Wednesday, November 09, 2011

handling the text

As a pastor, I take handling the text very, very seriously.  It is my responsibility to help my congregation understand what the text meant in its own setting in life and then help them find the meaning it has for us in our setting.  This can be tricky.  Often the setting of the scripture is as foreign as it can be to our setting.  Sometimes the details just don't make sense to us.  Sometimes, especially in the case of the gospels, there is more than one setting.  For the gospels, we have not only the setting of Jesus' ministry, but also the setting of the writers' churches.  They looked back at Jesus' life and asked, "What stories or events from Jesus' life do my folk need to hear?"  Understanding those passages often requires looking at both Biblical settings and our own.  Then... there are just those passages that don't seem to fit our setting at all.

This past Sunday, I preached on Matthew 25:1-13.  It is a passage that I don't think particularly speaks to my congregation.  The more I thought about the parable, the more I became convinced that if Jesus was telling this story to my church or to most churches in America, the story would take a different tack.  In the Biblical story, there are 5 wise maidens who have adequate supplies of oil for their lamps when the bridegroom is late and 5 who do not.  When those who do not have enough ask the 5 wise maidens for help, they are sent away.  When they finally arrive at the wedding feast, again, they are turned away.  The point is to be ready at all times for the coming of Jesus.  This was especially true for Matthew's church who thought Jesus was running very late.  My congregation is just not concerned about the second coming.

Here's what I think Jesus would do with the story today.  The 5 wise maidens would share their oil.  But what if there isn't enough and everyone runs out?  Think of the feeding of the 5000, of the Hanukah candles, of all of the instances where God's generosity overwhelms the needs and there is more than enough.  I think Jesus would remind us that by sharing, everyone has enough and the wedding feast would be that much more wonderful with the additional folk there helping to party.  I believe the call to us today here is not to worry about being prepared but to share all we can with others and watch as God's party gets bigger and bigger.  And I think he would use it to condemn those in the Church who identify with the Tea Party, the followers of Ayn Rand, and the Republican party who are so bent on holding on to what they have to the detriment of those in need.  And that is what I talked about on Sunday.

So I danced with eisegesis... clearly my message introduced something to the text that wasn't there... but I do believe that if Jesus was telling that same story to us today, that's the direction he'd go.

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