Sunday, Feb 12, 2023
QUESTION FOR SHARING
What is one of your favorite passages, and one of your LEAST favorite passages of scripture? How do those passages affect you, make you feel? Please remember, there are no right or wrong answers to this question.
Matthew 5: 29-30
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
In the book, Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way, by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn, the Jesuit author Matthew tells of visiting his friend Bill in the hospital:
When I arrived at the hospital, Bill’s hands were chained to his bed and a bandage covered the right side of his face. That morning, Bill had tried to gouge out his right eye. When I asked him why, he quoted Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Everyone knew Bill was crazy for taking the first part of that passage, “if your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away,” so literalistically. But I realized that Bill was no more crazy for taking the first part of that passage literalistically than I was for taking the second part literalistically and believing that God would vengefully throw me into hell. Bill was no more crazy than I had been the night of the second-grade dance recital when, after watching Ann in the bathroom, I believed I had committed a mortal sin and God was going to send me to hell.
Matthew Linn goes on to explain how, although Bill had been involved for 13 years or more in drugs, prostitution, and probably murder, Matthew would never give up on him. Matthew believed that God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most in this world. He writes:
As I looked at Bill’s mutilated face, I knew I could never say to him. “I love you more than you could ever imagine. But you blew it. You had many chances to repent and change but you haven’t changed at all. So, to hell with you.” If I couldn’t say these things, then, God, who loved Bill a whole lot more than I did, couldn’t either.”
Looking at Bill, I knew that our misunderstanding of scripture had made both of us crazy. Although I couldn’t put it into words then, knowing Bill laid the foundation for what has now become my criterion for reading scripture:
IF ANY INTEPRETATION OF A SCRIPTURE PASSAGE IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH MY LIFE EXPERIENCE OF AUTHENTICALLY GIVING AND RECEIVING LOVE, THEN I AM NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT GOD WANTS TO SAY TO ME THROUGH THAT PASSAGE.
Later in the book, Matthew Linn suggests that if we cannot find a loving interpretation of a Scripture passage, we may set it aside until we do. He goes on to explain other ways to help with interpreting difficult scripture:
-When a Passage seems unloving, compare it with the rest of scripture.
-What is the literary style of a passage?
-We are all good goats (a mixture of good and bad, yet loved).
-Check the translation.
-In what sense is the Bible inerrant (without error)?
When we are most in touch with our life experience of giving and receiving love, we are most likely to find the message of love in scripture.
Let’s use this last idea and get in touch with Love through meditating on the following two Mary Oliver poems. Then we might turn to the last point in Matthew Linn’s process of meditating on difficult scripture.
I HAPPENED TO BE STANDING
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep,
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
.I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.
WATERING THE STONES
Every summer I gather a few stones from
the beach and keep them in a glass bowl.
Now and again I cover them with water,
and they drink. There’s no question about
this; I put tinfoil over the bowl, tightly,
yet the water disappears. This doesn’t
mean we ever have a conversation, or that
they have the kind of feelings we do, yet
it might mean something. Whatever the
stones are, they don’t lie in the water
and do nothing.
Some of my friends refuse to believe it
happens, even though they’ve seen it. But
a few others – I’ve seen them walking down
the beach holding a few stones, and they
look at them rather more closely now.
Once in a while, I swear, I’ve even heard
one of two of them saying “Hello.”
Which, I think, does no harm to anyone or
anything, does it?
IMAGINING IN MEDITATION
How does the cat pray? What is the wren singing? What is the stone soaking up? Where is the cat, wren, and stone in you?
Now, again in meditation, let’s use the healing process Matthew Linn suggests at the end of this chapter from which I’ve been quoting.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Think of the person who loves you the most. (This can be a person who has died, since the deceased continue to love us through the Communion of Saints.) Place your hand on your heart and breathe in that person’s love for you.
- Ask yourself which scripture passage most closely communicates to you the depth of love you feel from this person. Breath in that love, knowing that God loves you at least as much as the person who loves you the most.
- Now think of a difficult scripture passage – a passage you find puzzling or frightening. Ask yourself how the person who loves you the most or God would explain this passage so that it conveys love to you. If you are not satisfied with the explanation for the passage, give yourself permission to temporarily set it aside until it does convey love to you. Once again, breathe in how God loves you at least as much as the person who loves you the most.