I take the Bible too seriously to take it all literally.
—Madeleine L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow, p. 80
I have known this for a long while, but I saw an interesting article that did a nice job of clarifying the topic.
The ten commandments appear in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but in neither place is there any reference to this being a list of commandments, nor to there being ten. In fact, the Jewish community talks about the “ten statements.” And if you break the passages down you can work it out to twelve statements.
So how do we get to ten?
- For the Jews, “I am the Lord your God” is a separate statement, while Christians combine that with “You shall have no other gods before me.”
- For Jews and Catholics, not worshipping other Gods and not making graven images are combined into a single statement, while for Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, it’s two.
- Coveting another’s wife and property is one statement for Jews, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox, while it’s two for Catholics.
The Bible is not as specific, cut, and dried as some people would like to believe.
The Gospel lectionary reading for last Sunday was Luke 20:27-38. It is the story of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, challenging Jesus on the law of Levirate marriage. To quote Father Phil, “If a married man died without children, his brother was obligated to marry the widow to have a child that would be designated as his dead brother’s offspring.” The Sadducees asked if a woman’s husband died and left her childless, as did his six brothers, who would be her husband at the resurrection? You know the story. Jesus responds that at the resurrection people neither marry nor are given in marriage. But I love the context Father Phil provides. He says,
The Sadducees are presented as sort of Harvard trained lawyers who are going to take this Matlock-like country bumpkin rabbi Jesus to the intellectual woodshed.
I told Fr. Phil after the service that I had never heard Jesus compared to Matlock before. He agreed that it might be a first.
It reminds me, though, that we do see Jesus through our own lens.
I believe it was one of the Great Courses lectures I was listening to, and I believe that the lecturer was taking a shot at the members of the Jesus Seminar, saying that there were those who viewed Jesus as the witty university faculty lounge lizard colleague.
So if that, why not Jesus as an Andy Griffith-type character? Probably not Peter Falk/Columbo. But, yes, perhaps Andy Griffith/Matlock.
We do create Jesus in our own image.
A week ago Sunday we had a visitation from our bishop at St. John the Divine.
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves is a powerful woman. She is tall, slender, and regal. When I see her in her vestments there is no question that she belongs in that office. Having done my renewal of vows when I joined St. John’s two years ago about this time I know that she has the power of the Spirit in her. She is always gracious when greeting me and she is great with the children. You might think that children would be put off by someone so powerful, but in fact they love being around her. Her sermons always have something of substance to deliver, and she is magnificent with the liturgy. Her crystal clear voice is almost other-worldly when she sings the Eucharistic prayer.
I always seem to learn something new when I hear her preach. The Sunday of her visit the Gospel reading was Luke 17:11-19, which is the Healing of the Ten Lepers. You likely know the story. Jesus heals the ten lepers and tells them to go show themselves to the priests, which they hasten to do. One however, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” The next sentence often seems to get overlooked. “And he was a Samaritan.” Bishop Mary pointed out that as a Samaritan he would not have been allowed into the temple to show himself to the priests. Oh, yeah. Right. So he did the only thing he could do, which was to return and thank Jesus.
Thank you Bishop Mary for that.
A week ago Sunday, 8 September, was Pentecost 16, Proper 18 and the gospel reading was Luke 14:25-33, which includes some harsh language:
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Fr. Phil had an interesting take on this. He reminded us that the gospels were written in a time of tumult, when the followers of Jesus were being thrown out of the synagogues. The readers of the gospel of Luke and the other gospels were under a lot of stress and no doubt confused. He suggested:
So how are you and I going to read these hard words attributed to Jesus? We can read them as intended for one specific circumstance in history; some things do not bear to be repeated. Some words never need to be applicable again. All of the Bible does not have to have future application; many of the words can simply remain the historical record of a single event in the history of a particular group of people.
That can relieve a lot of stress for us today, ya know?
The Significance of Religious Experience
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
List price $65.00 Amazon Price $41.49
I read a review of this book in Books and Culture and it sounds like fascinating reading. But take a look at the price in relation to the page count, and the fact that it is not available in Kindle format. Guess I’ll have to pass.
Here, however, is the reviewer’s summary of the essence of the book. Looks to me like material for considerable further thought and reflection:
The Bible is not a list of God’s qualities we must believe; it is a collection of narratives about God’s roles that helps us to live in awe of God. Liturgies are not a telescope by which our gaze can escape the world and see only heaven. Rather, the prayers and stories of the Bible are the means of standing in awe of God, fostering love for neighbors, and practicing gratitude.
When we moved here to Gilroy in 1997 we knew we wanted to plant roses. My maternal grandfather was in the wholesale nursery business, and one of the two companies he split his time between was the late, once-great Howard Rose Company. Roses are in my genes.
We planted roses in a couple of phases in the late 1990’s, first planting (without realizing what we were getting) miniatures and later full-sized rose bushes. The ones directly in front of the house have always done very well, but one lonely rose bush off to the side and next to the garage door has never put on more than a rose or two a year.
Until this year. And this year, wow! Lots of beautiful pink roses.
Sound familiar? Sound like God’s love and grace? Remember Luke 13:6-9?
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.
I’m glad we were patient and gave the bush the opportunity to finally bear fruit.
A lesson for my daily life.
(Photos courtesy of Terry.)
I realized that I haven’t published a strictly humorous blog entry for quite some time, so I thought I’d share this with you. It’s from Facebook, as I’m sure you can tell. If you’re familiar with the work of Marcus Borg and if you know Star Trek: The Next Generation this should give you a good laugh. If not I apologize, and please stop by again tomorrow for a far less nichey Sacred Music Friday.
follow me on twitter: @MikeChristie220 I tweet whenever I publish a new blog entry.
I read Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess some months ago. I was going back through my Kindle highlights and found this passage where she quotes Debbie Blue. It really resonates with me.
The Bible isn’t really at all good at being an instruction manual. It’s good at leading us into a tangle of wild poetry, heartbreaking stories, contradictions, twists and turns, the concrete struggles of a vast array of unruly, disparate human beings being sought after by God. . . . The Bible isn’t a cage that contains God, making God available to take out or hang in our living room, it’s a witness to the fecund, ungraspable Other (and our relationship to that Other).
“… it’s a witness to the fecund, ungraspable Other (and our relationship to that Other).” Wow! We could profoundly transform our relationship to our church, our religion, and to each other by taking this to heart.