A Lenten Scripture Reflection

There are numerous positives to blogging on the scripture: people actually read what you have written; the time between writing and publishing is not measured in months and years, but in minutes; and you can write in a less formal style than is required by academia, allowing you often to bridge heart and head. It has its drawbacks, too, and the one that looms over me most often has to do not with style or audience but whether I should write on this day about this scripture. This is not, mind you, a question of writer’s block or procrastination – though God knows these are realities for most who write at one time or another – but of the awesome task of writing about scripture itself, particularly when the readings for the day seem to be screaming at you to “shut up, you phony”. There come times when the doubts and weaknesses one has at a particular point in one’s life align perfectly with the readings for the day and the only thought going through my mind are how far I fall short of what God wills and desires for me. Who am I to write about scripture talking about generosity when I am so miserly with spirit and wallet? What can I tell anyone about humility when my yearnings are for success? Can I write about forgiveness when I am bearing a grudge?

I suppose it is not just blogging, but standing in front of a class room when I am teaching a Gospel or an Epistle. Let’s say I am teaching Hebrews and I have to talk about “the pioneer of their salvation” who was made “perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10), when I am feeling let down by God or angry about the suffering I am experiencing. How can I introduce anyone to the meaning of scripture when I cannot live it?

There is at that point a desire to hide behind technique, to push the scripture away from me and lay it on the examining table to dissect.  “Disinfectant? Check! Scalpel? Check! Twenty-six years of training in Greek? Check!  Let the operation begin.” The scripture lies there, while I try to maintain scientific distance, diagnosing the problem, making the right cuts, fixing it, and sewing it back together. A successful operation? At a technical level many things can be done properly with the scripture, often with great value and benefit, not only for the one who performs the operation, but for those who view it, all the while maintaining a distance from the true heart of the matter. Indeed, “professional interpreters appear to differ markedly from commonsense readers and, on technical aspects of interpretation, they do.  In other respects, however, e.g., encounter with the text, report on encounter, critique of truth and value, the superiority of professionals is random and unreliable” (Ben F. Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, 28).

These are the lessons I need to learn and relearn over and over.  One, understanding scripture is not a process of applying techniques, though these can be valuable, but of entering into relationship with the true author of scripture, the author of life. Two, to measure up to scripture is something that is not a completed task , but is an ongoing process, of entering into relationship with scripture, of being taught by it, trained by it and growing through it. Three, when I feel that I am not worthy to interpret scripture, to measure up to it, to speak of it and to write about it, that is exactly when God is speaking to me through scripture. This is when I need to pay careful attention to my relationship with God and, instead of distancing myself, ask what I need to learn from this passage, ask where God is asking me to grow. And, finally, these lessons are not only for those who are professionals at this task, for what makes one a professional is expertise in particular techniques, but for all of us, for all of us through our membership in the Body of Christ are asked to hear God speak through the scriptures. Beginning with this Lent, whenever we are challenged by scripture, let’s draw nearer to it, not farther from it. Let’s let God operate on us, healing us, not simply with superior technique, but with surpassing love.

 John W. Martens

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