MM: An inviting invitation (musical settings of Matt 11:28-30)

[This is an installment in the sporadic Monday Music series which deals with topics related to Christian music.  Other, related posts may be found here.]

In mid-2016 and again in early 2017, I was invited, in a manner of speaking, to reconsider an invitation from Jesus’ own lips, as recorded in Matthew 11:28-30.

Even if it didn’t possess an intrinsically openhearted quality, this passage would stand out because it has been memorized a lot.  It was also “my” passage to recite during my college chorus’s scripture-and-hymns program, performed every evening while on tours.  At the time, despite my sometimes having to stutter out the initial plosive consonant on “Come to me,” I was complimented on my delivery and the perceived match of my vocal timbre with a preconceived idea of the Jesus behind the saying.  Now, however, I have negative associations with a couple of people from that time, and I definitely had a less mature understanding of the text back then, so it’s with mixed feelings that I recall the experience.

At some point, I became acquainted with the Leonard Burford song “Come Unto Me.”  The legally blind “Brother Burford” was director of the chorus at Abilene Christian College and had studied at Juilliard.  This song is available in only one of my hymnals.  I suppose it was sung in only a very few churches and would hardly be known now.  It is an inviting, near-choral-type setting and is of good technical quality (speaking musically and poetically), but it seems to excel in terms of musical form and harmony more than in communication of a text (and context).  Here is a sample:

Another setting, used several times a year in the church of my youth, was more accessible to large, untrained groups.  Both of these songs employ a good deal of repetition, but the latter is more approachable and singable.  The stanzas below, written for soprano-alto duet, are only indirectly related to the text.  The men’s voices enter emphatically at the chorus, which was the actual setting of the Matthew text.  This version, in my estimation, is somewhat better than the Burford one.  Given its era, the quasi-instrumental-accompaniment setting of the refrain here was effective.  The textual emphasis at primary cadence points (ends of lines 4 and 6) seems to be on “rest for the soul.”

It might even be supposed that the writers of many other “invitation” or “altar call” songs had Matthew 11:28 in the backs of their minds—loosely and implicitly if not explicitly.  I think here of the likes of “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home,” and “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling.”

Years transpired after my college choral days, and I became less interested in choral music.  Incidentally, I became increasingly averse to the whole churchy “invitation” thing during that time.  Nevertheless, in 1996, I wrote my own “Come To Me,” tied more directly and strictly to the passage—and specifically spurred by Gary Collier’s book The Forgotten Treasure:  Reading the Bible Like JesusA sketch history of this song goes something like this:

At what I might say was just the right time of my life, I read The Forgotten Treasure.  Bothered as I was by what I took as legalistic, un-grace-filled approaches to people within certain churches, I felt a deep impact from much of the book and keyed in on the middle of Matthew (including chapter 11), based on Gary’s emphases and structural suggestions.  Compelled, I wrote the song and shared it with the author of the book, having been in touch with him through a Bible discussion e-mail group.

A group called Lights, audiowhich I directed and sang with through the 1990s, was available to me, and I naturally went in the direction of a musical arrangement that played to that group’s strengths and resided in its comfort zones.  Lights ended up using the song in performances at youth events, church retreats, etc.  Lights made two recordings, and both recordings strike me now as acceptable, given what I had to work with, but dated.  A bass voice is heard on the solo, and my younger sister’s voice and mine are heard in countermelodic bursts in the final chorus of the recording stored here.  I am still pleased that the overall demeanor of the song is different from that of the run-of-the-mill, more churchy appeals the Matthew text with which I had been acquainted.  This song is more targeted, more insistent . . . and even the conclusion is a comparatively forceful invitation, with a half-cadence that suggests the Son of Man’s unending, energetic interest, not a namby-pamby “just lie down and go to sleep with gentle Jesus.”

I moved on from Lights, but I never forgot the song and still periodically turn to it for personal devotional use.

Last summer, a conference was held, organized in connection with the Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation.  When the theme was announced as centering in Matthew’s gospel, an obvious opportunity arose to revisit my song that had also been based in that document, so I did just that.  It turned out to be the 20th anniversary for my “Come To Me.”  Having become largely disenchanted with the a cappella medium of the first version of the song (excerpt shown here)—and particularly with the accompaniment style I had used for the Lights performance group—I knew it was time to abandon that approach.  Few really sing that way anymore, and the group was perhaps even in a time warp during part of its history, too.  In trying to function within the niche-world of a cappella church music, Lights appealed to some but perhaps outlived our usefulness.  I digress.

Looking back, I’d say the song is conceptually and creatively among my 10 or 15 best.  (There were many others written during that decade—some, barely mediocre.)  Gary’s book had pointed me in a focused way to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus, so I think the song carried an authentically scriptural, strong message.  Since 1996, my understanding of Matthew (and of texts in general, and the newly inbreaking reign of God, and more) have grown immeasurably.  Here are sections of the sheet music for the updated version of “Come To Me”:

A home recording of this version is here, for what it’s worth.  It might need to be downloaded before playing it, depending on your setup.   The pre-recorded keyboard part is 5-10% too fast, and my out-of-shape voice is found wanting.  (A more in-shape female solo voice would have been better on this song!)  This 2016 update incorporated several minor musical and lyrics changes—plus adding a bridge that solidifies and significantly strengthens the whole, I think:

Hear and learn from the Master.
Understand the reading of the Old and the New.
Go and follow the Master of mercy!
He brings the Kingdom into view!

A responsible interpretation of Matthew 11:28-30 must not merely take some poetic expressions and make them sound sweet in a song.  One ought to consider those words of “invitation” apart from the “altar call” or “invitation” dynamic in traditional congregation settings.  Further, one ought to pay attention to Matthew 11:28-30 within the striking contextual arrangement of Matthew’s gospel.  No song could succeed in every detail, but in pursuing such a biblical text contextually, in this way, what Matthew’s gospel says about the Master can become clearer.

Whatever its strength or weakness of this song, I hope that you are taken further, or maybe just a little differently, into Matthew’s riches and Jesus’ invitation.

Three 4s

Chapter 4.  In three books.

I notice the significance of chapter 4 in three of the four gospels:  Matthew, Mark, and John.  I have no mystical sense of numerology about it, and chapter divisions weren’t in the original manuscripts, after all, so the number element doesn’t really matter.  Still, I thought this might make for an interesting trivia piece.

1. In Matthew, chapter 4 includes an extended treatment of the testing of Jesus before beginning to describe His earlier “ministry” and setting up the so-called Sermon on the Mount.  In my younger years, I was led to tuck away neatly the three “temptations” (probably not the best term, given our usage today) as representative of all human temptation in any time:

  1. the lust of the flesh
  2. the lust of the eyes
  3. the pride of life

Although I’d say those characterizations have moderate worth, I now see chapter 4 more in its context.  There is more to the specific tests as it figures in to the whole of Matthew.

Side point:  “pinnacle” (of the temple) in the 2nd testing is probably not the best translation of the Greek πτερύγιο | pterugio.  It was probably not a spire or high point per se.  According to numerous scholars, the reference is probably to the edge of a “wing” or extremity of the temple compound that essentially overlooked a valley.

~ ~ ~

2.  In Mark, chapter 4’s parable of the “sower” (and the spots onto which he sowed) is structurally significant within the whole.  Mark appears to have an intentional form that includes these sections:

A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’ baptism (which became figuratively a death in Christian thought and writing), the splitting of the heavens, and the voice saying, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus’ death, the splitting of the temple veil, and a voice saying, “Truly this was God’s son” (15:33-39) (also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)

A longtime friend’s master’s work was on the place of the parable of the sower in the overall structure of Mark.  Chapter 4’s sower parable is significant and may be related to the vineyard parable (chapter 12)—both dealing with the response of the people.

~ ~ ~

3.  In music, prolonging an element can result in either drama or montony.  Particularly in art music, the compositional technique known as “phrase extension” and the prolonging of a “dominant” harmony (V chord) have notable effects.

In narrative, an extended passage can have an effect related to the author’s purpose(s).  In John, chapter 4’s encounter with the woman at the well is the longest recorded single conversation of Jesus with any individual.  The reader-interpreter does well in taking note of this incident, assuming its conceptual prominence—or at least the fact that there must be something special about it.

Bibliology bits 3: context, instructions, and design

biblicalbooksThis post continues from prior ones in which I briefly discussed books and literature types, and then canons and versions.

On contextS
A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared that the primary teaching pastor at his church had recently committed what I consider a major instructional infraction:

While delivering a message on how to study the Bible, historical and cultural contexts were treated at some length, but no attention at all was given to a book-level, paragraph-level, or even “verse”-level look at the literary context.  

What passed for “literary context” was really only a nod to the historical setting in which the document was originally penned.

Whoa!

Let it be noted here that the friend referenced above has a terminal degree in NT biblical studies, and the teaching pastor, of approximately the same age, is well down the road toward his own doctorate in Hebrew and OT.  What the one knows and understands about overall emphasis in text study should also be what other knows and understands.  And the latter very well may know and understand it.  The problem is that he missed a golden opportunity as a public teacher to emphasize literary context!

It makes sense that literary context should be considered primary in biblical studies.  Historical, cultural, sociological, and theological studies may undergird and will be of great interest, but what is actually in the text is more fundamental—and almost always a more objective enterprise.  Pursuit of the literary context should therefore be considered ahead of the pursuit of other contexts.  I might put rhetorical and discourse analysis methods in a tool bucket (along with selected reference tools) to be used as part of contextually aware studies.  Knowledge of the syntax of the original language is indispensable.  (Personally, I have only enough grasp of Greek syntax to know how important it is.)  There is always more to learn about the words and sentences and “paragraphs.”  The point here is that intensified contextual awareness is fundamental when seeking to understand a document.

On instructionS
The number of instructions (reputedly 613) in the Hebrew Torah is daunting.  The number of superimposed rabbinic teachings (Talmud, etc.) is positively dizzying.

It doesn’t surprise me that Christians would fall into the habit of looking at the “New Law” in the same legal terms, but it does surprise me that any of us would defend that habit explicitly.  In the words of Danny Gamble, a neighborhood boy from my childhood, “What are ya—dumb or sump’n?”  (He was talking about my family’s habit of praying before meals.  His rude-yet-innocent comment speaks much better to stupid human tricks such as creating a new legalism.)

There are matters on which God has spoken, of course.

There are also matters about which people wish God had instructed.

And there are quite a few matters about which people claim God instructed us—but the supposed instruction sometimes turns out to be trumped-up, or even bogus.

I won’t specify things I think fall into any of these three categories, because I might get in trouble with some people I respect.  🙂

On design
The structure and design of biblical documents is typically overlooked.  This post (from a year and a half ago) laments the tendency of very good, otherwise spiritually minded people to ignore text design in favor of what turns out to be a faux devotional vantage point.

Even when structure is to some extent in view, it is rarely understood and applied very thoroughly in local churches.  We may affirm that (literary) context is king, but even those public teachers who pay lip service to context will rarely spend appropriate time dealing with its significance.

Here are a few examples/comments:

The structure of Psalm 119 famously involves an acrostic design (based on Hebrew letters).  The literary structure is obvious, aiding understanding of this piece’s origin and possible its intent.

The structure of Paul’s brief letter to Philemon is clear, making the thrust of the message quite impossible to ignore in Greek, although it rarely if ever shows itself in English Bibles or in Bible classes.  Although richly provocative clues reside in the Greek, if more disciples would merely take more time with the English, truly studying this document instead of dismissing it as a nice story about a former slave, the document would speak volumes.  Loudly.

I’m somewhat acquainted with the structure of both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, but I would have to say that it’s required many years and great opportunities to come to understand only a little of their design.  In other words, the structure of a more lengthy document requires deeper, more extended experience.  I am currently engaged in Matthew studies.  Every step of the way, I learn something that enhances my understanding of this text.

Knowing how these documents are put together—how they are designed—is key in coming to understand their emphases.

There is so much more.  The Bible is a lifelong pursuit but must not be seen as an end in itself.  To conclude this series on perhaps a lighter note, I think I’ll soon post a survey about word frequency, i.e., “how many times is X word found in the NT?”

A different proposition: historicity in the gospel narratives

Moisés Silva offers succinct, sage counsel on reading and interpreting the gospels:

The Biblical faith, as is almost universally recognized, has a historical character at its very foundations; in contrast to other religions, this feature is one of its most significant the stages.  Moderns who seek to affirm the religious teachings of the Bible while rejecting its historical claims are more daring than Houdini.  The resulting incoherence is logically unbearable. . . .

In addition to this theological obstacle, there is a literary snag.  When reading any kind of literature, nothing is more important than doing justice to its character.  If we attempt to understand Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a straightforward historical narrative, we misrepresent its total meaning.  We may still be able to interpret many details correctly and even make sense of its message, but no Shakespearean scholar would put up with the inevitable distortions that would result.

In the case of the Gospels, every indication we have is that the writers expected their statements to be taken as historical.

The reason many students of the Bible believe they can downplay the historicity of the New Testament narratives is that these narratives do not always conform to the patterns of modern history writing.

[T]he historical trustworthiness of the gospels is not to be described in terms of modern historiography, which stresses clear and strict chronological sequence, balanced selection of material, verbatim quotations, and so on.  In our real sense, the gospel writers are preachers.  They select the events of Jesus’ life and his teachings, guided not by comprehensiveness but by their purpose in writing.  They arrange the material not always on the basis of sequential order but with a view to impress upon the readers certain specific truths.

We get into trouble, therefore, when we approach the text with questions that the gospel writers were not interested in answering. . . .

When we study the parables, . . . we should be interested not only in their function during the ministry of Jesus but also in the way they are used by the gospel writers.

These writings . . .  are like stained glass windows.  Not only do they point to and reflect the light that is behind them, they also invite us to look at them and enjoy them for what they are.

– Moisés Silva, “But These Are Written That You May Believe,” in Kaiser and Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 107-108, 113, 109.

 

26 years ago: John 9

I have long loved John chapter 9.  Posts on this blog have touched on it a few times.  In ridding myself of some old files, I found evidence that I’d felt attached to this chapter as early as my twenties.  Twenty-six years ago today, I’d apparently presented a short message, first reading the entire chapter (and if you have time now, you might also read it now) and then making the comments below to the gathered Christians at the Cedars Church in Wilmington, Delaware.


Sometimes we, too, are guilty of ignoring the obvious, undeniable, simple facts.

We react blindly to the visible and to threatening situations—threatening because they’re unusual and uncomfortable.

We accuse the wrong people for the wrong things, not wanting to SEE truth and actuality.

Some things are really simple, and we make them difficult, denying them and pointing a finger elsewhere in order to keep from having to truly examine the realities.

[Pray for healing of hardness of heart; unwillingness to be taught & be led by Spirit; spiritual blindness.  Let us SEE.  Keep us from attacking bringers of good news because we don’t want to listen or consider.]

B. Casey, 6/27/90


See also

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/digging-in-john-9-1000/

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/personal-application-john-9/

An eye-opening 36 hours

It’s not exactly a blazing tempo, but it was still significant for me.

Earlier this week, within 36 hours, I immersed myself in Matthew’s gospel, reading it all the way through—mostly aloud, to myself.  (This was one step among many taken to prepare for a presentation early next month.)  I took a couple chapters at a time, eating leftover thin-crust pizza and accomplishing other miscellany in between.  I noted so many textual connections that it made my befuddlable brain dizzy!

I’m struck by at least two levels of literary connectivity:

  1. A possible, quasi-chiastic, document-level structure that has outer sections, inward sections, and a center.  Several ties may be seen, for example, between teaching sections in chapters 5-7 and chapters 23-25 (apparently the next-to-outermost sections).  I also noticed connections between the birth and crucifixion narratives.  This feature of Matthew has been noticed, discussed, and sometimes disagreed with by scholars, and I was aware of that going in.
  2. A repetitive structure that has seemingly less significant items showing up more than once, possibly for emphasis.  Example:  the mentions of children in 18:1-4, 19:13-15, and 21:16.  These features will surely have been noticed by others, but I had no preparation or predisposition to notice the repetitions.  They just kept popping up!

Overall, GMatthew’s portrait of the Messiah has been 3rd on my list in terms of familiarity.  It has now risen to 2nd, and I think I might even love it more than either Mark or John now.

The gospels are historical, to be sure, but a close and honest look at them shows them to be less concerned with an exact historical chronology of events than with the faith-significance of the events.  – Gary D. Collier, The Forgotten Treasure, 44.

Heroes

When I last visited the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame about 8 years ago, I wandered into a bookstore and noticed a book authored by my childhood baseball hero—a book in which he monotonously spouted many things about himself.  This former player holds many National League and MLB records, and I’m of the opinion that he should be in the Hall of Fame despite personal downfalls.  His prideful character is far from unassailable, though, and I long ago stopped listening and following his exploits (although I do have a gift coffee mug with his uniform number on it, and I’m hanging onto an autograph, too, for posterity).  I can’t completely shake my consciousness of this past player, but I’m opting out of using his name here since he’s gotten more than his share of publicity.  As late as my 20s, I might have named him as one of my “heroes,” but no more.

My dad, during his childhood, had chosen a far better baseball hero—Stan Musial, a man who apparently never did anything societally unbecoming.  Musial also holds many baseball records and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.  Musial is “The Man” by nickname and could also be referred to that way in complimentary slang terms (i.e., “Dude, you Da Man”):  his baseball career, his reputation as a person and celebrity, and his personal integrity all seem to have been aligned.  My dad’s autobiographical memoir (for which I served as copy/layout editor) contains an entire chapter on Musial.  I have a copy of an autographed Musial photo on my wall and am also happy to be first in line for a Musial-autographed ball, which will be passed down the line through my son.  [See also  https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/multi-talented-monopolies-or-sluggers-and-clergymen/]

Baseball heroes are okay, I suppose, as far as they go.  Most of them are probably better than entertainment-types.

But the only hero I now claim lived 2,000 years ago.  He’s the only One worthy of hero worship.  Obviously, the Galilean Rabbi didn’t tick off the baseball commissioner or the press, but He did tick off the religious establishment as He turned the world upside down by newly bringing in the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Roman Empire scene.  The “Son of Man” (in a sense a nickname, and one with a lot more theological and cosmic significance than Musial’s “The Man”) didn’t have sports records, but He did have a completely perfect record as a human on earth.  It would be hard to imagine Him giving autographs like a celebrity, and He didn’t receive a national medal.  He did have given to Him the name that is above every name . . . the power above all powers . . . the authority and status of The Name YHVH.  He is Kurios, the Lord.

God upraised Him to the topmost place and freely conferred on Him the name which is above every name.   – Philippians 2:9

You are not far . . .

The stress Jesus placed on loving God and loving humans would be clear to anyone who read Mark 12.  Moreover, the fact that Mark records the principle’s repetition by the scribe seems to render it more emphatic, rhetorically speaking.  Following up on yesterday’s post on a few rhetorical aids in Mark, I feel justified in spending some time “eavesdropping” on this rather singular, positive interaction with a scribe—and expanding on it.

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied.  “You are right in saying that God is One and there is no other but Him.  To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  (Mark 12:32-34a, NIV)

How incredibly significant it is to be labeled as “not far” from the Kingdom!  Wouldn’t it have been grand to have Jesus speak those words to us?

Fundamental to the understanding of this quotation from the Lord is the discernment of the kingdom notion itself.  While the very word can elicit images of pompous potentates and regal robes, of piteous peasants and the trappings of hierarchy, those ideas seem far from what the Son of God intended the man in this conversation to understand.

What is the “kingdom of God”?  Some would say it’s the church . . . or that it’s synonymous with Heaven.

Consider, though, that before the actual church structure was established, Jesus chose this teacher of the law (who seemed to have a wonderful perspective, though the typical NT image of the scribe or Pharisaic lawyer is often one characterized by a warped, rigid outlook) to label as being close to God’s reign.

There was a time for the Law.  There is a time for all rules and regulations.  There is, in God’s will, even a time for hierarchical structures.  But the primary function of the Old Covenant laws (with the inherent structure) was eclipsed in the dawning of the Way.

Newly of primary importance, Jesus said, stood loving God and man—in contrast to the diminishing role of rules, regulations, and structure, that is.

What else can we say about this new Way?  The Kingdom of God is not the church (although they are inextricably related).  And neither is the Kingdom equivalent to eternal Heaven.  (God’s reign, by His own choice, is not total and absolute in this life, but it is absolute in His spiritual domain.)

Mainly, the “kingdom” is His reign in our hearts.  It is within us (by His own declaration) . . . which is what makes it infinitely significant that the vocational lawyer who answered Jesus wisely was “not far from the kingdom of God.”  It was not the rules with which he was conversant, and which he presumably would have followed to the Nth degree, that brought him into proximity to the kingdom.  It was not his affiliation that made the difference.  It was what was within him.

Try translating Jesus’ (Mark 12:34) statement this way:

You are inches away from understanding the new Way—the command of God in he heart, as opposed to the domineering nature of the religious structure.

Or, as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message,

You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.

Again:  who was it that Jesus assessed as on his way across the border?

The Pharisees—who, in New Testament caricature, at least, were concerned with nit-picky sub-rules and with being seen doing pious things?  Of course not.

The Sadducees who represented the nobility of the day, holding political power and wielding the influence of the hierarchy?  Not them, either.

How about the twelve, who seemed to understand every now and then what the business of Jesus was, and who were certainly more acquainted with His teachings than others?  No.

Who was “not far from the kingdom”?  Who was the only one ever described this way?

It was the man who, despite his background in rules and structure, understood that what it all comes down to is this:  loving God and loving man.

In that order.

There remain two imperatives for Christians who desire nothing but to follow Jesus’ steps.  When this obedience is part and parcel of who we are, the reign of God will be in effect.

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

B. Casey (3/94; revised 11/95, 2/15; radically revised and abridged 5/15)

Rhetorical aids in Mark

Examination of the text of Mark reveals quite a few structured textual arrangements—likely intentional—that rhetorically aid this gospel.

I.  One of these possible structures is found in 10:33a-34, where a barrage of verbs and pronouns may well be intentionally “poetic.”  One notices the similar, repeated “suffix” sounds when reading the Greek aloud, but some of it may be happenstance since some Greek verb-endings sound alike by nature (they can’t be said to “rhyme” per se).  The endpoints of this section, though, are the future middle/passive verbs that indicate Jesus 1) will be handed over, and 2) will Himself rise again, and those seem intentionally placed.  The middle of this mini-section contains the dramatic declaration (here, for the 3rd time) that Jesus will be handed over to the Gentiles.

paradothesetai   (will be handed over)
tois arxiereusin
kai tois grammateusin,
kai katakrinousin
auton thanato
kai paradosousin
auton tois ethnesin

kai empaixousin
auto kai emptusousin
auto kai mastigosousin
auton kai apoktenousin,
kai meta treis hemeras
anastesetai           (will myself rise up)


II.  Some have identified Mark’s¹ “triptychs,” and one of these may be seen in 2:1-12.  In point of fact, most or even all of Mark may be analyzed in terms of mini-“sandwich” structures of a few verses at a time.  (See here for an exhaustive listing.)  Some of these are centric, i.e., the middle of the sandwich is the point of emphasis; others are parallel sets of thoughts.  Some seem more significant than others, but looking into these structures can sometimes help the reader see the intended emphasis.


III.  Taken on the whole, Mark appears to have an intentional form:

A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’baptism – The splitting of the heavens, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus dies, the temple veil is split “Truly this was God’s son.” (15:33-39)
(also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)


IV.  Another serious Bible student I know has noticed the following large-scale chiastic structure just past the core/middle, which is found at 8:22-10:52:

A The Pharisees and the Denarius                    12:13-17

B The Sadducees and the Scriptures     12:18-27

C The Most Important Commandment – Jesus’ Answer 12:28-31

C’ The Most Important Commandment – Restated    12:32-34

B’ Jesus and the Scriptures                                12:35-40

A’ The Poor Widow and Her Two Coins           12:41-44

– Lee Patmore (used by permission)


As Lee has it (and I certainly see no reason to disagree), the center of 12:13-44 section involves a rather singularly emphatic, positive interaction with a scribe.  In the next post, I’ll highlight more of this very significant conversation in a different way.

B. Casey, 5/24/15


¹ It bugs me to type “Marcan” as scholarly convention has it, since the consonant in Mark’s name is a kappa (κ), not a chi (χ) or a “hard C” of any kind.  Maybe the “Marcan” spelling got started because of the Vulcans?  Anyway, if I type “Markan,” someone might object.  So, I avoid the issue.  I also don’t like the standard pronunciations of “Pauline” and “Johannine,” so I avoid those, too.  🙂

LS Symbolisms

Here is a small collection of miscellaneous Lord’s Supper thoughts I’ve entertained in recent months.

As this little piece has developed, it reminds me of “Hook’s Points,” an erstwhile series written by Cecil Hook, now living non-physically eternally, who was a friend to many while inspiring and challenging them.  (Here is a sample selection of “Hook’s Points.”)  I don’t lay claim to Cecil’s perpetually beautiful attitude, but I like to challenge traditional thinking much as he liked to.

Lift Him up
Typically, pulpit furniture is elevated higher than the table used for communion.  In a church in Georgia about 25 years ago, one elder-shepherd convinced the others to reverse the furniture.  Then, the table was elevated, and the preacher praught from down low (although he wasn’t a low-down guy).  Problem was, the table was then more removed from the people who were said to be communing around it, and the preaching seemed even more emphasized.

By the way, the phrase “lift Him up” in John’s gospel has nothing to do with notions of worship that use “high” imagery.  And it certainly has nothing to do with furniture elevations.  It has to do with the cross.

Color me traditional, if possible
When some in my tradition are feeling threatened by change, they’ve been known to say, “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting chips and Coke for the Lord’s Supper!”  In my experience, those who want change are customarily more careful and intentional than those who are content with the status quo; neither side is characterized by the flippant carelessness.  However, I do assume that Jesus cares more that we remember Him than that we get the elements exactly right.  After all, who knows the exact chemical makeup of the wine served at the Last Supper, or how the unleavened bread felt or looked?  If we are sincerely bent on remembering Him and His atoning death, I suppose we will do things and use things that foster that remembering.

Still, I’m not going to buy white grape juice for the purpose of communion when red grape juice is available.  The blood-symbolism is the thing, isn’t it?

And while you’re at it, what is “eschatology” again?
“Transubstantiation” and “intinction” are big words associated with communion in some traditions.  (“Eschatology” is a more important word, and it’s only indirectly connected with communion.)

Sometimes I think words obscure  more than they reveal.  Ironically, “transubstantiation” refers to a supposed revealing of the Christ in the eating of the bread:  namely, that the substance of the bread is miraculously transformed into His actual body, and that the wine also becomes  His blood.  In the course of insisting such things occur, though, what ends up being revealed more than the Christ is the audacity of human superimpositions on scripture.

Oh, the lengths to which overzealous (and, in some cases, corrupt) “Christians” have historically gone in order to develop exclusive dogmas and denominations!  Frankly, the paranormal realities that may or may not occur when I slip a bit of cracker or matzah onto my tongue are not my concern.

I have only experienced “intinction” on isolated occasions.  It refers to the mingling of bread and juice/wine before ingesting either.  Intinction doesn’t appear to reflect the commemorative pattern of which we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1Corinthians (leaving alone Acts 2 and Acts 20, which I take as referring to something larger and related, but not identical).  This “method” does, however, bring into sharp relief the symbolism of the bloody flesh that was part of our Lord’s suffering.

I would have to say that on the half-dozen occasions I’ve observed the memorial using the intinction method, my spirit has meditated differently and newly, and quite possibly more deeply.  I suspect that, just as with any other habit, the newness of the intinction experience would tend to wear off after a while, but perhaps it could be a good method to use now and again . . . until He comes (he appended eschatologically, with reference to 1Cor 11:26).

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At some point in the future, I plan to jot a few more notes on Lord’s Supper methodologies, including who does the walking/serving and the eating — in other words, who’s involved in which aspects and how it might all be accomplished.  If you have other ideas, thoughts, or ponderings related to communion, please share them in the meantime.