Saturday, February 13, 2016

Our Lord's lament

The gospel lesson for the Second Sunday in Lent is Luke 13:31-35.  This brief picture of Christ is one that foreshadows his words from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (23:34)  These are not words of condemnation, but compassion and lament. Our Lord grieves over those who will not be gathered under God's wings.  This is a picture of the Lord's compassion for those who will not or perhaps cannot hear God's invitation to come home.

(The following questions try to get at some of the key issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  For a complete review of this type of preaching, you may purchase a copy of my guide to Law/Gospel preaching by clicking on the image on this page.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  What the Word - in this case, Jesus - is doing in this text is lamenting the disobedience of God's people.  This is both a Law and a Gospel function.  This text is functioning as Law in that it shows us our need for Jesus:  we are capable of, and indeed likely to rebel at the notion that we need to be gathered under the wings of our Heavenly Father.  But this text also functions as Gospel in the sense that it shows us our Lord's heart - full of compassion, full of mercy, wishing none to be lost.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the residents of Jerusalem. We are those who will cry out, "Crucify him!  Crucify him."  We are those religious folks who are threatened by this One who will not be constrained by our traditions and notions of God.  We are those who will return home beating our breasts after we have seen the death of God's Son.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  This text is a call to faith, not a call to obedience. The call to obedience is the call to live in a certain way in response to God's mercy.  Here we are simply called to fall on our knees in repentance over our rebellion at God's everlasting love.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Several come to mind:  rebellious/obedient; demanding Jesus' death/thanking God for Jesus' sacrifice; forsaken/accepted by God.

5.  Exegetical work:  In Mark Allan Powell's work, What is Narrative Criticism?, he contrasts the Synoptic writers' portrayal of Jesus' enemies.  This particular passage is a good example of how that works.  In Matthew's gospel, Jesus' enemies are characterized as evil, in league with Satan; everything they say, think, and do is wrong.  In Luke, Jesus' enemies are not evil, but self-righteous, not blind but foolish. (Powell, pages 64-65)  So in Matthew 23:37-39, this lament over Jerusalem is the "final straw" in a diatribe that Jesus is making against the scribes and Pharisees.  It comes on the heels of the fearsome series of woes that Jesus levels against these "white-washed tombs," these "children of hell."  In contrast, Luke 13:31-35 comes in a conversation with some Pharisees who approach Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem.  Just prior to this conversation he has been asked about how many will be saved and Jesus shows his concern about those who will stand at the door to the kingdom and knock and not be allowed to enter.  Compassion, not judgement, mercy, not anger, are what we see in Jesus here.  It behooves us as preachers to recognize precisely the kind of lament we have in this particular Lukan passage.

6.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic.

Eugene Lowry always urged preachers to move listeners from equilibrium to disequilibrium, and then back again to equilibrium.  In so doing listeners are able to experience the "plot" of a text.  How will we preachers move our listeners in this way through this text?

Blessings on your proclamation!

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