The Care of Souls (Senkbeil)

This is another book that I have heard wonderful things about. I received it from my aunt for Christmas, and I finally read it. It’s a great overview of the classical pastor model. The care and cure of souls is the DNA of what it means to be a pastor. Forget about the psychologist, the business man, the CEO, and every other modern invention. Instead, let’s return to the Great Tradition when we think about what it means to be a pastor. This is a great book for that. It, or a book on the same topic, should be required reading for all pastors training for the ministry. If our claim as pastors is to psychoanalyze patients, spout off on politics and economics, or entertain the masses, then there are much more qualified people out there. But if pastors are about being shepherds under the Shepherd who dispenses his gifts through word and sacrament, then perhaps pastors have a place.

On the Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35:

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Crossan has a pithy quote, “Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.” He’s both right and wrong. Emmaus did happen. But Emmaus also does always happen. We are meant to read Scripture as testifying about Jesus the Christ (John 5:39). This means reading in line with the tradition of the church.

Two examples illustrate this well, one more amenable and one less. The sort of reading that I think is licensed by Emmaus here says that this strategy of reading is right, even if the reading itself is not.

First, Irenaeus reads the creation of Adam and links Adam being made from the virgin earth with Jesus coming forth from the virgin Mary. This might not strike us as too crazy. After all, Scripture links Adam and Jesus (cf. Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15). The connection is not too much of a stretch. And so on. So even if we disagree with this reading, we might be more comfortable with it, especially because it’s more along the lines of what we consider typology.

But here’s the second reading. It comes from Augustine, and you can find more details here. I will simply use the quote from Dodd found at that link. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, an dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead; he is therefore called half-dead. The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection of the Lord. The two pence are either the two precepts of love, or the promise of this life and of that which is to come. The innkeeper is the Apostle. The supererogatory payment is either his counsel of celibacy, or the fact that he worked with his own hands lest he should be a burden to any of the weaker brethren when the Gospel was new, though it was lawful for him ‘to live by the gospel.'”

Crazy, huh? But, again, I think this type of reading is right, even if the particular reading is not. It can be hard to persuade people of this. After all, we just know that sort of reading is wrong. It goes against everything we learn in the classroom. To put it bluntly, Augustine would fail our exegesis classes.

So let me hopefully prime the pump a bit by giving you a third reading from an early church father. He turned his gaze to Exodus 16, where God gives manna to Israel. In the narrative, some people gather more and some gather less. However, “when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

So here’s what he does next. He says based on this narrative, Christians who are better off should give generously to Christians who are worse off. Again, that’s crazy. Can you imagine reading a bible commentary on Exodus and finding that as a reading? As if someone would exegete the text and then say what this means is that the rich Christians in America should give generously to the poor Christians in Asia. Yeah right. In some ways, the text itself pushes against that reading. After all, it is God who provides in Exodus, not the Israelites sharing amongst themselves. And so the same applies here.

And, in so many ways, I agree with the above. I cannot imagine reading Exodus 16 and coming to that conclusion as if I am being faithful to the text. So, based on how I tend to think about interpretation, I simply have to conclude that the author is not particularly adept at it. But here’s the kicker: the early church father with this interpretation is Paul (2 Cor 8). So, for those like me who see Scripture as Scripture and thus God’s word, I must learn to read in this new way with new eyes by the new creation Spirit within the new covenant community.

If all of that is not crazy enough, I will end this with a quote from Ephraim Radner, “Scripture therefore names all artifacts in a primary way. Hence, although the name ‘Napoleon’ does not appear in Scripture, the person we call Napoleon is in fact named in the Bible. A figural reading will discover how this is so.” (Time and the Word, 103)

Jesus as Israel in Jeremiah 48

Jeremiah 48:26-27, “Make him drunk, because he magnified himself against the Lord, so that Moab shall wallow in his vomit, and he too shall be held in derision. Was not Israel a derision to you? Was he found among thieves, that whenever you spoke of him you wagged your head?”

Matthew 27:38-39, “Then two robbers were crucified with him…and those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads.”

There are certainly more (and closer) resonances to the Matthew passage (cf. Ps. 22), but perhaps this Jeremiah passage is in the background too. It was also make a fitting connection with Lamentations 2:15, “All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem: ‘Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?'”

The Ever-Virgin Mary

As I continue to read through the early church fathers, I find that Mary is presented as ever-virgin in some of the councils. For instance, you find this as Constantinople 2. Now it’s not altogether clear to me that Mary is taught as ever-virgin instead of simply assumed to be. Nor is it clear what function assumptions like that should play. For instance, since the ecumenical councils seem to assume substance dualism of the human person, should that hold much weight for us?

So this is all subject to change, but I think for now that I am now casting my lot with Mary’s perpetual virginity. I’ll trust the tradition on this one. I know some arguments are given in favor. I certainly know of the arguments against (people are called Jesus’ brothers and sisters). I suppose simply based off the bible that the more likely conclusion is that Mary was not perpetually virgin. But I think I’m still going with tradition on this one. Tradition means at least that much to me.

I’m not in awful company. From what I have read, Luther continued to affirm Mary’s perpetual virginity. Calvin seems undecided on the topic. Even Turretin affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary. So yeah, I’ll trust the tradition.

Work Out Your Salvation

Paul says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He also commonly uses athletic metaphors. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25)

What if we took that imagery seriously? I grew up wrestling at a high level. I practiced multiple times per week for multiple hours per practice. I watched Olympic wrestlers in order to gain more insight into the sport. I read books. I traveled nearly every weekend. Over one summer alone, I wrestled almost 90 matches. And all of that is a joke compared to the work actual Olympic athletes put in.

Yet our Christianity is nothing like that. If we tried to seriously use an athletic metaphor to describe how we work out our salvation, people would rightly laugh. We are mostly passive, hoping somehow and some way we will change, if we even want to at all. We are comfortable with where we are. We do not try to penetrate more deeply into saintly life but think most of what we do must be morally right or okay.

We spend hours on technology but somehow do not have time to read our bibles. We speak thousands upon thousands of words per day but cannot find anything to say in prayer. We memorize actors, actresses, songs, movies, athletes, and more, but not Scripture. We will clean our houses for guests but not show hospitality to strangers by washing their feet. We applaud words of rebuke but do not heed them.

When Jesus named money as a false master we cannot have along with God, he taught us that our master is shown by our lives. Who or what then is our god? At least the ancient people that the prophets rebuked really thought this idol was god, could control the weather, etc. And we sell away our birthright for what?

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run? But only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. For if we do not, we will perish.