I have a confession to make. As much as I respect the Sacred Scriptures, I have misused them. I have used them to inflate my own ego, to justify less than holy actions, and to tear other folks down because of theirs. In that way I have completely missed the point of so much of what Jesus said and did.
My time at Joshua Station has forced me to look beyond my desire to always be right, my desire to keep my faith at a comfortable distance from my heart—securely in my head, and my desire to earn some sort of status for my commitment to Jesus. This forced “seeing” has revolutionized the way I read the Scriptures. Well, mostly. It turns out it is hard to always remember what I have “seen” and it is easy to go back to my ego driven competitive ways which often leads to trolling facebook comments.
I was given the opportunity to preach at the church I just started leading Youth Group at. It is an Episcopal church so I have now had my first experience of preaching from an assigned Lectionary text. The text was Matthew 18:15-20. It turns out that this text is super easy to misuse! Of course there are multiple interpretations—as with any other passage of Scripture—but I do feel that some of those interpretations have led to unhealthy patterns within Christian culture.
The passage features Jesus saying things like, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” and “…let such a one be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.” Feel free to read the entire passage to fill in the blanks.
This passage has all the key elements I need to misuse it for my own gain. It appears to be very “Us” v. “Them” with God firmly on the side of the “Us” group. It also seems to give me the right to kick you out of my community if you refuse to see things my way. It seems very Black and White—a perfect candidate for Ben’s professional Eisegetical interpretation!
As is common with me, it turns out that my desired Black and White interpretation is probably way off the mark. It certainly gets less Black and White when you realize that the man who says “…let such a one be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.” is the same man who was constantly being chastised for hanging out with…Gentiles and Tax Collectors…and sinners, prostitutes, lepers, etc. Of course we find several of these stories in the Gospel attributed to the Tax Collector that Jesus invited to follow Him. It is also fairly illuminating to read Jesus’ words around this passage. He tells a story about a shepherd who loses one sheep. He says that this shepherd would be willing to leave all 99 others to embark on the journey to find and restore the lost one to the group.
These realizations dramatically changed the way I read this passage. When an understanding of Scripture changes like that, I can’t help but feel a painful dose of humility. It’s the kind of humility that reminds me that I need to do significantly more listening than speaking. It’s the kind of humility that makes room for you even if we dramatically disagree on everything from politics to deep matters of faith. It’s the kind of humility that often defines those who are “Christ-Like” rather than mere “Believers”. It’s the kind of humility that I find very hard to swallow and therefore often ignore for the sake of being “Right”.
It is my prayer that I will be more open to the transformation that God is certainly working within me. I pray that my obsessive need to understand God and Scripture will begin to fall away and be replaced with this humility that helps me embrace the mystery—and all the tension that comes along with it.
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