A drop of grace

October 3, 2011

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which
includes Anderson's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine
and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the
Century.

Preachers
and teachers are really missing those summer days when we got to preach on
wonderful parables about mustard seeds and loaves of yeast bread. Now it's
judgment-parable season, and many of us wish we were on vacation.

I believe
that difficult texts should not be read in the midst of worship and then flatly
avoided in the preaching. Paul's words from Philippians are marvelous with
their call to "Rejoice in the Lord always," to "not worry about anything," but
in many of our congregations this reading will be followed immediately by a
very difficult parable from Matthew.

There are
many trustworthy commentators on this parable. I always find Fr. Robert Capon
most helpful in his thoughtful and creative work on parables of grace and
judgment. However, even the most trustworthy of interpreters will not massage
out the story's tension between grace and judgment. Rather than attempting to
explain this parable away until it's most comfortable, I suggest letting the
tension work on our transformation. Rather than turning ourselves into
theological pretzels trying to faithfully interpret the parable, we might allow
the parable to interpret us.

In my Century lectionary column for this week,
I give an example of how this might be done. Some of us use the hermeneutical
strategy of allowing scripture passages that are bright and clear to shine a
light on those that dwell in dark mystery. Instead of starting with the
difficult tension in this parable, I suggest starting with an affirmation of
your core beliefs about the kingdom of God, about God's purpose in the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus. Consider how those core beliefs shine a light
on the message of this parable.

Not
everything will become clear. This can certainly be acknowledged without lengthy
complaint. Even if it seems like you are squeezing a single drop of grace out
of a tough turnip this week, recall one of Jesus' clear teachings about the
kingdom of God: that in that dominion, tiny things have wondrous power. Perhaps
one drop will do.