Sunday, April 23, 2006

history will teach us something...

...if we stop asking the wrong questions.

I know that there are things that I say over and over, and that some of my rants get beat to death, but from time to time, things become clearer in my mind, or I think of a way to say something that might be clearer than before. I’m always compelled to say it again. A good while ago, I actually posted a several blogs about our failure to use primary sources. In fact, that series wasn’t the first time I’ve addressed my aggravation with that fact. At some point, I made a comment that we seem to be teaching from the gospels less and less and from the epistles more and more. As a result, we are viewing Paul as the interpreter of Jesus. A comment to that post asked me to unpack that statement, but as I got busy, I never returned to do that.
There have been several events in the past 2 weeks that have got my mind back in my primary sources rant, so this morning I was contemplating these events and surmising about their outcomes. In light of my comment about Paul being our interpreter of Jesus, it occurred to me that we have less trouble understanding backward interpretation from the time of Jesus. Somehow, we realize and accept that Jesus’ teaching was interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures - for us, the Old Testament. Jesus told us that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He constantly points to and quotes scripture and gives clues to how it spoke of him. John, often points out the meaning of actual events by explaining from the Old Testament, why it had to take place the way it did. Even after the resurrection (an event that should have made sense retroactively of many passages, and many of Jesus’ own words), Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus opening the meaning of the scriptures to them.
This makes sense to us, that Jesus should come along and make sense of all that had been said before concerning him. So we develop a system of retro understanding. The words and events in Jesus’ life make sense of prior history. But the truth of this is that the words and events of Jesus’ life make sense of ALL of history. Jesus is the hub around which all of history must be interpreted and by which it makes sense. Forward and back. Somehow we make errant generalizations from the knowledge that Jesus made sense of the past, so that we think the past should always be interpreted from the present. In other words, we can make sense of Jesus from what we’ve heard and said about him since. We look backward with an arrogance that we are better equipped now to understand what he was saying, rather than realize that what he was saying would better equip us to understand ourselves now. This attitude and disconnect is manifest in my previous statement of how we regard the epistles. We use Paul’s teaching to interpret Jesus rather than Jesus’ teaching to interpret Paul. Jesus has got to be regarded as the interpreter of everything taught, not only the things taught before him. We have got to ask, how are we to understand Paul, in light of what Jesus said?
A much more blatant disconnect is our ability to completely miss things that Jesus seems to have addressed, because we’ve become much more dependent upon consistent church tradition and praxis. Without knowledge of why things have been done and become custom, we run the danger of applying the practice as procedure but have no purpose in doing so. There are practices that we would defend to the death, but that have no biblical basis. We fail to realize they have no biblical basis, because it is just how we’ve always done it, and we assume that our intentions assure we’re operating biblically. Our blindness robs us of humility, and the ability to give grace and love.
We must not use church tradition and human commentary, habits and assumptions, to interpret what Jesus was teaching and doing. We must be willing to listen to him to come to evaluate and interpret what has happened, what we’ve done and who we’ve been ever since. If we were able to think this way, we would find Jesus perfectly capable of being our teacher, our instructor with ample knowledge to train us to live even today.
While today falls very short in proclaiming the ability to make sense of Jesus teaching, his teaching is ample and suited to explaining today to us.

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