And how do you ‘read’ that

Reading anything is interesting. Back in the day I was told ‘authorial intention’ had to be adhered to, and as a semi-writer I would be a little put out if people read what I wrote in whatever way (‘reader response’) that they wished. But…

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judg. 21: 25).

At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing (The Message).

Author’s intended meaning. I strongly suspect he (and pretty sure this one is a ‘he’) is we need a king, then everything is sorted, enough of all this independence-caused chaos. Yet how challenging Scripture can be. Yesterday I was reading:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,”  be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite (Deut. 17: 14,15).

A bit cheeky! Written as if it was written by Moses and looking way ahead, yet almost certainly written in the form we have many centuries after the people had asked for a king to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8). So if Scripture can be cheeky, maybe we can follow suit with our interpretation, particularly if we also consider that there are two authors – a human one (or ‘ones’, perhaps a number of post-exilic editors?) and a God breathing author. I am pretty sure that the human author in Judges is writing as a monarchist, but I am also pretty sure that the divine author intends us to be king-free and for the people are to do ‘what is right in their own eyes’.

It has so much to do with what we see. If we see God and see people in the image of God then to do what is right is a necessity. If we see ourselves at the centre of all things, the world revolving around me then whenever I do what is right in my own eyes will be idolatrous, disastrous and full of greed. Greed, that which desires more than my share, consumerism gone mad, Paul ties to idolatry (Col. 3:5).

So I have my reading of those monarchic comments, and do not see the establishment of authority as the way forward but the opening of eyes. My eyes, and to hopefully live as if I see something different, so that others too might gain some sight.

So which is it?

Oliva – Madrid – Cadiz – Malaga – Oliva and Wednesday back to Madrid. 2000kms in the last few days. Our time in Malaga was very enriching, connecting with a small group of artists from across Spain. It was stimulating and great to be with people who were not pushing themselves forward. If egos were present they were pretty hidden! It was also a great privilege to meet in Spain with David and Karen Underwood. I first met them 42 years ago. We have connected from time to time over the years since and to see how they have invested into Spain and into this arts group was great. (David is far right in the photo and Karen next to Gayle. Vicente and Amor, the other couple in the photo, live in Barcelona and were two among a number we connected with.)

While at the gathering a Scripture was quoted that if ‘you are not with me you are against me’. I said that there was a Scripture that said that and also one that said the opposite, both from Jesus. I had never looked at them before at any depth but was provoked to find them now that we have a few hours at home. Here are the two:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9: 49,50).

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11:23).

It is great when we find contradictory statements in Scripture (another example from the book full of wisdom: answer a fool according to his folly… do not answer a fool according to his folly…). Contradictory statements challenge us about being so sure as to what is the right approach. What interested me in both these Scriptures was not simply the context but that both were related to demons being cast out. The first being of a, I suppose, Jewish exorcist using the name of Jesus to cast out demons. We assume successfully unlike the scenario in Ephesus with the sons of Sceva. The second passage is against the backdrop of Jesus casting out a demon and some responding that he did so by being aligned to Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (11:15).

Both passages are about bringing deliverance and freedom to someone. The first passage concerns a person who was ‘not one of us’ but Jesus declares that such a person is ‘for you’. Jesus clearly came to destroy the work of demons and to set people free from their rule. Those who opposed that liberating work aligned themselves against him and it was those people that Jesus said were against him.

There seems then to be a principle here. Those who are working for and desiring a future where people find freedom from oppression, from powers that dehumanise, regardless of what faith boxes they tick are ‘for’ us. We should not try to ‘stop’ them nor see them as ‘not one of us’. Those who oppose liberation? They are not with Jesus. And what if they tick the right faith boxes?

One of the wonderful aspects of the days in Malaga with the arts group was that it was Jesus-based but not all those there had faith. They were open about that. There was clarity but no coercion. We were rightly provoked by all we saw and heard and have come home enriched because in and through it all Jesus was so present.

Jesus and the Bible

The relationship of believers to Jesus and to the Bible is interesting. There are times there are conflicts that seem to come down to whether Jesus is subservient to the Bible or the Bible has to give way to him. At this time this challenge is very visible across the pond with the conflicting testimonies of a man being put forward for public office who is denying the claims of sexual abuse by a woman. There is the ‘he said, she said’ aspect to it. To be wrongly accused is a nightmare, to be disbelieved and blamed for not coming forward earlier is sadly too often the pattern. There is a further aspect that if this took place decades ago surely forgiveness has to apply and this cannot be held against him. Of course I cannot speak into the current situation as I do not know the ‘facts’. I do though want to take the opportunity to push into the inter-relationship of our faith in Jesus and our faith in the Bible as authoritative.

In Spain there is the now very famous case involving the self-named group ‘the Manada’ (wolf-pack) when the five men of the pack sexually assaulted a woman in a doorway in Pamplona in 2016. This was deemed not to be rape as there was insufficient evidence for violence and intimidation – so declared the judges, one saying she clearly did not fight back, there was no evidence that at any time did she, for example, try to bite any of the men on their privates to stop the attack. So the outcome pronounced by the (male) judges on the case was of no violence, no intimidation, therefore it was not rape! The woman in a dark doorway, five men, filming it on cell phones. Such a verdict normalises the objectivisation of women and the ‘what can you expect’ of the status quo. Indeed some people have suggested that if unwanted physical sexual advances that occurred in the context of school / college becomes the bar then so many men would have to rule themselves out of being fit for public office. Such a response unacceptably normalises the behaviour. Yes, forgiveness… yes people change… but there is a culture also that we have to change.

The challenge for believers is to get beyond the Bible to Jesus. If believers do not look to Jesus, how he treated women, his comments on lust, the inclusion of the divorce rights to women, the elevation of women to receive the same calling as men, his response to the woman caught in adultery etc., there will always be a pull to the default biblical culture, the culture of patriarchy. When we end there men will be cut a whole lot of slack, women will be disbelieved and in the majority of situations where they are brave enough to come forward they will still be labelled as they probably provoked it. Our issue with the Bible is it was written in a patriarchal context. Read the Bible without a Jesus-lens and we males win every time. Read it with a Jesus-lens and we have to critique what we read, for we have God speaking to us but the context of the writing is patriarchal. We must not allow the culture to dictate what the voice is saying or to silence the voice. Allegiance to Jesus demands this of us. Allegiance to Jesus relativises every other allegiance, he alone is the Lord exalted to the right hand of the Father. I can love my nation, marry the land and sow myself in but cannot swear allegiance; I can love the Bible, read it, devour it, but it is to the Jesus that the Bible bears witness to that I give my all. I cannot defend behaviour that is bibically-based but Jesus-denying.

I sympathise with anyone falsely accused. That is horrendous and even when acquitted the ‘there is no smoke without fire’ often remains. Finding a way through on the individual cases is not easy, but the culture has to change.

For the culture to change we have to hear Jesus, for only in hearing him does faith come. To hear him we have to hear those whose speech reflects his voice. In the situations I am writing about it will be all but impossible to hear him without hearing the voice of women. This is not tokenism, nor is it positive discrimination, it is to recognise that the clearest sound will be heard outside the established power structure.

In the Manada case the public outcry resulted in the government putting forward a commission that would review how rape should be defined (currently based on the two elements that have to be shown to be present: violence and intimidation). The members of the commission put forward – all males! Not a hope of there being anything other than a superficial shift in the definition.

Jesus did not come to bring about superficial shifts, but deep cultural ones. It is tragic when (male) believers are the main believers who speak up and the status quo is defended. We pray for transformation… that transformation has to include the diminishing of the patriarchal culture, the culture that is assumed and so defended in the Bible. That culture is what was carried to the cross by Jesus. The women at the cross saw a world coming to an end; the women in the garden saw a new world open up. And for us as Paul said ‘if anyone is in Christ there is a new world’…

A while back I was speaking to a Roman Catholic her in the Iberian peninsula and he spoke of his region that ‘even now there are some evangelicals being born again’. I laughed as one might expect. However, maybe that is what we all need, after all perhaps Nicodemus could be a type of the evangelical of his day and it was to him Jesus said you need to be born again (from above), for without it he would not see the kingdom. The Jesus of the Bible opens the door to new birth; the Bible without Jesus can simply confirm my acceptance of the unacceptable culture I contribute toward.

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