Saturday, May 05, 2012

The block in my own eye...

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41–42)
I'm blocked, and it's not very convenient to have a writer's block when you're writing a thesis. I have been focusing on my readings but have wanted to get started on some of the preliminary chapters. Nothing has been coming. So, to get through this block, I have to write my way out of it.

My thesis is focusing on Luke's "Sermon on the Plain," the redheaded step-sibling to Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount." There's still quite a bit of speculation on which is prior, whether one borrows from the other, whether they come from the same source (Q), whether they come from two sources (QM and QL) but relay the same sermon, or whether they relate two sermons about similar teachings. Those questions don't really interest me. I'm more interested in the theology Luke is teaching rather than the historical-critical or rhetorical analysis of that pericope.

I referred to Luke's sermon as the red-headed step-sibling to Matthew's sermon. If you search for journal articles or books written on the subject, you'll find that almost all scholars are more interested in Matthew's sermon. I have a book of précis critiques by François Bovon on works written about the Gospel of Luke between 1950 and 1983. I read about two thirds, then began scanning for citations, because what I had noticed to that point was that almost none of the works even touched on Luke 6. They just skipped right over Jesus' entire Galilean ministry. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Hans Dieter Betz' massive work on both sermons, and then found Fr. Topel's theological exegesis on Luke's sermon, Children of a Compassionate God. To prove my point, even he notes in his preface
Most New Testament monographs begin with an apologia for yet another study of a shop-worn text [note to self: beware of a scripture scholar who refers to part of the New Testament as a shop-worn text]. I need not apologize, for, although the Lukan Sermon in the Plain is one of the most significant foundations for Christian ethics, there has been, in the entire history of New Testament exegesis, only one brief study of this important text! (ix).
I'm still awaiting Paul Hahn's unpublished dissertation, but that again is mostly rhetorical analysis and less a theological exegesis. However, that's the rub. I picked one of the few pericopes that people have ignored for nearly 2000 years. There's plenty I can learn from the studies of Matthew's sermon, but I will be forging a bit of new ground, with God's assistance.

Anyhoo, it just hasn't been coming to me, and I know that good theology and one's prayer life go hand in hand. If theology is fides querens intellectum (faith seeking understanding), then I had better try praying my way through this block, not just writing and blathering. So I took my bible, went down to my parish, and sat in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and I just put the question out there: "what do you want me to say?"

I have found it odd that the further I get into my studies, the less I have to write about my opinions or my thoughts concerning what I'm studying. I'm not sure that's a good thing for a fledgling academic (although it might be a very good thing for someone approaching diaconal ordination). But I do know that I don't want to teach what's wrong or write in error, not out of pride but out of concern. I don't want to lead anyone astray. I want to write what is true and useful.

So I was meditating on the Lukan sermon, and for some reason, I was drawn to 20:42b: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye."

Ouch. Hard words. But to whom is Jesus speaking here (me)? What does he mean by the word "hypocrite"? Seems to be pretty clear, if we take the common use of the word: someone who doesn't practice what he preaches (which is itself a debatable interpretation). However, scripture scholars don't just assume that the word means the same now as it did for its original audience. The word ὑποκριτά first referred to what Hellenistic actors did on the stage: they performed behind a mask; they took on a persona. However, by Jesus' time, it had come to mean someone who was a pretender, a sham.

If you've ever been a graduate student, you know the fear of being found out. You know what it's like to think, "That's it. They're all going to find out that I'm a fraud and don't belong here." And that's exactly what I have been thinking for the last few weeks—perhaps not explicitly, but subconsciously. I don't know this stuff. They'll know I'm a wannabee. My faith isn't strong enough, real enough, good enough. I'm not worthy enough. Hypocrite.

Wow, did I need to hear that message, because Jesus gives us the cure right there in the sermon: "A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher" (20:40). The text here actually means that the disciple has to be reformed, has to be divested of what the culture has taught him, and inculcated with the Master's teachings. Only when the disciple reflects the teacher can the disciple then go out and teach.

I need to go to adoration more often!

I will be posting more frequently to help grease the skids and get the train a movin'. I'll be starting back into formation in August after a year-long hiaitus, and I want to have this thesis out of the way when I do (to avoid the overlap in home work). Your prayers would be greatly appreciated, and your comments will also help me to form my thoughts.

Grace and peace to you all.
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