During this morning’s weekly Blue Monday coffee shop theology table discussion with area ELCA pastors, I suggested that as a historian and novelist rather than clergy, I bring a different point of view to the weekly lectionary. I have an eye for conflict.
See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Luke 10:3 NRSV
Though we may wish otherwise, conflict is part of our past and our present. The first schism in the church occurred during the first generation following the death of Jesus with Paul and his Gentiles on one side and the original Jewish disciples on the other. This split is evident when comparing the three synoptic versions of the gospel lesson for this Sunday. The Markan original (Mk 6:7) suggests Jesus sent out the twelve, but the Matthean and Lukan revisions are revealing. Matthew speaks for the Jewish faction, and he agrees that Jesus sent out the twelve and adds “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 10:5-6). Luke’s motivation is entirely opposite, and he mentions not twelve but seventy (Lk 10:1), an obvious symbolic reference to the nations—the Gentiles. For the Pauline Luke, exclusive boundaries marked by circumcision had been dismantled by the Christ, which Paul himself confirmed in the conclusion to his letter to the Galatians:
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised … even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law … for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! Gal 6:12-15
Paul’s concluding comment, “As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them,” was echoed by Luke:
first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who who shares in peace, your peace will rest upon that person; but if not, it will return to you. Luke 10:5b-6.
Pauline theology suggests the Christ has torn down the boundaries of traditional Torah exclusivity, marked by circumcision, and Paul offers a new and broadened understanding of the descendants of Abraham. Come and join us, he says, we will “bear one another’s burdens”, but if you insist on your traditional boundaries, on your walls of exclusion, on your separateness based on literal application of the law, then … you “cut yourself off” and ”you bite and devour one another”. Again, Luke offers the final word, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.”
Upon returning from coffee with this lectionary fresh in my mind, a blog post from Pastor Brant, “Both Saint and Cynic”, popped up on my computer. Pastor Brant writes of the new SAWC (Synodically Authorized Worshiping Community) that has arisen out of the dust of conflict in Tomah, Wisconsin. Another blog friend, Kelly, reports on the Tomah House of Peace SAWC that is developing after a former ELCA congregation refused to accept the peace offered by the inclusivity of the revised ELCA ministry policies. Paul tore down boundaries, but the Judaizers rebuilt them. This ancient church conflict presents a compelling parallel to the inclusivity of the ELCA versus the exclusivity of LCMC, CORE, and WordAlone that boast of their confessionalism, their reverence for the traditional, their persistence in championing sharp lines of division.
Has confessionalism become the new circumcision?