Saturday, April 1, 2017
His Blood Be on Us!
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are taken from 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? Glimpses of gospel emerge early and late in this extended reading, but most of the story is filled with law: Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, Jesus' arrest, condemnation, trial, crucifixion, and death, the taunts of Jesus' enemies and those who attend to his crucifixion. All these scenes are filled with violence, evil, and death. It is an announcement of the depravity of mortal beings.
The glimpses of gospel emerge as Jesus speaks: "This is my body; this is my blood of the new covenant". "Not what I want but what you want, [Father]; your will be done." In these words we hear the love of God in Christ,and the provision God has made for us through the Cross.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? There are so many characters in this story it is hard to identify with a single one. As usual, we will not identify with Jesus, but with those who are addressed by the Word. Typically we might pick the disciples who flee. Or we might choose to identify with Peter, or even Judas, although it will be difficult for most of us to want to go there. Also, Pilate is a possibility, the one who wants nothing to do with this. That might prove fruitful. An unpopular choice is to identify with those who mocked Jesus. What if we identified with them? Or we might want to identify with those who testified to the true identity of Christ - the centurion and his cohorts. Regardless of whom we identify with it will be important for us to identify in such a way that our predilection to flee, deny, betray, mock, and doubt Christ come through.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? At the very end of the story we are given a glimpse of some who faithfully follow. They are the women at the Cross and Joseph of Arimathea. We might look to them to see what our response should be to God's gift of the Crucified One.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text? With such a large text many couplets are possible. Our choice will depend on the persons in the story with which we identify. Some suggestions: betraying/repentant; denying/confessing; weeping/rejoicing; doubting/testifying; mocking/standing in wonder.
5. Exegetical work: On a text this large it will be important to ask questions which get at the large sweep of the narrative. I can think of no tool better to do this than Mark Allan Powell's book, What is Narrative Criticism? In the appendix to his book, Powell offers a series of questions which can unlock many of the treasures in a larger narrative. He asks questions about events, characters, settings, and overall interpretation. Through this analytical tool we begin to see where the action slows down in the story, thereby heightening the tension. We see also the rhetorical devices that Matthew uses to tell this crucial story. I would highly recommend Powell's book for analyzing this and other narrative texts. One of the important comparisons Powell makes in comparing the synoptic accounts is the way the enemies of Jesus are portrayed. In Mark's telling, the enemies of Jesus are a mixed bag, sometimes to be sympathized with, sometimes not. In Luke's telling these same folk are consistently portrayed as self-righteous and foolish. In Matthew's gospel, however, they are thoroughly evil, unrepentant, and "incapable of receiving revelation from God." (Powell, p. 64-65) In this week's text it is clear that this is the way the Pharisees, chief priests, and scribes are portrayed.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Jerome Bruce does a superb job of giving both diagnosis and prognosis of this text, archived under Year A Gospel for 2011. In the diagnosis, Bruce speaks of our consistent attempts to kill Jesus. We are among those who call out, "Away with him." We claim that we have no need or desire for the Crucified One, and we are offended by the suggestion that somehow our life is at risk without him. Finally, however, we are terrified when we realize that we have called for the crucifixion of God's Son, and we stand condemned. In the prognosis the tables are turned as Christ's terror proclaims the plan of God in the words, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" Our offense at Christ is turned to awe as we witness, with the whole creation, the earth-shattering news that God's Son has died for the sins of the world. Finally, we who have called for Christ to die, are now the ones who tout him, saying, "This is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." See the detail at crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!