Confrontation or Conversation?

And does it matter?

After six years of preaching every other week, I’ve noticed some patterns.  The thing I learned quickly is that preaching well known texts and high holy days is extremely difficult.  Over time, I’ve begun to realize that I over think these sermons to the point of destruction.  Perhaps that’s a post for another day.  Today, however, I’d like to share that I’ve learned something about my study habits.  Either I choose to read authors that are all from the same school of thought, or the authors that I’m reading are all reading the same new scholarship, or the Holy Spirit knows that I need a brick across the skull to notice things, but it is clear that each week, as I read my go to commentaries and blogs, patterns begin to emerge.

This week, I’ve noticed a development in the reading of the encounter between Jesus and the lawyer from confrontation to conversation.  I’ll let Marilyn Salmon of WorkingPreacher.org explain it,

“The lawyer asks good questions and gives good answers.  There is no need to assign the lawyer an adversarial role. In fact, the text suggests otherwise. He calls Jesus “teacher,” respectfully. And Jesus engages him as an equal, responding to the lawyer’s first question with a question. Jesus agrees with the answer. Jesus responds to the second question with a story followed by a question, and again the lawyer and Jesus are in agreement. It does not seem that Jesus takes the lawyer’s “test” as that of an antagonist.” (Read it all here)

Dr. Salmon argues that this distinction; between Confrontation and Conversation, is an important one, as it reframes our reading of everything that follows.  As this theme has appeared elsewhere in my reading this week, it seems as though others agree.

So, what difference does it make?  I supposed it depends on who you read yourself to be in the story.  If you are the lawyer, the difference between trapping Jesus in heresy and honing the edge of the law according to a new Rabbi’s school of thought are two very different things.  If you are Jesus, the differences are similar.  But what if we’re just a member of the crowd, watching this all unfold.  Does the teaching moment that is the Good Samaritan story change much if Jesus tells it to a man who has bowed up to “justify himself” or a man who simply attempting to be “strictly observant of the law” (As Richard Swanson suggests)?

I’m asking because I’m really unsure about it.  I see the distinction.  I understand that reading this as a healthy debate rather than an attempt to trap probably helps alleviate some anti-Jewish tendencies in Christianity, but I’m still not sure that it really makes a difference in the long run.

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One thought on “Confrontation or Conversation?

  1. Yes, it matters; however, a preacher can only be responsible for prayer considered offering to a congregation, we can not be responsible for what a congregations hears (individually or corporately). There is the old adage: “What you think you heard, is not what I think I said.” I have also noticed, over time, this is not necessarily a bad thing, folks have been feed by something I did not say, for which I give the Spirit credit.

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