Monday, August 21, 2017
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to lift up some of the central concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For a more extensive discussion of this genre of preaching, you may find helpful 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 as pronouncing blessed anyone to whom the Father has revealed the identity of the Son. If you recognize Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God, you are blessed, says Jesus. You are blessed because God, in mercy, has revealed this to you. "Flesh and blood" has not revealed this - in other words, we have not figured this out ourselves, nor has another person convinced us of this, but rather the Father has had mercy on us. This announcement of blessedness is a gospel function.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? I don't see the Word functioning as Law here, that is to say, the Word lifting up our need for Christ. There is mention of the gates of Hades, but it is clear that Christ has overcome them, so no threat is forthcoming in this text.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are Peter. We are the ones who are called blessed because of our confession. We are the ones who are given authority to forgive one another. We are the ones who are given the secret of the Messiah. How blessed we are!
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This is a strange text in that the one who is confessing is called blessed, but then at the end of the text, we are commanded not to be confessors. It seems to me that being confessors is part of the call to obedience, a call we should follow.
5. Exegetical work: If we compare the Markan and Lukan versions of this story, we will note immediately that Matthew alone contains the blessing of Jesus following Peter's confession, and along with it, the announcement regarding Peter's unique place in the church. In Mark and Luke we simply have the confession of Peter followed by Jesus' charge to tell no one that he is the Messiah. Scholars commonly point to this extended saying regarding Peter as evidence of the beginning of the Christian community in Matthew's day. In 18:18 we have further instructions regarding loosing and binding, so this seems likely. For our purposes, this beatitude bestowed upon Peter is crucial for it is one that we, as God's people, may claim for ourselves. Without it we are left with a confession followed by a prohibition and nothing else. Theodore, 5th century bishop of Mopsuestia, understands Jesus' words to Peter as we Protestants generally have: that it is Peter's confession that is the rock which the church is founded on: "Having said that his confession is a rock, he stated that upon this rock I will build my church. This means he will build his church upon this same confession and faith." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p.45)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Ron Starenko, in his 2011 analysis of this text, shows how contemporary this text is. We are in crisis because we have been duped into believing that 'flesh and blood' can reveal all things to us. Christ confessed is the antidote to our madness. Christ is the crux of our crisis. Christ is the only true God who can truly deal with our God-problem. See crossings.org/text study archived under Year A Gospel for complete analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 12, 2017
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the themes essential to Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not exhaustive; they come from the appendix 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? This is a unique text in that the Word - in this case, Jesus - functions, first as Law and then, finally, as Gospel. At the outset Jesus resists the woman's claim to his favor, announcing that his favor is reserved for the children of Israel. After she refuses to take no for an answer, he relents and announces God's mercy. The whole story is a dialogue between one who cries, "Have mercy," and the One who will say, "Let it be done for you as you wish."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Again, the way the Word functions changes here. That's what makes this text so unique. It is as if the writer is showing us the gradual unfolding of God's grand plan in our Lord's mind. So in the end the Word does not function as Law, but as Gospel. God's mercy is as wide as the world when all is said and done.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Usually it is important for us to identify with the ones whom the Word addresses, but here it might be important to identify with the disciples, for they are the ones who insist on excluding persons from the Lord's favor. Like in the previous gospel story, (14:13-21) the disciples' words are "Send her away!" If we are honest, this is also our tendency, to want to reserve God's favor for those we approve of. It might be important to identify with both the ones who want to send the woman away, and the woman herself, announcing that it is God''s wide mercy that includes even us.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is implicit in this text. The underlying message is, "If God has had mercy on you, then you are called to have mercy on others. If God has forgiven you, then you are to forgive others. If God has not excluded you, then you must not exclude others from God's grace."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Several couplets readily come to mind: rejected/accepted; excluded/embraced; condemned/forgiven. This is a Law/Gospel story.
6. Exegetical work: If we look carefully at the details of this story we see all kinds of surprises: 1) Jesus goes to the district of Tyre and Sidon. If we look at the Hebrew Scriptures we see that all the prophets condemn these two cities, especially Ezekiel, who declares that Tyre and Sidon would drink to the dregs "the cup of the Lord's wrath"; 2) A woman from a strange country would approach Jesus. Women had no clout, no status, no voice, and yet she insists on being heard; 3) This is a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were the poster children for what Israel was to avoid - idolatry, lewd worship practices, and the like; 4) Jesus does not answer the woman's cries. Note that this would not have surprised anyone present, or anyone hearing this story. Jesus was under no obligation to even acknowledge this foreign woman; 5) When Jesus does answer her, he says that God's favor is not extended to her. Again, this would not have surprised the first century Jews - this is what they believed. We, however, are surprised by this; 6) The woman persists. This really surprised the disciples; 7) Jesus announces that she is no better than the dogs. Again, this would not have surprised the witnesses of this event; 8) The BIG SURPRISE: Jesus announces that God's mercy does extend to her. He announces that she, even she is a person of faith! Wow!
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Fred Craddock always insisted that our job as preachers was to bring the experience of the text to the listener. What a wonderful experience for our listeners if they could hear the words as addressed to them: "Great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish."
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 5, 2017
(The following questions are those that may be fundamental to Law and Gospel preachers. There are many other fine sets of questions which attempt to unearth other concerns. For more on 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? This text is full of good news: 1) Jesus comes to us in our distress, amidst the chaos of this world; 2) Jesus makes himself known and tells us, "Do not be afraid"; and 3) Jesus reaches out his hand when we falter in faith. These are all gospel functions.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Like the preceding story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, even though we are made aware of the disciples' faltering faith, we do not hear Jesus casting judgement on them for it. Peter is called "you of little faith" but there is no condemnation in that, but mercy. Even when the disciples fail to recognize Jesus and call him a phantom they are treated with love and compassion. There is no word of Law here, which means as preachers we are also not called to berate our listeners for their lack of faith, lest we be untrue to this text.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Undoubtedly we are the disciples. We are the ones forced to "get into the boat". We are the ones who find ourselves terrified in stormy seas. We are the ones who doubt, who falter, who call out to Jesus, but who finally fall down in worship saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." This is a story about God's people and the Lord who loves them.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The message in this text is clear: "You can trust Jesus." The call to trust Christ and fall down in worship is certainly here. Beyond that we will need to go to other texts to discover what our call is as people whom Christ has saved.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There is only one that is obvious: Terrified and anxious/At peace, safe, and assured.
6. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that only Matthew's account of this event includes Peter's adventure on the water. John has a brief account of this story (John 6:16-21), and Mark 6:45-52 includes a version close to Matthew's, but neither include Peter's wobbly faith. If Peter is a symbol for the people of God, this story might well be a reminder to the early church of their need to reach out to Christ when all seems lost, and be assured of his ability to save. One piece of this story that is common to all three accounts of it is the phrase, "It is I; do not be afraid." A look at the original texts reveals that this is an "ego eme" moment, sometimes translated "I am who I am." It might be interesting to consider this as a response to the disciples' fears: "I am who I am; do not be afraid." Another word which is present is translated "Take courage" by both Mark and Matthew. This word is used sparingly in the NT, but when it is, it always signals good news: To the paralytic,"Take courage, your sins are forgiven." (Matt 9:2) To the bleeding woman, "Take courage, your faith has made you well." (Matt 9:22). To the blind man, "Take courage, he is calling you." (Mark 10:49). To the disciples, "Take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Augustine, in commenting on this story, sees the boat as the Church of Christ. His advice when stormy days assail us? "Stay inside the boat and call on Christ." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 12)
Blessings on your proclamation!
Sunday, July 30, 2017
(The following questions are an attempt to unlock some of the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this genre of preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available at wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word functions here mainly as Gospel. The Gospel proclaims the simple message, "Here is Jesus," and here the Word is doing just that: "Here is Jesus, the one who has compassion on the sick and injured, the one who feeds the hungry, the one who takes the little that we have and multiplies it for the sake of the world."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? It is tempting to lift up the attitude of the disciples in this story as they tell Jesus to send the hungry away to fend for themselves, and to use this occasion to scold our congregation for their lack of compassion. There may be texts which function this way, but this is not one of them. Jesus does not scold the disciples. Even when they insist that they have nothing to give the hungry crowds, Jesus does not scold them, but simply says, "Bring [your loaves and fish] here to me." The upshot is: there is no word of Law here, no word which lifts up our need for Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We have two choices: the disciples or the hungry crowd. The Word addresses the disciples, but the Word (i.e. Jesus) also feeds the crowd. If we choose to identify with the disciples, then we will need to deal with our lens of scarcity. If we choose to identify with the hungry crowd, our posture may simply be one of awe and praise.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience comes in two short statements: "You give them something to eat." and "Bring them here to me." These two statements encompass our call to serve the hungry and the method by which we do that: we bring our gifts to Jesus and let Jesus multiply them.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Taking the view of the disciples, several couplets come to mind: scarcity/abundance; doubt/faith. If we take the view of the crowd our couplet, of course, would be: hungry/filled.
6. Exegetical work: Douglas Hare, in his commentary (Interpretation series) reminds us that this is the only miracle story which appears in all 4 gospels. (Matthew, p. 165) In looking at the original language it is noteworthy that the vocabulary and grammar used are very close to the same, especially in the Synoptic versions. One place where the language is nearly identical is the account of the distribution of the loaves: "Taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds." One wonders if this language was so close because it was an early liturgical formula for the eucharist/love feast.
The presence of numbers in this story has always puzzled me. Why five, and two, and twelve, and five thousand? Fourth century bishop, Hilary of Poitiers, interprets these numbers allegorically: "We are invited to explain things by reasoning according to types. It was not granted to the apostles to make and administer heavenly bread for the food of eternal life. Yet their response reflected an ordered reasoning about types: they had only five loaves and two fish. This means that up to then they depended on five loaves -- that is, the five books of the law. And two fish nourished them - that is, the preaching of the prophets and of John." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol 1b, p. 7-8) "The leftover fragments of bread and fish, after the people had their fill, amounted to twelve baskets. Thus... an abundance of divine power, reserved for the Gentiles from the ministry of eternal food, was left over for the twelve apostles." (Ibid, p. 9) "The same number of those eating proved to be the number of those who believed. As noted in the book of Acts, out of the countless people of Israel five thousand men believed." (Ibid, p. 9).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steve Kuhl does a superb job of lifting up the mindset of the disciples - futility - in the face of the needs of the world. He points out how an attitude of futility makes us of little use to the world, and finally strangers to God. Christ, however, breaks into this futility and sets us free for fruitfulness. See the entire analysis, archived under Year A Gospel, 2011, by going to crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
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!