I love Jesus’ words. They pour in through story streams, and with the morning sun dancing upon the sea I read about a woman bursting with love (Luke 7). I sometimes feel the almost tangible presence of Jesus when I enter the narrative of the story, the words he spoke, the way he is. When I read or listen to the Bible, I write the story in pictures in the landscape of my mind. This gives me the best odds of the stories trickling down into my heart and soul and keeps me focused even when my phone buzzes. It all happens in the stride of life, like just now I jumped up from writing this to bathe our older daughter—vomit-coated from our two month old breastmilk-loving daughter.
And I write because I learn in the process, I see new depths. I don’t try to explain everything. I might, in fact, have an allergy to over-explanation. Like when someone says “the Bible clearly says” or picks out a verse to back up their view. The sad thing about Biblicism is that it can prove nearly every belief (good and terrible) straight from the Bible, and after years of seminary I have found that knowing the Greek and Hebrew is not the answer. More knowledge is also not the answer.
The answer is to know and to be known. To let the words of the Living Word, Jesus, penetrate, bring light, embrace. To know and be known like with your best friend or your sibling. Imagine being close friends with your lifelong hero and role model. In my case, that hero is a loving and indwelling Hebrew Palestinian guy, kind of short, not really attractive, but with the warmest smile and embrace you could ever imagine. He is also quite controversial for those of us like who like things in neat, tidy western ways.
I was walking with a friend (who I will not name in case I find myself in a theological minefield) on a 2 meter-wide ocean cliff the other day talking about getting to know this Jesus guy and how—pause…this is going to sound really, really bad—the Bible can sometimes get in the way.
My friend called this “Bible worship”, and I know myself and some of my closest friends seem to fall into or dabble in this sometimes. It actually seems a very pagan practice to worship the text of a sacred book and miss worshiping the Word who has a name as common as Joshua or Jesse and is the Kingdom of God and decided to bring himself to earth so that we could worship him from manger ‘til, well, forever.
I read the Bible through Jesus. Jesus is the Word, the complete revelation, the whole point. The Bible is amazing and helpful because through it I see more of Jesus.
This morning I was amazed by Jesus in the story of the woman who loved much because she was forgiven much. She had gone to Jesus because she saw beauty, love, forgiveness, and Jesus gave her that and more.
But then there were the commentators. “If you knew what kind of woman this is…” some said to themselves. And he stopped them in their tracks. Even as the woman used her hair to clean his tear-soaked feet, Jesus told a story asking the commentators to decide who loves him more, the one forgiven more or forgiven less. Her love was deeper because her well of gratitude was deeper.
Wanting to know even more of this story, I found it in several different English translations, including some commentaries. I burst out with laughter as I noticed that every Bible translation I own uses “A Sinful Woman” in the title of this story. Reading the commentaries my stomach churned a little, not from breakfast, but from the vivid descriptions of how this woman had escaped wrath, how she had been forgiven immensely for her grievous sins. Not one of those modern-day commentators mentioned the sin of judgement of the men seated around the table with the Judge of the Universe. Jesus did not judge but forgave and even praised the “sinful” woman! And his words of disdain were for the commentators.
The one with the real sin problem in this story is not the woman who was used by men for their gratification. We can only imagine how hard her life was, and she freed herself by her great love (and a great waste of perfume). While Jesus was delighted in this sensual (not sexual) act of love—like a modern-day embrace filled with a sobbing heap—the guys at the table were disgusted. It was, and seems to still be, those commentators who see and judge the sin in others who have the sin problem, the problem that keeps them from really knowing the Word of God.
Jesus told the woman, “Go in peace, your faith has saved you.” No one else at the table received such a gift. I have penciled in my Bible a new title: “Jesus Anointed by a Repentant Woman, and the Sinful Commentators.”
*Photo of the coastal cliff we walked along.
This morning while walking along the beach my friend took this picture of me from up above. #basquecountry A photo posted by Jonathan McCallum (@jonamccallum) on
*Photo at low tide of the same area as the featured image at top of post.
By Jonathan McCallum