Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24
One of the things I love most about the work and ministry of our church home is the community aspect of faith. We get to “do life” together, and I enjoy such great conversations with other stumbling disciples – especially as we engage the scriptures and constantly apply Christ’s teachings to our daily walk.
Sunday morning we talked about the story of the “Rich Young Ruler.” The entire reading was loaded with key words and – consequently – the need for word studies. We realized immediately how important it is that we understand what the words actually mean before we start making assumptions, determining judgments, jumping to conclusions, and wrapping the passage up neatly so we can move on to the next thing.
So often, we tend to approach Bible study by bringing along with us ironclad interpretations we already “know” – or have been told by “authorities,” or that we want to subscribe to, or that fit our personal preferences, prejudices, and predetermined conclusions.
When we read the passage aloud (Matthew 19:16-30), I made note of several key words and ideas that are often misread. Because if we begin our reading with wrong information – or confusion – about word meaning, then how are we possibly going to get a grasp of what the story itself has to say? Here are a few that I highlighted.
- “Eternal life”
- “Eye of the needle”
I’ve been thinking about this in part in response to the ongoing “Great Food Initiative” I’ve been kind of doing over the past couple of years (I say “kind of” because – just like my discipleship – my commitment to preparing the best possible food is hardly as consistent as I’d like).
You see it doesn’t do any good to read a recipe but completely misunderstand what some of the key words mean:
- If I hadn’t done some research on “béchamel,” my lasagna would have surely suffered;
- when I read “reduce by 50%” it helps to understand that reduce by 50% does not mean throw away half the liquid – as one of my friends once assumed;
- “room temperature” is not an exact measure;
- what exactly does “rest” mean when applied to meat… or sauce… or maybe the chef?
It helps to understand that “reduce by 50%” does not mean throw away half the liquid – as one of my friends once assumed!
In other words, and back to the Bible, it’s impossible to read Jesus without a more nuanced understanding of words, history, context, culture, how and why your translation chose those particular words, and more. When someone says, “There’s no discussion; the Bible says what it means and means what it says,” what they’re really saying is, “the only preconceptions that apply are the ones I already have; and the only interpretation that’s valid is mine.”
There is a reason, for example, that Jesus prefaced his comments on the values and priorities adults cling to by saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14-15).
One more story: A woman questioned her husband as to why he cut off the front and the back of the ham before baking. “It’s our treasured family recipe!” he said. “That’s how my mother taught me.” Curious, his wife asked her mother-in-law, who said, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” Grandma said the same thing. Great-grandmother was over ninety years old: “You kids still do it that way?” she laughed. “Back when my children were growing up all I had was a really small pan, and the ham would never fit. That’s why we lopped off the ends.”
More tomorrow on what Jesus means by “rich,” how a camel can get through the eye of a needle, and what it means to be “saved.”
Peace, and more peace – DEREK