|Posted by rjagilbert on September 1, 2014 at 4:45 PM|
How many of you know the story from the Bible where Mary and Martha invited Jesus over for a meal? Mary was listening as Jesus taught, while Martha was busy with other things. When Martha confronted Mary for not helping with the food, Jesus told her that what he was teaching was more important. Here’s the real question: what was Jesus teaching there? What did he say? It wasn’t written down. Why? Obviously somebody had the presence of mind to document the event. But what was important to him? The idea that we should listen to Jesus. And yet, by not recording what it was that Jesus said, the entire story is hypocritical. Do you really think Jesus is pleased that we choose to listen to him over other distractions, yet we cannot remember what it was he said? Sadly, that is the way I’ve found it with so many people who say they are following the teachings of Jesus.
Many years ago, my wife and I were teaching a middle-school Bible study class that focused on the story of David and Abigail. I tend to go off-curriculum when I teach, so I wound up following up the “authorized” version of the story by reading the rest of it from my Bible. Suddenly one of the boys in class spoke up. “Did you just say David married Abigail?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “He took her as his own wife after her husband died.”
“But then she died, right?”
“Eventually,” I answered, not sure what he meant by the question.
“But I thought David married Bathsheba.”
“He did,” I confirmed.
“So did he marry Bathsheba after Abigail died?”
Uh oh. Realizing that I had wandered into one of those “veiled” sections of the Bible that some parents might not like me teaching to their kids, I tried to explain as simply as possible. “Well, David actually had several wives,” I said. Then I read straight from the passage of scripture that ends that particular Bible story—those verses that very clearly explain how, after his first wife, Michal, was given to another man, David married several other women.
“At the same time?” the youth asked. Then, seeing me nod my head, he said loudly, “Then he was a sinner!”
What was odd about the statement was that it came from a young man who had been born and raised in the church, attended Sunday school almost every week of his entire life, and claimed to have read the Bible through at least once. Yet here he was confused by the sudden realization that David was, among other things, a polygamist. Was that not a key plot point throughout the books of Samuel and Kings? Was there not chapter after chapter of troubles that David had because of all the wives he took? How could this young reader have missed it?
Then again, was he just reading to find the answers he had already been told to look for? Did somebody tell him that the Bible was just “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” and so whatever he read that did not apply to the Gospel of Salvation he just ignored? Did somebody tell him “David was a man after God’s own heart” and so anything he read that proved contrary just didn’t register in his mind? The murders. The lust. The adultery. The political intrigue and the lies. The very blatant violation of Moses’ orders to establish the places of worship on certain mountains throughout the nation (which I personally suspect was a political move on David’s part to consolidate power over the scattered and divided people by bringing their focus of worship into his own “possession” within his newly-established capitol)? Is that something that most “Christians” just don’t see or question because they have been trained to look for nothing more than just the “rice or Chow Mein?” (And since I know the accusation is going to be made, dear reader, I must ask: Can you really consolidate this paragraph into a single statement of being “for” or “against”?)
When I read the Bible, I read it to understand what it says. When I’m given a single verse to read, I like to read the entire chapter surrounding that verse to get an idea of the context in which it was written. I don’t shy away from long paragraphs or long-winded “rants”, and I don’t pass judgment on writers who take “too long” to get to the point. Yet the more I write, and the more it is dismissed by readers who are not willing to “listen”, the more I have to wonder about the teachings of Jesus that were NOT written down. Think about it. How many Christians claim to have read the whole Bible through in a year? Jesus spoke and taught for three years. And yet, if one were to read all that Jesus said throughout the four Gospels, it would take less than a day. Did he just repeat himself over and over again? Did he have a lot of interruptions? “Yes, Martha, I’d like some more coffee, thank you.” A Christian cannot possibly insist that the New Testament contains all that Jesus taught to his disciples and then go spend two hours a week, every week of the year, in church listening to a pastor teach them far, far more than what is written in the Bible. Either it is accepted that much of Jesus’ words were never written down, or it is accepted that Jesus was one of the quietest, most reserved men in the history of mankind—so reserved that it must have driven him mad to want to heal, teach, rebuke, and correct more than just the few religious leaders and sinners of Judea.
Here’s a good example of how well the people in Jesus’ time listened—even to someone they believed to be their “Messiah”. Matthew 19 tells a story of a man who asks Jesus a simple question: “What must I do to be saved?” Clearly he wanted a “Rice or Chow Mein” answer. Jesus did not give him one. In fact, what was written down at this point was probably only the gist of what Jesus really unloaded onto the poor fellow. In the end, the man went away unhappy because he was not given the answer he had been looking for. It probably took too long to get to the point, didn’t agree with the young man’s political view, and possibly volunteered a whole bunch of details like “By the way, Aristotle is wrong about the idea that the world is made of four elements. The old atoms theory is actually more along the lines of how God’s creation really works.” In a nutshell, it was not what this rich man wanted to hear.
So here comes the crux of the matter. What did Jesus’ pupils miss? And what did we, not having those teachings written down, miss? The answer is: nothing. The Bible points the way for every person on this earth to have their own personal teachings from Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave us this gift shortly after he ascended into the heavens. Each and every Christian who asks Christ’s Spirit into their heart has access to the teachings of Jesus from the Holy Spirit. But how many of us really listen to that still, small voice within us? How many of us actually go through life asking Jesus to speak to us, to teach us, and to answer our questions with more than just a “Rice or Chow Mein” answer?
In my experience, the Holy Spirit speaks to everyone. Those who have not asked Jesus into their heart may even hear the Spirit trying to reach them—but they do not have a clue what it is that they are experiencing. Sadly, many more who have asked Jesus into their lives still don’t listen to the Spirit when it talks to them. They may read the Bible through once every year, and they may never fall asleep in the pews on Sunday, but they go through most of their lives never stopping to wonder what God might be trying to teach them in a more personal way.
The more I understand about human nature, the more I understand that the few words of Jesus that were written down were the topics his audience was looking for. Life after death. Forgiveness of sins. Deliverance from Rome. Rice or Chow Mein. What else might Jesus have taught in those years that just didn’t seem “important” to his followers? What meanings do you suppose we might be able to glean from his sermons had his listeners not wanted to just hang on to the “blessed are those” parts?
Alas, though, most of what Jesus taught his disciples on a daily basis is lost to us, because, like me, he took too long to get to the point. Those who approached him asked simple questions: What must I do to get into heaven? What is the greatest commandment? He answered with long paragraphs and strange illustrations that wandered far from the original question of “rice or Chow Mein”. Unable to follow him on his “rant”, the listeners often went away sad, or disgusted, or convinced that they were more clever than that rambling, water-walking idiot.
And so it goes even today. People want an easy answer. They want to spend twenty three-and-a-half hours a day doing what they want, then be handed the truth to them in a format that fits into that one half-hour they carved out of their busy schedule. And when the truth does not fit into their format, they dismiss it as wrong. But who is the real fool? He who seeks the truth, or he who has convinced himself that the truth lies within the confines of a “Rice or Chow Mein” answer?