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Wrestling with the Word, episode 75: Holy Trinity, Year C (May 30, 2010) May 19, 2010

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Holy Trinity

The church’s doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an intellectual puzzle. At the same time, it integrates for us the witnesses of God throughout the Scriptures. While any particular passage that we study, even the ones for today, might in themselves be puzzling, the whole testimony to God from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 is even more of a mystery. Only God can enable us to believe that it all fits together, that God acts as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And even though we do not comprehend things completely, God gives us enough to live by now and promises the rest for our living eternally. The significance of wrestling with the mystery is this: that whatever we say about the three persons of God, we are confessing what God has come to mean to us. There is no talk about God—and there never has been–apart from God’s role in our lives and in the life of the world. Let us listen to some of that talk from our lessons for the day.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 75: Holy Trinity, Year C.

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Psalm 8
This hymn glorifying God the Creator exults in the wonder of what it means to be human. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the worshipper casts in poetic form what Genesis 1 sets forth in prose, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity be God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” (NRSV: “mortals”) in verse 4, the early church interpreted the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In its own context, however, “son of man” is simply parallel to “humanity” (’ādām). The power of the poem lies in its amazement at the majesty of the Creator God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.

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Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Before anything else was made, the Lord created wisdom, who, like a child, delighted in observing God’s structuring of the world and in understanding how it all belongs together.

Context
Part of the tenth and final discourse developed in Proverbs 1–9, wisdom now takes on personalized forms, first that of a person who speaks, then that of a little child, and in chapter 9 of a virtuous woman who invites the simple to walk in her way.

Key Words
V. 22. YHWH qānānî = “created me”:  For qānā as ancient term for “create”; see Gen. 14:19 of El Elyon. Some scholars prefer to understand the word as referring to birth, that is, begetting.

V. 22.  darkô = “his dominion”:  The word derek usually means “way,” but for the use of drk(t) with the meaning “dominion,”see also Job 26:14; 40:19; Ps. 18:31 (substitute for RSV’s “ways”).

V. 23.  nissaktî = “I was set up/installed”; See only other use of verb at Ps. 2:6 (Heb. 7) where it refers to the installation of the Davidic king on Mount Zion.

V. 24.  tehōmōt = “deeps”: To capture the imagery the word conveyed, read as the Babylonian Ti’amat, the chaos monster vanquished by Marduk who then used her body to create the firmament and the earth (Enuma Elish IV).

V. 24.  nikbaddê-mayim:  Read nibkê-yam = “springs of Yamm,” the Canaanite sea monster subdued by Baal, the god of fertility.  For parallelism of tehom(t) and yam, see Job 38:16.

VV. 24-25.  chōlāltî = “I was delivered (at birth)”:  For a similar use of chûl, see Deut. 32:18; Job 39:1; Ps. 29:9; Isa. 51:2.

V. 30.  ’āmôn = “little child”:  The translation seems better than “master workman” although certainty is impossible because the word appears only here in Hebrew Bible. The functions of delight and rejoicing seem more appropriate for the child image than for that of an architect.

V. 31.  betēbēl ’artsô = “in the world of his earth”:  The expression is due to poetic redundancy, like Job 37:12; usually the words stand in parallelism.

V. 31. weša‘ašû‘ay ’et-benê-’ādām = “my delights (are) with humans (lit., “sons of man”): While Wisdom delights in people on the earth, elsewhere God delights in the having planted the vineyard called Israel (Isa. 5:7). In the Wisdom Psalm 119, the psalmist delights in the law/laws of God (vss. 24, 77, 92, 143, 174).

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Romans 5:1-5
By justifying us through faith in Christ Jesus, God gives us that peace which enables us to give honor to God through the tribulations of life here and now.

Context
In 4:1-8 Paul had explained that Abraham was justified by faith, and in 4:13-25 he writes that as with Abraham, the promise of God is only to faith.  Now he begins a section which runs through 8:39 about the reality of the righteousness of faith as Christian freedom.

Key Words
V. 1.  oun = “therefore”:  At the end of chap.4, Paul spoke of God’s giving to us righteousness on the basis of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

V. 1.  eirēnēn … pros ton theon = “peace with God”:  The announcement of peace with God occurs in Romans prior to this verse:  1:7 (“peace from God” as a Christian greeting); 2:10 (along with glory and honor is given to those who do good); 3:17 (in OT quote). Following  this verse, God’s peace appears at  8:6 (along with life it is the result of setting one’s mind on the Spirit); 14:17 (along with righteousness and joy it constitutes the reign of God); 14:19 (along with mutual upbuilding it is the goal of the Christian community); 15:13 (along with joy it is the gift of God which enables the Christian to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit); 15:33 and 16:20 (a characteristic which defines God: “the God of peace”).

Vv. 2-3.  kauchōmetha = “we boast”:  Paul uses the word negatively in Romans at 2:17, 23; 3:27 (noun); positively here and v. 11; 15:17 (noun). The positive use by a Christian indicates a confession in which the believer acknowledges belonging to Christ. The negative use indicates that a person belongs to himself/herself.

V. 3.  thlipsis = “affliction”:  The word describes evildoers at 2:9; that which has no power to separate us from the love of God at 8:35; here and at 12:12, the New Time suffering of the followers of Christ.

V. 5.  ou kataischynei = “not put to shame” (RSV, NRSV: “disappoint”):  The expression originates in Ps. 22:6 (Eng. v. 5) and 25:20 where the loyalty and love of God protect the believer from hostile forces.  Used in Romans also at 9:33 and 10:11 in quote of Isa. 28:16 where it promises the same protection for anyone who believes in the Lord.

V. 5. hoti hē agapē tou theou … dia pneumatos hagiou tou dothentos hēmin = “because God’s love … through the Holy Spirit given to us”: The gift of God’s love can be believed and appropriated by us only because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

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John 16:12-15
Preparing the disciples for his own departure, Jesus promises the Spirit who will guide them in truth, declare the things to come, and glorify Jesus.

Context
Still addressing the disciples after supper the night before the Passover, Jesus had promised following his departure the gift of the Counselor (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Key Words
V. 12. all’ ou dynasthe bastazein arti = “but you cannot bear them now”: As elsewhere in John’s Gospel, the expression probably refers to the deeper understanding of Jesus’ words the disciples will have following the resurrection and gift of the Spirit. Recall the author’s words at 2:22 concerning raising the temple in three days. Note also the author’s comment about the disciples remembering Jesus’ words regarding the king’s entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey (12:6). The, there is Jesus’ remark to them that “afterward” they will understand his words and acts regarding foot washing (13:7).

V. 13. … to pneumas tēs alētheias … hodēgēsei hymas en tē alētheia pasē = “the Spirit of truth … will guide you in all truth”: The function of the Spirit as the “guide” or “teacher” of truth sounds much like the role of Wisdom in the OT, particularly the Wisdom woman who invites students to “walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:6) and promises that “whoever finds me finds life” (Prov. 8:35).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 4, 2009) September 22, 2009

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christians have a much better chance to prove faithful when we move beyond ourselves to recall God’s commitment to the whole human race, even to the world. God’s call to discipleship and mission forces us to see the broad scope of God’s gifts. Our lessons for the day begin with these powerful insights that set the stage for Jesus’ teachings, to say nothing about Jesus’ identity.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 41: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm  8
This hymn glorifying God the Creator exults in the wonder of what it means to be human. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the worshipper casts in poetic form what Genesis 1 sets forth in praise, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity by God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” in verse 4, the early church interpreted the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In its own context, however, “son of man” is simply parallel to “humanity” (’ādām). The power of the poem lies in its amazement at the majesty of God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.

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Genesis 2:18-24
God’s will for humanity is community, and the primary expression of that community is the committed relationship of marriage.

Context
The creation story of the Yahwist (10th century B.C.) begins at 2:4b. In contrast to that of the Priest (Genesis 1:1–2:4a) which is universal in scope, the second story takes place at a local oasis. The Lord began by creating Adam, made the Garden of Eden for his dwelling place, planted trees for food and beauty, gave the man a garden and held him responsible for working and protecting it, and laid down the law forbidding eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Key Words
V. 18.  lō’-tôb heyôt hā’ādām lebaddô = “not good (is) the being of the man alone”:  Interestingly the “not good” contrasts sharply with the tôb = “good” which occurs repeatedly throughout Genesis 1, indicating that everything functions according to the purpose for which it was made.

V. 18.  ‘ēzer kenegdô = “a help/strength as his opposite”:  The word ‘ēzer appears elsewhere in the OT only in relationship to YHWH. Either YHWH is the source of help (Ps. 20:2; 121:1-2; 124:8) or YHWH is help/strength (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7; Ps. 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11). As for kenegdô, the preposition neged means “opposite,” and to it is attached the preposition and a pronominal suffix.

V. 21.  tardēmā = “a sleep”: The point is not so much an anesthesia against pain but an elimination of the possibility of observing God at work; cf. also Gen. 15:12 and the prohibition against looking back at Gen. 19:17.

V. 23.  ‘etsem mē‘atsāmay ûbāsār mibbesārî = “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”:  The expression occurs also at Gen. 29:14; 2 Sam. 5:1 = 1 Chron. 11:1; 2 Sam. 19:13-14 to indicate people formed of the same parents, i.e., the source is the same.

V. 24.  dābaq = “cleave to”:  The word is used at Deut. 30:20 where Israel is called upon to “cleave to YHWH.” The expression connotes fidelity in relationships as YHWH expected Israel to remain loyal in the covenant.

V. 24.  “a man leaves his father and mother”:  The expression appears to point to a societal arrangement when the wife was not considered the husband’s property. Contrast the law at Exod. 20:17 (although note the change at Deut. 5:21).

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Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Reflecting the glory of God and bearing God’s nature, Jesus Christ, superior to the angels, became less than the angels for our sakes in order to taste death and become perfect through suffering.

Context
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a powerful yet puzzling book. Evidence is not sufficient to identify the author, the date of its origin, or the place where the author wrote it. Even the audience called in the title “the Hebrews” is difficult to understand. In spite of these unanswerable questions, the book presents in eloquent Greek the announcement that Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system that God had given to Israel. Jesus Christ was the true and ultimate sacrifice that ends the system, but as Exalted One he serves as high priest in the sanctuary of heaven. The unknown author seems to expound this powerful testimony so that the unknown audience might persevere in faith and love.

Key Words
2:6-7. The use of Psalm 8:5-7 demonstrates that the expression “son of man” is a prophecy about Jesus Christ who seems to have used that expression as his favorite means of identifying himself.

2:12. The quotation of Psalm 22:22 (LXX 21:23) demonstrates that the speaker of the psalm of lament and its thanksgiving is the Risen Christ. Likewise, the author uses in the following verses (12-13) two verses from Isaiah (originally the voice of the prophet) as the words of Jesus regarding his disciples.

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Mark 10:2-16
Against a legalistic attempt to define what is legal or permissible in marriage and divorce, Jesus asserts the will of God for marriage, and at the same time indicates that the children (of marriage) demonstrate the required stance of us all before God.

Context
The action at the end of the ninth chapter took place in Capernaum. Now, according to 10:1, Jesus moves into Judea, the area where the passion and crucifixion will occur. In that area, the reader can expect the testing from the Pharisees that occurs in these verses. The first 31 verses of this chapter seem to be a list of catechetical instructions for the community of faith, much like the lists which occur in the pastoral epistles and 1 Peter 2:13–3:7; 5:1-5.

Key Words
V. 2.  ei exestin = “is it lawful?”:  The Pharisees knew very well the law of Moses at Deut. 24:1-4 which permitted a man to write a divorce decree. Jesus responds by going back beyond the law of Moses to God’s will at creation.

V. 13.  paidia = “children”:  From the use of the word we are not able to determine anything about their ages, for the word describes a baby at John 16:21 and a 12-year-old child at Mark 5:39-42.

V. 13.  hoi de mathētai epetimēsan autois = “but the disciples rebuked them”:  Throughout the Bible the only legitimate subjects of the verb epitimaō are YHWH in the OT and Jesus in the NT. Note the trouble Peter gets into by taking over the verb “rebuke” Jesus at 8:32.

V. 14. tōn gar toioutōn estin hē basilea tou theou = “for of/ to such (the children) is the kingdom of God”: Whether the passage should read “of such is” or “to such belongs” is difficult to determine, but in either case, the vulnerable little children and the kingdom belong together. Jesus had used little children as the example of discipleship at 9:36. Here and through v. 15, he uses the model of little children as the only way to receive the kingdom or the ones who comprise the kingdom. Elsewhere, the possession of the kingdom belongs to the “poor in spirit” and to “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” at Matt. 5:3, 10 (simply “the poor” at Luke 6:20).