Friday, February 24, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 1st Sunday in Lent (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

GENESIS 2:15-17; 3:1-7
2:15 Does the fact that this verse places us within the second account of creation affect how to interpret this verse? What is different about the LORD God of the second account of creation compared to the God of the first account of creation? Is “man” the best translation of the Hebrew?
2:16 Really?
2:17 What is so special about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Was it poisonous?  Please note that there is no mention of what sort of fruit tree this was.  It was not necessarily an apple tree. How would the “man” know which tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? How was it different from all the other trees in the garden? What are the possible meanings/interpretations of “death”?
3:1 Note that the antagonist is a “serpent” but not necessarily a snake. Had the LORD God made the serpent? Where else in the Hebrew Scriptures will we find serpents?  Is the serpent playing word games, or what?
3:2-3 The woman seems to offer an honest defense, although she seems to recount God saying more than we were originally told.  Did God actually say all this, or has the woman embellished the original admonition?
3:4 Depending on what “death” means, it seems that the serpent can be judged truthful.  On the one hand, the man and the women will eventually die a biological death, but not immediately.  On the other hand, I think it can be argued that the man and woman were about to die a spiritual death.
3:5 So, knowing good and evil makes one like God?  Is this why the woman eats of the tree, to be like God? Or does she eat of the tree simply to know good and evil? Or does she eat of it as a simple act of rebellion? Or curiosity?
3:6  It seems wisdom is associated with knowing good and evil.  The amateur philosopher in me is beginning to squirm.  How can we relate this story to Plato’s analogy of the cave?
3:7 The metaphor of “open eyes” representing knowledge seems more Indo-European than Semitic, yet this second account of creation almost certainly comes to us from the Semitic oral tradition.  I find it interesting that in the New Testament “their eyes were opened” is what the disciples experienced on the way to Emmaus as Jesus explained to them all that had happened. For those who appreciate a little risqué Biblical humor, here is a joke I learned from one of my college Religion Professors.  Q: If Eve wore a fig leaf, what did Adam wear? A: A hole in it.
2:15-17, 3:1-7 Is this the best text to introduce Lent?  How much of our interpretation of this text is influenced by Augustine’s doctrine of original sin? Consider Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing for a different perspective on this text.

32:1 This may be an appropriate Psalm if one reads the Genesis account within the framework of original sin, but what if one does not?  In light of this verse, I wonder if the man and woman of the Genesis Reading sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths primarily to cover their genitals or to cover their sin? What does it mean that “sin is covered”?
32:2 I read no deceit in either the man or the woman of the Genesis Reading. Did you? What does it mean that the LORD imputes iniquity?
32:3 How can someone “keep silence” while at the same time “groaning”?
32:4 What does God’s heavy hand feel like?  What do you and your congregation do with the “selah”?  Do you ignore it, read it, or interpret it musically?
32:5 Confession is good for the soul as well as the psyche.  Does God forgive the guilt of our sin without forgiving the sin? What is worse, sinning, or trying to cover up our sin?  Why am I thinking of President Nixon and the Watergate scandal?
32:6 How does the “therefore” leading to an admonition follow from an individual’s experience? What does the rush of mighty waters represent or symbolize?
32:7 What does it mean that God is a “hiding” place?  Are there some theological gymnastics going on as hiding one’s sin is replaced by hiding in God?
32:8 Who will do the instructing here? Who will be doing the watching?
32:9 How do we read this and the previous verse in light of the Genesis reading? In other words, “don’t be an ass”? How is God’s law like a bit and bridal?
32:10 From you experience, does it ring true that the wicked are tormented?  Does being surrounded by steadfast love prevent one from being tormented?
32:11 I hear a Call to Worship in this verse.

ROMANS 5:12-19
5:12 It does not seem right to begin a Reading with “Therefore”.  We are not given the premise of the argument.  What was it that Paul was saying?  Is Paul speaking literally, figuratively, or in a mythical sense?  If death spread to all because of sin, then did sin spread like a virus?  Viral infection offers a different image than sin being passed on through procreation.  Paul seems to let Eve get off easy.
5:13 If we had no law, we would not be aware of our sin?
5:14 What does it mean that death “exercised dominion”?  Portraying Adam as “a type of the one who was to come” is a significant theological move.  Why does Paul play it? You may want to consider Karl Barth’s  Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5
5:15 How is the free gift not like the trespass?  What is the “free gift”?
5:16 Is it worth exploring the juxtaposition of trespass/condemnation and free gift/justification?
5:17 It sounds as if now, people exercise dominion if life, whereas before, death exercised dominion.
5:18 Here is another “therefore” but at least this time we know what came before it. Is this “act of righteousness” the same as the “free gift” in 5:16?
5:19 Note the verb tenses. Does this and the preceding verse suggest a universalism?
5:12-19 What does it mean to think of and talk about Jesus as “the second Adam”? Would Paul have altered his argument if he had understood modern biology and DNA?

MATTHEW 4:1-11
4:1 I cannot help but read this account and its parallels without thinking of Martin Scorsese’s 1988 controversial film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1960 novel The Last Temptation of Christ. Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness?  What does the wilderness represent? You may also want to explore this passage’s theological connection with The Desert Fathers and Mothers. How shall we deal with “devil” language?
4:2 What does the forty days and forty nights remind you of? Why would Jesus fast?  What do you and your congregation know about fasting? How does this passage inform our understanding and practice of Lent?
4:3 What do you make of the fact that “the devil” and “the tempter” are apparently used interchangeably? What is the temptation here?  Might the tempter be attempting to sow seeds of doubt?
4:4 What do you make of the fact that Jesus responds by quoting Scripture? What Scripture is Jesus quoting?
4:5 Was this a literal “taking”?
4:6 What warning is there in the fact that the devil could correctly quote Holy Scripture? What is the nature of this temptation? What Scripture does the devil quote?
4:7 Is there more going on here than proof-texting?  Are Jesus and the devil lobbing Scripture texts like hand grenades? How do we test God?  Why am I thinking of Exodus 17:7?
4:8 A week after the Transfiguration of the Lord, I might be hearing this verse a little differently than I would on any other Sunday. Why can we not take this literally?
4:9 What is the nature of this temptation?
4:10 First it was the devil, and then it was the tempter, now it is Satan.  Should we read “Satan” as a name or a title?
4:11 Here come the reinforcements, even if a little late.  What does it mean that the angels came and “waited” on Jesus?
4:1-11 Do we read this passage as a description of real events in time and space or the description of a spiritual wrestling within Jesus?

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

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