Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.


Based on Nehemiah 8:5-6, 8-10, 1Corinthians 12:12-31, Luke 4:14-21

          I have a friend who has devoted her working life to being an interpreter.  She was born and raised in Italy and immigrated to the United States as a young woman.  She always knew she had an ease with understanding languages.  Even though she retains a strong Italian accent, her command of the English language is that of a native speaker – sometimes better.  She has made her living over many decades by interpreting the written and spoken word between Italian and English.  I have often found myself longing for the facility with another language that she has attained.

          I was confronted by my lack of knowledge of a foreign language when I went on a mission trip to the Czech Republic in 2007.  My home church in Arlington had “adopted” a young minister who was working in Karlovy-Vary, a resort town in the northwestern part of the country.  I was excited to go on this mission trip, because my father’s side of the family hailed from the region around Prague.  Before I went, I tried to study the Czech language, and I brought with me an English-Czech dictionary.  Luckily, one of the leaders of the trip was first generation Czech-American and could handle much of the interpretation – both of language and of culture.  Milt could not always be near me, however, and I had to try my best to interact with the locals through a combination of English, Czech and some Middle School German that I had learned.  The resulting interactions were rudimentary at best, left a lot to be desired, and left much unasked and unanswered.

          Our scriptures for this week speak to us about the need to have the Bible interpreted in a way that allows us to grow in our understanding and our faith.  This type of interpretation is known by the Greek word, “exegesis”.  The word means “to lead out of” and is a tool I use weekly in my reflections.  The text from Nehemiah shows us the reaction of the crowd in Jerusalem to the first reading of the Torah – which was interpreted to the people.  Paul interprets the teachings of Jesus about how we are all one in Him and one in relationship with all other believers.  Finally, there is another epiphany of Jesus – this time in his hometown, where he tells those gathered in the synagogue that he is the long-awaited Messiah.  Before we go farther, let us go to God now in gratefulness that God gives us people to help us understand God’s word…

          The Book of Nehemiah tells the story about how Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt following the exile in Babylon.  In our reading for today, the priest Ezra brings before the gathered people the Torah, which had just been completed.  Ezra reads to the people from the book of Moses and the Levites (the members of the priestly class) interpreted for the people what Ezra read.  They did this so that all the people would understand what God required of them.  The people were told to rejoice in the word of the LORD, for the joy of the LORD would be their strength.

          The Apostle Paul is trying to interpret the teachings of Jesus to the believers in Corinth.  Jesus was always seeking to reintegrate the marginalized, oppressed and neglected back into community and right relationship.  In our reading for today, Paul is exegeting the teachings by using the metaphor of the parts of the body.  Paul notes that just like there are no unimportant parts of the human body, so there are no unimportant members of the Body of Christ.  He tells them pointedly, “…the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect…” .  Paul continues stating that just like in the human body, “…If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it….”

          This week’s epiphany of Jesus happens in his hometown of Nazareth.  Jesus attends synagogue and stands up to read the scroll.  He is handed the writings of Isaiah and reads from Chapter 61 about what the Messiah will do when he comes.  After handing the scroll back to the attendant, Jesus reveals himself saying, “…Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing….”  Jesus uses the power of exegesis to let the long-suffering people know that the year of the Lord’s favor had begun.

          In writing this reflection, it became clear that like my Italian-American friend, I make my living as an interpreter.  It is a role I have played in all my professional lives.  In my first call, I interpreted biomedical and pharmacological language to folks who didn’t understand it.  Currently in my second call, I work like my ancestral brothers the Levites to interpret the Bible and how God is working in the lives of people.  Biblical interpretation or exegesis is fraught with problems unless one adheres to some key principles – the same is true when listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life.  Both interpretations require a good deal of humility and grace – because it is quite possible to be wrong.

          In Seminary, we were often warned about keeping true to our exegesis when we were dealing with scripture.  The professors noted that the role of exegesis is to dig out from a passage its inherent meaning. The opposite of exegesis, the dreaded eisegesis, is the approach of interpreting passages by reading into them a particular belief that is not at all evident or clear from the text – or even worse, is personal opinion or belief.  One hears a lot of eisegesis from preachers and spiritual writers in this day and age – an interpretation of scripture that promotes a certain opinion, political position or other worldly focus.  One popular eisegetical position is supercessionism, the reading of first testament prophecy as though all it exists to do is to predict the coming of Jesus.  This was never the focus or the intent of the inspired writers of the Hebrew Bible.

          The interpretation of sacred texts, when undertaken with humility and open mindedness, allows the inspired writings to come alive.  The genius of the Bible is that it continues to speak into our human lives and frailties even though the texts are many thousands of years old.  Jesus always interpreted the Bible for his audience in ways that they could understand.  It is why he used illustrations from everyday life; a woman looking for a lost coin, a Samaritan showing mercy, a lamp on a lampstand, a prodigal who is welcomed home.  He was following in the tradition of those Levites of Nehemiah’s time who helped the people understand what was being read by the priest Ezra.  Without interpretation, the people would have been without understanding and they would not have been able to live into the joy of the Law of Moses. 

          The Apostle Paul had to train people to continue to teach and lead believers in the churches that he planted.  Once he left to go plant new communities, he had to rely on both his teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead his flocks.  The letters we have from Paul show how difficult this was.  The leaders that he chose would often fall prey to their own biased interpretation of what they had learned.  False prophets were everywhere, trying to entice new believers over to their way of thinking and living.  Factions within the churches often wanted to do things their own way and ended up causing strife and dissension in the ranks.  It is why Paul had to write to the believers in Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, etc, attempting to re-interpret the gospel according to Jesus so that they would understand and follow.  It is what pastors and priests endeavor to do even to this day.

          The Bible sets out the foundation for our faith journey.  It gives us compelling stories and examples from which to learn.  In addition, we have thousands of years of biblical commentary from some of the brightest and most inspired minds from which to expand our thinking.  Yet, the Bible remains a work that will never be finally interpreted, because it continues to grow and evolve as humans and their societies grow and evolve.  One thing I can say definitively, however, is that the Bible reflects an understanding of a God who is always the champion of the marginalized and oppressed – who is always merciful, forgiving and unconditionally loving.  It is clear to me, that we need members from the whole Body of Christ, to speak to us about how they interpret the words of the Bible.  While some of that speech will be incomprehensible, we must trust that God will provide proper exegesis so that we might come to know that the scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.  Amen and amen!