Saturday, June 27, 2015

Us? Offended?

The title in my NRSV Bible for the opening verses of Mark 6 is "The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth." Nothing could be clearer.  Mark 6:1-6a is an opportunity to ponder our own propensity to be offended by Jesus.  Mark 6:6b-13 is an opportunity to move beyond such a posture to one of service.

(The following sample of questions is from my new book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted:  A Guide to Law and Gospel Preaching.  You may click on the image on this page to purchase this book in either paper or electronic form.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Here the power of Jesus (the Word) is being limited by the unbelief of its listeners.  This is a unique text in that Mark tells us the astounding news that Jesus "could do no deed of power" in Nazareth and he was "amazed by their unbelief."  In the second half of the text, the Word functions to call the disciples to service, gives them authority over the unclean spirits, and calls them to proclaim repentance to all.  This text, then, is not Gospel, but primarily Law:  "You need Jesus!"

2. How is the Word not functioning in the text?  I don't hear a word of Gospel here, a word that says, "Here is Jesus for you!"  Perhaps one could hear a word of Gospel in that the unbelief in Nazareth does not dissuade Jesus from continuing to send his disciples out to proclaim and heal. This is certainly evidence of God's persistent will to save.  Yet, the Gospel word is not explicit here.

3.  With whom are you identifying in this text?  Since there are two scenes in this pericope, it is possible to chose either to identify with those who are offended by Jesus' teachings, or with those who are willingly sent out in Jesus' name.  We might ponder the question, what leads some to be mistrustful of Jesus, and others to be willing to follow him completely?  Are we at times both?

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call of the disciples could be taken as a call to follow, of course, but a call to live in a certain way in response to God's mercy is not obvious. We might ponder the disciples' call to "take nothing for their journey except a staff"as a challenge to live life with an open hand.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  I can think of several:  Offended/In awe, Unrepentant/Convicted.  Thinking of couplets often helps me ponder my place as I stand before the Law and then my place after hearing the Gospel - a worthy exercise.

6.  Exegetical Work:  One of the great treasures for any exegete is the scholarly work of Gerhard Kittel, whose monumental work, Dictionary of the New Testament, remains one of the great sources of insight to anyone who translates a Greek text.  A prime example of this is Kittel's discussion of the Greek word, "scandalon" from verse 3 which is translated as "they took offense."  Several points Kittel makes are noteworthy:  "Unbelief becomes moral hatred...  A primary meaning [of this word] is "deep religious offence"...  "Offence at his message also becomes offence at Jesus Himself and a turning from him in unbelief." (TDNT, VII, 350-51).  This notion that offence at Jesus' message turns into offence at Jesus himself, brings to mind St. Paul's words in II Corinthians 2:15-16 where he says, "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance form death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life."

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  I really like Ronald Neustadt's analysis of this text archived under 2012 Gospel B, Pentecost 6.  Neustadt lifts up the fact that it is easy for us to be offended by the message of a messenger we don't hold in high esteem.  He goes on to point out that Jesus took the place of low esteem to save.  Check it out at study.

8. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Eugene Lowry always reminded us that our job as preachers was to bring our listeners through an experience of disequilibrium to equilibrium.  In this text the disequilibrium will be easy; the challenge will be to bring each listener out of this place to a place of solid ground, having heard Christ's forgiveness.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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