I wonder whether you noticed a problem with this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 8 v 27-33)? Quite a serious problem in a way! Did anyone notice the glitch in the reading I wonder?
Perhaps you became aware as the reading developed that this passage is an account of what in Matthew’s Gospel is known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. It includes what are known as the Beatitudes ‘Blessed are the poor, the meek etc.’ It is an account it would seem of the same teachings and yet at the start of this passage in the gospel of Luke it states ‘He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people’. So there is the problem .. the glitch as it were .. two accounts of the same gathering but with different details about its occurence.
Of course in a way it’s not all that important. DIfferent scholars have offered different explanations including the possibility Jesus gave the same sermon twice .. which of course no Vicar would ever do!! But there is a deeper and quite important question to be raised about the Bible. Because this sometime contradiction of stories or ideas is a feature of the scriptures.And this should not surprise us because the Bible is after all a biblios , a library, of books and in any library there will books with different genres and topics and views about life. This book is not in fact a book but a collection of books all seeking to help us make sense of the Divine and of the World.
So take our passage in Jeremiah for instance. In it we are told ‘“Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes“. However ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not ]fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green’.
The teaching seems to be that righteousness and wickedness bring with them direct consequences which mean blessing or curse for those who behave or misbehave. Which all seems fair enough perhaps. And yet should we turn to Ecclesiastes 9 we would read something very different:
What then should we make of passages in the Bible which seem to contradict or at least make us question another .. should we throw the Bible away for being inconsistent? You will be glad to hear my answer to that is no.
What we in fact find is the reason for the resilience of scripture over many years and many places. It is the matrix of ideas which are presented to us which make the Bible so rich and diverse. Indeed it is the matrix of many ideas in many forms by many people which helps us make sense of each of our experiences.
So for instance at certain times in your life you will feel God is asking you to leave everything that is familiar to you and to go out on a limb taking a risk because of your faith. At this moment you may find a connection with the disciples when in Mark chapter 6 they are told go out into the world and take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Risk takers for God. However they may be times when God invites you to prepare and be ready for all things .. at this time the experience of the disciples in Luke chapter 22 may resonate with you when Jesus said to them, “now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’ Two different moments with 2 different messages .. both from God for a particular time and a place.
Here then is what I think we might want to take from our reflection on scripture this morning. Sometimes the truth has apparent glitches in it .. sometimes the truth is both one thing and another .. it cannot be pinned down. This does not make it any less true .. it means Divine truth is alive. We might ask what should we do with this then .. how can we believe God blesses the faithful and punishes the wicked at the same time as knowing everyone under the sun can experience the same trials and joys regardless of their conduct. Should we not rip both truths up and throw them away as being untuths?
The ancient Rabbi’s had an answer which was very practical but which requires great wisdom. They said you should write each truth on a piece of paper and put them in opposing pockets. Then you should never get them out together at the same time. Rather you should learn the wisdom as to when to reach into which pocket to allow God’s truth to speak to you. For instance there are 2 truths they acknowledge .. that we are all but dust and to dust we shall return .. yet for each one of us we must know the entire world was made in love for us. Now when you are feeling proud.. pull out the truth which will remind you that you are but dust and you will prevent yourself from being too conceited. On the other hand when you are feeling low and as if you have no good in you .. pull out the truth which reminds you the one who created the whole world did so out of love for you .. in this way you will not despair.
Let us then learn the wisdom to know which truth to embrace at the right time .. that we might truly be people of scripture and find God in the pages of this wonderful library of truth and love. Let us get to know the Bible and through it get to know our living and dynamic Creator.