Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jesus' Inauguration

Matthew 4:12-23, the gospel text appointed for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, is Matthew's record of the inauguration of Jesus.  We have his inaugural address - one line: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," the formation of his Cabinet - the calling of the first disciples; and the beginning of his work:  he went throughout Galilee, "proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people."  This inauguration gives hope to all, as well as calling all to action.  Our discipleship is inaugurated as well.

(The following questions are meant to supplement many other fine exegetical methods available to the preacher.  These questions come from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, whereby I attempt to unearth some of the central issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  My guide is available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the Word made flesh, is very active in this text:  He is calling for repentance, he is issuing the call to follow, and he is proclaiming good news, and healing the people.  This is a complete listing of all the ways the Word can function.  The call to repentance is the Word functioning as Law, showing us our need for Christ. The announcement of Jesus healing and preaching is the Word functioning as Gospel, announcing what God is doing on behalf of the world through Christ.  Finally, the call to follow Jesus is the Word functioning as the Call to Obedience, instructing us how to live in response to the Gospel.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are all those addressed by Jesus;  we are those who hear the call to repent, those who hear the call to follow, and those who hear the good news and are healed.  It will be up to the preacher to decide which of these groups to center the sermon on, or perhaps how to touch on all these groups, though that is tricky.  As the saying goes, "The preacher who attempts to exhaust his or her subject, only ends up exhausting the listeners!"

3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  One can simply take the three functions of the Word in this text, and imagine a couplet for each one.  For example:   sitting in darkness/seeing a great light; lost in sin/repentant and found;  wandering without direction/following Jesus; in despair/hearing the good news; sick and dying/healed and alive.

4.  Exegetical work:  It is interesting to see commentators struggling with the report that the newly called disciples of Jesus followed Jesus immediately.  This word, which is much more common in the gospel of Mark than it is in Matthew, is nevertheless present 15 times in Matthew.  It suggests that the call by Jesus was something irresistible.  Because this seems difficult for us to understand, commentators have attempted to explain it.  For example in the Abingdon Bible Commentary on Matthew we read:  "[The disciples] must have come into contact with Jesus before this and must have heard him preaching and teaching in Galilee. Whether the resolve to follow Jesus involved a complete abandoning of their daily work there and then is doubtful." (p. 1000). Similarly the New Layman's Bible Commentary has this to say:  "The record assumes these fishermen to have had a previous knowledge of Jesus, which fact is confirmed in Jn. 1:35-42, where it is shown that they already believed Jesus to be Israel's Messiah." (p. 1225)  This notion, that the disciples must have had prior knowledge of Jesus, and faith in him is, of course, possible, but the fact remains that Matthew does not see fit to tell us that.  It is much more interesting to ponder why it is that Matthew paints this picture of Jesus.  Could it be that something about Jesus' power is being proclaimed?  Or perhaps is there a call for us to give up our excuses and follow immediately?  It seems much more interesting to ponder these things than to simply dismiss Matthew's account as incomplete.

5.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Archived under Gospel A for 2011, Steve Kuhl does a fine job of showing how "business as usual" gets upended when the "unusual business of Christ" begins.  He shows how the disciples who are going about their business are also those who live in the land of darkness, and how they need the light of Christ.  See the complete analysis by going to study.

Blessings on your proclamation!

No comments:

Post a Comment