representation of all living species. The flood lasted a long time, and it appeared everything, including the ark, was lost. Then God remembered Noah and the contents of the ark and shut off the spigots. When the ark landed on dry ground, God gave Noah and his wife the same blessing given to the first humans: “Be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” The Lord realized that the human heart could not be trusted, and so God promised without condition to maintain the earth for habitation.

Key Words
Vv. 9, 11. wa`anî hinnî mēqîm ‘et-berîtî ‘ittekem = “And as for me, I am establishing my covenant with you”: among the many possibilities for the verb, this one, namely hēqîm, signifies the writer as the Priest.

V. 12. zō’ ’ôt-habberît = “this is the sign of the covenant”: the Priest elsewhere uses signs as a way of confirming the promise of the covenant; see the circumcision at Gen. 17:11. What is unusual here is that the sign is used for God to remember the promise, whereas the sign of circumcision appears to be a reminder to the people involved and a mark of identity.

V. 13. ‘et-qaštî nātattî be‘ānān = “my bow I will set in the clouds”: the bow was one of the major weapons that Marduk took to battle against Tiamat. Yahweh generally uses other weapons such as hailstones (Josh. 10) or hornets (Deut 7:20; Josh. 24:12) or wind (Exodus 14; Ps. 48). Likely, then, the bow here is not a weapon.

V. 16. berît ‘ôlām = “covenant of eternity”: other “everlasting covenants” in the OT are the one with Abraham (Gen 17:7,8,19), with Phinehas (Num. 25:12-13), with David (2 Sam. 23:5). The oaths God made to these individuals obligate only God. Any arrangement based on human cooperation could hardly be everlasting, especially considering what the Lord had acknowledged at 8:21. See the new covenant at Jer. 32:40.

Vv. 15, 16. wezākartî ’et-berîtî = “and I will remember my covenant”: the promise is God’s response to the cry of the laments that God remember what he had done or promised in the past. The primary characteristics were (1) lament over the silence/absence of God, (2) the question “How long?” would the silence continue, and (3) the calling upon God to “remember” promises and actions of old (cf. Ps. 74:18, 20, 23; 89:47, 50).

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1 Peter 3:18-22
In face of his readers’ imminent persecution because of their faith, the author announces that Jesus Christ died for them to bring them to God and was raised to serve as Risen Lord, leaving them with the gift of baptism by which they are saved even now and for the resurrection to come.

Context
Whether the letter was composed by Peter just before the persecutions under Nero in A.D. 64 or later at the time of another persecution, the theme of trouble brewing occurs at 1:6-7; 3:16-17; 4:12-19; 5:9. The author has addressed the letter to the “exiles of the dispersion” (1:1). The writer has announced that the Christians have been “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … through the living and abiding word of God” (1:3, 23). The result of that new birth is their “exile” in the world (cf. Phil. 3:20), an identity that calls them to live honorably in the midst of others in the world.

Key Words
Vv. 18-19. The verses are probably a hymn on the basis of its structure, proclaiming the suffering and death of the righteous (Christ) for the unrighteous (humanity). The words hoti gar Christos hapax peri hamartiōn epathen = “for Christ suffered for sins once for all” call to mind the vicarious suffering of the servant in Second Isaiah 52:13—53:12. At 2:24 the author alludes to Isa. 53:5-6, 12.

V. 19. en hō kai tois phylakē pneumasin poreutheis ekēryxen = “in which, going to the spirits in prison, preached to them”: The notion that Jesus ministered even to the dead (those in Sheol) appears again at 4:6, indicating that those who have already died might experience the blessings of new life.

V. 20. diesōthēsan di’ hydatos = “saved through water”: The author alludes to the salvation of Noah and his family in order to lead to the use of water in Christian baptism which saves the readers “now” by their being born anew as exiles (1:1, 3, 17, 23). This new birth leads to resurrection, an imperishable inheritance (1:4, 23) and thus provides hope to those in times of persecution.

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Mark 1:9-15
Baptized as God’s Son and tempted by Satan, Jesus acts out his identity by announcing the good news of the kingdom’s nearness and exhorting the hearers to repent and believe.

Context
Addressing his gospel to readers in the mid-sixties when danger and revolt encompassed both the Jewish and Christian communities in Israel, the author combines tightly the sequence of baptism-temptation-ministry. This beginning of the story about Jesus introduces the entire gospel.

Key Words
V. 11. su ei ho huois mou ho agapēs, en soi eudokēsa = “You are my son, the beloved; in you I am well pleased.”: The words “You are my son” convey the formula at Ps. 2:7 where God adopts the Davidic (Messianic) king on coronation day in Jerusalem. The combination of the words huois and agapētos as “beloved son” occurs in the LXX only at Genesis 22: 2, 12, 16 where the expression refers to Isaac at the time he is to be sacrificed. The final expression “in you I am well pleased” recalls the description of the Servant of Second Isaiah as the Lord seems to introduce him to the heavenly court; the identity of th Servant seems to be Israel in exile (cf. Isa. 41:8-9).

V. 12. kai euthus = “and immediately”: The word euthus occurs frequently in Mark, providing a sense of urgency; see also vv. 18, 20, 21, 23, 29, 30, 42.

V. 13. “tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him”: In OT Satan is one of the heavenly court of God who tests faith (see Job 1; Zech 3:1ff) and at times leads someone to commit an iniquity (1 Chron. 21:1). In the intertestamental period he became the leader of the forces who oppose God’s reign. Coexisting with the wild beasts points to the Messianic reign of harmony (Isa. 11:6-9); for the angels, see Job 5:22; Ps. 91:11-12.

V. 13. kai ēn en tē erēmō tesserakonta hēmeras peirazomenos hypo tou satana = “and he was in the wilderness/desert forty days, tested by Satan”: In OT Satan is one of the heavenly court of God who tests faith (see Job 1; Zech 3:1ff) and at times leads someone to commit an iniquity (1 Chron. 21:1). In the intertestamental period, Satan became the leader of the forces who oppose God’s reign. On the other hand, the LXX uses the same word for “test” to describe God’s activity, as in the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22:1), of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exod 20:20) and during her 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:1-2). Such testing by God is even desired by a person who regards God’s testing of faith as the way to growth and maturity (Ps. 26:2; cf. Job 5:17 where the resulting blessings include peace with the animals).

V. 13. kai ēn meta tōn thēriōn = “and he was with the animals”: Coexisting with the animals points to the creation story of Genesis 1 (Gen. 1:24, 25, 30), to the blissful condition of the one God reproves (Job 5:22-23), and to the Peaceable Kingdom of the Messianic reign (Isa. 11:6-9). Conservation International is one of the organizations today that tracks the well-being of animals and other species of life on the earth.

V. 13. kai hoi aggeloi diēkonoun autō = and the angels ministered to him”: Such an angelic role is not common in the Bible, but see Ps. 91:11-12, a passage which Matthew (4:6) and Luke (4:10-11) cite with a quite different twist as part of their expanded temptation story.

V. 15. peplērōtai ho kairos kai ēggiken hē basileia tou theou = “the anticipated time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near”: Probably a synonymous parallelism: Jesus’ words signal the fulfillment of prophecy about the Day of the Lord and the beginning of God’s reign.

V. 15. metanoiete kai pisteuete en tō euaggeliō_ = “repent and believe in the gospel”: The kingdom’s beginning calls for the people’s response of repentance. The word euaggelion = “gospel, good news” does not appear in the Septuagint. In LXX the word appears only in verb forms for announcing such good news as the victory on a battlefield (2 Sam. 18:19-31) or the birth of an baby (Jer. 20:15).