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Wrestling with the Word, episode 85: Lectionary 19 (11 Pentecost), Year C (August 8, 2010) July 22, 2010

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Lectionary 19 (11 Pentecost)

Around the world, people are participating in an internet treasure hunt called geocaching. My daughter, Dana, and her husband, Paul, have recently published a book about the phenomenon (The Joy of Geocaching). Their stories describe what the fuss is all about—what it has meant for people individually and in groups. Well over a million sites contain various treasures. Some geocaches are very tiny, fitting in a hole that might have once contained a bolt, and consist of nothing more than a piece of paper on which the finders register their names. Some geocaches are larger, even ammo boxes, that along with a little tablet for recording the finder’s name and notes, include a collection of items bought in a Dollar Store. My favorite sites are the ones that lead me on paths I have never been, observe things I never noticed, and teach me something I never knew— like moments of history or geological features. Certainly there is the promise of something at the end of the journey, but for me the joy and the challenge is the journey itself. Biblical faith is like that—a journey with a promise for the end but experiences and challenges on the way.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 85: Lectionary 19 (11 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 33:12-22
The psalmist calls the righteous to praise and to hope in the Lord because, as Creator of the universe, God looks upon humankind, promises covenant loyalty, and thereby proves to be “our help and shield.”


Genesis 15:1-6
God considers as “righteousness” a faith that trusts and hopes in divine promises in spite of appearances to the contrary.

In Genesis 12:1-3 God promised to Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation.  Since Abraham was 75 years old at the time and his wife Sarah only 10 years younger, they were past the time that such a blessed event could begin.  As they settled in the land of Canaan and sojourned for a time to Egypt, even more years passed by.

Key Words
V. 1.  sākār = “reward”: The word usually translates as “wages.” However, at Isa. 40:10; 62:11; Jer. 31:16 it appears in connection with God’s gift of deliverance from exile in Babylon; striking is Ps. 127:3 in terms of “the fruit of the womb.”

V. 1.  māgēn = “shield”:  Common in Psalms, therefore a cultic term, usually in regard to protection;  part. Interesting are Ps. 84:11; 115:9-11; also Prov. 30:5 where the parallel is “every word of God proves true.” Above all, the psalm for the day confesses confidence in waiting for the Lord, for “he is our help and our shield” (Ps, 33:20).

V. 4.  ’ašer yētsē mimmē‘ekā = “who comes out of your loins”:  For mē‘â as male reproductive organ, see 2 Sam. 7:12; 16:11, etc.,  as female organ = womb, see Gen. 25:23; Isa. 49:1; Ps. 71:6; Ruth 1:11.

V. 6.  wehe’emîn baYHWH = “and he believed in the Lord”:  RSV and NRSV translate “believed the Lord”; see Exod. 14:31; Num. 14:11; 20:12, and often.

V. 6.  wayachšebehâ lô  tsedāqâ = “and he accounted it to him as righteousness”:  chāšab = “account, reckon” is used in cultic situations in which a priest examines and determines the acceptability of a worshiper’s offering (Lev. 7:18; 17:4; Num. 18:27); as a neg. form of our text cf. Ps. 32:2:  “Blessed is the one to whom the Lord does not account iniquity.”

For further commentary see Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, rev. ed., trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1972):  181-185;  Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36, trans. John J. Scullion, S.J. (Minneapolis:  Augsburg, 1985):  217-223.


Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
God enables us to believe in him, as Abraham did, apart from the experiences of life, enabling us to redefine reality and pursue life’s journey in faith and trust.

The author ended the previous paragraph with the admonition to endure in faith in order to receive the promise of God.  Now he devotes all of chapter 11 to faith—its definition (Vss. 1-3) and examples of what faith has enabled people, including Abraham, to accomplish.

V. 1.  elpizomenōn hypostasis = “the reality of things hoped for”:  See 1:3 where hypostasis is the “nature” of God (parallel to his doxa = “glory”). At 3:14 “the beginning of hypostasis” refers to the reality of God on which the life of the community is based; at 11:1, therefore, hypostasis is the divine reality present in the faith of the community.  (See Koester, TDNT VIII:  584-88.)  For a different use of the term in Paul, see 2 Cor. 9:4; 11:17.

V. 1.  pragmatōn elegchos ou blepomenōn = “the proof of things one does not see”: The expression seems to mean that the heavenly world alone is reality. The definition of faith, however, recalls Jesus’ words at John 20:29.

V. 3. Pistei nooumen katērtisthai tous aiōnas rēmati thou theou = “By faith we understand that the world(s) was/were created/prepared by the word of God”: At 1:2 the author writes about God’s Son “through whom also he created (epoiēsen) the world(s) (tous aiōnos).” The understanding of God’s creating the world by the word begins, of course, in Genesis 1, but it also occurs at Psalm 33:6. See also Isa. 45:18-19. In the NT, John 1:3 attests to this same belief.

V. 12. kai tauta nenekrōmenou = “and him as good as dead”: The unflattering description of Abraham appears also at Romans 4:19 where Paul describes the patriarch’s faith. At Isaiah 51:2, the prophet calls his readers to remember their parents Abraham and Sarah, “for when he was but one, I called him,…”

V. 12. The quotation about the stars derives from Genesis 15:5, and the combination with the grains of sand has its origin in Genesis 22:17.

V. 13. kai homologēsantes hoti zenoi kai parepidēmoi eisin epi tēs gēs = “and having acknowledged that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”: Abraham makes such an admission at Genesis 23:4 when he asked the Hittites for a piece of property to bury Sarah. The Apostle Paul alludes to a similar understanding when he describes the Christian’s “commonwealth” as “in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). See v. 16 in the present paragraph.


Luke 12:32-40
God is pleased to give the kingdom, the heavenly treasure, to those who are ready and wait in hope for the indeterminable day.

Still on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the thousands of multitudes who were stepping on one another in 12:1-21.  At v. 22 Jesus turns his attention specifically to his disciples, admonishing them to put material things in perspective and trust in the loving care of God.  That conversation continues here.

Two Themes
(1)  The gift of the kingdom enables believers to determine what the treasure is and how we get it (vv. 32-34).
(2)  Watchfulness and faithfulness mark the life journey of the believer who knows where the treasure is (vv. 35-40).
(a) Admonition to watchfulness during master’s absence.
(b) Parable about a householder on guard against a burglar.

Key Words
V. 32.  mē phobou = “do not fear”:  The words are common in OT when overwhelming odds seem to face the people of God (Exod. 14:13; Deut. 7:21; 20″1) or when God is present to make an announcement of importance (Gen. 15:1; Isa. 41:14; 43:1; 54:4).  Common also in Luke: 1:13; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50.

V. 32.  eudokēsen ho patēr hymōn = “your Father is pleased”:  See also Gal. 1:15-16; Col. 1:19 for God as the subject of eudokeo.

V. 32.  dounai hymin tēn basileian = “to give you the kingdom”:  Recall Dan. 7:13-14 where the “one like a son of man” (the saints of the Most High, i.e., the faithful martyrs) “was given” the kingdom by the Ancient of Days.

V. 33.  thēsauron … en tois ouranois = “a treasure in the heavens”:  Elsewhere, see Luke 12:21; 16:9; 18:22. Paul refers to the gospel itself as the “treasure” we have in earthen vessels.

V. 35.  hymōn hai osphues periezōsmenoi = “gird your loins”:  Common in OT:  Exod. 12:11; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 4:29; 9:1 for tucking up the robe and moving on quickly.

For further commentary see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV).  The Anchor Bible.  (New York:  Doubleday, 1985):  977-989.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 84: Lectionary 18 (10 Pentecost), Year C (August 1, 2010) July 17, 2010

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Lectionary 18 (10 Pentecost)

Nothing, it seems, makes people more anxious than the daily gyrations in the stock market. The precipitous drops in the Dow Jones raise our insecurity levels over our pensions, our budgets, our present life-styles, and our well-strategized futures. All that is completely understandable for life in the world. The problem is that our stress over our attempts at security can rob us of the opportunity to receive what God is so willingly giving away free!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 84: Lectionary 18 (10 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 49:1-12
The poem, accompanied with music according to verse 4, is a wisdom psalm. The disharmony of the whole piece, however, is the fact that the composer uses all the ingredients at the disposable of an ancient wisdom teacher to put wisdom in its place. The song attacks the traditional teaching of wisdom that success is a matter of learning and doing all the right things. The tradition teaches that the good are rewarded and the wicked are punished. Yet the refrain in this psalm is that “Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish” (vss. 12, 20). Only one verse in the song of instruction provides the answer to this human dilemma: “”But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (v. 15).


Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
The Preacher, impersonating King Solomon who was known for wisdom and pleasure, concludes, after having experienced both, that both are worthless goals in life even if both are gifts from God.

In this first part of the book the Preacher judges everything to be vanity, that is, worthless striving.  Even the processes of nature are part of a monotonous cycle.  Portraying himself as King Solomon who had gained all that the human imagination could hope for, the Preacher indicates that he put all his wisdom and wealth and pleasure to the test, and discovered they were not worth the trouble in attaining them.

Key Words
2:18-24.  ‘āmēl = “labor” and “the results of labor”:  Here the Hebrew word is used with both meanings, thus “labor” and “wealth.”

2:19.  leya’ēš = “to despair”:  The same root word appears at Jer. 2:25; 18:12; Isa. 57:10 to express hopelessness.


Colossians 3:1-11
God calls those who have been baptized into Christ’s death and raised to a new humanity to live according to their identity in the name of Christ.

Beginning at 2:20 the author attempts to define what the new life in Christ means for the believer, particularly in terms of the contrast with the ways of the world.  According to the final verses of chapter 2, submission to regulations is part of worldly attitude which the Christian is to leave.

Key Words
V. 2.  ta anō … ta epi tēs gēs = “things above … things on earth”:  The “earthly things” are described in vv. 5, 8, 9;  the contrast appears in vv. 12-17.

V. 3.  apethanete = “you have died”:  According to  2:20, by baptism Christians died to the “elemental spirits of the universe”;  cf. Rom. 6:4; 7:4; 2 Cor. 14-15.

V. 5.  nekrōsate oun ta melē = “therefore mortify your limbs”:  What follows seems to mean immoral use of our limbs; cf. 1 Cor. 6:15.

V. 5.  tēn pleonexian hētis estin eidōlolatria = “covetousness which is idolatry”:  See the same formula at Eph. 5:5; for the relationship of pleonexia and sins of sensuality, see 1 Cor. 5:10; 6:10; 2 Pet. 2:14.

V. 10.  kat’ eikona tou ktisantos auton = “according to the image of its Creator”:  cf. Gen. 1:27; also Col. 1:15.


Luke 12:13-21
Against our attempts to fragment ourselves and establish our importance in material possessions, God, Jesus the teacher tells us, requires of us to seek the kingdom and enjoy the nurturing of God.

Parallel Passage:  Psalm 49

Before addressing the multitudes, Jesus warned his disciples about Pharisaic hypocrisy, about whom to fear, and about denying him. To be avoided, Jesus teaches, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, even when on trial. Now Luke, sometimes called “the gospel for the poor,” reports Jesus’ teaching about the vanity of wealth.

Key Words
V. 13.  tēn klēronomian = “the inheritance”:  See Num. 27:1-11; for the double portion of the inheritance assigned to the first-born and for the death penalty on one who complains about it (see also Deut. 21:15-21).

V. 14.  tis me katestēsen kritēn ē meristēn eph’ hymas = “Who made me judge and divider over you?”:  cf. Exod. 2:14 where the words Tis se katestēsen archonta kai dikastēn eph hēmōn = “Who made you ruler and judge over us” are addressed to Moses.

V. 15.  pleonexias = “covetousness”:  At Col. 3:5 and Eph. 5:5 the form of covetousness is idolatry.

V. 20.  “Whose will they be?”:  See Ps. 39:6:  “one who heaps up and knows not who will gather”;  cf. also Eccles. 2:18-19.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 83: Lectionary 17 (9 Pentecost), Year C (July 25, 2010) July 11, 2010

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Lectionary 17 (9 Pentecost)

Like Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, “I’m so sick of words,” especially my own, I admit. We hear thousands of words every day—words about the weather, the economy, the local and worldwide sports events, politics. We listen to words that range from brilliant to stupid. We stress over some words and laugh over others. We “get words all day,” says Liza. So does God! Yet God does not seem to get sick of our words. In fact, the biblical records indicate that God keeps inviting words. God seems particularly pleased when we use our words for the sake of others. The strange thing is that God keeps responding to our words and so keeps getting more of them. That response we call God’s Word, and if we would stop listening to all the people talk, then we might miss out on what God is saying to us even in the midst of the superabundance of their words.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 83: Lectionary 17 (9 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 138
The psalm of thanksgiving celebrates the realization that God answers prayers.  In doing so God enables the worshiper to see that his/her salvation is part of the ongoing work of God that reaches out to the lowly.  The recognition of this saving work causes even the kings of the earth to acknowledge the power and glory of God.  The experience of answered prayer leads the worshiper to plead that God’s work never cease.


Genesis 18:20-32
Because of the divine promise given to Abraham, God revealed the purpose for the visit to Sodom and Gomorrah, allowing Abraham to advocate for those cities so that God remembers the promises about a nation.

Genesis 12:1-3 announced to the Israel of the Davidic-Solomonic period both God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah and God’s use of them to be the source of blessing for the families of the land.  In 18:16-19 God deliberates over that call and responsibility.

Key Words
V. 18.  we’abrāhām hāyô yihyeh legôy gādôl we‘ātsûm wenibrekû bô kōl gôyê hā’ārets = “and Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed by him”:  Note the repetition of the promise at Gen. 12:3; 22:17, 18; 26:4; 28:14; Gal. 3:8.

V. 19.  kî yeda‘tîw = “for I have known him”:  For Hebrew yd‘ as entering into an intimate relationship, see Gen. 4:1; 19:8; then see Amos 3:2.

Vv. 20-21. za‘aqat sedōm wa‘amōrâ = “cry for help of Sodom and Gomorrah”:  za‘aqâ/tsa‘a is a technical term designating a cry for help in the face of injustice or oppression; cf. Exod. 3:7; Deut. 22:23-27; Judg. 3:9; Job 19:7; Ps. 72:12; Isa. 30:18-19.  It is a cry from the oppressed rather than indignation against sexual immorality.  The nature of Sodom’s sin in prophetic memory and tradition seems to have been injustice against the poor in the courts, failure to care for the poor and needy, and infidelity to YHWH (see Isa. 1:10-17; 3:9; Jer. 23:14; Ezek. 16:49).

Vv. 22-32.  The entire negotiation on Abraham’s part for the benefit of Sodom and Gomorrah needs to be seen in light of a verse that is not included in our pericope, i.e., v. 18.

V. 25.  hašōphēt kol-hā’ārets lô’ ya‘asê mišpāt = “shall the one who is responsible for justice (in) all the earth not do what is just?”:  For the close connection between YHWH and mišpāt (justice) see Isa. 30:18; Deut. 32:4; Ps. 89:14; 97:2; 111:7; Job 8:3; 34:12; 37:23, and often.


Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Against all human attempts to inject foreign influences into the gospel of Jesus Christ, the author argues that in Christ we already have the fullness of life and the source of nourishment for growth that is from God.

These verses indicate that the motive for writing this letter was to combat the enticements of heresies that were creeping into the gospel which brought the church at Colossae into being.


Luke 11:1-13
Jesus provides to those who would pray the privilege to call God Father, so that they can ask for and expect the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Somewhere between Galilee and Jerusalem, after Jesus had visited the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus spoke these words.

Key Words
V. 1.  en topō tini = “in a certain place”:  In Luke’s Gospel, topos is not so much a description of a locale as a space in which Jesus can be interrupted; cf. Luke 4:42; 9:12; 22:40; 23:33.

V. 1.  proseuchomenon = “praying”:  The act of prayer is an emphasis throughout Luke’s Gospel: cf. 3:21; 6:12; 9:28-29; 22:41-46.

V. 2.  Pater = “Father”:  In the OT God is called “Father” both in terms of the people of Israel (Exod. 4:22-23; Jer. 31:9 [cf. 3:19]) and of the Davidic king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:26).

V. 3.  to kath’ hēmeran = “daily”; cf. Matt. 6:11:  sēmeron = “today.” Luke saves the word sēmeron for eschatological purposes (2:11; 4:21; 19:9; 23:43).

V. 4.  tas hamartias hēmōn = “our sins”:  cf. Matt. 6:12:  ta opheilēmata hēmōn = “our trespasses.”

V. 13.  ho patēr ex ouranou = “the Father from heaven”:  Note connection with v. 2, now with the addition of “from heaven” (cf. Matt. 6:9).

V. 13.  pneuma hagion = “Holy Spirit”:  The gift of the Holy Spirit now is held out to all who pray to God.  Thus far in Luke, the Holy Spirit was granted to a select few:  Mary (1:35), Zechariah (1:67), Simeon (2:26), Jesus (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18).  Now Luke anticipates the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 82: Lectionary 16 (8 Pentecost), Year C (July 18, 2010) July 8, 2010

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Lectionary 16 (8 Pentecost)

In ancient times, hospitality was the means by which people cared for one another. Lacking Holiday Inns and McDonalds, the people opened to hungry travelers their kitchens and the shelter of their roofs. The practice was both functional and honorable. In more modern times the concept has taken spiritual form, especially in the writings of Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen writes of the obligation of Christians “to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings.” Biblically speaking, the hospitality that undergirds all our openness — physical and spiritual — to others, even strangers, is that of God. God the Father and God the Son welcome and serve people in order to be faithful to their promises.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 82: Lectionary 16 (8 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 15
Like Psalm 24 and other pilgrimage psalms, this one begins with the question on the part of the pilgrim about qualifications to enter the sanctuary of the Lord.  Far more than a building, the sanctuary is the earthly home of God where the Lord offers hospitality to the afflicted and to the humble. What follows the question of verse 1 is the answer of the priest in verses 2-5. Strikingly, the entrance ticket is not about ritual but ethical or moral requirements.  The assumption here is that humans are indeed capable of obedience, and that through their obedience they can enjoy the hospitality of God.


Genesis 18:1-10a
Against the attempts of Abraham and Sarah to take the matter of progeny into their own hands and in spite of the laughing response, God, the guest, serves the aging couple by restating the promise of progeny made to them twenty-four years earlier.

The first set of God’s promises to Abraham and Sara appear in Genesis 12:1-3. Among them is the promise that they will become “a great nation.” The first step toward realizing that promise requires the birth of their own children. Chapter 15:1-6 reports the attempt on the part of Abraham to adopt a son in order that they might have an heir, but God reiterates the promise that his own son will be born and through him a multitude of descendants will grow. Chapter 16 tells of the attempt of Abraham and Sarah to have a child through her maid Hagar. God responds negatively to both attempts, insisting once more (chap.17) that the promised heir will be born to the aging couple.

Key Words
V. 1.  be’ēlōnê mamrē’ = “by the oaks of Mamre”:  At 14:13, 24 Mamre is the name of an Amorite who was the brother of Eshcol and Aner.

Vv. 4-5.  “let a little water be brought … a morsel of bread”:  In contrast to the meager offerings, Abraham and Sarah prepare a feast of cakes, meat, curds, and milk.  The action is typical of Middle Eastern hospitality to invite as though it is no bother to the host and then to serve much more.

V. 10.  wehinne-bēn lesārâ ’ištekā = “behold, a son will be to Sarah your wife”:  At 17:19 the words are sârâ’ištekā yōledet lekā bēn = “Sarah your wife is bearing for you a son.”  The implication of the participle in 17:19 is that Sarah is already pregnant; see the use of the participle in the same sense at Isa. 7:14.  In any case, the promise is used by Paul at Rom. 9:9 to emphasize the role of God’s promise.

V. 10.  kā‘ēt chayyâ = “at the living time”: The time is the spring, when the animals bear their young and the crops grow in the fields; cf. 2 Kings 4:16, 17 in connection with the birth of a child.


Colossians 1:15-28
On the basis of the identity of Christ as God’s image and his role in creation and redemption, God’s salvation extends to all, along with the responsibilities the gospel entails.

Having written the salutation and the first part of the prayer for the community’s steadfastness (vv. 9-20), the author now expresses the reason for his interest in the Colossians.

Structure of verses 15-20:  a hymn of two stanzas

Stanza one                                                        Stanza two

the image of the invisible God                the head of the body, the church

the first-born of all creation                   the first-born from the dead

for in him all things                                for in him all the fullness of God

through him all things were                    and through him to reconcile to

created through him and for him                      himself all things

Key Words
V. 19.  eudokēsan pan to plērōma katoikēsai = “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”:  God is pleased with his Son (Matt.3:17 and parallels; 17:5).  God is pleased to “give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  God is pleased to “save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).  God “was pleased to reveal his Son to” Paul (Gal. 1:15).


Luke 10:38-42
In response to the frustration of those who “do” service continually, Jesus calls for hearing his word as the “good portion” which will not be taken away.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (vv. 25-37) dealt with the need to do service for the needy neighbor; now comes a warning about the frustrations of such service when one does not avail oneself of hearing the word of God as well.  As for the sisters Mary and Martha, while they have attained fame through this story, they appear nowhere else in Luke’s Gospel. However, they figure prominently in John (John 11–12) about the resurrection of Lazarus, their brother and the anointing of Jesus in advance for his burial.  When Jesus arrived at their home in Bethany, it was Martha who spoke with him first while Mary sat in the house (John 11:20).

Key Words
V. 38.  eis kōmēn tina = “a certain village”:  According to John 11:1ff; 12:2f., Martha and Mary lived in Bethany.  For Luke’s purposes, the location is so close to Jesus’ final destination in Jerusalem that he leaves the village unnamed.

V. 39.  ēkouen ton logon autou = “she listened to his word”:  The traditional role of the woman is broken here, and the change is affirmed by Jesus.  To “sit at the feet of” a master teacher appears at Acts 22:3 to describe Paul’s education as a Jew by Gamaliel.

V. 41.  merimnas kai thorubazē = “anxious and troubled”:  On “anxious” see 1 Cor. 7:32-35; also Matt. 5:27-34.

V. 42.  tēn agathēn merida = “the good portion”:  The expression sometimes occurs as a metaphor derived from a diner’s menu; see Gen. 43:34. The metaphor is appropriate in the context of the hospitality they offer Jesus and Jesus offers them.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 81: Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost), Year C ( July 11, 2010) June 28, 2010

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Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost)

How easy it is for groups of believers to lose the theological foundations that defined them in the first place! Sometimes cultural influences so overwhelm the communities of believers that they have trouble sorting out the foundation from the later construction. Sometimes attempts to control others by appealing to their fears causes the virtual replacement of basic beliefs by new requirements. In face of such human-caused confusion, God nevertheless sends spokespersons in every generation to call us back to basics, no matter how threatened the cultural and religious traditions might become.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 81: Lectionary 15 (7 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 25:1-10
This acrostic psalm is a lament in which a pious worshipper pleads that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame. Typical of a lament, the worshipper acknowledges a history of God’s mercy and counts on it in the present situation to forgive sins. Wrapped up in this divine mercy are God’s salvation (v. 5), steadfast love, and faithfulness (vss. 7, 10). Along with the petitions are elements of Wisdom as the psalmist prays for instruction to bear the present time in faithfulness. (The plea for forgiveness in v. 7 is repeated in vv. 11 and 18.)


Deuteronomy 30:9-14
In response to the curses Israel brought upon herself through infidelity to the Lord, God promises to restore prosperity to the people and makes the word accessible to them so that they might do it.

With the end of the so-called “covenant code” at 28:68, chapters 29-33 represent a collection of various kinds of material before the Book of Deuteronomy comes to a close with the death of Moses and the succession of Joshua. Chapter 29 attempts to link the book to the Sinai covenant by including exhortations to the people within the context of a historical summary. Chapter 30 reiterates the blessing and curse theme of 27:1ff. and looks forward to that distant future when the Lord will bring Israelites back to their land from their dispersion in other lands. This pericope is part of a promise to exiles that God has not and will not forsake them in their despair.


Parallel Passage:  Jeremiah 32

Key Words
V. 9.  wehôtîre = “and (God) will cause to remain over”: God will prosper the people, i.e., make their lives abundant. For the opposite of the blessings promised here, see the results of the curses at 28:25-35.

V. 9.  kî yāšûb YHWH lāsûs ‘ālekā= “for the Lord will turn to rejoicing over you”:  Compare  Jer. 32:41:  wesastî ‘alêhem = “I will rejoice over you.”

V. 10.  hakketûbâ besēpher hattôrâ hazzeh = “which are written in this instruction”:  The torah mentioned here is the code of chaps. 12-26.

V. 12-13.  “ascend to heaven”:  Recall Ps. 139:8 which speaks of the impossibility of escaping the presence of God.

V. 14.  “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”:  To the exiles in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., these words responded to their cry that the Lord had forsaken them (see Isa. 40:27; 49:15; Ezek. 37:11). Note Paul’s use of this verse to speak of the gospel (Rom. 10:8).


Colossians 1:1-14
The gospel of Jesus Christ fills the community with faith, love, and hope, causing the Apostle to give thanks and to pray that they lead lives worthy of the Lord in spite of the invasion of heresies (2:8).

The congregation at Colossae, a city in Asia Minor, was founded by Epaphras (1:7) who was a native of the city (4:12). The purpose of the letter is to address the influence of heresies and to encourage the church to remain faithful to the traditions that they had learned from the beginning. This pericope includes the author’s salutation (vv. 1-2), the thanksgiving for the community’s faith (vv. 3-8), and the first part of the prayer for the community’s steadfastness (vv. 9-20).  While some scholars defend Pauline authorship, the style and content seem to point to someone else as the author of the epistle.


Luke 10:25-37
In response to the lawyer’s testing Jesus about eternal life and the identity of one’s neighbor, Jesus responded with a parable about the Good Samaritan indicating how the lawyer can be a neighbor by doing the Torah.

rom some point on the way between Samaria and Jerusalem, Jesus had received the seventy whom he had commissioned to announce the kingdom of God. On that occasion Jesus offered a prayer of thanksgiving that God had hidden “these things” from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes. In vv. 23-24 Jesus seems to identify the “babes” as the disciples who see him and hear his word.


Parallel Passage:  2 Chronicles 28:1-15

Synoptic Parallels: Matthew 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31

Key Words

V. 25.  nomikos = “lawyer”:  The man is an expert in the law of Moses.

V. 27.  “You shall love the Lord …”:  The commandment appears at Deut. 6:5 which immediately follows the well-known Shema; cf. also Deut. 10:12; Josh. 22:5.

V. 27.  kai ton plēsion sou hōs seauton = “and your neighbor as yourself”:  The command appears at Lev. 19:18 (part of the Holiness Code) where “neighbor” is “one of your own people.”  Here “neighbor” is defined not according to Jewish law or even as the object of love but as the subject of loving care.

V. 28.  touto poiei kai zēsē = “do this and you shall live”:  Recall Lev. 18:5:  by doing God’s statutes and ordinances “a person shall live”; cf. also Deut. 30:9-14.  The gift of life is connected with a person’s repentance at Ezek. 18:32.  Jesus does not seem to have difficulty relating good works to the promise of life, as was indeed his tradition.

V. 30.  katebainen = “went down”:  The elevation of Jerusalem is above sea level, while Jericho is more than 800 feet below sea level.

Vv. 31-33.  antiparēlthen … antiparēlthen … ēlthen = “passed by … passed by … came”:  The Greek demonstrates the contrast by use of the same root word.  The word antiparēlthen appears only here in the entire NT.

V. 34. epemelēthē autou = “took care of him”:  The words also appear to describe the work assigned to the innkeeper in v. 35.  Apart from here the word occurs only in the LXX at Gen.44:21 (Joseph’s offer for Benjamin) and Sirach 30:25.

V. 37.  ho poiēsas to eleos met’ autou = “the one who did mercy with him”: then poreuou kai su poiei homoiōs = “go and do likewise.”  Note the connection with the command to keep the law in verse 28, indicating that the one who keeps the law about loving God and neighbor acts like the Samaritan in caring for a needy person.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 80: Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost), Year C (July 4, 2010) June 27, 2010

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Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost)

God’s generosity can cause problems among people. For one reason or another, some folks think they have a corner on the market of God’s love and grace. The problem is as commonplace today as it was in the days of the Bible. The Jonah-syndrome occurred again and again among the people of Israel and in the early church. God, however, proves both persistent and consistent in extending to the world grace and forgiveness and love all the way into the kingdom to come.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 80: Lectionary 14 (6 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 66:1-9
Our verses belong to the first part of the psalm (vss. 1-12) in which a choir of singers praises the Lord, along with “all the earth.” The universal praise derives from God’s gracious actions for Israel when the Lord “turned the sea into dry land” so they could cross over—referring both to the exodus (Exod. 14:21-22) and to the gift of land (Josh. 3:14-17). The second part of the psalm is an individual thanksgiving as a grateful response to the Lord’s listening to the petitioner’s prayer. Whether for the community or the individual, God’s responds to cries for help with redemption.


Isaiah 66:10-14
In response to the attitude that God’s salvation event is only partial, God assures that what has been conceived will culminate in the celebration of birth and in continuing nurture of God’s people while simultaneously the nations who had oppressed the “child” will know God’s judgment.

Within a passage about God’s coming to judge the whole earth (vv. 6, 15-16), verses 7-14 form a separate unit describing the salvation of Israel in the post-exilic period.  In this way the promise of salvation to Israel is set within a larger apocalyptic event of God’s universal act.

Key Words
V. 10.  simchû … wegîlû … sîsû = “rejoice … be glad … rejoice”:  The call to rejoice over Jerusalem is common in Third Isaiah; see 61:10; 62:5; 65:18. The joy represents the opposite of what people were experiencing at the time.

V. 11.  tîneqû ûšeba’tem miššōd tanchûeyhā_ = “you will suck and be satisfied from her comforting breast”:  The imagery continues the miraculous birth of Zion’s children in vv. 7-9.

V. 12.  ûkenachal š_t_p kebôd g_yîm = “and like an overflowing stream the wealth of the nations”:  For similar imagery see 60:5; 61:6. Since Israel has been the pawn of the nations for the previous centuries, this image once more represents the opposite of what has been.

V. 13.  tenachamennû … ‘anachemkem … ten_ch_mû = “comforts … comfort … be comforted”:  The emphasis on “comfort” has been carried from Second Isaiah (40:1; 49:13 [also the reason for song]; 51:3, 12; 52:9 [// “redeemed”]).


Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16
People who live by the Spirit are called to share all things with one another — burdens, the word, goodness, for they are a new creation to whom the world has been crucified.

These words essentially bring the Epistle to the Galatians to a close.  Immediately preceding this pericope, however, is Paul’s discussion about people of the Spirit living by the Spirit, and that means above all harmony within the Spirit-filled community.

Key Words
V. 1.  hymeis hoi pneumatikoi = “you who are of the Spirit”:  RSV‘s “you who are spiritual” sounds a bit lofty and generally religious.  NRSV‘s “you who have received the Spirit” is more appropriate, particularly in light of the use of Spirit elsewhere in the epistle, even at the end of chap. 5.

V. 15.  kainē ktisis = “a new creation”:  Paul uses the same words to describe a Christian (whoever is “in Christ”) at 2 Cor. 5:17 where the eschatological emphasis is even clearer.  Here the allusion to people of the Spirit (à la Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) accomplishes the same purpose.


Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In order to prepare people for his coming, Christ sends disciples ahead, commissioning them to proclaim the kingdom of God in word and deed and encouraging them to rejoice in the promised eternal home.

Beginning at 9:51, Luke’s Gospel reports the itinerary of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.  At the outset of this trip, Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan villagers and then laid down the radical demands on those who would follow him.

Key Words
V. 1.  anedeixen = “appointed”:  For “70,” see Num. 11:16; Exod. 24:1, 9.

V. 1.  apesteilen = “sent”:  The term is common in LXX to describe the action of God in accomplishing divine purposes through humans; cf., e.g., Moses (Exod. 3:10), Isaiah (Isa. 6:8), the prophets in general (Jer. 7:25).

V. 2.  tou therismou = “of the harvest”:  See also Matt. 9:37f.; John 4:35.

V. 19.  “tread upon serpents and scorpions”:  Note the similarity with Ps. 91:13 where authority and power to do so are given to those who trust in God. The use of the serpent under the human foot is different at Gen. 3:15.

V. 20. chairete de hoti ta onomata hymōn eggegraptai en tois ouranois = “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”:  At Exod. 32:32-33 and Ps. 69:28 the blotting out of names from the book God has written comes as a result sinfulness. According to Isa. 4:3, inclusion in the book means “recorded for life.” Similarly, Paul’s uses that image for his co-workers in the gospel (Phil. 4:3). Further, the author of Hebrews speaks to the suffering Christians as the first-born who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). The expression, in other words, takes on eschatological significance.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 15: Sunday of the Passion, Year B (April 5, 2009) March 19, 2009

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Sunday of the Passion

This day begins the week that defines the Christian faith. When Jesus enters the area of Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the fulfillment of his teachings about suffering and death begin to unfold. Apart from his own identity, the events that unfold have no more meaning for us than the unjust, undeserved, and horrible execution of any person, past or present. But Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is the issue that distinguishes this week from all others. And the ways in which the writers of the New Testament told the story of the Passion provide the events with meaning. That meaning, that message, that news, gave new life and a future with hope to the early followers of Jesus, for those who have became Jesus’ disciples for two millennia and for us today.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 15: Sunday of the Passion, Year B.


Psalm 31:9-16
The psalm is one of lament and thanksgiving. The psalmist laments the suffering of some chronic malady and is now on the verge of a violent death. In verses 1 and 17 appears the plea “not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:7). The petitioner has become such a sorry sight that not only enemies but also friends have rejected him. In the midst of his worst hour the psalmist realizes that pouring out such a lament is not a complaint against God but a petition to a God who cares and understands. To this God the psalmist surrenders in faith and trust, especially in the words that Jesus quotes from the cross (Ps. 31:5 at Luke 23:46). The thanksgiving at verses 21-24 brings the psalm to a close.


Isaiah 50:4-9a
God enables the servant to endure suffering in order to be the Lord’s witness in a hostile world.

The passage is the third of the so-called “servant songs” in Second Isaiah, the others being (1) 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (4) 52:13–53:12. The speaker of songs 1 and 4 is the Lord, while in 2 and 3 the speaker is the servant himself. The identity of the servant has been the subject of scholarly debate for centuries, answers ranging from the prophet himself, to the king, to the exiled people of Jerusalem, and of course, to Jesus. The immediate context is interesting since vv. 1-3 speak of the Lord as having the power to deliver the people from their exile and then our verses attest to God’s accomplishing that deed through the servant.

Key Words
V. 4.  limmûddîm = “those who are taught”:  The expression appears twice in this verse but nowhere else in this exact form. The term seems to imply the gift of wisdom, i.e., those who are wise, perhaps even “a teacher” (NRSV). The purpose of this God-given wisdom is not for the servant’s own glory but “to sustain the weary (yā‘ēp) with a word.” The weary can include even “youths” who are exiles in Babylon, but the Lord who does not grow weary “shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:28-31).

V. 6.  gēwî nātattî  lemakkîm ûlechāyay lemōretîm = “I gave my back to those who smite and my cheek to those who make bare (by pulling out the beard)”:  The submission to an act of violence sounds like that at Neh. 13:25.

V. 7.  kî-lō’ ’ēbôš = “for I shall not be put to shame”:  the same expression occurs in the wisdom Psalm 119 at v. 6. The plea to never “be put to shame” appears in Ps. 31:1, 17. Note the repeated concern about not being put to shame at Ps. 25:2, 3, 20. This psalm of lament contains also the plea that the Lord “teach” the petitioner (vss. 4-5) along with all those “that fear the Lord” (v. 12).

V. 9.  kullām kabbeged yiblû = “all of them will wear out like a garment”:  The imagery appears also in terms of the created order at Ps. 102:26 and Isa. 51:16 in contrast to YHWH who remains forever.


Philippians 2:5-11
The humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ causes the entire universe to bow at his name and confess him as Lord, so that God might be glorified.

Paul wrote this epistle from prison, but we do not know which one. If this imprisonment was the one in Rome (Acts 28:14-31), he wrote the letter about 59-60. If his imprisonment was in the one in Caesarea, described at Acts 23:33—26:32), then he wrote about 56-58. If, however, this imprisonment is in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:30ff; 2 Cor. 1:8ff.), then he wrote this epistle between 53-55. In any case, at 1:27 Paul turns to issues of life style among the Christians at Philippi. Against opponents who teach a false gospel, Paul urges them to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving for the faith of the gospel.” Here he provides the hymn to demonstrate Jesus as the role model for humility. Jesus’ humiliation paves the way to exaltation, a theme that Paul takes in a slightly different direction at 2 Corinthians 8:9: “… that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

The verses represent a pre-Pauline hymn or creed. The word hos in v. 6 is typical of the beginning of creeds and hymns; see 1 Tim. 3:16. Attempts to define its origin have ranged from a Christian Aramaic psalm to a Hellenistic myth about the first human.

Key Words
V. 5.  phroneite = “have an attitude”:  While the words are different, especially in Greek, one wonders about the connection with the “transformed mind” Paul urges in Romans 12:2.

Vv. 6-7.  morphē theou … morphēn doulou:  “form of God … form of servant”:  The contrast alone explains the significance of the term for Paul. The LXX word for “image (of God)” in Gen. 1:26-27 is eikōn not morphē; only in Dan. 3:19 is Hebrew/Aramaic tselem (“image”) translated by morphē in LXX.

V. 6.  harpagmon = “robbery, prize, booty, a thing to be grasped for or held on to”:  Since Christ already had the “form” and did not need to grasp for it; the translation “held on to” seems more appropriate.

Vv. 10-11. The words “every knee should bow, and every tongue confess” are virtually identical to the LXX rendering of Isaiah 45:23. There “all the ends of the earth” shall worship God. Here the picture is even bigger.


Mark 14:1—15:47
Because of who he was and who the crowd claimed him to be, Jesus died. his death is described by the pattern of the psalms of lament.

1. The anointing by the woman: 14:3-92.

2. The Identity of Jesus on Trial

  • 14:53-65 Jesus appears before the religious authorities. The High priest asks: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answers: “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” For references on the use of “I AM” see : Exod 3:1-15; 20:1; Leviticus (manyentries throughout); Isaiah 40—55; Mark 6:50; John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:4-6
  • 15:1-5: Jesus’ identity is on trial before Pilate
    Pilate asks: “Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus answers: “You have said so.”
  • 15:16-20: The soldiers mock Jesus “Hail, King of the Jews!”
    The title written: “The King of the Jews”
    Chief priests and scribes mock Jesus: “Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
    Centurion: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1, 11; 3:11; 9:7; Ps. 22:27)

3. The use of Psalm 22 and other psalms of lament

  • 15:34: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1)
  • 14:18 “One of you will betray me, who is eating with me” using lament Psalm 41:9: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”
  • 14:34 “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” using lament Psalm 42:6, 11: “My soul is cast down within me”
  • 15:24 They crucified him (Ps. 22:16: “they have pierced my hands and my feet”)
  • 15:24 They divided his garments among them, casting lots for them (Ps. 22:19)
  • 15:29 They derided him, wagging their heads (Ps. 22:7: “All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, wagging their heads.”)
  • 15:36 One ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, gave it to him to drink (Ps. 69:21: “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”)

Why the use of psalms of lament, especially Psalm 22?

  • 15:39 Centurion: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1, 11; 3:11; 9:7; Ps. 22:27)
  • 14:22-25 The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
    Jesus says: “Take eat; this is my body…. This is my blood of the covenant (Exod 24:3-8; Zech. 9:11), which is poured out for any. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Ps. 22:26)

4. “Who killed Jesus?” (14:27 using Zech. 13:7)

Wrestling with the Word, episode 14: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 29, 2009) March 10, 2009

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

The lessons for this day leave no ambiguity about the depth of human sinfulness and the extent to which God goes to make us new. Rather than separating us into groups of good or evil, or bad and not-quite-that-bad, the Bible forces us to deal with our complicity in the rebellion of all humanity against God. Likewise, the forgiveness of God extends not simply to certain people but to all people so that all our lives and our life together might honor and glorify God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 14: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B.


Psalm 51:1-12
This penitential psalm is striking because it focuses not on material sufferings but on spiritual ones. 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. 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. Such forgiveness results in the newness of life that can come only from God (see Jer. 31:31-34).


Jeremiah 31:31-34
In contrast with the past and present brokenness between God and the people, God promises in the expected “Day of the Lord” a new covenant that will bring all the people into an intimate relationship with God.

The call of Jeremiah at 1:4-10 indicates that the young man is given that word of God that “plucks up and breaks down,” but also that “builds and plants.” Much of the first part of the book contains sermons that  indeed “pluck up and break down.” The judgment came in 597 BCE when the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar plundered the temple treasures and took as captives many of the leading citizens of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s preaching continued back home for those who were left behind, and to the exiles he sent a letter, encouraging the exiles to make Babylon their home until a distant date when God would bring them back (29:4-28). Beginning at chapter 30 the prophet begins his “building and planting,” for the word of God is bringing comfort to the afflicted (see 31:28).

Key Words
V. 31. hinnê yāmîm bā’îm = “Lo (the) days are coming”: Used as an equivalent to “the Day of the Lord” or “on that day,” “in those days,” “in the latter days.” This expression is particularly common in Jeremiah, sometimes as the time of judgment (7:32; 9:25; 48:12; 51:47, 52) but most often for the salvation of Israel and Judah (16:14; 23:5; 31:27; 31:31, 38; 33:14). The phrase is used also in Amos as a time of judgment (4:2; 8:11) and of peace (9:13). See also Luke 17:22; 23:29.

V. 31. berît chadāšâ = “a new covenant”: Only here in OT but used at 2 Cor. 3:6 and Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24.

V. 32. weānōkî bā‘altî = “and I was their husband”: For the relationship of YHWH to Israel as a husband, see also Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:20; Hos. 2:16.

V. 33. wehāyîtî lāhem lēlôhîm wehēmmâ yihyû-lî le‘ām = and I will be God for them, and they shall be to me a people”: The same expression appears at 24:7; Ezek. 11:20; 37:23, 27; Zech. 8:8. The first part of the expression “I will be God for them” appears also at Gen. 17:8.  The term appears, therefore, to be a priestly formula, for all the authors of the passages cited were trained to be priests.

V. 34. de‘û ‘et-YHWH = “know the Lord”: the expression seems to have something to do with receiving the word of the Lord at 1 Sam. 3:7, with worship by the Egyptians at Isa. 19:21, with a marital bond at Hos. 2:20. The Hebrew word “to know” appears often to denote an intimate relationship rather than mere awareness.

V. 34. kî ’eslach la‘avōnām ûlechattā’ām lō’ ’ezkor-‘ôd = “for I will forgive their sin and their iniquity I will no longer remember”: The Hebrew word “remember” means not simply the act of recalling but even of bringing into existence. Therefore, “not remember” actually indicates elimination. God’s threat to not remember Israel (Jer. 11:19; Ps. 83:5) or the Ammonites (Ezek. 21:32; 25:10) would make them extinct.


Hebrews 5:5-10
God appointed Jesus Christ, perfected by his suffering and faithful in obedience, as high priest so that he might serve as the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

The authorship of this epistle is impossible to determine, except for the fact that the author excelled in Greek, was quite proficient in the LXX, and had a sound knowledge of Greek philosophy. The work seems to be more an essay than a letter, and so the intended audience is also a mystery. Many scholars consider his purpose to rejuvenate Christians who were becoming too complacent. To make his point in the book, the author has written of the identity of Jesus (1:1—3:6a), asserting his superiority over the angels and over Moses, and has begun to admonish them to endure (3:6b—4:13). From 4:14—10:18, the author teaches what Jesus has accomplished. The end of the book returns to admonishments.

V. 5. Outōs kai ho Christos ouch heauton edoxasen genēthēnai archiera = “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest”: In the previous verses the author wrote that God chooses people to be high priests and that their function is to act on behalf of people and himself by offering sacrifices for sins. See Zechariah 3:1ff where God nominates Joshua ben Jozadak to be high priest; in the LXX his name is “Jesus.”

Vss. 5-6. The two quotes from the OT come from coronation psalms for Davidic kings in Jerusalem.  Psalm 110:4 speaks of Melchizedek as a priest. The author had previously quoted Psalm 2:7 at 1:15 as the first of several OT passages that demonstrate the superiority of Christ over the angels. The author will also Psalm 110:4 at 7:21. He devotes much of chapter 7 to a discussion of the priestly order of Melchizedek. In Genesis 14:17-24, Melchizedek is King of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of the god El Elyon (God Most High).

V. 7. meta kraugēs ischyras kai dakryōn = “with loud cries and tears”: The agony of Jesus demonstrates he was human and not a spirit. Elsewhere Jesus expresses the emotions of anger (Mark 3:5; John 2:16-17), grief (Luke 19:41; John 11:33-36), and agony (Mark 14:33). The author here explains that God heard these cries because of Jesus’ eulabias = “reverent emotion” (NRSV) or “godly fear” (RSV). In the LXX God hears the kraugēs = “cries for help” of the Hebrews in bondage and promises to save them through Moses (Exod. 3:7).

Vss. 8-9. “he learned obedience through what he suffered … he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”: The first part is reminiscent of Psalm 51, while the concluding words sound like those of the hymn Paul cites at Phil. 2:8.


John 12:20-33
On the basis of the visit by the Greeks, Jesus announces finally that the hour has come for him to be lifted up so that he might draw all people to himself.

This passage brings to a conclusion the so-called Book of Signs (chapters 1-12), and the words of Jesus here are his final public address in John’s Gospel. The pericope also draws to a conclusion a number of issues raised in chapters 11 and 12: the death of Lazarus “so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (11:4), death and resurrection (11:25-26), the gathering of the children of God beyond Israel into one (11:52), the fear of the Pharisees that “the world has gone after him” (12:19).

Parallels with the Synoptics
Vv. 25-26: losing and saving one’s life (Mark 8:34-36)
Vv. 27-28: the Gethsemane agony (Mark 14:34-36)
V. 28: hallowing God’s name by placing oneself at God’s will (Matt. 6:9-10)
V. 28: a voice from heaven (Mark 1:11; 9:7)

Key Words
V. 23. elēlythen hē hōra hina doxasthē ho huios tou anthrōpou = “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified”: Previously, Jesus had said the hour has not yet come (2:4) or promised that it is coming (4:21; 5: 28). At 4:23 and 5:25, Jesus says, “the hour is coming, and now is.” The evangelist also wrote that Jesus’ hour had not yet come (7:30; 8:20). Now that the hour has come, at 13:1 the evangelist connects “his hour” to Jesus’ departure from the world.

V. 27. nun hē psychē mou tetaraktai … sōsan me = “now my soul is troubled … save me”: the words are taken from Ps. 6:3-4, a psalm of lament. While Jesus utters the first part about the trouble, he rejects the psalm’s cry for help, since Jesus believes this suffering is his mission to fulfill for the glory of God. In Hebrews 5:7, our lesson for today, the author indicates that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” The tone of Psalm 51 resounds here. While Jesus utters the words common to laments, he rejects the psalm’s cry for help, since Jesus believes this suffering is his mission to fulfill for the glory of God.

V. 28. pater, doxasan sou to onoma = “Father, glorify your name”: In the OT, God often seeks glory, especially as a result of saving the people from their distress. Second Isaiah uses this “glory” motive quite often in connection with the deliverance from exile in Babylon: Isa. 40:5; 42:8;, 12; 43:7; 48:11. The Apostle Paul quotes a hymn that concludes with the goal of the humiliation-exaltation of Christ to be universe’s acknowledgement of God’s glory (Phil. 2:5-11).

V. 31. nun ho archōn tou kosmou toutou ekblēthēsetai exō= “now the prince of this world is cast out”: John uses this expression to refer to Satan (cf. 14:30; 16:11), but Paul comes close to this expression at 1 Cor. 2:6-8; 2 Cor. 4:4; see also Eph. 2:2; 6:12.

V. 32. kagō ean hypsōthō ek tēs gēs pantas elkysō pros emauton = “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself”: The reference to “lifted up” referred to the crucifixion at 3:14. Here, in spite of the evangelist’s reference to the manner of his “death” in v. 33, the verb seems to point as well to Jesus’ resurrection/ascension, that is, “from the earth.” The reference to “all” appears quite intentional in light of the appearance of the Greeks, that is, the representatives of the Gentile world, that is, the rest of humanity.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 13: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 22, 2009) February 28, 2009

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

The lessons for this day move from small beginnings to a big ending, from quite local scenes to universal ones. What holds them together is the saving work of God. God responds to cries for help by people in distress—no matter what the cause—and ultimately performs acts of salvation that reach out to people who do not even know who God is.

Couched in each passage is a special protocol: How do we respond to God’s gracious deeds? In thanksgiving? In faith? In good deeds? Actually, all of the above.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 13: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B.


Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
This psalm is both a liturgy of thanksgiving used in connection with the sacrifice of thanksgiving (vss. 1-32. 22) and a hymn or poem (vss. 33-43). The thanksgiving liturgy reiterates a variety of distressful situations in the life of the community: desert wanderers like caravan traders (vss. 4-5), prisoners (vss. 10-12), and the sick (vss. 17-18). In each case, the Lord delivered people from their distress after they had cried to the Lord for help (vss. 6, 13, 19, 28). The refrain calling for thanks (vv. 8-9, 15-16, 31-32) appears in our selected portion at vv. 21-22. Although the situation in these verses might sound like the wilderness event at Numbers 21:4-9, the situation is more general than that. Its message is that however often the people cried to the Lord for help, the Lord saved them from their fears. For that dependable response, the psalm calls on the people to give thanks through a meal (“thanksgiving sacrifices”) shared in the community of the faithful.


Numbers 21:4-9
God directs the people of Israel in spite of themselves and even against their wills toward the accomplishment and fulfillment of his promise.
God confronts the redeemed people on the frustrating road between salvation and fulfillment–judging them when they reject the gift of deliverance and preserving them when they look to the Lord in faith.

In some of Israel’s creeds (Josh. 24:2-13; see also Exod. 19:3-5), the wilderness tradition appears between the exodus and the entrance into the Promised Land. Canonically, the wilderness tradition occurs in Exodus 16-18 and picks up again after the Sinai tradition (Exod. 19–Num. 10) at Numbers 11. Throughout this material the people of Israel “murmur” against the Lord and against Moses for bringing them into this wasteland where there is neither water (Exod. 15:22-24; 17:2-3) nor food (Exod. 16:2-3). As the journey continues, they complain about the non-protein diet (Num. 11); about the authority of Moses (Num. 12); about enemies (Num. 14); again about Moses’ authority (Num. 16); again about lack of water (Num. 20). So outstanding is their murmuring that it became part of the history of the people, remembered even in their hymns (Ps. 78:17-20; 106:13-33).

Biblical Allusions
OT: Deuteronomy 8:11-20; 2 Kings 18:4
Apoc:    Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7
NT: John 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 10:9-10

Key Words
V. 4.  wattiqtsar nepheš hā‘ām baddarek = “the breath of the people became short at the journey”:  When the verb hiqtsît is used with nepheš (here) or rûach, both of which can mean “breath,” the expression means “reaching one’s limit of endurance” (cf. Job 21:4; Judg. 10:16; 16:16; Mic. 2:7; Zech. 11:8). At Judg. 10:16 and Zech. 11:8 the object of utter discouragement is introduced by the preposition b, as here. Thus, the people became discouraged not simply “on the way” but with/at the journey itself.

V. 6.  hannechāšîm hasserāphîm = “fiery serpents”:  One never knows what troubles one will find in the wilderness desert. The word is simply hannāchāš = “the serpent” in vv. 7 and 9. What Moses makes in v. 8 is simply a sārāph and in v. 9 a nechaš hannechōšet.

V. 8. asēh lekā sārāph wesîm ’ōthō ‘al-nēs = “Make for yourself a serpent and place it on a standard”: The translation of nēs as “pole” is understandable, but it would be the only time in the Hebrew Bible. Normally the word is translated as “standard,” “sign,” or “signal” (often in war). The LXX translates the Hebrew word with the Greek sēmeion = “sign,” and that might have been a reason the passage caught the attention of the evangelist John.

V. 9. wehibbît ‘el-nechaš hannechōšet wāchāy = ‘and one looked at the serpent of bronze, one would live.” The author(s) of the Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7 make clear that it is not the visible sign that “saved,” but “you, the Savior of all.”


Ephesians 2:1-10
Because Christians have died to sins and the way of life connected to sin, God makes us alive together with Christ so that we are what God has made us, created in Jesus Christ for good works.

This epistle by an unknown follower of Paul was probably written prior to A.D. 95. Though following Paul’s theology in many ways, the author makes some modifications, including the notion presented here that salvation by grace is a past act rather than one belonging to the present and future. In addition, that the good works to which the Christian is called have been prepared beforehand (v. 10) is a departure from Pauline theology. Nevertheless, the powerful contribution of this author is his understanding of the church as universal rather than simply a congregation (as in Paul). The lordship of Christ over the universe stands hand in hand with his description of the church.

Vss. 1-3: What is death and what is it like
Vss. 4-7:  What life is and what it’s like
Vss. 8-10: Amazing grace at work

Key Words
V. 2: kata ton aiōna tou kosmou toutou = “according to the aeon of this world”: Much of the distinction in the NT is not a matter of place but of time. See Romans 12:1-2.

V. 2. kata ton archonta tēs exousias tou aeros, tou pneumatos tou nun energountos = “according to the ruler of the authority of the air”: In the period of the NT writers, the devil, alias Satan, had authority over the present age. He promised to give it to Jesus if the Son of God would worship him (Luke 4:6). The authority of Jesus as God’s Son, however, was more powerful than that of Satan, and so Jesus was able to defeat the armies of Satan, the unclean spirits.


John 3:14-21
Just as the uplifted serpent served as God’s means of saving the lives of the rebellious people of Israel, so the crucified and resurrected Son of Man is God’s means of drawing the world to the cross to receive the gift of eternal life.

The pericope is set within the context of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus. Jesus responds to each of Nicodemus’ questions with an answer that begins “Truly, truly I say to you” (vv. 3, 5, 11). Scholars differ on how far to extend the third response. RSV, for example, concludes the quotation at the end of v. 15, while NRSV continues it through v. 21.

Key Words
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. Believing this message 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) might be saved (sōthē) through him”:  While the work of God in Jesus is described here in the third person, at 12:47, Jesus speaks in the first person of 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).

V. 19. “the light has come into the world”: John’s use of “light” to describe the Son’s appearance begins at 1:5-9, continues here through v. 21, and comes to particular focus at 8:12 and 9:5: “I am the light of the world” where, as here, the contrast is with “darkness.” The opening words of John’s Gospel “In the beginning” connect with Genesis 1:1-5 where “light” is the first creation of God in the midst of the chaos of darkness.

V. 21. “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his/her works have been worked in God”: At 6:28 the disciples ask Jesus what they must do to “work the works of God”; Jesus tells them that “the work of God is to believe in” him whom God sent. At 9:4 “the works of God” focus on the “light” that is Jesus for the man who had spent his life in darkness (blind). Here the contrast is the realm in which people do bad deeds or good deeds. The wicked perform in darkness so as not to be seen, but the disciples of Christ come into the light so that others may see clearly that the deeds they do are done in God.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 12: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 15, 2009) February 27, 2009

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Third Sunday in Lent

The Bible is a theological book. That means, in the strictest sense, that the Bible is a study about God. But the passages for the day literally attack the view that God can be studied like some subject that requires logic and consistency and observation and formulas. God cannot be studied simply because God reveals the divine identity, purpose, instruction, wisdom, and power in totally different ways from anything we humans could develop. In short, the lessons portray views of God we could never come up with on our own. God appears so ungodlike. God seems even to turn the tables on religion.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 12: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B.


Psalm 19
The psalm is a combination of  several psalm types. Verses 1-6 is a hymn of praise to God the Creator by creation itself. Verses 7-11 praises God for providing the Torah to maintain order and joy among the people with many beneficial results. Verses 11-13 extol the Torah for its function of warning “your servant” against errors and of offering guidance to walk blameless and innocent. The final verse expresses the well-known petition that the use of these words prove acceptable to the Lord, identified as “my rock and my redeemer” (gō’ēl).


Exodus 20:1-17
On the basis of the Lord’s identity as the savior of the oppressed, the Lord commands the redeemed community to respond in obedient praise by honoring God and the neighbor.

Exodus 1-15 tells the story of the bondage of Israel in Egypt and of God’s deliverance of the people through the agency of Moses. Chapters 16-18 describe the journey of the people from Egypt through the wilderness to the foot of Mount Sinai, the place where God commissioned Moses and revealed the personal name Yahweh (3:1-15). Chapter 19 tells of the Lord’s instructions to Moses to prepare the people for meeting the Lord at the mountain in a spectacular theophany.  At the end of the chapter Moses descends the mountain to be with the people. The implication here–explicit in Deuteronomy 5–is that God addressed the Ten Commandments to all the people who stood with Moses at the bottom of the mountain.

Structure of the Decalogue
Option A

I No other gods
II Name of God
III Sabbath Day
IV Honor parents
V No killing
VI No adultery
VII No stealing
VIII No false witness
IX No false witness
X No coveting

Option B

I    No other gods
III  Name of God
V    Honor parents
VII  No killing
IX   No false witness
II No graven image
IV Sabbath Day
VI No adultery
VIII No stealing (kidnapping)
X No coveting

Key Words
V. 2.  “I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt”:  This self-definition on the basis of the salvation event from Egypt occurs also at Lev. 11:45; 25:38; 26:13; Deut. 5:6; Ps. 81:10; cf. also Gen 15:6. In Priestly writings, the self-identification “I am the Lord” asserts divine authority as the basis for obedience (Lev. 18: 2-6, 21, 30; 19:3-18, 36, etc.), always in response to the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt. In Second Isaiah the self-identification is sometimes connected with the role of God as Creator but ties together so closely with the coming redemptive event that scholars have coined the phrase “creative redemption” (Isa. 44:24; 45:7; cf. 51:15).

V. 5.  ’ēl qannā = “a jealous God”:  One of the issues that distinguishes Israel’s God from all others is the claim to exclusive worship (monolatry). It is not an accident that the prohibition against other gods is the first commandment. See also Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; Josh. 24:19; Nahum 1:2.

V. 5.  “the third and the fourth generation”:  beside the parallel passage at Deut. 5:9, see Exod. 34:7.

Vss. 13-14. The sequence of these verses is just the opposite in two of the oldest manuscripts of Exodus 20: the LXX (probably third century B.C.E.) and the Nash Papyrus (second to first centuries B.C.E.). Therefore, the commandments about honoring parents and adultery appear together, as do those regarding killing and stealing/kidnapping. Why the sequence changed cannot be determined with certainty.

V. 15. lō’ tignōb = “You shall not steal (a person)”: The direct object of the verb is sometimes a person (Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7; 2 Sam. 19:42). Note that the prohibition against killing in v. 13 likewise bears no object but assumes it means a person since killing animals is not forbidden elsewhere.

Allusions to the Commandments
OT:   Hosea 4:2
NT:   Matt. 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:8-13.


1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Over against the demands of the Jews for signs and the Gentiles for wisdom, God gives to humankind the only wisdom necessary to know God:  the crucified Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian congregation about A.D. 54-55, some four to five years after he had established the congregation there. He is responding to reports about matters of the congregation that came to him through messengers (“Chloe’s people,” 1:11) as well as through direct questions from the people through correspondence. Among Paul’s major concerns were the divisions in the congregation among such groups that aligned themselves according to Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. Paul asserts that it is not a matter of who baptized them but for what reason Christ sent him to them: “to proclaim the gospel” (1:17). Our passage provides the definition of the gospel he preached.

Key Words
V. 19. “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’”:  Paul demonstrates by the use of Isa. 29:14, that he is Editnot 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.

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. Our Gospel from John 2:18 demonstrates the people’s demand to have Jesus prove his authority for house cleaning the temple by providing a sign. 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.


John 2:13-22
On the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his disciples remembered and understood what he had said about destroying and rising and then they believed.

John moves the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple from his final week of earthly life (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46) to quite early in Jesus’ ministry. In the process of moving the event, John makes some significant emphases that weave into the fabric of this Gospel.

John’s Gospel makes abundant use of signs. Chapters 2—12 comprise what is called “The Book of Signs.” Various acts of Jesus serve as signs that lead to faith. Indeed, John concludes his Gospel with stating the purpose about the reporting of signs that lead to faith in Jesus and to the gift of life. While Jesus performed his “first sign” in verses 1-11 and the “second sign” at 4:46-54, his saying here is in response to a request for a sign and the following paragraph alludes to other signs Jesus performed in Jerusalem. This passage, therefore, does not qualify as one of the signs because it points to an event yet to occur.

Key Words
V. 16. “You shall not make my father’s house a house of trade”: The allusion to Zech. 14:21 is clear, but it is itself more of a sign than the people imagined. Zechariah uses the elimination of traders as a promise given under the heading “on that day.” Jesus’ cleansing the temple is, therefore, an eschatological act.

V. 17. “Zeal for your house will consume me”: The quotation derives from Ps. 69:10. Psalm 69 is a psalm of lament by a person under persecution from others. It places the suffering in the context of faithfulness to God: “for your sake” (v. 7); “for zeal for your house” (here). That the psalm was important in the early church is clear from the use in all four gospels in telling the story of the crucifixion: “and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. 69:21; see Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:29).

V. 19. lysate ton naon touton kai en trisin hēmerais egerō auton = “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”:  While the people and the disciples did not understand his saying, the disciples would finally get it after the resurrection. Then, John reported, they would “remember” the saying and believe “the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” For John, the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to believe occurred on the same day.