Saturday, July 15, 2017
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but offered as a way to lift up some of the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For a further understanding of Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide to this genre, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? Like the first parable in this chapter, the way the Word functions in the parable and the way it functions in the accompanying allegory are quite different. In the parable the emphasis is on the forbearance of the Master: "Let them both grow together until the harvest." This is certainly a gospel function as we are given a full view of the scandalous grace of the Master, when we, like the servants in the parable, wish to pluck up the weeds. The Word functions as law, however, in the allegory, as the emphasis there is on judgement: "The Son of Man will send his angels... and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Even the assurance at the close, that "the righteous will shine like the sun" does not have a gospel ring to it; rather, it seems assuring only to those who can manage to live rightly.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The answer to this question will, of course, be tied to how we answer the first question. If we center on the forbearance of the Master, then the Law is downplayed, even though, at the close of the parable Jesus makes it clear that the weeds will be collected and bound in bundles to be burned. If, on the other hand, we center on the judgement in the allegory, the Gospel is downplayed, indeed it is hard to find at all. A balance is needed.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the servants in the parable, who ask the Master how the weeds came to be in the field, and who, upon learning that an enemy has sowed them, ask, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?" We are people who are concerned about the "weedy people" in our churches. We are the self-righteous ones who so easily assume that we are the wheat and others are the weeds. We are the ones who somehow insist that we are capable of separating the good from the bad, and seeing which people ought to be allowed to continue in Christ's church and which ones ought not be.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? If the call to obedience is the Word functioning to instruct us in the best ways to live in response to the Gospel, then it might be argued that this whole text is a call to obedience. We are to bear fruit, according to the first parable in this chapter. This fruit needs to be "wheaty" not "weedy".
5. Exegetical work: The word translated "weeds" in this passage has been more precisely translated as "darnel". Darnel is an ancient grain that looks very much like wheat in its early stages, and reportedly was almost impossible to distinguish from wheat until the harvest was near. (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. IV, p. 826) This would explain why the Master was reluctant to have the slaves attempt to pull up the weeds before the harvest. David Buttrick, in his excellent guide to the parables of Jesus, speaks to the dilemma with which this text deals: "[This parable addresses] a concern of the church: How can the church be morally pure and yet live in the worldly world? If we try for purity, we lose our evangelical touch with the world. If we give ourselves to attracting the worldly, we can become morally lax and lose our souls. A perennial problem." (Speaking Parables, p. 94) Augustine has a solution to this problem, suggesting that perhaps people are not permanently either weeds or wheat: "See what we choose to be in [the Lord's] field. See which of the two we will be at harvest time... Let the one who is wheat persevere until the harvest; let those who are weeds be changed into wheat... In the Lord's field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1a, p. 277)
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry always emphasized the need to move the listener into disequilibrium and then back to equilibrium. This text might lend itself very much to that, as a preacher lifts up the discomforting thought that, while we easily assume we are wheat, we can readily see that we are not. Similarly discomforting is the fact that we are not able to distinguish the weedy folk from the wheaty ones in our midst.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
(The following questions are meant to ferret out concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to supplement many other fine sets of questions that exegetes might use for their discovery. For a more thorough discussion of Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? There is considerable debate amongst scholars as to the answer to this question. Some argue that this text is Law, in that it warns us, especially in the allegorical interpretation, not to be those who choke off or neglect the Word in our lives. Others argue that this parable is pure Gospel, reminding us that God is sowing seed everywhere, - even in places where growth seems unlikely - and finally abundance results. I prefer the latter interpretation.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Obviously, the answer to this question will depend on our answer to the first question. If we choose to see God the Prodigal Sower, then the focus is not on our fitness as soil, but on God's ability to overcome our unfitness. If, on the other hand, we choose to focus on the voice of the allegorist, then the Word is functioning primarily as Law, and our unfitness to be "good soil." In this latter case, the Gospel is not heard.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are certainly the hearers of this parable. We are the many listening on the shores of the sea. How will we hear this? that is the question. One important note: The parable itself focuses on the sowing of seeds, the allegory focuses on the "one" who is good soil or not. This is important to note as we consider our place in this story.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This parable is about God's Word being sown in the world. It is about God's abundance, and our response to that abundance. In a word, it is about grace, or conversely, faith. Obedience, in the sense of what is an appropriate response to living in God's grace, is not addressed here..
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Several couplets come to mind which may lead in fruitful directions: scarcity/abundance; doubt/faith; failure to understand/ understanding.
6. Exegetical work: Luther, in his explanation about what draws us away from God, often referred to the triumvirate that we traditionally renounce at baptism: "the devil and all the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the ways of sin that draw us from God." (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 229) It is worth noting that these are precisely the things that the allegorist mentions in this pericope: "the evil one comes and snatches [the Word] away", "such a person has not root" (i.e. is drawn away by sin), and "the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word." It might be fruitful to reflect on the fact that all of us are besieged by such enemies; there are none who are born "good soil", but in fact, it is God's grace that enables us rocky, thorny, hardened sinners, to hear the Word and believe it. It is God's grace that makes us good soil. One of the classic commentaries on parables I appreciate is that of Joachim Jeremias. His words regarding God's persistent sowing speak to Jesus' confidence in the power of the Word: "To human eyes much of the labour seems futile and fruitless, resulting apparently in repeated failures, but Jesus is full of joyful confidence.... Consider the husbandman, says Jesus; he might well despair in view of the many adverse factors which destroy and threaten his seed. Nevertheless he remains unshaken in his confidence."(The Parables of Jesus, p. 150-151)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Joseph Justus Van der Sabb, in his extensive analysis, archived under Year A Gospel, 2011, argues that the verses which have been omitted from the pericope (vss. 10-17) are key to understanding this passage. They provide the real life context. In his analysis Van der Sabb shows how we are "soiled" by our complicity with the powers of this world. Finally this leads to our death: "I gasp. I sputter. I wither. I die." Christ comes to "fertilize" us to life. Christ takes our gasping, sputtering, withering, and dying upon himself, and in his death we are given new life. See crossings.org/textstudy for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, June 29, 2017
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but simply to lift up some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions come from the appendix to my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? Since Jesus is clearly announcing rewards, this text functions mainly as gospel. It is certainly good news to the disciples to know that the people who welcome them will be rewarded, since such people are apparently going to be rare given the "wolf-like" characteristics of those to whom these "sheep" are called.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is not a clear word of Law here - no word which exposes our need for Christ. In the verses prior to these we hear all about the hardships likely to come upon those who are called to "take up their cross and follow" Christ, but here these hardships are not mentioned.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who are called to follow, and who are receiving assurances here that all who welcome us will receive their reward. Even those who give us a cup of cold water are rewarded. We too,when we do the same, are assured of a heavenly reward.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text assumes the call to follow has been answered. The disciples addressed here, however, are not called to further obedience, but assured that as they follow, God will provide for them through those who welcome them.
5. Exegetical work: The NRSV translation is curious to me in that throughout the passage the word "whoever" is used: "whoever welcomes you... whoever welcomes a prophet... whoever welcomes a righteous person... whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these." This translation suggests the presence of a subjunctive (i.e. contingent) circumstance. In the Greek text we see that this is not the case, except in the last phrase. The RSV, though less inclusive, has it right: "He who receives you receives me... He who receives a prophet... He who who receives a righteous man." There is no contingency, only the thought that when this welcome happens, a reward comes.
Kittel has an interesting article on the word for reward (misthos): "As agape is relationship to the neighbor, so its reward is connected with the final destiny in the kingdom of God of those to whom it refers. Thus he who receives a prophet because he is a prophet, or a righteous man out of regard for the greatness of the obedience which he demonstrates (Mt. 10:41), or he who in the burning heat of the eastern sun simply gives a disciple a cup of cold water because he is a disciple (Mt. 10:42), will have a place with him in the kingdom of God (misthos lambanein)." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV, p. 700)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Lori Cornell's analysis, archived under Year A Gospel for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2011, is a good example of interpreting this text as a call to obedience. Cornell takes this text as an exhortation for us to welcome others, showing how essential that is, and what may be at stake when we fail. See the complete analysis by going to crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, June 17, 2017
(The following questions are meant to lift up some of the central concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are meant only to supplement many other fine sets of questions available to exegetes. For a more thorough discussion of Law and Gospel preaching see my brief guide to this genre, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The first function of the Word here is to assure us that, even though we are certain to experience persecution and hardship as followers of Jesus - since disciples can expect no less than their master - we should not be afraid, for we are of more value "than many sparrows." This assurance is a gospel function. This Word assures us that the Father loves us and will not abandon us in our time of persecution.
The second half of the passage is a stern call to obedience. We are reminded that following Jesus is serious business and with it, inevitably comes division. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells us that "you will be hated by all because of my name." (vs. 22) Here we are faced with a choice: will we follow Jesus even when it means causing divisions in our families and circles of influence, or will we fail to acknowledge Him, and risk Him refusing to acknowledge us? These are difficult choices.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law is not explicit here. The Word that says, "You need Jesus!" is not in this text. Having said that, our fears and our loyalties at odds with Christ are fully in view. Indeed, the repeated command "do not be afraid" is evidence of our tendency to do precisely that, and have that fear control us. It is important to understand that this is text is not one that condemns us for being fearful. Many a sermon has undoubtedly been preached with this as the underlying theme, but this is not how this text functions.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those to whom Jesus is speaking. We are disciples of this Crucified One, who are afraid to take up our own cross and follow the master. We are those who would do anything to avoid division in our family and circle of influence. We are those who say we believe that the Father loves us more than many sparrows, but we live as though that is not true. This text is very challenging to us.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The underlying theme suggests an obvious couplet: afraid/fearless. Other couplets are variations of the same: cowardly/bold; unable or unwilling to take up the cross/willing to take up the cross.
5. Exegetical work: Translation of this text from the original language offers us some insights that may be important to our sermon. The opening verses remind us that our master was maligned, so we who follow Jesus should expect no less. Then in verse 26 we hear the word "so". This is a translation of a word which more clearly means "therefore" or "consequently." So the verse is saying "Therefore [since disciples are not above their master, and our master was maligned] have no fear of them [those who maligned Jesus and will surely malign you]." The text then goes on to explain that "nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered." The meaning of this is debated, but I take it to mean that people will eventually see that the way of Jesus is the way of truth and justice, and those who have maligned his followers are in error. It is also important to note that the opening prohibition in verse 26 is not a present imperative, but an aorist subjunctive. Present imperatives prohibit the continuing of an action already begun (i.e. "stop being afraid"); aorist subjunctives prohibit an action which has not yet begun. So Matthew is saying, "Because being maligned for following Jesus is simply part of the life of a disciple, don't let yourself even begin being fearful... for "even the hairs of your head are all counted."
6, How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Paul Jaster, in his clear analysis, shows how we who disown Jesus for the sake of favor in the public arena, find ourselves "on our own" before God. Thankfully we who are "on our own" before God are befriended by the very One whom we have disowned, and forgiven. We are freed to once again turn from fearfulness to fearlessness. We are freed to turn from being those who will not confess Christ to being those who do. See Jaster's whole analysis at crossings.org/text study and looking under Year A Gospel archived under 2008.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry said that a sermon must always move the listener out of equilibrium into disequilibrium, and then, in the presentation of the gospel, back into equilibrium. This text might be a great opportunity to try exactly that.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Sunday, June 11, 2017
(The following questions are a basic set of questions from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, which can be purchased through wipfandstock.com or amazon. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive for any exegete, but simply one lens through which to look at a text. For more information on this genre, please see my brief guide.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The text begins with a word of gospel, as we encounter Jesus proclaiming the good news, curing every disease, and having compassion on all. With Jesus' announcement, however, that the harvest needs workers, the function of the Word changes; we are now into a call to obedience. The disciples are first named, and then given authority and instructed to go forth and continue the work of Christ. Perhaps it is because Jesus has increasingly been under attack ("By the ruler of demons he casts out demons." 8:34), that he now sees it necessary to appoint others who will carry on his work. In any case, this text functions mainly to announce Jesus' authority and then hear him hand it off to his followers.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? For the disciples - those being addressed by the Word in this text - there is no word of Law. That is to say, they are not shown their need for Christ. The needs of the crowd are clear, however, since they are spoken of as "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Even they, however, are not judged for their state. Instead Jesus has compassion on them.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is always important to identify with those who are being addressed by the Word in the text. In this case, that would be the disciples. We are the ones who Jesus summons. We are those to whom he gives authority. We are the ones he calls by name. We are the ones who are to go to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," which, in our case, may mean those in the Christian fold who have wandered off.
4. Exegetical work: Mark Allan Powell, in his insightful commentary on the gospel of Matthew, says that there is a "communal focus" in Matthew. He argues that Jesus does not assume the entire burden of the ministry, but makes disciples who will continue this work. These disciples will necessarily be sinners, and Powell makes note of the fact that in the listing of the disciples in this text, Judas Iscariot is identified as "the one who betrayed him." This, says Powell, "serves as a paradigm for what Jesus claims to be an essential part of his mission: he has come to call sinners (9:9-13)." And these sinners Jesus "shapes into a community that he identifies as his family (12:49)." (God With Us, p. 14-15) Powell's insight, that the call to sinners is not only the call to be saved, but the call to ministry, is an important one. We might have little trouble assuming that sinners are called to be saved, but sinners called to serve? Even though we should know better, we easily assume that those who are called to serve are somehow beyond sin, at least in some sense. The listing of the disciples, with known foibles: Peter the Denier, Thomas the Doubter, James and John the Ambitious Ones, etc, should put an end to any thought we might have that sinners are not called to ministry. Perhaps the best news in this text is the clear naming of these sinners. In that, we too find our calling.
5. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Timothy Hoyer, in his analysis, centers on the words "harassed and helpless". He takes this description in new directions as he suggests that we are often harassed and helpless because of our belief that "everyone gets what they deserve" (i.e. if you are sick, it's because you have done something to cause this). Hoyer shows how Jesus, the Good Shepherd, breaks into this desperate situation by seeking out the "lost sheep." To see the entire diagnosis/prognosis, go to crossings.org/text study archived under Gospel A, 2008.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, June 3, 2017
(The following questions are meant to get at some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to supplement many other fine sets of questions which help us exegete a text. For a more complete look at this genre of preaching, please see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word - in this text, Jesus - is functioning mainly to call us to go forth and disciple other folks by baptizing and teaching them. This is not a gospel function nor is it a law function. It is a classic call to obedience. It is the call to respond to the grace given us, by living in the way of Christ.
The Word also functions as gospel in two distinct places: First, when Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me," and then later when he assures us that he is with us "always, to the close of the age." These are both gospel functions.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? It is hard in this text to see any word of Law. Perhaps we gain a hint of our need for Christ when Matthew tells us that "some doubted." What that means is unclear. Some commentators suggest that that comment is simply a commonplace in describing post-resurrection appearances. That we are all prone to such doubt goes without saying.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Undoubtedly we are the disciples, called to disciple others. We are those who go about teaching and baptizing in the name of the Triune God. We are the ones who are assured of the presence of Christ throughout all the ages.
4. Exegetical work: It is important to understand that there is only one active verb in the Great Commission, that is "to make disciples" or "to disciple". The other two verbs present are participles, meaning they do not carry the freight that the active verb does. One way of thinking about this is to make these participles which describe the means by which we disciple others. In other words, we could understand the verse to be saying, "Make disciples of all nations, by baptizing and teaching." Or we could simply understand this as a description of the act of disciple-making. In any case, we will want to be sure we do not misinterpret these verses to say that we are to disciple, baptize, and teach, as though they are equivalent activities, independent of one another. Douglas Hare, in his commentary, argues that the term "all nations" should actually be translated "all Gentiles." Hare writes: "What verse 19 explicitly does is remove the restriction of the earlier Galilean mission ("Go nowhere among the Gentiles," 10:5)." (Matthew, Interpretation series, p. 333) John Chrysostom, the fourth century preacher, finds much to celebrate in these verses: "[Jesus] promised to be not only with these disciples but also with all who would subsequently believe after them. Jesus speaks to all believers as if to one body. Do not speak to me, he says, of the difficulties you will face, for 'I am with you,' as the one who makes all things easy. Remember that this is also said repeatedly to the prophets in the Old Testament." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol 1b, 313).
5. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice believed that helping listeners recognize their shared story in the text was crucial. It might be helpful to understand other "commissions" our listeners have received. How are our listeners' callings to their own vocation stories that resonate with this one?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, May 25, 2017
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to supplement other questions which an exegete may ask. These questions center on concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For a more thorough explanation of this genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word functions in every way as gospel. First, Jesus comes amongst the disciples despite their best attempts to lock him out. Then he extends his peace to them and shows them his wounds, assuring them that he is the Crucified One. Finally he breathes on them, inspiring within them the Holy Spirit. All of this is gift, pure gospel.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is little Law here. One piece of evidence for the disciples' need of the gospel is the statement that "the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews." This clearly shows their fear and their need for a visitation by Christ to quiet those fears. Yet there is no condemnation of the disciples for this fear.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We always identify with those whom the Word addresses, be it gospel or law. In this text we are the disciples. We are those who cower behind locked doors, who need a word of peace, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are also those whom the Lord has sent out to bear the good news of Christ.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience here is the statement by Jesus that we are sent out. We are equipped by the Holy Spirit for service and witness, and with that we are sent out into the world to continue the work that Christ began.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There can only be one couplet in this short text: cowering behind locked doors/equipped and sent out boldly into the world.
6. Exegetical work: Peter Ellis, in his unique commentary on John's Gospel, highlights the parallels here between Genesis 2:7 where God breathed life into the first human, and here where in Christ "everything is being made new." (II Cor 5:17) Ellis writes: "Symbolically, John is speaking about the commission of the apostles as a new creation - a new beginning and a new world. It is worthy of note that the Gospel began with a reference to the first creation in the prologue (1:1-3); here it ends with a reference to the new creation brought about by Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection." (The Genius of John, p. 293). Lamar Williamson offers an important commentary on the final verse in this pericope, regarding forgiveness of sins. He reminds us that these words are to be understood in the context of the community of faith: "This word of the risen Lord in the present text can therefore be read as descriptive: if members of the community forgive one another their sins, those sins are forgiven and the community is living from and in the Spirit of Jesus; but if members of the community harbor grudges and resentment toward other members who have sinned against them, then those sins remain to spoil the bond of unity, and the Spirit of Jesus is no longer resident in the community. (Preaching the Gospel of John, p. 283)
Blessings on your proclamation!