Monday, April 24, 2017

Ah Ha Moments!

The Gospel lesson for the third Sunday of Easter in the Year of Matthew is a continuation of the day of Christ's resurrection as we overhear the conversation between Jesus and two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, as recorded in Luke 24:13-35.  It is instructive that the term for "opening one's eyes" is used several times in this passage, apparently connecting to Luke's explanation of the disciples' unbelief: "but their eyes were kept from recognizing him." (vs.16)  This text seems to suggest that our common state is one of spiritual blindness, and the role of Word and Sacrament is to cure this blindness. Perhaps is this an occasion to celebrate God's gift of "ah ha moments"?

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive.  They are some of the questions found in the appendix to my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.  These questions attempt to address some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus is the Word present in this text.  What is Jesus, the Word, doing?  He is coming amongst the disciples in their bewilderment, blindness, and grief; he is seeking to understand them; he is opening the scriptures to them and breaking bread with them, and through all these things he is opening their eyes so that they might see and believe (and have life in his name).  All these things are gospel functions.  Jesus also brings a word of Law in this text as he tells the disciples (and by extension, us), "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"  This message reveals to us our need for this Crucified and Risen One.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Without a doubt we are the blind disciples.  We are those who are foolish and slow of heart to believe. We are those who are easily bewildered in the face of the powers of this present darkness.  We are also those whose eyes can be opened, and, by grace, can be counted amongst those who recognize the Risen Christ in our midst.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  There is not a call to obedience, per se, but rather there is an example to follow in the last verses of this text.  After the disciples had experienced the opening of their eyes, they returned to Jerusalem, found the eleven and their companions and gave testimony to what they had seen and heard.  This is an exhortation to us to do the same.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The couplets coming from this text are clear:  blind/seeing; without understanding/insightful; unbelieving/filled with faith.

5.  Exegetical work:  The way Luke expresses the disciples' inability to recognize Jesus is noteworthy.  Luke says that "their eyes were kept from recognizing him."  The word translated "kept"is the passive form of the verb "krateo" which commonly means "to hold."  In this case it means to hold back, restrain, or hinder.  This indicates that an outside agent is keeping the disciples from recognizing Jesus.  Some commentators make much of this. (Ellis)  Fred Craddock, in his commentary says that "for Luke, neither God nor Christ can be made known except by revelation (10:22), a viewpoint shared by Matthew (Matt. 16:17) and Paul (I Cor. 2:6-16)." (Luke, Interpretation Series, p. 285).  As the passage unfolds, Jesus says that the affliction of the disciples is that they are foolish (literally, without comprehension) and slow of heart to believe (stubborn?), bringing to mind the accusation often leveled at the people of Israel in ancient times. (Deut. 32:6)  It might be interesting for the preacher to consider the various obstacles to faith.  As noted in our baptismal renunciations, we recognize three powers at work, blinding us to the work of Christ:  the flesh, the world, and the devil.  In any case, the disciples in this story testify that it is the Word and the Supper that open their eyes:  "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"  "Then they told... how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."  Some readers might wonder if the supper in this scene is meant to suggest the Eucharist. The clear language in verse 30 should put that concern to rest.  The words used, "He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them," are clearly words the early readers would have recognized as language of the Holy Supper.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Chris Repp, in his 2011 analysis of this text archived under Year A Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter, centers on Luke's report that Jesus "interpreted to [the disciples] the things about himself in all the scriptures."  Repp talks about how prone we are to write our own narrative of our story or God's story or the stories of other folk we encounter.  It is part of our brokenness that we often write Jesus out of our story and assign others less honorable parts.  It is the Risen Christ breaking into our story that finally frees us to find a new ending to our story.  See the entire analysis at study.

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Charles Rice always urged preachers to help listeners recognize their shared story in the text.  One of our challenges here is to help our listeners identify with the foolish and slow of heart, and recognize Jesus when he is revealed to them.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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