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Wrestling with the Word, episode 25: Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (June 14, 2009) May 27, 2009

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sight and faith appear as contrasts in the Bible. What we see, particularly about success and failure –or superiors and inferiors, people of importance and those of little influence—sends a message about who is to be feared and obeyed and who is to listen. Faith, on the other side, (we could also call it vision) turns the tables on everything that is so apparent. God’s promises constantly speak of the weak becoming strong, the small becoming great, and the faithful poor overcoming their oppression. These promises of God are so different and so difficult to comprehend that God uses various images taken from things we can see. Three of our lessons for the day present these promises through the imagery of vegetation.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 25: Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
The psalm is a thanksgiving in the form of a hymn. The joyful song in which the worshiper participates in the hymnic section (verses 1-4) celebrates the effect God’s intervention has had on the psalmist. On the basis of verses 5-11, it seems as though this thanksgiving is the response to God’s answer to a previous lament. God’s covenant loyalty (steadfast love) and fidelity form the content of the joyful song offered with musical accompaniment. At the conclusion (vss. 12-15), the psalmist looks forward to the flourishing of the righteous who, unlike the wicked portrayed as grass that flourishes and dies, bear fruit like the palm trees. They are planted and remain strong in the courts of the Lord as proof that the Lord is “my rock” (tsûr; see Gen. 49:24; Deut. 32:4, 18; Ps. 78:35 //”redeemer”; Isa. 30:29; 44:8) and righteous (yāšār).

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Ezekiel 17:22-24
In contrast to the destructive actions of the rulers of nations, the Lord takes the necessary actions to establish a rightful rule and thus steer history to God’s intended end.

Context
Beginning at 17:1 Ezekiel tells the parable of the cedar and the two eagles which essentially details the actions of Zedekiah. This king of Judah had no right to the throne of David. When the Davidic king Jehoiachin went off to exile in Babylon, Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah showed up. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, made Mattaniah king and changed his name to Zedekiah. This action broke the Davidic lineage. In exchange for the throne, Zedekiah made a covenant with the Nebuchadnezzar, but then he turned to the Egyptians for help against the Babylonians. The Lord regarded this act not only as immoral but as a personal affront against himself in whose name the covenant would have been carried out (17:13-18). On Zedekiah will fall the same judgment as the exiles of 597 (17:19-21).

Key Words
Vss. 22-23. wešātaltî ’ānî ‘al har-gābōah wetālûl behar merôm yisrā’ēl ’eštālennû = “And I myself will plant (it) upon a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain height of Israel I will plant it”: The mountains considered “holy” in the OT are Sinai and Zion. Ever since YHWH took up royal residence on Mount Zion, this mountain became the focal point for worshipping YHWH and learning the torah in the present and in the future (Ps. 48: 2; Zech. 14:10). Not only Israel, but the “nations” will also come to Zion to worship YHWH and learn the torah.

V. 24.  weyāde‘û…kî ’’anî YHWH = “… and (they) shall know that I am the Lord”: The formula appears at Isa. 60:16 on the basis of Israel’s exaltation over other nations. Ezekiel uses it most frequently following announcements of judgment (5:13; 17:21; 21:5, 22) and of salvation (here; 34:30; 35:12; 36:36; 37:14). This expression is similar to those used, particularly by the Priestly writer, throughout the plague stories in Exodus 5–14.

V. 24.  kol-‘atsê hassādeh = “all the trees of the field”:  The trees join in the judgment of God (Jer. 7:20; Ezek. 31:15; Joel 1:12, 19), as well as in blessing (Lev. 26:4), even eschatologically (Isa. 55:12; Ezek. 34:27; cf. Ps. 96:12-13) to celebrate the coming of God to establish justice, that is, an orderly and peaceful reign, in the world).

V. 24.  ’anî YHWH dibbartî we‘āsîtî = “I the Lord have spoken and I  will do it”: This power of the word of the Lord to accomplish what it says takes on special meaning during the exilic period. See also Ezek. 22:14; 36:36; 37:14; Isa. 44:6-8; 55:10-11).

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2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13)
While life on earth is full of uncertainty and suffering, God assures us of a new and vigorous life in God’s presence so that here and now we might be God’s ambassadors for the sake of others.

Context
The apostle is encouraging the Christians in Corinth. In the first section of chapter 4 he described the human condition of weakness as precisely where the power of God might be revealed. The gospel itself is placed in our fragile earthenware bodies so that we do not claim power for ourselves. At the same time, faith gives us strength to be confident and hopeful; “we do not lose heart” (4:16). In 5:5 he writes that God “has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Key Words
Vv. 6, 8.  tharrountes … tharroumen = “of good courage”:  The word of encouragement or even boldness over against overwhelming odds is attested in the OT at Deut. 31:7, 23 (Moses to Joshua); Josh. 1:6, 9 (God to Joshua), 18 (the people to Joshua); 2 Sam. 10:12 (Joab to his army); Dan. 10:19 (God to Daniel). Paul uses the word only in 2 Corinthians (here; 7:16; 10:1,2).

V. 7. dia pisteōs gar peripatoumen, ou dia eidous = “for we walk by faith, not by sight”: Our faith rests in the Risen Lord whom we do not see, and our sight will be clear only on the last day (1 Cor. 13:12). See also Hebrews 11:1.

V. 10.  emprosthen tou bēmatos tou Christou = “before the judgment seat of Christ”:  Paul speaks of the judgment seat of God at Rom. 14:10 as a way of removing from Christians the privilege of judging one another; here the emphasis is on our pleasing God by our earthly behavior.

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Mark 4:26-34
Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God grows without human cooperation or understanding and that God’s universal kingdom develops from small beginnings.

Context
Beginning at 4:1 Jesus began to teach beside the Sea of Galilee those crowds who gathered around him. At first, he told the parable of the sower (vv. 1-9) and then privately explained it to his disciples (vv. 10-20). In light of the remark at vv. 34-35, the analogy with the lamp under the bushel (vv. 21-25) and the two parables of our pericope were part of Jesus’ teaching “the word” to the crowds.

Key Words
Vv. 26, 30.  houtōs estin hē basileia tou theou hōs  ….  pōs homoiōsōmen tēn basileian tou theou ē en tini autēn parabolē thōmen = “Thus the kingdom of God is as if …. With what can we compare the kingdom of God or what parable shall we use for it?” Jesus explains his reason for telling about the kingdom in parables at vv. 10-12. In another sense, the need to explain the kingdom by analogies is related to the difficulty of addressing people “at home in the body” who live by sight with a faith-filled vision; see 2 Cor. 5:7.

Vv.  26-32.  “seed … sprout and grow … blade … ear … grain … grain of mustard seed … seeds … shrubs … branches”:  Note how all this imagery relates to the first lesson from Ezekiel 17 and to Psalm 92 with its rich imagery of the palm. As for the birds in the branches, the creation Psalm 104 (see Episode 23, Day of Pentecost) describes this function of trees in God’s creation (vss. 16-17). In addition to Ezekiel 17:22-24 and 31:6, the imagery of birds in the trees serving as a message about the “nations” is repeated in Daniel 4:20-22.

Looking Ahead:
Episode 26 for the Third Sunday after Pentecost will focus on Mark 4:35-41.