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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 78: Lectionary 12 (4 Pentecost), Year C (June 20, 2010) June 11, 2010

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Lectionary 12 (4 Pentecost)

Literary critics define a tragedy as a story that ends with the major character excluded from his or her community. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, therefore, qualifies as a tragedy. The closing words describe the creature’s fate: “He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance. The End.” By contrast, a comedy is a story in which the major character is incorporated (or re-incorporated) into the community of which she or he is a part. The Bible abounds in comedy, especially because God is committed to renewing people to himself and to one another. That divine commitment prevails, even to the consternation of those who insist the seats to the play have been sold out.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 78: Lectionary 12 (4 Pentecost), Year C.


Psalm 22:19-28
The first three verses of our psalm sum up a three-stanza lament that the psalmist has been singing since the first verse. Typical of a lament is the claim that God is distant precisely when needed most. The familiar cry to hasten to deliver the lamenting soul immediately follows. Then in verses 22 occurs the praise and thanksgiving expressed to God for having broken the painful silence. The thanksgiving for God’s deliverance extends from a todah meal in the temple with intimate family and friends to the nations of the world and to generations past and future.


Isaiah 65:1-9
Heartbroken over the people’s refusal to hearken to the invitation, the Lord assures appropriate judgment on them but simultaneously promises to deliver their descendants and make them heirs of the chosen land.

Sometime in the post-exilic period these sermons were collected under the general heading of Third Isaiah. They expressed some of the difficulties during that period of disillusionment. The people who had listened to the preaching of Second Isaiah in Babylon expected the return from exile to coincide with the Day of the Lord and the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Failing to observe the fulfillment of that promise, many of the people turned their backs on the God who had spoken so eloquently for a time but now again seemed to retreat into silence. The pericope demonstrates a new perspective in the post-exilic period, namely that the people of Israel are divided among those who are faithful and trusting and those who are not.

Key Words
V. 1.  nidraštî = “I was ready to be sought”:  The verb begins a three-fold parallelism in which YHWH expresses the repeated offer of divine presence. The verse as a whole expresses the Lord’s heartbreak over the people’s refusal to respond to the Lord’s invitation.  In some ways the pathos of God here sounds like that expressed in the Book of Hosea (see especially 6:4-6) and in the Book of Jeremiah (see especially 3:19-20).

V. 2.  hahōlekîm hadderek lō’-tôb ’achar machšebōtêhem = “who keep walking the road (that is) not good, pursuing their own devices”:  The concept sounds like sin in Genesis 3 where the first couple defy the Lord in order to pursue their own desires, that is, autonomy versus the reign of God. The same term appears at Isa. 55:7, 8, 9; 59:7; 66:18, and it is nowhere complementary to human beings.

V. 3-4.  The entire list of offenses involves cultic practices forbidden in Israel:  offering worship and sacrifices at the old familiar “high places” of Canaanite origin (see the reference to “mountains” and “hills” in v. 7), consulting the dead for oracles, and eating forbidden foods.

V. 5.  ’ēlleh ‘āšān be’appî ’ēš yōqeret kol-hayyôm = “These (are) smoke in my nostrils, a fire burning all the day”:  Fire and smoke in the nostrils of God describes divine anger (see, e.g., Jer. 17:4; Deut. 32:22).  Pleasing to God is when the scent in God’s nostrils is sweet (see Gen. 8:21; Mal. 3:4).

V. 6.  lō ’echeseh kî ’im-šillamtî = “I will not keep silent but I will repay”:  Consider the petition on the part of the prophet at 64:12:  “Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?”  Now God breaks silence.


Galatians 3:23-29
Since God’s law has served its purpose, God has in Christ begun here and now that new humanity of the End Time in which ethnic, sociological and sexual distinctions have no meaning.

Continuing his argument that those who impose Jewish law and the rite of circumcision on the Galatian Christians actually distort the gospel, Paul has been stressing the “oneness” of the faith:  one gospel (1:6-9), one offspring which is Christ (3:16), one God (3:20). With these verses, Paul moves from his discussion about Jewish Christians to focus on Gentile Christians. His words here appear to derive from an early baptismal formula (see similarly 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:1) which he uses as a reminder of their identity and status before God.

Key Words
Vv. 23-25.  pro tou de elthein tēn pistin … eis Christon … ouketi =  “before faith came … until Christ … no longer”:  Note the temporal distinction between periods; cf. “from now on … once … no longer” at 2 Cor. 5:16.

V. 23.  sugkleiomenoi = “confined, imprisoned”:  The same word appears in v. 22 with hē graphē = “the scriptures” as subject:  “the scriptures confined all things under sin.”

V. 24.  paidogōgos = “custodian, pedagogue”:  In ancient times the word described a slave who accompanied a boy to and from school, was responsible for the safety and manners of the child, could be a rod-wielding authoritarian.

V. 26.  pantes gar huoi theou este tēs pisteōs en Christō Iēsou = “for you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus”:  The announcement of identity as God’s children was familiar to the Jewish people (Deut, 14:1; cf. Jer. 3:19; 31:9). Further, note the structural parallel with v. 28:  pantes gar hymeis eis este en Christō Iēsou = “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

V. 27.  ebaptisthēte … evedysasthe = “you were baptized … you put on”:  For “putting on Christ” in terms of baptism, see also Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24.  Different is the “putting on” of an immortal nature (1 Cor. 15:53-54), of a heavenly dwelling (2 Cor. 5:2-3); for such heavenly attire see Rev. 15:6 (angels); 19:14 (the armies of heaven).

V. 29. ara tou Abraam sperma este = “then you are Abraham’s offspring”: The reminder of the baptismal status of Gentile Christians surely came to the Jewish Christians as lightning striking the same persons twice. The Jewish people grew up believing that they were the children of Abraham and even reminded Jesus of their status (John 8:33). At their baptism and here once more, the universality of God’s people in Christ challenges their exclusivity.


Luke 8:26-39
Confronted by the Gentile demoniac who had been cut off from his community, Jesus exorcised Legion–driving some people away in fear and inviting the healed recipient to participate in the kingdom by announcing what God had done.

The story takes place on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, and the journey that led Jesus and the disciples to that side of the lake provided the opportunity for Jesus to exert his power over the chaos of the sea (vss. 22-25). The territory was part of the section known as the Decapolis and was home to Gentiles, many of whom were pagans.

Key Words
V. 28. ti emoi kai soi = “What have you to do with me?” (lit., what to me and to you?): The expression is usually used by one who is threatened by another:  “what do we have to do with each other?”  See Judg. 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chron. 35:21.  In NT see Mark 1:24//Luke 4:34; Matt. 8:29; somewhat different, see John 2:4.

V. 28.  “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”: The recognition of Jesus’ identity by these non-human creatures (see also Mark 3:11) is striking in light of the failure of humans to know who he was.

V. 31. eis tēn abysson = “into the abyss”: The word translates the Hebrew tehōm at Gen. 1:2. At Romans 10:7, the abyss is the place of the dead. In the Book of Revelation, the word appears as the abode of the Antichrist (the beast, Abaddon/Apollyon) at 9:11; 11:7; 17:8, and ultimately the place to which the devil/Satan is thrown (20:3). Apparently, since the abyss is the home of demons, the NRSV translates the demons’ pleas that Jesus “not to order them to go back into the abyss.”

V. 39. hypostrepse eis ton oikon = “return to your home”: Jesus’ command fits the report that he had “healed” (esōthē) the demoniac (v. 36), because the restoration to community is the saving wholeness that healing conveys.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 58: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (January 31, 2010) January 15, 2010

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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

We have inherited and continue to develop the notion that good work leads to success. Some of the earliest writings in the world, the so-called wisdom traditions, teach that the good will receive rewards and the wicked will reap their deserved punishment. The lessons for this “epiphany” Sunday expose us to some stunning news. Speaking God’s word, apparently a good thing, can lead to failure in society’s eyes and to society’s rejection. God’s word is not always what we want to hear, especially when it confronts our established values.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 58: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C.


Psalm 71:1-6
The psalm is an individual lament in which the worshipper asserts trust in the Lord on the basis of God’s graciousness in the past. That past goes all the way back to the psalmist’s birth from his mother’s womb. Now, in the face of enemies and advancing age, the petitioner pleads for the Lord’s presence, counting on the Lord’s righteousness to deliver and to rescue. Considering the Lord “hope” and “trust,” the petitioner promises continuing praise to God.


Jeremiah 1:4-10
In spite of Jeremiah’s protests of inadequacy, God calls Jeremiah to speak the word which brings comfort to the afflicted and judgment to the all-too-comfortable.

According to the superscription at 1:2-4, Jeremiah’s call from the Lord occurred first about 627 B.C., and his ministry continued until about 588 B.C. This record of Jeremiah’s call, like those of Moses (Exod. 3:1-12) and Gideon (Judges 6), consists of an objection based on some plea of insignificance by the hearer, a specific commission by the Lord, and the divine promise to be present with the commissioned one throughout the trials to come. Given to a prophet, the call report authenticates the message of the speaker over against the more established guild of prophets (cf. Isaiah at Isa. 6; Second Isaiah at Isa. 40; Third Isaiah at Isa. 61; Amos at Amos 7).

Key Words
V. 4.  beterem ’etstsārekā babbeten  yeda‘tîkā ûbeterem tētsē mērechem hiqdaštîkā = “before I formed you in the belly I knew you and before you came forth from the womb I set you apart”:  The parallelism of yd‘ and qdš indicates a profound understanding of the Hebrew word for “know”:  an intimate relationship with God that determines the use of Jeremiah’s life. God defines the beginning of that relationship since prior to Jeremiah’s conception in his mother’s womb (see the similar relationship in Psalm 71).

V. 4.  nabî’ laggôyîm netātîkā = “a prophet to the nations I have given you”:  While Jeremiah’s preaching was directed mostly to the people of Jerusalem, God instructed him to speak as well to the “nations” (see chapters 46–51).

V. 8.  kî-’ittekā ’anî lehatstsîlekā = “for I am with you to deliver you”:  Though the Hebrew is different, see the promise of God’s presence at Gen. 28:15; Exod. 3:12. The verb “rescue” is the same Hebrew word used at Psalm 7:3 where the petitioner prays for the Lord’s “rescue” from enemies. The same verb appears often for God’s rescue from the power of the Egyptians in the exodus story and from the power of Babylon in Second Isaiah.

V. 9.  hinnē nātattî debāray bepîkā = “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth”:  By this declaration Jeremiah can authenticate his preaching and its source. The word of the Lord provides the power “to pluck up and break down” but also ‘to build and to plant” (v. 10).


1 Corinthians 13:1-13
In contrast to our human tendency to separate ourselves from one another, God brings the baptized into one body in which all the parts contribute to the functioning of the whole and all members are called to love one another.

The apostle directed his correspondence to a congregation that was split according to various factions:  Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ (1:11-13). While much of the letter is directed to issues raised by the Corinthians themselves, Paul turns at the beginning of chap. 12 to “spiritual gifts” and develops the notion that the many members of the church are like the members of body:  each contributing its talent without being relegated to an inferior position. The paragraph prior to our pericope ends with the announcement that God has so arranged things “that there be no dissension within the body, but the members have the same care for one another” (12:25).


Luke 4:21-30
Against those who would claim the kingdom of God for themselves, Jesus delivers the unpopular message that God’s grace and God’s kingdom are for all people.

In the preceding verses Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah during service in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. In particular, he read the section dealing with the call of Third Isaiah (61:1-2) in which the prophet was commissioned to announce the signs of the kingdom-to-come.

Key Words
V. 21.  sēmeron = “today”:  Luke uses this word to announce the birth of Jesus (2:11), the salvation of the outcast Zacchaeus (19:9), and the entrance into the kingdom by the repentant thief on the cross (23:43). All cases have an eschatological thrust, but none more strongly than here. The passage from Isaiah 61 indicates that part of that prophet’s message concerning the transformations of the kingdom to come is proclaim “the day of vindication of our God” (Isa. 61:2), that is, the Day of the Lord.

V. 22.  kai pantes emartyroun autō kai ethaumazon epi tois logois tēs charitos tois ekporeuomenois ek tou stomatos = “and all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words (words of grace) that came from his mouth”:  The astonishment of the people seems based on the incongruence that the son of Joseph, a craftsman, would speak so eloquently. (They did not have the advantage of the conception and birth stories of chapters 1-2.)  In Mark, the crowds express their astonishment at Jesus’ teaching with “wisdom” in the synagogue because he is “the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of” four brothers and some sisters (Mark 6:3). Here their astonishment develops from his announcement of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2.

V. 23. iatre, therapouson seauton = “Physician, heal yourself”: While the proverb has parallels in Greek writings, it is tempting to see it here as a foreshadowing of the mockery by the people at the foot of the cross: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one” (24:23-24; see Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:30-31).

V. 24. oudeis prophētēs dektos estin en tē patria autou = “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown”:  The same teaching appears at John 4:44. Of particular importance, however, is the example of Jeremiah who lamented his rejection by his friends, his relatives, and the people of his hometown Anathoth (Jer. 11:18-20; 15:17; 19:7-12).

Vss. 25-27. “Elijah … Elisha”: Jesus’ citing Elijah’s feeding of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and Elisha’s cleansing Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy (2 Kings 5) not only demonstrate the divine outreach to Gentiles. Those stories also set the stage for Jesus’ raising from the dead the son of the centurion’s slave and the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:1-17). The latter event led the people to identify Jesus as “a great prophet.” Likely, the story of Jesus’ healing the ten lepers that identifies the only grateful one as a Samaritan is part of this continuing story (17:11-21).

Vv. 24, 25.  amēn legō hymin … ep’ alētheias de legō hymin = “truly I say to you … in truth I say to you “:  The three expressions indicate that Jesus, who alone in the NT used “Amen” to introduce a speech, spoke with the authority of God (see also en exousia ēn ho logos autou =  “with authority was his word” at v. 32).

V. 28. kai eplēsthēsan pantes thymou en tē synagōgē akounontes tauta = “and hearing this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage”: As with Jeremiah, Jesus’ message was unpopular among his own people—a threat to their security and their “special” favor from God.

V. 29.  exebalon auton exō tēs poleōs kai ēgagon auton … = “they cast him out of the city and led him …”: The phrasing seems to point toward the action at Jesus’ crucifixion (see 23:26). However, v. 30 reports that Jesus escaped and “went on his way.” It is pointless to conjecture how he accomplished that. The reason for Luke’s wording relates to Jesus’ teaching: “it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (13:33). Recall the city’s rejection of and attempt to kill Jeremiah (Jer. 38:1-6).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 45: All Saints Day, Year B (November 1, 2009) October 19, 2009

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All Saints Day

The Sundays of the church year move expectedly through the calendar months. We preach, we listen, we learn, we feel the guilt of our sins in God’s presence, and we know of the exhilaration that comes from God’s forgiveness. Some people feel highs from attending Christmas Eve worship or from Easter sunrise services. Others prefer the season of Lent when we realize that God’s Word became flesh to walk in our sandals and to die in our place. Nevertheless, this one day called All Saints Day hits many of us personally when we hear aloud the name of a loved who died since the last November 1. This year I will hear my Mother’s name among the others who died in the nursing home in 2009. Hearing the names during the service recalls and even stimulates the grief we knew earlier in the year and thought we were over. Along with other listeners, I will undoubtedly join in their sadness, their anger, their guilt, and their loneliness that will resurface for a time. Yet the lessons assigned for this day enable us to reinvest our pains into new life based on comfort, companionship, trust, forgiveness, hope, promise, and reunion.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 45: All Saints Day, Year B.


Psalm 24
Used as part of the liturgy at a festival of the Lord, the psalm extols the glory of God in creation (vss. 1-2). Then in verses 3-6, like Psalm 15, those who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem ask about the worthiness required to enter the temple, to which the priest responds that those who have clean hands and a pure heart may enter and there receive the Lord’s blessings and vindication (righteousness). The final verses (7-10) provide the liturgical responses to the coming of the people and of the glory of the King, acclaimed as “the Lord of hosts.”


Isaiah 25:6-9
On the coming Day of the Lord, God will hold a celebration of life for all peoples on his holy mountain, as the Lord once invited the elders of Israel to feast on Sinai.

Chapters 24 through 27 comprise the “Apocalypse of Isaiah.” The chapters are probably later than any other material in the book. They reflect the apocalyptic view that a heavenly battle will occur (24:21-23), after which God will reign as king on the mountain where he will preside over the eschatological banquet.

Key Words
V. 5.  lekol-hā‘ammîm = “for all peoples”:  The banquet is a universal one which goes far beyond the people of Israel at meal on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:9-11) and at various meal-offerings on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (see Deut. 12:7; 14:26).

V. 7. ûbilla‘  hāhār hazzeh penê-hallôt hallôt ‘al-kol-hā‘ammîm = “And he will swallow on this mountain the surface of the covering that covers over all the people”:  While the expression is not used elsewhere, the noun form of lot appears to mean “secrecy, mystery,” and so is used to indicate the mystery surrounding death.

V. 8.  billa‘ hammāwet lānetsach = “he will swallow up death forever”:  The expression seems to be a twist on an old Canaanite poem in which Death (Mot) threatens to swallow up Ba`al and thus end the season of fertility and life.  The twist is actually twofold:  (1) Death will be the one swallowed up; (2) the swallowing will be the eschatological act of the last days rather than a seasonal end to fertility.


Revelation 21:1-6a
Against the present reality of chaos, death, and mourning, God will make a new creation in which God’s presence with humanity will end all the horrors of the present.

John the Seer had just reported the vision of the demise of Satan and of the judgment before the great white throne. Now the Seer begins his report of the final vision.

Key Words
V. 1.  “a new heaven and a new earth”:  See the vision in Isa. 65:17-22, along with Genesis 1:1.  The new represents the opposite of the old or present.

V. 1.  hē thalassa = “the sea”:  The sea is an image of the chaotic force that is opposed to God’s Reign.  In OT often portrayed as a sea monster (sometimes called Leviathan or Rahab); see Job 9:8; Psalm 74:12-14; Isaiah 27:1; 50:2; 51:9-10; Nahum 1:4; and often. In NT, see Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52 and parallels.

V. 2.  “the holy city,… Jerusalem”:  Recall the eschatological reference at Isa. 52:1 where Zion is commanded to put on power and glory; the context there is the coming salvation of the exiles from Babylon. See also Neh. 11:1, 18.

V. 2.  “a bride adorned for her husband”:  see 19:7. See Isa. 61:10 where an individual represents the community redeemed by the Lord and dresses for the occasion. On the image of marriage between Yahweh and Israel, see Hos. 1:1-3; 2:15; 3:1ff.; also Ezek. 20; Isa. 54:5-8. On marriage as an image for Christ and the church, see 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32, and here.

V. 3.  hē skēnē  tou theou … kai skēnōsei met’ autōn = “the dwelling/tent of God … and he will dwell with them”:  skēnē is used for the tabernacle which God instructed Moses to build in order to be present with the people (Exod. 26–27); on the whole expression see Exod. 29:45. On God’s presence among the people, see also Lev. 26:11-12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27. On God’s dwelling place in heaven, see Deut. 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49.

V. 4.  “mourning … crying … pain”:  See prophecies about the eschaton at Isa. 35:10 = 51:11; esp. 65:17, 19 in the new creation. Recall the beatitudes of the kingdom that Jesus taught (Matt. 5:1-12; Luke 6:21-23).


John 11:32-44
Deeply moved by the death of his friend Lazarus of Bethany and the painful sadness it caused the family, Jesus raises him from the dead and restores him to his family and community.

The pericope is preceded by the report from Mary and Martha that Lazarus, their brother, was seriously ill. Jesus indicated that his illness is not unto death but for the glory of God (11:4).

Key Words
Vss. 33, 35, 38. enebrimēsato tō pneumatic kai etaraxen heauton … edakrysen ho ’Iēsous … ’Iēsous oun palin embrimōmenos = “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled … Jesus began to weep … Then Jesus, again deeply moved, …”: The verb translated “disturbed” and “troubled” appears elsewhere in a different spirit. At Mark 14:5 it means “reproach” by those who witnessed the use of expensive myrrh for anointing Jesus. In the synoptics, the word for Jesus’ compassion is splangknizomai, used for his response to the leper at Mark 1:41 and for the hungry, the sick and the helpless at Mark 6:34; 8:2; Matt. 9:36; 14:14. At Luke 7:13 the same word describes Jesus’ compassion on the widow whose son had died and whom he instructs “Do not weep!” (There, in the previous chapter, Jesus had taught the crowds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” [Luke 6:21]).

V. 41. pater, eucharistō soi hoti ēkousas mou = “Father, I thank you that you have heard me”: The expression of thanksgiving following a cry for help is characteristic of psalms of lament and thanksgiving (see, e.g., Ps. 30).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 3, 2009) April 15, 2009

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

The image, indeed the title, of shepherd holds two of our passages together. Just as the people of Israel praised the Lord as their shepherd in the familiar Psalm 23, so Jesus claims the title for himself in John 10. Most of us have little or no experience of sheep and shepherding. The image might not speak very well to our technological age. We do not like to think of ourselves as sheep that are herded here and there. But in ancient times, the relationship between shepherd and sheep was a critical one, and it served in many ways to describe leadership and security. When people felt harassed and helpless, for example, they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Much larger than that, various nuances of the shepherding in the Bible range from intimacy to royalty.

Besides shepherding in our passages for the day is another motif. It is the name of God and of Jesus. What the name meant in ancient times might not seem any more relevant than the image of shepherd. But the divine name lies at the heart of biblical faith. Name and person are intimately tied together also. A person and his or her name are virtually one and the same. Calling God’s name honors God, recognizes God for whom God is, and the name we call God assures us of divine faithfulness.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 23
This powerful psalm of trust looks to the Lord as shepherd to guide the individual worshiper and as king to protect and nourish him/her in the temple. The confession of the Lord as a shepherd is indeed a divine title at Ezek. 34:15 and a royal one at verse 23 (see also Mic. 5:5). This Shepherd King gets up close and personal. The Lord restores the petitioner’s spirit, leads, and guides the person in ways that reflect the saving action (righteousness) of God within the community. This guiding by the Lord is “for your name’s sake” (see Isa. 43:25; 48:9-11), that is, God’s name assures faithfulness to promises made, especially God’s presence to save the afflicted (Exod. 3:7-15; see also Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; 109:21; 148:5, 13). Even through the “valley of darkness,” the Lord will walk beside the psalmist, bringing comfort. This God has the reputation of protecting the poor from their foes (enemies, wicked, evildoers, godless, etc.), and this petitioner has experienced that protection personally. The mention of a meal might refer to the thanksgiving meal that follows God’s response to a lament in the face of such enemies (Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). Here the meal is even prepared and offered by the Lord in the temple as the enemies watch. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available but indeed pursue the person for a lifetime. The psalmist’s expression of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” does not mean entering the priesthood but taking this powerful experience of God’s presence into daily life.


Acts 4:5-12
The healing in the name of Jesus of the man born lame gave opportunity for the apostles to announce that same name is the means by which all people might be saved.

Following the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate, the captain of the temple, the priests, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John for preaching resurrection in Jesus. By their testimony, about five thousand people came to believe.

Key Words
V. 6. “the rulers and elders and scribes … with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family”: The prestigious group made up the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one persons who served as the supreme court for the Jews. The head of this assembly was the high-priest, along with ex-high priests and members of the priestly family. Annas was appointed as high priest by Quirinius (see Luke 2:2; 3:2) in A.D. 6/7 but was deposed in A.D. 15. His son-in-law Caiaphas (Luke 3:2;  occupied the office from A.D. 18-36. The two played key roles in the trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:3-4, 57-68; John 18:12-28). Alexander and John are not known apart from their family membership.

V. 7. “By what power or by what name did you do this?”: The reference is to the healing of the man who had been lame from birth. Note the connection between power and name is the question.

V. 8. Tote Petros plētheis pneumatos hagiou = “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit”: in Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit is a predominant theme, starting with the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35), inspiring others (Elizabeth at 1:41; Simeon at 2:25-27, etc.), descending on Jesus at his baptism (3:21), and eventually on the people gathered on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

V. 9-12. en tini houtos sesōtai … kai ouk estin en allō oudeni hē sōtēria, … en hō dei sōthēnai hēmas = “in what way this one was healed … and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heavens given by which we must be saved”:  The play on words between the healing of the man and the salvation of us all brings the two into one context:  the kingdom of God. Recall the summary of Jesus’ ministry at Matthew 4:23; 9:35. The combination of preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus Christ sums the preaching of Paul (Acts 28:31). The significant change from Jesus’ own ministry to that of the apostles here is that the “name” that heals/saves is Jesus (see Matt. 1:21). He is “ Savior” according to Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 John 4:14, just as YHWH was Isaiah 43:3. Jesus’ name and his activity come together.

V. 11. “This is the stone that was rejected by you builders but that has become the head of the corner”: This quotation from Psalm 118:22 is quoted by Jesus at Matthew 21:42 (and parallels) where he promises that the kingdom will be taken away from the people of Israel and given to the nations because they reject him. In its original setting, this Hallel psalm uses these words to speak of the enemies, apparently ‘the nations,” from whom the Lord saved the petitioner. The words also appear at 1 Peter 2:7 to speak of Jesus the rejected one.


1 John 3:16-24
Because Jesus Christ demonstrated true love by laying down his life for us, God calls us to believe in Jesus’ name and love one another just as actively by helping those in need.

At the beginning of the chapter the author called on his readers to be who they are, God’s children, and that definition distinguished them from the children of “the evil one.” Like Cain who hated his brother and killed him, so are all who hate brothers and sisters. They do not have eternal life abiding in them.

Key Words
V. 16. en toutō egnōskamen tēn agapēn, hoti ekeinos hyper hēmōn tēn psychēn autou ethēken … = “In this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,…”: The act of sacrifice for others demonstrates the truth of “no greater love” at John 15:13. The connection between God’s/Christ’s love and our love for one another is a key theme throughout the Bible (e.g., Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 24:16-22). The two great commandments in the synoptics, the Lord’s Prayer, the gift of money (2 Cor. 9:13-15).

V. 17.  kai theōrē ton adelphon autou chreian echonta = “and sees his brother (or sister) having need”:  The same expression appears at Acts 2:45; 4:35 in terms of the early Christians sharing all their goods so that they might help “any that had need.” At Eph. 4:28 the expression appears as part of the instruction to a thief to earn a living so that he might give to any who have need.

V. 19.  hoti ek tēs alētheias esmen = “that we are from the truth”:  In v. 12 Cain is identified as “from the evil one,” and v. 10 indicates that all who do not do right are “not from God.” The “from” seems to indicate descendance, and so “from the truth” in our verse seems to indicate that our origin is in God. At John 14:6 Jesus asserts that he is “the truth.”

V. 23. “And this is his commandment”: The commandment is twofold: (1) “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ” and (2) “love one another, just as he commanded us.” This twofold command sounds like the great commandment and a second like it (Matt. 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). In that combination also the love of God is so intimately tied to loving the neighbor that they can hardly be separated. The difference here is that believing in the name of Jesus leads to loving one another.


John 10:11-18
On the basis of his willingness to die for his flock and because of his intimate knowledge of his flock, Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd of his people.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had an encounter with the Pharisees over several issues surrounding his healing of the man who had been blind since birth (9:1-34). When the Pharisees later heard Jesus telling the man about his coming into the world “that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind,” they asked him if they were blind. Jesus’ response, in effect, was affirmative. Jesus then turns to the image of shepherding, indicating in 10:7 that “I AM the door/gate of the sheep.”

Key Words
V. 11.  egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos = “I am the good shepherd”: In the OT, YHWH is called Israel’s Shepherd at Gen. 49:24, and at Ezek. 34:15 the Lord announces “ I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” At Psalm 23, the Lord is the individual petitioner’s Shepherd. At Ps. 78:52-53 YHWH functions as Shepherd while guiding the people of Israel through the wilderness. The “I am” in this context and in the other “I am” passages in the Gospel of John is sometimes compared to “I am” declaration of YHWH at Exod. 3:14 (see Isa. 43:10, 13, 25; 51:12; 52:6). The combination of “I am” with the image of “good shepherd” thus connects Jesus with the YHWH, the one he calls Father. God transfers to Jesus “the name” that God took in the OT.

V. 11.  tēn psychēn autou tithēsin = “lays down his life”:  Peter offers to do lay down his life for Jesus at 13:37; it’s the “greater love” at 15:13 and the means by which we know the love of God and Christ at 1 John 3:16.

V. 14.  ginōskō ta ema kai ginōskousi me ta ema = “I know my own and my own know me”:  This second proof that Jesus is the good shepherd picks up a theme begun at v. 3:  the shepherd calls the sheep by name, and the sheep know his voice. The relationship between Jesus and his flock is like that between YHWH and the people of Israel:  the Semitic understanding of “know” goes beyond intellectual awareness to involve intimacy (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Amos 3:2; Nah. 1:7). At John 18:37, Jesus says to Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

V. 16. kai alla probate exō ha ouk estin ek tēs aulēs tautēs = “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold”:  The author of this gospel makes abundantly clear that God’s love and the coming of Jesus are intended for the world and not simply to the people of Israel. Even Jesus’ announcement that his “hour has come” takes place when the Greeks arrive to see him (12:20-23).

V. 16.  eis poimēn = “one shepherd”:  the expression is used at Eccles. 12:11 as a description of God, but at Ezek. 34:23 and 37:24 it is a designation for the Davidic king. Now, however, the flock extends beyond the people of Israel.