Our daily Epiphany reflection for this week is about light. We hope you read the scriptures and pray with us each day this week.
There is way to study the bible that has been hammered into my brain ever since I can remember, yet I do not see many instances of this method being either described or instructed in scripture. While this method has very little grounding in the tradition of scripture, many see it as the primary way to both read and interpret the word of God. Any guesses?
Some call it personal bible study or “my time with God”.
And, as far as I can tell people are being asked to spend time alone with God and his word “studying” and attempt to understand what scripture is saying to the individual.
First of all, I don’t think this method is completely bad or useless. What I am saying is we might be missing something here.
There is very little evidence I can point to where we find individuals engaging scripture in this way. What we do see are passages like the first reading in the liturgy this week in Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10.
This passage shares a scene where the word of God is opened after the completion of the work on the destroyed city wall in the assembly of the people and read aloud. In fact, the text takes great care to set the scene of the priest (Ezra), the governor (Nehimiah), the Levites (interpreters), and the crowd of able listeners.
Its a beautiful picture, really. As the word of God is read the people begin to weep. The harsh reminders of their past failures in light of the special relationship God had called them to pierced like a knife. Yet not only were they told to mourn but in verse t0 a commandment was given to……party.
“Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The people were healed by the community reading of the scriptures. Time was given for interpretation for those who could not understand. The darkness of their sins were illuminated by the light of God’s word. At that point, nothing in their past could be hidden and all was on display.
Even then, they were told not to mourn because God it was his joy to forgive and reconcile.
Yet I’m not so sure if this scene would have played out the same way if we went about our modern ways of interpreting scripture. Would this have looked different if each person went away to study on their own?
The concept of personal bible study is a sort of lovechild out of the Enlightenment and the advent of the printing press. As bibles became readily available and literacy rates rose the need for the church to be the central place for biblical interpretation declined.
Yet, have we lost something here? As we saw the light of God’s word literally heal and change a community who was broken by spending hours together reading and interpreting to one another – could our churches benefit from the same process? Maybe our gatherings could use a healthier “community hermeneutic” as it were and depend on one another through God’s spirit to bring light into our lives.
Yes, the light of God’s word can illuminate the individual. But, imagine how much brighter it shines on the community who trusts each other enough to engage scripture together?
How does this resonate with you today? Would you like to see more of a community interpretation of scripture, or do you feel like individual bible study is the way to go? We would love to hear your thoughts.