Friday, June 03, 2005
The model exegete
My room is a mess. It's been nearly two weeks since the end of school now, and today was really the first day to contain any semblance of normal routine. I worked, editing some letters of Archbishop Cranmer. I read.

What I'm reading is The Art of Reading Scripture. It's a collection of essays dealing with the complexities of interpreting the Bible. It's for my June class that starts next week.

What most stuck with me today was an essay by James C. Howell called "Christ Was like St. Francis." In it, Howell details the many ways that the life of St. Francis of Assissi mirrored Christ's. One might say that the hermeneutic of Francis was naive, childish and too literal. Yet, here we are 800 years later consuming essays on the love he had for Jesus and the impact he has had on the kingdom of God. So much for the work of inductive exegesis.

While the Scriptures are indeed literature in the same vein as Homer, Shakespeare or Stephen King, at the same time they are something wholly and completely different. As Christians, we believe them to contain the very Word of God (be careful now, not "words of God", but that's another discussion). Their end goal is not entertainment nor mere edification, but rather transformation for the individual and the community. As Howell notes,
The kind of interpretation practiced by Francis was not merely mental. His reading was embodied, and an embodied reading is perhaps the only kind of reading that is finally appropriate to these texts, which are about, and are intended to provoke, changed lives (100).

Francis, Mother Teresa, Millard Fuller (who gave his fortune to the poor and began Habitat for Humanity) and Dorothy Day (founder of Catholic Worker) all embraced an interaction with the Bible that many academics would scoff at. "But what is the context within the book and also within the canonical dialogue? What did this mean to the original audience? What did the author mean? What is the nuance in the original language? You can't interpret the words of Jesus literally."

Knowledge that is not worn like an overcoat and lived with bold-faced abandon is a waste of time.

Mother Teresa's entire life was a profound exegesis of Matthew 25:31-46. As she fed the hungry, bandaged lepers, and clothed the naked, many agnostics found it helpful to consider that Jesus was like Mother Teresa. What happens if we receive her words as if they were spoken to the guild of biblical scholars and theologians? 'At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked an you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in' (105).

I live with constant tension. And I'm glad for it. In the one hand, I grasp the denominational heritage of my forefathers. On the other, I hold the models of organic, relational church. With one foot, I stand in the ivory tower of the theological academy. With the other foot, I stand with a church community immersed in the most marginalized and forgotten zip code in Lexington.

Scripture is for changing lives. And that is all.


posted by Peter at 12:30 AM
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