I am currently doing an online “vlog” that is working through the parables of Jesus. As one of my resources, I am using a book written by Amy-Jill Levine entitled: “The Short Stories of Jesus.” She is a professor at Vanderbilt University and the book is wonderful! I love how she works through the parables. She offers a lot of research into the history and culture of the day. She offers insight into the Old Testament verses and stories that are the foundations to the parable. She offers word studies into the Hebrew and Greek, so we have a better understanding about what the parable was saying to the people who heard the story for the first time. Even more she talks about how the original and very Jewish audience of these stories would have understood what Jesus was saying. I am coming away with a better understanding of the parables. I also have a deeper appreciation for the Jewish roots of my Christian faith. A faith I can’t understand fully if I don’t know the history of the faith I profess.
The thing is: I am being provoked. But then to be honest, if our scriptures are not provoking us, then we probably are not doing an honest reading of them but reading them with our biases intact. We could also just be skimming through what have become too familiar passages or passages we have no knowledge of at all. Either way, it is a shame. The biblical narrative from the very first words of Genesis to the final words in Revelation are life giving…but only when we understand what was being said to the original hearers, only when we understand the Greek and Hebrew the bible was written, only when we understand the culture the narrative came out of…only then can we truly understand what Jesus wants us to know and do in our modern age. The biblical narrative should provoke us. We should feel uncomfortable when we read scripture. Especially, if our lives do not line up with what a particular text is teaching.
To be clear, when I talk about being provoked, I mean exactly the definition we find in the dictionary for the word. So, according to dictionary.com, the word means to anger, enrage, exasperate, or vex…to stir up, arouse, or call forth…to give rise to, induce, or bring about…scripture should do all this and more.
When we read about how unjustly Joseph was treated, first by his brothers and then Potiphar’s wife…we should be angry at how unjust that was. We should be angry any time someone is treated unjustly no matter who they are as we find ways to make our communities more just in their treatment of all people. When we read how Ruth was stirred to action and stayed with Naomi ensuring she would be ok. Leaving behind everything she knew: her people, her gods, her friends, and her family, as she followed Naomi. We too should be there for those in our midst who have suffered much and who may struggle to care for themselves or helping them integrate into a new community. Or what about the Good Samaritan who we think of as someone we want to emulate? But who when we do a close reading of the text and we understand all the historical and cultural information as well as the words…discover it is the enemy who stops to help…the Good Samaritan isn’t “good” he does however show compassion to the man lying half dead on the side of the road. And so, we are provoked as one thing we learn is that we should help not just our friends but those we don’t like…our enemies, the ones who torment us.
And of course, I could go on, but I think you get the idea. We need scripture to provoke us. We need to stop being content and instead boldly seek out what God wants from us. We need to ask and then discern the answers to the questions: How is God provoking me? What does that mean? and what do I need to do?
My prayer for you all today is that when you read scripture, you read it slowly, you lean into what God wants you to know, and you allow God to provoke you. While being provoked is uncomfortable and can even get your dander up…being provoked leads to deeper understanding…and deeper understanding leads to change…and change leads to transformation. All because we were willing to sit with the discomfort of a little provoking.