Friday, October 27, 2006

Interfaith lectionary study

I've been meeting with the South Whidbey lectionary study group for about 6 weeks now and find myself enjoying it more each time. The group is comprised of two Lutheran pastors, one Episcopalian retired rector, one United Methodist pastor, one Catholic priest, one House of Prayer pastor, and me. The HOP pastor and I represent either end of the theological spectrum, though I suspect if we were all standing on a teetertotter in our continuum of belief we'd be tipping to the left, with Rev. HOP somewhere right of center. He is a great guy, though, and represents his religious tradition faithfully but not bombastically.

My colleagues in this group are all male, which I thoroughly enjoy. They are respectful but not overly politically correct and they sometimes hog the conversation, yet I am relishing both the Bible study and the interfaith nature of our association. I feel very welcome in their company; I expect a time will come when they want to know more about my theological stance, but right now I'm contributing to the discussion from my own experience and feelings about the readings and am not challenged by anyone.

I've never been a gungho Bible scholar, though the Hebrew and Christian scripture classes I took in seminary were among my favorites. I find that the larger picture of the development of Judaism and Christianity as represented in the Bible is more compelling than remembering the many dates and kings and minor-seeming events of those centuries.

And there are so many small moments in scripture that say more to me than all the exegesis in the world: Moses seeing God's backside, when God said to him "if you see my face you will die, but wait here and you will see me as I pass by"; the still small voice in the burning bush; and the reminder "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly" ; the Syro-Phoenician woman who challenges Jesus with her flung-back remark about the puppies getting the crumbs from the rich people's table---and he changes his mind and his mission; the way Jesus must have felt as he failed over and over again to get his message across, even to his disciples; and the most important commandments of all------to love God and to love neighbor as self.

My island colleagues love to tease out meanings from the passages we study and I enjoy hearing their take on each passage. The Methodist guy is very sharp and well-schooled in Bible exegesis and he poses questions and challenges to us all, without looking down his nose at our lesser abilities. The men all tend to interpret the scripture from a "hard" point of view, that is, very intellectual and theologically based. I tend to offer observations that are "soft", that is, from an experiential, feeling place. And I think that's valuable, though they look at me with surprise at times. I don't know what they think about my comments; I haven't been shouted down or disagreed with, but it may yet happen.

So far I haven't seriously disagreed with anyone about an interpretation, though Rev. HOP is quite conservative. They are quite Trinitarian, which is fine, but today we studied the passage in Mark that says "The Lord Our God is One" and I resisted mentioning the apparent Unitarian stance here and nobody else seemed to notice it!

Anyhow, it's fun, it's stimulating, and I'm in a group of colleagues who support each other and share our lives as ministers in this community. That's enough in itself.


fausto said...

You shouldn't resist arguing Unitarian Christology from Scripture, if the holy Spirit leads your mind there, especially in a forum like that. After all, that's exactly how our own tradition stumbled upon it in the first place, lo these many centuries ago.

ms. kitty said...

Ah, Fausto, I'm less an arguer than an observer. I didn't feel a need to argue and it's not really my style.

Actually, though I seem to have forgotten this in my initial post, Rev. HOP noted the Oneness issue, mentioned it, and dropped it. So I was chewing on that interesting tidbit and wondering what it meant, rather than thinking of an argument.

As I get better acquainted with my colleagues and feel more embedded in the group, I may argue more. It's not really something I like to do though. What's the point, after all? I'm not going to change their minds. And I don't need to prove anything to them.

LinguistFriend said...

I do not believe in arguing such matters as Unitarian Christology in such a company (actually, I hardly ever have tne opportunity); in that Ms. Kitty is wise, I think. But I do believe in seeing where the text comes from and where it goes, which is usually much more powerful than such argumentation. In this case, the main issue, I feel, is not Unitarian Christology but continuity with Judaism. Mark 12:28-34 on the response to the question of "Which commandment is the first of all?" is based on Deuteronymy 6:4-5 and constitutes part of the Sh'ma, i.e. one of the three texts which every adult Jew is supposed to say every day in the morning and evening; Jesus adds part of Leviticus 19:18. The text of Deut 6:4 cited in Mark (NRSV "The Lord our God, the Lord is one", with which I would quibble in terms of Greek syntax; Jerome and I agree) is in verbatim agreement with the usual Septuagint text (Rahlfs). Thus Jesus emphasizes his own place as a Jewish teacher. There is good discussion in the "New Jerome Biblical Commentary", and also in E.Klostermann and Vincent Taylor's commentaries on Mk. In the synoptic parallels Mt. 22:34-40 and L 10:25-28 it is interesting that the quasi-unitarian passage from Deut 6:4 is omitted; that might be a christological issue.
I do not deny the relevance of the christological issue, but I think that it is secondary here for the Markan text. One problem is that one can go one forever with such things; in group study one can't check things, so one has to prepare, which takes time.

ms. kitty said...

Actually, our Methodist pastor pointed out that this is a direct quote from the Shema and that Jesus added the second part from Leviticus, creating a stepping stone between Judaism and what became Christianity.

Thanks for your thoughts, both of you.

fausto said...

Oh, I'm not saying you should be confrontational, nor scornful toward others' cherished beliefs, but it might add some leaven and breadth to the discussion to say, "You know, it's in verses like this that the founders of my denomination found Scriptural support for a heterodox, non-Trinitarian Christology."

As to Oneness, which I understand is a distinct branch of Pentecostalism, it's a different form of anti-Trinitarianism than our own Unitarian version. Whereas we Unitarians resemble the ancient Ebionites or Arians in our Christology, the Oneness Pentecostals resemble the ancient Sabellians. We say (or, at least, our denominational founders said) Jesus could not have been God, because God is infinite, but a human being, even an exalted one like Jesus, is necessarily limited by the condition of being human in a way that is impossible for an infinite God. They say that, since the Bible says God is One, and calls Jesus things like "Son of God" and "Word made flesh", there can be no division of persons between God and Jesus, and therefore Jesus must have been an indistinguishable and inseparable physical manifestation of God, rather than either a different divine entity or a common human being.

ms. kitty said...

Good point, Fausto, thanks for your insights. I will hang onto that thought and possibly use it another time.