Luke 8:18 (CEV)
18 Pay attention to how you listen! Everyone who has something will be given more, but people who have nothing will lose what little they think they have.
Wrestling, Part 2
What do we do when it seems like the riddle doesn’t make any sense? When it feels like it’s contradictory to what we’ve always been told? Today’s passage did that for me yet again, and so I decided to show you my process for this kind of wrestling, because wrestling with scripture isn’t just something for some of us to do – all of us are invited to wrestle with Jesus, to wrestle with what the Bible says, to ask questions and ask questions until it starts to make sense. Over the past few days we’ve been trying out this concept of wrestling with scripture as we’ve met these parables of Jesus, but today’s passage isn’t just unclear for me – so it needed more than just some questions to begin to unlock what was going on.
For me, the first step is to recognize that this passage doesn’t easily sit well (at least, not for me). If we’re not honest about that, we can’t really get any further with it. So often we get to a bit in the Bible that doesn’t make sense and we either try to force it into making sense or try to ignore it in the hopes that it will go away. But neither of these options is particularly satisfying for me.
So I move on to the second step, which for me is to tell God about the fact that it’s not making sense. We say, as followers of Jesus, that the Bible is useful for helping us to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and helpful in reorienting our focus, our actions, our way of being, to the life God always intended for us to live. But I don’t actually think the Bible does that entirely on it’s own. I think that just like everything else that can be useful in living this Kingdom-infused life, the Bible is only going to animate and orient us when the Holy Spirit is at work in the process. So when it doesn’t make sense I am trying to learn to acknowledge that pretty early on and ask for help working out the process.
Once I’ve done that, the next step seems to be to try to think of why it doesn’t make sense. What does it feel like it’s contradicting? What do I remember about those other ideas or stories or passages? For me, this verse seemed contradictory because it feels like it is in tension with all the times that Jesus was on the side of the poor, not the side of the rich. What I hear in my first few reads through this verse is the idea of Jesus stripping the poor of the last of what they have, and that feels completely wrong to me.
So then I go on to the fourth step. I look at the commentaries that Nathan has given me, read through what they have to say and frustratingly find that mostly they’ve managed to skip over this bit. (I admit that’s been the case with several of the questions I’ve had while writing this study.) But that’s okay. The people writing these commentaries are trying to answer the general questions people have. Or they’re trying to address particular concerns within their theological frameworks. Or they simply haven’t thought of the questions I think of because their lives have been different than mine. That doesn’t mean that my questions are bad or wrong. Just that I’m not going to get quick and easy answers.
My next step is then to go to www.biblegateway.com and look up the passages where the other ideas are found. I looked up other places where Luke talked about things being ‘taken away’ and things being ‘given’. I confirmed that yes, Luke does seem to think it’s pretty important to Jesus that the poor receive what they need – even at the expense of the rich. But I also discover that over and over again there’s this idea of people who have been faithful – people who have done well with the truths of the Kingdom – being given more responsibility, and the people who have neglected what it means to live life the way God intended it to be lived – people who ought to have known better – having that responsibility taken away.
This is one of Jesus’ cryptic sayings. Just like the last few days, I’m not willing to come out and firmly say ‘I know exactly what Jesus is trying to say, I’ve worked it all out and the answer is ______.’ I don’t think we get to be 100% sure about what some of these passages mean, because I think as soon as we take that position we stop having the option of growing and learning and being taught and changed.
I think we are far better off if we remain humble, remain seeking, always asking God to reveal to us what he would have us see and know and understand from the Bible that will help us understand God, and ourselves, and those around us, and even our world more clearly.
- Have you ever found a passage of scripture that just didn’t make sense?
- What did you do with it?
- What is your process for wrestling with scripture?
- Have you learned any new tools this week that you think might help you approach complicated passages moving forward?