Friday, February 19, 2010

Deuteronomy Dullard

In today’s Old Testament reading (One Year Bible), we plow through more priestly instruction. It goes on and on until our brain is numb.

Boil this.

Wear that.

Eat bread.

Can you imagine explaining all of this to an unbelieving friend?

(Do you have any unbelieving friends?)

Let’s say that you have asked someone from Japan to read the Bible with you. They agree to do it. Now you are excited. But then you get to Deuteronomy. They want to know why they should keep reading about fat, oil, leaven and foreskins.

What are you going to say?

Many of the Bible writers were aware of the difficulty in presenting spiritual knowledge to practical people. This is especially true of the New Testament writers.

Each of the four gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – tells the story of Christ in slightly different ways and for different reasons.

The Apostle John begins his story by referring to the first words of Genesis. He wants his readers to understand that Jesus’ life did not begin in Bethlehem. To John, Jesus was with and was God, “in the beginning.”

John chooses his words carefully. He uses the phrase, “in the beginning,” not only to introduce Christ to his Greek audience; but to prepare them to understand the Hebrew Scriptures. After all, now that they were believers, they would need to understand the sacred writings of Christians and Jews.

John wanted to build a “bridge” between Greek and Hebrew words and ideas so that his Greek speaking converts could cross over into the world of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures.

John had a problem common for Christian missionaries throughout history: how to introduce concepts that are alien to the people to whom they wish to communicate.

Don Richardson had that problem. He became a missionary to New Guinea in the mid twentieth century. He learned the language of the tribe where he lived and told the people about Christ.

They loved the story! In fact, they repeatedly asked him to tell again. However, he soon discovered to his dismay that to these people, the hero of the story was Judas!

In that Stone Age culture, the people esteemed cunning. Their heroes were people who could outwit rivals by gaining their trust in order to destroy them. The folk tales in that tribe were about cunning people. The way they interpreted the gospel story was around Judas. Anyone capable of deceiving the Son of God was obviously someone to reckon with.

Richardson was devastated.

So far he only succeeded in making a hero of his Lord’s betrayer.

In time, the people among whom he was living began preparing for war. He watched as the warriors each side approached one another. Then, just before the warriors engaged, one warrior came running. He had a baby in his arms. Behind him was a woman, weeping. The other warriors constrained her. As the warrior with the child arrived at the battle line, the chief of the tribe among whom Richardson lived went forward to receive the child.

After this interchange, all the warriors turned and walked away from the battle.

Richardson soon discovered that this baby would be called the “peace child.” The child would grow up among the enemies of his people. Nonetheless, these “enemies” would treat this child with the highest possible honor. As long as he lived, there would be peace between the two peoples.

The peace child held the peoples together.

He guaranteed the peace.

As the son of a chief, he was literally a “prince of peace.”

When Richardson asked the people what would happen if anyone were to harm the peace child, the men gasped.

“This cannot be done,” they told him.

No one ever mistreats a peace child.

The next time Richardson told the story of Jesus he told it like this: our ancestors were once in a war with God. They became the allies of God’s greatest enemy. God was about to go to war against our ancestors but then sent his peace child to the earth.

Then the leaders of the world killed God’s peace child.

The tribal people became terrified when they heard this. They wept and beat themselves. They asked how long it would be before God was coming to destroy everyone for having done such a terrible thing.

Richardson told the tribal people that God had decided to forgive anyone who would simply ask Him for forgiveness and learn to love his peace child.

The tribe’s concept of “peace child” became a conceptual bridge over which the gospel could move into a new culture.

This is exactly what St. John did in his gospel. He chose a concept that Greeks would readily understand and used it to create a bridge between Greeks and Hebrews.

The word he chose was “logos.’

Plato and other thinkers had refined to make it mean something like a “cosmic blueprint,” “divine reason,” “word of the Creator.” The apostle John used this word to connect to the Hebrew use of the word “wisdom,” as presented for example in the Book of Proverbs, chapter eight.

In that passage, Wisdom says, “I was with God’ I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.”

For the apostle John, these wisdom passages become the eternal Word, waiting for the moment of incarnation in Bethlehem. This eternal Word is also Plato’s Logos, creation’s blueprint, who became flesh and dwells among us, the only begotten of the Father.

As we read through the Bible, we will watch the covenant people struggle again and again to translate spiritual concepts from one culture to the next and from one generation to the next. It is always controversial, always messy and always necessary.

Now good luck with that Japanese friend of yours!

It appears that you will have to learn something about His world if you ever hope to explain what foreskins have to do with anything. And, you might also have to learn a bit more about your own faith too!


Tanya Goodman Sykes said...

I'll say one thing, a yeast salesman must have had a tough time making ends meet during the Old Covenant Days.

James Smith said...

Culture and Grace like Salt and Sugar, they look alike but they aren’t.

A refugee family had been brought to out country by my church, very eager to let our Pastor know how grateful they are, they invited him to dinner. Serving traditional foods, we had a great time-sharing in food and love for God. After dinner as with tradition, we had tea while continuing our conversation. One thing to remember, they are not from America, and did not speak a lot of English, and reading it was even more of a chore. Some how the sugar and salt had been mixed up, not using sugar in their tea, they had no idea that this had happened. The Pastor who does use sugar put a large spoon of this sugar (salt) in his tea. Me being also America had to have sugar as well, but a bit slower then the Pastor; I had not tasted my tea until after the Pastor had taken a rather large drink of his. He sat quietly and continued to listen as we talked and laughed. When I tasted my tea and realized that I had salt not sugar in my tea, knowing the lady of the house as I did, I told her what had happened. She with great embarrassment got the sugar (salt) off the table and fresh tea for us.

Now here is the interesting point, which showed grace with their salty tea? The Pastor for not saying anything, or me for letting him off the hook?

Pastor Dan, I hope this put a smile on your face, thanks again for a great lesson in your blog.