Christianity 201

May 3, 2022

Much of the Teaching of Jesus Happens In the Moment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Earlier today I was reading a commentary on The Lord’s Prayer which noted that in Luke, the text is offered in answer to a direct question.

NIV.Luke.11.1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2a He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name…

However, in Matthew’s version there is no prompt from the audience is mentioned for us. It occurs in the context of earlier remarks, which are part of a larger discourse.

NIV. Matthew.6.5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name…

Given that this is in the middle chapter of a 3-chapter passage we call “The Sermon on the Mount,” it should not surprise us that Matthew doesn’t indicate that any interaction with the crowd was taking place. It appears continuous until the final close-quotation-mark when Matthew states,

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

For the most part however, Jesus seems to do what he does “in the moment;” with a measure of spontaneity that suggests “coincidence” which most of us would say is not coincidental at all, but rather divinely appointed circumstances.

In Luke 5:12, as Phillips translates it,

“Jesus came upon a man who was a mass of leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he prostrated himself before him and begged, “If you want to, Lord, you can make me clean.”

The phrase “Jesus came upon” is interesting here, because it suggests that regardless of who is traveling in which direction, a meeting takes place, and an act of healing follows.

You could equally say that in Mark 11, “Jesus came upon” a fig tree. There’s no miracle here in the standard sense — he curses the tree — but there is a teaching which takes place later in the day.

NIV.Mark11.22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

The whole scene appears prompted by the somewhat random encounter with the tree.

Again, in John 9, although we don’t have the phrase “Jesus came upon” used in any of our English translations, Jesus does encounter a man blind from birth. (Remember that Jesus and the disciples are constantly on the move; the itinerant or peripatetic nature of his ministry is such that they aren’t usually in a fixed place. Follow other rabbis if you will, but if you want to get your daily steps in, Jesus is the least sedentary.) The most significant point of the narrative is the healing, but the lesson in the words of Jesus which follow are a very close second in importance.

NIV.John.9.3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So we’ve seen that divine circumstances precipitate actions and lessons from Jesus, but if we go back to where we began (“Lord teach us to pray”) we also see that many of his teachings are responses to direct questions. And there are many of them.

His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” (Matthew 13:10 NLT)

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand. And in order to accuse Him they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  (Matthew 12:10)

To be fair, Jesus often asked questions of those around him as well. (Several books have been written summarizing the things he asked.) But he also received questions from the crowd, the Pharisees, his disciples, and others. Part of this was the simply the basic method of learning in Jewish culture. (And often the response itself would be another question.)

But the thing that struck the writer I was reading earlier today was that the teaching on prayer occurring as it it did in the context of a sermon, was a bit of a rarity. Perhaps that’s why preachers — people paid to prepare sermons — hold Matthew 5, 6 and 7 in such high regard.

And that’s what got me thinking.

Should more of our modern churches provide sermon content which is in direct response to questions the congregation wants answered?

I know this flies in the face of (traditional church) Lectionary preaching, or (modern church) your teaching pastor’s penchant for series preaching — “today we’re starting a new series” — but I also know of churches that reserve Q&A Sunday (or Q&R Sunday) for the very purpose of addressing the subjects parishioners want to hear, and sometimes, the Sunday (or weekend) service is the only place where that can be done with the greatest number of people in attendance.

If you’re in church leadership, give that some thought.

If you’re not, either forward today’s devotional to them for consideration, or simply, with pen and paper or with email, ask the question you think is on the lips of people in your church, but heretofore unspoken.

Jesus crafted both direct teaching and parables “in the moment” to help us better understand the unfolding Kingdom of God.

 

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