It was a small Bible study in a church I had joined recently, and we were reading from the gospels. I was kind of trying to keep quiet and get to know people before I made too many comments. But after our gospel reading, people started to discuss it, or mostly to discuss the people in it.
The disciples were pretty stupid. How could they possibly have missed the message so many times? The Pharisees were hypocrites, who obviously knew perfectly well that Jesus was right about everything and should have just given in immediately. Others didn’t do much better.
“Would we really do that much better?” I asked. I wasn’t quite sure how to make my point. Frankly, given the situation, I doubted (and still doubt) that we would “get” what Jesus was up to any more quickly. As for the Pharisees, I am much more like them than probably any other group in history other than my own. I’m talking about studying the Bible, trying to apply it, falling to the very human tendency to criticize and apply what we learn in scripture to everyone else before we apply it to ourselves. Yes, it’s true. I teach that we should endeavor to apply everything we learn to our own lives first and then share and witness more than correct, and condemn not at all. But the hypocrite in me sometimes has me doing what I would not.
Oh wretched man that I am, or, well, human man that I am, and that’s wretched enough and great enough for any of us.
I’d like to suggest that we try to read the New Testament (and the whole Bible) in more sympathetic (or empathetic) categories. To see ourselves in the failings of those who are described in its pages, and in turn to see ourselves in Christ in the victories and successes.
In the meantime, if you want to know what got me started this morning, read this post by Scot McKnight about the Pharisees. He provides a good deal of historical information that might help you get a bit more empathetic on the subject, and in turn may help you read the Bible in a more participatory* way.
*I use “participatory” here in the same sense as in the Participatory Study Series, which is participating in the story of scripture, seeing yourself as part of it, and learning to extend it.