The gospel texts are sparse. What I mean by that is they relate just enough information to tell the story and expect you the reader to fill in the gaps from your knowledge and experience. We do this type of stuff everyday of our lives. The closer the person is to us, the sparser our communication can be. Husbands and wives often fall into this trap thinking that one fills in the gap correctly when they don’t. I’ll let you fill in the gap of the example. In the process of fleshing out the story, a peril for a preacher is preaching on the gaps. To preach or pull the main lesson for the text from what the reader has filled in is usually bad. At its best it is an orthodox sermon because the person in the pulpit has the Spirit and the gap filling in pious, but even then it usually has the effect of being distracting as the fill-in does not naturally fit the text. At its worst, the gaps are filled with stuff that contradicts the plain text and lessens or overrides its teaching. The sermon on the gaps becomes a sermon straight from probably the worst places of the preacher.
This sermon has one fill-in that in my studies for the week I could not find another who took it this way. That would usually mean that I would not use it to try and avoid preaching on a gap. I struggled with this because Peter’s reply to Jesus in the text – “look, we’ve left everything…” just did not make sense within the text as it is normally read. The typical reading is to see this as Peter comparing himself to the Rich Young Man and expecting that he will come out looking better. Jesus says is it hard to enter the Kingdom. We’ve already given up everything, so we must have merited entry. Here is why that makes no sense to me. First, if it was really Peter expressing a claim to merit, Jesus would have immediately struck it down. One does not merit the Kingdom. That is a doctrinal point, but one so basic that if you find your reading of a text going against it you’ve got a wrong reading. Second, Jesus has just said that with man it is impossible. Would Peter really respond to with man it is impossible with an assertion of his own work? Third, Jesus’ response is a blessing and a very confusing one as it gives a whole bunch in this time. Eternal life is an afterthought. Something else is going on here.
I leaned on Matthew to fill in the gap a little. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all follow a similar outline. (If you want more on that ask me.) Often you can look at the others to get a clearer view of what is happening. Matthew also records the encounter with the Rich Young Man and right after it records the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. My filling in the gaps to make sense of Peter’s response and Jesus’ response to that in this sermon was:
1) The disciples ask who can be saved
2) Jesus says everyone – because God is doing it, with man it is impossible
3) Peter’s response is that’s not fair (The NLT has a good translation from Matthew – We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?)
4) Jesus promises stuff here in this life – the stuff he promises is a new community the church
5) In Matthew Jesus follows this teaching up with the parable of the workers in the vineyard which ends with the saying ‘the first are last and last first’ that Mark just tacks onto the end of Jesus’ response
I filled in the gaps I think in a way that makes more sense than the typical Peter trying to justify himself reading, but since I went out on a limb so to speak and it does play a role in the general outline of the sermon I add wanted to point out from where and why I filled in the gaps.