All words are metaphors approximating the hard-knock of reality itself. That doesn’t mean we throw words and ideas out. Quite the contrary! The best Jewish approach to scripture study was called midrash; they struggled with the text, unraveled it, looked at its various possible meanings, and offered a number of interpretations that often balanced and complemented one another. There was never just one meaning, or one certain meaning that eliminated all others. If only Christianity had imitated our Jewish forebears in this regard our history would have been so much more peaceful and life giving.
After the Enlightenment in the 17th century, we regressed in many ways as religion wanted to compete with the rational, intelligent thinkers of Europe. The later Protestant Reformation moved forward with this mind as individuals and groups claimed there was only one correct interpretation of every scripture. Catholics looked to the Pope for that one correct interpretation. It’s no surprise there are 30,000 Protestant denominations today, and Catholicism became so monarchical. We will never agree on the meanings of words. That’s why the Word became flesh, to reveal that words can’t get you there. Only experience, love, and relationship can.
Jesus’ truth claim was his person (John 14:6), his presence (John 6:35), and his ability to participate in God’s perfect love (John 17:21-22). Emphasizing perfect agreement on words and forms, instead of inviting people into an experience of the Formless Presence, has caused much of the violence of human history. Jesus gives us his risen presence as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). No dogma will ever substitute for that.
Most of Jesus’ teaching is walking with people on the streets, out in the desert, and often into nature. His examples come from the things he sees around him: birds, flowers, landlords and tenants, little children, women baking and sweeping, farmers farming. Jesus teaches with anecdote, parable, and concrete example much more than creating a systematic theology. Particulars seem to most open us up to universals. “Thisness” is the actual spiritual doorway to the everywhere and the always, much more than concepts. Incarnation is always specific and concrete, here and now, like this bread and this wine, and this ordinary moment, or this half-crazy person right in front of me.
Adapted from Hell, No! (CD, MP3 download)–Coming soon!;
and Things Hidden: Scripture As Spirituality, pp. 124, 126-127