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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Let’s pick up where we left off in Part 2. How do we discern where a passage in our sacred texts is the outgrowth of the author’s brokenness or rooted in life-giving love, justice, and healing?
This, in my opinion, is the most important guideline in reading our sacred texts. We must interpret texts in community, but not in just any community: a varied, diverse community where our differences are celebrated. When we do this we realize that we are all equal and our experiences are very different. People who live in different social locations experience life in society differently. These experiences determine the questions we ask of our sacred texts and the answers we can find in them.
Texts must be interpreted in life-giving ways within communities that prioritize the voices of the most vulnerable in our society. These communities practice a preferential option for the marginalized and see every human as bearing the image of the Divine and welcome, affirm, and include each of us in God’s vision of love and justice for society.
When interpretations cause harm, we can make those interpretations give way to more life-giving interpretations. Again, some problematic texts can be reclaimed, while others may be unreclaimable now even if they may be reclaimed in the future.
I’ll close these first three parts this week with two examples for you to contemplate that I consider being examples of the gospel authors’ contrasting old wine and new wine within their own Jewish contexts:
You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not violently retaliate against an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39, personal translation.)
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies. (Matthew 5:43-44)
In the gospels, Jesus challenged his listeners to bend their sacred texts and interpretations along an arc that leads to love, justice, equity, inclusion, compassion—life! I believe we can do the same. Then, and only then, can we allow those interpretations and sacred texts to speak into our work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all, today.