Interpreting Scripture

Wisdom Lineage Summary

Interpreting Scripture
Thursday, December 24, 2015

I do not want you to think that these daily meditations are just my personal ideas and opinions. My ongoing education and my preaching have largely been based in the Judeo-Christian scriptures and Franciscan theology. I have often struggled with how much damage the Bible and the Church have done in human history, and I have often been amazed at how much good they’ve done too. There has to be a way to maximize these inherent possibilities for the good, the true, the beautiful—and the future. As I continue to say, God cannot expect each generation’s search for wisdom to start at zero.

Without an honest and declared hermeneutic, we have no consistency or authority in our interpretation of the Bible. My methodology is very simple and maybe even seems naive—I attempt to interpret scripture as I see that Jesus did. Jesus did teach us in practice how to use the word of God, what to emphasize and what not to emphasize. It is rather clear in Jesus’ usage that not all scriptures are created equal. He consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own Jewish scriptures in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. Check it out for yourself. He knew what passages were creating a highway for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, paranoid, tribal, and legalistic additions. Jesus read his own inspired scriptures in a spiritual and highly selective way, which is why he was accused of “teaching with authority and not like our scribes” (Matthew 7:29). He even told the fervent and pious “teachers of the law” that they had entirely missed the point: “You understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24).

The New Testament was written in Greek—a language which Jesus did not understand—and was composed thirty to seventy years after Jesus’ death. We can conclude that the exact words of Jesus were apparently not that important for the Holy Spirit or for us. We have only a few snippets of Jesus’ actual words in his native Aramaic. This should keep us all humble and searching for our own experience of the Risen Christ instead of arguing over Greek verbs and tenses. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. For deep readers, sacred texts open up the endless possibilities for life and love. For people who merely want to be right or to seek power, sacred texts are normally a disaster. Our Jewish ancestors called the deeper approach midrash, extrapolating from the story to find the truest message(s). The immature approach is obvious when scriptures are used to justify slavery, apartheid, Western capitalism, nationalism, consumerism, and almost any other “-ism” that serves our egocentricity.

What makes Jesus such a special Jew was that he said this divine election was first of all free, and therefore universal, and not bound by any ethnicity or era of time. Grace is inherent to our dignity as human beings. But he learned that and dared to believe it both from his enlightened reading of the Jewish scriptures (which put him at odds with the priestly class) and from his own God experience. He claimed them both. “The Law says and I say” he repeats seven times in a row (Matthew 5:17-48).

You have been loved and chosen so that you can pass on the experience, not hoard the experience. In fact, if you feel a need to guard it, as if it were limited or scarce, that is the certain evidence that you have not accessed the Infinite Source yourself. It has to start with some kind of “I get it” experience which should lead to “And everybody else does too!” As Ken Wilber so brilliantly says, “Religion starts elitist, but ends egalitarian. Always!”

Gateway to Silence:
Keep me in Your truth.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . .: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), ix-xii, and Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (Franciscan Media: 1987), 112.

Nature, by greyerbaby.
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