A Blog Discussing the Scripture for Sunday March 31st, 2019
Scripture for this week: Luke Chapter 15
Scripture for next week: John 12:1-11
My dad’s side of the family are German immigrants who scratched a living out the South Dakota soil. My dad was born during a blizzard on a kitchen table, and for the first ten years of his life, had no electricity, and pulled the family water from a hand pump. They also did not have paper products, but had plenty of corn cobs stored in the outhouse. In this tradition, it was expected that you work hard. No excuses were allowed, and you were to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. I was raised to understand that a person earned their way to a place of peace and prosperity. It has taken much of my life to learn a new tradition, one I am hoping to instill in my children. A person gives themselves away in the journey to peace and contentment. In the giving away, peace and contentment is developed through deep relationships with other people and with God.
We all see the world through the traditions in which we have been immersed. A sign of developing spiritual maturity is recognizing that our tradition is but one in a world filled with valid traditions. As that maturity develops, we come to realize that our tradition just might not be better than other traditions. The only way to determine which traditions will bring us closest to God is to walk in the shoes of people who hold other traditions.
This is the core of what it means to be Methodist. We evaluate. We have a method for that evaluation. In the task of determining how we are to think and behave (this is called theology), we use a four-part discernment process. It is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, but the Wesleyan Chair works just as well. In either case, there are four legs on which we stand.
- Begin with Scripture. What are the various ways we can process the issue from a biblical perspective?
- Explore the traditions. What are the various traditions of examining this issue?
- Examine our experiences. How have we personally experienced this issue?
- Reason our way through the process. What is the most rational perspective?
The critical aspect of this Methodist tradition is that the quadrilateral process does not work in isolation. It must be conducted in a group. Otherwise we simply settle into our own tradition, or our own reasoning, or our own experiences, or our own interpretation of scripture, and we fail to walk in someone else’s shoes; for the path to spiritual maturity is best walked in our neighbor’s shoes.
How about examining a simple question like, “What is the nature of God?” Luke Chapter 15 is designed to examine this question. But it is written as poetry and parable. The poet’s purpose is to cause the listener to think. They write not to point out one answer, but to ask the reader to examine themselves in a discovery process. That is exactly why we can read Luke 15 as a twenty-year-old, and then again as a forty-year-old and see it in a brand-new light. We have changed, our traditions shifting, and our reading reflects our acquired experiences.
Scripture: So, we begin with Scripture to seek our answer. The 15th chapter has three parables offered in a row, presented to help us develop an understanding of the nature of God. The first is a parable about a shepherd counting his sheep, discovering that one is missing, and then leaving everything to find it. The second is a parable about a woman who is counting her coins, discovers one is missing, and turning her house upside down to find it. The third is about a son who wishes his dad dead so he could have his inheritance, is given the money, and then leaves for parts unknown. The son eventually returns. He is ‘found.’ In all three cases a party is thrown to celebrate the finding of what was temporally lost.
Tradition: What are the traditions in which you have read these parables? If your context is White North American Protestantism (that’s mine), you more than likely have been immersed in the tradition of interpretation that says God is the main character in each parable. But there are other traditions. Like the Jewish tradition. Amy Jill Levine is a Jewish scholar, professor, and author at Vanderbilt University. Her commentary written in conjunction with Methodist scholar Ben Witherington III offers an outstanding view of various traditions of interpreting Luke. Click here for awesomeness (The Gospel of Luke By Amy Jill Levine & Ben Witherington III).
Amy Jill says that in the Jewish tradition God would never lose us or leave us. God always knows exactly where we are because we all count. That fact heightens the drama at the end of the third parable. Many traditions compare the older brother to a grumpy pharisee who refuses to enter the party. Amy Jill wants to know why the brother was left out in the field without being told there was a party. Why did a slave know about the party and the good news before the son? In his excitement over the returning son, did the dad forget his older son? Does the older son really count in his dad’s eyes? In this reading, Amy Jill asks us to consider how our traditions give us permission to play favorites and pass judgement instead of making sure that everyone knows they count.
Experience. Have you ever been the one left out in the field when others were invited to the party? How did that feel? Did your parents favor one of your siblings? Is God like that, or does God tell you that you count?
Reason. Would God ever leave a child out in the field alone while the rest of the family celebrates? Would God, who counts every hair on our heads, and knows the location of every sparrow, ignore us in favor of celebrating with someone else? If we don’t experience God in this moment, can we hold on faithfully to the fact that in God’s eye’s we count more than we can imagine?
What does this brief tour of the nature of God through the lens of the quadrilateral mean for the way you understand God? Or more importantly, how might it invite you to reevaluate your traditions?
Another awesome commentary for walking in other people’s traditions is the Global Bible Commentary. It offers a commentary on each book of the Bible written by scholars from countries and contexts that cover the globe.