We often hear about Scripture as black-and-white and clear cut, but is it?
Jesus tells the disciples that he will send them (and us) the Holy Spirit to remind us of Jesus’ teachings of truth and arguably lead us on the right pathways.
But, what is truth?
Scripture might be black and red ink, depending on the Bible, printed on white paper, but that does not make it black-and-white.
We all come to Scripture with an understanding or particularly tinted lens, which colors Scripture in a particular light for better and for worse.
We can “justify” nearly any stance or ideology we desire, even if it is only a verse or two from the whole and often irresponsibly out-of-context.
For example, I had a Social Studies – English joint course in High School with an assignment to argue for or against a controversial topic. It was prepared in conversation with a classmate, who shared the topic but was your opposition. It was intended to build skills in logic, reason, and debate.
My controversial topic was capital punishment.
I was writing in favor of capital punishment.
My classmate said to me, “I thought you were a Christian”.
I replied, “I am”.
She said, “I thought you want to be a pastor”.
I replied, “I do”.
She said, “Then how can you argue in support of capital punishment. The BIBLE supports ME”.
I replied, “I can find Scripture to support capital punishment as well”.
She quickly replied, “No you can’t”.
I told her, “I will have a verse for you tomorrow and to make it more challenging, it will not be an eye for an eye”.
The next day, I walked in and she smugly asked if I had found a verse to which I replied:
he who sheds the blood of a man, by another man shall his blood be shed.
She stood there with her mouth wide open.
The point of this story is that you can find Scripture to support virtually any stance you desire.
Martin Luther said that Scripture should interpret or proof-read Scripture, which means that there are reoccurring themes throughout Scripture and these should inform our understanding.
There are memes on Facebook which demonstrate a few of these reoccurring themes/truths.
The first meme reads:
So often “we” are told that “The Bible is clear about…” But, is it?
The Bible is clear: Moabites are bad.
They are not to be allowed to dwell among God’s people (Dt. 23).
But then comes the story of “Ruth the Moabite”,
which challenges the prejudice against Moabites.
The Bible is clear: People for Uz are evil (Jer. 25).
But then comes the story of Job, a man from Uz
who was the “most blameless man on earth”.
The Bible is clear: No foreigners or eunuchs allowed (Dt. 23).
But then comes a story of an African eunuch welcomed into the church (Acts 8).
The Bible is clear: God’s people hated Samaritans.
But then Jesus tells a story that shows not all Samaritans were bad.
The story may begin with prejudice, discrimination, and animosity,
but the Spirit moves God’s people toward openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, and affirmation.
Another Facebook meme, having been paired with multiple images, reads:
If your religion requires you to hate anyone, you need a new religion.
And, to which I reply “AMEN”.
Facebook Memes, however, do not hold the authority of Scripture, so let us look at it.
Our gospel is from John 14, but let us look at John 13.
Jesus told the disciples a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13: 34-35).
Jesus’ teaching, including this ‘new commandment’, is rooted in the prophetic tradition which can be summarized by Micah 6:8. It reads:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?.
AND this connection between love, justice, kindness, and being humble as a form of worship and service was not lost to the Apostle Paul, who wrote in his letter to the Romans:
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law
Perhaps, the contemporary Catholic theologian Richard Rohr, also understands this per his quote being shared on Facebook. It reads:
Jesus tried to change people by loving and healing them.
His harshest words of judgement were reserved for those
who perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression and
who, through religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable.
Or as a lesson from my internship supervisor:
Jesus often found himself at odds with people, but it was always on the side of inclusion not exclusion, therefore I will always err on the side of inclusion.
But what is this love?
The Dali Lama said: What is love? Love is the absence of judgement.
While it is written in Scripture:
there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
So, Scripture has a reoccurring theme that is embrace by those of differing Christian and non-Christian faith traditions as well as the unaffiliated.
Perhaps, that (and it) is truth:
Jesus’ teaching of truth,
which the Holy Spirit is sent to guide us in,
will always lead us out of fear, prejudice,
discrimination, animosity, and hate
AND into openness, welcome, inclusion,
acceptance, non-judgement, and LOVE.
May we, as individuals, as Church, and as a world be so moved. Amen.