I find that I read the Bible in two distinct ways. They are different in intent, and in result..
The way that I read the Bible most often, is the way that I prepare for weekly Bible studies. In these cases, I read all three readings, each one in it’s entirety. After that, I begin to read it line-by-line, thinking about what I already know about the selected reading.
I think about the people mentioned, and their backgrounds. The towns mentioned and where they are, relative to Jerusalem. I reflect on the social, and economic, and cultural backgrounds of that place and time. I wonder about correct translations, and do the words fit right as they go from Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew to English. In all of this effort, I am thinking about what I already know, what I believe, and have learned, so that I can explain it.
As I consider all of this now, it occurs to me that one can be a reasonable philosopher, a wise theologian, or a pretty good Bible teacher by holding forth on all that they know, while leaving out any hope for continued learning, inspiration, or illumination.
The other way that I read the Bible is quite different. It is the way I read when I am preparing a brief homily, or a sermon. In those times, I am not thinking about what I know, I am hoping for revelation. Some new and enlightened thought, some clarity.
As I begin to review the reading from John for today. I am reading it in “Bible study” form. The reading begins with:
“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
It continues with:
The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
And so I think…what a bunch of knuckleheads those Jews and Pharisees are. There they are, sitting a few feet away from The King of Kings, the true Son of God, and because they don’t like what He says, they call him a half-breed and a mad man. Because what Jesus is trying to teach them doesn’t match up to what they already know, they reject it, and Him. What arrogance! What fools!
That’s the way I see it, in Bible study mode. I can identify the Jews, and their words, and Jesus, and his words.
But when I look at the same scripture, hoping for revelation, there is a far different effect. Now I read the words of Jesus, and when he says “the reason you do not hear is that you don’t belong to God.” When Jesus says “you”, he means me. Jesus speaks to everyone when he says “you” and that includes me. What? Me? I don’t belong to God?
In an effort to be unlike those Jews that reject Jesus words of indictment, I begin to ponder…When is it that I don’t belong to God? When? After a while I can see it. There it is…I can see it, right in the same sentence..”the reason you don’t hear…”
The reason I don’t hear is because I think I already know, just like the Jews that insulted Him. By not being open to truly hear Him, I have chosen to listen to myself, and therefore I belong to me, not to Him.
I don’t think this way intentionally, or foolishly. Still as I consider the potential for deeper meaning, I must keep in mind that Jesus words are timeless and all-encompassing. His words begin where time begins.
What do I do about this? First, I know that I must think and pray deeper. I have to be sure that what I am doing and planning is what He wants, not me.
Where do I begin? Well it seems to me that if I want to be open to learning new things, I have to admit that in my own way, I can miss hearing the words of the Saviour, even in the moments when I try my best to be in His presence.
It finally occurs to me that it is entirely me and my best intentions that are in the way. Just like those devout Jews that were unable to accept His message, because it didn’t fit what they already knew. Regardless of how pure my intentions are, how sincerely I seek to serve Him, I cannot be bound by what I know “up to this point”. I cannot only seek to continue things that I have started.
To “belong to Him,” isn’t it just a bit obvious that I need to empty myself out? To put away, at least for a while, my own agenda, my own grand plans, my own hopes for meaningful achievement.
To empty myself by seeking to stay there in His presence. To empty myself until all of me that I can subdue melts behind His presence in my mind and being. To empty myself until it is Him thinking, not me. I am trying to become so empty of myself that my own tired thoughts and plans make way for something new to be revealed.
How else can I be open and accepting of whatever other wild ideas He might have for me?
Crazy stuff like…
“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”