Sunday, May 11, 2008

Squint Until You See Jesus

Robert Louis Wilken knows how to interpret the Bible. He knows when to take it literally and when not to because he knows what it really means:

St. Ambrose wrote: “The Lord Jesus came and what was old was made new.” Everything in the Scriptures is to be related to him. As a medieval commentator put it, “All of divine scripture is one book, and that one book is Christ, because all of divine scripture speaks of Christ, and all of divine scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” ... Jesus Christ brings about the unity of Scripture, because he is the end-point and fullness of Scripture. Everything in it is related to him. In the end he is its sole object. Consequently, he is, so to speak, its whole exegesis.
That's how to read the Bible -- keep squinting your eyes until whatever you're reading addresses Jesus. If the passage you're reading doesn't address Jesus in any obvious way, take that as a cue to squint harder and re-read. You're not crazy if you don't see it at first:
The Old Testament is a large book, and it is not obvious how everything in it derives its meaning from Christ.
Squint, re-read, squint, repeat. Soon enough a Jesus-centered interpretation will pop into your head, and it will be the right one. So says theologian Robert Wilken.

This answers the question about the parts of the Bible that don't directly address Jesus -- they allegorically address Jesus. Fair enough, but what about the parts that do directly address Jesus and yet raise all kinds of questions? What is to be done with those? When Jesus got peeved and cursed a fig tree, was he setting up an allegory about himself? Did he actually curse the fig tree, or was he making some kind of larger point about himself? Or was he, perhaps, making a larger point about fig trees? About fruit trees in general? About eating fruit? What point might that have been, and how do we know when we've squinted and re-read enough to have located it?
The task of an interpreter is to help the faithful look beyond the surface, to highlight a word here, an image there, to find Christ unexpectedly, to drink at the bountiful spring whose water is ever fresh.
Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't really answer the question about the cursing of the fig tree. Or anything else. Apparently I need to do some more squinting and re-reading on that one.

No, I think I'll do something more worthwhile, like, oh, say, damnnear anything.

Something tells me that this approach to reading the books of the Bible, however confidently put forward by theologian Robert Wilken, would not be shared by Jews or Muslims. I am pretty sure they wouldn't recommend reading, say, the the book of Exodus or the book of Jonah as allegories about Jesus. I don't know what they'd say, but I'm confident it wouldn't be that. Robert Wilken would insist they're doing it wrong, and they'd counter-insist that he's the one doing it wrong.

OK, onto that damnnear anything else I mentioned ...

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