Pastors, this one’s for you — non-pastors, this one’s also for you. Mark Powell’s book, What Do They Hear?, assumes a significant distinction between clergy and laity and, if you are in a reasonably traditional church, the assumption is a good one. Most importantly, Mark asks this question: How do clergy read a text when compared to how laity read the same text? The answer boggles.
Here’s the text. You read it. Then we’ll have a conversation.
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” thais, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.*) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.7 They worship me in vain;their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Question: When you read this text, with which character did you empathize? With Jesus? With the disciples? With the Pharisees? With “other”?
Here’s the result of Mark’s own study; get ready to be shocked. 50 clergy; 50 laity.
Empathy Choice (first number: Clergy; second number: Laity). Thus, 40 clergy identified with Jesus; 0 laity did.
1. Jesus 40 0
2. Disciples 0 24
3. Pharisees 4 18
4. Other 6 8
Which is a nice way of saying that by and large, from this sample (and all nuances aside), clergy empathize with Jesus and laity do not; clergy do not empathize with disciples but laity do; clergy do not empathize with Pharisees but laity do.
Mark makes suggestions for pastors when preaching:
1. Cast the Scriptures: “cast” means as in a play. Preachers can play the roles of each character in their own reading of the Scriptures and notice the differences.
2. In preaching you might choose to identify with one character or another.
3. Allow for multiple responses to the text.
What is your response to this? I’ll be honest: I’m disappointed preachers don’t identify with being a disciple more; I’m concerned laity don’t empathize with the character of Jesus. What I’m shocked by is the absolute difference.