Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Putting the Eis into Gesis

Don't Try This at Home

Back when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh somewhat frequently, I remember his saying, "Folks, I warn you, don't try this at home. I am a trained broadcast specialist." This was his retort to callers who fell on their faces when they tried to emulate him by attempting to combine commentary with wit. 

I feel the same way when I encounter the way some unrightly divide the word of truth. It makes me wonder if the Reformers would regret their having put the Bible back into the hands of the people.

Those of us Bible handling professionals were trained in the difference between exegesis (ex = out, egesis = to lead or draw, hence to read out of) and eisegesis (eis = into, to lead into, hence to read into) . To do exegesis means to draw out or read out of a text the meaning that is there. This involves taking seriously such matters as vocabulary, grammar, historical setting, cultural context, and literary factors. In the case of the Bible it means letting the Bible say what it says. To practice eisegesis is to read into a text, often with the greatest of sincerity and best of intentions, what is within oneself, such as prejudices, assumptions, speculations, and wishes. In the case of the Bible it means reading into the Bible what is not there by authorial (human or divine) intent.

A few days ago my favorite Reformed female religious writer published a column in which she tried to give due weight to the fact that in St. Mark's Gospel's account of the feeding of the 5,000 mention is made that Jesus commanded the crowd to sit down in groups on the green grass. Why, she wonders, did the Holy Spirit, who inspired Mark, lead him to include that fact?

Our columnist begins by noting that Jesus had called his disciples to "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile" because the press of people coming to hear the words and witness the ministry of Jesus was so great that he and his disciples did not have time even to eat.

From there our columnist suggests there are two ways the Holy Spirit may want us to look at the story - the point of view of the disciples and the point of view of Jesus. From the disciples' point of view the vacation did not turn out as they had hoped when Jesus said they were going where the people weren't. The crowds followed them, so they did not succeed in escaping people. Then, when they suggested that Jesus send the crowds away to get food, Jesus refused. When at last the day was over and Jesus sent the discples away in the boat by themselves, they had a hard time of it because of a head wind and heavy seas. 

Perhaps it is worthwhile to note a few more stress inducing facts from the story: Jesus put the pressure on them to feed the crowd before he multiplied the loaves and fishes. You know how stressful it is even today when you're on vacation, and you've got to feed the kids, and there are a bazzilion fast food places at every exit. Then they had to serve the food to  5000+ people. Anyone who has waited tables can appreciate what it must have been like for a staff of 12 to serve a crowd of that size. Then, Jesus nearly scared them to death when he came walking to them on the water. Ever heard a scary noise on dark night? Imagine how much scarier it must have been in a small boat on a stormy sea when you see what you think is a ghost approaching.

But I digress...Then there is Jesus's point of view, the clue to which our columnist finds in the fact of the green grass. It turns out that this detail tells us much more than that it was springtime which St. John tells us by calling attention to the miracle occurring near Passover. To get Jesus's point of view we must add to the green grass the fact that, after listening to an afternoon of the best preaching ever for free, the disciples got to eat food they did not have to harvest, shop for, or prepare. And they got to enjoy their picnic sitting on green grass not on bare dirt. 

So, you see, if you look at the whole story from Jesus's point of view, it turned out to be a pretty good one day vacation for the disciples after all. If the disciples didn't see it that way, the problem was that their hearts were hardened at this point. (I must confess that I, too, lack sufficient spiritual insight and strong enough faith to see this day as one of recuperation. It sounds too much like some minister's days off I have known.)

I see now that I have headed down the wrong road when I have tried to handle this Biblical account. I have been mistaken to think this story is about Jesus as the One greater than Moses who led the people out of Egypt and taught them the Law and fed them manna in the wilderness. No, it is not about Jesus the greater Shepherd who has compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd and Jesus the greater Prophet who teaches and feeds his people in a desolate place.

Having my attention called to the real significance of the green grass has got my mind going in a more productive direction. There are the five loaves and two fishes. Add 5 and 2 and you get 7. That's the number of completion or perfection. What is the significance of this fact? It may mean that the disciples not only enjoyed good preaching and a picnic on green grass but that they had the perfect meal on their vacation. A perfect meal would consist of fish (we now know how good for you fish are) and bread (though I worry about the gluten). You take it from there Andree.

Meanwhile I am not sure whether to stick my head into the oven with Sylvia Plath or out the window with Howard Beale. Come to think of it, both stories end up the same.

If it comes to that, please "lay me 'neath the green, green grass of home."

No comments: