Interpretation – 4-11-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Yesterday I talked about how challenging it can be to read and glean meaning from the Bible. That should not surprise us – what we call “the Bible,” as though it were one document, is in fact 66 different pieces of literature of many different types – sagas, histories, novelettes, law codes, poetry, prophetic utterance, apocalyptic vision, drama, correspondence, treatises, authored by hundreds of people over hundreds of years, often encompassing oral traditions dating back thousands of years… How can anyone glean meaning from that?

We cannot read the Bible without interpreting it. Even as we open it, we encounter the interpretations of those who first wrote down the oral stories; those who selected and shaped the writings; those who decided which writings had authority for the religious community; and finally the translators, with their own theological lenses, who must choose words among different options, and where to place the periods and commas when the original languages lack punctuation. And we bring to the reading of scripture our own ideas, biases, viewpoints, histories, traditions, life circumstances and mood on any given day we choose to open that book.

Scripture is never fixed in meaning. It is always being interpreted and re-interpreted – and according to the Gospel writers, Jesus was not shy about telling his followers how they should understand it: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

The conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the way the prophets anticipated the Messiah foretold the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, was introduced early into the Christian communities’ self-understanding. While others can read the prophets, especially the “suffering servant” sections of Isaiah, and come away with different interpretations (for Jews, of course, these prophecies were not fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth), Christ-followers read the scriptures through the views expressed in the writings of the New Testament.

This interpretation offered by Jesus has an ongoing life. It does more than look back – it lays out the community’s mission going forward: to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations. Thus, the belief that in Christ the long arc of God’s plan of salvation was revealed matters to Christ followers today as it did to the original disciples. Proclaiming that Jesus was the Anointed One foretold by the prophets, whose death effected forgiveness for all humanity, is something that offers life. And it is our business to offer life in Jesus’ name.

It is fashionable in some Christian circles to de-emphasize belief and focus more on spiritual practice, to suggest that Christian life is less about truth claims and more about how we access the Holy. While spiritual practice is where we live, we don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Our spiritual practice and our ministry grow out of our conviction that Christ was who he said he was.

For me, his interpretation, albeit conveyed through the fallible conduits of gospel writers, scribes, editors and translators, overrides all others. This risen Christ is the Truth. I want to be about the mission of offering life in his name.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *