Pentecost 15 A: Forgiveness & Possibility

Matthew 18:21-35 Dear Partner in Preaching, I have come to love this passage. The operative words, however, are “have come,” because I didn’t always. And I the reasons I didn’t always love this passage, but now do, are intimately tied together. My difficulty with the passage has quite simply been that forgiveness can be so exceptionally difficult, and never more so than when it commanded. I don’t mean the occasional moment of warm-hearted forgiveness, overlooking someone’s minor slight when you feel magnanimous; nor do I mean the spontaneous forgiveness you feel when someone is genuinely contrite over some accidental – and...

Pentecost 8 A: Parabolic Promises

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Dear Partner in Preaching, There’s something sneaky about the parables we are reading this week. And I mean that quite literally – in each parable (except perhaps the last), there seems to be some element of surprise or stealth. A quick overview to explain what I mean: While most of us grew up reading the parable of the mustard seed somewhat simplistically – “big things often have small beginnings” – the truth is that mustard was a weed, uncontrollable, invasive, undesirable. So different from our cultural associations, leaven in the biblical world was a sign of impurity, and kneading it into the flour...

Pentecost 7 A: On the Question of Evil

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Dear Partner in Preaching, Years ago, a friend of mine, speaking about his golf game, said the key to success was to care enough about the game not to care. I think there’s something true about that with parables as well; that is, the best way to preach parables is to be serious enough about them to not take them too seriously. And, in particular, to be cautious about interpreting them too strictly or literally. Parables, according to C. H. Dodd, one of the great NT scholars of the last century, are “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and...

Pentecost 6 A: Enough!

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Dear Partner in Preaching, Whether we know it or not, most of us have been deeply shaped by Joachim Jeremias when it comes to reading this parable. You remember Jeremias, the German New Testament scholar who was so gifted at isolating the different literary forms and genres employed by the Evangelists to help guide our interpretations of their work? Well, whether you remember him or not, you’ve probably been influenced by him and, particularly, by his seminal work, The Parables of Jesus. 🙂 When it comes to this parable, Jeremias points out the distinct difference in tone and content between the parable “proper”...

Pentecost 19 C: Eternal Life Now

Luke 16:19-31 Dear Partner in Preaching, Do you ever wonder if Luke had ever heard about justification by grace? I mean, tradition tells us that he was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul’s but, if so, it’s hard to know just how much of Paul’s theology rubbed off. On the one hand, you have the incredibly grace-filled parables of being lost and found in chapter 15, but then you get these far more difficult, even threatening parables about money and the consequences of misusing it the 16th chapter. But if last week’s parable was difficult because it was rather confusing, this week’s parable is difficult because it seems...