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Wrestling with the Word, episode 14: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 29, 2009) March 10, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Fifth Sunday in Lent

The lessons for this day leave no ambiguity about the depth of human sinfulness and the extent to which God goes to make us new. Rather than separating us into groups of good or evil, or bad and not-quite-that-bad, the Bible forces us to deal with our complicity in the rebellion of all humanity against God. Likewise, the forgiveness of God extends not simply to certain people but to all people so that all our lives and our life together might honor and glorify God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 14: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B.


Psalm 51:1-12
This penitential psalm is striking because it focuses not on material sufferings but on spiritual ones. The plea for forgiveness in verses 1-2 sets the tone for the entire psalm and is offered only because of trust in God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” The acknowledgement of guilt and confession in verses 3-6 moves beyond the understanding of sin as an ethical code. The depth of sin is nothing less than the dishonoring of God by all of humankind (see Isa. 6:5; Rom. 1—2; 11:32). The petition for forgiveness comes to focus in verses 7-12. Such forgiveness results in the newness of life that can come only from God (see Jer. 31:31-34).


Jeremiah 31:31-34
In contrast with the past and present brokenness between God and the people, God promises in the expected “Day of the Lord” a new covenant that will bring all the people into an intimate relationship with God.

The call of Jeremiah at 1:4-10 indicates that the young man is given that word of God that “plucks up and breaks down,” but also that “builds and plants.” Much of the first part of the book contains sermons that  indeed “pluck up and break down.” The judgment came in 597 BCE when the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar plundered the temple treasures and took as captives many of the leading citizens of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s preaching continued back home for those who were left behind, and to the exiles he sent a letter, encouraging the exiles to make Babylon their home until a distant date when God would bring them back (29:4-28). Beginning at chapter 30 the prophet begins his “building and planting,” for the word of God is bringing comfort to the afflicted (see 31:28).

Key Words
V. 31. hinnê yāmîm bā’îm = “Lo (the) days are coming”: Used as an equivalent to “the Day of the Lord” or “on that day,” “in those days,” “in the latter days.” This expression is particularly common in Jeremiah, sometimes as the time of judgment (7:32; 9:25; 48:12; 51:47, 52) but most often for the salvation of Israel and Judah (16:14; 23:5; 31:27; 31:31, 38; 33:14). The phrase is used also in Amos as a time of judgment (4:2; 8:11) and of peace (9:13). See also Luke 17:22; 23:29.

V. 31. berît chadāšâ = “a new covenant”: Only here in OT but used at 2 Cor. 3:6 and Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24.

V. 32. weānōkî bā‘altî = “and I was their husband”: For the relationship of YHWH to Israel as a husband, see also Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:20; Hos. 2:16.

V. 33. wehāyîtî lāhem lēlôhîm wehēmmâ yihyû-lî le‘ām = and I will be God for them, and they shall be to me a people”: The same expression appears at 24:7; Ezek. 11:20; 37:23, 27; Zech. 8:8. The first part of the expression “I will be God for them” appears also at Gen. 17:8.  The term appears, therefore, to be a priestly formula, for all the authors of the passages cited were trained to be priests.

V. 34. de‘û ‘et-YHWH = “know the Lord”: the expression seems to have something to do with receiving the word of the Lord at 1 Sam. 3:7, with worship by the Egyptians at Isa. 19:21, with a marital bond at Hos. 2:20. The Hebrew word “to know” appears often to denote an intimate relationship rather than mere awareness.

V. 34. kî ’eslach la‘avōnām ûlechattā’ām lō’ ’ezkor-‘ôd = “for I will forgive their sin and their iniquity I will no longer remember”: The Hebrew word “remember” means not simply the act of recalling but even of bringing into existence. Therefore, “not remember” actually indicates elimination. God’s threat to not remember Israel (Jer. 11:19; Ps. 83:5) or the Ammonites (Ezek. 21:32; 25:10) would make them extinct.


Hebrews 5:5-10
God appointed Jesus Christ, perfected by his suffering and faithful in obedience, as high priest so that he might serve as the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

The authorship of this epistle is impossible to determine, except for the fact that the author excelled in Greek, was quite proficient in the LXX, and had a sound knowledge of Greek philosophy. The work seems to be more an essay than a letter, and so the intended audience is also a mystery. Many scholars consider his purpose to rejuvenate Christians who were becoming too complacent. To make his point in the book, the author has written of the identity of Jesus (1:1—3:6a), asserting his superiority over the angels and over Moses, and has begun to admonish them to endure (3:6b—4:13). From 4:14—10:18, the author teaches what Jesus has accomplished. The end of the book returns to admonishments.

V. 5. Outōs kai ho Christos ouch heauton edoxasen genēthēnai archiera = “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest”: In the previous verses the author wrote that God chooses people to be high priests and that their function is to act on behalf of people and himself by offering sacrifices for sins. See Zechariah 3:1ff where God nominates Joshua ben Jozadak to be high priest; in the LXX his name is “Jesus.”

Vss. 5-6. The two quotes from the OT come from coronation psalms for Davidic kings in Jerusalem.  Psalm 110:4 speaks of Melchizedek as a priest. The author had previously quoted Psalm 2:7 at 1:15 as the first of several OT passages that demonstrate the superiority of Christ over the angels. The author will also Psalm 110:4 at 7:21. He devotes much of chapter 7 to a discussion of the priestly order of Melchizedek. In Genesis 14:17-24, Melchizedek is King of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of the god El Elyon (God Most High).

V. 7. meta kraugēs ischyras kai dakryōn = “with loud cries and tears”: The agony of Jesus demonstrates he was human and not a spirit. Elsewhere Jesus expresses the emotions of anger (Mark 3:5; John 2:16-17), grief (Luke 19:41; John 11:33-36), and agony (Mark 14:33). The author here explains that God heard these cries because of Jesus’ eulabias = “reverent emotion” (NRSV) or “godly fear” (RSV). In the LXX God hears the kraugēs = “cries for help” of the Hebrews in bondage and promises to save them through Moses (Exod. 3:7).

Vss. 8-9. “he learned obedience through what he suffered … he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”: The first part is reminiscent of Psalm 51, while the concluding words sound like those of the hymn Paul cites at Phil. 2:8.


John 12:20-33
On the basis of the visit by the Greeks, Jesus announces finally that the hour has come for him to be lifted up so that he might draw all people to himself.

This passage brings to a conclusion the so-called Book of Signs (chapters 1-12), and the words of Jesus here are his final public address in John’s Gospel. The pericope also draws to a conclusion a number of issues raised in chapters 11 and 12: the death of Lazarus “so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (11:4), death and resurrection (11:25-26), the gathering of the children of God beyond Israel into one (11:52), the fear of the Pharisees that “the world has gone after him” (12:19).

Parallels with the Synoptics
Vv. 25-26: losing and saving one’s life (Mark 8:34-36)
Vv. 27-28: the Gethsemane agony (Mark 14:34-36)
V. 28: hallowing God’s name by placing oneself at God’s will (Matt. 6:9-10)
V. 28: a voice from heaven (Mark 1:11; 9:7)

Key Words
V. 23. elēlythen hē hōra hina doxasthē ho huios tou anthrōpou = “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified”: Previously, Jesus had said the hour has not yet come (2:4) or promised that it is coming (4:21; 5: 28). At 4:23 and 5:25, Jesus says, “the hour is coming, and now is.” The evangelist also wrote that Jesus’ hour had not yet come (7:30; 8:20). Now that the hour has come, at 13:1 the evangelist connects “his hour” to Jesus’ departure from the world.

V. 27. nun hē psychē mou tetaraktai … sōsan me = “now my soul is troubled … save me”: the words are taken from Ps. 6:3-4, a psalm of lament. While Jesus utters the first part about the trouble, he rejects the psalm’s cry for help, since Jesus believes this suffering is his mission to fulfill for the glory of God. In Hebrews 5:7, our lesson for today, the author indicates that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” The tone of Psalm 51 resounds here. While Jesus utters the words common to laments, he rejects the psalm’s cry for help, since Jesus believes this suffering is his mission to fulfill for the glory of God.

V. 28. pater, doxasan sou to onoma = “Father, glorify your name”: In the OT, God often seeks glory, especially as a result of saving the people from their distress. Second Isaiah uses this “glory” motive quite often in connection with the deliverance from exile in Babylon: Isa. 40:5; 42:8;, 12; 43:7; 48:11. The Apostle Paul quotes a hymn that concludes with the goal of the humiliation-exaltation of Christ to be universe’s acknowledgement of God’s glory (Phil. 2:5-11).

V. 31. nun ho archōn tou kosmou toutou ekblēthēsetai exō= “now the prince of this world is cast out”: John uses this expression to refer to Satan (cf. 14:30; 16:11), but Paul comes close to this expression at 1 Cor. 2:6-8; 2 Cor. 4:4; see also Eph. 2:2; 6:12.

V. 32. kagō ean hypsōthō ek tēs gēs pantas elkysō pros emauton = “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself”: The reference to “lifted up” referred to the crucifixion at 3:14. Here, in spite of the evangelist’s reference to the manner of his “death” in v. 33, the verb seems to point as well to Jesus’ resurrection/ascension, that is, “from the earth.” The reference to “all” appears quite intentional in light of the appearance of the Greeks, that is, the representatives of the Gentile world, that is, the rest of humanity.