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Wrestling with the Word, episode 105: First Sunday in Lent, Year A (March 13, 2011) March 7, 2011

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First Sunday in Lent

As I was listening over the past few weeks to some lectures on music, I became particularly interested when the teacher waxed eloquently about Pythagoras, the 6th century B.C, philosopher, mathematician, and most everything else. Pythagoras and his disciples (the Pythagoreans) developed a theory of numbers, often in terms of the ratio of objects to one another. In fact, they looked at numbers as a guide to interpret the world. The sought the mathematical harmony of all things. They spoke of the “Musica universalis,” the harmony of the spheres. The planets and stars moved according to mathematical equations, and they showed the same for musical notes.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 105: First Sunday in Lent, Year A.

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Psalm 32
The psalm is a combination of two different genres. The first seven verses make up a song of thanksgiving. That expression of gratitude results from the psalmist’s personal reflections on his own sinfulness and his ultimate confession of guilt, after which the Lord forgave him. The second part (verses 8-9) focuses on Wisdom themes. The personal experience expressed at the beginning leads the psalmist to instruct others so that they too might relinquish their autonomy and submit their wills to the Lord. The conclusion (verses 10-11) exhorts others to be joyful that the Lord is a God who shows covenant loyalty (chesed) to the people.

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Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 (ELCA)
Genesis 3:1-21 (LCMS)
Against God’s intentions for a faithful and healthy humanity, God held Adam and Eve accountable for choosing to “be like God, knowing good and evil,” setting the stage for a life of discord.

Context
Following the Priestly account of creation in Genesis 1:1–2:4a, the Yahwist’s account in Genesis 2–3 portrays the story of humanity in terms of a local oasis story.  “J” wrote his epic in the reigns of David and/or Solomon, that is, sometime in the tenth century B.C.

Key Words
2:15.  le‘obdāh ûlešomrāh = “to work it and to protect it”:  The expression demonstrates several important points:  (1) fruitful labor is part of the what God wills for humanity, not the result of human sinfulness; (2) that labor is performed for the production of food; (3) it is the responsibility of humans to protect the soil.

2:17. ûmē‘ēts hadda‘at tôb wārā‘ = “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”:  For the meaning of “good and evil” elsewhere, see 2 Sam. 19:35 where it seems to have something to do with pleasant and unpleasant tastes; cf. also 2 Sam. 14 where the “good and evil” of v. 17 seems to be explained as “all things” in v. 20; see also Isa. 7:15, 16.  As for “knowledge” (Heb. da‘at), the word in the Hebrew Bible has to do with intimate experience rather than with intellectual awareness (see Gen. 4:1; Amos 3:2).

3:1.  hannāchāš = “the serpent”:  Why a serpent is selected for the dirty work is not entirely clear.  Perhaps it is because (1) the serpent was a symbol of healing in ancient times, and so here the critter is put in its place, or (2) in the Gilgamesh Epic it is a serpent that takes the plant of life away from the hero, thus depriving him of immortality.

3:3.  pen-temûtûn = “lest you die”:  The question about what is meant by “die” here becomes significant because when they did eat the fruit, they did not expire. Perhaps death means the separation from God. Or perhaps the grace of God overpowered the judgment of God.

3:5.  wihyîtem kē’lōhîm yōde‘ê tôb wārā‘ = “and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil”:  The plural participle yôde‘ê gives the impression that kēlōhîm is plural also: “gods.”

3:7.  wayyēde‘û kî ‘êrummîm = “and they knew that they were naked”:  According to biblical understandings, they had been intellectually aware of their nakedness prior to the disobedience; now they experienced nakedness in terms of guilt and vulnerability.

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Romans 5:12-19
In contrast to the devastating effects of sin when “death reigned,” starting with the first couple, the effects of God’s justification in Christ will enable those who receive it to “reign in life through Jesus Christ.”

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Matthew 4:1-11
In the face of the devil’s temptations that Jesus prove he is the Son of God and that he can gain glory without suffering, Jesus proved faithful to his identity and mission.

Context
Immediately prior to our pericope is the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan (3:13-17).  On that occasion the voice from heaven announced to John (and others?) that Jesus was the “beloved Son (of God) with whom (God) was pleased.” That identity established, the temptation follows immediately.

Key Words
V. 1.  Tote ho Iēsous anēchthē … hypo tou pneumatos = “Then Jesus was led … by the Spirit”:  The Q version of the temptation differs from Mark’s not only in length and in discourse but even in the role of the Spirit who “drove” Jesus into the wilderness according to Mark’s account (1:12).

V. 1.  peirasthēnai hypo tou diabolou = “to be tempted by the devil”:  Matthew uses diabolos here in place of Mark’s Satan.  However, at v. 10, Jesus calls “the devil” Satan. In v. 3 he is called ho peirazōn = “the tempter,” a term used also at 1 Thess. 3:5.  In addition to the synoptic parallels, reference is made to Jesus’ temptation also at Heb. 2:18; 4:15.  For the temptations of the devil on people, see 1 Cor. 7:5; 1 Thess. 3:5; Rev. 2:10. For the temptation by Satan on the people of Israel, see 1 Chron. 21:1.

Vv. 3, 6.  ei huios ei tou theou = “if you are the Son of God”:  Note the same temptation raised by the mockers at his crucifixion (27:40).  As a question at the trial, see 26:63.  At 26:63 the high priest demanded that Jesus “tell us, if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” and Jesus responded with “You said so!” and spoke instead of the Son of Man.

V. 8.  eis oros hypselon lian = “a very high mountain”:  In the LXX the expression refers to “high places” that are sacred places for Canaanites or Israelites (see Matt. 17:1//Mark 9:2).  The impression is that each temptation moves to a higher elevation:  the wilderness hills, the temple pinnacle on Mount Zion/Moriah, and finally the “cosmic” mountain, the only spot from which one could see “all the kingdoms of the world.”

V. 10. hypage, satana = “Go away, Satan”: When Peter tries to prevent Jesus from his prophecy regarding the cross at 16:23, Jesus addresses Peter with the words, hypage…, satana, but adds opisō mou = “behind me.” Jesus explains to Peter his accusation and address: Peter is “not on the side of God but of humans.” Here Jesus explains to Satan that the temptation runs contrary to God’s claim to exclusive devotion expressed in the words of the Shema.

V. 11. kai idou aggeloi prosēlthon kai diēkonooun autō = “and behold angels came and served him”: At 26:53 Jesus calms his disciples when soldiers and Judas came to arrest him in Gethsemane by indicating if he wanted, God would send legions of angels to protect him. Even the prophet Elijah knew of God’s protective angels when an angel served him food in the desert (1 Kings 19:5-8). That incident led to the prophet’s sustenance for “forty days and forty nights,” the length of Jesus’ fasting in the desert (v. 2).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 77: Lectionary 11 (3 Pentecost), Year C (June 13, 2010) June 8, 2010

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Lectionary 11 (Third Sunday after Pentecost)

Many of us have trouble with forgiveness. Sometimes the difficulty is granting forgiveness to someone who has deeply hurt, offended, or dishonored us. Sometimes the problem is with receiving forgiveness, either from another person or from God. The whole Bible, and indeed our lessons for the day make clear that whatever difficulties we might have with forgiveness, God is always reaching out to forgive our sin. God’s grace is abundant. Accepting the divine gift can change our lives. Through God’s forgiveness we can find peace and purpose.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 77: Lectionary 11 (3 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 32
The psalm is one of thanksgiving for the forgiveness the petitioner experienced from God, merely by acknowledging sin.  Prior to that expression of guilt and the reception of forgiveness the petitioner’s physical and emotional life was in ruin.  The difference in his own life leads him to invite others to follow his example (v. 6).  After this invitation the psalmist takes upon himself the role of a teacher, and so the psalm develops into a wisdom psalm as it concludes.

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2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15
In spite of the sinfulness of God’s people, God nevertheless forgives us and uses us in the pursuit of God’s mission on earth.

Context
Chapter 11 begins with David’s view of Bathsheba’s rooftop bath.  It goes on to relate the subsequent sexual intercourse between the two, her conception, and David’s strategy to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle.

Key Words
12:7.  mešachtîkā = “I anointed you”:  David was anointed as a young boy by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16:13), and later the elders of Israel anointed David king over Israel (2 Sam. 5:3).  Since the former anointing was said to be the act of YHWH, the allusion here is to 1 Sam. 16.

12:9. maddûa‘ bāzîtā ’et-debar YHWH = “Why have you despised the word of the Lord”:  According to Prov. 14:2, one who despises the Lord “is devious in his ways”; at 1 Sam. 2:30 the wicked priestly house of Eli will suffer disaster because they “despise” the Lord.  The “word of the Lord,” which is said to be despised here, are the commandments prohibiting murder (Exod. 20:13) and adultery (20:14).

12:15.  wayyiggōp YHWH = “and the Lord struck”:  For other examples of the Lord smiting an individual, see 1 Sam. 25:38 (Nabal); 26:10 (Saul); 2 Chron. 13:20 (Jeroboam); 21:18 (Jehoram).

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Galatians 2:15-21
Against those who would presume to contribute to their own innocence before God, God justifies (declares innocent) those who believe in Christ, calling them to surrender their old identity in order to live as persons in whom Christ resides.

Context
Paul concludes his discussion of the argument with Peter regarding the imposition of Jewish practices on Gentiles who have become Christians.  The apostle insists that such an intrusion into the gospel negates it and surrenders the gospel to the whims of human traditions.  Immediately prior to our pericope, Paul wrote of his encounter with Cephas:  before James’ representatives appeared on the scene, Cephas ate with Gentiles; after their coming, he withdrew.

Key Words
V. 16.  eidotes [de] hoti … dikaioutai anthrōpos dia pisteōs ’Iēsou Christou = “seeing that … a person is justified through faith in Jesus Christ”:  Note the change that occurs in Romans 3:24: dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō ’Iēsou = “they are justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Yet, at Romans 3:26, Paul writes that God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

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Luke 7:36–8:3
God in Christ forgives those who need forgiveness and come to him humbly, thereby enabling them to be “lovers” and to live in peace.

Context
Following his discussion about John the Baptist, Jesus spoke of the fickleness of the people of his times.  They accuse John of possessing a demon because he does not eat normal food or drink wine.  Yet they accuse Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of sinners.

Key Words
7:36.  tis … tōn Pharisaiōn = “one of the Pharisees”:  Elsewhere Jesus eats with Pharisees (11:37; 14:1) just as he also eats with those despised by the Pharisees:  Zacchaeus (19:5) and unnamed sinners (v. 34; also cf. 5:30; 15:2).

7:37, 39.  hamartōlos = “sinner”: The same word appears for Jesus’ associates at v. 34 and   often elsewhere in Luke (5:32; see also 15:7, 10).

7:44-46.  “tears … kiss … anoint”:  The terms describe here the woman’s love.  “Tears” demonstrate Paul’s love for the Corinthians at 2 Cor. 2:4.  “Kiss” denotes forgiving love at Luke 15:20; tender affection at Acts 20:37; Christian affection at Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20.  “Anointing” the head with oil is done by a host to an honored quest; see Ps. 23:5; Amos 6:6.

7:47, 48.  apheōntai (sou) hai hamartiai (autēs) = “Your/her sins have been forgiven”:  The perfect tense indicates the woman had already been forgiven; a theological passive. Jesus had already explained through his parable that forgiveness leads to her loving act rather than her action resulting in forgiveness.

7:50.  poreuou eis eirēnēn = “Go in peace”:  The same dismissal occurs at 8:48 where Jesus likewise commends a woman for her faith (following Mark 5:34).  See also 1 Sam. 1:17; 20:42; 29:7.

8:1.  kēryssōn kai euaggelizomenos tēn basileian tou theou = “preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God”:  The two verbs indicate one action, and that preaching of the kingdom of God is accomplishing its presence among the people.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 64: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C (March 14, 2010) February 28, 2010

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Let’s talk about God. What kind of God do we worship? That question is by no means frivolous. In fact, it is a matter of life and death, because the kind of God that we worship determines how we live our lives, how we face our deaths, and how we laugh with God through it all. As Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he raised our sights above the standards of religion to envision a waiting Father ready to throw a party.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 64: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C.

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Psalm 32
The psalm is a combination of two different genres. The first eight verses make up a song of thanksgiving. That expression of gratitude results from the psalmist’s personal reflections on his own sinfulness and his ultimate confession of guilt, after which the Lord forgave him. The second part focuses on Wisdom themes. The personal experience expressed at the beginning leads the psalmist to instruct others so that they too might relinquish their autonomy and submit their wills to the Lord. The conclusion exhorts others to be joyful that the Lord is a God who shows covenant loyalty (chesed) to the people.

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Joshua 5:9-12
Having fed the people with manna during their long sojourn in the wilderness, the Lord brought them into the land of Canaan where they could celebrate the Passover with produce from the land of promise.

Context
Having assumed leadership of the people upon the death of Moses, Joshua led the people across the Jordan River by the same means Moses had used to cross the Red Sea: drying up the river so that the people could pass over on dry ground. Now into the land of Canaan, Joshua circumcised all the males who had not been circumcised during the long journey. That necessity for the ritual seems to be the reason for the “reproach of Egypt” which YHWH rolled away.

Key Words
V. 9.  hayyôm gallôtî ’et-cherpat-mitsrayim mē‘aêkem = “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”:  In light of the context, the reproach here is not the bondage that Egypt imposed upon the people of Israel but the fact that since the departure from Egypt, the children of the Israelites had not been circumcised.  The only other case in which uncircumcision itself is a reproach, i.e., shameful, occurs in the story about Dinah and Shechem in Genesis 34:14.

V. 11.  matstsôt = “unleavened bread/cakes”:  according to the rite for Passover, Israel was to eat such unleavened cakes for the seven days of Passover (see Exod. 12:15, 18, 20; 23:15; 13:6,7; Lev. 23:6, etc.

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2 Corinthians 5:16-21
On the basis of God’s reconciliation of the world and of ourselves to him, we are a new creation entrusted with the message of reconciliation to others.

Context
The apostle has finished his argument setting forth the idea that as fragile human beings we are bearers of the treasure of the gospel. He then proceeded to encourage the readers to live with the assurance of resurrection. Immediately prior to our pericope occurs the basis of the “therefore” that occurs in v. 16:  the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Key Words
V. 16.  apo tou nun = “from now on”:  The same expression at Luke 22:18, 69; 1 Cor. 7:29. Paul uses the expression nuni = “now” to indicate the difference between the former time and the new time. See Rom. 3:21; 5:9, 10, 11; 6:22; 7:6; 8:1, 22; 11:30; 13:11; 16:26; 1 Cor. 2:12; 4:5; 13:12; 2 Cor. 6:2; Gal. 3:25; 4:9. Here the transition from one time to the next is marked by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

V. 18.  tēn diakonian tēs katallagēs = “the ministry of reconciliation”:  At Rom. 5:11 reconciliation is, along with justification, our present gift while we wait for salvation from the wrath to come. At Rom. 11:15 the “reconciliation of the world” refers to the divine gift of going out to the Gentile world.

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Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Far beyond the human concern for fairness is the joy of God over the return of the lost.

Context
The beginning of the pericope cites the problem the Pharisees and the scribes had with Jesus over his dining with sinners. The reference thus links directly to the previous chapter where Jesus, invited to dinner in the home of a Pharisee, took advantage of the opportunity to instruct the other guests in how to pick their seats and to reconstruct the host’s invitation list to include the poor. That discussion led to the parable about the man who invited many guests to a banquet and none of them came.

Scheme of LOST: FOUND: JOY

15:4-7:  Parable of the Lost Sheep

15:8-10: Parable of the Lost Coin

15:11-32 Parable of the Prodigal Son

Key Words
V. 2.  diagogguzein = “murmur, complain”:  The word appears in Luke here and at 19:7.  On the other hand, it occurs often in LXX for Israel’s “murmuring” against God and against Moses in the wilderness (Exod. 15:24; 16:2, 7, 8; 17:3; Num. 14:2, 36; 16:11; Deut. 1:27)..

V. 20.  esplagchvisthē = “had compassion”:  The word describes the feeling of the Good Samaritan in that parable (10:33), of the Lord in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:27), of Jesus at seeing the grieving widow of Nain (Luke 13).  Like the corresponding Hebrew words, the verb derives from a noun meaning “inward parts,” i.e., the seat of the emotions

V. 32.  dei = it is necessary”:  The word of necessity is common in Luke:  2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 13:16, 33; 17:25; 19:5; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44. All the passages tell of the necessity of fulfilling the mission of God.