How do you read it?
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
(Luke 10: 25-26)
As a rabbi, Jesus answered the law expert’s question with another one. In fact, with two other questions. The first was easy to answer. The expert knew what was written in the Law and quoted the text perfectly. The second one was more demanding. It touched the way he understood it. And it is this question that I invite you to think about. How have we been reading the Scriptures?
Some time ago I heard a Brazilian Christian leader, whom I greatly admire, answering the question: ‘What is the problem with Brazilian evangelical Christians?” The question had been asked in response to the clear division and antagonistic positions of evangelicals and evangelical leaders in the public environment, among other issues. He was straightforward: “The Bible”. It took me a few minutes to understand his response in depth. And I understood it by remembering that conversation between Jesus and the expert in the law.
The way we read the Bible reveals deep roots, as well as life conceptions of the human being, of God, of ourselves. Therefore, not all of us read the same Bible, although it is the same book. And differences in our reading comprehension is not really the problem. The point is that we can read it in an antagonistic and irreconcilable way. There are poor readings that lead to poor spirituality!
Martin Luther King Jr. did not read the same Bible as the Ku Klux Klan. He also diverged in his reading from most evangelicals in the southern United States, in particular. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not read the same Bible as the German church did. The German churches that were silent in the face of the Nazi horrors read the ‘same’ bible in a completely different way to the young theologian. Differences in reading and posture continue everywhere! What Bible have we read? Would our Lord read it as we do?
Returning to the dialogue between Jesus and the expert in the Law, we find ourselves facing the same current problem or challenge – the meaning we give to what we read and the implications that we admit for our lives when reading the bible. It was written, but how should it be lived? Challenged by the duty to love God and our fellow human, the expert in the Law was unsure about who this person should be. Interestingly, he had no doubts about the part about loving God with all his heart, soul, strength and understanding.
Sometimes I have the feeling that, like him, we have become experts in God. We know all about divinity. We know what God likes and dislikes, what God admits and what God doesn’t, who has a chance with God and who doesn’t. But, also as that expert in the Law, we are ignorant about others. We don’t know who they are. We don’t see it as our responsibility. We are quick to judge and slow to have mercy. And not every kind of fellow human is acceptable or a candidate for our love. Somehow, our love has some criteria that means some people have to deny themselves in order to meet it. We forget that this criterion belongs to Christ and not to his followers.
All of this leads me to consider whether two thousand years after Jesus and the Law expert talked, we understand the Gospel that Jesus lived out. We build temples, create liturgies, establish religions, write doctrines, systematise God. We organise movements, create networks, launch projects and write statements, as well. Still, instead of being stronger and more united, we are weaker and more divided. And we even antagonise ourselves! Jesus’ second question is very relevant to us. The answer that emerges requires reflection, prayer and conversations. How have we been reading the Bible? With what eyes, heart and mind? With what perspectives, assumptions and prejudices? Our attitudes towards others reveal our reading. What we know about people is perhaps more important than what we claim to know about God as we read the Bible.
I don’t think we can know God well if we don’t know our fellow human. And a true knowledge of God will lead us to know our ‘neighbor’ better. Our neighbor is so important in our relationship with God that, in the perspective presented by Jesus in Matthew 25, the only one that shall serve God is the one who serves their neighbors.
You may not have read the entire Bible even once, from beginning to end. Consider reading more! You may have read it dozens of times, from beginning to end and even have a medal or certificate of honor for your laudable discipline. Keep reading! But let us not fail to evaluate ourselves as to our postures and attitudes towards life and people. The book of Acts calls our faith “The Way”. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus inaugurated a new and living way for us. If we are ‘on the Way’, we know that sometimes it is smooth, simple and flat. Yet, sometimes hard, complex and rough. It requires faith and courage. Courage to see, hear and understand. Courage to admit, repent and correct our errors. It requires learning to abandon the wrong paths, discover new ones, because grace is alive in its manifestation in history. It is the aroma of new wine that always calls for new wineskins. Our faith is a path of disciples and not of adherents.
What’s written? How do we read? May we, assisted by the Holy Spirit, be able to read our Bibles in such a way that the Kingdom of God is manifested and that we are, each one of us, living signs of God’s presence.
Usiel Souza Pastor/ Micah Global Board Member/ Brazil