Thursday, January 21, 2016

Unspoiled Plots

I recently read Matthew 15, and (somehow) saw it through new eyes.  I remembered that the disciples still did not “get” Jesus.  They saw him as a spiritual authority, so it surprised them for Jesus to criticize the Pharisees.  After Jesus pointed out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, the disciples were almost shocked.  “Uh, Jesus, did you know that you just offended those religious leaders?”  They were trying to help him avoid trouble, not knowing that Jesus would never lose an argument, never back away from controversy, and never be defeated by death.

After the disciples’ admonition, Jesus takes the confrontation to a new level.  He calls the crowd to himself and explains how heart-matters are more important than appearances.  Suddenly this story had greater depth for me.  Somehow I could read the story as though it had not been spoiled.

So, how can you read the Bible like an unspoiled story?  Here are some suggestions.

Pray.  The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, so I can ask him to help me understand his word.

Take time.  Having a chunk of time without interruption and without distraction makes a huge difference for me.  Too often I provide my own distractions, unfortunately.

Read slowly.  I really struggle with reading the Bible too quickly.  I know the stories, so I can get by with skimming them.  When I stop rushing on to whatever is next, I can “listen” better to the story.

Try to forget what you already know.  That’s not easy to do.  It’s really the whole point of pretending that the story is not spoiled.  I keep reminding myself that I need a fresh perspective.

Read a different translation.  Unfamiliar wording often gets my attention.

Imagine the setting.  What time of day is it?  Where is this—on a mountain, on a lake, in a house?  What has just happened previously?  How would that affect the people in the story?  Is the weather mentioned?  What would that look like, feel like, as best you can imagine?

Consider who is in the story.  Is Jesus talking to the crowd, the Pharisees, the disciples?  Who is watching this happen?

Look at the details and descriptions.  Are emotions mentioned?  How are people described?  What details seem unimportant, and why were they included?

Imagine you are one of the “extra” characters.  What were David’s brothers thinking before he killed Goliath?  What were the other disciples thinking when Jesus rebuked Peter?  How did the Christians in Philippi feel when they heard the letter from Paul?

Ask questions.  Who is Jesus talking to?  How would they feel about Jesus?  What are they thinking?  Why would someone respond like that?  Why did God let that happen?