Friday Facts: Christmas Edition!

Friday Facts is a new weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Luke 2.7

And she gave birth to her son, her firstborn, and she swaddled him and she laid him down in a feeding-trough, because there was not a place for them in the guest room.

Because this Sunday is Christmas, and we all have many things to do, I’ll try to keep it short today. I like concordance studies, i.e. looking up a word in the Bible and seeing where else in the Bible it appears. They certainly can be done in English, but I appreciate them most in Greek because they often throw light on nuances of translation. The Christmas story is a great example, because the translation of one word in the text changes our idea of what’s actually going on. That word is καταλύματι, and it comes at the end of verse 7. For those of us who do the majority of our reading from translations heavily influenced by the King James Version (the NRSV included), the standard rendering of καταλύματι has been “inn.” And this translation conjures up images of “No Vacancy” signs, callous inn-keepers turning the young couple away, and a remarkable lack of hospitality on the part of the city of Bethlehem.

Image my surprise when I looked up where else καταλύματι occurs in Luke and found it in Luke 22.10-12: And [Jesus] said to them, “Behold, when you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house into which he goes. And you will say to the master of the house, ‘Our teacher says to you, ‘Where is the κατάλυμα where I can eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And that one will show you a large, furnished upstairs room. Prepare there.” Here, the κατάλυμα is clearly not an “inn,” but a specific room inside of a house. Moreover, Luke has another word he uses when he clearly means ‘inn.’ In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he writes “And going to him, he bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine [on them]. And having placed the man on his own donkey, he led him into an inn (Gk. πανδοχεῖον).”

So what’s going on here? It seems that instead of looking for a Motel 6, Mary and Joseph were staying with relatives in Bethlehem. And it just so happened that their house was stuffed with all the relatives who had arrived in town for the census. Because there was no room in the upstairs guest bedroom, Mary and Joseph had to stay in another room in the house, which, as was common in ancient Palestine, was the room that also housed the animals.

Does this radically change the Christmas story? No. The central fact is the same: Our Lord was born into humble circumstances in the midst of beasts of burden. But, Jesus was also born into a house overwhelmed by out-of-town relatives, which just goes to show that He really does know all of our hopes and cares. Merry Christmas indeed!

What Does it Mean to Repent?

Which person among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, will not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one who is lost, until you find it? Luke 15.4

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We have talked about those people who employ God’s love to run away from religion and afterwards smile all the time. But there are others who don’t smile.

There are never many. Jesus gives an illustrative expression in the parable where he talks about the one and the ninety nine.

Listen here, you lonely, fearful, wandering soul: Jesus loves you.

No, he doesn’t love me, you say. He’s mad at me. And rightly so! I have never done anything but sin against him.

Yeah, you’re right. If you look back on what you’ve done, you’ve got no hope. But all those things that you’ve done Jesus took upon himself. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our misdeeds, the punishment lay on him, so that we should have peace.”

That’s how He loves you.

In the same way, he’s worried about you when you run away. He’s been looking for you day and night. Haven’t you heard him calling?

Yes, yes you have. That’s why you’ve become ill at ease. That’s when your sins started to get so heavy.

But what do I do to find my way to God? you ask.

You don’t. And God hasn’t asked you to either. He’s the one who’s been looking for you. And now He’s found you. Now all He asks is that you hold still and He’ll put you on His shoulders and carry you home.

That’s what it means to repent.

Adapted from Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 177.

Go Away from me Lord! Hallesby on Luke 5.8

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down on his knees before Jesus and said: Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man! – Luke 5.8

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If the Lord will live in a person’s heart, He first must crush it. And the hearts which He will use in His work, He will crush the most thoroughly.

It was not only Peter who recognized the terror in his heart. If the Lord will make us useful, we must be able to see our sin, and seeing sin breeds terror. We must look so deeply at our own heart, our own god-fearing, our own Christian work, such that it becomes our despair. If we shall receive “the wisdom which comes from God,” we must first see our own stupidity.

Therefore, do not become discouraged, my dear co-laborers, when you experience this crushing blow from the Lord. You think that everything is impossible, but nothing is as impossible as you doing something righteous in God’s kingdom.

You think that you are unworthy? Yes, but who is worthy? No one. It is only through grace that we become co-laborers in the Lord’s work. As long as you realize this, it will go well with your labors.

You realize that you’re ill-fitted for the work? Good. As long as you realize it, the Lord can use it. For there is nothing which can make you fitted that you don’t receive from God, and He gives grace to the humble.

No one is so well-suited to win over people as a humble person. A humble person never takes a high position among the believers. A humble person never sows splits and disagreements in the Lord’s flock. And a humble person has an entrance into the heart and conscience of the unconverted that nobody else has.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 104.