Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Hard Reading

One of the things that has me thinking about Mary and Martha is the way that the biblical commentator who wrote on the book of John for this Bible wanted to twist the narrative so that we understand that Mary and Martha aren't complicated, that they are exactly the same women in one story as they are in the other, even though they appear to be complete opposites. 

This is...confusing, but it's something that we need to be aware of, particularly when we are willing to listen to so-called "experts" on how we're supposed to understand our Bible. 

See, there's a principle in biblical interpretation that has determined that "the harder reading is usually the original one." In other words, the more mental gymnastics you have to do to figure out what the Bible is trying to say, the more likely it is that you're on the right track. The more confusing it seems, the more likely it is that it is God's actual Word to you. This is because it is more likely that men over the years have tried to add or modify things to clarify or to make the reading easier, so the easier it gets, the more likely it is that someone has already come through this text and tried to make it easier. 

So the basic principle of biblical interpretation is: "God is hard." The Bible is hard. It's supposed to be difficult. It's an entirely different language than we speak, and the chances are good that we just can't understand it (save for these "experts" who are generous enough to share their infinite knowledge with us). 

What's frustrating about this is that when it comes to biblical interpretation, it's apparently only God who is supposed to be complicated. Human beings...are supposed to be simple. 

Although the commentator has twisted and contorted and mangled this view of Mary and Martha so that it is so complicated as to be almost unfathomable, believing Mary and Martha to be caricatures is actually not the harder reading. The harder reading is to believe them to be actual human beings, as complicated as that is. 

Human beings are strange. They sometimes appear fickle. They are capable of growth and...whatever you want to call the opposite of growth. They change their minds. They are influenced by circumstances. They learn lessons the hard way and sometimes, they don't learn them at all. We know this because we live with them every day. We live with ourselves every day. We know that human beings just change all the time, for good reasons or bad reasons or no reason at all. 

For example, when I am walking through the parking lot of the local grocery store, I will sometimes take the empty cart of an older person and return it to the store as I go in. But sometimes, I walk right past them. What prompts me to take this woman's cart today, but not that woman's cart last week? Even if the circumstances are roughly the same, I might one day take a cart and the next day not, and there's no discernible rhyme or reason to it. 

If you were to step into my story on a day when I took the cart, you might be tempted to think something about me. But if you were to step into my story on a day when I did not take the cart, you might be tempted to think something else. If, then, you formed an opinion about who I must be based on that one observation, it would be hard for you to reconcile what it means when I do the opposite...unless you understand that I am simply a complicated human being or engage in the same kind of mental gymnastics that these biblical interpreters often do. 

So I'm going to tell you the truth about biblical interpretation - the interpreters have it backward. God is not complicated; humans are. God is not the harder reading; we are. 

The truth is that one day, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and the next day, she stayed at home. The truth is that Martha spent a whole day in the kitchen and then ran out to meet Jesus on the road. And if we try to say anything else, we're going to miss the heart of the story.  

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