Blinkers Off

When preaching a narrative it is important to preach a whole story, but don’t wear blinkers.  I am referring to the beginning and end of the specific narrative in question.  We easily fall into the trap of believing that section breaks added in a contemporary version are actually inspired dividers that should separate two distinct texts.  In reality the Bible authors usually strung several stories together.  We may preach only one story, but we must be aware of the flow.

Take, for example, the story of Zaccheus as Jesus left Jericho in Luke 19:1-10.  This story is naturally paired with the other man who couldn’t see as Jesus entered Jericho at the end of chapter 18.  But I would suggest the flow goes back further.  There are a pair of prayer parables at the start of 18, the first connecting strongly with the end of chapter 17.  The second (Pharisee and Tax Collector) begins a flow of stories reaching into chapter 19.  After the shocking story of the two men going to the temple to pray, Luke illustrates the right attitude in approaching God with two stories – one positive and one negative.  First the little children coming to Jesus and then the Rich Young Ruler.  This ends with the challenge of how a rich man can be saved when such is impossible in human terms.  The answer is that it is possible with God (and Jesus goes on to explain how he will suffer and die in Jerusalem).  Then another pair of stories, two men who can’t see, one ends positively, the next?  You’d expect negative – it’s another rich man, this time a despised sinner, one worthy of condemnation by any standard.  But he is saved.  How?  By this same Jesus taking the wrath of the crowds on himself to save the man from probable posse justice.  Zaccheus the rich man is saved by Christ who takes it on himself.  The text flows from at least 18:9 through 19:10.

We need to take the blinkers off as we study the gospels and narrative books of the Bible.  We need to look for how the individual elements are tied together by a very purposeful author.  It will help us to understand what is being communicated.  Furthermore, it is worth thinking about sharing some of this with the listeners.  Not to overwhelm or distract from the message of the specific text in question.  But enough to clarify that the gospels were not written in NIV sections, and maybe even to motivate them to study the flow of the text for themselves.

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