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Wrestling with the Word, episode 34: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (August 16, 2009) August 3, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Contrary to some popular opinion, God is committed to life. Certainly, a person can select this or that passage in the Bible—in both testaments—to demonstrate that God is a severe judge and has no more important thing to do than whack us for the things we do wrong. The bigger picture, if you will look at the whole Bible, portrays a God who is dedicated to giving us life. That life-giving God appears when God acts to save the oppressed people. Life is the object lesson when God instructs through the Torah how to be responsible members of a community rather than rugged individualists. God takes human form so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. All four lessons for the day take a thread of that divine promise of life, one that runs though the whole Bible. That thread is called “wisdom.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 34, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 34: 9-14
The psalm is essentially a thanksgiving, as is clear from the first three verses.  In light of vv. 4-6, the thanksgiving follows the experience of a lament:  the Lord answered, the Lord heard. As thanksgiving, it was used in the early church in connection with the sacrament of Holy Communion, particularly because of v. 8:  “O taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are those who take refuge in him.” In verse 9, “wisdom” themes enter the psalm, calling typically on those who “fear the Lord” (cf. Prov. 1:7). The wisdom teacher compares the need for learning to hunger, invites the pupils to learn from the experience of the teacher, and offers specific instructions about the way to life.

The psalm begins to unravel the thread called wisdom. I have mentioned the word many times in these podcasts. This time we will attempt that trick that cats love so much—unravel the whole ball of thread that is called wisdom. What is wisdom?

Wisdom is

  1. What human beings can achieve: as seen in Book of Proverbs (akin to ancient Near Eastern collections such as Babylonian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Aramaic, etc); some Psalms or sections of Psalms like 34, 1, 78, 119, and many others; the essential theology is a simple doctrine: Wisdom teaching had two classrooms: the home and the royal court. The court teachers seem to have become a special class ranked right up there with princes, priests, official prophets.
  2. What humans beings cannot achieve: Ecclesiastes, the Book of Job.
  3. What belongs to God:  Job 28:20-28.
  4. What exists alongside God and speaks in first person: Proverbs 8:22-31; 9:1-6.

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Proverbs 9:1-6
Against all the seductive advances of the world that lead to death and chaos, God invites us to learn true wisdom so that we might live.

Context
The Book of Proverbs consists of maxims by which a person can become wise, walk in the way of insight, and thus live. Here and there wisdom is personified, speaking in 8:22-31 as one who stood beside God at the time of creation and here as a woman who invites people for dinner. Our passage provides a contrast to the seductive woman of 7:6-23 whose advances to the young lead to trouble, for they do “not know that it will cost him his life” (v. 23).

Key Words
V. 4.  mî-petî = “whoever is simple”:  The parallelism with “without sense” indicates the term is a synonym for “fool,” as can be verified by the parallelisms at 1:22, 32; 7:7; 8:5; 9:4; at 9:16 “without sense”; at 19:25; 21:11; 22:3 “scoffer.” The “fool” in wisdom literature is the opposite of the wise person and is, therefore, one who refuses to follow the instructions of the wise teacher.

V. 5.  lekû lachamû belachamî ûšetû beyayin māsaktî = “Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed”:  Note the invitation of Isa. 55:1 and Wisdom’s lure at Sirach 51:23ff. (cf. also Matt. 11:28-30).

V. 6.  wichyû = “and live”:  The expression occurs also in Proverbs at 4:4; 7:2 as the reward for seeking wisdom, but life is found in other traditions by recognizing the healing presence of God (Num. 21:9), by keeping the Torah (Deut. 30:19-20), by repentance (Ezek. 18:32), by worshiping the Lord with faithfulness (Amos 5:4, 6), by the healing hand of Christ (Mark 5:23), and Christ himself (John 14:6).

V. 6.  bederek bînâ = “in the way of insight”:  In proverbial wisdom “the way” is the path pursued by the wise (Prov. 4:11; 6:23; 8:20) and which leads to life. Opposite is “the way of the wicked” or “the way of the fool”:  Prov. 1:15; 2:12; 4:14, 19; 8:13; 12:15, 26, 28; 14:12; 15:9, 19. “The way” is also that of the Lord, and the signposts are the Lord’s laws and commandments (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 5:33; 9:12, 16; 11:28; 13:5; 31:29; Judg. 2:17, 22; Ps. 119:27, 30, 32, etc.)

We have been talking about wisdom as what exists alongside God.

Wisdom now is …

5.  What comes out of the mouth of God: Sirach 24:1-12; cf. 51:23-30. Therefore, wisdom is used interchangeably with Word!  Not only in Sirach but elsewhere: compare Psalm 33:6 with Proverbs 3:19.

6.  What Jesus has: Luke 2:41-52; Jesus qualifies as “teacher” (see Matthew 13:34-35); Jesus speaks wisdom at Matthew 11:28-30).

7.  Who Jesus is: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (the goal of wisdom to give life); compare Matthew 23:34 with Luke 11:49; see John 1:1-14 (recall that “word” and “wisdom” were used interchangeably).

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John 6:51-58
Following his description of himself as “the bread,” Jesus promises that eating his body and drinking his blood is the sacramental meal that enables the diner to live forever.

Context
What develops here is a movement from the emphasis on faith in the One who is the “Bread which comes down from heaven” to the sacramental participation in the meal which is the way to eternal life. It is often argued that we have two discourses that have been set side by side–one emphasizing faith and the other the sacrament.

Key Words
V. 51.  ego eimi ho artos ho zōn = “I am the living bread”:  note the expression in v. 35:  ego eimi ho artos tēs zōēs = “I am the bread of life.”  In Aramaic the expressions would be virtually identical.

V. 54.  ho trōgōn mou tēn sarka kai pinōn to haima echei zōēn aiōnion = “the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”:  The introduction of the blood extends the bread imagery of the previous paragraphs and thus suggests strongly the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, perhaps even serving here as the parallel to the Words of Institution in the synoptics.  Note too the parallels to invitation of Wisdom at Prov. 9:1-6.

Wisdom now is …

8. What Christians use to live and witness in the world: Colossians 1:28; 3:16; 4:5.

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Ephesians 5:15-20
As response to the gift of God’s Son on the cross, the church is called to live wisely and to allow the Spirit to fill it with joy and thanksgiving.

Context
Between the conclusion of last week’s reading and the beginning of this, the author has described the behavior appropriate for the saints. While the vices listed in v. 4 were known among non-Christians of the time, the call to live a continual life of thanksgiving moves the morality beyond the cultural level to a Christian responsibility, a theme which is picked up in our verses. In our pericope, the theme of wisdom appears, particularly in the call to be unlike the “unwise people.” Being wise here is understood, as it is in the Book of Proverbs, as discerning and obeying the will of God. Note how this passage reflects the discussion from Proverbs 9 and Psalm 34 that picks up wisdom themes, especially in terms of giving thanks for the promise of life.

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Next week we will talk about the lessons for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.
Psalm 34:15-22
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69