Saturday, July 30, 2016
Freely gifted and free to give
(The following questions attempt to get at some of the theological issues for Law and Gospel preachers. They represent a summary of the method I outline 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 an unusual text in that the first word we hear is pure gospel: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." This is an assurance of God's great love for us. There is an even more astonishing hint of God's love buried later in this text in verse 37: "Truly I tell you, [the master] will fasten his belt and have [the slaves] sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them." Amazing! The master will serve the slaves. Is this not a great announcement of God's immeasurable love for God's people?
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Remarkably, there is very little hint of the law in this text - that is, the Word functioning to say, "You need Jesus!" In the last two verses we are exhorted to be ready for Jesus, but that is not a word that overpowers the promises we have already heard. This is unusual in that these kind of texts - ones that tell us about the return of Christ - are almost always assumed to have a tone which is associated with finger-wagging and the message, "You better be ready when he comes!" In contrast, in this text, the first thing we hear is, "Do not be afraid."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are certainly those whom the Lord is addressing in this text. Earlier in this passage we see that Jesus' audience is the disciples; we are now amongst them.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is always the text functioning to invite us to live in response to God's work in our lives. This text is mostly doing that. We are called to live without fear, to let go of our possessions and give to the poor, and to seek the "unfailing treasures" of heaven. We are also invited to live expectantly and joyfully, anticipating the return of our beloved master. We are invited to be ready to open the door when the master returns and to sit at the table where our Lord will serve us.
5. Exegetical work: The New Laymen's Bible Commentary sums up the message of this passage in a very concise way: "If we know we have treasure in heaven, the necessity to hoard earthly treasure disappears." (p. 1277) Bauer, Gingrich, and Danker in their Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and other Early Christian Literature provide an interesting translation of "unfailing treasure" in verse 33. They translate that term as "a treasure chest unbreakable." That seems to go well with the previous term of "purses... that do not wear out." So in a rough translation of the whole phrase we have, "Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, a treasure chest unbreakable in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." (p. 36) We are reminded by this that Augustine said that our wealth is safer given to the poor than hoarded in barns. To have treasure in heaven was thought to be the same as giving to the poor - they were not separate. Kittel also provides some insights into this text in his discussion of the Greek word for being anxious - merimnao: "what makes a proper concern foolish is anxiety and the illusion to which it gives rise in its blindness, namely, that life itself can be secured by the means of life for which there is concern.... Such anxiety is futile; for the future which they think they can provide for is not in their hands.... The [person] who is concerned about him/[her]self, and who tries to find security in the means of life, is shown that [they] must make the lordship of God [their] first concern, and then anxiety about [their] life will wither away." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 592).
6. Consider the insights of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell always exhorted us to be the first ones to experience the ecstasy of the gospel in a text. He called on preachers to celebrate with gusto in every sermon. Given the astonishing gifts of God lifted up in this text, there is every reason to follow Mitchell's advice here.
Blessings on your proclamation!