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Wrestling with the Word, episode 95: Lectionary 29 (21 Pentecost), Year C (October 17, 2010) October 5, 2010

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Lectionary 29 (Pentecost 21)

The title for this series of podcasts is “Wrestling with the Word.” Thanks to Google Alerts, I have learned that the expression occurs in many conversations regarding just about any issue in the world. In this series, however, the “word” is specifically God’s word. Here we wrestle with biblical texts as God speaks through inspired witnesses of biblical times about the intimate involvement of God in creation and in history. Those whose writings came down to us wrestled, as we do, to determine how God comforts us and accuses us as we live out our lives in God’s world. In the face of the challenges in their day, the biblical writers announced God’s identity and grace, God’s hiddenness and judgment, God’s will and action, God’s pleasure and displeasure. To accomplish their proclamation, they wrestled, as we do, with nothing and no one less than God. While we do not have the opportunity that Jacob had to wrestle with God at a river, God does invite us to a wrestling match. It happens in our prayers that enable us to trust in God and stand firm against all the odds.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 95: Lectionary 29 (21 Pentecost), Year C.

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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 such diligence on the worshiper’s behalf in every place and at all times.

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Genesis 32:22-31
As Jacob returns home to meet his brother Esau, God wrestles with him and changes him to equip him for the reunion.

Context
Isaac and Rebekah gave birth to twins. The first to emerge was called Esau, but close behind, hanging on to his brother’s heel, was Jacob. Rivalry between the two ensued because Isaac favored Esau, and Rebekah loved Jacob. The story of Jacob eventually buying Esau’s birthright for a bowl of lentil soup is well known (Gen. 265:29-34). Also familiar is the report of Jacob’s disguise (with Mom’s assistance) to resemble his brother and their deception to have vision-challenged Isaac bless the second son instead of the first (Gen. 27). At this point Rebekah advised her younger son to leave town and live for a while with her brother Laban the Aramaean. On the way Jacob spent the night “at a certain place” where he received the vision of the mound on which the angels of God ascended and descended. There the Lord appeared to Jacob and promised to bring him “back to this land” (Gen. 28:10-17). Working for, and plotting against Laban, Jacob left years later with two of Laban’s daughters and a considerable amount of his wealth. Our story occurs the night before Jacob will meet his brother accompanied by 400 men.

The Story
As we have it, the story has developed through many layers of oral and written traditions. Perhaps at its most basic level, the story is a legend about contesting a nocturnal river demon before crossing the river. While that kind of tale is strange in the Bible, something similar appears in the story of Moses at Exodus 4:24-26 where “the Lord” met Moses on his journey “and sought to kill him.” There also the villain seems to have been a nocturnal demon who eventually became “the Lord.” Likewise, here in our story, no identity is given to “the man” who came to wrestle until just before daybreak “the man” announces to Jacob that he has spent the night striving with God (v. 28).

The Names and Places
Names: While in our usage, names basically identify us, in ancient societies names more closely resembled identity. People did not have names so much as they were their names. When confronted by beings possibly divine or angelic, people asked for the names. Moses offered the request subtly (Exod 3:13), while Manoah was more blunt (Judges 13:17). People could gain access to (perhaps even control) if they knew the divine being’s name.

Jabbok: The Jabbok River is a tributary that flows into the Jordan about 15 miles north of the Dead Sea. The Hebrew word for the river (yabbōq) sounds quite similar to the word for “wrestle” (’ābaq), and the word play is rather obvious as the reader moves from v. 23 to v. 25. Unfortunately, this verb for “wrestle” appears only in this passage.

Jacob: The stories included in the Jacob traditions offer several interpretations for the patriarch’s name. One tradition bases his name Ya‘aqōb on his grabbing his brother’s “heel” (‘āqēb) at their birth (Gen. 25:24-26; see also Hos. 12:4). Another connects his name to a verb for “cheat” (‘āqab) which he richly deserves, according to Esau, after cheating him twice. According to the pattern for naming in the Bible, the patriarch’s handle would likely have been something like Ya‘aqōb-El = “May God Protect.”

Israel: If the word sārâ = “strive, persevere” is indeed part of the name, Yisrā’ēl would probably mean “May God persevere” rather than “You have striven with God and prevailed.” But the tradition that the patriarch’s name developed from this story is attested in the 8th century B.C. prophet Hosea: “in his manhood he strove with God (sārâ ’et-’elōhîm); he strove (sārâ) against the angel and prevailed” (Hos. 12:3-4). Hosea considers Jacob’s striving with God as one more example of his wickedness. However, if the campfire stories of Genesis prevail, Jacob “the cheater” has now been changed to Israel, “the one who persevered against God/God’s angel.”

In addition to changing Jacob’s name to Israel, however, the story serves to identify the two names as one and the same. While the name Jacob usually refers to the patriarch, the name is used also, especially in poetic literature, for the nation Israel. Likewise, while Israel is usually the name of the nation, the name also occurs sometimes for the patriarch. With that flexibility of terminology, it is not always apparent in a given passage whether either name describes the patriarch or the nation. A narrative or poetic reference to the patriarch Jacob might be an allusion to or description of the nation’s experience.

Peniel: The name of the town appears as Penuel in a non-complimentary story at Judges 8:8-9 17. Our story explains the name Penî’ēl on the basis of Jacob’s words: “I have seen God face to face …” (v. 30).

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2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
In times of persecution and stress, the author exhorts his reader (Timothy) to stand firm in the faith he learned from his childhood (from his mother and grandmother) and to regard the written scriptures (the Old Testament) as the source of faith for salvation in Christ Jesus.

Context
Whether the author of the epistle was Paul or, more likely, an anonymous disciple in the second century, the inspired scriptures mentioned in 3:15-16 can only have been what we call the Old Testament. The New Testament, as we know and call it, did not yet exist. The writings of Judaism, however, were the Bible of Jesus and the early church and were considered “inspired” on the basis of various criteria toward the end of the first century A.D. They served even early Christians to provide the equipment “for every good work” and to encourage them “to be persistent whether the time if favorable or unfavorable” (4:2).

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Luke 18:1-8
Encouraging his disciples to pray constantly and not lose heart, Jesus assured them of God’s response to their petitions by telling the parable about the widow who hounded a judge until he vindicated her in a court case.

Context
Still on the fateful journey toward Jerusalem (beginning at 9:51), Jesus has been preparing his disciples and his adversaries for what would happen. Through his teaching and by engaging  in dialogue over their questions, Jesus used many parables in this section of Luke’s Gospel. In the previous chapter, he dealt with the disciples request for an increase of faith, healed the 10 lepers, and responded to the Pharisees’ question about the timing of the kingdom of God. Now he addresses disciples on the faith-driven life.

Key Words
V. 1. pros to dein pantote proseuchesthai autous = “concerning the necessity of praying always”: One of the major emphases in Luke’s Gospel is prayer. Jesus sought temporary solitude “on the mountain” in order to pray (6:12) and at “the Mount of Olives” he prayed that God’s will be done (22:41). At the request of the disciples Jesus taught them to pray (11:1-5) the prayer that included “Your kingdom come” (cf. 17:20-37). He instructed his disciples to pray for strength when the times of tribulation came (21:36) and commanded them to pray that they not enter into temptation (21:40).

V. 2. kritēs tis … ton theon phoboumenos kai anthrōpon mē entrepomenos = “a certain judge … who neither feared God or had any concern for people”: The lack of fear of God and concern for people reveals the judge as the exact opposite of the two great commandments (Luke 10:27). This description of the man might be the reason why Jesus refers to him in v. 6 as ho kritēs tēs adikias = “the judge of unrighteousness.” Recall that in Luke 16:1-9 the master commended “the dishonest steward” (ho oikonomos tēs adikias) for his prudence.

V. 3. chēra = “a widow”: Throughout the OT, widows, along with orphans and sojourners, are specifically named as the most vulnerable and who by God’s command are protected by laws. YHWH actually “executes justice” for those people (Deut. 10:18; see Ps. 68:5) and forbids lawmakers from perverting justice due to them (Deut. 24:17). God summons the people of Israel to advocate in courts of law for the widow and condemns them for failing to do so (Isa. 1:17, 23). Elsewhere in Luke Jesus condemns the scribes for robbing widows of their houses (20:47) and uses another widow as an example for disciples (21:1-4). The failure of the judge in our case to delay executing justice for the widow (Deut. 24:17) would qualify him for the title “judge of unrighteousness” (v. 6).

V. 7. ho de theos ou mē poiēsē tēn ekdikēsin tōn elektōn autou tōn boōntōn autō hēmeras kai nyktos = “And will not God perform vindication of the elect who cry out to him day and night?”: The comparison between the “judge of unrighteousness” and “God the righteous judge” is interesting. Jesus’ point is simply: If an unrighteous judge who cares nothing about God or people can vindicate the widow because of her incessant pleading, how much more will the God of righteousness respond to a petitioner’s persistent cries for help! After all, YHWH consistently proves to be one who hears the laments (cries for help) from the oppressed; see Exod. 3:7; Isa. 41:17). Because of that reputation, YHWH graciously invited the laments of the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, and all oppressed and afflicted person. Here Jesus repeats the invitation through the teaching of this parable.

V. 8. “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth”: The faith described in this passage is the trust and confidence that God will respond to prayer.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 94: Lectionary 28 (20 Pentecost), Year C (October 10, 2010) September 26, 2010

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Lectionary 28 (Pentecost 20)

I can never understand why I periodically resent the teachings of the Bible. I suspect, though, that what bothers me is God’s generosity. You would think that God prefers people who are religiously connected, even properly religious people, like those of my own religion and denomination. But the Bible has a way of kicking my legs out from under me sometimes, and our lessons selected for this day prove I stand on unstable foundations.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 94: Lectionary 28 (20 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 111
This acrostic psalm is somewhat unusual in the sense that each half verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The forced structure, as with all acrostic psalms, leads to a rather uneven presentation of thoughts.  In a sense, the lack of flow matters little, because proverbial wisdom teachings (“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”; cf. Prov. 1:7) do not require smooth transitions. More important is to remember the maxims through the sequence of the alphabet. In any case, the psalmist does achieve his goal of presenting an individual hymn of praise in which he lauds the redemptive work of God simultaneous with the role of God as Creator in providing food for the faithful.  Perhaps the connection with the first lesson is best made by the testimony “Great are the works of the Lord” (verse 2) and “He has shown his people the power of his works” (verse 6). Typical of wisdom teachings, the maxims can apply to human beings in general, although the reference to “his people,” “the heritage of the nations,” and “his covenant” are expressions Israel used of herself. Above all, however, the psalm’s call to praise the Lord (v. 1; cf. v. 10) resounds at the conclusion of the story about Naaman and Elijah and in the story of Jesus’ healing of the leper—both Gentiles.

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2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
God provides knowledge of himself to those outside the community of faith through the words of people and above all through the divine word itself.

OR
Reaching out to those beyond the covenant people of Israel, the Lord heals the Syrian leper and thereby provides the means for Naaman’s confession about the power and universality of Yahweh.

Context
Receiving the cloak of succession from Elijah, the prophet Elisha followed his mentor until that day when the whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12).  As evidence of his succession Elisha performed at the outset many of the same acts as the predecessor, including the miracle of the abundance of oil out of small beginnings, the raising from the dead the son of the Shunamite woman, and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.  Furthermore, like his master his miracles and ministry extended to the Gentiles.

The omission of verses 4-6 from the pericope presents a problem of narrative flow because the mention of the king reading “the letter” (v. 7) has no background.

Key Words
V. 1.  “The Lord had given victory to Syria”:  The extension of the Lord’s power already reaches beyond the boundaries of Israel by this gift of victory to a commander of a non-Israelite army.

V. 7.  ha’elōhîm ’ānî lehāmît ûlehachavôt = “Am I god, to kill and to make alive,…?”:  The view that God alone was responsible for life and death is attested several times in the Old Testament.  In the Song of Hannah both weal and woe are the responsibility of the Lord who “kills and brings to life” (1 Sam. 2:6).  Also the familiar words of Job ring out here:  “the Lord gave, and the Lord had taken away” (Job 1:21).

V. 8.  weyēda‘  kî nā_bî’ beyisrā’ēl = “that he may know there is a prophet in Israel”:  (1) The expression “that someone may know” appears in the story of the exodus (Exod. 9:14; 10:2) and in the promises of the return from Babylon (cf. Ezek. 35:9; 36:11; 37:14) as indicating that through a salvation act of the Lord others will come to know who he is.  (2) What it takes for people to know there is a prophet is among them is quite different at Ezekiel 33:33 where the Lord promises such awareness when the people ignore the prophecies.

V. 14. “according to the word of the man of God”: The effectiveness of God’s word in accomplishing what it says is a key theological concept in the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings). Significant is the use of a similar expression in the miracle that Elijah performed in raising from the dead the son of the Zarephath widow (1 Kings 17:24).

V. 15. hinnēh-nā’ yāda‘tî kî ’ên ’elōhîm bekōl hā’ārets kî ’im-beyisrā’ēl = “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”: The confession of Naaman goes beyond the desire and promise of  Elisha in v. 8.  The knowledge of the Lord by people outside Israel serves as the motive for many divine actions in the OT: see, e.g., Exod. 14:18; Isa. 45:5-6; Ezek. 37:28.

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2 Timothy 2:8-15
In the midst of the people’s suffering and persecution, God promises salvation and eternal glory through Jesus Christ to all who endure in the Gospel.

Context
Encouraging Timothy to be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ and to rightly explain the word of God in the face of encroaching heresies, the author uses here what appear to be elements of a hymn. The content includes both the proclamation about the Davidic descent of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead along with the promise of our dying and rising with him (cf. Romans 1:1-3; 6:5).

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Luke 17:11-19
Jesus commends and heals the Samaritan who gave thanks to him and who praises God in response to the miracle of curing his leprosy and restoring him to his community.

Context
Luke’s division of Jesus’ itinerary from Galilee to Jerusalem into several parts is indicated by specific references to that journey.  The first occurred at 9:51 where Samaritans reject Jesus, the second at 13:22, and the third appears here at the beginning of the pericope.  In this instance Luke betrays his uncertain knowledge of Palestinian geography by his allusion to a location “between Samaria and Galilee” on the way to Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 12.  hoi estēsan porrōthen = “who stood at a distance”:  The divine law established procedures whereby lepers would be separated and would warn other of their presence (see Lev. 13:45-46; Num. 5:2-3).

V. 13.  Iēsou epistata = “Jesus Master”:  epistata is used only in Luke among the Synoptics and apart from this instance only by Jesus’ disciples (see 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49, always in connection with a miracle.  In Greek literature the word is used for a “commander,” thus one who has authority.

V. 14.  epideixate tois hiereusin = “show yourselves to the priests”:  The procedure for reinstatement into the community involves examination by the priest plus physical and ritual cleansing (see Lev. 14:1-20).

V. 15.  dozazōn ton theon = “praising God”:  For giving praise as a response to a healing miracle, see 13:13; 18:43; as the shepherds’ response to the birth of Jesus (2:20); as the centurion’s response to the crucified Christ (23:47).

V. 18.  ho allogenēs houtos = “this other-race person”:  The expression occurs only here in the NT; in LXX is appears often for non-Israelites (see, e.g., Gen. 17:27).

V. 19.  hē pistis sou sesōken se = “your faith has saved you”:  Jesus addresses the words  to the woman of the city at 7:50; to the woman who touched Jesus’ garment at 8:48; to the blind beggar near Jericho at 18:42. The announcement of “salvation” to the Samaritan will loom larger as the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem conspire against Jesus and succeed in executing him on religious grounds.

NEXT WEEK:
Psalm 121
Genesis 32:22-31
2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Wrestling with the Word, episode 93: Lectionary 27 (19 Pentecost), Year C (October 3, 2010) September 25, 2010

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Lectionary 27 Pentecost 19

There is a four-letter word that ruffles feathers, pumps up blood pressure, and causes arguments. It’s the word W-A-I-T. It seems like a complete waste of time to you and me and countless others. Yet God reiterates promises that are worth waiting for and calls us to make productive use of our waiting time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 93: Lectionary 27 (19 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 37:1-9
The content of the psalm with its proverbial wisdom teachings serves the acrostic structure of the psalm very well. Having to begin every verse (or in this case, every other line) with the succeeding letter of the alphabet challenges the poet to maintain a flow of movement for the poem, except when a series of short maxims make up the whole alphabet. The psalm is, in other words, a collection of wisdom teachings offered by an “old” man who has observed life for many years (v. 25). This “wise” teacher emphasizes the positive role of faith and trust in the Lord rather than fretting over the success of the wicked. According to his instruction, hope and trust in the Lord, waiting for the Lord, and taking refuge in the Lord are the ways of the righteous. The future reward for the righteous, first appearing in v. 9, is repeated 4 times as the psalm continues towards its end: “they shall inherit/possess the land/earth.” The promise flows from the lips of Jesus in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:5). Jesus promises and delivers that inheritance to “the meek,”as does v. 11 of the psalm.

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Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
In response to the prophet’s questions and complaints about the apparent injustices that God allows in the world, the Lord answers there is an end to the waiting and toward that end the righteous shall live on the basis of faithfulness.

Context
While the precise historical situation is difficult to determine on the basis of the evidence supplied, the mood and style of the book seem to reflect the period immediately prior to the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.  In particular, the material in 1:2–2:4 represents a dialogue between the prophet and God, the words of Habakkuk expressed in terms and forms characteristic of a lament. 1:2-4: Habakkuk asks about the Lord’s apparent absence and lack of concern. 1:5-11: YHWH answers in terms of promised action. 1:12—2:1: Habakkuk continues his questions and challenge. 2:2-4: YHWH answers with divine assurance and calls for faithful waiting.

Key Words
1:2.  ‘ad-’ānâ = “how long”:  The question is a characteristic element in a lament; see Ps. 13:1; 74:10; 89:46; cf. Lam 5:20.  šivva‘tî welō’ tišmā‘ = “I cry for help but you do not answer”:  For the best-known example of the question, see Ps. 22:1-2, 11 (cf. Mark 15:34; Matt. 27:46).

2:4/  wetsaddîq be’emûnātô yichyeh = “but (the) righteous will live by their (his faithfulness”; cf. Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38.  For ’emûnâ = “steadfastness, loyalty, faithfulness” see Exod. 17:12; 2 Kings 12:16.

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2 Timothy 1:1-14
Having provided the opportunity for Timothy to grow up in the faith of his family, God through the apostle now challenges that same believer to hold firm to the true faith in spite of other teachings and even in the face of persecution.

Context
The authorship of the three pastoral epistles–1 and 2 Timothy, Titus–has been debated since the beginning of the 19th century. At present, many scholars believe they were written not by Paul but by an anonymous writer who addressed the church at Ephesus on a variety of issues.  The nature of this correspondence only enables us to conclude in general terms that the issues were Gnostic teachings finding their way into the church and the danger of the world’s antagonism toward the Christians of the time.  Further, the departure of many from Paul’s teachings indicates a falling away of Christians in the face of persecution (1:15-16). Many date the authorship sometime in the second century, probably in the first half.  The reference to Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (v. 5) see Acts 16:1) seems to indicate the sequence of three generations of Christians.  The challenge to Timothy is to maintain “the faith of the mothers” in the midst of some trials confronting the church at Ephesus.

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Luke 17:5-10
Addressing his disciples, Jesus Christ demands among the daily “duties” of Christian discipleship the avoidance of stumbling blocks (vss. 1-2), a boundless willingness to forgive (vss. 3-4), a faith that has power to accomplish the impossible (vss. 5-6), and a commitment to faithful service (vss. 7-10).

Parallel passage: Matthew 17:20 where the faith can move a mountain rather than a sycamore tree as here.

Context
Immediately after the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke has gathered into one place four separate sayings on discipleship.  Previous to our pericope are the first two, both addressed to “his disciples.” The first, vv. 1-3a, is a warning against inevitable stumbling blocks to faith.  The second, vv. 3b-4, deals with the limitlessness of Christian forgiveness.  Our pericope begins with the final two, both addressed to “the apostles.” The third, vv. 5-6, illustrates the power of faith.  The fourth, vv. 7-10, explains the duty of the servants of Christ.

Key Words
V. 1.  ta skandala = “stumbling blocks”:  The word appears often in LXX as a “stumbling block” or “snare” to someone’s fidelity to God:  see Josh. 23:13 (Canaanites);  Judg. 2:3 (gods of the Canaanites); Judg. 8:27 (a golden ephod, a fertility idol?).  For people enticing Christians away from the faith by lies and a false gospel, see Acts 20:29-30; Gal. 1:6-9. For Christians causes fellow believers to stray from their faith by offensive demonstrations of freedom, see Rom. 14:13. On the other hand, Paul portrays the cross of Jesus Christ as the stumbling block (skandalon) that causes people to stumble (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11).

V. 5. prosthes hēmin pistin = “add to us faith”: Usually the word prostithēmi means to increase something that is already present. Unless insisting that the word here is used differently, the implication is that the apostles already have faith and that they are requesting an increase of faith. They are, after all, “the apostles” (see Luke 6:12-16).

V. 6.  ei echete pistin = “if you have faith”:  The present tense implies a “real” condition:  the apostles do have faith; some mss. read ei eichete pistin = “if you had faith,” implying that the apostles do not (so RSV/NRSV).  Strikingly, what follows, elegete = “you could say,” introduces a contrary-to-fact condition, supporting the variant reading “if you had faith.”

V. 10. douloi achreioi esmen, ho ōpheilomen poiēsai pepoiēkamen = “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we are obligated to do”: The duties of plowing and serving (vss. 6, 8) might reflect Pauline terminology for Christian disciples. For plowing and harvesting, see 1 Cor. 9:7b-12a. For the description of Paul himself and other Christians as “servants,” see Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:21-23; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1, etc. The function of shepherd will develop in such Johannine passages as John 21:15-17. Ultimately, the point of Jesus’ saying here is that even the everyday work of disciples does not earn God’s reward; our “unprofitable” labors cannot accomplish that. Only God’s grace accomplishes the reward—a contrast to the teaching of Psalm 37.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 92: Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost), Year C (September 26, 2010) September 10, 2010

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Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost)

The summer vacations have come to their annual end, and so have the emails or phone calls from family and friends that so often include the words “Wish you were here!” On the one hand, the cliché makes me jealous of their experiences. On the other hand, precisely because they are family and friends, I rejoice both over their good fortune and over the affirmation they give me by wishing I were there. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if they did not offer their love and concern with such words. I wonder also how many people in the world never hear those words “Wish you were here.” How many people go through life with the feeling that others wished they were not here? How many people are treated in such a way that their being here is not even noticed? Mother Teresa put it like this:

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,
I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat…. We must find each other.”

Our lessons for today call on us to recall that God honors the unnoticed in the world and that God calls us to honor them as well by showing them we are delighted they are here.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 92: Lectionary 26 (18 Pentecost), Year C .

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Psalm 146
The psalm, like Psalms 113-118, qualifies as a Hallel psalm, that is, a psalm of praise that begins with “Hallelujah.” This praise begins (vss. 1-2) with a summons to one’s own “soul” to praise the Lord for a whole lifetime and to express those praises with song along the way. The individual then instructs an audience with the warning against putting trust in successful persons, because, like all humans, they and their strategies will perish (vss. 3-4). On the other hand, looking to YHWH for help and hope leads to blessing (v. 5), and the psalmist/teacher provides two reasons for that instruction. First, YHWH is the Creator of the universe and all living things on earth, and as Creator, God demonstrates faithfulness by executing justice for the oppressed and by feeding the hungry (vss. 6-7). Second, YHWH is the savior/deliverer who, as in Isaiah 42:7 and 62:1-2, sets prisoners free and opens the eyes of the blind (vss. 7b-8). Further, this God protects strangers in their wanderings and supports the vulnerable orphans and widows, but brings devastation upon the wicked that oppress them (v. 9). The psalm concludes with a summons to the people of Jerusalem to praise YHWH who “will reign forever” (v. 10). The combination of creation and salvation themes within the context of the reign of God betrays dependence on the preaching of Second Isaiah.

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Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Against those who trust for their security in their luxury and conceit, God promises a most insecure future.

Context
In the midst of a variety of judgment speeches, a series of woe-cries beginning with 5:18 describes the nature of the northern kingdom’s behavior which will lead to the inevitable result of disaster.

Key Words
V. 1.  hôy = “woe”:  A woe-oracle is introduced by this particle and always followed by a plural participle describing an action of an unnamed group which leads to God’s judgment. This woe-oracle addresses those who feel all too comfortable both in Jerusalem and in Samaria.

V. 1.  wehabbōtechîm = “and who trust”:  For the problem of trusting in things which give false security see Prov. 11:28; 14:16.

V. 2.  Calneh … Hamath … Gath:  These cities were conquered by the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser III between 738 and 734 B.C.

V. 3.  hamenaddîm leyôm rā‘ = “who keep thrusting aside the evil day”:  The series of oracles requires that we assume a hôy = “woe” before the participle. For the “evil day,” see the interesting saying at Prov. 16:4: “YHWH.has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (leyōm rā‘ā).

V. 3.  šebet chāmās = “throne/seat or cessation of violence”:  For šebet (root šābat) as “cessation,” see Exod. 21:19; Prov. 20:3; šebet (root yāšab) as “that on which one is enthroned,” see 1 Kings 10:19 = 2 Chron. 9:18.

V. 4. haššōkebîm ‘al-mittôt šēn ûserûchîm ‘al-‘aršōtām = “who lie upon beds of ivory and sprawl upon their couches”: In light of the participles in the continuing series, the “woe to” must be read here, as it is in most translations.

V. 6. welō’ nechlû ‘al-šēber yōsēp = “but have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph”: Here lies the reason for the “woe.” In the midst of their luxurious lifestyles, they pay no attention to the suffering of the people who live in the territory that traditionally belonged to the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh).

V. 7.  lākēn = “therefore”:  When following a description of the activity of people, “therefore” almost always introduces a judgment of YHWH.

V. 7.  berōš gōlîm = “at the head of the exiles”:  See the play on words with rēšît hagôyyîm = “head/first of the nations” in v. 1 and werēšît šemānîm = “head/first (finest) of the oils” at v. 6.

V. 7.  wesār mizrach serûchîm = “and the revelry of sprawlers will pass away”:  Note the play with “those who sprawl (serûchîm) upon their beds” to whom the “woe” is addressed in v. 4. Now it will “pass away.”

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1 Timothy 6:6-19
Exhorting Timothy to shun the false teaching about the love of money, the apostle instructs him aim at the qualities that God loves and to charge the rich to set their hopes on God in whom they can be certain of a sure foundation for the future.

Context
The apostle brings his epistle to a conclusion by giving Timothy advice regarding the dangers of loving wealth and a charge to the wealthy that they should express their faith by showing they are “rich in good deeds, liberal and generous.”

“Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”  –Mother Teresa

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Luke 16:19-31
Addressing those who love money, Jesus warns of future shock by providing a story of eschatological transformations for the rich who neglect the poor and for the poor who are neglected.

Context
In chapter 15 Luke has Jesus telling the Pharisees and scribes the parable about the son who had squandered his wealth.  In chapter 16 (vv. 1-13) Jesus relates to the disciples the parable about the dishonest manager. There he includes the note about making friends by means of their unrighteous wealth so that “they may receive you into the tents of eternity.”  At 16:14-18 Jesus turns again to address the Pharisees, identified as “lovers of money,” on the continuing value of the Torah.  Now still speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus.

Key Words
V. 19.  anthrōpos de tis ēn plousios = “there was a certain rich man”:  The words are identical to 16:1, the beginning of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

V. 19.  euphrainomenos kath’ hēmeran lamprōs = “who kept on enjoying himself splendidly every day”:  On euphrainomenos as a favorite in Luke, see 12:19 (“be merry”); 15:23, 24, 29, 32 (“make merry”). While lamprōs appears in this form only here, see ta lampra = “splendid things” in which the rich delight at Rev. 18:14.

V. 20.  ptōchos = “a poor man”:  For the contrast between “rich” and “poor” in Luke’s Gospel, see 1:53; 6:20, 24; for Jesus as bringer of good news to the “poor,” see also 4:18-20; 7:22.

V. 20.  Lazarus:  a form of the Hebrew name ’El‘azar = “God has helped.” The Hebrew word for “help” is the one used at Psalm 146:5 (in parallel to “hope”) where blessing is promised to those who look to YHWH as their “help” “and hope.”

V. 22.  eis ton kolpon Abraham = “to the bosom of Abraham”:  For one’s bosom as a place of endearment, see the place of Christ at John 1:18 and the disciple Jesus loved at 13:23. In OT see Num. 11:12; Deut. 13:6; 28:54, 56.

V. 24, 30.  pater Abraam = “father Abraham”:  See John 8:33, 37 for the paternity claim of the Judaeans to Jesus.

V. 25.  nun de hōde parakaleitai = “but now he is comforted”:  The passive denotes that God is the comforter; see Isa. 40:1; 51:3; above all see 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

V. 26.  chasma mega estēriktai = “a great chasm has been fixed”:  Once again, Luke uses a theological passive. As for the chasm, contrast Gen. 28:12 where “the ladder” (actually “the mound”) connects heaven and earth.

V. 29. “They have Moses and the prophets”: The reference to Moses, of course, is to the Torah, the “book of Moses: and “the law of Moses” where laws about caring for the poor and afflicted abound; see, e.g., the Book of the Covenant at Exod. 21—23; the priestly laws at Lev. 25; the Code of Deuteronomy, especially Deut. 24. As for the prophets, their preaching against the injustice done to the poor and oppressed fill the pages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C (September 19, 2010) September 6, 2010

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Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost)

I confess I become upset at some people’s lack of concern for others and at systems in the world that favor the rich and powerful. That anger presents quite a dilemma when I join others in expressing that God is the God of all people, that God loves everyone, and that God wants all humanity to love one another. I feel like Jonah, I suppose, in denying the grace and love of God to “obvious” sinners. All together, our lessons for this day provide some challenges to my thinking and some implications of confessing the universality of God’s love. They help us ponder how the unfathomable and exalted God lives up to the name of Creator of the world and all that lives on it. They also demonstrate how God holds the rich accountable for the poor and simultaneously calls on the poor to pray for the powerful.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 91: Lectionary 25 (17 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 113
The psalm is the first of six called the Hallel psalms because their purpose is to “praise God.” In Judaism this collection was used especially on such important festivals as Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Verses 1-3 invite the worshipers of God in all times and places to extol the name of the Lord. Verses 4-6 explain the reason for that call to praise in two ways:  first, God’s place is far above all the nations of the earth and even above all the heavenly spaces where divine beings dwell and contest for acclaim; second, the Lord is incomparable among all creatures, divine and human. (The question “Who is like the Lord, our God…?” is used in various types of psalms in order to extol YHWH’s supremacy; see Ps. 89:6). Verses 7-9 point to the uniqueness of YHWH in another sense. Though YHWH is so exalted above earth and heaven, that same God bends down to protect and care for the lowly, even exalting them to sit with princes. This lofty God enables outcast barren women to bear children and thus become an integral part of the day’s society.

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Amos 8:4-7
To those who hasten to do dishonest business in order to further oppress the poor and the needy, God promises an unforgettable experience of judgment.

Context
In the middle of the eighth century B.C., Amos, from Tekoa near Bethlehem, was called to preach judgment against the northern kingdom Israel. As it turns out, his judgment speeches in the first two chapters of the book reached out to the nations that surrounded Israel and Judah on all sides. According to his own words, he had not been an official prophet, i.e., ordained into the prophetic guild, but a simple “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” (7:14) when the Lord sent him to prophesy to Israel, the northern kingdom.  The people up there held an optimistic view of the Day of the Lord, and they did so on the basis of YHWH’s actions for Israel in the past. Amos, however, turned the view of the Day into a threat of judgment: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!” (5:18). The passage here consists of oracles which illustrate the vision of the fate of a basket of summer fruit (8:1-3).

Key Words
Vv. 4, 6.  ’ebyôn // ‘anivvê-’ārets … dallîm //we’ebyôn = “the needy // the oppressed of the land … the poor // and the needy”:  For oppression of these people by the rulers and rich of Israel, see 2:6-7.  In terms of YHWH’s ongoing concern for the vulnerable of the land, see also such random examples as Ps. 9:9-10, 18; 82:1-4; then as responsibility given to the Davidic king, see Ps. 72:1-4. 12-14; further as the responsibility given to the people see Exod. 22:21-24; 23:6-9; Deut. 24:10-15, 17-22.  Because the people failed to carry out this assignment, this prophet, along with others, delivers the Lord’s announcement of judgment (see. e.g., Isa. 3:13-15; Ezek. 16:49).

V. 5.  hachōdeš …wehaššabbāt = “the new moon … and the sabbath”:  For restrictions on sabbath activity, see Exod. 35:3; Num. 15:32-36; Jer. 17:21-27; and Neh. 13:15-22 where transacting business is expressly forbidden.

V. 5.  ’êphâ = “ephah”:  The word means a dry measure of about forty liters (a little over 36 quarts).  For laws about weights, see Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16.

V. 6. mappal bar = “refuse of the wheat”:  The noun mappal derives from the verb nāpal = “to fall,” thus wheat fallen to the ground, trampled, wet, inferior.

V. 7.  nišba‘ YHWH bige‘ôn ya‘aqôb = “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob”:  Previously in Amos, YHWH swears by himself (see 4:2; 6:8). As for “the pride of Jacob,” the words appear earlier at 6:8 in parallelism with “strongholds” of Israel and “the city”—all of which YHWH abhors. At Ps. 47:4 the expression stands parallel to “heritage,” that is, the land of Israel.

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1 Timothy 2:1-7
Since God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, the author instructs the leaders of the church to pray and give thanks for the emperor and other governmental authorities.

Context
The verses comprise the first instruction from the unknown apostle to Timothy, leader of the church. In the historical context of the 2nd century A.D., Christians were regarded by outsiders with suspicion and distrust. Above all, since the Christians confessed their faith in Jesus as Lord, their commitment to the emperor was questionable. The advice here (like that of Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 4:14-16) attempts to address this dilemma and ultimately to advance the spread of the gospel and the church within the constraints of the Roman Empire.

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Luke 16:1-13
Jesus calls upon his disciples to face the crisis of his kingdom preaching with the prudence with which those of this age use material possessions.

Context
Chapter 15 contains three parables about the lost and found, all addressed to the Pharisees and scribes. Continuing the theme of stewardship Jesus turns to the disciples to teach this parable of the Dishonest Steward (vv. 1-8a), several applications of the parable (vv. 8b-13), and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31).

Key Words
V. 1.  anthrōpos tis ēn plousios hos eichen oikonomon = “there was a rich man who had a manager”:  The rich man was probably someone like the absentee landowner of 12:37-38, 42-47; 20:9-16, who put someone else like an oikonomos = “manager” in charge of his property.

V. 1.  diaskorpizōn = “squandering”:  The same word appears in the same sense of  the Prodigal Son (15:13). More generally, the word means to “scatter, disperse” (see Luke 1:51; Matt. 25:24, 26; 26:31 = Mk. 14:27; John 11:52).

V. 6.  dexai sou ta grammata = “receive your letters”:  The letters refer to the promissory note signed by the debtor.

V. 8.  hoti phronimōs epoiēsen = “because he acted prudently”; Note the expression phronimōteroi = “more prudently” in the second half of the verse. For phronimos used elsewhere of an oikonomos, see 12:42 where the “faithful and wise steward” will receive blessing at the homecoming of the master. At 1 Cor. 10:15 the expression appears as a compliment, but at 4:10 it is sarcastic.  See 2 Cor. 11:19 (sarcasm) and Rom. 11:25 (negative). At Matt. 25:2, 4, 8, the word stands opposite “foolish” maidens.

V. 8.  hoi huioi tou aiōnos … tous huious tou phōtos = “the children of this age … the children of light”:  The contrast is not between “worlds” or “places” but “times”: Christians are “the children of the New Day/age” (cf. Rom. 13:11-13; John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 90: Lectionary 24 (16 Pentecost), Year C (September 12, 2010) August 29, 2010

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Lectionary 24 (16 Pentecost)

When life takes its well-known detours that result in anguish of our souls, we sometimes stretch an accusing finger at God. Those unexpected turns seem at times to demonstrate that God is not faithful to promises—whether they were made or we imagine they were. We might find a biblical passage here or there that promises health or wealth or peace or security in our lifetimes, and there is plenty of evidence in the world to indicate we are not on the road we were hoping for. But the promise of God that occurs everywhere in the Bible, the one that provides hope and healing, even on the worst of roads, is forgiveness of our sin. That promise lies at the very nature of God, and it is the assurance of God’s forgiveness that enables us to negotiate the bumps and turns on our journey.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 90: Lectionary 24 (16 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 51:1-10 (NRSV 1-9)
Like Psalms 38 and 130, the psalm is a penitential psalm. Accordingly, the psalm was used by someone suffering various torments as a result of one’s sinfulness against God. The plea for forgiveness in verses 1-2 sets the tone for the entire psalm and is offered only because of trust in God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy.” The acknowledgement of guilt and confession in verses 3-6 moves beyond the understanding of sin as an ethical code. Verse 5 (NRSV) has sometimes been used to connect the origin of human sinfulness to the sexual act by which the person was conceived.  The intent of the words, however, is to indicate that from the very beginning of his existence the psalmist has been a sinner and a member of a world which has always been at odds with God. The depth of sin is nothing less than the dishonoring of God by all of humankind (see Isa. 6:5; Rom. 1—2; 11:32). The petition for forgiveness comes to focus in verses 7-12 with such words as “purge me,” “wash me,” “fill me,” “blot out all my iniquities.” As the psalm continues, such forgiveness results in the newness of life that can come only from God (see Jer. 31:31-34).

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Exodus 32:7-14
The Lord encourages those who have access to God to intercede even for those who make and worship false gods.

Context
Chapters 32-34 make up a relatively separate block of narrative material that separates the instructions of 25–31 from those in 35–40.  Chapter 32 is influenced by the account of the golden calves installed at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12).  Jeroboam’s infamous act following the division of the monarchy probably led the Jerusalem religious establishment to “prove” the error of his ways by demonstrating God’s judgment on a similar act back in the days of Moses.

Key Words
V. 8.  “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”:  The statement already appeared at v. 4.  Note the request of the people at v. 1 contains:  “Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt”:  The same expression comes out of the mouth of God at v. 7.

V. 10.  we’e‘eseh ’ôtekā legôy gādôl = “and I will make you a great nation”:  The promise is identical to the words God uttered to Abraham at Gen. 12:2.

V. 13.  “multiply your descendants … and all this land … I will give …”:  These promises made to the patriarchs appear at Gen. 12:7; 15:1-6, 17-21; 17:4-8; 22:17; 26:4; 28:13-14.

V. 14.  wayyinnāchem YHWH = “and the Lord repented”:  That God changes the plan from judgment due to a human intercession, see also Amos 7:3 and Abraham’s attempt at Gen. 18:16-33.

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1 Timothy 1:12-17
As he begins his instruction and exhortation to Timothy, leader of the church in Ephesus, the apostle expresses thanks and praise for the goodness of the gospel to himself in words that sound like “amazing grace.”

Context
The authorship of the Pastoral Epistles has been debated for some time.  Whether or not this letter comes from Paul’s hand, the hand of a secretary, or from someone else entirely, the epistle, like that of 2 Timothy and Titus, provides us with instructions to individuals who are leaders of the churches in their respective geographical areas.  As such, they serve to remind leaders of the church at all times of the responsibilities they carry to prevent false teachings from entering the church and to abstain from the ways of the world.

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Luke 15:1-10
Addressing some prevailing religious positions of his day, Jesus explains his hospitality to outcasts on the basis of God’s love for the lost and joy over their recovery.

Context
In contrast to the preceding paragraphs which related Jesus’ teaching about the demands of discipleship to the crowds who had joined him on his journey, Jesus now deals with the grumbling on the part of the “religious” folk over the kinds of people to whom Jesus has been relating.

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Parallel Passage:  Matthew 18:12-13
In Matthew, Jesus addressed the parable to the disciples, making the point that the disciples should not extol themselves and despise the “little ones” but recognize that God rejoices at finding those who have gone astray. In Luke, Jesus addressed the parable to his religious opponents regarding God’s forgiveness of sin and the divine joy over the sinners’ restoration.

Key Words
Vv. 1-2.  pantes hoi telōnai kai hoi hamartōloi … diegoggyzon hoi te Pharisaioi kai hoi grammateis = “all the toll-collectors and sinners … the Pharisees and the scribes murmured”:  See 5:29-30 and 7:33-34 for similar reaction to the company Jesus was keeping.

V. 2.  diegogguzon = “kept murmuring”:  The imperfect tense of the verb indicates the continuing nature of their complaining (see 19:7). Their response to Jesus’ companions is not an isolated one; neither is his hospitality to the outcasts.

V. 4.  poreuetai epi to apolōlos heōs heurē auto = “goes after the lost one until he finds it”:  Forms of apollymi = “ruin, lose” appear to describe “lost sheep” at Matt. 10:6; 15:24; in OT cf. Ezek. 34:4 (11-16); Ps. 119:176.  God is the good shepherd who seeks out the lost (see John 10:11-12).  On the mission of Jesus to seek and save the “lost,” see Luke 19:10.

Vv. 6, 9.  sygcharēte moi = “rejoice with me”:  Joy is something to be shared, as in festal events (cf. Deut. 12:7; Pss. 33; 95; 98; Is. 9:3).

Vv. 7, 10.  chara en tō ouranō … chara enōpion tōn aggelōn tou theou = “joy in heaven … joy before the angels of God”:  For moments when God rejoices, see the new creation bliss at Isa. 65:19, the restoration of the people of Israel to God at Isa. 62:5, and the renewal of love with the people at Zeph. 3:17.  On God’s pleasure at having a wicked person repent and live, see Ezek. 18:23.  For the assembly before the throne of God, see 1 Kings 22:19-23; Job 1; Isa. 6:1-3; Ps. 82; 89:5-8, and often.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 89: Lectionary 23 (15 Pentecost), Year C (September 5, 2010) August 17, 2010

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Lectionary 23 (15 Pentecost)

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus proves to be a chip off the old block. Whatever God does in the Old Testament, Jesus does in the New. The names for God in the Hebrew Bible become the names the early church used also for Jesus. And when it comes to faithfulness or discipleship, YHWH and Jesus insist on unswerving allegiance. Following that kind of God costs a great deal, but what God promises is life that is just out of sight!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 89: Lectionary 23 (15 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 1
The first psalm in the Bible is a wisdom psalm, like 112, 119, 127, 128, and 133. Wisdom teaching, found also throughout the Book of Proverbs, teaches the simple doctrine that the good (the wise) are rewarded with health and wealth, but the wicked (the fools) are destined for destruction. Reactions to this doctrine appear in the Book of Job and in Ecclesiastes. In the Psalter itself, such reactions appear in Psalm 49 (see Lectionary 18 [10 Pentecost] in Episode 84) and Psalm 73. This first psalm promises blessing for those who “delight in the torah of the Lord and meditate on the torah day and night.” Standing as the lead psalm, it establishes the context of the entire Psalter as fidelity to the instruction of the Lord. The benefits of this “righteousness” are fruitful and continuing life (v. 3). The wicked will not be acquitted in the court of God’s law (v. 5) and will, therefore, “perish” (v. 6).

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20
In setting before the people the decision to choose life or death, God exhorts the people to choose life and provides the means by which that life might be achieved.

Context
Chapters 27-28 of Deuteronomy list the blessings and curses which the people of Israel can expect on the basis of the keeping or disobeying the laws in 12—26.  Chapters 29—30 admonish the people of Israel to follow the same instructions, indicating in the paragraph prior to our pericope that keeping the instructions is not impossible.

Key Words
Vv. 15, 16, 18, 19.  hayyôm = “today”:  The use of the word throughout the book conveys the contemporary nature of YHWH’s address to Israel. It gives the impression the book is intended to preach to the people of a different day from that of Moses.

Vv. 15, 19.  chayyîm = “life”:  The choice God offers is between life and death, between good and harm. As the pericope progresses to its end, the real issue is worship of YHWH over against the worship of other deities; thus “YHWH is your life and length of days,” and idols are death and harm.

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Philemon 1-21
On the basis of our common faith in Christ, God changes the nature of all relationships so that even slaves and masters become siblings in Christ.

Key Words
V. 10.  Onēsimon = “Onesimus”: The name means “useful, allowing Paul to play on word in the following verse where euchrēston = “useful” is used to describe one who is named “Useful.” See also v. 20 where Paul uses the related word onaimēn where it is translated by RSV/NRSV as “benefit.”

V. 10.  Onesimos:  At Col. 4:9 he is called “the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of yourselves.” This verse is sometimes used to demonstrate that Philemon released his slave in order to join in the missionary work of the gospel.

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Luke 14:25-33
As a warning to those multitudes who would casually follow Jesus, Christ asserts that discipleship means the willingness to forsake all other relationships, one’s self, and possessions that might cause conflict of interest.

Context
The preceding verses told of Jesus’ instruction to the Pharisees at the dinner to which he was invited.  That instruction concluded with the Parable of the Great Banquet at which he emphasized the invitation of the kingdom to people of various sorts and in a variety of places. Now once more, Jesus defines the radical cost of discipleship.

Parallel Passages:  Matthew 10:37-38; Mark 10:29

Key Words
V. 26.  ei tis … ou misei = “if someone … does not hate”:  For misein as the opposite of agapēn = “love,” see 16:13. For hate as the attitude of outsiders toward Christians, see 6:22, 27.  Compare Genesis 29:30-33 where because Jacob is said to have loved Rachel more than Leah, the latter is said to be “hated.”  Likewise, in a similar situation at Deut. 21:15-17 the wife who is not loved is “disliked” (RSV/NRSV), a trans. of the verb misein. The version of this verse at Matt. 10:37 softens the condition by describing the problem as “loving more” the family member than Jesus. [Mark’s version is the least offensive since it speaks only of leaving family members “for my sake and the gospel” (Mark 10:29)]. In any case, the content follows from Jesus’ demands at 12:52-53 and his call to discipleship at 9:59-62. The difficulty is balancing this demand to “hate” family members with the command to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Luke 10:27) and to acknowledge our closest neighbors as the members of our families. Further, the author of 1 John writes that people who say they love God but “hate” (misē) their neighbors are liars (1 John 4:20). Indeed, the author interprets God’s command as follows: “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (v. 21).

V. 26.  ou dynatai einai mou mathētēs = “will not be able to be my disciple”:  The exact words repeated at vss. 27, 33.  Note the use of dynatai at 16:13 where “love” and “hate” appear as well in the context of God or mammon.

V. 26. eti te kai tēn psychēn heautou = “and yes, even his own life”: The words reflect Jesus’ teaching about cross-bearing at Mark 8:34: “let them deny themselves.” The prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to pray contains the words “your will be done” as an indication of self-surrender to God’s will.

V. 27.  hostis ou bastazei ton stauron heautou = “whoever does not bear his own cross”:  Recall 9:23.  stauros means an upright stake, used in ancient times as a means of torture and death by impaling or crucifying the victim.  Bastazein = carry” has no particular meaning in Luke.

V. 33.  pas ex hymōn hos ouk apotassetai pasin tois heautou hyparchousin = “whoever among you does not say farewell to everything that belongs to him”:  Note that apotassō = “say farewell” is used in the same sense at 9:61.  The same teaching appears at 12:33-34 where the treasures of this earth fail but that of the kingdom of heaven remains. At 18:22 Jesus commands the ruler to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor so that he “will have treasure in heaven.” However, at 18:30 Jesus implies that by leaving everything that he lists in our pericope a person will “get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” In Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts, he reports the fidelity of early Christians to these demands of Jesus (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 88: Lectionary 22 (14 Pentecost), Year C (August 29, 2010) August 10, 2010

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Lectionary 22 (14 Pentecost)

We spend a lot of time in church preaching and teaching about how to become better Christians. How does a good Christian act? Who are the role models for Christians? Good questions! Good issues to discuss. But for a moment, let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let us go for the big one: what would happen if God were our role model?  How does God act? How would we act if we were God? It sounds sacrilegious. Interestingly, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, called on his readers to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” What would it be like to imitate God? What would you do if God put divine identity and responsibility, even power, into your hands? May I read your minds? You are saying to yourselves, “I’d mess things up. The world would be more of a mess than it already is.” Maybe you’ve seen the movie “Bruce Almighty” where that is precisely what happens. But there is more to being like God, as our lessons for the day demonstrate.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 88: Lectionary 22 (14 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 112
The psalm, like Psalm 1, 19, 119, and others, is a wisdom psalm, written as an acrostic in which each half-verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its purpose is to instruct believers in righteous behavior and to promise rewards, that is, the Lord’s blessings, on their obedience. Living in the midst of darkness and evil tidings at the hands of their oppressors, the righteous demonstrate their fidelity to the Lord’s covenant by the way they conduct their lives. God is righteous. God’s people are righteous! God cares for the vulnerable. God’s people imitate God. Dealing generously with others and lending them money, conducting business with justice, acting with graciousness and mercy, giving to the poor—all result from their delight in the Lord’s commandments (recall Psalm 1:2; 111:2; 119:24 and often). The rewards promised for their righteousness include respected and blessed descendants, wealth and riches, security, fearlessness, and honored strength (exalted horn). The expectations for the “wicked” will result in such opposites that their fury will spell their end.

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Proverbs 25:6-7
Humility in the presence of royalty is far better than arrogance and haughtiness.

Context
These two verses conclude the first section of Book II in the Book of Proverbs.  According to the first verse in this chapter, “these also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.”  The cluster with which the second book begins contains four teachings about royalty.  Thus they are examples of royal wisdom taught to those who are to grow up as functionaries, even as princes, in the royal court.  These proverbs, like the rest of wisdom sayings, intend to educate youth in the ways of success.

Key Words
V. 6.  ‘al-hithhaddar liphnê-melek = “do not honor yourself in the presence of a king”:  RSV’s and NRSV’s “put yourself forward” does not do justice to the issue at hand, namely honoring oneself rather giving honor to others, e.g., the elderly (see Lev. 19:32).

V. 7.  mēhašpîlekā liphnê nādîb = “than to be humiliated in the presence of a noble”:  See among many other examples Prov. 29:23.  See the same use of the verb, even in a different form, at Isa. 2:9; 5:15.

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Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
The constancy of God lies at the heart of all that is expected of us in our relationship of praise to God and in our sharing with one another.

Context
The author of the epistle brings his major arguments to a conclusion at the end of chapter 12 with a call to be grateful for God’s gift of an unshakeable kingdom.  Now he turns to the conclusion of the work with exhortations, admonitions, and benediction.

OT Allusions and Quotations
V. 2.  “show hospitality … angels unawares”:  Recall Abraham at Gen. 18:1-8 and Lot at Gen. 19:1-11. For philoxenia/philoxenos = “hospitality” in NT, see Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9.

V. 3.  “those in prison”:  Recall the call in God’s kingdom to release the prisoners at Isa. 61:1; in Jesus’ prophecy about the day of judgment, recall the favor given to those who visited prisoners (Matt. 25:36, 39).

V. 4.  “marriage bed undefiled”:  Recall the commandment against adultery at Exod. 20:14.

V. 5.  “free from the love of money”:  Recall the fickleness of money and riches at Prov. 28:22; in NT see the exhortations at 1 Tim. 3:3, 6:10.

V. 5.  “never fail you nor forsake you”:  The expression sounds like Deut. 31:6, 8 where “the Lord your God will not fail you or forsake you”; for the same promise in the first person, see Josh. 1:5; cf. also the Lord’s promise to Jacob at Gen. 28:15. The resurrected Jesus makes a similar promise to the disciples in connection with “the great commissioning” at Matt. 28:20.

V. 6.  “The Lord is my helper …”:  The same confession occurs at Ps. 118:6-7 and is also similar to the confidence of the Servant at Isa. 50:9.

V. 8.  “the same”:  See Ps. 102:27 in the context of a confession in YHWH’s endurance even over the heavens and the earth that YHWH created. The blessing for those who make such confession are secure lives for themselves and a posterity that dwells in God’s presence.

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Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus points to the vision of the kingdom banquet in order to redefine table manners and guest lists here and now.

Context
Still on his fateful journey between Galilee and Jerusalem, Jesus had just been warned by Pharisees that Herod was out to kill him.  Jesus sent them off with a message to Herod that Jerusalem and his house are about to be destroyed.

Key Words
V. 1.  “into the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees to dine”:  For dining with Pharisees on other occasions see Luke 7:36; 11:37.  For dining occasions with other hosts, see 5:29; 10:38-42.  For meals at which Jesus is host see 9:13-17; 22:14; 24:30.

V. 1.  “and they were watching him”:  Note their observations of Jesus at 11:54; 20:20, in both cases with a view to catching him at something they could report to the authorities.

V. 7.  prōtoklisias = “the places of honor” beside the host of a dinner:  See also Matt. 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 20:46 (one of the practices for which the scribes will be condemned).

V. 11.  “exalts … be humbled … humbles … be exalted”:  For the opposites caused by the action of God, see Ezek. 17:24; 21:31; Matt. 23:12; Luke 18:14; Phil. 2:6-11; cf. Luke 1:52. In the spirit of the first lesson, recall also the beatitudes at Matt. 5:1-11 and Luke 6:20-26.

V. 12.  kai genētai antapodoma soi = “and repayment be yours”:  The word occurs in the good sense of “reward” (Isa. 1:23 [LXX] and here) or in the negative sense of “retribution” (usual in LXX and Romans 11:9).  The verb form appears in positive sense twice in v. 14.

V. 13. “But when you give a feast”: In light of Jesus’ statement in v. 14 about the resurrection, God’s hosting a feast comes to mind. At Isa. 25:6-8, the prophet envisions a feast that God will host “for all people” at which God will swallow up death and the invitees will enjoy the delicacies of meat and wine.

V. 13.  “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind”:  The same foursome appears at v. 21.  The “poor” (ptōchoi) have been a special concern in Luke’s Gospel since 4:18.  On “lame” (chōloi) and “blind” (typhloi) and “poor” (ptōchoi), see Luke 7:22 where their reversal of fortune at the hands of Jesus signifies the presence of the kingdom of God.  See Mic. 4:6-7.

V. 14.  “and you will be blessed”:  See the promise of God at Deut. 14:28-29 where God’s blessing the work of the people is the reward for tithing the harvest so that the Levites, the sojourners, the orphans and the widows might eat.

V. 14.  en tē anastasei tōn dikaiōn = “at the resurrection of the righteous”:   See Dan. 12:2-3 for resurrection of both righteous and wicked; for the promise of resurrection elsewhere in Luke, see 20:35.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 87: Lectionary 21 (13 Pentecost), Year C (August 22, 2010) August 3, 2010

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Lectionary 21 (13 Pentecost)

Far from programming us to live our days as mindless robots, God gives us freedom to make choices. Those freedoms, the Bible tells us, force us to make responsible decisions about priorities for doing the will of God. Our lessons for this day challenge us to choose between two of God’s commandments when they conflict with each other: the keeping of the sabbath and the love for our neighbors.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 87: Lectionary 21 (13 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 103:1-8
The psalm is a combination of a thanksgiving and hymn. It begins by calling upon the poet’s innermost being to bless the Lord for forgiving the individual’s sins and healing diseases, saving the worshiper from the clutches of death, and crowning the redeemed person with God’s loyalty and mercy. In verse 6 the psalm moves into the hymn, describing God as the one who establishes justice for the oppressed, even as the Lord revealed the entire torah to Moses. The words of verse 8 echo the self-revelation of God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6). As the psalm continues, the experience of the individual and the call to praise extends to the whole universe.

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Isaiah 58:9b-14
God promises the people of Israel divine guidance, light, restoration of city, delight, and nourishment on the conditions that they treat one another with respect and sharing and that they honor the Lord’s sabbath.

Context
The prophet called Third Isaiah faced the difficult problem of preaching the faithfulness of God when the experience of the people was still God’s absence.  The Lord’s absenteeism was all too prevalent during the exile in Babylon, and there it led to the refinement of the lament form.  The expectation preached by Second Isaiah was that the Lord would take them home and that their homecoming would coincide with the unambiguous reign of God over the world.  When they did return to Jerusalem sometime after 538 B.C., however, the scene was a far cry from God’s reign.  Some of the situation is described here.

Key Words
V. 10.  wetāphēq lārā‘ēb naphšekâ [lachmekâ] = “and (if) you pour out yourself [your food] for the hungry”:  The reading of NRSV in brackets is based on Syriac manuscripts; cf. v. 7. The parallelism “and satisfy life of the afflicted” does will fit either reading; the point is obviously the caring of the poor.

V. 10.  wezārach bachōšek ’ôrekā = “then your light will shine in the darkness”:  Whose light will shine? The temptation is to consider YHWH to be “your light” on the basis of 60:1 where “your light” stands in synonymous parallelism with “the glory of the Lord” and 10:17 where “the light of Israel” is parallel to “his Holy One” (cf. 9:2); above all, see 58:8 where “your light” appears to be the same as “your healing,” “your vindicator,” and “the glory of the Lord.”  On the other hand, see wisdom of Job’s friend Zophar at Job 11:17.

V. 11.  wehisbîa‘ betsachtsāchôt naphšekâ = “and he will satisfy your life in parched places”:  Compare this act of God with the expectation in verse 10 regarding the care of the needy.

V. 12.  weqōrā’ lekā gōdēd perets mešōbēb netîbôt lāšābet = “and you shall be called Repairer Of The Breach, Restorer Of Streets To Live In”:  Consider the various names by which Israel and the land will be called thanks to Yahweh’s acts:  “the City of God, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (60:14); “My Delight Is In Her,” “Married” (62:4); “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord,” “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken”(62:12).

Vv. 13-14.  weqārā’tā laššabbāt ‘ōneg liqdōš YHWH mekubbād  … ’az tit‘annag ‘al-YHWH = “if you call the sabbath a delight, the holy (one) of the Lord honorable … you shall delight in the Lord”:  The blessings correspond to the behavior as is typical of ancient Semitic thinking: What one does comes back to roost on one’s own head. With the repetition of the sabbath here following 56:2, the emphasis on the sabbath frames this section of the book. Surprisingly, prophetic references to the sabbath are few. The speech attributed to Jeremiah at 17:19-27 shows a similar benefit for the people by keeping the sabbath, but there the emphasis, like that of Exodus 16, focuses on the prohibition against work on that day. (For other judgment speeches regarding work and business on the sabbath, see Ezek. 20:12-26; 22:8;, 26; 23:28; Amos 8:5.) On the other hand, the prophet Isaiah reports God’s word that repudiates the sabbaths and new moons and appointed feasts in favor of seeking justice, correcting oppression, and caring for the orphans and the widows (Isa. 1:12-17).

V. 14. kî pî YHWH dibbēr = “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”: The effectiveness of God’s word—so common in Second Isaiah—assures the people that the prophecy will come true.

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Hebrews 12:18-29
In contrast to the people of Israel who had come to Mount Sinai, Christians have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to Jesus, in order to thank and praise God for an unshakeable kingdom.

Context
Having cited his cloud of witnesses in terms of the Old Testament examples of faith, the author opened chapter 12 with demonstrating that Jesus is the example to be followed, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  The writer indicates that Jesus’ example guides them through times of persecution and challenges them to pursue peace with one another. His concluding words of our pericope call the grateful people of God to “an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”

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Luke 13:10-17
In response to the needs of the crippled woman, Jesus healed her, even though the law about the sabbath was interpreted to exclude such acts of mercy to people.

Context
Prior to our pericope Jesus had told the parable of the fig tree, indicating the nature of God’s grace to allow sinners one more chance.  Following our pericope Jesus told parables about the kingdom of God:  the Mustard Seed (verses 18-19), the Yeast (verses 20-21), and then teaching about the narrow door which is the entrance to the kingdom of God (verses 22-30).  The context of the last day and the kingdom sets the sabbath law within a brand new understanding.

Key Words
V. 10.  “on the sabbath”:  The pericope focuses not merely on the healing but on the sabbath, particularly Exod. 20:9-10.  The sabbath day played an important role in the stories about Jesus. Elsewhere in Luke, see 4:16, 31; 6:1-5, 6-11; 14:1ff. Clearly Jesus’ repudiation of the sabbath law in chapters 6 and 13 (here) was an issue in the early church that decided on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, as the day for worship.

V. 11.  gynē pneuma exousa = “a woman having a spirit”:  In verse 16 that “Satan had bound her for eighteen years” indicates the origin of spirits in the New Testament world.  That Satan and his spirits stand against the kingdom of God is attested many times in the gospel stories.

V. 15.  Hypokritai = “Hypocrites”:  The word was used by the Greeks for actors on the stage.  At 6:42 the word describes people who make judgments on others, and at 12:56 Jesus uses the word for the crowds who do not know how to interpret the times.  hyopkrisis = “hypocrisy” at 12:1 is directed at the  Pharisees.

V. 17. autou katēskynonto pantes hoi antikeimenoi autō, kai pas ho ochlos echairen = “all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced”: The use of opposites in Luke’s Gospel is a common method for announcing the effects of kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate: mighty—low, humble—rich, rich—poor, etc.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 86: Lectionary 20 (12 Pentecost), Year C (August 15, 2010) July 26, 2010

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Lectionary 20 (12 Pentecost)

Our options for the day are either “Lectionary 20: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C,” or “Mary, the Mother of our Lord.” I have chosen to discuss the pericopes for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, because in previous episodes I had discussed some of the pericopes for Mary’s special day. If you are celebrating this festival on August 15, 2010, I invite you to listen to the podcast on Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Magnificat, in Episode 52, Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year C. For the psalm, Psalm 34:1-9, listen to Episode 33, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

So much of the Bible’s view of God runs smack against the views of religious and moral systems, especially when they get tied up with economic and political ideologies. It was as true in biblical times as it is in our day (and has been true over the millennia in between). Preaching and teaching on any of the lessons for this Sunday might raise the hackles of many listeners. However, failing to proclaim the news contained in these lessons throws us into the group of false prophets that Jeremiah emphatically denounces and into the multitudes that Jesus scolded for failing to catch on to the meaning of his mission.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 86: Lectionary 20 (12 Pentecost), Year C.

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Psalm 82
The psalm is basically the report of a vision of an event that takes place “in the divine council.” [Psalm 29, 89, Job 1, Isaiah 6; comparisons in Babylon. Canaan. And Egypt] Yahweh, the judge of the assembly, accuses the gods of failing to live up to their divine identity. They have taken the side of the wicked who oppress the poor. Their responsibility as gods is to provide justice for the weak, the orphans, the afflicted, and the destitute. Neither the gods nor their followers, like the idol worshipers at Isaiah 44, 4, 18, have a clue about life and the world. Since the gods have failed to live up to their responsibility, Yahweh announces the verdict: they will lose their divine status and become mortal like human beings. The psalm concludes with a prayer that God establish justice in the earth, because all the nations of the world belong to the One who is known for justice and righteousness.

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Jeremiah 23:23-29
Against false prophets who side with the idols, God stands apart from  manipulative attempts, even by those who call themselves prophets, by remaining beyond reach and control.

OR

God makes prophecy true by providing the word and sending the prophet.

Context
The passage is part of a longer section running from v. 9 through 40 that falls under the heading “Concerning the prophets.” It actually includes priests as well from verses 33-40. After explaining their general wickedness and their impending judgment (vv. 9-15), the section details the particular problem:  the prophets fill the people with vain hopes, speaking visions of their own minds rather than the word from the Lord (vv. 16-22).  Following our assigned verses, the problems are that they steal words from one another (v. 30), they say, “Says the Lord,” (v. 31), they prophesy lying dreams and they lead the people astray (v. 32), and behind it all, they are not sent by God (v. 32).

Key Words
V. 23.  ha’elōhê miqqārōb ’ānî … welō’ ’’elōhê mērāchōq = “Am I a god from near … and not a god from far?”:  opposite in LXX:  “I am a god at hand … and not a god far off.”

V. 26.  šeqer = “deception”:  The word appears often in Jeremiah for false prophecy:  5:31; 14:14; 20:6; 27:10, 14, 16; 29:9, 21; perhaps the molten image as the great deception lies at the heart of the problem (10:14 = 51:17).

V. 25.  chālamtî = “I have dreamed”:  In a positive sense, see Jacob (Gen. 28:12); Joseph (Gen. 37:5-10); Daniel (Dan. 1:17); in a false sense, see  Deut. 13:1-6; Zech. 10:2.

V. 26.  tarmît = “deceitfulness”:  See Jer. 8:5 for the people’s deceit; elsewhere for prophets, see 14:14; for the “wicked” generally, see Ps. 119:118.

V. 27.  lehaškîach … še = “to make forget … my name”:  Note later in the same verse,  “their fathers forgot my name for Baal”; opposite is “remember YHWH’s name” at Ps. 119:55; or simply “remember YHWH” at Deut. 8:18; Isa. 64:4; Jer. 51:50; Ezek. 6:9; Zech. 10:9; “not remember” at Judg. 8:34; Isa. 17:10; 57:11.

V. 29.  ’ēš = “fire”:  See note on Luke 12:49 below.

For commentary see Robert P. Carroll, The Book of Jeremiah (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1986):  463-474.

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Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who by faith experienced miracles and endured persecutions, Christians look to Jesus to endure hardship so that, with him, they might share in the glory to come.

Context
After defining faith as the opposite of what is seen, the author began his long list of faith examples from the Hebrew Bible.  He illustrated faith by starting with Abel, who though dead is still speaking through faith.  The list continues to include Enoch who did not see death but lives with God, then Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses.  While they did not receive the fulfillment of God’s promise, because of their faith God has reserved a heavenly city for them.

V. 1.  ogkon apothemenoi panta = “let us lay aside every impediment”:  The expression appears only here in the NT.

V. 2.  tēs pisteōs archēgon kai teleiōtēn = “the originator and perfecter of faith”:  The term archēgos appears elsewhere in NT only at 2:10 where Jesus is described as archēgon tēs sōtērias = the originator of salvation.”

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Luke 12:49-56
Committed to establishing the promised kingdom, God sent Jesus Christ not merely to save and comfort but to judge the earth as well, pitting even family members against one another.

Context
Still on the way between Galilee and Jerusalem, Jesus turned from speaking to the multitudes (12:1-21) to addressing his disciples about God’s care for them and about God’s desire to give the kingdom to those who are ready.  Now Jesus continues talking to the disciples (vv. 49-53) before turning once again to address the crowds (vv. 54-59).

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Parallel Passage:  Matthew 10:34-36

Key Words
V. 49.  pur = “fire”:  The functions of fire in OT are [1] sign of the presence of God (Exod. 3:2; 19:18; Isa. 31:9); [2] purification from disease (Lev. 13:52); [3] ritual purification (Num. 31:23); and [4] judgment (Gen. 19:24; Isa. 33:14; 43:2; Jer. 23:29).

V. 50.  baptisma echō baptisthēnai = “I have a baptism to be baptized (with)”:  See Luke 3:16 where Jesus will baptize with the fire of eschatological judgment. Recall also Jesus’ question to the sons of Zebedee about their ability to endure the baptism that Jesus himself faces (Mark 10:38).

V. 50.  pōs synechomai = “how I am distressed/absorbed”:  The word appears elsewhere in Luke:  4:38 (“tormented” by a high fever; also 28:8); 8:37 (“seized” with terror); 8:45 (the multitudes “crowd” you); 19:43 (enemies “crowd” you); 22:63 (“were holding in custody”). The author uses the word also in Acts: 7:57 (“closed” ears); 18:5 (“absorbed” in the word).

V. 51.  diamerismon = “division, disunity”:  The verb forms follow in vv. 52-53 as the opposite of “peace.” Note the similarity to Micah 7:6 in the description of conflicts that exist, even within families, as they wait for the Day of the Lord.

V. 52.  apo tou nun = “from now on”:  In Luke-Acts, the phrase marks the beginning of the New Age:  1:48; 5:10; 22:18, 69; Acts 18:6.