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Wrestling with the Word, episode 61: First Sunday in Lent, Year C (February 21, 2010) February 16, 2010

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First Sunday in Lent

The Lenten season begins with the story of Jesus’ temptations by the devil. The story sets a certain stage for what is to happen in Jesus’ life, but it also gives us some keys to understanding the promises of God. The Temptation story and its aftermath challenge us in our presumptions of faith. Lent even questions the conviction that “God is on our side” in the struggles we face in the world. It teaches us instead that “God is at our side.” That lesson began when Jesus put his feet into our sandals and began walking with us though our pains, our griefs, our fears, our deaths, and through all the temptations we face as we try to meet them in faith.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 61: First Sunday in Lent, Year C.

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Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
The psalm appears to belong to the ritual for seeking refuge in the temple. At someone else’s invitation, the person who is hiding from danger “in the shelter of the Most High” will confess to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (vss. 1-2). Like Psalm 34, the priest or some other “wise” teacher will then instruct the refugee about the rewards of God’s deliverance for those who make such confession (vss. 3-13). Above all, the Lord will send guardian angels to guard such a person from all danger. Finally, God announces the promise of deliverance because of the person’s love for God and who call on God’s name (v. 14). True to his name, the Lord will answer those who call upon him (v. 15) and will reward them with long life and salvation (v. 16).

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Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Because God responded to the cries for help from the Israelites in bondage, God receives the offering of the harvest from those who acknowledge the Lord’s gifts of land, of salvation, and of crops.

Context
For similar recitals of Israel’s salvation history, see Deut. 6:20-23; Joshua 24:2-13; 1 Samuel 12:8-13; Psalms 105, 106, 135, 136. This recital stands toward the conclusion of the so-called Code of Deuteronomy that encompasses chapters 12—26.

Key Words
V. 1. “the land that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance”: The concept of land as an inheritance from the Lord appears frequently in Deuteronomy (see 4:21; 12:9; 15:4; 19:10; 20:16; 21:28; 24:4; 25:19). The notion of inheritance indicates that the Lord is the owner of the land and that Israel receives it without earning or deserving it.

V. 2. ûbā’tā ’el-hammāqōm ’ašer yibqar YHWH ’elōheykā lešākēn šemô šām =  “and you shall enter the place that the Lord your God will choose to make his name dwell there”: The expression, common in Deuteronomy and in the Deuteronomistic history, clarifies that God does not live in the Jerusalem temple but in heaven (26:15; cf. Solomon’s prayer of dedication at 1 Kings 8:27-30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45). God does provide divine presence for the people through the gift of the “name.”

V. 7.  wannitsts‘aq ’el-YHWH … wayišma‘ YHWH ’et-qôlēnû = “And we cried out for help to YHWH, and WHWH heard our voice”: The expression is so common it became technical as Israel’s way of understanding the nature of God when they needed help under injustice or oppression; cf. Exodus 3:7; Judges 3:9, 15; 1 Samuel 9:16; Isaiah 30:18-19. The confidence in YHWH’s hearing and responding lies at the root of all the psalms of lament.

Vv. 8-9.  wayôtsî’ēnû YHWH…  wayhêbî’ēnû = “And YHWH brought us out  … and YHWH brought us in”:  The “bring out—bring in” formula is common in the other recitals listed in the Context.

V. 11. wešāmachtā bekol-hattôb = “and you shall rejoice in all the good(ness)”: The concluding sentence of this liturgical instruction commands joy at the thanksgiving offering. The inclusiveness of the community to which God gives the goodness is exemplary.

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Romans 10:8b-13
God gives freely to all people the word/gospel so that we might confess who Jesus is and believe that God raised him from the dead.

Old Testament Allusions
V. 8.  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”:  Deuteronomy 30:14 where it refers to the Code of Deuteronomy.

V. 11.  “No one who believes in him will be put to shame”: Isaiah 28:16 where the context is the saving from the coming judgment.

V. 13.  “every one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”: Joel 2:32 where an apocalyptic judgment will bring devastation to all except those who serve the Lord.

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Luke 4:1-13
Having resisted the devil’s temptations to prove he was the Son of God by demonstrative miracles, Jesus drove the devil away until the opportune time.

Parallels at Mark 1:12-13//Matthew 4:1-11

Comparison of Lukan and Matthean Accounts

(1) Sequence of temptations
Matthew:  wilderness—temple—a very high mountain
Luke:     wilderness—”up”—Jerusalem’s temple

(2) V. 1:  adds “full of the Holy Spirit”

(3) V. 3:  changes “stones” (pl.) to “stone” (s.)

(4) V. 4:  deletes “but by every word … the mouth of God.”

(4) V. 5:  adds “in a moment of time”

(5) V. 6:  adds “all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I will give it to whom I will.”

(6) V. 13:  adds  achri kairou = “for a time” or perhaps “until an opportune time.” That time will occur when returns to enter Judas at 22:3, and “the power of darkness” inhabits those who came to arrest Jesus at 22:53; note that this expression also at Acts 13:11 in the words of Paul to the “son of the devil” who was Elymas the magician.)

Old Testament Allusions and Quotations
V. 2. “forty … in the wilderness” recalls Israel’s forty years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:2;  Moses “forty days and forty nights” were spent on Mount Sinai/Horeb (Exodus 24:18).

V. 4.  Jesus cites Deuteronomy 8:3, a passage about God’s testing Israel with hunger in the wilderness to teach the lesson cited here.

V. 8.  Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20 exhorting Israel to avoid the worship of any god except the Lord. Both Matthew and Luke use the verb proskonēseis = “fall down before” rather than the LXX phobothēse = “fear, be in awe of,” and both add mono = “only” although the exclusivity is obviously intended in the OT passage.

V. 9.  Narrative is similar to Ezekiel 8:3 where the Spirit takes the prophet (in vision) to Jerusalem’s temple.

Vv. 10-11. Psalm 91:11-12 promises protection of one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and makes YHWH a refuge. While the devil makes inappropriate use of the passage, Jesus uses it himself as he promises protection to the seventy he had commissioned  to announce the kingdom of God (Luke 10:19).

V. 12:  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 which forbids Israel from testing God, as Israel did at Massah (cf. Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95:8-10).

Signs of the End
“If you are the Son of God”: The words of the devil will appear on the lips of those who put Jesus on trial: “If you are the Christ, tell us” (Luke 22:67). They also occur by those who mock Jesus on the cross: “If he is the Christ, his Chosen one” (Luke 23:35) and “If you are the King of the Jews,…” (23:37).

“To you I (the devil) will give all this authority and their glory”: On the cross, Jesus promised Paradise to the thief who has asked to participate in the “kingdom” (Luke 23:42-43; note the absence of “if”).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 43: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (October 18, 2009) September 30, 2009

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

The Bible is full of surprises. Perhaps we miss some of them because either they do not fit our established views of God or the ways we live to which we are accustomed. Maybe we miss them for the same reason that writers cannot proofread their own material: their eyes see what they expect to see rather than what appears on the printed page. But for those of us who keep missing the surprises, the Bible keeps blaring them out. The lessons for today offer once again the surprise that power and life result from weakness, suffering, and service.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 43: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 91:9-16
The psalm is a powerful attestation to the strength that comes with an individual’s trust in God. Verses 9-13 represent a priest’s promise to such a faithful individual who regards the Lord as “my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust” (v. 2). The priest responds with colorful imagery, some of it familiar, like verses 11-12. That color is matched only by the confirming response from the Lord who promises deliverance, protection, response to prayers, rescue, honor, and long life with salvation (verses 14-16).

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Isaiah 53:4-12
Because of the servant’s vicarious suffering to make others righteous, God will give the servant a share of the spoils due to heroes.

Context
These final verses of the fourth Servant Song move the issue of suffering in general to more specifically portray a servant who suffers for the sake of others (cf. Ezek. 4:1-8). In the first two servant songs (42:1-4; 49:1-6) the identity of the servant, especially in the present context, appears to be the exiled people of Jerusalem who have been dwelling for years in Babylon. At the third song, 50:4-11, the identity is not as clear, although it still could be that of the people. In this last song (52:13–53:12) many scholars argue that along with the new twist of vicarious suffering is a new identity that has more to do with an individual than with the people collectively. The difficulty caused by that interpretation is then identifying the individual the poet-prophet had in mind — a king, a prophet, and which one of those in particular.

Key Words
V. 4.  ’ākēn cholāênû hû’ nāsā  ûmak’ōbênû sebālām = “Surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains”:  The connection of the Servant and suffering is not new in this fourth song. The Servant suffers the feeling of failure in the second song at Isa. 49:4. In the third song the Servant undergoes physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his adversaries (50:6). Here, however, the terminology introduces vicarious suffering by the servant, an emphasis that is continued in vv. 5, 10, 11, 12. The words that describe the people (speaking in the first person plural) are infirmities and diseases (v. 4), transgressions and iniquities (v. 5), iniquity (vss. 6, 11), transgression/transgressors (vss. 8, 12). [The use of the verse at Matt. 8:17 has nothing to do with vicarious suffering but with Jesus’ healing miracles.]

Vv. 5-6.  The use of these verses at 1 Peter 2:24-25 is the only time in the NT that precise words of this Song are used for the vicarious suffering of Jesus.

V. 7.  kasseh lattebach yûbal = “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”:  An almost identical expression appears in one of the laments of Jeremiah at Jeremiah 11:19. The similarity has led some to believe that the servant is a prophetic figure like Jeremiah. This entire verse and the next one appear at Acts 8:32-33 to point to Jesus’ death, but not to its vicarious effect.

V. 8.  kî nigzar mē’erets chayyîm = “he was cut off from the land of the living”:  See Jer. 11:19 (again, note the comment on the previous verse); Ezek. 37:11 where the expression is figurative for a “dead” community, that is, the exiles in Babylon.

V. 11. yatsdîq tsaddîq ‘abdî lārabbîm = “The righteous one will make many to be righteous”:  The parallelism is instructive: “he will forgive their iniquities.” The causative form of the verb tsdq appears elsewhere with YHWH as the subject. At 1 Kings 8:32 the Lord is praised for “vindicating” the righteous according to his righteousness” in contrast to “condemning the guilty.” (see secular sense at Deut. 25:1; 1 Sam. 15:4). At Psalm 82:3 God charges the “gods” to “vindicate the afflicted and the destitute” (//give justice to the weak and the orphan”). The Servant of Second Isaiah finds strength in the belief that YHWH who “vindicates” him is near (Isa. 50:8). Even though YHWH declares he will “not acquit” the guilty (Exod 23:7) and promises judgment on “those who acquit the guilty” in courts of law (Isa. 5:23; cf. Prov. 17:15), he the object of the Lord’s “acquitting” are those who are sinners (see vss. 5, 8, here, and 12). [The LXX reads here dikaiōsai, the verb that Paul uses for “justify” (see especially Rom. 3: 24, 26).] As for the object of the verb here, the word rabbîm sometimes distinguishes “many” from “all”; however, the word might be idiomatic for “all,” a common idiom in several Semitic languages. The same appears to be true of the apocalyptic resurrection promised at Daniel 12:2.

V. 12.  The use of “numbered with transgressors” at Luke 22:37 is related to the poverty of Jesus and his disciples. That the servant identified with the sinners for whom he suffered and died sounds like Paul’s announcement that Jesus became cursed for us (Gal. 3:13).

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Hebrews 5:1-10
Like high priests chosen in human circles, Jesus Christ, having learned obedience through suffering and made perfect, was designated by God to be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

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Mark 10:35-45
Against the world’s way of making hierarchies among people, Jesus teaches that discipleship means the first must become slaves of others.

Context
After teaching the ways of discipleship, Jesus spoke for the third time about his death and resurrection waiting in Jerusalem, the opposite of what the disciples wanted or could handle.

Key Words
V. 35.  “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward”:  Mark is never afraid to portray the disciples in their frailty, their incomprehension, or their brazenness. Matthew, usually concerned to whitewash the disciples’ blemishes, has their mother come forward to present this proposal on her sons’ behalf.

V. 38.  ouk oidate ti aiteisthe = “You do not know what you are asking”:  The words could be a natural response to a preposterous request, but in Mark the disciples’ incomprehension is a consistent theme.

V. 38.  dynasthe piein to potērion ho ego pinō = “Are you able to drink the cup which I am to drink”:  The “cup” here, of course, is the fate which awaits Jesus in Jerusalem, as the same image is used by Jesus in Gethsemane at 14:36. In the OT “the cup” is a metaphor for divine judgment: “cup of the wine of wrath” (Jer. 25:15); “a cup of horror and devastation” (Ezek 23:32-34), “the cup of his wrath” (Isa 51:17, 22), and “a cup of reeling” (Zech 12:2). See also Jer 51:7; Obad 16; Hab 2:16; Lam 4:21; Ps 75:9.

V. 45.  kai dounai tēn psychēn autou lytron anti pollōn = “and to give his life as a ransom for many”:  While one is reminded of the terms in Isaiah 53:10-12, this verse is not precisely a quotation of that passage. As indicated in the discussion of the first lesson, the vicarious nature of the servant song is not used often in the NT. The allusion of this passage to the end of the song, however, might be one of the rare exceptions, along with 1 Peter 2:24-25.