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Wrestling with the Word, episode 109: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A (April 10, 2011) March 28, 2011

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

I confess. I am fascinated by the discoveries of science that help us understand the development of life and the rich variety of life on earth. I also celebrate the knowledge that every life form is the way it is because it needs to be the way it is! Yet I find the biblical understandings of life and death to be even more fascinating. Frankly, I do not see the two approaches – science and Bible — to be mutually exclusive. Celebrating human life as the Bible defines it enables me to consider the values and ethics and meaning of human living within this great biological, botanical, and bacterial diversity. The faith-inspired lessons for today can help us discern what life and death mean. Let us see whether together we can discover in the lessons some biblical under-standings about death and some values of life with God and with one another.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 109: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A.


Psalm 130
The psalm is that of an individual prayer. More specifically, it is a penitential prayer (like Psalm 51 and others). The psalmist begins with a cry to God from “the depths.” The depths represent darkness, isolation from God and others, even death. Death indeed is separation from God, and whatever led this petitioner to “the depths,” one thing is clear: The only way out is God’s forgiveness of iniquities. Apart from divine forgiveness, no one could possibly survive. God’s forgiveness has a purpose, however: “that you (God) may be revered” (v. 4). The psalmist confesses to God that this separation from God is unbearable and that the cry from the depths is the worshiper’s way of waiting for the Lord’s forgiveness. It is God’s “word” in which the God-forsaken one places “hope.” The final two verses change the flow dramatically from an individual prayer to an announcement to all Israel. The words call the people of Israel to “hope in the Lord” because in the Lord are covenant loyalty (steadfast love) and the power to redeem the people from their iniquities (vss. 7-8). This transition can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, they might be the words of a priest announcing publicly in the temple the need to “hope in the Lord,” in which case the individual making confession in verses 1-6 would find comfort and response from God. On the other hand, the final words might represent the psalmist’s announcement to others in the temple that the Lord has heard his cry and that they also should place their hope in God who forgives. In either case, the psalm makes abundantly clear that the loyalty of God gives us hope because the Lord does not allow us to remain in the clutches of death.


Ezekiel 37:1-14
Although the people lost hope in God and knew only death, God, through the prophetic word, gives new life and reunites the hopeless and forsaken to himself.

The people of Israel had been exiled to the land of Babylon in 597 B.C. and again in 587 B.C.  In the fifth year of the first exile, that is, in 593 B.C., God called Ezekiel, a priest, to prophesy to the exiles.  Much of his prophecy was directed to a false optimism as he preached to the exiles the destruction of their city back home.  Finally, according to 33:21, a messenger came with the word that Jerusalem had fallen.  Thereafter, the word from Ezekiel was one of promise of restoration to the land.

Key Words
V. 1.  hāyetâ ’ēlay yad-YHWH = “the hand of the Lord was upon me”:  See 3:22 where the “hand of the Lord” is the means by which God introduces a vision to the prophet, instructing him to go into the plain; there the spirit entered him and stood him up.  See also 8:1 where “the hand of the Lord” falls on the prophet, again introducing him to a vision.

V. 1.  wayyôtsî’ēnî berûach YHWH = “and the spirit of the Lord brought me out”:  Note the connection of the Spirit with the hand of the Lord in the two passages cited previously, 3:22 and 8:1.  More specifically, the movement by the spirit is attested at 3:12, 14.  habbiq‘â = “the plain”:  it is also in “the plain” that the vision of Ezekiel 3:22ff. occurs.  There the plain is the space where judgment must be suffered, and that judgment falls upon Ezekiel to suffer vicariously for the sins of Israel and Judah.  This plain is the one mentioned at Gen. 11:1 where the people built a tower with its top in the heavens, and thus experienced God’s judgment.

V. 3.  ben-’ādām = “son of man”:  God addresses Ezekiel with this title more than 80 times in the book, thereby contrasting the holy God and the mortal man (see also Ps. 8:4).  YHWH ’attâ yādā‘tā_ = “Lord, you know”:  For God’s power of life over death, see 1 Kings 17:17ff where the prophet Elijah was the vehicle by which God restored to life the only son of the widow of Zarephath; also 2 Kings 4:31ff. where Elisha raised from the dead the only son of the Shunamite woman.

V. 5.  anî mēbî’ bākem rûach wihyîtem = “I will keep bringing among you spirit/breath/wind, that you may live”:  The word “spirit” is used is various ways in the prophecy; at v. 1 it seems to be God’s spirit; here it is the animating spirit for humans; at v. 9 it is the wind.  That the rûach of God creates and restores life can be see also at Gen. 6:3; 6:17; 7:22 (all P); also Job 12:10; Ps. 104:30.  Note the contrast with Gen. 2:7 where the force that God breathes into Adam’s nostrils is not rûach but neshāmâ = “breath.”

V. 6.  wîda‘tem kî-’anî YHWH = “and you shall know that I am YHWH”:  The expression occurs eighty-six times in the Book of Ezekiel; note the priestly emphasis (P) in the story of the exodus (Exod. 14:18).

V. 11.  yābešû ‘atsmôtênû = “our bones are dried up”:  The statement of the people indicates the meaning of death. Recall the warning of God to Adam and Eve regarding the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit: “on the day that you eat of it, you shall die” (Gen 2:17) yet they did not expire on that day; they died. Note Prov. 22:17 where “a downcast spirit” is what “dries up the bones.”  we’ābedâ tiqwātēnû = “and our hope is perishing”:  The object of Israel’s hope is exclusively YHWH (see Ps. 130:5; also 39:7); at times “hope” is even used as an epithet for YHWH (see Ps. 130:7; Jer. 14:8;17:13).  nigzarnû lānû = “we are cut off”:  for the impact of such exclusion see the use of nigzar at 2 Chron. 26:21; Ps. 88:6; Isa. 53:8.

V. 12.  weha‘alêtî ’etkem miqqibrôtêkem = “and I will raise you from your graves”:  The image is now changed, for here the corpses are buried in graves rather than scattered on the ground, as in v. 1.

V. 14.  kî-’anî YHWH dibbartî we‘āsîtî = “for I, YHWH, have spoken and I have done it”:  The notion that it is the spoken word that accomplishes the great acts of the Lord became particularly prominent and important during the Babylonian Exile; cf. Gen. 1; Isa. 55:10-11.


Romans 8:1-11
Left to our own devices (our sinfulness, our self-centered devotion to worldly success and comfort) that lead to death, God gives us the Spirit of life and peace by acquitting us of our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the early chapters of Romans, Paul has been contrasting the universality of human sinfulness with God’s gracious declaration of justification through the cross of Christ. He has insisted on the failure of our actions to secure God’s love through the law (even the law of Moses). The law focuses our minds on our selves, our deeds, our innocence. In Christ, however, God discharges us from the law that enslaves us and leads to death (7:6) to give us “the new life in the Spirit” (7:6). In chapter 8 Paul returns to that emphasis on life in and through the Spirit of God.

Key Words
V. 1. ouden ara nun ,,, = “There is therefore now…”: In light of the context of chapter 7, the word “therefore” seems to pick up the thought and imagery of 7:6 rather than the immediately preceding verses of 7:21-25. The reference to “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” flows from “But now we are discharged from the law …” (7:6a), and the second verse regarding “life in the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” picks up the words “so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:6b). The word “Spirit” does not appear between 7:6 and 8:2, but it appears ten times in 8:2-11.

V. 3. ho theos ton heautou huion pempsas en homoiōmati sarkas hamartias kai peri hamartias = “God … sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin (or “as a sin offering”): The words raise the question whether Paul is taking the docetic view that the Son of God did not really take human flesh but appeared something like a ghost. Paul uses the word homoiōma elsewhere, even in this epistle (1:23 in terms of the idolatrous deeds of the gentiles; at 5:15 in terms of the nature of sin; in 6:5 of the similarity of Christ’s death to our own). In the hymn quoted by Paul at Phil. 2:6-11, the word appears in verse 7:

“But emptied himself, taking the form (morphē) of a slave,
being born in human likeness (en homoiōmati).
And being found in human form (schēmati … hōs anthrōpos),
He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.”

Many scholars argue that Paul added the words “even death on a cross” to the existing hymn in order to make abundantly clear that the Son of God did not merely appear to be human but was human, possessing flesh that nails would penetrate and blood that would emerge from the wounds. At Galatians 4:4, Paul wrote that “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,” indicating that his birth was like (not appeared to be) our own. Further, at Col. 1:22 appears the expression “And you … he has now reconciled in his fleshly body….”

For the reality of the incarnation in other NT writers, see among many others John 1:14; Heb. 2:17; 4:15.

V. 5. “set their minds on the things of the flesh … on the things of the Spirit”: The effect of the divine gift of the Spirit enables people to look at life differently. Focusing on the “things of the Spirit” is “life and peace” rather than hostility to God (vss. 6-8). The Spirit, therefore, is the only source of life and peace.

V. 8. hoi de en sarki ontes theō aresai ou dynantai = “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God”: The way of Christ is not to please oneself but to please others by edifying them (Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:33). By contrast, those who minds focus on the flesh (selfish worldly gain) will not know the life and peace that comes from God.

V. 9-11. Being “in the Spirit” rather than “in the flesh,” Christians belong to Christ. If indeed Christ is within (among) us, while our bodies attest to our mortality, the Spirit makes us alive because of God’s righteousness (acquitting us in spite of our sinfulness). The same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead already works in and among us to give us life that has no end.


John 11:1-45
Revealing himself as “the resurrection and the life,” Jesus makes possible the gift of faith so that others, too, might join him in the life to come and so that he and God might be glorified.

During the Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem, Jesus taught about his relationship with the Father that caused some Jews to want to stone him (10:31) and arrest him (10:39).  Jesus crossed the Jordan to the point where John had been baptizing, and there many came to believe in him (10:40-42).

Key Words
V. 2.  “Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair”:  The incident about Mary reported here actually appears in the next chapter (12:1-6). The story about such an act by a woman “who was a sinner” is reported at Luke 7:36-50 (see esp. v. 38), but in the Lukan story she is not named.  At Mark 14:3-9 an unnamed woman who enters the house of Simon the leper at Bethany; her act involves pouring ointment on his head but nothing is said about anointing his feet or drying them with her hair.

V. 4.  all’ hyper tēs doxēs tou theou, hina doxasthē ho huios tou theou di’ autēs = “but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God might be glorified through it”:  See John 9:3 where Jesus describes for the disciples the role the man’s blindness will play: “that the works of God might be revealed in him.”  At v. 27 Martha confesses to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” In v. 40 Jesus reminds Martha that he promised she would see “the glory of God” if she believed.

V. 25.  egō eimi hē anastasis kai hē zōē = “I am the resurrection and the life”:  At 14:6 Jesus announces to the disciples that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.”  To say here that he is “the resurrection” means he must act in order to prove the point in advance of his own resurrection, and so he raises Lazarus from the grave by uttering his effective word.

V. 45.  “Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him”:  Faith in who Jesus is seems once again to be the point of the story see vv. 27, 40; see also 2:23; 4:53; 9:35-38; 20:30-31. The result of such faith here, as in 20:30-31, is the gift of life.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 108: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A (April 3, 2011) March 22, 2011

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

No wonder we mortals have difficulty grasping the word of God and applying the divine address to our lives here and now. God does not fit any of the categories by which we manage our lives and the affairs of the world. The Bible makes no qualms about the differences between God and us. In the words of God,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

Even the future Davidic ruler that God promises to send will exercise justice and judgment not by what his eyes and ears detect (the ways a human judge would act), but—as a result of the Spirit of the Lord—righteousness, equity, and faithfulness will serve as the foundations of his reign (Isaiah 11:3b-5).

As we discuss the lessons for the day, we necessarily use our human eyes and ears. These and our other senses are the ways we perceive the world. Yet they are insufficient to grasp the vision and word of God.  Maybe it’s just because “My light is not your light, says the Lord.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 108: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A.


Psalm 23
This psalm of trust is based on the development of the image of YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80; Ezekiel 34) to the intimate relationship of YHWH and the individual worshiper.  The imagery speaks of the Lord’s guidance, presence, and protection through the valley of darkness.  (The traditional translation “the valley of the shadow of death” was based on reading Hebrew tsalmût = “darkness” as tsalmāwet = “valley of death”; however, there are no compound nouns in biblical Hebrew.)  The scene switches in verses 5-6 to a festive meal in the temple (perhaps a thanksgiving meal that seems to celebrate divine rescue from a lamentable situation). The exhilaration even includes the worshiper’s awareness that the Lord has anointed his head with oil. Through it all, the psalmist exults in the ongoing joy at participating in this different kind of intimacy with the Lord.  The worshiper has confidence for the future because of the constancy of God’s care past and present.


Psalm 142
The psalm is a lament in which the psalmist is suffering persecution from enemies who lie in wait along pathways. The cries for help to YHWH result from the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord as “my refuge” (v. 5) and his promise to give thanks to the name of the Lord. The psalm concludes with the hope that “the righteous will surround me” on the basis on the Lord’s bountiful action (v. 7).


1 Samuel 16:1-13
Having sent Samuel to the family of Jesse in order to anoint a king to succeed Saul, God selects the anointed one not on the basis of what people see, even the prophet, but on the basis of God sees in the heart.

In the latter part of chapter 9 the Lord commanded the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul to become king over the people of Israel.  In the following chapter the anointing took place in private, and Samuel assured Saul of his new role by giving him a sign.  By the time we reach our pericope, the ability of Saul to reign faithfully has been brought into question. The Lord regretted the selection of Saul, and so the Lord sends Samuel to Bethlehem in order to anoint a new king, one of the sons of Jesse.

Key Words
V. 3.  ûmāšaktî lî = “you shall anoint for me”:  At 10:1 Samuel anointed Saul to be ruler of the people, and that man was so identified as “the Lord’s anointed” on several occasions, even by David.  Following the anointing of David in our pericope, only Davidic kings were anointed and called “the Lord’s Messiah.”  The concept changed drastically in the preaching of Second Isaiah who used the title of Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa. 45:1).  The title is not used in the OT prophecies about a future ideal Davidic king.

V. 7.  kî lō’ ’ašer yir’eh hā’ādām kî hā’ādām yir’eh la‘ênayim waYHWH yir’eh lallēbāb = “for not as a human sees, because a human sees with (lit. “to”) the eyes, but Yahweh sees with (lit. “to”) the heart”:  In the immediate context the reference is to the selection of which son of Jesse is to be anointed:  Samuel would have picked on the basis of appearance.  Yahweh, however, makes the selection on the basis of something humans cannot discern.  Similar differences between the Lord and humans can be seen at Isa. 55:8-9 in terms of thoughts, and differences between the future ideal Davidic king and other humans appear at Isa. 11:3 in terms of judgment on the basis of sight or hearsay.  The issue of divine sight appears to be the reason for the selection of this passage in connection with John 9.

V. 13.  wattitslach rûach-YHWH ’el-dāwid mēhayyôm wāmā‘lâ = “and the Spirit of the Lord rushed to/upon David from that day and onward”:  The Spirit rushes similarly on Samson, giving him strength to kill an onrushing lion (Judg. 14:6), anger to slay 30 men of Ashkelon (14:19), and power to break his bonds to kill a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass (15:14).  In a lighter vein, when the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Saul he prophesied along with a band of prophets (1 Sam. 10:6, 10), but on another occasion such a rush aroused Saul’s anger to the point of killing a yoke of oxen.  At 1 Sam. 18:10 “an evil spirit from God” rushed upon Saul and he raved like a lunatic over the music David played.  All of these references sound like an adrenalin rush rather than divine inspiration. Strikingly, in the Gospels, Mark writes that “The Spirit immediately drove him (Jesus) out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The Temptation story in Matthew and Luke, quite different from Mark’s, talks about the role of the Spirit but not with such urgency.


Isaiah 42:14-21
Confirming the lament of the people in exile, the Lord announces that the time has come for him to turn darkness into light and to make glorious his torah.

In the preaching of the prophet in Isaiah 40—55, the context of lamentation looms large. The people express their exilic suffering at 40:27: “My way is hid from the Lord, and my justice is disregarded by my God.” The theme is repeated in different words at 49:14: “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”  In our passage the Lord admits to silence and inactivity, but now is prepared to end the silence with a shout of transformation.


Ephesians 5:8-14
Having been called to imitate God, Christians are called also to be and act what we are:  light in the Lord who is and who gives light.


John 9:1-41
Against the notion that people who suffer are being punished for their sin, Jesus heals the man born blind so that his identity as the light of the world and God’s eschatological works accomplished in him might be known.

In many cultures of the ancient world people believed that one suffered according to one’s misdeeds.  So automatic was the sentence that often the same word was used for the crime and its punishment.  This philosophy was particularly popular among the wisdom teachers and can be gleaned from the Book of Proverbs and especially from the friends of Job.

As for the context in the Gospel, Jesus had been teaching in the precincts of the Temple.  He had been present in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles (7:2, 10, 37).  Having placed himself in jeopardy by his “I am” speech, Jesus left the Temple as the Jews picked up stones.

Key Words
V. 3.  all’ hina phanerōthē ta erga tou theou en autō = “but that the works of God might be manifest in him”:  while the disciples asked the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus answers in terms of what good can come out of it.  That good, the glorification of God, is a well-known theme throughout the Bible:  it is the reason for the plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses (Exod. 9:16; 10:2) and for the Reed Sea event itself (Exod. 14:17-18).  The glory of God is also the reason for the new exodus, the return from Babylonian exile (Isa. 43:21; Ezek. 37:14 and often in Ezekiel).  In the NT see the conclusion of the hymn at Phil. 2:6-11; Rom. 9:17.

V. 5.  hotan en tō kosmō ō, phōs eimi tou kosmou = “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”:  That Jesus is the light of the world is seen by the quotation of Isa. 9:2 at Matt. 4:16 and at John 1:4, 7, 9.  Beginning already at Gen. 1, God is the light of the world, and at Isa. 10:17, YHWH is the light of Israel.  In Rev. 21:23 and 22:5 God will be the light of the new Jerusalem and Christ will be the lamp.  Jesus’ condition stated here, “as long as I am in the world,” paves the way for his disciples to be the light after he has gone (see Isa. 49:6; Matt. 5:14; Eph. 5:8-14; and cf. 1 John 1:5-7).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 107: Third Sunday in Lent, Year A (March 27, 2011) March 20, 2011

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Third Sunday in Lent
We can all understand, I think, that when people of faith experience hardships in their own lives and observe the sufferings of others, they often lose their faith in the God they worshiped. Such a response is quite common among people during grief and trauma. It is more difficult to understand why people reject God even after God reveals himself as the protector of the oppressed, as Savior of the underdog, and as the loving Creator of all life. Precisely because God announces divine identity through such actions, our turning away from God is an affront to God’s honor. Our passages for this day demonstrate a variety of dishonorable actions from respected people and some quite commendable actions on the part of the despised. Watch how God responds as we move through the lessons.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 107: Third Sunday in Lent, Year A.


Psalm 95
Because the Lord is a great God, even the greatest among the nations’ gods, the people of Israel enter the Lord’s presence with song and joyful noise. Such praise and adoration are due the Lord because he is the Creator of the universe and the Shepherd of his people. Now switching to the direct address, the Lord surprisingly reminds the people of their rebellion in the wilderness (at Massah). God’s displeasure with their testing him means such rebels will not enter God’s “rest.”


Exodus 17:1-7
In spite of the people’s rejection of the Lord’s salvation accomplished through Moses, God responds to their faultfinding and testing by providing water in the desert.

Beginning at 15:22 the people of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, entered the wilderness.  They began complaining about the wilderness already at 15:24, then about food in 16:2-3.  In the first instance God sweetened the bitter water to make it drinkable; in the second, God provided manna as food in the desert (16:13-36).  Now they murmur for another necessity of life, and God responds favorably once more.


Romans 5:1-11
By justifying us through faith in Christ Jesus, God gives us that peace which enables us to honor to God through the tribulations of life here and now and to confidently wait for salvation on the Judgment Day to come.

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 comes only to and through 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”:  The results of the previous argument follow.  At the end of chap.4, Paul spoke of God’s giving to us righteousness (declaring us innocent) on the basis of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

V. 1.  eirēnēn … pros ton theon = “peace with God”:  Paul uses “peace” many times 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); after this verse:  8:6 (along with life is the result of setting one’s mind on the Spirit); 14:17 (along with righteousness and joy constitutes the reign of God); 14:19 (along with mutual upbuilding is a goal of the Christian community); 15:13 (along with joy is the gift of God which enables the Christian to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit); 15:33; 16:20 (a characteristic which defines God).

Vv. 2-3.  kauchōmetha = “we boast”:  The word appears negatively in Romans at 2:17, 23; 3:27 (noun); postively here and v. 11; 15:17 (noun).

V. 3.  thlipsis = “affliction”:  The word appears in connection with evildoers at 2:9; at 8:35 it is that which has no power to separate us from the love of God; here and at 12:12 it appears for the New Day suffering of those who follow Christ.

V. 4.  dokimē = “confirmation”:  The word appears only in Paul’s writings in the NT (see elsewhere at 2 Cor. 2:9; 8:2; 9:13; 13:3; Phil. 2:22).  In all cases it is that which is determined through testing.

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

V. 6.  kata kairon = “at the appointed time”:  kairos is not primarily measurable time but the time at which something significant occurs. It often appears with reference to the arrival of the “reign of God”:  see Mark 1:15 and Romans 13:11-14.

V. 9.  dikaiōthentes nun en tō haimati autou sōthē_sometha = “we are now justified by his blood, we shall be saved”:  The tenses dramatize the contrast between the present gift of justification and the future promise of salvation. The passive voice serves as a theological passive, that is, the actor is God.

V. 11.  kauchōmenoi = “we rejoice/boast”:  The present tense indicates the result of the present gift and the future promise.


John 4:5-42
In his conversation with the Samaritan woman in Sychar, Jesus desacralizes the water in Jacob’s well in addition to Mounts Gerizim and Zion, in order to point to the worship of God in spirit and in truth, that is, in himself; through the woman’s testimony in the community, others come to know him and confess he is the Savior of the world.

The previous chapter reports the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus and then moves on to describe the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.  Both men had been baptizing in the same area (actually the author corrects himself by indicating only the disciples were baptizing, not Jesus).  When John’s disciples report the activity of Jesus, the Gospel writer responds with a speech that is reminiscent of those made by him in chapter 1.  Realizing, though, that the Pharisees learned of the numbers of people he (or his disciples) was baptizing, Jesus left Judea and headed toward Galilee.  While Jesus normally made this journey by traveling around the territory of Samaria (Matt. 19:1; Luke 17:11), on this trip he passed through Samaria, specifically through one of its major cities, Sychar.  This city is the Shechem of the OT and today is called Nablus.

Key Words
V. 5-42. Samaria … Samaritans: Samaria was the region named for the city of Samaria that served at one point as the capital of the northern kingdom called Israel. Its territory comprised what had once been the tribal land of Ephraim and Manasseh. The Samaritans family tree is rooted, it seems, both in the Israelite ancestors on the one hand and in the foreign deportees that the Assyrians imported into the land. In either case, the population did not worship in Jerusalem, establishing their own sanctuaries first in Dan and Bethel, then on Mount Gerizim outside Shechem = Nablus. As a result, the Judeans despised the Samaritans, denying their Israelite ancestry and accusing them all of being pagans.

V. 6. ēn de ekei pēgē tou Iakōb = “Jacob’s well was there”: This verse provides the earliest mention of Jacob’s well. There is not mention of the place in the OT or in Intertestamental Literature. From early in the 4th century A.D. the site became beloved and revered by the construction of churches and by pilgrimages. The traditional well lies a little over a mile from the modern town of Nablus.

V. 10. “who it is that is saying to you”: The remark by Jesus focuses the woman’s and the reader’s attention on the identity of Jesus throughout the entire story.

V. 14.  pēgē hydatos hallomenou eis zōēn aiōnion = “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”:  The proposed gift from Jesus sounds much like the description of God at Jer. 2:13:  “the fountain of living waters.” The expression also recalls the prophecy that “on that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem” (Zech. 14:8).  Here, however, the source of such living water is Jesus himself.

V. 19. kyrie, theōrō hoti prophētēs ei su = “I perceive that you are a prophet”: The woman comes to this conclusion because without ever having seen her before this meeting, Jesus is able to speak about her personal life and history. As Jesus continues the conversation, he demonstrates that he acts like a prophet in another sense: he speaks of the coming Day of the Lord and the ensuing kingdom of God.

V, 21. erchetai hōra = “the hour is coming”:  At v. 23 Jesus repeats the expression and adds something else: “the hour is coming and now is” (see also 5:25), indicating the new time is already beginning. In other places in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ hour had “not yet come” (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20), but at 12:23, Jesus announces that the quest of the Greeks to “see Jesus” marks the time when “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In verses following this announcement (12:27), Jesus connects the “hour” to his crucifixion. At 13:1 the “hour” refers to his departure from the world, and at 16:2, 4, 21, 25 the “hour” is the time when the disciples of Jesus would also face persecution but through it come to know the glory of discipleship.

V. 21.  “Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem”:  “this mountain” from the perspective of Sychar was Mount Gerizim, the mountain that was and still is considered by the Samaritans to be the holy mountain. The Jews, of course, believed that the holy mountain was the mount in Jerusalem on which stood the Temple.

V. 25-26. “I know the Messiah is coming” … And Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he”: The identity of Jesus now focuses on the title Messiah, one that Jesus hardly ever uses of himself in the gospel stories (see Mark 14:61-62 for Jesus’ response of “I am” to the high priest’s question: “Are you the Christ…?”).

Vss. 23-24. en pneumati kai alētheia = “in spirit and truth”: The worship of God “in spirit and truth” becomes the reason sacred places can be desacralized. “God is spirit” (v. 24). John’s prologue announces that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Jesus speaks of himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” at 14:6, and that through him people can know the Father. Before Pilate Jesus says that he came to bear witness to “the truth,” leading Pilate to ask his famous question: “What is truth?” (18:37-38).

V. 42. kai oidamen hoti houtis estin alēthōs ho sōtēr tou kosmou = “and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world”: The title “Savior” appears only here in John’s Gospel, and the word “salvation” in v. 22 is also unique in John. Luke uses the title at 1:47;  2:11; 3:6; Acts 5:31; 13:23 and employs the word “salvation” thirteen times in Luke—Acts. Strikingly, neither “Savior” nor “salvation” appear in Matthew and Mark. The verb “save,” however, appears frequently to describe Jesus’ mission in all four gospels. In John, see 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 11:12; 12:27, 47. That this expression of faith rolls off the lips of the Samaritans contrasts these people sharply with the religious establishment in Jerusalem. In other stories, individual Samaritans become models for faith and deeds (e.g., the grateful Samaritan leper at Luke 17:11-19 and the generous caregiver at Luke 10:29-37).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 106: Second Sunday in Lent, Year A (March 20, 2011) March 15, 2011

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Second Sunday in Lent
Many stories tell about a journey. The Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic is about Gilgamesh’s long journey to attain immortality. Homer’s The Odyssey relates the trials and tribulations of Odysseus as he travels home from the Trojan battlefield. J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings dramatically relates the journey of Frodo and his friends toward Mount Doom where they will destroy the One Ring that can destroy Middle Earth. Even modern movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Trains, Planes, and Automobiles wind their amusing anecdotes around journeys. The Bible, too, has its stories of journeys to tell. Some of them are regular pilgrimages, as in our psalm for the day. Others are world-changing events like that of Abraham and Sara in our first lesson. And the gospel story about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is just out of this world! Strikingly, the journey of all of them is founded upon faith-inspired trust in God, and the destination is blessing, wholeness, and life.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 106: Second Sunday in Lent, Year A.


Psalm 121
While the original purpose of this psalm is not certain, its beauty and comforting expressions give it a place of favor among devout people of all times. The first verses introduce the psalm as a dialogue. Verse 1 comes from the lips of a person about to begin a journey. The speaker looks to the mountains ahead, awesome to behold yet full of potential danger. An imminent journey across and through their heights causes the worshiper to ask about the source of “help” or “strength” on the way. Unlike the answer to a similar question regarding wisdom (Job 28:12, 20), the response here provides the traveler hope and promise: “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (v. 2). Whoever speaks that answer—either the worshiper or a priest—the following verses appear to flow from the lips of a priest. The journey itself is often assumed, therefore, to be the homeward trip from the temple in Jerusalem following a pilgrim’s required visit. It is also possible that the setting takes place outside the home of the pilgrims as they set out for the temple. In that case, the answer might come from a Levite. In any case, the Lord who will be the “help” will remain constantly alert to keep the traveler from harm (vss. 3-4). YHWH will protect and guard the pilgrim, even from the blistering sun and the mysterious moon (vss. 5-6). Even beyond the immediate journey, the Lord will maintain diligence on the worshiper’s behalf in every place and at all times.


Genesis 12:1-4a (1-9)
God calls Abraham and Sarah to relinquish their worldly security (home and family connections) in order to journey to a new land of God’s promise and become a source of blessing to others in their midst and beyond.

The call of Abraham recorded here occurs after the long pre-history of Genesis 3 through 11.  The final chapter of the pre-history tells of the Tower of Babel (vv. 1-9) and the subsequent judgment of God by which resulted in the diversity of languages and in the scattering of the people.

The pericope is assigned to the Yahwist (J). However, verses 4b-5 are clearly P.  The Yahwist addresses Israel in the time of David and Solomon (tenth century B.C.) in order to answer two questions:  (1) How did we get to be the great people we are? (2) What is our function? The priestly school (P) was at work for centuries, but its defining work and editorial hand were especially active in the sixth century B.C.

Key Words
V. 1:  lek-lekā  mē’artsekā … ’el-hā’ārets  ’ašer ’arekkā = “Go from your land … to the land which I will show you”:  The land where Abram resided was somewhere in Mesopotamia:  according to the last two verses of chap. 11 (which is P rather than J) Abram’s father left Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan, but settled for a while in Haran.

V. 2.  wa’agaddelā šemekā = “so that I might make your name great”:  Note the contrast between this verse and the Yahwist’s story of the Tower of Babel where the people tried to make their own name great (11:4).

V. 3.  mebārekêkā ûmeqallelkā = “those who bless you and the one who curses you”:  While some mss. make both participles plural, the contrast between the many who will bless and the exceptional one who will curse is likely intentional.

V. 3.  wenibrekû bekā kōl mišpechôt hā’adāmâ = “and by you all the families of the land will consider themselves blessed (or be blessed”):  The niph‘al of the verb nibrecan be used as a simple passive or as a reflexive, thus the alternate translations; nibrekû mišpechôt hā’adāmâ occurs also at 28:14 as God’s promise to Jacob.  The clause appears elsewhere but in a wider context at Genesis at 18:18 (“nations of the earth”); 22:18 (“nations of the earth”); 26:4 (“nations of the earth”).  Note Gal. 3:8 where Paul cites this promise as “the gospel preached beforehand to Abraham.”  For examples of Abraham and his descendants serving as a source of blessing even when the formula does not appear, see 30:27 (Laban to Jacob), 30 (Jacob to Laban).


Romans 4:1-5 [8], 13-17
The righteousness that comes from God was reckoned to Abraham on the basis of his faith, and the promise given to Abraham–that he and his descendants would inherit the world–is given to everyone through the righteousness of faith.

Having demonstrated that all people–Jews and Gentiles–are guilty before God (chapters 1-2), Paul demonstrated in chapter 3 that all are justified by grace as a gift.  Toward the end of chapter 3, he then raises the issue of works and contrasts them with faith.  Now using Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews himself, as his example, Paul drives home his point.


John 3:1-17
In response to the confession of Nicodemus that Jesus comes from God, Jesus indicates that in order to participate in the kingdom of God and in the salvation he offers, one must be born anew.

According to John, Jesus went up to Jerusalem three times during his life. This encounter with Nicodemus occurred during the first visit at the time of the Passover. Many people had already come to believe in Jesus because of the signs he performed, but Jesus, we are told, did not entrust himself to them … for he himself knew what was in people (2:24-25).

Key Words
V. 3.  ean mē tis gennēthē anōthen = “unless someone is born from above”:  The issue is not simply another birth but an existence based on heavenly origins. The statement is explained further by v. 13 where “the Son of man” is identified as the one who descended from heaven; see John 1:1-14.

V. 3.  tēn basileian tou theou = “the kingdom of God”:  After this initial reference to the kingdom, a synoptic emphasis, John usually talks about “life” rather than the kingdom. The question of kingdom and kingship will occur again in the trial by Pilate (19:36).

V. 5. “unless one of born of water and the Spirit … born of the flesh … born of the Spirit … born of the Spirit”:  As Jesus himself received the Holy Spirit (see John 1:33), proving that Jesus is the Son of God (1:34), so Jesus announces the means by which others can become born from above and see/enter the kingdom of God with him.

V. 14.  kai kathōs Mōysēs hypsōsen ton ophin en tē  erēmō, houtōs hypsōthēnai dei ton huion tou anthrōpou = “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”:  The “lifting up” is an important expression in John’s Gospel. Here, by comparison to the visible raising of the bronze serpent, and at 8:28, the verb appears to refer to the crucifixion. At 12:32, 34 the word refers to the resurrection/ascension. Strikingly, the word dei = “must” is used here, as it is in the synoptic tradition, regarding the necessity of the suffering and resurrection of the Son of Man (see Mark 8:31). The result of looking at the uplifted serpent is “life” in Num. 21:9 and “salvation” at Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7.

V. 16. houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon, ōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken = “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”: The tense of the verb for “loved” signifies a once for all act. It thus points to the crucifixion rather than to a more general affection for the created world. Appropriating this message to one’s life results in “eternal life.”

V. 17. “For God sent the Son into the world (eis ton kosmon), not to condemn the world (ton kosmon), but that the world (ho kosmos) (Creation) might be saved (sōthē) through him”:  The work of God in Jesus is described here in the third person; at 12:47, Jesus speaks in the first person about his purpose in the same terms: not to condemn but to save the world. At 1 John 4:14 the author writes similarly: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world” (sōtēra tou kosmou). Recall that according to the angel’s words to Joseph, the name of the baby Mary will bear will be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Luke’s narrative about the message of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds includes the title “a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 104: Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A (March 6, 2011) February 9, 2011

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The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Sunday celebrating the Transfiguration of Our Lord has been set in a particularly strategic position. In one sense, the Sunday is also the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. In another sense, it is the transition to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. Typical of the Epiphany season, the Transfiguration story announces the identity of Jesus over against the more reasonable and manageable ways we often describe him. The portrayal of our Lord here is visibly magnificent. Yet God’s announcement of “who Jesus is” points us both to magnificence and to the cross. The meaning of Jesus’sufferings as we recall them through Lent is based on who he is, and the mountain of the Transfiguration provides a critical perspective for Jesus’ and our lives in the valleys and pits below.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 104: Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A.


Psalm 2
This psalm, like Psalm 110, describes the action and significance of crowning kings of the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem. The opening words set the coronation of Davidic kings within the context of the world. Other “kings of the earth” conspire to unseat the newly crowned King who is none other than “the Lord’s anointed” (messiah). This attempt only makes God in heaven laugh. God’s speech to those foolish rulers identifies the crowning as his own divine action while simultaneously defines Mount Zion as the space from which God will rule through this king: “I have set my king on Zion, the hill of my holiness” (v. 6). Verse 7 provides the speech that the king will say: “He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have given you birth.’” The words convey the identity of the king who becomes adopted in this coronation as the son of God (see also 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:26-27). God has also promised this new king that his reign will extend over the whole earth. Those divine words serve as a warning for usurpers of the throne but also as a blessing for those who take refuge in the Lord and the Lord’s anointed.


Exodus 24:12-18
In order to instruct Moses and the people in ways that God would continue to be present with them, God invites Moses (and Joshua) to the summit of Mount Sinai where, prior to the instructions, the Lord appears in glory.

After receiving from God the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21–23) and reading it in the hearing of the people (24:7), Moses and 73 others were invited to the top of Mount Sinai where they saw God and feasted in his presence (24:9-11).  Following this banquet, God invited Moses to ascend even higher and to bring along Joshua his servant (24:13).

Key Words
V. 12, 15, 17, 18. hāhār = “the mountain”:  The term becomes a technical expression for Mount Sinai/Horeb (Sinai at v. 16; Horeb at 3:1 and often) which serves in the OT as the home of God from which he directs the events surrounding the exodus and the trek through the wilderness. Later the expression would become connected for another holy mountain, namely, Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

For a fuller discussion of the function of “the mountain” throughout the Bible, see Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith  by Foster R. McCurley, (Fortress Press ex libris, 2007, pp 125–182).

V. 13.  wayyāqōm mōše wîhôšua‘  mešortô wayya`al mōše ’el-har ’elōhîm = “And Moses rose and Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God”:  At 3:1 Mount Horeb is called “the mountain of God”; elsewhere Zion is called “the mount of his holiness” (see Ps. 2:6). 2 Peter refers to the Transfiguration event as occurring on “the holy mountain.”

V. 16.  he‘ānān = “the cloud”:  Clouds are a symbol of God’s presence (see 19:16); recall also the “pillar of cloud” at 13:21-22; 14:19.

V. 16.  “six days; and on the seventh”:  The expression is an ancient Semitic literary device leading up to the climax of an action “on the seventh day”; cf. Gen. 2:2; Josh. 6:15-16.

V. 16.  kebôd-YHWH = “the glory of the Lord”:  The expression is common in priestly writings to designate the presence of God in splendor; in late Judaism “glory” becomes virtually a hypostasis of God.

V. 17.  ke’ēš ’ōkelet = “like a consuming fire”:  For fire as a symbol of God’s presence, see 3:2; 14:21-22; 19:18; Isa. 31:9.


2 Peter 1:16-21
Inspiration to speak the word of God and to prophesy comes not from human initiative but from the Holy Spirit and from the transfiguration announcement about the identity of Jesus as God’s Son.


Matthew 17:1-9
In order to indicate that bearing the cross is not the end of God’s designs, God reveals in the Transfiguration the identity of his Son in terms of the agony and the ecstasy that awaits both him and his disciples.

Somewhere in the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples about popular opinions concerning him.  When they told him, he asked them about their view of him.  After Peter’s confession which was affirmed by Jesus’ blessing on him, Jesus urged them to be silent (16:13-20).  That was the end of Jesus’ public ministry.  Now at 16:21 Jesus begins a more private ministry with his disciples, teaching them about his forthcoming death and resurrection (16:21-23) and about the necessity of cross-bearing by his disciples (16:24-28).

Parallel Passages:  Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36

Key Words
V. 1.  kai kath’ hēmeras hex = “and after six days”:  The temporal expression is identical to that used at Mark 9:2; Luke differs in using hōsei hēmerai oktō = “about eight days.” The formula used in Mark and Matthew seems, on the basis of Hos. 6:2 (“after two days”//”on the third day”), to mean “on the seventh day.” That expression in the OT is a literary device for indicating the climax to whatever action has preceded it “for six days” (Gen. 2:2; Exod. 24:16; Josh. 6:15-16).

V. 1.  eis oros hypsēlon = “to a high mountain”:  In LXX the expression indicates to a “holy mountain” for some group of people.

V. 2.  kai elampsen to prosōpon autou = “and his face shone”:  Recall Moses’ shining face as he descended from Mount Sinai at Exod. 34:29-35; of the Risen Christ see Rev. 1:16.

V. 4. ei theleis = “if you wish”:  This addition to Mark’s version makes the disciples (and Peter in particular) look less foolish.

V. 5.  houtos estin ho huios mou ho agapētos = “This is my Son, the Beloved”:  On the first part of the announcement see Ps. 2:7 (“You are my Son”); on “beloved son” see Gen. 22:2, 12, 16).  On the whole expression, see Matt. 3:17 where the announcement is made at Jesus’ baptism to Jesus himself (Mark’s version) or possibly to others (Matthew’s version).

V. 5.  en hō eudokēsa = “in whom I am pleased”:  The words recall Isa. 42:1 where the expression refers to the “servant” of Second Isaiah, probably Israel in exile.  The expression is an addition to Mark’s announcement at the Transfiguration, but both Mark and Matthew use it at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:5; Matt. 3:17).

V. 5.  akouete autou = “listen to him”:  The divine command echoes Deut. 18:15 which would confirm the opinion on the part of the people that Jesus is somehow the prophet “like Moses” that God promised to the people.

V. 7.  egerthēte kai mē phobeisthe = “Rise and do not fear”:  The word “rise” frequently describes Jesus’ resurrection and that of his disciples at the last day (see 17:9).  Its use here is expected on the basis of Jesus’ statement in v. 9.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 103: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A (January 30, 2011) January 19, 2011

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Epiphany season challenges us to discern the meaning of symbols in order to grasp the messages about the identity of Jesus. Removed by almost two thousand years, the biblical symbols that convey this powerful news are almost exclusively words. Word symbols relate meaning, however, only in particular contexts. For example, in today’s context the word “justification” commonly refers to the alignment of written text on a page. We can choose to justify to the right or to the left. In the context of the New Testament, however, “justification” refers to the act of acquittal in a court case. Interpreting the meaning of the word in a biblical passage requires, therefore, determining the original context of the symbol. The lessons for this Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany feature “the mountain” as an overarching symbol for Jesus’ identity and the word “righteousness” as the justifying action that God performed through Jesus’ identity.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 103: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A.


Psalm 15
Like Psalm 24, this psalm served as an “entrance liturgy” for the Israelite pilgrims who came to the temple of Jerusalem three times each year. To comprehend the liturgical action of these psalms, one does well to read and interpret the two side by side. While Psalm 24 opens with a confession about the Lord’s founding the earth upon the chaos of the sea and the ensuing majesty of the Lord over the whole earth, Psalm 15 begins with the pilgrims’ question (v. 2 of Psalm 24) regarding the qualifications needed for entering the mountaintop space where the holiness of God dwells on earth. In other words, “Who, O Lord, can receive your majestic hospitality?” The pilgrims await the Lord’s answer–perhaps through a priest. Verses 2-5 provide that divine answer in terms of the appropriate torah. Simply put, the requirement is honoring other people. Such respect for others includes walking blamelessly, doing what is right, speaking heartfelt truth, avoiding slander and harm, insult to one’s neighbors, charging interest on loans (usury), and bribes against the innocent. The list is more detailed than that in Psalm 24:4, but in both cases the requirements are not rituals but acts of justice and righteousness to others. Such responsibility is fitting behavior toward a God who loves justice (Ps. 99:4) and who rules the world with justice and righteousness (Ps. 97:2). Acting out in daily life the worship experience from the temple pilgrimage results in the promise of God: “Those who do these things shall never be moved” (v. 5).


Micah 6:1-8
When Israel chose to define her response of faith in God by ritualistic acts, God sued them for breach of contract and defined the good life as one of justice, faithfulness, and humility.

Micah preached in Judah in the second half of the 8th century B.C., during the reigns of “Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah” (1:1).  Micah differed from Isaiah in that he preached the destruction of Jerusalem, whereas Isaiah preached God’s saving intervention of the city from the Assyrian attack.

Key Words
V. 1. “plead you case … hear, you mountains (witnesses) …the lawsuit of YHWH”: The terms indicate clearly that the divine speech of these verses takes the form of a court case in which the Lord is suing Israel. The charges against the people are the content of verses 3-5. Acting as prosecuting attorney, YHWH asks the people to tell what God has done to weary them: “answer me!” God reminds the people of the basic act performed on behalf of the people: the exodus from the land of Egypt (v. 4). YHWH commands the people to recall also the intention of Balak, king of Moab, to stop the people of Israel’s conquest of the land through a curse from Balaam. As the story develops, Balaam blessed the people through the Lord’s intervention (Num. 22–23). Further, YHWH calls the people to remember the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land from the time Joshua established his headquarters at Shittim before crossing the Jordan to the new headquarters in Gilgal on the other side (Josh. 2:1; 4:19). The purpose of these divine actions of v. 5 is “that you may know the saving acts of YHWH.”

Vss. 6-7. “With what shall I come before YHWH?”: The response of an individual (corporate?) is to ask a question similar to that of Psalm 15:1. The worshiper’s assumptions are that a ritual act of sacrifice would enable the person to “please” the Lord.

V. 8. “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”: What pleases the Lord is not an act of ritual but, like the response from the priest in Psalm 15, to live one’s life performing justice and acts of mercy in humility before God.


1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Against all who claim to be wise, powerful, and noble, God chose a new community consisting of the foolish, the weak, and the lowly in order to destroy pretensions to self-importance and to lead to proper boasting in the Lord.

The Christian community is
not wise
not powerful
not of noble birth
God chose
the foolish to shame the wise
the weak to shame the strong
the lowly to bring to nothing what is
So that no one might boast before God.
Christ Jesus is
our wisdom
our righteousness
So that we might boast in the Lord.

The people of Corinth were among the sophisticated of the ancient world, and they knew it.  It was a cosmopolitan city where Jew and Gentile mixed.  Prior to our verses, Paul indicates that a report from Chloe informed him that divisions have arisen in the congregation, and much of the letter addresses the different positions and questions that resulted from those divergent parties. Here Paul begins to develop his argument about the startling nature of the gospel, from which he will address the various questions raised in the congregation. His final sentence states his mission: “to preach the gospel, not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1:17). For a fuller discussion of the first part of this passage, see and listen to Episode 12.

Key Words
V. 18. ho logos gar ho tou staurou tois men apollumenois mōria estin = “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing”: The purpose of the wisdom movement in the ancient world was to understand the ordering of the universe and to participate in that ordering as the way to live. Foolishness or folly led to disorder, failure, and death, and so the future fortunes of the wise and the fool are quite opposite. Those who are perishing are those who refuse to hear the word of the cross and will not know the life promised for those of faith. The two groups are paired also at 2 Cor. 2:15, while at 2 Cor. 4:3 the perishing stand alone veiled from the gospel. The contrast in our verse is tois de sōzomenois hēmin dynamis theou estin = “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” That the word/gospel possesses God’s “power” to save those who have faith, see Rom. 1:16. The actor for salvation is, therefore, God.

V. 19. “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’”: The quotation of Isa. 29:14 recalls the promise of God to destroy the wisdom that purports to have knowledge of and access to God. The quote demonstrates also that Paul is not the first to challenge the wisdom tradition and those who claim to know it all. See also the premise of the Book of Job and the preaching of Jeremiah 8:8-9. Having put that meaning of the symbol “wisdom” in its place, Paul redefines the word and gives new meaning to the symbol: “Christ crucified … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (vss. 23-24).

V. 21. eudokēsen ho theos = “it pleased God”: What pleases God in the NT is essentially what God gives. In Col. 1:19 “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the Son” and thereby to reconcile all things to Godself. Paul writes in Gal. 1:16 that God “was pleased to reveal the Son” to him so that he might preach among the Gentiles. And at Luke 12:32, Jesus taught that “it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom….”

V. 22. “For Jews demand signs (sēmeia) and Greeks seek wisdom (sophian)”: For the desire for signs see Numbers 14:11-25 where God says that the people of Israel received many signs but rejected God and God’s deliverance nevertheless. The people do not trust the Lord to keep the promises. In the Gospel stories, the Pharisees stand out as those who demand signs from Jesus “to test him” (Matt. 16:1-4; 12:38-39; Mark 8:11-13). At Luke 11:29. Jesus regards as “evil” this requiring of signs. As for the wisdom sought by the Greeks, wisdom was a human attempt to discover the world of the gods and of humans through philosophies of various kinds.

V. 23. hēmeis de kēryssomen Christon estaurōmenon = “but we preach Christ crucified”: The content of the gospel that Paul preaches is completely contrary to signs and wisdom and, therefore, in the minds and eyes of the world, it is a stumbling block and folly. See Rom. 1:17-17 for “power of God” to save.

V. 27. hina kataischynē = “so that he might shame”: God does not put to shame those who are faithful; cf. Rom. 5:5; 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet. 2:6; 3:16.

V. 30. en Christō ’Iēsou, hos egenēthē sophia hēmin apo theou, dikaiosynē te kai hagiosmos kai apolytrōsis = “in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption”: Along with redefining wisdom, Paul reinterprets the symbol “righteousness” from its customary meaning of our obedience and behavior to mean God’s action of acquitting us. “Righteousness” is the action of God that brings us into fellowship with God—a meaning already attested in the OT.

V. 31. ho kauchōmenos en kyriō kauchasthō = “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”: The quotation from Jer. 9:22-23 where the classes of people who are not to boast are the wise, the strong, and the rich.


Matthew 5:1-12
To the poor of the land Jesus, speaking not with the voice of Moses but with the authority of God, promises the blessings of the future to be experienced in the present.

After his baptism by John and the temptation in the wilderness by the devil, Jesus began preaching in Galilee the nearness of the Reign of God.  Immediately thereafter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called as disciples Peter and Andrew and James and John.  His preaching, teaching and healing caused the word to spread throughout the land, causing crowds to follow him.

Parallel Passages:  Isaiah 61:1-2; Psalm 37; Luke 6:20-23.

Key Words
Vss. 1-11. makarioi = blessed”: In the OT, blessings from God are often contrasted with curses as rewards or punishments respectively for keeping the torah of YHWH (above all see Deut. 27—28).

V. 1.  anebē eis to oros = “he went up onto the mountain”:  The mountain is unnamed and impossible to locate. The definite article, however, seems to point to some known elevation– if not topographical, then theological or traditional. The terms “the mountain” also occur at Mark 3:13//Luke 6:12 as the location for appointing the 12 apostles. The divine functions of teaching (here) and appointing or commissioning recall the functions of Mount Sinai/Horeb and Mount Sinai in the OT (Exod. 3:1-12; 20; 24—31; Psalm 2, etc.). While Mark and Luke require Jesus’ invitation to ascend the mountain (like the OT tradition), Matthew allows “the mountain” to go public here and at 15:29-31. As for commissioning the Twelve, Matthew saves that action for the end of his Gospel (28:16-20).

V. 3.  hoi ptōchoi tō pneumati = “the poor in spirit”:  Luke 6:20 reads simply “the poor” (see Isa. 61:1). The Hebrew word translated “poor” bears the meaning of afflicted or oppressed.

V. 4.  hoi penthountes … paraklēthēsontai = “the mourners … will be comforted”:  Recall the promise of the coming Day of the Lord at Isa. 61:2. Note in Third Isaiah the role of YHWH in comforting mourners (57:18; 61:3; 66:13).

V. 5.  hoi praeis … klēronomēsousin tēn gēn = “the meek … shall inherit the earth”:  See the repeated use of this blessing at Ps. 37:9 (those who wait for YHWH), 11 (meek), 22 (the blessed), 29 (the righteous), 34 (those who wait for YHWH). Psalm 37 is a collection of teachings that point to the blessings of YHWH’s saving intervention into earthly life, encouraging the people to trust that YHWH will deliver on those promises. (See Episode 93 for a discussion of Psalm 37:1-9.)

Vv. 6, 10.  dikaiosynē = “righteousness”:  See Isa. 61:3:  “that they may be called the oaks of righteousness.” The prophetic expression sets this new identity as the goal of God’s interventions announced in Isa. 61: 1-2. Even more closely related to our passage, however, is the combination of God’s making the people “righteous” and promising they will inherit the land/earth appears a few verses earlier at Isa. 60:21: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land/earth forever.”

V. 9.  hoi eirēnopoioi hoti autoi huioi theou klēthēsontai = “the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”:  See Col. 1:20, where Christ is said to “reconcile to himself all things, … making peace by the blood of the cross.” The divine name-calling that changes the lives of people is prominent in the preaching of Third Isaiah (see Isa. 60:18; 61:6; 62:4, 12).

V. 12. chairete kai agalliasthe, hoti ho misthos hymōn polys en tois ouranois = Rejoice and be glad, because your reward is great in heaven”: Luke’s version makes the eschatological point even clearer: charete en ekeinē tē hēmera = “rejoice on that day” (6:23).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 102: Christmas Eve, Year A (December 24, 2010) December 17, 2010

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Christmas Eve

The birth of Jesus, and the way Luke and Matthew tell the birth stories, challenged much of the thinking of ancient times. The Christmas story, comforting and mysterious as it is, challenges us also—if we are willing to allow it. The challenge is primarily this. Thanks to worldwide influence of Plato’s philosophy, all of life, as we see it, is merely shadows on the wall of a cave. What causes the shadows to appear are unseen, immaterial, and ideal realities. Quite contrary to that view, the birth of Jesus—or more theologically, the incarnation of God’s word—affirms the reality of flesh and blood, the sublimity of cells and organisms, and the value of physical existence. Christmas is not a celebration of an ideal but of the ordinary. It has been said many times that the trouble with the church is that it is not worldly enough. Perhaps from the church’s very early days “St. Plato” has steered us away from the announcement of Genesis 1 that the physical phenomena are good and interconnected (“very good”) in God’s eyes. To consider as reality only some invisible ideal essence prevents us from being incarnational, as the birth of Jesus calls us to be in a troubled and hungry world. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice … which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 102: Christmas Eve, Year A.


Psalm 96
Like Psalms 47, 95, and 98, this song calls an assembly (v. 1: “all the earth”) to sing their acclamation and praise to God who reigns over the universe. The eyes of faith see God as its Creator (v. 5). The summons to sing actually conveys the message about “the good news” of God’s victory (v. 2) that brings a reign of order versus the chaos that threatens the world. The psalm invites worshipers from all nations (“O families of the peoples” in v. 7) to participate in the joyous song. Beyond human singers, the choir will include God’s creatures of the sea and the fields and even the trees of the woods. Their universal joy results from the confidence that the Lord comes to bring justice and righteousness to the entire creation, to make it whole and integrated, and to restore it to health (vss. 10-13; recall the divine evaluation of each phenomenon as “good” in Gen 1).


Isaiah 9:2-7
Over against the gloom of the present time, God conquers the forces of chaos and crowns as king a Davidic ruler who will reign with justice and righteousness.

Following the Isaiah memoirs of chapters 6–8, this hymn celebrating either the birth of a royal child or the coronation of a Davidic king appears as an appropriate addendum, for it gives the impression that the turmoil of the Syro-Ephraimite alliance (or Aramean-Israelite Coalition; see 7:1-9) has ended by God’s hand. The Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom has taken place, and the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali have been devastated (9:1).

Key Words
V. 3.  hirbîtā haggôy lô’ higdaltā_ hassimchâ = “you have increased the nation; you have not magnified the joy”:  The Hebrew words were probably hirbîtā haggîlâ higdaltā hassimchâ = you have increased the joy; you have magnified the rejoicing,” thus establishing a parallelism in the verse (cf. Ps. 45:16; Isa. 16:10; Jer. 48:33; Joel 1:16).

V. 4.  “the day of Midian”:  The words refer to the battle described in Judg. 6:33–7:25 in which the judge Gideon summoned Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali to join him against the Midianites and Amalekites. In the battle, the Lord caused self-destructive panic among the enemy and so they fled—characteristics of a War of YHWH.

V. 6.  kî-yeled yullad-lānû bēn nittan-lānû = “for a child is born to us, a son is given to us”:  The allusion raises two possibilities:  (1) the physical birth of a royal child; (2) the coronation of a king who becomes “son of God” (cf. Ps. 2:7). Whether the hymn was composed for a specific royal birth or coronation is no longer possible to determine.

V. 6.  Like many kings of the ancient world, this ruler will bear many throne names:  pele’ yô’ēts = “wonder of a counselor” (cf. Isa. 29:14; Ps. 77:12; 88:13; 89:6); ’ēl gibbôr = “mighty God” (usually used of YHWH; cf. Isa. 10:21; Ps. 24:8; Deut. 10:17; Jer. 32:18; Neh. 9:32; however used of Davidic king at Ps. 45:6); abî-‘ad = “father of eternity” (used only here in OT); sar-šālôm = “prince of peace” (cf. Judg. 6:24 where “YHWH is peace” in the story of Gideon).

V. 7.  bemišpāt ûbitsedāqâ = “in justice and in righteousness”:  The pair of words appear often, several times as marks of the Davidic reign (Ps. 72:2; Isa. 11:4-5) as of YHWH’s reign (Ps. 96:13; 97:2; 99:4). In fact, YHWH owns the pair of words and bestows them on the Davidic rulers (Ps. 72:1-2). The actions required—either divine or royal—focus repeatedly on the care of the poor and the needy.

V. 7.  qin’at YHWH tsebā’ôt ta`aseh-zō’t = “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this”:  The entire event takes place at divine initiative, not human, and as God’s promise, the people can count on its fulfillment.

Titus 2:11-14
The incarnation of the grace of God that brings salvation to all people calls us to live faithful and serving lives as we wait for the return of our Lord.

The Pastoral Epistles–1 and 2 Timothy and Titus–are pseudonymous. Pauline authorship has been questioned since the early days of the church. Probably written in the first half of the second century, they reflect an ambivalent attitude toward the world. On the one hand, it is the enemy (1 Tim. 5:14), not to be loved (see 2 Tim. 4:10, and it stands in sharp contrast to the people of God (Titus 2:14). On the other hand, the author takes seriously the incarnation and instructs his readers in faithfulness while they live in this world (Titus 2:9-10; 3:1).

Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Within the context of human history and against all human claims to be the good news for the world, God causes His Son to be born in humble surroundings as the beginning of a new time for all people.

The precise historical context is difficult to determine.  Quirinius began his position about A.D. 6-7, and the first census taken in the Roman Empire after that date occurred in A.D. 14. In this period, the Emperor was Augustus. He was born on September 23: “The birthday of the god has marked the beginning of the good news for the world.”

Key Words
V. 4.  “the city of David called Bethlehem“:  Luke rewrites the tradition here because in the OT, the city of David is Jerusalem. Bethlehem, the home of Jesse and his family, enters into messianic prophecy at Micah 5:2-4.
V. 7. esparganōsen auton = “she wrapped him in bands of cloth”: In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, Solomon claims “I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths” (Wisd. Sol. 7:4).

V. 10.  euaggelizomai = “I bring you good tidings”:  The non-theological use of the verb in the LXX is either the act of a herald in announcing victory in battle (see 2 Sam. 18:19-33) or that of a messenger announcing to a father the birth of a son (Jer. 20:15). In either case, it is the beginning of a new time. Apart from Matt. 11:5, the verb form appears only in Luke-Acts among the four gospels. In the epistles that are genuinely Pauline, the verb form appears almost twenty times. Note that the verb appears in the LXX at Psalm 96:2 where it announces the victory and subsequent glory of God over the whole creation.

V. 11.  sēmeron = “today”: In Luke the word marks the beginning of the new time, the eschatological moment:  see 4:21; 5:26; 19:5, 9; 22:43. The word serves the same purpose as “on that day,” i.e., the Day of the Lord.

V. 11.  hoti etechthē hymin = “for to you is born”:  While Luke normally follows the LXX in phraseology, the Greek text of Isa. 9:5 reads hoti paidion egennēthē hēmin, huois kai edothē hēmin = “for a child has been born for us, and a son has been given to us.” Strikingly, the “you” in the angel’s announcement is directed to shepherds.

V. 11. sōtēr = “savior”:  Augustus also claimed this title, even that of “the savior of the whole world.” The title appears for Jesus Christ more than twenty times in the NT, but the first occurrence canonically is Mary’s Magnificat in which she acclaims God as her Savior (Luke 1:47). In the OT, the title appears occasionally for human persons that God sends (Jehoahaz in 2 Kings 13:5; unnamed persons at Neh. 9:27), but a dozen times the title is for YHWH. In all cases in the Bible, divine or human, the word defines one who responds to cries for help.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 101: First Sunday of Advent, Year A (November 28, 2010) November 23, 2010

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First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Visionaries fascinate us. Many people stand in awe of the prophetic visions of Nostradamus to predict future events. More appropriately, we marvel at the visionary writings of Jules Verne who in the latter half of the 19th century wrote novels about traveling up into space and down to the depths of the sea. For people of faith, however, visionaries play particular roles. They portray the opposite of what we see and experience every day. In so doing, they can provide hope in dismal times, and they direct us to change the actions of our lives accordingly.

Download or listen Wrestling with the Word, episode 101: First Sunday of Advent, Year A.


Psalm 122
The psalm begins with its own claim that it is designed as “a song of ascents,” that is, for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. According to the decrees (v. 4) contained in the Torah (Exod. 23:17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16), all Israel appeared at the Temple three times each year. This individual pilgrim expresses delight at hearing the invitation issued in his village, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (v. 1) in order “to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (v. 4). The pilgrim, standing inside the gates of the city, marvels at its structure and strength (v, 3) and recognizes that herein lie the seats of justice that are occupied by the dynasty of David (v. 5; cf Ps. 72). The pilgrim then offers his prayer for the peace (šālōm) of Jerusalem (yerûšālayāim = “city of peace”) and for the prosperity (šālâ) of those who love Jerusalem (v. 6). The peace of Jerusalem determines the well-being of the pilgrim’s family and friends (vss. 7-8), and the pilgrim makes a commitment to “seek the good” of Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord’s temple (v. 9).


Isaiah 2:1-5
On the basis of the promise that God will call all people to himself and will also reconcile peoples to one another, God calls believers NOW to walk in that “future shock.”

The prophecy about the New Day is set within a host of prophecies announcing judgment on the people, particularly on the leaders because of their sins.  The central role of the Jerusalem temple is a key theme in the preaching of Isaiah, along with the election of the Davidic king.  For background on these themes, see Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol 2 (The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions), tran. D.M.G. Stalker (New York:  Harper & Row, 1965):  147-175.

Key Words
V. 1.  The heading appears to be a heading for a collection of prophecies, perhaps a collection within a collection which might extend as far as 4:6 or 9:7 or even 11:16.

V. 2.  be’achrît hayyāmîm = “in the latter days”:  a technical expression for the Day of the Lord on which God would establish the New Reign. Variants are “on that day,” “in those days,” or “the days are coming.”

V. 2.  wenāharû ’ēlāyw kol-haggôyîm = “and all nations shall flow to it”:  For Mount Zion as the place of pilgrimage for the nations. see also Isa. 49:18, 22-23; 45:14; 60:3; Hag. 2:6ff.; Zech. 14:10, 11, 16, 20.

V. 3. lekû wena‘aleh ’el-har-YHWH = “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord”: The expression on the part of the nations sounds remarkably similar to the one made by the people of Israel as they assembled to make their pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Ps. 122:1).

V. 5. wenēlekā be’ōr YHWH = “let us walk in the light of the Lord”: The place of the summons immediately following the vision sends the message that people of faith live their present lives not on the basis of what already exists but on what God promises. At Ps. 36:9 the worshiper confesses to YHWH that “in your light we see light,” admitting that the light of God inspires believers with hope and direction. That same teaching occurs in the long wisdom Ps. 119:105 regarding the word of God as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” That same divine light can also become, like the holiness of God, the fire that brings judgment (Isa. 10:17). Ultimately, of course, the sequence of created phenomena in Genesis 1 indicates that God provided light (perhaps even “was” the light) for three days prior to creating the sun and other heavenly luminaries.


Romans 13:11-14
On the basis of his conviction that the New Day has dawned in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul admonishes the Christians in Rome to live as though they know what time it is.

After discussing the doctrine of justification and its implications in the first eleven chapters of the epistle, Paul began in chapter 12 to discuss what was expected of those who were justified.  In chapter 13, immediately prior to our pericope, he wrote of the relationship of Christians to the governing authorities and then summed up the law with the words “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Key Words
V. 11.  kai touto eidontes ton kairon = “besides this, you know the appointed time”: The mention of time is not chronological (chronos) but eschatalogical (kairos). The timing is that of the Reign of God that fulfills the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (see Isa. 2:1-5). In the NT, note the significance of kairos in the preaching of Jesus and in the writings of Paul: Mark 1:15; 1 Cor. 7; 2 Cor. 6:2.

V. 12.  hē de hēmera ēggiken = “the Day is at hand”:  While the references to the coming Day of the Lord are numerous and of varied forms, the phrase here is identical to Zeph. 1:7, 14 (LXX).

V. 12.  endysōmetha de ta hopla tou phōtos = “put on the armor of light”;  The “put on” appears to be a baptismal formula derived from the apocalyptic battle of the end time; cf. 2 Cor. 6:7; 10:4; Eph. 5:11; 6:13.

V. 13.  hōs en hēmera = “as in the Day”:  The reference is not to “daytime” but to the Day of the Lord, the Yom YHWH expected by the prophets. As in the prophecy from Isa. 2:1-5, the vision of the end time determines present behavior among the faithful.


Matthew 24:36-44
Jesus warns that since the end time will come upon ordinary people doing ordinary things on what appears to be an ordinary day, every one needs to be on the alert at all times for the extraordinary Day.

The situation in which the saying occurs is described in 24:1-3.  Jesus was walking away from the temple when his disciples came to him pointing out the impressive buildings.  At that point Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple, and that prophecy led the disciples to pursue the questions “when will this be” and “what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”  This discussion with the disciples occurred while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple and the entire city.  Immediately prior to our pericope Jesus exhorted them to learn from the fig tree:  how it gives the sign of summer’s coming by the appearance of its leaves.  He also indicated the present generation would not pass away until these end-time events took place.

Key Words
V. 36.  Peri de tēs hēmeras ekeinēs kai hōras oudeis oiden = “But concerning that day and hour no one knows”:  The words “day” and “hour” appear to be used interchangeably in apocalyptic.  Note that v. 42 says no one knows the “day” the Lord is coming, and v. 44 indicates the Son of man is coming at an “hour” no one expects. (Recall the same interplay between “year” and “day” at Isaiah 61:2.)

V. 37. outōs estai [kai] hē parousia tou huiou tou anthrōpou = “so will be the coming of the Son of man”: While “the parousia of the Son of man” occurs again in this passage at v. 39, Matthew has already used the expression in verses 3 (the question about “your parousia) and 27. Therefore, the repetition of the expression is directly related to the disciples’ question that Jesus is answering.

V. 42. Grēgoreite oun, hoti ouk oidate hēmera ho kyrios hymōn erchetai = “Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”: Virtually the same warning about watching appears at 25:13 (see Mark 13:33, 35, 37).

V. 44. dia touto kai ginesthe hetoimoi = “therefore, you must be ready”: Luke uses the same expression at 12: 40 immediately following, as here, Jesus’ words about the preparedness of the householder for the thief. More obviously than Matthew, Luke’s version appears to connect to the preparation for the Passover, especially in his reference to having “loins girded” (Exod. 12:11). The same Greek word for “be ready” occurs also at Exod. 19:11 where the Lord instructs Moses to see that the people at Mount Sinai “be ready, for on the third day the Lord will come down … in the sight of all the people” (also v. 15).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 99: Lectionary 33 (25 Pentecost), Year C (November 14, 2010) November 7, 2010

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Lectionary 33 Pentecost 25
I shudder when I think of how I contribute to our country’s consumer spending problem. We have become accustomed to spending on just about everything and to satisfying our needs for instant gratification. We know the problems for the economy that go with that habit we share. At times of personal financial crises, we manage to cover the income loss by continuing our buying on credit, and, well, the results become more obvious all the time. Are we just spoiled? Oblivious to long term results? Or is it because we wait so long for the truly important things in life that we feel a need to treat ourselves in the meantime? God’s promises throughout the Bible are for the long term. They require divine repetition. God works hard to keep our trust in order to deliver the gratification that is still to come.

Download and listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 99: Lectionary 33 (25 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 98
The psalm summons worshipers to join the hymn of all creation because God has done wondrous things on the world’s behalf. The Lord has announced “his victory” (salvation) and revealed “his righteousness (recall Rom. 3:21). The motive for that universal saving event is God’s remembrance of “his steadfast love and faithfulness (chasdō we’emûnātō) to the house of Israel” (v. 3). Like 47, 93, 96-97, and 99, Psalm 98 acclaims the rule of YHWH on the basis of God’s victory (yešû’â in vss. 1, 2, 3) over the enemy. The nature of YHWH’s reign is announced: “he will judge the world with righteousness (tsedeq), and the peoples with equity (mêšārîm).”


Malachi 4:1-2a
To the post-exilic community in Jerusalem whose social life was disintegrating and when the pious had begun to wonder about the usefulness of serving God, the Lord promises a Day when the wicked will be judged but those who fear the Lord will.

This collection of prophecies is attributed to a certain “Malachi,” although that name is simply the Hebrew word for “my messenger.” The prophecies derive from between 500-450 B.C. on the basis of evidence regarding the religious and social institutions of the time.  The prophets Haggai and Zechariah had promised that when the temple was rebuilt following the return of the exiles from Babylon, the blessings of YHWH would finally become a reality. In fact, the people came to believe that the promised Day of the Lord would occur at the dedication of the new temple. However, after the temple had been rebuilt and the priesthood reestablished, religious and social life became lax and verged on disaster. It seemed to the people that God was absent: “Where is the God of justice?”(2:17). According to the prophet, the people were convinced that, if present at all, YHWH favored the wicked over the righteous.

Key Words
3:15.  gam bāchanû ʼelōhîm = “they put God to the test”:  While God tests humans in many places in the OT, God forbids humans from testing him. At Deut. 6:16 the word for “test” there is nāsâ rather than bāchan as here; however, Psalm 95:9 describes that same incident with the word bāchan.

3:17.  segullâ = “(a king’s) private treasure”: The word appears at Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 135:4 for the relationship between YHWH and Israel; at 1 Chron. 29:3, however, it refers to the private treasure of a king.

4:1. YHWH tsebāʼōt = “the Lord of hosts”: The title is common in Malachi, Haggai, and Zechariah. The word “hosts” can bear the meaning “armies” or at least military-like powers, and the title is especially appropriate here to point to God’s coming judgment on the wicked.

4:2.  šemeš tsedāqâ ûmarpeʼ biknāpehâ = “sun of righteousness and healing in its wings”: The imagery derives from ancient understandings of the sun with wings that enable it to fly across the sky. The promise of “righteousness” here appears to be God’s response to the people’s question, “Where is the God of justice? (mišpāt)” (2:17). That same lamenting question occurred among the exiles in Babylon: “My justice (mišpāt) is disregarded by my God” (Isa. 40:27).  The promise of healing recalls the lament in Jeremiah’s day when “healing” (//šālōm) were nowhere to be found in the land (Jer. 14:19). Here God promises healing and righteousness to those who fear God’s name, that is, God will answer their laments. The day of the Lord is still to come.


2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Called to be active in the world, Christians are called to participate in daily work, earning their own living rather than contributing to the idle chaos of the world.

Continuing some of the issues that were raised in 1 Thessalonians regarding the need to be about daily work as they await the coming of our Lord, the author here ostracizes those whose idleness leads to disorderliness.


Luke 21:5-19
In response to the fascination over the splendor of this age, Jesus speaks of its destruction and adds words of warning about false messiahs who presume to know when the end is coming, about persecutions of disciples, and about the ultimate deliverance of those who remain faithful.

Still teaching the people in the temple, Jesus dealt with the issue of Christ being David’s son and then proceeded to warn his disciples in the hearing of the people about the unscrupulous ways of the scribes.  Immediately prior to our pericope, Jesus commended the poor widow for her temple offering of two copper coins.

Parallel Passages:  Mark 13:5-8, 21-23; Matt. 24:4-8, 23-25

Key Words
Vv. 5-6.  “the temple”:  The destruction of the temple was already a theme in some OT prophets, particularly Jeremiah 7 and 26; also Micah 3:9-12.  Solomon’s temple built was destroyed in 587 B.C.  Rebuilt in 520 B.C. on a modest scale, it was enhanced and enlarged by Herod the Great in 40 B.C.  In this Second Temple Jesus is standing with the people.

V. 8.  mē planēthēte = “not led astray”:  The word appears only here in Luke but see John 7:47; cf. also 1 Cor. 15:33 (from the truth).

Vv. 8-11.  the signs of the end:  see Isa. 19:2; Jer. 4:20; Ezek. 38:19-22; Dan. 2:28; Joel 3:9-14; 2 Chron. 15:6; Rev 2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; etc.

V. 8.  egō eimi = “I am (he)”:  The claim, even title, comes from God in OT:  see Exod. 3:14; Isa. 43:10-11; 48:12; 52:6. As Son of God, Jesus used the title of himself at Mark 6:50; 14:62; John 8:24, 28 and, of course, the many “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel.

V. 8.  ho kairos ēggiken = “the time is at hand”:  Recall Mark 1:14-15 where it is clear the reference is not to the Messiah but to the reign of God; cf. Zeph. 1:7; Dan. 7:22; Rom. 13:12; Rev. 1:3.

V. 9.  mē ptoēthēte = “do not be afraid”:  The expression occurs often in LXX in regard to the facing of enemies:  Deut. 31:6; 2 Chron. 32:7; Jer. 1:17; Ezek. 3:9.

V. 10.  “Nation will rise against nation”:  2 Chron. 15:6 (contrast Isa. 2:2-4); “kingdom against kingdom”:  see 4 Ezra 13:31.

V. 12.  diōxousin = “they will persecute you”:  See 11:49; Acts 7:52.

V.  12.  hēgemonas = “prefects”:  Gentile governors such as Felix (Acts 23:24–24:27) and Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27–26:32); cf. the persecution of Stephen, Peter, James, and Paul in Acts.

V. 15.  egō gar dōsō hymin stoma kai sophian = “I will give you a mouth and wisdom”:  Recall God’s promises at Exod. 4:15; cf. Jer. 1:7, 9; cf. also Luke 12:11-12.

V. 16. “You will be given up even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends”: The list sounds like those who persecuted Jeremiah for preaching the word of God faithfully (Jer. 11:18-23; 20:10).

V. 18.  “not a hair of your head will perish”:  See 1 Sam. 14:45; 2 Sam. 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Acts 27:34.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 96: Lectionary 30 (22 Pentecost), Year C (October 24, 2010) October 19, 2010

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Lectionary 30 (22 Pentecost)

One of the last, if not indeed the final, message Martin Luther wrote in his deathbed was one of his most profound and succinct expressions of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “We are beggars, that is true.” As he lay dying, Luther anticipated what it would be like to stand before the Almighty and Enthroned God. What could he offer to escape the well-deserved judgment of God? What can any of us offer that would compensate for our lives as rebels against God’s honor? Our lessons for this Sunday steer us along several related courses as we make our pilgrimages through life.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 96: Lectionary 30 (22 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 84:1-7
The psalm belongs to the category of Zion psalms and was probably used by, and for, pilgrims who were entering the temple for some festival like the Feast of Tabernacles. Particularly striking is the awe the pilgrim experiences after longing for this next visit to the temple where the Lord was present in a particular way: seated as King on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The worshiper finds comfort in observing the birds fly here and there within the Temple structures, acknowledging that even they find security and comfort in the near presence of God.  As for the pilgrims “dwelling” in the precincts during this festival time, they express their blessedness in song. Strikingly, even though the journey to Mount Zion was filled with physical challenges and with some fear, the pilgrims experienced along the way the blessings still to come—watering holes filled by the “early rain.” They even increased their strength on the journey rather than became weary, because they knew God would appear to them in Zion.


Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Because the people of Israel had so dishonored God by their infidelities with other gods, the Lord rejects their lament and their confession and continues toward the judgment of the city and land.

In Jeremiah’s day, the people of God in Israel and in Judah experienced tragic times. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 721 B.C. and so God’s promise of the land came to a crushing disconnect. While the Assyrians controlled Judah for the following century, other countries were vying for control of the land. Egypt defeated and controlled the land for a few years, but in 605 B.C. the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians, and Judah now belonged to Babylon. In 597 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s armies crushed an uprising and carried leading citizens off to Babylon as exiles. In 587, the Judeans revolted again Nebuchadrezzar again responded, this time destroying the temple and the walls of the city, besides carrying off more people to exile. During this entire period, the Lord seemed to have reneged on promises: the land, the Davidic dynasty, the temple, and the city of Jerusalem. In the process, God appeared to have abandoned the covenant with the people of Israel. The laments from the people rose to heaven, and so did those of Jeremiah whom God had called as a prophet to “pluck up and to break down” (Jer. 1:4-10). It is possible that 14:1—15:21 reports a dialogue between God and Jeremiah who speaks both his own words and those of the people: Jeremiah speaks in 14:2-9, 13, 19-22; 15:10, 15-18; God speaks in 14:10-12, 14-18; 15:1-9, 11-14, 19-21.

Key Words
V. 7. YHWH ‘aseh lema‘an šemekā = “O, Lord, act for your name’s sake”: The call on God to act for lamenters on the basis of his own identity is common in such laments (see Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 143:11). The expression will return in v. 21.

V. 8. miqwēh yisrā’ēl mewōšî‘ô be’ēt tsārâ = “O Hope of Israel, its Savior in time of trouble”: Throughout the Bible the people of Israel expressed their hope in the Lord (see v. 22; Ps. 39:7). Here, however and elsewhere (17:13; 50:7) their hope is the Lord. As for the title “Savior,” the root of the word means “wide, spacious” and seem to point to freedom from confinement (see Exod. 3:8).

Vss. 8-9. lāmâ = “why?” The question is typical of laments as people struggle with the apparent absence of God during their tribulations. See, e.g., Ps. 10:1; 22:1 (Heb. v. 2). Another common word for the same interrogative (maddûa‘) appears at v. 19.

V. 9. kegibbōr lō’-yûkal lehôšîa‘ = “like a hero who cannot save”: This ridicule against the lord will one day fly in their faces when God comes to take the exiles in Babylon home (Isa. 50:2).

V. 9. we’attâ beqirbēnû YHWH = “But you (are) in our midst, O YHWH”: The conjunction can mean “and,” “but,” or often “yet.” The expression often appears in psalms of lament in the midst of the questions and complaints; see Ps. 22:3, 9, 19.

V. 20. kî chātā’nû lāk = “for we have sinned against you”: The same confession appeared in v. 7.

V. 22. magšimîm = “that bring rain”: The word serves two purposes here. First, it appears to connect this lament with the setting described in 14:1, namely, that this word of God came to Jeremiah “concerning the drought” (see vs. 2-4). Second, the people had spent centuries idolizing Baal, the Canaanite god, as the fertility deity who brings rain. That devotion now lay at the heart of their rejection by YHWH.


2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Having finished the race and fought the good fight, the author/apostle faces an imminent death fully hopeful of the prize, “the crown of righteousness,” and thankful for the Lord’s loyal presence throughout his mission to the gentiles.


Luke 18:9-14
Against those who feel they are righteous in God’s sight, God declares righteous the outcast who brings before God only his confession about his own unworthiness.

The first eight verses of the chapter deal with the importance of incessant prayer to God.  Now appears this parable stressing the importance of approaching God in humility and asking for mercy. The emphasis on Jesus at prayer is again indicated to be a mark of discipleship.

Key Words
V. 9.  tous pepoithotas eph’ heautois hoti estin dikaioi = “those who were convinced about themselves that they were righteous”:  The lawyer in 10:29 tried to “justify himself” by asking Jesus to identify his neighbor. At 16:15, Jesus told the Phatisees “who were lovers of money, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others.” The use of dikaios here paves the way for the contrast made by the Pharisee about the “unjust” (adikoi) in v. 11 and for the judgment made by Jesus at the conclusion (dedikaiōmenos) in v. 14.

V. 10.  anebēsan eis to hieron = “went up to the temple”:  Pilgrims always “went up” to the temple because of its height on the summit of the mount (see Ps. 24:3; 121:1; 122:1-4).

V. 10.  proseuxasthai = “to pray”:  The author of Luke-Acts begins his book with the people and  Zechariah at prayer in the Temple (Luke 1:8-13) and virtually concludes with Paul at prayer over Publius who lay sick (Acts 28:8).

V. 11.  houtos ho telōnēs = “this tax-collector”:  Tax collectors appear regularly in the Pharisees’ lists of “sinners”:  see 5:30; 7:34; 15:1; 19:2-7.

V. 11.  harpages … moichoi = “robbers … adulterers”:  Listed on either side of the general term adikoi = “unrighteous”; these two groups describe persons who transgress God’s commandments, at least two:  Exod. 20:15 and 14 respectively.

V. 12.  apodekatō = “I tithe all that I get”:  The Torah instructs tithing at Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:12; Deut. 14:22-27; 14:28-29. The patriarchal role model is Jacob (Gen. 28:22).

V. 14. dedikaiōmenos = “having been justified”:  The passive indicates that God is the subject of “justifying” and thus emphasizes that any claim to be dikaios = “just(ified)” or “righteous” on one’s own is in error. For the declaration of righteousness or innocence in its profound theological sense, see Isa. 53:11 and Romans 3:24.

V. 14.  “everyone … exalted”:  The same words appear at 14:11 to conclude Jesus’ instruction to the guests at the banquet about seating arrangements;  for OT background, see Ezek. 21:26.