Saturday, June 18, 2016

Blessed are the Fanatics

There is little question that Jesus' words in Luke 9:51-62, especially in the second half of this pericope, border on the fanatical.  "Let the dead bury their own dead?!"  "C'mon," we say.  "Let me first say farewell to those at my home," we say.  Jesus replies, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Ouch.  Who is this guy?  Has Jesus, the meek and mild, suddenly turned into a fanatic?  Yes, and maybe that's exactly what is necessary and blessed.

(The following questions are a sample from my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is a bit unusual for a gospel reading in that the Word, in this case Jesus, functions only to issue the call to obedience.  This call is not a word of law, i.e. "You need Jesus," nor is it a word of gospel, i.e. "Here is Jesus." Rather, the call to obedience, the function of the Word here, is the word which functions to say, "Follow Jesus."  These are three distinct functions of the Word.  Here Jesus is issuing an uncompromised call to take the up the cross and follow him, including rebuking the disciples for their wish to call fire down from heaven against those who have not received Jesus.  In the second half of the text he offers his uncompromising call to discipleship.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  It is very clear that there is no gospel word here.  There is no word that lifts up the gifts of grace.  Also, there is no word which shows us our need for Christ, unless we want to understand as a word of law Jesus' rebuke of those whose excuses he dismisses.  This is an unusual text in that we are going to have to find additional scriptures to share with our listeners that fully lift up the law and gospel.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  No doubt we are those being addressed by Jesus. We are the disciples who understand following Jesus to be calling down fire upon those who fail to receive us as we would be received. We are those along the road who want a place to lay our head, a moment to bury our dead, and a chance to say farewell to those at  our home.  In short, we are those whose loyalty to Jesus is anything but firm.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Because the text is not a law/gospel text, couplets are hard to find.  One we might try is:  failing Jesus/following Jesus.

5.  Exegetical work:  Mark Allen Powell has written a helpful guide to narrative criticism that often works well in asking questions of a narrative text. (What is Narrative Criticism?  Fortress Press 1990)  In this guide Powell lays out a series of questions to ask about events, characters, settings, and the overall interpretation of a text.  Using that method we can see that this text takes place as Jesus "sets his face to go to Jerusalem."  This is crucial, and indeed it will affect all the subsequent texts in Luke's gospel.  Now Jesus is turning towards his passion, and his words are becoming more and more urgent.  Because of this his impatience with both his enemies and his followers becomes more and more evident.  It is as though Jesus is saying, "Look folks, the time is drawing near for my death; let's quit horsing around and get down to business."  Jesus is now demanding action from his followers, and his words of rebuke to his enemies are becoming more strident.

6.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Charles Rice urged preachers to help listeners recognize their shared story in a text.  By this he meant that we need to connect God's story with our story, and the story of our listeners.  This text offers us a chance to ponder the difficulty we have in following Jesus in all the small and mundane ways we are invited to follow him.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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