Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead!

Our Scriptures this week are 1 Kings 19:1-15, Luke 8:26-39, and Galatians 3:23-29.

Out of all the readings, I was most struck by the images of the "disciplinarian" in the Galatians passage. You might ask, "What disciplinarian? I don't see that in my text." Let me start out by saying that, in general, differences in translations and the meaning of individual Greek words typically don't interest me that much in Bible study. But in this case, I think it makes a big difference. I usually read from a Harper Collins Study Bible which is NRSV. In the NRSV, Gal. 3:24-26 reads "Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith." The NIV has verse 24 as "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ." But according to the nice commentary on Bible Gateway ( the NRSV is the literal translation.

Going a step further into looking at the Greek, the word translated into English as disciplinarian comes from a Greek word for a slave who supervises, controls, and guarded the children. In Paul's day, this person (a paidagogos) kept the kids in line, making sure they didn't get into trouble. But this was different from the role of a teacher (that's a different word in Greek) and certainly different from a parent. Bible Gateway (in the link above) has some good examples story about the job of a paidagogos.

So here we have an image of a disciplinarian contrasted with a loving Jesus leading us to God the Father. That contrast in itself is interesting to me. Under the old system, Paul is saying, we (or the Jews specifically) needed something to keep us in line, something to rein us in, tell us what we can and can't do. But now that Jesus has come, the law isn't needed any more. We don't need a disciplinarian watching our every move. It's like now that we have come into our own, God trusts that we can be his faithful children because of the change brought about by Jesus and the spreading of the gospel. For me, this say volumes about God and the type of relationship we can have with Him. The relationship is not one of control or supervision, but something very different. A relationship based on trust and understanding.

With love and hope,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Our Scriptures this week are 1 Kings 21:1-21, Psalms 5:1-8, Galatians 2:15-21, and Luke 7:36-8:3.

I am going to focus on the passage from Galatians. When I read this passage in my bible, it seemed like jumping into the middle of a story- it was. In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul is giving his justifications for why he got into a spat with Peter. But the issue actually starts in 2:11 with an incident in Antioch. Peter had been "eating with the Gentiles" until a new group showed up on the scene. At that point he stopped eating with the Gentiles and "drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision group." This group could be either Jewish Christians or possibly Jews the Christians were hoping to convert to Christianity (I like to cite my sources but I honestly can't remember where I read this bit). In any case, Peter is setting himself apart from the Gentiles, reverting to a state that gives the impression to Paul and maybe others that Jewish Christians shouldn't mix with Gentile Christians because of dietary restrictions and ritual laws.

This is what gets Paul upset and why he calls out Peter. Galatians 2:15-21 is a continuation of his reasoning for why Peter was in error. Paul believes that the Good News and faith alone is the basis of salvation, not adhering to Jewish law. If this is the case, Paul wonders why some Jewish Christians still stick to the law and exclude Gentile Christians for not following the laws in the first place. Paul wants unity in the new Church; he wants to find areas for common ground and leave behind practices that divide the ethnic groups within the Church.

For me this story resonated on the basis of overcoming or crossing ethnic lines. Two different groups, Gentiles and Jews, were coming together under one new system of believe. But what would hold them together? Someone had to be flexible or leave behind their previous beliefs and behaviors. Their love for Christ and the love of His message were powerful enough (along with Paul's arguments) to move the Jewish Christians to take a more moderate view.

People in the present day have this power too. Although a system or a way of being may seem too strong for us to break free, it can be done. You just have to find it within yourself to think differently, act differently. And the world does change, even if that change is slow or difficult. You may want to read a story from the Washington Post on the topic of interfaith marriages that I think relates: Because of love, more people are negotiating boundaries that before seemed insurmountable. But the road is hard...just as it was when two different cultures sat down for dinner together in Antioch. But sometimes Love wins the day. (Just for fun, in the Post article see if you can spot a quote that would get Paul in another fight.)

See you Sunday,

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Raising from the Dead

Our Scriptures this week are 1 Kings 17:18-24, Psalm 146, Galatians 1:11-24, and Luke 7:11-17.

I am most interested in the parallels between the passage from 1 Kings and Luke. Both tell the story of a widow's son being raised from the dead. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah has received help from a widow. She has fed him from her meager store of meal and oil which miraculously lasts for many days. Then when her son falls sick and dies, the widow blames Elijah. He takes the boy, stretches himself over the boy 3 times, and calls out to God. God hears him, the boy is brought back to life and returned to his mother. The widow then praises Elijah as a man of God. In the Luke passage, Jesus sees a the funeral procession of a widow's only son. He sees the mother and has compassion for her. He commands the dead body to rise up and the man comes back to life. The son is returned to his mother. The people being to glorify God and call Jesus a great prophet.

You can see the overlap in the stories: the dead are the only sons of widowed mothers, the man of God miraculously brings the son back to life, the son is returned to his mother, praises are sung. But the differences between the stories are telling too. You get the sense that Elijah is a little desperate, exclaiming, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?" And he has to work at it to bring the boy back to life- both prayers and physical actions are needed before "The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came to him again, and he revived." And note that it was because the Lord listened that the boy was brought back to life. Elijah is powerful because he can get God's attention through his prayers, not because he can work miracles all by himself.

In the story from Luke 7, Jesus doesn't have to work that hard at all. He doesn't even touch the dead man but only the funeral bier. (Look at the passage that proceeds this one and you see Jesus doesn't even have to be in the presence of the sick to heal them.) And Jesus does not pray to God, asking God to bring the man back. He just orders the man back to life--He has the power in his own right. Not only that, but his action of bringing the man back from the dead is not an act of desperation, but one of compassion upon seeing the mother's grief.

I think these differences are telling. Both men are hailed as prophets or men of God by the people who observe the miracles, but the subtle differences in the stories tell us that Jesus is not a prophet in the mold of Elijah. Jesus has a power all his own, one that is activated by his compassion for our suffering.

See you Sunday,