Saturday, October 26, 2019

Law and Gospel in a Nutshell

Luke 6:20-31, the gospel lesson appointed for All Saints Sunday, is a perfect example of Law and Gospel.  In this brief text we have all the ways that the Word functions:  to announce God's mercy, to announce our need for God's mercy, and to call us to obedience.  It shall be the preacher's challenging task to either choose one of these functions to center on, or to try to incorporate all three into one sermon.  Either choice will be a challenge.

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they function best in conjunction with other fine sets of questions meant to lift up other aspects of the text.  These questions try to unearth issues regarding the way the Word functions for Law and Gospel preachers.  For more on this unique genre, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Gospel function which proclaims God's mercy is clearly present here in announcing God's blessing.  Makarios, the word we translate as 'blessed' is defined in Bauer's lexicon as "privileged recipient of divine favor." To be announced as a recipient of God's favor is certainly a Gospel function.  The Word clearly functions as Law as well in "the woes".  Again, Bauer defines the Greek word ouai almost as a lament meaning "alas!"  There is a sense of grief in this word over the fact that calamity is imminent.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Since this text, unlike its more familiar Matthean version, is written in the second person, we are behooved to identify with those whom are addressed by this text.  Are we poor, hungry, weeping or hated?  Are we rich, well-fed, laughing, or spoken well of?  Whoever we are most like, it is those with whom we are called to identify, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience, i.e. the Word functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's grace, is clearly present in the last third of the text:  "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, etc."  Verse 31 sums up every call to obedience:  "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There are many words in this text that suggest useful couplets that could be helpful in preaching this text.  A couple of suggestions:  weeping/laughing; hungry/filled; destitute/well-supplied; cursed/blessed.

5.  Exegetical work:  The tenses of the verbs in this text are particular important.  You will notice both present and future tenses, used alternately.  Fred Craddock, is his commentary, makes much of these tenses:  " blessings and woes two and three, 'now' is contrasted with 'you shall', clearly indicating future fulfillment.  The joining of present and future reminds us that the eschatological reality is already beginning with the advent of Jesus." [The hope] of the prophet Isaiah (Isa 61:1-2) concerning the poor..."is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus." (Interpretation series, Luke, p. 88)  Craddock is suggesting that this announcement by Jesus is nothing less than marching orders for the people of God.  This suggestion is supported by Luke's placement of this address immediately after the calling of the disciples in 6:12-16.  Another interesting note is that when one looks at the common source we know as "Q" which the gospel writers often called upon, we see that Luke 6:24-26 has no parallel in Q or in the other gospels.  In other words, the 'woes' seem to be original with Luke, suggesting that Luke's particular community was the context for this lament. (Robinson, Hoffman, Kloppenborg, The Critical Edition of Q, p. 54).

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Steven Albertin has several entries for this text, archived under All Saints.  In both analyses he centers on a certain 'defiance' that Jesus reveals here.  Jesus defies the economy of this world, and announces a new economy under God's reign.  Jesus also invites us into a defiant belief and a defiant living which includes loving enemies, praying for those who hate us, and turning the other cheek.  Both analyses are well worth considering in full, and can be found at by entering the text reference.

Blessings on your proclamation!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Wheeee! Little Man

Luke 19:1-10, the gospel lesson appointed for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, is a delightful story about a wealthy man who is quite the contrast to the rich fellow we met only one chapter earlier.  To that fellow Jesus said, "There is still one thing lacking.  Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." (18:22) And Luke tells us that this fellow went away sorrowful, for he had many possessions.  In marked contrast to that man, Zacchaeus, the rich man here, like a little kid that just got permission to have his best friend stay overnight, alights from the tree he is in and welcomes Jesus into his home with joy! (In Greek, chairon)  Even the grumblers don't sour his mood, but he happily proclaims the freedom he has found in Christ.  It shall be the preacher's job to proclaim this story with joy as well.

(The following questions were developed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, particularly questions about how the Word is functioning.  To learn more about this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, where you will find the rationale for this method.  It can be gotten at or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions here as Gospel as the story shows us the gospel worked out:  a known sinner, one who admits his sins as well, comes to faith and finds freedom from the god Mammon.  Jesus announces to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham."  There is no greater gospel news than that.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is little evidence of Law in this text, i.e. a Word which declares, "You need Jesus."  We could perhaps understand that those who grumble that Jesus is "the guest of one who is a sinner" stand in real need of a Savior, and that is so, but there is no word of condemnation for those grumblers here.  It is good news that Jesus is the guest of one who is a sinner, not bad news.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with the people whom are addressed by the Word, and so here we happily identify with Zacchaeus.  We are those who are small of (spiritual?) stature whom the Lord notices.  We are those to whom the Lord says, "I must stay at your house today."  We are those who make peace with all those we have wronged because we understand that salvation has come to our house today.  We are the lost whom Jesus came to seek out and to save!

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience in this text is the implicit call which comes from the actions of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus understands that because salvation has come to his house, he must respond in repentance, renewal, and works of justice.  So we too are called to do the same.  Our lives must reflect the compassion of the Savior.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There are a number of terms in this story that lend themselves well to couplets: lost/found; shunned/welcomed; sinner/forgiven.

6.  Exegetical work:  Speaking of the response of Zacchaeus to the graciousness of the Christ, St. Augustine says this:  "While imagining it was a marvelous piece of luck quite beyond words to see [Jesus] passing by, he was suddenly found worthy to have him in his house. Grace is poured out, and faith starts working through love."  (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, p. 291).  Fred Craddock's contemporary commentary follows in this same vein: "His salvation therefore, has personal, domestic, social, and economic dimensions... The whole life is affected by Jesus' ministry, a foretaste of the complete reign of God."  (Interpretation series, Luke, p. 220)  Craddock is also quick to note that since Zacchaeus is called a "chief tax collector" he is even more deeply embedded in a corrupt system, thus making his salvation that much more dramatic. (Ibid., p. 218)  Ben Witherington also sees the "this worldly" results of Zacchaeus' salvation:  "By labeling Zacchaeus a 'son of Abraham,' Jesus reinforces the tax collector's membership in the covenant community.  By speaking of his 'salvation,' Jesus focuses not on eternal life but on restitution with others in that same community." (New Cambridge Bible Commentary series, The Gospel of Luke, p. 512).

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Ed Schroeder, one of the founders of the Crossings Community, shows well how this text can function as Law and Gospel.  In his diagnosis he shows that Zacchaeus is "too short" in many ways, his heart is corrupt, and in the final analysis is "lost."  Jesus sees him as he is and invites him to "come down" rather than "climb up."  In other words, Zacchaeus is invited to learn that salvation comes to your house by grace not by climbing up to it.  See Ed's entire commentary, "Jesus, A Do-it-Yourself Study" archived at

Blessings on your proclamation!