Below is one of my favorite stories by Fred Craddock. You’ll find, aside from the main point revealed in the conclusion, all sorts of small, mini points that the attentive listener will pick up on. If you’ve never heard Fred’s voice, try listening to a minute or two of his sermon highlighted in Preachers You Should Know.
This is one of his longer stories. You’ll find it in Craddock Stories, 144-46.
This story is aimed at seminarians, trained Biblical scholars, and pastors, but it can apply to anyone who is well-read and in a position to instruct others in the faith.
One of my students was going away. He preaches out from Atlanta, has a church of about, on a good Sunday, thirty, thirty-five. He said, “Uh, Prof, would you preach for me Sunday? I’m going to be out of town.” He was going to Aspen, Colorado, to do the Lord’s work.
And I said, “Well, yeah, I’m free. Where is it?”
He told me where it was, out on a dirt-road, great big cemetery and little frame building. It’s just a one-room building. And he said, “Now, they expect the preacher always to teach the Sunday school class.”
I said, “Which class?”
“There’s only one class. We have a class in the sanctuary, little opening exercise, they sit there and have Bible study, then they get up and clear their throats and scratch and walk around and come back in, and then it’s worship.”
I said, “Sure. What are you studying?” I thought maybe they were on the standard uniform lessons.”
He said, “No, we’re just finishing Matthew’s gospel.”
I said, “Well, where are you?”
“Matthew 28:16-20, the great commission.”
I said, “Well, I can handle that.”
I got there. For the class, there were about twenty, the average ago, oh I don’t know, 117 or something like that. I mean, these are old people. There isn’t a younger person anywhere within sight of the church at all. I said, “Well, the minister tells me you’re at the end of Matthew, Matthew 28:16-20.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Everybody have your Bibles open?” They have the Living Bible, Good News, RSV, King James, New King James, New International, all kinds. That’s not intimidating, that’s exciting. “How does yours have it?”
“Really it has that?”
“Yeah, what does yours say?”
“Well mine says so-and-so. You think that’s the same?” Pretty soon, they’re all, you know, into it.
Well, I said, “Let’s read it first: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority on heaven and on earth is given to me,'” and so forth. One of the men sitting there, I could tell he was a farmer, he was brown as gingerbread except for a white scalp, he said,
“Well I’ll be dogged.”
I said, “What’s the matter?”
He said, “I never noticed that before.”
“What’d you notice?”
He said, “That’s kind of strange.”
I said, “What’s strange?”
“The way that’s put there.”
I said, “Well, what’s strange?”
“‘When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.’ And then the next verse says, ‘And Jesus came and said to them.’ Looks to me like he’s already there.”
That’s true, isn’t it? They saw him and worshiped him, and the next verse says, “and Jesus came.” And the man said, “I’ll be dogged.”
I said, “That is kind of awkward, isn’t it?”
And he said, “Sure is.”
I said, “How do you explain that?”
He said, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe Matthew’s sort of like me, couldn’t write too good.” A woman on the end of the pew down there said, “You don’t talk that way about the Holy Scriptures,” and he never did. He didn’t say anything else the whole time. Neither did she.
I asked her, and she said, “Well, there are just a lot of things we don’t understand, but we’ll understand by and by.” She had t he biggest Bible of all, but she wasn’t going to touch it.”
Anybody else have a theory?
It was kind of quiet, and then a woman spoke up and said, “Sometimes when I write my daughter at night, I get tired and sleepy, so I just quit and finish up the next morning. I know sometimes I even change pens from the one I used at night, and the next morning it’s not even in the same color ink. I know it doesn’t tie up too good, so maybe Matthew wrote part of that at night, and the next morning he finished it up.”
Hey, now that’s pretty good. I mean, you spend $29.95 for books that tell you that, you know?
So we talked about it and finally one said, “Well, I don’t know why it’s that way, but I know starting there at 18, that just all goes together right through the end.’ And Jesus came and said to them, All authority…’ That just all goes together.
I said, “Sure it does. In fact, there’s a German New Testament scholar, consider the greatest New Testament scholar in the last seventy-five years, named Bultmann that agrees with you.”
And she said, “Really?”
“Yeah.” Boy, she was thrilled. She and Bultmann had that stuff cold. I went on and explained what he said. And she agreed, that’s right, he just said it in a different way, but that’s right. I took that occasion then to elaborate that you have three of these in Matthew, Jesus coming to his disciples. At the Mount of Transfiguration, and Jesus came to them. Walking on water, and Jesus came to them. And this one. Every one of them, they’re afraid and they worship him. It’s sort of like a risen Christ story. Even walking on the water–they thought it was a ghost. I said, “These are all epiphany stories, Jesus coming to the church, ” and we talked about it.
Now those people had no education, but good minds. The student in that church had said to me at least a thousand times, “Well, Prof, this is all right here in the classroom, but out at my church this stuff won’t fly.”
Phooey. That’ the Greek word for it. Phooey. Now, if you get a little education and try to come down through the chimney, nobody wants it. But if you share it pastorally and listen to people, they can handle it.