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Scripture is not a rulebook and it is not a catechism. Scripture is the multiplicity of genres and stories converging to tell the story of us and our relation to God and God’s relation to us. But we often seek to master the Bible when it would have us simply sit with it, in its pondering and paradox and praise. For if we let it, like learning to feel the dough fully and intuitively, Scripture gifts us with the measure of ourselves, the mixture of different ways of being faithful.
Why does Scripture matter? Why should we pay so much attention to it?
In the gospel of Matthew, after Jesus is baptized he departs for the wilderness by the direction of the Spirit, where he fasts for forty days and forty nights. When he grows hungry, Satan comes to him: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” In reply, Jesus quotes a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” When Jesus is tempted, his response is not to quote Scrip- ture as proof text, but to quote Scripture as an exercise in active engagement with Scripture itself. Jesus does not only know the text in passing, but also speaks with authority and discernment. This is confirmed to us by what happens next:
Then the devil took him into the holy city and had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.”
Here, Satan has quoted Psalm 91:11–12. Satan knows the Scripture as well. Instead of Satan’s previous temptation based on the physical, immediate needs of Jesus, the Accuser now suggests Scrip- ture gives permission for the temptation. To this Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 6:16: “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Jesus’ knowledge of the Scripture is beyond rote. The Devil tries to twist the words, but Jesus puts the Scripture in conversation with itself. A portion of the Bible does not exist in isolation. Jesus rejects the trickery of Satan by knowing the whole, not just a part, of the Bible. His dismissal of the Tempter after the third temptation follows the same momentum.
Following this, in the gospel of Luke, we read:
And He came up to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind.
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke orders his gospel with a specific progression: Jesus shows his authority over the Scriptures against the Devil, then he shows that same authority against the leaders of this world. By the time he calls the first disciples, we have been introduced not only to Jesus as the one who heals the sick and raises the dead, but as the one who fulfills the Scriptures by completely understanding them, intimately and personally as well as for the community.
As modern Christians, we perhaps take this for granted; but, if we are reading or hearing these gospels as first or second-century believers, we are being introduced to this Jesus. The emphasis is placed on revealing him as faithfully engaged with the Scripture that speaks of and points to him. Jesus has invited us, through the power of the Spirit, to know the Scripture as he does. Jesus shows famil- iarity and understanding in his approach. Whereas he could have rebuked Satan through his authority as God, Jesus rebukes Satan through his authority from Scripture. Whereas Jesus could have stood in the synagogue and declared himself the Messiah, he reveals this exceptional mystery through the authority of the Scripture. Jesus is offering to us the same kind of love of the Bible. The end of such biblical appreciation is not a set of arguments or the weight of proof, but openness to the Bible whereby we read it with the expectation that it is alive, inspired, vibrant, and is in the process of reading us as much as we are attempting to read it.
The Scripture opens us, changes us, causes us to inhabit the world differently, approaching the creation with a heart being molded into that of the Creator. We return to the image of that path; we return to the care of measurement, mixing. Scripture must read us more than we read it, we must come to know it like we know the balance of flour and water.
Preston Yancey is a lifelong Texan raised Southern Baptist who fell in love with reading saints, crossing himself, and encountering God in the Eucharist. He now makes his home within the Anglican tradition but still considers himself a happy-clappy Jesus-lover. He is a writer, baker, speaker, and is in the process of being ordained a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. An alumnus of Baylor University, Preston completed a masters in theology from St. Andrews University in Scotland before returning to the States, currently serving as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast. Preston lives in Waco, Texas, with his wife, Hilary, and their son Jackson.
Publication date: January 26, 2016