Tuesday, January 30, 2018
(The following questions seek to give an answer to some of the basic questions for Law and Gospel preachers, namely "what is the Word up to in this text?" These questions have been designed as part of 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? The Word, here Jesus, functions in the same way it has earlier in this chapter, as an announcement of Jesus' power over the spirits of this age. Whether it is the fever Jesus casts out of Peter's mother-in-law, or the demons which are cast out, or the diseases which are healed, each announces that Jesus has authority over all which would rob the human person of the abundant life God wishes for them. This is a gospel function.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is really no word of Law here. Persons are lifted up as in need of a Savior, in the sense of needing deliverance from sickness and demons, but not in the sense of being estranged from God. There is no judgement here.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is usually most helpful to identify with those whom are being addressed by the Word, but here those addressed by the Word are fevers, sicknesses, and demons. It is probably difficult to identify with them. We, however, could identify with those who are controlled by such afflictions and powers. We then would be in the position to experience the liberation that Jesus brings.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? More than one commentator has identified Peter's mother-in-law as an example of discipleship since she immediately serves Jesus and his disciples following her healing. That she is a good example goes without saying. However, there may be more there than is often assumed.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? If we enter into the experience of those persons in this story who are healed and freed we can imagine some helpful couplets: sick/well; bound/free; possessed by evil spirits/possessed by the Spirit.
6. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that, as several writers have pointed out, (Boring, Donahue, Harrington), only in the Book of Mark is confrontation with evil spirits the initial public act of Jesus' ministry. This continues to a notable degree in this text as "casting out demons" is brought up no less than three times. Kittel has some interesting things to say in his extended discussion of the term daimones (demons). Here are several excerpts: "In the NT there are two kingdoms, the kingdom of the prince of this world and the kingdom of God." "...in most of the stories of possession what is at issue is not merely sickness but a destruction and distortion of the divine likeness in man according to creation." "The NT bears witness to the victory won by Jesus over evil spirits - a victory which is efficacious for the community and will preserve it through the temptations of the last time." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 18-19) Eugene Boring, in his commentary on Mark, also notes the importance of exorcism in Jesus' ministry: "Exorcism... is inseparably incorporated into Jesus' message. 'Authority' (exousia) is found nine times in Mark always with reference to Jesus... The same powerful word that calls people to discipleship (1:16-20) is present in Jesus' teaching with authority and conquest of the demonic element in human life (1:21-28), all of which is an aspect of the word of the dawning kingdom of God. (1:14-15)." (Mark, The NT Library, p. 63) Boring also comments on the status of Peter's mother-in-law. He explains that because of her fever she "is robbed of status and dignity, unable to offer hospitality in her own home." "The fever 'leaves' her, like the unclean spirit in 1:25..." "[Her service] means she is now restored to fullness of life, that she can serve guests in her own home." (Ibid, p. 66)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? How can we help our listeners recognize their shared story in this story? That was the central question for Charles Rice and his colleagues. In this text we might ask, "How can I as preacher bring the liberating Word to bear upon the shared story of suffering that our listeners carry?"
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, January 18, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a method for understanding some of the most basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive. My brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, is available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word, in this case Jesus, functions to announce that no power, specifically no demonic power, has authority over Jesus. The unclean spirit recognizes Jesus' authority immediately and begs to be spared, but Jesus shows his authority by casting the spirit out. This is a gospel function, announcing the good news of Christ's authority.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law, which exposes our need for a Savior, is hard to find in this text. Certainly the unclean spirit is evidence of spirits at work in the world who oppose Christ, but no one in the story is lifted up as in need of Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We must, as always, identify with those whom the Word addresses; so, in this case, we are the man with the unclean spirit. Or perhaps we are the unclean spirit itself, trying to protect ourselves from the claims of Jesus. Perhaps we can imagine ourselves asking Jesus, if not in so many words, "Have you come to destroy us?" as we wrestle with the claims Jesus makes on us to "come and die." (Bonhoeffer)
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? It is clear that the situation presented here is a matter of life and death, so our couplet should reflect that. Some ideas: dying/made alive; in bondage/set free; living under the kingdom of Satan/living under the kingdom of the Son.
5. Exegetical work: The Greek Bible is most revealing here, as we see the presence of the word 'euthys' not once, but three times. This is the word translated in verses 18 and 20 as "immediately" but in this section it is either omitted completely (verses 21 and 23), or translated "at once". In doing this the reader is left unaware of the continuing frenzied pace of this narrative. It seems to me that all this immediacy is a direct result of the heavens being torn open and God's reign beginning. It is appropriate that things are happening immediately. Another word which is present more than once in this reading is the word exousia, translated 'authority.' According to Kittel's discussion around this word, this is the power to change things, to create, to destroy, to effect change, "to end life as we know it." Kittel ties this word to the reign of God when he notes that "a special feature in this exousia is that it is inseparable from the proclamation that the kingdom of God is near." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 566) Another perspective that is helpful in understanding this story is that of narrative criticism. In the appendix to his book, What is Narrative Criticism?, Mark Allan Powell, asks a series of questions about the event, characters, setting, and overall interpretation of the event in a text. One question he asks is "What conclusions can be drawn about the role this event plays in the overall story?" (p. 104) In answer to that we note that this event is establishing Jesus' authority early-on. This means that he will have conflicts with other authorities in the days ahead. Powell's method is well worth pursuing in narrative texts like these.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In his analysis of this text, Fred Niedner does something rarely seen; he shows how we are mortified both as people caught in the Law's grip, and as people put to death and raised again in the death and resurrection of Christ. He identifies the way we resist this death, but how finally it is what saves us. Go to crossings.org/text study to see the analysis archived under the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, January 13, 2018
(The following questions are a method for coming to terms with some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which open up a text for a preacher. To learn more about this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word here functions in multiple ways. First, it is an announcement of the reign of God begun. It is also a call to repentance. Finally, it is a call to follow Jesus. What we have in this short text are examples of all the ways the Word can function. First, the announcement of the reign of God is gospel - good news. Then, the call to repentance reminds us of our need for a Savior, which is the function of the Law. Finally, the call to follow is what I have termed "the call to obedience" - the word which instructs us how we might live in response to the Gospel. What a rich text this is!
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those addressed by the Word. That means that we are those who rejoice in the good news of God's reign begun; we are also those who see our own need for repentance and long to live our lives in the ways of Christ; finally, we are those who, amidst our busy lives, hear the call to follow Jesus and realize that that call may mean leaving even good things behind.
3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? As always these couplets are a product of the text and our own imagination. Here are a few suggestions: John arrested/ Jesus on the loose; despair/hope; time unfulfilled/time fulfilled; living in sin/repentance and new life.
4. Exegetical work: This brief text has few words which draw our attention, but two terms are exceedingly important in understanding this text; they are kairos and basileia. They both occur in verse 15: "The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom (basileia) of God has come near." Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is exceptionally helpful in understanding these two terms, with extensive discussions of both. Here are a few excerpts: "Those who do not realise that they stand under the kairos of God think that they see a cosmic or human kairos in all the opportunities which seem to be favourable for the realisation of their cosmic plans (Ac. 24:25). But this is not a true, divinely given kairos. ...When autonomous man speaks of his kairos, he sees it in what he believes to be independent decision - and he remains blind. When Jesus waits for His kairos, He allows the Father to show it to Him, and He thus attains to genuine certainty." (vol. III, p. 460)
Regarding basileia: "From the direction in the summarised account at the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel: [Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near] (Mt. 4:17), there arises the only question which can be and is relevant. This is not the question whether or how we men (sic) may have the kingdom of God as a disposition in our hearts, or whether we may represent it as a fellowship of those thus minded. The question is whether we belong to it or not. To try to bring in the kingdom of God is human presumption, self-righteous Pharisaism and refined Zealotism. From this standpoint, the supremely hard thing required of man is the patience by which alone may be achieved readiness for the act of God... The parables of the kingdom are spoken to drive home this point. The man who does not display a patient openness for God is like a man who sows, and then like an impatient and curious child - the seed grows he knows not how - he cannot allow it to germinate and grow of itself." (vol. I, p. 584-585)
5. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Carolyn Schneider, in her fine analysis of this text, emphasizes the double-edged sword of this announcement that God's reign has begun. In her diagnosis she highlights the fact that the beginning of God's reign means the end of ours. She goes on to show how when we insist on living under our reign and not God's, death comes to us. In her prognosis, the gospel is clearly shown, how Christ upends our designs on death and comes to reign and give us life. See the entire analysis archived under the Third Sunday after Epiphany at crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, January 6, 2018
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to be used in conjunction with other sets of questions which illuminate the text. For more on this unique genre of preaching see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? Jesus is the Word in this text and his words to Nathanael are either affirming or outright promise, thus they are gospel in function. Also, the confessions of both Philip and Nathanael are gospel in function as they announce the identity of Christ: "him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote," also "Son of God", and "King of Israel."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is really no hint of Law here. Some readers find doubt in Nathanael's questioning of Jesus' hometown, but others suggest that he is simply expressing surprise since he knows that the Messiah shall come from Bethlehem. In any case, there is little here that hints to our need for a Savior.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We could identify briefly with Philip, but since the text is centered on Nathanael, it is he with whom we should identify. We are those who have heard the testimony of others concerning this Christ. We are those who have questions and are invited to "come and see." We are those who have seen signs of the Christ and have confessed faith. Finally, we are those who have received the promises that we are part of God's people.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience comes early to Philip: "Follow me." This is the simplest form of Jesus' call to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since no word of Law is present here, we shall need to imagine the Law to go with each couplet. Some suggestions: doubt/faith; defensiveness/confidence; you once were no people/now you are God's people.
6. Exegetical work: As context for this passage it is important to note that as John the Baptizer spoke of his own work earlier in this chapter he said that he came "baptizing with water for this reason, that [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel." (1:31) The role of Israel is definitely front and center in this passage. First, Philip announces that "we have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote," in other words, the One whom the Hebrew scriptures bear witness to. Then Jesus identifies Nathanael as "truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." This suggests a connection to Jacob, whose name we know means deceiver. (Gen. 25:26) Next, Nathanael calls Jesus "King of Israel," a title which is included in no other confession. Finally, Jesus says, in a clear allusion to Jacob's dream in Genesis 28, that Nathanael will "see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." Peter Ellis, in his composition-critical commentary on this gospel says the following: "The symbolism of the 'angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man' is to designate Jesus as the place (like Bethel - 'house of God') of God's full revelation. As Jacob said of his dream, 'This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.' (Gen. 28: 17)" (The Genius of John, p. 38) The other piece of this puzzle is Nathanael's identity. As noted above, why is Nathanael never included in the Synoptic lists of disciples? Could it be that the writer of the Fourth gospel is not introducing us to an actual apostle here, but to one who represents followers of Christ who form a "new Israel"? When we look at Genesis 28 we see that immediately following Jacob's dream, God made vast promises to him that would form the basis of the nation of Israel. Is it not worth considering that Nathanael is a new Jacob, one of the first called to be part of this new reign of Christ which is breaking into the world and calling us all to follow?
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Archived under the Second Sunday after Epiphany, you will find an analysis by Bill White which highlights how the Law might play out if we assume that Nathanael's statements veer toward unbelief. Clearly the emphasis of the text is on the gospel words which Jesus proclaims (as noted above), and in White's prognosis you can see this. Go to crossings.org/text study to see the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!