Saturday, October 17, 2015

Insulted by Christ?

Someone once quoted the words of Jesus in John 8:32 but added a line something like this: "the truth will make you free, but before it does it will make you wince."  We see this in the snippet from a controversary narrative between Jesus and some of his followers in the gospel text appointed for Reformation Sunday:  John 8:31-36.  Indeed if we look at much of what follows in John 8 we see that Jesus' audience is getting taken to the woodshed in no uncertain terms and they are not the least bit happy about it.  How about you, are you insulted by Christ's words?

(The following questions are a sample of the outline I use in my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, which can be purchased by clicking on the image on this page.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus himself is the voice of the Word in this text and there is little doubt that the Word is functioning to insult the listeners.  When Jesus says, "the truth will make you free," his listeners reply, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free?'"  Clearly they are insulted.  And as the chapter goes on their umbrage turns to murderous fury.  This is a tricky text, because the main task of a Law and Gospel preacher is to "do" what the text "does" in preaching, so this means that, at some level, in our preaching will need to be willing to insult our listeners.  Needless to say this takes some skill.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Once we see clearly how the Word is functioning we can more easily discern how the Word is not functioning in the text.  Often a text functions either to accuse (law) or to bring faith and hope (gospel), but not usually both.  In this text, however, we have an example of the Word doing both things as Jesus announces that "everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (law), but also "if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (gospel).

3,  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with those who are being addressed by the Word.  In this text it is tempting to want to identify with Jesus, thinking perhaps that we would never find Jesus' words to us insulting.  We should know better!  We are just as likely as Jesus' listeners to chafe at the notion that we are not free.

4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the Word functioning to say, "Follow me."  It is the call to discipleship.  In this text there does not seem to be any word that calls us to follow the Master in a certain way.  It will be our task to find other texts which support this important word.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  This passage is clear in that the couplet is explictly provided for us:  bondage/freedom.  We might think of other parallels:  guilty/forgiven, condemned/saved, lost/found.

6.  Exegetical work:  Translation work is often a source of insight into a text and this one is no exception.  We have in verse 31 a conditional phrase:  "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples."  From Greek study we know that there are three types of conditional phrases:  condition of fact, condition of contrary-to-fact, and condition of uncertainty.  The English translation does not always give us a clear idea of what we are dealing with, but the Greek does.  In this passage we have a condition of uncertainty.  This means that Jesus is saying, "If you continue in my word (and you might be or might not be), you are truly my disciples."  Or we might translate the condition another way: "Whenever you continue in my word you are truly my disciples."  Commentaries on this text are abundant. One of my favorites is the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures where we read Augustine's words:  "Our freedom comes when we subject ourselves to the truth."  And "In whatever measure we serve God, we are free.  In whatever measure we serve the law of sin, we are still in bondage."

Blessings on your proclamation!

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