Recently I feel like I’ve been confronted several times with folks who use the Bible as a sort of Magic 8 Ball. Something comes up and they run to their concordances (or their preferred search engine) and see if they can find all of the Bible verses about a certain topic or event and then they just sort of lob those, weapon like, at passers-by.
The problems with this sort of interpretation are manifest. It willfully ignores what the canon of scripture actually is, how it came to be, and what all of it really means. What often gets missed in the rush to find a Bible verse to support a view point or an opinion is not only the context of the verse that gets chosen, but also the distinct unwillingness to follow every single other verse in the Bible. When we read literally and use the verses as ammunition but refuse to follow fully the Levitical code, for instance, we sort of look like hypocrites who get to pick and choose what applies to us. And so then we make the Bible into our image, a book that props up our belief system, and it becomes, well, an idol, because we are really only worshipping ourselves.
My suggestion is that we follow Jesus instead.
We flip tables in righteous anger, we sit with the people society deems unworthy. We care for the sick, soothe suffering wherever we can, feed people without asking for their photo ID and proof of income first, and welcome all who would come to God’s table regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, ability to speak English or legal status.
When we follow Jesus we try not to take the writings attributed to St. Paul out of context. We see that Jesus loved, respected and worked with women, that women were among his first disciples and evangelists. We know that Jesus loved his friends. He put up with their questions and washed their feet after he broke bread and shared wine with them. Jesus loved people who were on the outside, whether because of nationality, poverty, sickness or sin.
If we just listen we can hear Jesus tell us who we are supposed to love: everyone. And also ourselves. A simple statement without caveat, loophole or escape. A command to choose a life that is so radically opposed to how we’ve been taught to be.
Too often we forget who we follow and begin to make things more confusing than they actually are. We let our political affiliations get in the way, we allow talking heads and policy makers to legislate who deserves what, if anything. We refuse to deconstruct anything we have been taught to believe, we refuse to ever ask why.
Sometimes the life of Jesus is political because the way Jesus told us to be goes against the laws of the land or the status quo. Sometimes the teachings of Jesus are political because we are called to proclaim them and then to preach a good word to our congregations. Sometimes that good word must be prophetic and political because we are teaching the way that Jesus modeled for us to live. Sometimes crying out for justice is political because the only justice available is dispensed by the oppressor.
If we would but ground ourselves in Jesus we could learn to love like Jesus. If we would but immerse ourselves in what Jesus actually said and how he acted, if we truly cared WWJD, many of our issues as the church and as a world could be solved.
Jesus gathered bread, blessed it and broke it, and then had it passed around. Everyone ate until they were full.
Jesus responded to cries for healing by healing because health care is a human right, because Jesus knew that the socio-economic status of a person should never determine if they were well in body and mind.
As a small child Jesus was smuggled into Egypt by his parents who sought to save his life from a corrupt and murderous government.
Jesus accepted a kiss from the person he knew had betrayed him to suffering and death. Jesus still loved Peter even after Peter denied him three times. Jesus forgave the criminal who was crucified next to him.
What an amazing “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” world we could make, if only we decided to follow Jesus.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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