Recently, I was again reminded of the revolutionary nature of many of Jesus’ statements.
In particular, one in Matthew 5:38-39a.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’1 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person…” [NIV]
OK. This passage is revolutionary for more than one reason, but here I’m focusing on what it has to say concerning our relationship with scripture.
More than one author has pointed out the anti-religious nature of what’s happening here.
Jesus is essentially saying “The scriptures say one thing, but I’m telling you otherwise.”
Or, more to our understanding, “The Bible says one thing, but I’m telling you things have changed!”
You know, I was taught (and taught others) that if you believed something was “of the Spirit,” but it contradicted the Bible, the Bible took precedence. It took me most of my life to realize we were basically treating the Bible as a god. Worse, actually, we placed (if not in word, certainly in practice) the Bible above God.
Jesus repeatedly turned the religious use and understanding of scripture on it’s head. Scripture, after all, was to point us to Jesus, not the other way around. (John 5:39-40)
This adherence to a literal, legalistic view of the Bible is what keeps getting so many people in a certain segment of our society (and in politics) in trouble. They are still mistaking book-worship for God worship.
If everything God had to say was already in a book, then God would no longer need to speak.
But, the thing is, God is still speaking.
God is still speaking, and the Bible, a precious book indeed, still points us to Jesus who came, in part, to correct our misunderstandings of who God is. Many of these misunderstandings were rooted in the scriptures.
People “hear” God, if at all, in different ways (rarely anything resembling an audible voice, although I’d never rule that out completely). More often a thought, an “inkling,” a meditation, nature, a baby’s cry, a gypsy dolphin2 or through a homeless man’s eyes.
I know. I know. “But if you say that, someone will say something crazy and say ‘God said so.'”
Well, they’re already doing that. Always have. Always will.
AND they often quote the Bible when they do so.3 So that fear, while technically accurate, doesn’t stand as a valid argument.
So, when we hear God say “You’ve heard it said (even if in the Bible), BUT I’m telling you something different,” we have a choice to make. Will we let our holy book be “useful” (2 Timothy 3:16) or will we kill for what we perceive to be the literal interpretation (2 Corinthians 3:6)?
Will we let scripture point us to Christ, and hear God’s voice, or will we continue to let the Bible be the thing that keeps us from better knowing God?
1 As Rob Bell (I think) pointed out, the whole “eye for an eye” thing was not a sanction for revenge. This was a “baby step” towards a more peaceful approach. It was a limitation to ensure the punishment was more in keeping with the crime.
2 from “Calling Me Home” by Barry McGuire
3 Think of the very UN Christ-like statements of people like Pat Robertson, Todd Akin, etc.