Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

by Bear Wade

Jesus calming the storm
Mark 4:35-41
Fifth Sunday of Pentecost
analysis by Ed Schroeder

Sabbatarians,
Two pieces come in this week’s packet. First is one of the several responses coming back to me in recent weeks. This one comments on Sabb. 66 (Fearing God) and 67 (Schultz & Hinlicky on the Trinity). Its author is Bob Bertram, 76, patriarch of Crossings, un-tiring (though retired) theologian, teacher and ecumenist around town here in St. Louis. Second piece is a Crossings matrix for the texts appointed for June 22 in the Revised Common Lectionary. 

I. BOB BERTRAM’S LETTER

Dear Ed,[Re Sabb. 67] I’m not sure I share your euphoria over the Australians’ “answerable to God” as an adequate rendering of Luther’s original [“fearing God.”] Taken by itself the phrase is indeed a happy choice and, as you might guess I would say as a longtime on-record “Verantwortlichkeitstheolog,” [=theologian who accentuates human response-ability to God’s calling us to account], a far better translation than the earlier alternative, to “honor” God. Furthermore, to be “afraid” of God is, as Luther explicitly said, what he did NOT mean by “fear.” And why not? Because “to be afraid” of someone implies that I HATE that someone.

However, that is exactly why Luther tries to dispel this misimpression of a hate-based fear, not by substituting a different word for fear but rather by deliberately retaining that word–for fear it still is!–and then coupling it of all thing with “love,” the very opposite of hate. That is the miraculous transformation of “fear” that the Law demands and which the Law itself is incapable of conferring. As you know, in Luther’s own day his very colleagues were asking, How could we both fear and love the same God? Still, just to get them to ask that question is already a catechetical break-through, to which the catechist might exuberantly reply, I thought you’d never ask.

What Luther was NOT as good at explaining is why the Lord and his agents then say to the rare God-fearers, “Fear NOT…” On that point the evangelist Luke, I think, is more helpful.

[Re Sabb. 66] I don’t dare get started on the Schultz-Hinlicky exchange. What a joy it was to watch two professionals, and confessionals, go at it with their best gifts. And to see Lutherans, for a change, take so seriously the doctrine of the Trinity! I suppose that Bob [Schultz] is right in saying that his second round brought new clarity to the exchange. (I didn’t think his first round was all that unclear.) But the new clarity exacted a price. He limited his second try to mostly methodological concerns and was no longer making the big substantive claims which gave his original piece such breathtaking force.

But maybe the fallback to issues of method, like the mountaineer’s return to base camp, is a necessary interlude. Maybe, from there, once having caught his breath and having established a modicum of consensus with his partner, he’ll resume his scaling the Trinity. And Paul [Hinlicky] with him. For Paul, too, raised some extremely telling points, without which Schultz’ position could sound misleadingly “monotarian” (not to mention psychologistic) rather than Trinitarian. More and more I appreciate why good Lutherans, before long, gravitate back to patristics. Like you, I was edified by both brothers.

Bob


II. A CROSSINGS MATRIX for June 22, Fifth Sunday of Pentecost 1997

It’s “water, water everywhere” in the OT text (Job 38) and the day’s Gospel (Mark 4:35-41). Even Paul, in the second lesson (2 Corinthians 6:1-13), though not using marine metaphors, measures his ministry by a laundry list of inundations in his life (at least 18 negatives mentioned)–all of which he has survived.

In the OT text Yahweh speaking from the midst of a storm instructs Job on two points. 1. “If you can’t even comprehend how either the earth or the sea work, creatures which I concocted, how can you attempt to figure out on your own how I, their creator, work?” 2. “As threatening and bombastic as the sea is [sc., in the OT it signals the power of death], since I am the sea’s creator, I still control it.”

Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calming the storm, could be read as a lab report illustrating the previous sentence. Then the disciples’ terrified question “Who is this?” would have only one answer: Jesus is God in their boat. Biblical proof-text: Job 38.

But there’s got to be more in this text since Mark’s Gospel and Mark’s Jesus are centered in the theology of the cross, the Ochlos-Messiah for the ochlos of the world, God’s Rejected Stone for the rejects of the world. With that in mind, here’s a Crossings matrix:

DIAGNOSIS

STAGE 1. THE DEADLY SEAS IN THE MIDST OF DAILY LIFE
Confronting life’s daily floodings–the powers in the world that threaten my life and that do not appear to be under God’s control–in the course of our own ministries as Christ’s disciples. Check the examples from 2 Cor. 6 as concrete cases of life’s storms.

STAGE 2. FEAR REPLACES FAITH
Succumbing to fear (v. 40 & 41) as a “sensible” response to the storms. But fear evicts faith from the heart. “Do you still have no faith?”

STAGE 3. SWAMPED
The sea–finally, the power of death–wins. We lose. Glub, glub, glub.

THE NEW PROGNOSIS

STAGE 4. JESUS SWAMPS THE STORM
He does care if we perish. The Galilee crossing in this text previews the grand finale crossing on Good Friday’s cross. At the end of Mark’s Gospel Jesus “goes to the other side,” goes all the way. He rebukes death, our deaths, with a “Quiet! Be still!” by virtue of his own full entry into death’s maw. There he conquers it, not by a power play, but by letting death do its deed to him. As his sleeping in the boat signals, the sea of death has no rightful claim upon him. God’s son, he is this sea’s master. Yet when death does exercise its claim upon him at Calvary–in one sense rightfully, since he’s been befriending sinners–death nevertheless oversteps its bounds. For in this event the sea of death is rebelling against its own creator. But that’s a capital crime in OT theology. Jesus’ death is the grounds for the death sentence being spoken on death itself. It is the death of death. So sinners associated with Jesus, call them disciples, are home free. “Death no more hath dominion over them,” as Paul puts it. They too can now take naps in their boats.

STAGE 5. FAITH
Faith supplants fear in the heart as disciples face life’s storms, face the power of death in its mini- and maxi-formats. Disciples swamp their own dyings by trusting Christ’s conquest of this last enemy, also as it appears in life’s routine experiences.

STAGE 6. SURVIVORS
Daily life with the risen Jesus in our boat as we survive our own crossings–sometimes even just getting some sleep while in danger on the deep. Living the way Paul did, as he confesses as Paul confesses in 2 Cor. 6. “Yes, but….” as our language for coping with life’s storms. Dying, but still not dead; knocked down, but not knocked out; being crucified daily, and still being raised the next day to do Christ’s ministry. Why? See 2 Cor. 6:2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, today is a day of salvation–too.”

Author

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