All Outta Context

Redacted to avoid ad hominem focus

Last Sunday many churches heard Luke’s report of Jesus’ appearance on the first night after he rose from the dead. Jesus was, indeed, revealed in breaking bread. But he criticized and lectured those he greeted before they got to the table.

The picture above is a redacted version of a meme posted by a preacher in one of the old “maniline denominations.” It demonstrates why preaching by meme is no better than fundamentalist prooftexting. Both lack context. A verse is pulled out of a chapter and thus unmoored from the whole testimony of Scripture, usually to suit the agenda of the meme-maker or prooftexter.

Yes, Luke 24 includes an amazing scene in which Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. It is a ground for what we now speak of as Jesus’ real presence in our Holy Eucharist, even in Reformed teaching. But the context in which Jesus does this, contra what the meme preaches, includes criticism and a lecture (OK, no wrath.)

After Jesus comes alongside the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and goofs on them by feigning ignorance of his own passion, death and resurrection, he criticizes them:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25)

Likewise in the appended summary ending of the Gospel of Mark, it is reported that Jesus “greets his disciples” with criticism:

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16:14)

Back to Luke 24, the context of his breaking of the bread is what must have been a considerable discourse… a lecture, if you please:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (24:27)

Preaching by meme is as hit and miss as teaching by prooftext. Yes, sometimes you might make a theologically accurate and spiritually edifying point. Scripture is, after all, God-breathed.

But more likely our memery and prooftexting reveal sloppy preparation of teaching, haste to make a point we want to believe but haven’t really investigated, or outright deception to win people over to our own personal or factional reduction of God.

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