Saturday, November 18, 2017
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to be used in conjunction with many other fine sets of exegetical questions which attempt to get at other concerns. For more on this genre of preaching, please 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 no doubt that the Word is functioning as Law here. The final verse seals it: "And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life." There is a strong sense of the Law functioning as mirror here, showing us our sin. We have all neglected those in need, and so we all stand under judgment. As the prophet said, "There is none righteous; not even one." But as St. Paul reminds us, the Law is meant to drive us to repentance, and so it does, urging us to take care of our siblings in need.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Like the previous parables in Matthew 25, the Gospel is not immediately obvious. One important statement gives us a hint, however: "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Notice that this inheritance was set up long before anyone had had an opportunity to earn it. It has been God's will since the foundation of the earth to keep in readiness an inheritance for the blessed ones. This inheritance is evidence of God's great love for all creation. It is equally important to note that the eternal fire is not prepared for the cursed, but for the devil and his minions.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those on the right and those on the left. We are those who both see the needy neighbor and those who are blind to them. We are those who are called to repentance by this parable. Again, there is none righteous; not even one.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text, just like the previous two parables, can be understood as a call to obedience. Here we are called to minister to those in need in no uncertain terms. As recipients of God's grace, as joint heirs with Christ, we are compelled to reach out with compassion to our siblings in need.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are obviously some very neat couplets present in the text: cursed/blessed; shunned/embraced. We might explore others.
6. Exegetical work: Some of the details of this text appear noteworthy: One is the obvious same wording that is used when the king speaks to the faithful and to the unfaithful. Neither see Christ in their needy neighbor. Both encounter the same neediness; one ministers to them, one does not. One interesting detail is that the king describes "the least of these" as those who are "members of my family" in speaking to the faithful, while the king leaves out that detail in talking to the unfaithful. It makes me wonder if a key to a life of compassion isn't in seeing the needy as siblings of ours. Another interesting parallel, alluded to above, is that the eternal fire and the kingdom have both been prepared beforehand. The word could be translated "kept in readiness." God's kingdom is kept in readiness to be inherited by the blessed. The eternal fire is kept in readiness for the devil and his minions. Both have been kept in readiness since the foundation of the world. St. Chrysostom in commenting on this says, "He did not say [to the blessed] 'take' but 'inherit' as one's own, as your father's, as yours, as due to you from the first. 'For before you were,' he says, 'these things had been prepared and made ready for you, because I knew you would be such as you are.'" "But concerning the fire, he does not say [prepared for you from the foundation of the world] but 'prepared for the devil.' I prepared the kingdom for you, he says, but the fire I did not prepare for you but 'for the devil and his angels.' But you have cast yourselves into it. You have imputed it to yourselves." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 232-234)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Jerry Bruce does a nice job of reminding us of the interrelatedness of all these parables in Matthew. He reminds us that, as I pointed out, Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount are echoed here. Finally, the good news is that we are not sheep or goats, but "members of God's family." That's the really good news. Christ has seen us in our hunger, thirst, nakedness, poverty, and imprisonment, and ministered to us. To that we say, Thanks be to God! See Jerry's entire analysis at crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, November 11, 2017
(The following questions try to address some of the central concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more about this unique 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? This text is lifting up faithfulness and condemning unfaithfulness. Because it is clear that the unfaithful are judged harshly, the Word is functioning as Law, reminding us of the ways that we "bury" God's gifts to us. The example of the unfaithful slave also lifts up the relationship of dread he has with the Master. Clearly he lives in fear of what the Master will do to him if he fails. Somehow, although he lives in the same home as the faithful slaves, he fails to trust or have faith in the Master and so his fear controls him.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? At first glance a Gospel word seems hard to find in this text, but if we take careful note of the faithful servants we catch a hint of Gospel. Noting the bold, adventurous, fearless actions of the faithful servants we might ask ourselves, how is it that they can act with such abandon? Answer: they have an absolute faith and trust in the mercy of the Master. They do not fear losing the Master's money - they know the Master to be generous and forgiving.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the slaves; which one we shall identify with is up to us. We might ask ourselves, "Which attitude characterizes my relationship with God?" Do I dread God's wrath? Or do I have confidence in God's mercy? Am I able to do what Luther advised: "Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly still"?
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? It could be argued that this whole parable is a call to obedience, a call to live faithfully, anticipating the Lord's return. How we serve, after all, is a response to God's grace, not what we do to gain it.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The contrasting attitudes of the faithful and the unfaithful provide us much fodder for our imagination: living in dread/living by faith; fearful/trusting; hoarding gifts/living with abandon.
6. Exegetical work: A narrative critical analysis of this parable reveals that the place where the most detail is shared is in the section about the unfaithful slave. Two verses are devoted to the conversation between the faithful slave who received five talents and the master. Similarly, two verses are devoted to the conversation between the second faithful slave and the master, with that conversation being a repeat of the first. In contrast, four verses are spent on the conversation between the unfaithful slave and master. This suggests that the key to the parable is here, which I believe it is. By the unfaithful slave's description of the master we see why he has acted as he has: he views his master as cruel, unscrupulous, and worthy of fear. Thus his decision to bury his master's money. And so we are warned, as Chrysostom did, that "it is not only the covetous, the active doers of evil things and the adulterer" who are condemned, "but also the one who fails to do good." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. Ib, p. 221) As Douglas Hare points out, the unfaithful one's sin is not merely that he fails to use his gifts faithfully, but his failure to see the gifts as precious and, most importantly, his failure to know his master. (Interpretation series, Matthew, p. 287).
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was a master of celebration in his sermons. Perhaps a challenge we could take up here is that of finding a way to celebrate the Master's entrusting us with God's gifts, and celebrating those who throw caution to the wind in investing those gifts for others.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, November 4, 2017
(The following questions are an attempt to get at some of the foundational concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are intended to be used in conjunction with other sets of questions which have other concerns. They were developed as part of 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? It is clear that this parable is a call to readiness. Similar calls in the preceding chapter provide the context. It is a call to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. It is a call to those who have already been invited to the wedding feast - to those who are known by the bridegroom. That is why the final word, "I do not know you," is so startling.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There seems to be a lack of Gospel in this text. We are exhorted to be ready for Christ's coming. We are told to be wise and prepared. We are told that there are some who have been invited to the feast who have finally been left outside. None of this sounds like Gospel, telling us what God has done in Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are, of course, the bridesmaids, either wise or foolish. We are those to whom the message comes, "Be prepared. Bring oil for your lamps. You know neither the day nor the hour."
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? It could be argued that this entire parable is a call to obedience. In other words, this text invites us to respond to what God has done in Christ by living wisely as we await the coming of the Son of Man. We might look at the passages immediately preceding this one to see what living wisely entails. These preceding passages suggest that working faithfully at our callings is the best way to be prepared.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Without gospel content we must use our imaginations to create the couplet. Possible examples: left out/invited in; having no oil/having an inexhaustible source of oil.
6. Exegetical Work: There has been a lively discussion down through the ages as to the allegorical identity of the various pieces of this parable. Augustine argued that both the wise and the foolish maidens were members of the Church, but that the wise maidens - the ones with oil in their lamps - were the members of the church who practiced an enduring love. He thought that the foolish maidens were those who were interested primarily in mere appearances, and they were even foolish enough to believe that works of charity could be purchased. They were foolish mainly then, because they believed that the appearance of charity was all the Lord required, rather than an enduring love. Augustine's entire discussion can be seen in the helpful collection Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 1b, pp.214-220. Luther, not surprisingly, argued that the oil in the lamps was faith. According to Douglas Hare, the most popular suggestion regarding the oil is that it represents good works. He believes this comes from Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount, "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Interpretation Series, Matthew, p. 285) In all cases, whatever the oil represents, it is considered essential in order to be admitted to the heavenly feast.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Cathy Lessman, in a very clever analysis, also picks up on the oil in the lamps as a central element, highlighting the "energy crisis" we all share. She shows how Christ comes amongst us as the one who takes our place as one unknown by God. Our energy source is restored and we are freed to share our energy with others. See crossings.org/text study for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, October 28, 2017
(The following questions are designed to unearth some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which open up the text in different ways. They have been developed as part of 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 announces God's favor to any number of people who would not expect to be counted as blessed. This is a gospel function. Those whom the world views as cursed, unlucky, and pitiful, Jesus announces as blessed. Similarly viewed are those who stand with these blessed ones.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Unlike the woes announced in Luke 6, this account of the sermon does not contain a word of Law. There is no word which expresses our need for Christ, only the announcement of blessedness.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is always an interesting question when approaching this text. We cannot identify with everyone whom the Word addresses simply because we are not likely to be enduring at all times all those things listed here. Perhaps we have been poor in spirit, or have been in mourning, but we are no longer. Those whom we can identify with, however, are those who are actively living under God's reign: the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The second half of the text implies that we are to pursue a life under God's reign, showing mercy, longing for righteousness, seeking peace, and willing to be persecuted for righteousness' sake. To do these things is to live in response to the blessedness that Jesus announces.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text? Without a word of Law, we will have to imagine the first half of each couplet. Some ideas: outcast/embraced; orphaned/called heirs; rejected/favored.
6. Exegetical work: It has long been agreed by scholars that Jesus' announcement of those blessed under the reign of God is a reversal of the customary evaluations given in the world. What has not been agreed on is if blessedness is a result of misfortune or virtue. More than one attempt has been made to force all of these beatitudes into one pot or another. Mark Allan Powell, in his book, God With Us; A Pastoral Theology of Matthew's Gospel, offers a way out of this dilemma. He first lifts up the pattern of the beatitudes which resembles Hebrew parallelism. He also notes that both Matthew 5:3-6 and 5:7-10 contain exactly thirty-six words, "the proteses of 5:6 and 5:10 both conclude with the word dikaiosyne, and 5:3-6 exhibits internal alliteration through the naming of groups that begin with the letter p: the poor (ptochoi) in spirit, those who mourn (penthountes), the meek (praeis), and those who hunger (peinontes) and thirst for righteousness." (p. 121) Powell then goes on to show how the first stanza may be thought of as announcing blessings on the unfortunate, and the second stanza as announcing the same blessing on the virtuous. Finally, Powell shows how the concluding verses offer a way of tying together these two stanzas, as Jesus announces God's favor upon those who because of their virtue (stanza two), experience the struggles of those in stanza one. Noting the shift to second person in the concluding verses, Powell writes that "Matthew's readers are expected to realize that continued empathy with the disciples means adopting a perspective that leads to identification with those whom Jesus has declared blessed." (p. 140) I highly recommend picking up Powell's book and reviewing the entire analysis.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Eric Evers, in his analysis, provides an interesting tack. He show how fruitless it is to try to establish our own blessedness. The end of this is only self-righteousness. How much better to be called blessed even though unrighteous. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, October 21, 2017
(The following questions have been formulated to bring to the surface concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive in themselves. For a more complete understanding of these concerns, as well as this genre of preaching, you may 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 case Jesus, functions to silence his adversaries, thus a function of Law. Whenever we need to be silenced by Jesus, we are being rebuked, and the function of the Word is to reveal to us our sin, i.e. our need for Jesus.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Once again, as is common in these late chapters of Matthew, there is no word of Gospel, no word that shows us the love of God shown us in Christ. We will need to look elsewhere for this Gospel word, perhaps in the First Lesson appointed for this day: Jeremiah 31:31-34: "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Here is a rare opportunity: We can identify with those who have been silenced by Jesus. We can identify with those who attempt to test Jesus and cause him to stumble, who are instead caused to stumble. We might want to ask, when have we been silenced by Jesus?
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? In one sense, the entire first half of this text is a call to obedience. Love God. Love people. There is no simpler call to obedience. It is what we do in response to God's love for us in Christ. We love because God first loved us.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Without the Gospel present here, we have to use our imaginations to come up with a couplet. Here are some ideas: silenced/freed to testify; unlovable/ loved unconditionally.
6. Exegetical work: The extended article on love (agape) in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is very helpful in thinking about the love command in this text. Here are a few highlights: "[Jesus] demands love with an exclusiveness which means that all other commands lead up to it and all righteousness finds in it its norm. For Jesus, too, love is a matter of will and action. But he demands decision and readiness for God and for God alone in an unconditional manner which startles his hearers." (TDNT, Vol. I, p. 44) "Jesus frees neighborly love once and for all from its restrictions to compatriots. He concentrates it again on the helpless man..." (Ibid., p. 45) Kittel also offers an insightful analysis of the term for neighbor (pleision): "[Neighbor] carries with it the element of encounter..." "One cannot say in advance who the neighbor is, but that the course of life will make this plain enough." (TDNT, Vol. VI, p. 317) Augustine, in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, offers much wisdom: "For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves." (Chapter CXVII). "We love God now by faith, then we shall love Him through sight. Now we love even our neighbor by faith; for we who are ourselves mortal know not the hearts of mortal men." (Chapter CXXI).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Jerome Bruce does an outstanding job of showing how Jesus 'strikes out the side' in this controversy with the Pharisees. Jesus proves to be 'unhittable.' Finally, however, the 'home run' that Jesus hits is one whereby even those who have 'struck out' are enabled to 'run the bases.' Go to crossings.org/text study to see the complete analysis - one that goes perfectly with this being World Series season!
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, October 14, 2017
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at the some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are part of a method I more fully develop in 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 here as pure Law. It does the task of holding up a mirror to those who would rather not see whom they really are. It "breaks the rock in pieces" as Luther said, exposing the sin beneath. There is no holding back in this controversy between Jesus and the disciples of the Pharisees. He rails against them with their polite phoniness: "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?"
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There are few texts as bereft of a gospel word as this one. Jesus is taking on the powers of this world. He will die for the sins of all, but there is no word here which declares the gift his death will be to the world.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As always we must identify with the ones whom the Word addresses. This means that here we must identify with these self-serving hypocrites. This is a tough place to put ourselves, but this text challenges us to ask, "How have I been phony, two-faced, and hypocritical? How have I declared a self-righteousness which is at odds with how I actually live? How have I tried to play the polite questioner of God, when in my heart of hearts I am dismissive of all God stands for? Tough questions indeed.
Note: It is so easy to read these texts and think of others whom we imagine this word addresses. We so easily think of public examples of misconduct (e.g. politicians, clergy in misconduct, etc.) whom exemplify hypocrisy and fail to embrace this text as a mirror to ourselves.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? In addition to its function as Law, this text also functions as a call to obedience in that we are invited implicitly to live authentically as disciples of Christ. We are called to throw aside our penchant for false living, and live humbly and faithfully as disciples of Christ.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since the gospel word is absent here, we need to use our imagination to come up with couplets. Some ideas: hidden lives/open lives; self-righteousness/Christ's righteousness; two-faced/whole-hearted.
6. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that the use of the word translated "put to the test" in verse 18 is a word Matthew only uses for the work of Satan and the work of the Pharisees. Satan is the tempter and the Pharisees are his disciples. This is consistent with the way Jesus portrays the religious leaders throughout his gospel: they are irredeemable. In Matthew there are no good examples amongst the Pharisees. The term "hypocrite" is also a favorite term for the Pharisees in Matthew's gospel. Out of the 20 times this term is used in the NT, 15 of them occur in Matthew. Chapter 23 is the place where Jesus really unloads. According to Kittel's analysis, "The [hypocrisy] of the adversaries [of Jesus] consists in the fact that they are concerned about their status with men (sic) rather than their standing before God. They thus fail to achieve the righteousness which they pretend to have." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VIII, p. 568) Severus of Antioch, 6th century bishop, gives this insightful analysis: Those who "don't know where [this] one is from call him 'Master'." Those who were calling him deceiver say, "We know you are truthful." Those who were saying, "He has a demon," witness that he teaches truth. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 149)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice was a champion of the shared story of the listener. He felt that a preacher's main task was to connect the story of the text with the story of the listener. In this text it is worth pondering how our own experiences of hypocrisy connect with those whom Jesus confronted.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, October 5, 2017
(The following questions are an attempt to address some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions come from the method I have developed in 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? No matter how you understand this parable, as one showing us the way of God or showing us a way contrary to God's way, the Word functions here as Law. In the first line of the chapter Matthew tells us that "once more Jesus spoke to them in parables." "Them" refers to the chief priests and Pharisees identified at the end of the previous chapter. (21:45) The parable then goes on to lift up the outrageous behavior of wedding guests who have been invited to the banquet of the prince, but who show, not only complete contempt for the king, but even go so far as to seize the king's messengers, mistreat them, and finally kill them. This early portion of the parable announces clearly, "Beware of this king! He will judge those who act as these scoundrels did!"
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is little Gospel here, any word that proclaims what God in Christ has done. One could argue that the announcement that "both good and bad" were called into the feast is a Gospel word, but even that word is overshadowed by the last piece of the parable.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are called to identify with the chief priests and Pharisees to whom Jesus is speaking. This parable functions as the Law often does, as a mirror, showing us our sin. "We have Abraham as our father," was the line of the Pharisees. We might substitute any number of other presumptuous lines ourselves: "We have Luther as our forbearer." In any case, presumption will not do. We also, in our self-righteousness, might bristle at the thought that "both the good and bad" are invited to God's banquet table, not celebrating the generosity of God. In many ways this parable is fashioned to lead us to repentance.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The final piece of the parable has been seen by many commentators as a call to obedience. The necessity for a wedding garment is once again a warning to us of any further presumption we might have regarding God's expectations of the elect. We have been chosen to attend the feast. Good. Now, be dressed in a manner worthy of Christ.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? With little evidence of a Gospel word here, we are left to our imaginations regarding couplets. We might try: uninvited/chosen; outside the feast/called to the feast; unclothed/clothed.
6. Exegetical work: Any number of commentaries on the parables of Jesus are helpful with this text. David Buttrick reminds us that "Behind the parable of the Feast is an image of the great messianic banquet, a symbol of worldwide salvation. [from Isaiah 25]." (Speaking Parables, p. 158) Luise Schottroff argues that this parable must not be read ecclesiologically but eschatologically. She rejects the idea that Matt. 22:14 means "salvation for a small, elite group and rejection of the rest of the world." [Rather] "The genre of Matt. 22:14 is "praise of God who has called and chosen, and thus has given a task to both the many and the few." (The Parables of Jesus, p. 47-48) A number of ancient commentators have centered on the final piece of this parable, notably Augustine: "The garment that is required is in the heart, not on the body, for if it had been put on externally, it could not have been concealed even from the servants. But what is the wedding garment that must be put on? We learn it from these words, 'May your priests be clothed with righteousness.'" And later Augustine more precisely identifies this righteousness as "charity" as defined by St. Paul. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 147)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry insists that we must always move our listeners from equilibrium into disequilibrium and then out again. This parable is an excellent vehicle for this, for this follows the story line quite closely. The difficulty will be to make the gospel sing when it is all but hidden in the story itself.
Blessings on your proclamation!