Christianity 201

January 7, 2019

Scripture and the Road to God

NIV Ex. 21.23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

NIV Lev.24.19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

NIV Mat.5.38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Today’s thoughts are from author Richard Rohr. It was forwarded to us by someone who I believe subscribes to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Because he is a Franciscan, is very ecumenical, and leans heavily into meditative and contemplative practices, he is considered controversial by conservative Evangelical standards. Nonetheless, I’ve made a deliberate choice to share this short devotional with you today which both I, and the person who sent it to us, found helpful.*

Midrash

More than telling us exactly what to see in the Scriptures, Jesus taught us how to see, what to emphasize, and also what could be de-emphasized or ignored. Beyond fundamentalism or literalism, Jesus practiced a form that the Jewish people called midrash, consistently using questions to keep spiritual meanings open, often reflecting on a text or returning people’s questions with more questions. It is a real shame that we did not imitate Jesus in this approach. It could have saved us from so many centuries of righteousness, religious violence, and even single-issue voting.

Rather than seeking always certain and unchanging answers, the Jewish practice of midrash allows many possibilities, many levels of faith-filled meaning—meaning that is relevant and applicable to you, the reader, and puts you in the subject’s shoes to build empathy, understanding, and relationship. It lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way—as Jesus did—is to allow it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up as you respond: What does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my family, to my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?

While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy. Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists. Hebrew rabbis and scholars sometime use the approach of midrash to reflect on a story and communicate all of its underlying message. Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.

The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history. Deep meaning offers symbolic or allegorical applications. Comparative study combines different texts to explore an entirely new meaning. Finally, in traditional Jewish exegesis, hidden meaning gets at the Mystery itself. Midrash allows and encourages each listener to grow with a text and not to settle for mere literalism, which, of itself, bears little spiritual fruit. It is just a starting point.

Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver. [1]

This statement from Aquinas was drilled into me during seminary. People at different levels of maturity will interpret the same text in different ways. There is no one right way to interpret sacred texts. How you see is what you see; the who that you bring to your reading of the Scriptures matters. Who are you when you read the Bible? Defensive, offensive, power-hungry, righteous? Or humble, receptive, and honest? Surely, this is why we need to pray before reading a sacred text!

Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own inspired Hebrew Bible in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. For example, referencing two passages from Exodus (21:24) and Leviticus (24:20), Jesus suggested the opposite: “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you . . . turn the other cheek” (see Matthew 5:38-39). He read the Scriptures in a spiritual, selective, and questioning way. Jesus had a deeper and wider eye that knew which passages were creating a path for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, and legalistic additions.


References:
[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 75, 5. Original sentence: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . .: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), x-xi; and

Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.


* This is actually the third time Fr. Richard Rohr’s writings have appeared here; the other two being:

January 24, 2013

With One Desire We Come: That You Would Reign in Us

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multi faceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others. So we find as we read God’s word that many passages are connected to other passages, and that many others, even on their own, offer depths and riches of meaning and application.

But there is also the aspect that many verses are links in a chain, offering part of a whole larger imparting of God’s ways and God’s instructions on a variety of subjects. To fully grasp the mind of God — to see what is called the whole counsel of God — we need to dig deeper.

For example, what is the mark of our work and witness in the world? The first answer we would expect is love.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  ~John 13:35 NKJV

But we all know people who, because they are created in God’s image, are very loving people, do good works, are benevolent and charitable; but they have never acknowledged Christ’s deity or given him lordship over their lives.

So we go deeper. The mark of the true Christian is the fruit of the spirit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!~Gal 5: 22,23 (NLT)

But in addition to growing in love (and joy and peace, etc.) we are to grow in the knowledge of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ~II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But clearly there is more, as we see in Paul’s prayer — and expectations — for the Colossian church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  ~Col 1: 9-12 (NIV)

(We looked at this passage here.)

But clearly there is another dimension to there being evidence of Christ’s lordship over our lives — our possessions, our thought-lives, our decision making, our priorities and yes, our anxieties) and this is the idea of Christ’s rule and reign in our lives as we work toward becoming more conformed to his image.

I have no specific verse for this because there are so many. Someone once told me that the word Saviour appears 37 times in the KJV, and the word Lord appears over 7,000 times. That Jesus Christ is Lord is among the great themes of the Bible. The sovereignty of God, his ‘King-ship’ and Lordship over all creation is mirrored in the expectation that he will have rule and reign in our individual lives.

But if you want a specific reference, you do no better than the book of Romans which talks about whereas once sin ruled over us, the believer is now ruled by Christ.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ~Rom. 6:6 (NIV)

I’ve led this progression of thoughts in this direction for two reasons. One, as you can see below is to introduce the song, Reign in Us by the band Starfield. This song has really been on my mind all week since encountering it again in a weekend service. More importantly, the other reason is that I believe that Christ leading us and captivating all that we think and do is going to impact the world in ways we can’t imagine.

Yes, the world will know we are Christians by our love, but they will also know it because we have submitted all to Christ. I’m not there yet — I have a long way to go — but as I write this, I make this my desire.

For those of you without high speed internet, the video is a static image; this is primarily an audio file that will load in seconds.

 

You thought of us before the world began to breathe
You knew our names before we came to be
You saw the very day we fall away from you
And how desperately we need to be redeemed

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one
With one desire we come
That you would reign that you would reign in us
We’re offering up our lives
A living sacrifice
That you would reign that you would reign in us

Spirit of the living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love we need your discipline
We’re lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one …

We cry out for your life to revive us cry out
For your love to define us cry out
For your mercy to keep us
Blameless until you return

Oh great and mighty one

So reign please reign in us
Come purify our hearts
We need your touch
Come cleanse us like a flood
And set us out
So the world may know you reign you reign in us

writers: Tim Neufeld, Jon Neufeld, Ben Glover