When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus’s life was lived in service to others. Some of what he did, as written in the Gospels, included healing people who were sick or lame. There are numerous stories of the miracles he performed: healing lepers, restoring sight to blind, raising people from the dead, and so on. The story of Jesus’s miracles are some of the hardest stories for skeptics of Christianity to fathom. How can we Christians believe that Jesus actually had the power to perform these miracles (not to mention be raised from the dead!). It is my sincere belief that those who get preoccupied with the literal/factual truth of these stories are missing the point. These stories can mean so much more if you look at them from the standpoint of…what is the underlying message? These verses from Matthew sum it up quite nicely. Go and tell others what you have heard and seen from people knowing Jesus…their eyes are opened, they escape their prisons and can walk freely, their sins are washed away, their ears are opened to hearing the truth, and their lives are renewed by grace in the good news of the redemption God has given us. The stories of Jesus’s birth, life, and death are indeed powerful. They are even more powerful when you lose the baggage of being concerned with their literal/factual truth. May God be with us this Advent season, and become incarnate and born anew in each of us every day!
How lovely are the messengers that preach us the gospel of peace. To all
the nations is gone forth the sound of their words, throughout all the
lands their glad tidings. (Romans 10:15,18)
As Christians, we are blessed to have inherited a rich tradition and faith, handed down to us by our Jewish ancestors. Our sacred stories of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament bring us closer to the faith of our ancestors, and give us a glimpse into who God was to them. In reading these ancient stories, we too are brought closer to God and become more faithful witnesses of who our God is. May the story continue in our lives every day!
What does it mean to understand biblical meaning as an event that happens between text and reader? The Bible, as a great classic, is best read in the spirit of a living dialogue between the interpreter and the text itself. Like all of the classics, biblical meaning emerges in the dynamic space between reader and text; it is generated in the to-and-fro movement between the reader’s expectations and the text’s provocations. From this perspective, the Bible should not be viewed as containing an obvious, univocal message that imposes itself on the obedient reader, nor should its meaning be understood as controlled by the privileged reader whose presuppositions determine what the text can and cannot say. Making sense of the Bible should avoid the Charybdis of authoritarian biblicism and the Scylla of vulgar deconstruction. Biblical meaning is neither a timeless property of the text that subordinates the subservient reader to its predetermined message nor the product of the entitled interpreter whose learning and sophistication disallow the possibility that the biblical texts could articulate their own reader-independent voice. Biblical meaning is not in the text, nor is it foisted onto the text by the reader; rather, genuine meaning happens between text and reader in moments of sustained encounter and discernment. Neither a bank of preset ideas nor a blank page that gets filled in by the reader’s imagination, the Bible is a contested site where a living body of stories and symbols comes face-to-face with a reader who is willing to suspend her everyday assumptions and experience life-changing transformations through this encounter.
What differentiates mainstream* scholars from fundamentalist and many conservative scholars is that [mainstream scholars] do not begin with the presumption that the Bible is unlike other books in that it has a divine guarantee to be inerrant and infallible. Rather, mainstream scholars see the Bible as a historical product that can be studied as other historical documents are, without specifically Christian theological convictions shaping the outcome.
To me, the Bible has become so much more meaningful, profound, and rewarding now that I’ve shed my earlier belief that the Bible is infallible and inerrant. I was raised for many years to believe that you had to believe literally in the entire Bible, or else none of it can be true…it was always “all or nothing.” I really struggled with my faith for the fact that so much of the Bible seemed contradictory and just plain not-applicable in society today…specifically some of the writings of the “Law” in the Hebrew Bible, and some of what St. Paul wrote in his epistles of the New Testament. Now that I’ve learned that truth can be found in the Bible even when not read through a lens of infallibility, my faith and trust in God as revealed through Christ is so much more deep and meaningful. Thanks be to God!
*(“Mainstream scholars” [also knows as “mainline”] include scholars from those Christian denominations that are considered “mainline”, namely Methodists, northern Baptists, most Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists [modern-day United Church of Christ], and a few other denominations.)
The text of this hymn is based on Isaiah 40:1-11, in which Isaiah foretells the comforting of God’s people of the peace that waits for them in the new Jerusalem. Sins will be forgiven, wars will cease, the Kingdom of God will reign eternal!
(the words to this version are slightly different from what is provided below)
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.
For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
Words: Johann G. Olearius, 1671;
trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863
–From the album Praise the Spirit, sung by the Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church Choir
“So it will take religious people and religious voices to undo the harm done by religious institutions. While there’s been a decline in the number of people who experience and express their spirituality in and through formal religious institutions, religion is still a powerful force within the culture, and it generally works against progress in the inclusion and full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. It’s time that progressive Christians rescue the Bible from the Religious Right, which has held it hostage and claimed it as its own private territory for far too long. It’s time that Christians and Jews actually read the holy scripture they claim as the basis of their beliefs, instead of simply believing what others tell them it says. It’s time we use reputable scholarship, sound reason, and thoughtful exploration to understand what the words of scripture meant to the person who authored then and what they meant to the people for whom they were written, before deciding whether or not those words are binding on people outside their ancient and cultural context. It’s time that progressive religious people stop being ashamed of their faith and afraid to be identified with the Religious Right, and start preaching the good news of the liberating Christ to all God’s children!”
–from “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God”, by Bishop Gene Robinson, pp. 26-27.
MY OPINION: The Bible should not be used as a weapon. It should not be used to judge people. It should not be used as the definitive source to try and determine what is right and is wrong. It should not be used to try and foretell the future. In my opinion, anytime people try and use the Bible for this, it leads to more and more negativity.
In my opinion, the Bible should be used for one thing: to grow into a deeper a relationship with God and with God’s creation. My faith has grown so much stronger by changing my view of the Bible as a tool to connect with the divine, rather than a means of judging or answering every question I may have. Thanks be to God!