Sunday, October 16, 2016

Prayer as a Tool for Self-Righteousness

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 18:9-14, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. I will blather a bit at the end of the verse-by-verse translation.

9 Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ πρός τινας τοὺς πεποιθότας ἐφ' ἑαυτοῖς ὅτι εἰσὶν δίκαιοι καὶ 
ἐξουθενοῦντας τοὺς λοιποὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην: 
Yet he also said this parable to certain ones who have confidence in themselves that they are justified and who are contemptuous of the rest.
Εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πεποιθότας : PerfAP amp, πείθω, 1) persuade  1a) to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe 
εἰσὶν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐξουθενοῦντας : PAPart ampl, ἐξουθενέω, 1) to make of no account, despise utterly
1. Like the last parable, Luke frames the parable with the conclusion at the beginning. I struggled with Luke’s commentary in the last parable, so I spent some time reflecting on the parable apart from the commentary. As we result, I'll do the same this week.
2. The perfect participle, “have confidence in themselves” leads to the present participle, “are contemptuous of the rest”. That seems to suggest the direction of the parable for Luke: Cultivating a sense of self-assurance about righteousness leads to having a contemptuous view of others.
3. Not all of the translation options for πείθω (believed, trusted, assured, etc.) lend themselves easily to the perfect active intransitive form of πεποιθότας.

10  Ἄνθρωποι δύο ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν προσεύξασθαι,  εἷς Φαρισαῖος καὶ  
ἕτερος τελώνης. 
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
ἀνέβησαν: AAI 3pl, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  (see κατέβη v.14)
προσεύξασθαι: AMInf, προσεύχομαι, 1) to offer prayers, to pray 
1. Luke commented on the first parable (vv.1-8) that the widow’s demand for justice was actually about prayer. In this parable, the activity of prayer itself is part of the parable.
2. One way of looking at it is that when one is self-assured and contemptuous of others, prayer is one of the places where that assurance and contempt plays out. Another way of looking at it is that the ongoing activity of prayer is one way that one cultivates the self-assurance of righteousness and contempt of others.

11 Φαρισαῖος σταθεὶς πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ταῦτα προσηύχετο,  θεός, εὐχαριστῶ 
σοι ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ ὥσπερ οἱ λοιποὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἅρπαγες, ἄδικοι, μοιχοί, ἢ καὶ ὡς οὗτος  τελώνης: 
The Pharisee having stood off to himself was praying these things, ‘God, I thank you that I am not as the rest of humanity, ravenous, unjust, adulterous, or even like this tax collector;’
σταθεὶς : APPart, nms, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 
προσηύχετο: IMI 3s προσεύχομαι, 1) to offer prayers, to pray 
εὐχαριστῶ : PAI 1s εὐχαριστέω, 1) to be grateful, feel thankful  2) give thanks 
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The Pharisee is described as “having stood off to himself” while the tax collector will be described as “standing far off” – both with ἵστημι as the verb.

12 νηστεύω δὶς τοῦ σαββάτου, ἀποδεκατῶ πάντα ὅσα κτῶμαι. 
I fast twice per Sabbath, I tithe everything that I possess.’
νηστεύω : PAI 1s, fasting
ἀποδεκατῶ : PAI 1s, ἀποδεκατόω, 1) to give, pay a tithe of anything  2) to exact receive a tenth from anyone
κτῶμαι: PMI 1s, κτάομαι, 1) to acquire, get, or procure a thing for one's self, to possess 
1. The words “ravenous, unjust, adulterous” of v.11 are adjectives that the Pharisee uses to show his contempt for the rest of humanity. One could say that ‘ravenous’ is the alternative to ‘fast’ and ‘unjust’ is the alternative to tithe’ in v.12. Then v.12 does not offer an alternative to ‘adulterous.’ (Thank goodness.)

13 δὲ τελώνης μακρόθεν ἑστὼς οὐκ ἤθελεν οὐδὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐπᾶραι εἰς
τὸν οὐρανόν, ἀλλ' ἔτυπτεν τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ λέγων,  θεός, ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ 
But the tax collector who was standing far off was not willing to lift up his eyes to the heavens, but was beating his chest, while saying ‘God, be merciful to me the sinner.’
ἑστὼς: PAPart, nms, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 
ἤθελεν : IAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  1b) to desire, to wish 
ἐπᾶραι : AAInf, ἐπαίρω, 1) to lift up, raise up, raise on high  2) metaph. to be lifted up with pride, to exalt one's self 
ἔτυπτεν : IAI 3s, 1) to strike, beat, smite 
λέγων: PAPart, nms, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἱλάσθητί : APImpv, 2s, ἱλάσκομαι, 1) to render one's self, to appease, conciliate to one's self  1a) to become propitious, be placated or appeased  1b) to be propitious, be gracious, be merciful  
1. The tax collector’s prayers is shaped by distance, posture, gesture, and word.
2. The definite article for “the sinner” (τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ) makes me wonder if he is offering this prayer in response to the Pharisee’s prayer of sinful others. Perhaps like, “Yes, I am that one.”

14 λέγω ὑμῖν, κατέβη οὗτος δεδικαιωμένος εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ παρ' ἐκεῖνον: 
ὅτι πᾶς  ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται,  δὲ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.
I say to you, this one went down into his house having been justified rather than that one; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
κατέβη: AAI 3s, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  (opposite of ἀνέβησαν v.10)
δεδικαιωμένος: PerfPPart, nms, δικαιόω, 1) to render righteous or such he ought to be 
ὑψῶν: PAPart nms, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt  
ταπεινωθήσεται: FPI 3s, ταπεινόω, 1) to make low, bring low  1a) to level, reduce to a plain  1b) metaph. to bring into a humble condition
1. The key term in this verse is “justified” (δικαιόω), which defines as “By a judicial decision to free a man from his guilt (which stands in the way of his being right) and to represent him as righteous.” (I apologize for the exclusive language). It is the same term as in v.1 as “those who are self-assured that they are justified.”
2. Questions that arise from this verse for me are: Is justification the point of prayer? Or, does this conclusion about justification arise out of the nature of the Pharisee’s prayer? I take it that, with Luke’s framing commentary in v.1, ‘going home justified’ is not necessarily the point of prayer per se, but is the issue here because the Pharisee uses prayer as a way of cultivating and/or expressing his self-assurance about righteousness.

I. Like last week’s reading (Lk.18:1-8) we have another parable that is framed by Luke with instructions on how to hear it, then explained by Jesus afterward. I find it helpful to outline the text, in order to isolate what the narrator says about the parable, the parable itself, and what Luke’s Jesus says about the parable. Just for kicks here are side-by-side outlines of the two readings.
Luke 18:1-8                                                              Luke 18:9-14
I. Narrator’s Introduction, v.1                              I. Narrator’s Introduction, v.9     
II. The Parable, vv.2-5                                             II. The Parable, vv. 10-13
                                                                                                A. Both men, v.10
B. The Pharisee, vv.11-12
C. The Tax Collector, v.13
III. Jesus’ Interpretation, vv.6-8                            III. Jesus’ Interpretation, v.14 

Re: Luke 8:9-14
- The introduction, v.9, seems to be about the coincidence of confidence in one’s justification and contempt for all others.
- The parable itself, vv.10-13, does not include a moment of justification, only the differing dispositions, postures, and words of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.
- Jesus’ interpretation, v.14, circles back to question the confidence in v.9, by declaring that the Tax Collector, the object of the Pharisee’s contempt, is actually the one who goes away justified.

II. Besides structure, the thematic connection between last week’s parable and this week’s parable is the word “justice” (δίκη).
Luke 18:1-8
V.3 the widow demands that the judge “vindicate” (Ἐκδίκησόν) her from her “adversary” (ἀντιδίκου).
V.5 the judge says to himself that he will “vindicate” (Ἐκδίκησόν) the widow.
V.6 the judge is called, by Jesus, “unjust” (ἀδικίας).
V.7 Jesus asks if God will not produce vindication (ἐκδίκησιν).
V.8 Jesus says God will indeed produce vindication (ἐκδίκησιν).

Luke 18:9-14
V.9 the parable is directed at those who believe they are “justified” (δίκαιοι).
V.11 the Pharisee thanks God that he is not “unjust” (δικοι).
V.14 Jesus the tax collector went home having been “justified” (δεδικαιωμένος).
The reference to “justified” in the first and last verses of our Lk.18:9-14 could indicate that, for Luke, the question “who is justified?” is the point of the parable. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Impunity and Persistence

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 18:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel reading for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. Your comments are welcomed. 
Luke 18:1-8

1 Ἔλεγεν δὲ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς πρὸς τὸ δεῖν πάντοτε προσεύχεσθαι αὐτοὺς καὶ μὴ ἐγκακεῖν
Then he was saying a parable to them about their needing always to pray and not to lose heart,
Ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δεῖν: PAInf, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten 
προσεύχεσθαι: PMinf, προσεύχομαι, 1) to offer prayers, to pray
ἐγκακεῖν: PAInf, ἐγ-κακέω, to be weary in anything, or to lose courage, flag, faint
1. The first pronoun in the verse, αὐτοῖς , is pretty straightforward, indicating those to whom Jesus is speaking this parable. The antecedent, however, is pretty distant, as far as I can tell. In 17:22 Jesus turns his attention from the Pharisees who posed a question to the disciples.
2. The definite article τὸ before the infinitive δεῖν poses a challenge. δεῖν is often translated as “must,” but it is a verb that is rooted in the verb “to tie” or “to bind.” It is used often in the gospels to speak of something that is bound to happen – such as Jesus’ disclosures of his impending death. However, to precede this infinitive with a definite article makes it awkward to translate. If we simply translate it “the need” it seems to turn the infinitive into a simple noun.
A helpful reader (DR) offers this: πρὸς τὸ δεῖν is a not unusual construction: the 'articular' infinitive often follows a preposition, as here. It's a common NT Greek way to say what we'd usually say with a participle.
3. The second pronoun αὐτοὺς is likewise a challenge. It is missing in some of the early documents. Some translations treat it as if it were nominative, “that they ought always to pray ...” but it is in the accusative case, therefore it is the object of a verb. I am now hearing it as the object of the infinitive verb “needing.”
Again, DR has sent me this comment, which I have incorporated into my rough translation (making a tad bit less rough): προσεύχεσθαι αύτους has the pronoun in the accusative because the subject of an infinitive is always accusative.

2 λέγων, Κριτής τις ἦν ἔν τινι πόλει τὸν θεὸν μὴ φοβούμενος καὶ ἄνθρωπον μὴ 
Saying, a certain judge was in a certain city who neither feared God nor respected humanity.
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
φοβούμενος: PMPart nsm, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten.
ἐντρεπόμενος: PPPart nsm, ἐντρέπω, 1) to shame one  2) to be ashamed  3) to reverence a person  4) to turn about
1. There is probably no greater definition of impunity than someone who has power and yet has no fear of God or regard for humanity.
2. It seems to me that when the OT speaks of the fool who says in his heart “There is no God,” it is not a matter of intellectual doubt but a matter of living as if there is no moral order to the universe and as if life has no divine purpose, meaning, or consequences. I hear the phrase “fear God” here similarly, that one with power who does not “fear God or respect humanity” is one who has no sense of accountability for serving justice rather than one’s own self-interests.

3 χήρα δὲ ἦν ἐν τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ καὶ ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγουσα  Ἐκδίκησόν με ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀντιδίκου μου. 
Yet a widow was in that city and was coming to him while saying, “Vindicate me from my adversary.”
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἤρχετο: IMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, to come or go, used of persons or of things.
λέγουσα: PAPart nsf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἐκδίκησόν: AAImpv 2s, ἐκδικέω, 1) to vindicate one's right, do one justice
1. Already, by using the imperfect and not the aorist tense, Luke is indicating an ongoing activity of coming to the judge and not just a ‘one and done’ visit.
2. “Adversary” is literally anti- (ἀντι) justice (δίκη), just as “vindicate” is literally out of- (Ἐκ) justice (δίκη).

4 καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν ἐπὶ χρόνον, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα εἶπεν ἐν ἑαυτῷ, Εἰ καὶ τὸν θεὸν οὐ φοβοῦμαι οὐδὲ ἄνθρωπον ἐντρέπομαι,
And he was not willing for a time, but after these things he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man,
ἤθελεν: IAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
φοβοῦμαι: PMI 1s, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten.
ἐντρέπομαι: PPI 1s, ἐντρέπω, 1) to shame one  2) to be ashamed  3) to reverence a person  4) to turn about
1. It is easy to pass by this clause, but “he was not willing” is the crux of the problem here. A judge whose power was in the service of fearing God and respecting humanity would not shirk the responsibility of granting justice to a ‘powerless’ widow. If the judge did fear God, then he would have known Exodus 22:22-24, “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.” Or, to state the matter more positively, he would have known that his role as judge should be grounded in the character of God according to Deuteronomy 10:17-18 , “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.”  

5 διά γε τὸ παρέχειν μοι κόπον τὴν χήραν ταύτην ἐκδικήσω αὐτήν, ἵνα μὴ εἰς τέλος ἐρχομένη ὑπωπιάζῃ με. 
yet because of the trouble this widow brings me I will vindicate her, in order that she may not continually enter attacking me.”
παρέχειν: PAInf, παρέχω, 1) to reach forth, offer  2) to show, afford, supply
ἐκδικήσω: FAI 1s, ἐκδικέω, 1) to vindicate one's right, do one justice
ἐρχομένη: PMPart nsf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons
ὑπωπιάζῃ: PASubj 3s, ὑπωπιάζω, 1) to beat black and blue, to smite so as to cause bruises and livid spots 1a) like a boxer one buffets his body, handle it roughly, discipline  by hardships … 2a) to give one intolerable annoyance  
1. We would expect ‘the trouble’ or ‘this widow’ to be in the nominative case, but they are accusative because of the preposition διά.
2. The ‘γε’ is part of a ‘Εἰ ...γε’ construction beginning in v.4 that I am translating as “though ... yet.”
3. According to, the combination of εἰς (into) + τέλος (end, completion, perfection) can be “continual.”
4. I tend to translate ἔρχομαι (to come) as “enter” when it is in the middle voice.
5. I love that the first definition of ὑπωπιάζω is “to beat black and blue.” She’s just wailing on this guy and he is saying, “No mas!” I also like the secondary definition, “to give one intolerable annoyance.”

6 Εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος, Ἀκούσατε τί ὁ κριτὴς τῆς ἀδικίας λέγει
Then the lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says:
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἀκούσατε: AAImpv 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

7 ὁ δὲ θεὸς οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ τὴν ἐκδίκησιν τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν αὐτοῦ τῶν βοώντων αὐτῷ ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός, καὶ μακροθυμεῖ ἐπ' αὐτοῖς; 
Then will God not produce the vindication of his elect who cry out to him day and night, even bearing patiently with them?
ποιήσῃ: AASubj 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.
βοώντων: PAPart gpm, βοάω, 1) to raise a cry, of joy pain etc. 
μακροθυμεῖ : PAI 3s, μακροθυμέω, 1) to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart  1a) to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes  and troubles 
There are several translation choices one faces in this verse.
1. The word ποιέω can take on several different shades of meaning. I am going with ‘produce’ to show that it is a different verb than παρέχω above (v.5, “to bring”). Yet, I am not quite comfortable with ‘produce the vindication’ either. I’d love to use the phrase “do justice” here, to echo Micah 6:8, but that phrase is ποιεῖν κρίμα, not ποιεῖν ἐκδίκησιν. 
2. The καὶ following the comma is curious. The NIV, ESV, and NRSV all end up making that comma and καὶ a radical break into two questions. καὶ can mean ‘and’ (usually does), but can also mean ‘even’ or ‘also.’ I suspect that how one interprets the meaning of this parable will color how one translates this question/these questions. By making this last phrase a question of long-suffering patience, it can serve at the set up for the “quickness” in the next verse. I have a different take, which I will address below.

8 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ποιήσει τὴν ἐκδίκησιν αὐτῶν ἐν τάχει. πλὴν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐλθὼν ἆρα εὑρήσει τὴν πίστιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς;
I say to you that he will produce vindication to them in quickness. When the son of humanity has come will he find faith in the earth?
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιήσει: FAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc
ἐλθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons
εὑρήσει: FAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought 
1. The word ἆρα is one of those words that does not get translated directly, but seems to indicate the tone of a sentence. and say that it “implies anxiety or impatience on the part of the questioner.”
It would be ironic to say that Jesus is asking this question impatiently, v.7 speaks of God’s patience and Luke frames the whole parable as one about not ‘losing heart.’ I am not settled on the right tone of this question.

This is a puzzling story, partly because of the parable itself and partly because of the way that the narrator frames it. Luke introduces the story as a parable about praying without losing heart. Whenever we hear the word “prayer,” we are accustomed to hearing it as our cries to God in some form or another. Therefore, we look at this parable and it seems that the widow is us, the pray-er, and the judge must be God, the pray-ee. Verse seven seems to confirm that suspicion, with Jesus likening describing God’s action of “producing vindication” to “the elect” who cry out to him day and night.

However, like many parables, the quick leap to assuming that the authority figure (king, father, householder, judge) is a type for God can be very troubling. In many cases, these authority figures behave in ways that are petty, jealous, impatient, vengeful, and hateful, contrary to how God is understood through the Scriptures. In this parable, the judge is explicitly described, by Jesus and in his own words, as neither fearing God nor honoring humans. How can that person of impunity be a type for the biblical God? It is a description that might work for some of the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman deities, but it is surely contrary to the God whose “steadfast love endures forever.” It is a description of a god who is great, but not a god who is good.

So, the internal problem of this text is that the judge seems to be an anti-God figure, while v.7 seems to draw an analogy between God’s ways and the ways of the judge (as well as God’s elects’ way and the way of the widow.) It leaves us wondering,
I will offer three ways of approaching this question.

1. It could be that Luke has inherited the kernel of a parable, which he does not understand. The kernel of the parable would be the interaction between the judge and the widow, with the widow prevailing because of persistence and not because the judge can be expected to live up to the standards of justice. The kernel of the parable actually depicts God as the widow. Think about it – if God really could/would send lightning bolts down on evil people, why doesn’t that happen often? Or, even occasionally? You know, just enough to provide disincentive for evil? Instead, what happens is that the powerful and wealthy and dishonest and brutal often thrive while the innocent and powerless suffer.

So, what does God do? How does God operate? God sends prophets to speak a word of truth, to demand justice, to call for vindication. They are often ignored, silenced, or killed. God sends another. They speak for God: “Thus says the Lord.” And those who fear neither God nor humans – people without conscience or a regard for the moral law – ignore them. In the end, justice can prevail, but it prevails because God’s people persistently speak the truth. The widow is how God operates, particularly through a community of truth-tellers.

I suspect that is the kernel of the parable that Luke inherited, but he cannot wrap his head around it. God as a widow, having/exercising only the power of her voice against injustice? Luke is not the only one who would recoil from such an understanding of God.

2. One can accept Luke’s introduction to the parable and the comments attributed to Jesus after the parable as a consistent whole. In that case, God is like the judge and we ought to pray like the widow, by bringing our grievances to God over and over until we get an answer. Only, as it turns out, God is not really like the judge, because the judge acted slowly and God acts swiftly. Perhaps this “is/is not” dichotomy means that in our experience, God is like this judge and we don’t see justice as quickly as we’d like, but we ought to keep begging. In reality, God is not like the judge and we can expect swift answers because we are God’s elect and God is not a God of impunity.

3. Another way to read this parable is as a re-definition of prayer. Prayer is not simply us talking to God, but it is any expression of a demand for justice. (In The Hobbit, one is reminded that the word “pray” is not simply a religious term. When Bilbo continually asks forgiveness for offending Thorin upon their first encounter, Thorin finally answers wearily, “Pray, don’t mention it.” The word “pray” – in its widest definition – is simply a plea from one to another.) The demand for justice is often wearying and seems futile, because the powers that be often act with impunity – as if there is no moral order to the universe and as if there is no respect that one ought to have for humanity. However, persistence can be effective even in advocating for justice. In this sense, “prayer” would indicate not just our cries to God but also our letters to the editor, our petitions to the city council, our protests marches, and our public proclamations. There will be vindication of the true and just and there will be a slow, persistent journey of raising one’s voice over and over again. 

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