Monday, November 20, 2017

The Being of the Son of Man when the Son of Man is not the Son of Man

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes for Matthew 25:31-46, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for Christ the King Sunday. Your comments are welcomed.
My title is a riff on Robert Scharlemann's profound article, "The Being of God when God Is Not Being God." 

I find this parable (is it a parable?) to be both wonderful and curious. The fact that I wonder if it is a parable is the curiosity itself. It certainly does not begin as a parable but perhaps as the answer to the question from the disciples that initiated this entire discourse in 24:3 - “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” One interpretive question would be how this pericope (solely in Matthew) squares with the language that Matthew shares with Mark and Luke in 24:30-31, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

The lovely part of this pericope is that Jesus is present in the guise of the neighbor in need. It presents the absolute identity of loving God and loving one’s neighbor, which, taken together, is the sum total of all the law and prophets. For Christ the King Sunday, a title that I don’t care for personally, it would suggest that we worship the king by feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, etc.

Finally, if you are interested, you will find the Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Pardon based on the readings from Ezekiel 34 that I have written for this week. Right here.

Now, on with the text!

31 Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ' αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ: 
Yet when the son of man may come in his glory and all of the angels with him, then he shall sit on his throne of glory;
ἔλθῃ: AASubj 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
καθίσει: FAI 3s, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down
1. The language here is not “the Reign of God is like …” but “when …” It is the language of a straightforward declaration and not of a parable.
2. It is a little disconcerting that whenever Jesus speaks of the Son of Man coming (c. 24 and here), he does so in the 3rd person voice. Not “I” but “he” throughout. There is at least one biblical scholar who has suggested that Jesus did not see himself as the “Son of Man” who comes. The disciples’ question of 24:3 was about “your coming,” so at least within the discourse it would seem that Jesus is talking about his own return, but – oddly – doing so in the 3rd person voice.  

32 καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπ' ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, 
And before him shall be gathered all of the nations, and he shall separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
συναχθήσονται: FPI 3p, συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather
ἀφορίσει: FAI 3s, ἀφορίζω, 1) to mark off from others by boundaries, separate 
ἀφορίζει: PAI 3p, ἀφορίζω, 1) to mark off from others by boundaries, separate 
1. It is here, when the nations (not individuals, by the way), are described as “sheep and goats” that what began as a straightforward declaration seems to become a parable. At the least, the declaration takes on some parabolic shape.  

33 καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων. 
and he shall place sheep on his right the yet goats on left.
στήσει: FAI 3s, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 

34 τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου: 
Then the king shall say to the ones his right, Come, you having been blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom having been prepared for you from since foundation of the world;
ἐρεῖ: FAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Δεῦτε: δεῦτε, 1) come hither, come here, come 2) interjection, come!,
εὐλογημένοι: PerfPPart vpm, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises  2) to invoke blessings
κληρονομήσατε: AAImpv 2p, κληρονομέω, 1) to receive a lot, receive by lot 
ἡτοιμασμένην: PerfPPart asf, ἑτοιμάζω, 1) to make ready, prepare 
1. The phrase “you who have been blessed” is a perfect participle.
2. And since we are talking about nations, is this about Israel, an affirmation of the covenant of Genesis 12:1-3? Or, is it about any nation that practices justice, compassion, and charity in how it treats its beleaguered peoples?
3. This text might make a good place to talk about predestination and argue whether it is infralapsarian or supralapsarian. (A vastly underappreciated conversation, IMHO.)

35 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖνἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με, 
For I hungered and you gave to me to eat, I thirsted and you gave me drink, a stranger and you gathered to me,
ἐπείνασα: AAI 1s, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry 
ἐδώκατέ: AAI 2p, δίδωμι, 1) to give 
φαγεῖν: AAInf, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  
ἐδίψησα: AAI 1s, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst
ἐποτίσατέ: AAI 2p, ποτίζω, 1) to give to drink, to furnish drink 
συνηγάγετέ: AAI 2p συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather …  3a) into one's home, i.e. to receive hospitably, to entertain.
1. While I am accustomed to speaking of Jesus as the one who is embodied in the hungry, thirsty, etc., it is more precisely “the Son of Man” who is doing so.

36 γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με. 
naked and you clothed me, enfeebled and you looked after me, in prison and you came to me.
περιεβάλετέ: AAI 2p, περιβάλλω, 1) to throw around …  1b) of garments, to clothe
ἠσθένησα: AAI 1s, ἀσθενέω, 1) to be weak, feeble, to be without strength, powerless  
ἐπεσκέψασθέ: AMI 2p, ἐπισκέπτομαι, 1) to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes
ἤλθατε: AAI 2p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come

37 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα καὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, ἢ διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν
Then the righteous ones shall answer to him saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed, or thirsty and give you drink?
ἀποκριθήσονται: FPI 3p, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
εἴδομεν: AAI 1p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
πεινῶντα: PAPart asm, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry
ἐθρέψαμεν: AAI 1p, τρέφω, 1) to nourish, support  2) feed 
διψῶντα: PAPart asm, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst 
ἐποτίσαμεν: AAI 1p, ποτίζω, 1) to give to drink, to furnish drink
1. The language now flows back from the parabolic sheep to “the righteous ones.”
2. It is worth noticing that neither the blessed ones nor the cursed ones are self-consciously serving the Son of Man. They are simply feeding, visiting, etc. To me, this poses a huge problem to those who argue against “works righteousness” by demeaning simple works of charity or justice unless it is done “for the glory of God” or “in the name of Christ.” This story suggests otherwise.

38 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, ἢ γυμνὸν καὶ περιεβάλομεν
Yet when did we see you a stranger and gather to you, or naked and clothe?
εἴδομεν: AAI 1p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
συνηγάγομεν: AAI 1p, συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather …  3a) into one's home, i.e. to receive hospitably, to entertain
περιεβάλομεν: AAI 1p, περιβάλλω, 1) to throw around …  1b) of garments, to clothe

39 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; 
Yet when did we see you weak or in prison and come to you?
εἴδομεν: AAI 1p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
ἀσθενοῦντα: PAPart asm, ἀσθενέω, 1) to be weak, feeble, to be without strength, powerless
ἤλθομεν: AAI 1p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come

40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ' ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε
And having answered the king shall say to them, “Truly I say to you, insofar as you did to these the least of my brothers, you did to me.”
ἀποκριθεὶς: AAPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
ἐρεῖ: FAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
λέγω: PAI 1s,  λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἐποιήσατε:AAI 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make 
ἐποιήσατε: AAI 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make 
1. My 21st century democratic mind has trouble using the phrase “the least of these” because it sounds like a term of judging someone’s worth. The term ἐλάχιστος can mean “the least in number” or “the smallest in size.” Within this pericope it quite clearly is a way of referring to persons in need.
2. The genitival expression, τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων (the least of these my brothers), is slightly different in v.45. There it is τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων (the least of these) without referencing “my brothers.”
3. The phrase “the least of these” presents a key question for interpreting this entire text. Does this phrase – presented with “my brothers” in v.40 and without in v.45 – refer to destitute persons in general or to beleaguered Christian witnesses.
It is a fond interpretation of progressive Christians particularly to see these persons as the actual hungry, thirsty, etc. in the world.
There is a counter-argument, however, that the reference is to Christian missionaries, who were reliant on hospitality when taking the gospel into the world. In that sense, this would be Matthew’s argument that the nations will be judged on how they treat these bearers of God’s news. This argument rests at least in part on Matthew 10, where Jesus sends his disciples out with instructions on how to approach those who could offer hospitality, which is followed by a warning of persecution to come, concluding with 10:42, “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” The ambassador holding, in effect, the personage of the one whom they represent, is key. (See Lamar Cope, "Matthew 25:31-46, 'The Sheep and the Goats' Reinterpreted," Novum Testamentum, 1969 and J. Ramsey Michaels, "Apostolic Hardships and Righteous Gentiles, A Study of Matthew 25:31-46," Journal of Biblical Literature, 1965.)   

However, I think this argument relies too much on Matthew 10:42. A key difference is the mindfulness of things in c.25. Neither the sheep nor the goats know that they are harboring or rejecting an ambassador of the Son of Man/King. In that sense, they cannot be honoring the hungry, thirsty, etc., as an ambassador.  

41 Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ' ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ: 
Then he shall say to the ones on left, Depart from me [you] who have been cursed into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
ἐρεῖ: FAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Πορεύεσθε: PMImpv 2p, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, … 1b) to depart
κατηραμένοι: PerfPPart vpm, καταράομαι, 1) to curse, doom, imprecate evil upon
ἡτοιμασμένον: PerfPPart asm, ἑτοιμάζω, 1) to make ready, prepare
1. This text might make a good place to talk about double predestination and argue whether it is infralapsarian or supralapsarian.
2. The verb καταράομαι (to curse) is used sparsely but consistently throughout the NT as the opposite of εὐλογέω (to bless). Here, the opposition is between the “blessed ones” of v.34 and the cursed ones of v.41. In Mt. 5:44 and Lk 6:28, the opposition is in giving a response: “bless those who curse you.” Similarly in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you: bless, and do not curse.” James 3:9 cautions that with the tongue we are capable both of blessing God and cursing humans made in God’s image. The only exception to the oppositional use is Mark 11:21, when Peter calls Jesus’ attention to the fig tree that he had cursed.

42 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖνἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με, 
for I hungered and you did not give to me to eat, I thirsted and you did not give me drink,
ἐπείνασα: AAI 1s, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry 
ἐδώκατέ: AAI 2p, δίδωμι, 1) to give 
φαγεῖν: AAInf, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  
ἐδίψησα: AAI 1s, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst
ἐποτίσατέ: AAI 2p, ποτίζω, 1) to give to drink, to furnish drink 

43 ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶ οὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με. 
a stranger and you did not gather with me, naked and you did not clothe me, feeble and in prison and you did not look after me.
συνηγάγετέ: AAI 2p συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather …  3a) into one's home, i.e. to receive hospitably, to entertain.
περιεβάλετέ: AAI 2p, περιβάλλω, 1) to throw around …  1b) of garments, to clothe
ἐπεσκέψασθέ: AMI 2p, ἐπισκέπτομαι, 1) to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes
v. 36 has the verb ἀσθενέω, which I translate as “enfeebled”; here Matthew uses the adjective ἀσθενὴς.  

44 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶ λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα διψῶντα ἢ ξένον ἢ γυμνὸν ἢ ἀσθενῆ ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐ διηκονήσαμέν σοι; 
Then they shall answer also saying to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungering or thirsting or a stranger or naked or feeble or in prison and not serve you?
ἀποκριθήσονται: FPI 3p, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
εἴδομεν: AAI 1p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
πεινῶντα: PAPart asm, πεινάω, 1) to hunger, be hungry
διψῶντα: διψῶντα: PAPart asm, διψάω, 1) to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst 
διηκονήσαμέν: AAI 1p, διακονέω,1)) to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon
1. I am translating the first καὶ as “also” since an “and” does not seem to be needed to connect a future verb (ἀποκριθήσονται, “shall answer”) and a present participle (λέγοντες, “saying”). Most translations simply ignore it.
2. I don’t know if it is that the cursed ones are devastated and cutting to the chase, or if the narrator or redactor or copyist or who is responsible, but somebody is taking a shortcut here instead of rehearsing the entire litany of need/response again. The cursed ones summarize all the verbs into διακονέω, “to serve.” They show that they at least know what they ought to have done.

45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ' ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε
Then he shall answer to them saying, “Truly I say to you, insofar as you did not do to the least of these, you did not do to me.”
ἀποκριθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
λέγω: PAI 1s,  λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἐποιήσατε: AAI 2pποιέω, 1) to make 
ἐποιήσατε: AAI 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make 

46 καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 
And these shall go away into age-long punishment, yet the righteous into age-long life.
ἀπελεύσονται: FMI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
1. This is Matthew’s only use of κόλασιν (punishment). The only other NT use is in I John 4;18, which says that love casts out fear because “fear has to do with punishment.”
2. Prompted by Young’s Literal Translation’s use of “age-during” for αἰώνιον, I use “age-long” to keep the familiar use of αἰών (eon) in αἰώνιον.


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