Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don’t Toot Your Own Horn (Proverbs 27:2)

Complete: “Let another praise you, and __________________.” Not your own mouth (Proverbs 27:2)

Every one feels underappreciated at times and it is natural to overcompensate in these moments. A segment of Proverbs addressing friends and friendships (Proverbs 27:1-10) begins by renouncing boasting (Proverbs 27:1-2).

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2 NASB)
Proverbs often advises to speak carefully. In lieu of praising oneself, this proverb advises to allow a stranger to do so. The word rendered “stranger” (nokriy) suggests a foreigner or alien in its most common use. In this context, the word does not indicate someone from another country but rather signifies a broader scope: someone wholly other. It merely accentuates the distance between subject and critic as praise by unknown foreigners would likely be of little value.

David Hubbard (1928-1996) comments:

Sound evaluation can come only from others—and they ought not to be too close to us...“Stranger”...underscores the sense of distance. Neither friend, neighbor, nor family member would be described in such terms. Outside “praise”...may not always be accurate but it is always more seemly than self-praise which shades over into the boasting described in Proverbs 27:1. (Hubbard, Proverbs (Mastering the Old Testament))

Robert Jeffress (b. 1955) paraphrases:

Refuse to honk your own horn...This is one of the simplest yet most often ignored principles for success in life. Refuse to be your own press agent. Let other people handle the job for you...Admittedly, this principle can be hard to follow. We tend to think that if we don’t tell others about our accomplishments, they will go unnoticed. The truth is that when we try to shine the spotlight on ourselves, we only set ourselves up for humiliation. (Jeffress, The Solomon Secrets: 10 Keys to Extraordinary Success from Proverbs, 194)

Max Lucado (b. 1955) adds:

Demanding respect is like chasing a butterfly. Chase, it and you’ll never catch it. Sit still, and it may light on your shoulder. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal [1623-1662] asked, “Do you wish people to speak well of you? Then never speak well of yourself.” Maybe that’s why the Bible says, “Don’t praise yourself. Let someone else do it.” (Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear, 76)
In today’s sell yourself world, Proverbs’ synthetic admonition to keep one’s successes to onseself is counter cultural.

Praise is only as good as its source. Our own praise is too unobjective to be useful. We are too close to the situation to see ourselves clearly and as such we cannot accurately gage our own efforts.

Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) analyzes:

The admonition protects one against self-deception and flattery. “A person is judged by his praise.” (Proverbs 27:21), but to be of value that praise must be credible. Objective friends have no self-interest in either their positive evaluation of a person or in their celebrating his virtue...A German proverb says, “Eigen-Lob stinkt, Freundes Lob hinkt, Fremdes Lob klingt” — “self-praise stinks, a friend’s praise limps, a stranger’s praise rings.” William McKane [1921-2004] comments, “Whereas society will not take the boaster seriously, it has its own way of testing him before according him acclaim and entrusting him with power [cf. Proverbs 27:21, 25:6-7; Luke 14:7-11; John 12:43].” Moreover self-promotion through boasting may elevate a person beyond his competence, leading him to fear demotion or in fact to be demoted and shamed. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 374)
There are practical as well as moral reasons for the sage’s advice. Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) observes:
Modesty is a tactical as well as moral virtue, for others are more likely to speak of a person’s virtues and accomplishments if he himself is silent on them, and “He whose spirit is humble will hold honor” (Proverbs 29:23b). A further implication is that one should act in such a way that other people, and not only his own mouth will praise him. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible), 803)
Relationship counselors Les (b. 1961) and Leslie Parrott (b. 1964) (naturally) apply the proverb to romantic relationships. They take the proverb’s negative and encourage the positive inverse:
This truth may not have been written with couples in mind, but the wise husband and wife will see its applicability to marriage...Loving couples praise one another in private and in public. They tell each other’s stories of accomplishment..So when you have an opportunity to bring praise to yourself in a social setting, skip it. But when an opportunity arises for you to compliment your spouse in front of others, don’t let the opportunity slip by. (Parrott and Parrott, Meditations on Proverbs for Couples, 38)
Proverbs does not discourage praise, only self praise (Proverbs 27:21). It is more fitting for someone else to place the crown on the ruler’s head. Besides, if you are good, there is no need to tell people. They will know it. And if you need to tell someone you are good, how good could you be?

Why is Proverbs 27:2 sage advice? What other tasks should you not do for yourself? When have you been tempted to brag about your own success? Why? What should you do if no one else praises your good work? Whose opinion do you most value, your own or others? Whose assessment is most accurate? Is there an implicit admonition to praise worthy acts in Proverbs 27:2? Who should we praise?

It is typically better to give than to take praise. The word for praise is halal from which we get the word hallelujah. Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) notes:

The trilateral root hll in the qal conjugation means “to praise,” and the root contributes to a wordplay: Just as one cannot take tomorrow for granted (hthll in Proverbs 27:1, hithpael conjugation) so one cannot praise oneself (hll in Proverbs 27:3). Honor is granted, not taken. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 237)
Stephen D. Renn defines:
Hālal is a fairly common verb occurring in 165 contexts with the predominant meaning “to praise,” as well as “to glory,” “boast.”...In the context of “praise” directed towards human beings hālal conveys the sense of “commend” (Genesis 12:15; Proverbs 12:8) and “admire” (II Samuel 14:25; II Chronicles 23:12; Proverbs 27:2, 31:28ff; Song of Solomon 6:9). (Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew And Greek Texts,748)
Though it is sometimes used of humans and even objects (Genesis 12:15; II Samuel 14:25; Proverbs 27:2), the verb is usually reserved for God.

God follows the recommendation offered in Proverbs 27:2. Instead of self praise, God allows others to do it. In fact, this is one of our primary tasks. Anything that could garner praise for us is worth us giving praise to God.

Is there anything you can take credit for that God did not do? Do you praise God for your accomplishments?

“Don’t talk about yourself; it will be done when you leave.” - Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jesus and Women (Luke 8:2-3)

Name the three women who supported Jesus “out of their substance” (financially) during his ministry? Mary Magdalene, Susanna and Joanna, wife of Chuza (Luke 8:2, 3)

In one of the gospel’s “summary statements”, Luke provides a rare glimpse into Jesus’ entourage.

And also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:2-3, NASB)
Though the evangelist will portray them in relatively conventional roles, Luke places a greater emphasis on women than the other canonical gospels, consistently acknowledging their part in Jesus’s ministry. Here, they are placed on equal footing with the disciples (Luke 8:1-3). This text also gives the women the rare dignity of being named. In fact, the way the women are introduced may indicate that they were known to the gospel’s readers.

Luke 8:2-3 foreshadows that these women will be the witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (Luke 23:49, 55, 24:1-11). While the other canonical evangelists do not reference the women until the death narratives (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25), Luke builds up the credibility of his prize witnesses by placing them in the company throughout Jesus’ life. Mary Magdalene will play a prominent role in the death narratives in each gospel (Matthew 27:56, 61, 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47, 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1-2, 11-18) and Joanna will be seen in a similar context but only in Luke (Luke 24:10). Susanna is never again referenced and nothing is known of her.

Here, the women’s role is that of patron. The verb used of the women is diakoneo from which the word “deacon” is derived (Acts 6:1-6). The women are apparently affluent. Jesus was homeless (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58) and somebody had to foot the bills for the itinerant preacher and his companions. When they were sent out two by two, the disciples could depend on the hospitality of strangers (Luke 10:7), but this was not feasible when traveling in a group so large. Luke’s gospel provides a small piece of the puzzle in reconfiguring how Jesus sustained himself.

Leon Morris (1914-2006) praises:

This is valuable as giving us one of the few glimpses we have of the way Jesus’ needs during his ministry were met. We read of the apostolic band as having a common purse from which purchases of food were made and gifts were given to the poor (John 12:39), but not of how it was supplied. Here we learn that these women responded in love and gratitude for what Jesus had done for them (cf. Mark 15:40ff). It seems to have been not uncommon for godly women to help religious teachers, and Jesus speaks of some Pharisees who were evidently quite rapacious (Luke 20:47). It is heart-warming to read of this group of women who supported Jesus. And it is worth reflecting that the Gospels record no woman as ever taking action against him: his enemies were all men (Morris, Luke (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 165)
Though having women benefactors may not have been uncommon, females traveling openly with men was highly unusual (John 4:27). And Luke presents the women’s presence in the traveling outfit as being normative. The phrase “and many others” (Luke 8:3) is in the feminine in Greek meaning that there were other women in the group. The women are also mentioned at the gathering of the early church (Acts 1:13-14). These women were among those who had left home sake of the kingdom (Luke 18:29).

Even the staunchest critics acknowledge the historicity of this point as this is not a detail anyone would create to present their group in a positive light. It appeared improper and likely raised the same questions then that would arise today if women traveled with a charismatic man: Jesus might be seen as a gigolo or the women as his groupies.

Robert C. Tannehill (b. 1934) recognizes:

It is possible that the pictured arrangement reflects the division widespread in ancient and traditional societies between women, who work within the household, and men, who are expected to handle public affairs...Even if verses Luke 8:2-3 do not break with traditional gender roles in all respects, the idea of women wandering through the countryside with an itinerant preacher and his band would be shocking. Maintaining a woman’s sexual honor was very important to her husband and family. Prolonged contact with males outside the family would threaten the honor of the woman and her family. (Tannehill, Luke (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 139-140)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) adds:
Luke 8:1-3 stands in contrast to its historical context in rabbinic Judaism. We know women were allowed to hear the word of God in the synagogue but they were never disciples of a rabbi unless their husband or master was a rabbi willing to teach them. Though a woman might be taught certain negative precepts of the Law out of necessity, this did not mean they would be taught rabbinic explanations of the Torah. It was not uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples out of their own money, property, or foodstuffs. But for her to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ traveling companions. Yet it was an intended part of his ministry that women be witnesses from the earliest part of his Galilean ministry until his death, and benefit from his teaching and healing. This involved their traveling with him so they would understand and be prepared for the significance of his resurrection when they were called upon to be the last at the cross, first at the tomb, and first to bear witness to the resurrection (Luke 23:55-24:11). (Levine, “On the Road with Mary Magdalene,” A Feminist Companion to Luke, 134-35)
Despite their presence being highly irregular, the women are depicted in a decidedly positively light. Though Mary Magdalene has been painted as a woman of ill repute based upon her hosting seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) this is not in the text.

Sharon H. Ringe (b. 1946) clarifies:

“Evil spirits” and “demons” had afflicted these women...and...Jesus had healed them...In the understanding of the gospel writers and their communities such spirits were seen in the physical and emotional pain that people suffered; they did not cause the people they “possessed” to sin or to be morally evil. In fact the only hint that we get about the moral character of these women is their faithful accompaniment of Jesus. Apparently, at least some of them were women of means, but instead of hiding in the comfort wealth could provide or supporting the mission of Jesus from the safety of their homes, they are said to be traveling with him. (Ringe, Luke (Westminster Bible Companion), 112)
Joel B. Green (b. 1956) identifies:
These women are...characterized as (1) persons who mirror the graciousness of Jesus’ own benefaction, (2) persons who, like Jesus, “serve” others (cf. Luke 22:24-27), and (3) exemplars of Jesus’ message on faith and wealth...whose lives anticipate Luke’s portrait of early Christian community among whom “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32)...Luke 8:1-3...parades these women (and not the twelve) as persons who both hear and act on the word of God (Luke 8:21; cf. Luke 6:46-49). (Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 320)
Though women are not featured in prominent leadership roles in the gospels, they are presented as being among Jesus’ disciples from his earliest days. As such, their later marginalization does not emanate from any policy of Jesus.

Why were women Jesus’ financial backers? How does the presence of these and other women in Jesus’ ministry speak to women’s involvement in ministry today? Whose ministry can you support financially? Why is Luke the only evangelist that names the women or even includes their early involvement? Why does the evangelist include this potentially scandalous information?

The women are seen as highly independent. Joanna is the only one identified in reference to a man and the reference to her husband, Chuza, has garnered much attention (Luke 8:3). Though Chuza is not referenced in any extrabiblical sources, the Aramaic name does occur in Nabatean and Syrian inscriptions.

Chuza’s exact position is uncertain. He is described as an epitropos, a word used only three times in the New Testament (Matthew 20:8; Luke 8:3; Galatians 4:2). The word is translated “steward” (ASV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), ‘manager” (ESV, MSG, NIV, NLT), or “official” (CEV). Most posit that he was either the manager of a royal estate or high ranking official.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) defines:

The title epitropos (used only here in the Lucan writings) cannot be understood as the Greek equivalent of Latin praefectus or procurator...It should rather by understood as “manager” of Herod’s estate (see Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.6,6 §194). (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (The Anchor Bible), 698)
The connection to Herod is tantalizing. Herod is introduced as tetrarch of Galilee in Luke 3:1 and will frequently reappear in the narrative (Luke 9:7-9, 13:31, 23:7-12).

Jonathan Marshall (b. 1978) conjectures:

Joanna was probably from Tiberius since her husband served Antipas who moved his capital to the new city...For Joanna, her husband’s occupation..and therefore boss (Antipas), brought her into the inner circles of Galilean politics. Joanna might have been the conduit through which Jesus learned of Antipas’ feelings towards him and of how Antipas learned of the ministry of Jesus (Luke 9:7)...He [Jesus] could have an insider’s look at Antipas’ motivations for constructing Tiberias and relocating its people. (Marshall, Jesus, Patrons, and Benefactors: Roman Palestine and the Gospel of Luke, 180-181)
Luke’s access to Joanna and Manaen (Acts 13:1) also explains the evangelist’s intimate knowledge of Herod’s household.

The fact that Joanna was married also begs the question as to the nature of Joanna’s and Chuza’s relationship. Frédéric Louis Godet (1812-1900) speculates that Chuza was the royal officer in John’s gospel whose son Jesus healed (John 4:46-53).

Conversely, Heidi Bright Parales (b. 1961) surmises that Joanna left her husband to follow Jesus:

What man of Herod’s court—a royal minister of finance—would stand for his wife traipsing around the countryside with a ragtag band of rural folk, following a radical preacher who behaved in shocking ways?...Joanna had left not only her wealthy husband but also all the advantages of court life to follow Jesus. She left family and influence, although she continued to have enough wealth to help support the disciples and Jesus. She may well have provided the seamless robe Jesus wore, as well as a comfortable location for the Last Supper—things fishermen’s wives could not have supplied. (Parales, Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage, 39)
Joanna’s background likely did her no favors in her new family as most of Jesus’ followers had experienced high taxes from her husband’s employer. Richard Bauckham (b. 1946), who theorizes that Joanna was a prominent liaison for Jesus and one and the same as the apostle named Junia (Romans 16:7), writes:
Among these people, her status brought her no honor, not even her substantial donations to the common fund gave her a place above others. But instead she found a place in what Jesus called his new family of those who were practicing the will of God, his sisters and brothers and mothers, who were therefore also sisters and brothers and mothers to each other. (Bauckham, Gospel Women: Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, 196)
Luke 8:1-3 in general and Joanna in particular speak to the vast scope of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus breaks economic and class divisions. Followers are not discouraged because of their gender or wealth. Jesus’ message appeals to the wealthy (Acts 13:1, 7, 12, 26-39, 18:8, 19:31) as well as the poor. Joanna is evidence that Christianity has penetrated to high places.

The three women listed represent diverse levels of social standing with presumably only one common bond: Jesus. Their love for Jesus was greater than their many differences.

Did Jesus exclude anyone based upon the demographic they represented? Who does your church exclude? Should anyone be excluded?

“No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” - Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)