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Text Study for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text Study for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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Published by Joseph Winston
Text Study for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Joseph Winston September 25, 2011

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Ezekiel 18:1 The word of the L ORD came to me – By stating this the prophet ensures his audience knows the source of the revelation. Ezekiel 18:2 What do you mean by repeating – You in the KJV and the LXX is second person plural. In other words, the people of Israel are the ones who continue to state the proverb. “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s
Text Study for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Joseph Winston September 25, 2011

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Ezekiel 18:1 The word of the L ORD came to me – By stating this the prophet ensures his audience knows the source of the revelation. Ezekiel 18:2 What do you mean by repeating – You in the KJV and the LXX is second person plural. In other words, the people of Israel are the ones who continue to state the proverb. “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s

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Published by: Joseph Winston on Sep 25, 2011
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Text Study for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Winston September 25, 2011

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Ezekiel 18:1 The word of the L ORD came to me – By stating this the prophet ensures his audience knows the source of the revelation. Ezekiel 18:2 What do you mean by repeating – You in the KJV and the LXX is second person plural. In other words, the people of Israel are the ones who continue to state the proverb. “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” – It seems that this quote means the children are suffering for the actions of their fathers. The NRSV by using parents does not follow the RSV, the KJV, the LXX, the Vulgate, and the Hebrew text which use the word that normally means “fathers.” Ezekiel 18:3 this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel – Once again the you in the KJV and the LXX is second person plural. It then clearly means that no one at all in the land will utter this phrase anymore. Ezekiel 18:4 Know that all lives are mine – The translation does not follow the RSV, the KJV, or the LXX that have “souls” in the place of lives. it is only the person who sins that shall die. – Justice demands that only the guilty party is punished. Placing the blame on any other person, including your children is simply wrong. Note that this understanding found here is 1

radically different from Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9; where the L ORD God promises to punish the children for the father’s actions for four generations. . . . – The basic requirements that the L ORD God puts forth to each man of Israel is to be just, to not worship idols, to be faithful to his wife, to follow all matters of purity including sex, to forgive debts, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to not charge interest, to not change the terms of a loan, to not profit from the failings of others, to be a just judge, to follow the L ORD’s way, and to be truthful and just. These actions bring life. Any other behavior is wrong and punishment will only fall on the one who sinned. The good man that changes his ways and does something wicked will die just as surely as the man that only commits evil. None of his good deeds will save him. Ezekiel 18:25 Yet you say – The you is plural in the KJV and LXX. “The way of the L ORD is unfair.” – The people in specific and the men in general are unhappy with the way of the L ORD. Ezekiel 18:26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it – This is the point of contention. The protesters want their good behavior to offset any bad actions. However, God says one mistake is all it takes to deserve death. Ezekiel 18:27 when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. – On the other hand, when the evil man (RSV, KJV, and LXX) does what is right, he shall live. While this verse does not contain any references to God enabling the good behavior or even to faith in God, it still remains problematic for groups like Lutherans who want to only emphasize the free gift of being made right with God (the act of justification) through faith in Jesus or His sacrifice (Romans 3:28, 5:1, 5:9; Galatians 2:16-17, 3:11, 3:24, 5:4; Titus 3:7). Ezekiel 18:28 turned away from all the transgressions – A new life that is God pleasing means a clean break from the past. Ezekiel 18:29 The way of the L ORD is unfair. – The men complain that grace should not be given to those who follow the L ORD’s way. 2

Ezekiel 18:30 I will judge you – Everyone will be given a trial and there will be no exceptions. Ezekiel 18:31 get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit – The behavior that God desires is first to change the way that you think. Since heart is the seat of logic for the people, you need to carefully consider each and every action in your life. The spirit or life force is what drives you forward. Follow what the L ORD loves. Ezekiel 18:32 I have no pleasure in the death of anyone – The L ORD want everyone to live.

Psalm 25 1:-9
The psalmist testifies that he trusts the L ORD. This gives the author the confidence to ask the L ORD for a visible sign. Additionally, he wants the L ORD to remember him and to teach him. Psalm 25:1 O L ORD, I lift up my soul – The author offers up his entire life to the L ORD. Psalm 25:2 O my God, in you I trust – The psalmist believes that the L ORD knows how to live his life better than he does. do not let me be put to shame – In a society of honor and shame, the offer to give his life to the L ORD means that he trust the L ORD not to make him a laughingstock. Psalm 25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame – The idea first developed in verse 2 is repeated here. let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous – The only ones who should be horrified with their behavior are the ones who live in evil. Psalm 25:4 Make me to know your ways, O L ORD – The author shifts subjects and asks for instruction from God. teach me your paths – The author asks the L ORD to take him over and over again down the way of life so that he knows how to traverse it like the back of his hand.


Psalm 25:5 Lead me in your truth – The illustration of walking in the way of the L ORD also includes learning the truth. for you are the God of my salvation – It is the L ORD who redeems the author and gives him healing. for you I wait all day long – It is better to do nothing at all than to do anything without the L ORD. Psalm 25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O L ORD, and of your steadfast love – Do not forget your promises L ORD. Psalm 25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions – On the other hand, the author asks the L ORD to erase what was done because of ignorance or deliberate disobedience. This theme is slightly echoed in Ezekiel 18:27-28. Psalm 25:8 he instructs sinners in the way – The work of the L ORD is teaching people how to live. Psalm 25:9 He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way – Those who are willing to listen to the L ORD are blessed by His instruction and His direction.

Philippians 2:1-13
In the “Christ Hymn” quoted by Paul, Jesus radically redefines the fundamental philosophical concepts that we often take for granted. Jesus, who Christians rightfully call God, comes both to serve and to love. This is not our normal definition of what it means to be a god. We normally believe that people like you and me really help the gods by bringing offerings, sacrifices if you will, of the best that the world has to offer. We do these actions for one reason. The gods must live at all costs and if it takes our lives so be it since we expect to be rewarded for our actions sometime in the future. The next surprise we hear in this hymn is this. Jesus does not despise all the hard limitations that we encounter in our very existence nor does He in any way discount the flesh we wear. We on the other hand continue trying to slip out of this life into something a little bit better. Our attractions today lies in the areas of living forever through technology and also becoming one with the technology we create. Then as the perfect machine, life will be better for all of us. We will not be hurt, or age, or even die. Jesus rejects the idea that this way of life is living. 4

Becoming human obviously means that Jesus accepts not only God’s wrath but also God’s blessing. On Good Friday we will learn how paradoxical this reality really is. Jesus dies on a tree and it is God’s Word that all who die in the manner, God curses (Deuteronomy 21:23). This means that Jesus receives both God’s condemnation for the manner of His death and the honor of being lifted up by God as the example for the world to follow. This ground-shaking readjustment of all priorities in the world stands in direct opposition to any teaching that emphasize the unique and particular situation of each believer. In other words, Paul does agree with anyone who might say you are not Jesus and you cannot follow Jesus all the way to your cross. What makes no sense at all continues in the second verse of the hymn. The One who God calls guilty is in fact the most important One of all. So much so in fact, that all people from the start of time to the end of it all must publicly honor Him by physically acknowledging who is He really is. All of existence must bow to Jesus and say that He is Lord of all. But recall once again that Jesus came to wait on us as a slave. How then does every knee bend and every tongue confess? Another way to consider this question is by remembering that Jesus loves us and never forces anyone to follow Him. This means that Jesus must take another approach. He allows you to say no but all the while, He remains with you, serving you just like a slave. The ending of the hymn contains another obvious contradiction that we often ignore. The One who God condemns does not bring any public or private shame to His Father. Rather, the Son is the One who the Father lifts up as a shining example for all to see and to follow. Philippians 2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ – Paul opens this section by arguing that any benefit that Jesus brings is so important that you should be just life Jesus down to the last detail. Philippians 2:2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind – Paul expects nothing in your everyday life to be different from what Jesus does. Philippians 2:3 regard others as better than yourselves – The position according to Paul for all that follow Jesus is one of weakness. You are here to serve others and to make their lives better. Will this be costly to you. Of course it will. Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others – Take care of others. This is your calling. 5

Philippians 2:5 Let the same mind be in you – This is much more than a simple mental assent to the type of life Jesus leads. It is having the exact same will, an identical desire to live as Jesus, along with following the same path that Jesus does. Christ Jesus – The anointed One of God was sent to accomplish His plan that at seems to us to be complete and total nonsense. Philippians 2:6 in the form of God – The Greek used for form is ορφή, a concept that includes shape and the idea of appearance that might change. We continue to use this word today. We talk about shape shifters that morph from one reality to the next. This certainly could lead to the understanding that Jesus is not truly God but someone that just looks like God. The same argument can be made when the author uses this same word ( ορφή) to describe Christ’s humanity (Philippians 2:7). One then could argue that Jesus only looked like a man but was something else all together. Another interpretation is that ορφή might address is the beauty of God.1 This reading would have Jesus not wanting to be desired as a picture of health since the attribute of eternal youth and along with it beauty really means Jesus never can really love anyone at all.2 Our artists and lovers know this to be true. Love requires the ability to be present with the beloved. You will be hurt in so many small and not so small ways. This changes you. Pain comes when your loved one is hurt and in some way your beauty slips away. Then there is the reality of death. It scars you for the rest of your life. It seems dubious at best to push any word in poetry too hard because the poet often takes liberties with words in order to advance the poem. It might be the word sounds right here. It could be the meter matches. Even possible is the idea of shock that bring a person to realize another important truth. This is why all discussion on poetry should look at the entirety of the text rather than the use of an individual word. as something to be exploited – Perhaps another way to capture the sense of the line found in this verse, ς ν ορφ θεο πάρχων ο χ ρπαγ ν γήσατο τ ε ναι σα θε would to be something like, “Who falls in the category of being equal to God but does not use it for plundering.”
1 2

David E. Fredrickson, The Kenosis of Christ in the Politics of Paul, September 2005. Ibid.


The word translated as plundering is from the Greek ρπαγ ός. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to be “grasping.”3 However, in Greek literature this term is associated with abduction, specifically when a god takes a human for sexual pleasure.4 This translation suggested by Fredrickson brings out the huge difference between Greek/Roman gods that need sacrifice to live and then take from humanity what ever they want, including sexual favors. Today, we rarely see in the United States this idea that gods take what is rightfully theirs. Instead, we make our gods just like us. They are basically pretty nice fellows that might have some influence over a tiny part of our lives. Follow them and you might be rewarded with cash or glory, but you just do not know. Life is difficult you know. Markets crash. Company’s close. Players get hurt. This reality we impose on the world decreases the impact of the Christ Hymn. We do not need to be saved from gods that demand too much. Instead, we need to be transformed from cogs in a machine into humans. Philippians 2:7 but emptied himself – The Greek here is λλ αυτ ν κένωσεν. The first issue is what was put aside. Is it rights, powers, and privileges of the powerful God or is it something else all together? If Jesus only limits or refuses to pick up power, then this understanding allows the powerful of the world to justify their existence by believing they are Christ like. After all, they did not bring all their power to bear on the problems that face them.5 A different view of the same issue is to return to the creation. Adam and Eve want power that God does not grant them. Jesus then refuses to fall into this trap. He allows God to be God. This interpretation allows the following moral, “Know your place. Do not take what is not yours.” When this way in not followed, all sorts of sins can be justified in this manner. Another problem remains with this traditional way of closely examining what He left behind. The body of Jesus disappears from view since we are focusing on how force is used.6 Now, we are denying Jesus’ humanity. Furthermore, this idea makes no sense given Paul’s concern about the body and it also denies the creeds.

Fredrickson, ‘The Kenosis of Christ’. Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid.


The word of contention is the verb κενόω that carries with it both the idea of pouring out and the concept of loosing face. The first idea is found in medical texts that indicate the proper balance of fluids is necessary for life.7 Bloodletting is a methodology that fixes the ratio of liquids in the body. Poets use the same verb too.8 Love melts the heart, consumes all your thoughts, and you burn with desire.9 This idea remains with us to this day and you can hear it in our love songs. Taking this approach from the poets, there then is little that Jesus can do. All of his passion is for humanity.10 This is how much He loves us. Shame is important in many traditional societies and this is captured the second meaning of the verb κενόω. Throughout the life of Jesus, you can clearly see God’s loss of honor. The selection of a male heir born of a woman, a commoner at that, the poor acceptance of the Word publicly proclaimed, and the death by the state are but a few examples of God’s humiliation in the marketplace. taking the form of a slave – The use of form ( ορφή) is ripe with problems. See the discussion of ορφή in Philippians 2:6. And being found in human form – The Greek here is κα σχή ατι ε ρεθε ς ς νθρωπος. The previously translated word used for form is not found here. In its place is scheme. A better translation might be, “And found in the human scheme.” Philippians 2:8 he humbled – The verb is ταπεινόω that means lowering. Jesus gave up His rank, power, and prestige to be with the ones He loves. death on a cross – After the Holocaust, the Jewish community has little use for any explanation of suffering as a group.11 Despite this fact, suffering for the atonement of the other is not a Christian invention since it is clearly found in Isaiah and the Christian tradition draws on this fact.12 This does not make the Christ Hymn any easier for Jews to accept.13 As a
Fredrickson, ‘The Kenosis of Christ’. Ibid. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 Robert Gibbs; Yikva Frymer-Kensky et al., editors, Chap. Suspicions of Suffering In ‘Christianity in Jewish Terms’, (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), Radical Traditions, p. 221. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid., p. 222.
8 7


group, Jews tend to be against the idea presented in Philippians 2:5-11 of pain as redemption since it is “too passive, too accepting, too much a willed suffering.”14 The argument also is made that “Christians are the basic cause of Jewish suffering.”15 The suffering servant described in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 tells us that this one’s pain is beneficial for others16 This is the typical Jewish interpretation of this text.17 How do we judge who can suffer? Can a child suffer so that I may live? Can I suffer so that a child may live? Today, justification of suffering is “offensive and provokes anger.”18 However, this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to finding the sense of one’s own suffering.19 The Older Testament reminds us that anyone whose action is worthy of death must die on a tree and that One, God curses (Deuteronomy 21:23). Philippians 2:9 God also highly exalted him – Some sort of transformation occurs in the Trinity since the One cursed by God is the One who now is held up as a model for all to follow.20 This modification in the Trinity has practical applications that are frankly frightening. It all begins with the idea of change. God’s self is no longer set in stone. Perhaps then, God lacks a preset plan of what to do in the world.21 This action by God implies that the Father had a “favorable reception of and agreement with the Crucified’s character.”22 gave him the name – The One who gives Him the name Joshua – that is the Name, read here L ORD, that saves (Jesus) – is no other than His Father. Philippians 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend – This phrase stands in direct conflict with other parts of the poem. Jesus gives up power or decides to be with us since He loves us so much. The proper response to
Gibbs, ‘Christianity in Jewish Terms’, p. 222. Ibid., p. 223. 16 Ibid., p. 224. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid., p. 225. 19 Ibid., p. 226. 20 David Fredrickson, ‘What Difference Does Jesus Make For God?’ Dialog 37:2, p. 108. 21 Ibid., p. 105. 22 Gary M. Simpson, ‘No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity’, Word & World XVIII Summer (1998):3, p. 271.
15 14


either interpretation is showing Christ’s superiority to the rest of humanity. Of course, those who follow Jesus appreciate what He did. Is that enough reason for the respect? It still seems out of character to what Jesus does. Service means one must be ready to do whatever the master requires. Scrubbing the floor never is easy. You need to be on your hands and knees to do a good job. Pulling weeds is the same. Get down on all four and do it. When you hear the name of Jesus, God the Father expects you to drop to your knees. It cannot be for the reason that Jesus is above you. After all, He is your slave. You kneel because it is time to pitch in and help your fellow worker Jesus. in heaven and on earth and under the earth – The reign of Jesus includes all of creation, God’s abode, and the place of the dead. Philippians 2:11 and every tongue should confess – The Greek translated as “confess” comes from ξο ολογήσηται. This compound word has two major parts. At its center is λόγος. The Word requires someone to say it.23 Before the λόγος is ο, which means as one. We join with God in saying that Jesus is Lord. This of means that God is to be now known as the Crucified One.24 This changes the image of God and with that comes a host of problems people do not like to hear. For example, “Is God finished with change or is something else in store?” Or, “Did God not know that this needed to be done and why did God set up creation that forces this change?” Philippians 2:12 work out your own salvation with fear and trembling – This line troubles people who want to solely rest on Christ’s work since it might mean that everyone has some responsibility to do what is right. If this is the case, it then agrees with the earlier ideas found in Ezekiel. Another way to read this line is to consider the life a believer should lead. It is one of service because that is what Jesus is doing. Philippians 2:13 it is God who is at work in you – The force in you is God.
David Fredrickson, ‘Confessing Jesus as Lord: Selected Epistles (Epiphany to Palm Sunday)’, Word & World, XVIII Winter (1998):1, p. 89. 24 Ibid.


Matthew 21:23-32
This lesson continues the theme that the ones at fault for the people’s behavior are the leaders of the Israel.25 It does so by showing the insincerity of the Jewish leaders of the day when they can neither see the power behind John the Baptizer nor stand up to the people that follow someone who might be a false prophet. In stark contrast to this behavior are the outcasts of society. The prostitutes and the tax collectors, the people who give pleasure to the troops from Rome and fund their exploits, turn from their past into a new future with God. Matthew 21:23 By what authority – If the leaders can trick Jesus into saying that His power comes from God then they have an accusation of blasphemy (for example Matthew 26:65).26 these things – This is a reference back to the entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem along with the cleansing of the Temple.27 Matthew 21:24 I will also ask – Not only is this a way out of answering the question but it is also an approach used by Jewish rabbis.28 Matthew 21:25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? – As a good Jew who does not want to even give the appearance of misusing God’s Holy Name, Jesus instead uses heaven. The question wants to focus on the response of the leaders to John the Baptizer. If John was sent from God, then the leaders had a responsibility to tell the faithful about him.29 If John was not from God, then there are two issues. First, the leaders need to warn people about John. This leads to the second point. John was popular with the people and this stance by the leaders might upset those who liked John.30 Even Josephus agrees. In Ant. 18:118, he writes that John the Baptizer was feared by Herod because John was such a strong influence over the people.31
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 298, 301. 26 Ibid., p. 299. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., p. 300.


Matthew 21:26 they argued with one another – Clearly, the leaders understood what might happen if they answer one way or the other. Matthew 21:27 We do not know – The only safe answer is to say nothing and by doing so they allow Jesus to remain silent. This shows that the leaders really do not care what happens to the people of Israel.32 Matthew 21:28 in the vineyard – This phrase ties this section to Matthew 20:1-16 along with Matthew 21:33-56. Matthew 21:29 later he changed his mind – Other manuscripts have different interpretations. Sometimes the first son says “Yes” and does nothing while the second says “No” who then works as the father wants.33 At other times the first son says “No” with a change in attitude later while the second son says “Yes” but does nothing but acts in accordance with the father’s will.34 Matthew 21:30 and he answered, ‘I go, sir’ – See the previous verse for some of the textual problems. Matthew 21:31 the tax-collectors and the prostitutes – These two groups are seen as immoral and they bring shame to their families. These two groups also aided and abetted the enemy by providing funds to the Roman government along with pleasure to the occupying forces.35 The leaders of the people are being compared to the second son who said “Yes” to his father but actually do nothing at all.36 the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you – The dishonorable are accepted by God for they trusted John. Matthew 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him – John’s life clearly demonstrated God’s Word, yet the leaders were not convinced.
32 33

Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 300. Ibid., p. 299. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid., p. 301.


Fredrickson, David, ‘What Difference Does Jesus Make For God?’ Dialog 37:2. Fredrickson, David, ‘Confessing Jesus as Lord: Selected Epistles (Epiphany to Palm Sunday)’, Word & World, XVIII Winter (1998):1, pp. 88–93. Fredrickson, David E., The Kenosis of Christ in the Politics of Paul, September 2005. Gibbs, Robert; Frymer-Kensky, Yikva et al., editors, Chap. Suspicions of Suffering In ‘Christianity in Jewish Terms’, (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), Radical Traditions, pp. 221–229. Harrington, S.J., Daniel J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991). Simpson, Gary M., ‘No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity’, Word & World XVIII Summer (1998):3.


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