“Reading the Bible, if we do not do it rightly, can get us into a lot of trouble. The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person’s hands with the command, ‘Read it.’ That is quite as foolish as putting a set of car keys in an adolescent’s hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, ‘Drive it.’ And just as dangerous. The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we will use it ignorantly, endangering our lives and the lives of those around us; or that, intoxicated with the power that the technology gives us, we will use it ruthlessly and violently.” – Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (p. 81). Kindle Edition.
A community has returned to their homeland longing to rebuild their sense of place and identity. A prominent official is returning from pilgrimage longing to grow closer to the God the official experienced there. In the scroll of Nehemiah, and in the book of Acts we are painted two pictures of people wrestling with who they are in their world.
We find ourselves wrestling with these same questions of identity.
Both of the identity crises were understandable.
The Hebrews had been in exile for decades in a strange land. Their ancestors had been violently displaced from their country, and their religious world had been torn down brick by brick, as the Temple was destroyed. They were then immersed in a foreign culture as captives and settlers in a strange land. At long last, their hopes for homecoming were realized. They were allowed back to their country. But who were they to be now?
How could they avoid the great loss their ancestors had experienced?
How were they to rebuild not only their physical communities, but their cultural, political, economic, and spiritual lives?
The Ethiopian was not only an outsider by race and nationality. He was also an outsider by virtue of being a eunuch. The Hebrew scriptures were clear that those with this kind of brokenness could not be full participants in the faith of Yahweh. And yet, Philip went on pilgrimage anyway. Something about this God drew him and called to him. Even after he left, he grabbed a fragment of the Hebrew Bible, the scroll of Isaiah, for further reflection. But could he ever be a full participant in a faith whose scriptures viewed him as damaged goods?
How was he to understand his place in the larger story of God’s work in the world?
Who was this God who was drawing him and how would he open his life more fully to the spiritual stirrings within him?
In both of our stories, the people involved needed someone to help make it plain. It wasn’t enough to just have the scriptures at their disposal. They needed help in understanding them. In both cases, God allowed the collective wisdom of the community of God, the people of faith, to speak into their lives. They were not to be lone ranger interpreters of the word. They were to be a gathered collective of God led people walking in the Way together.
How do we lean into the wisdom of the community of God?
How do you allow others insights, wisdom, understanding, and questions to inform your reading of scripture?
How can we benefit from “ the other’s,” interpretations? Especially, how can we benefit from those of different theological, geographic, cultural, or economic streams than our own?