You may not have thought about this before, but there is actually a way to read scripture so that you get the most out of it, and unfortunately it is NOT the way we read scripture here in worship. Here in worship, time is of the essence, and there is an established formality, I think, to our scripture reading. I
In other words there are tried and true steps to scripture reading and studying that I learned either in seminary or from experience.
So, I thought today I would take you through a practice run as to how to read scripture, in private, when you have time on your hands and the TV is turned off and the phone is quiet—for you boys, maybe you find a time off by yourself, or you wake up early before everyone else.
So for the next few minutes imagine maybe sitting in a comfortable chair, but not too comfortable. For you on this side of the room, maybe it’s early morning and you are in the woods, sitting on a log, or maybe you are just sitting on the side of your cot—whatever. Your Bible is open to John 2:1-11. Now before you read the first word:
Step #1: “scrub your brain.” Do you know the journalist Richard Cohen? He writes for the Washington Post. Early in his career he was sent to Vietnam to cover the war. Before leaving, he thought he should read as much as possible about that country. One of his mentors, and a fellow journalist, was horrified to learn what he was up to. “Don’t you know, that the best journalism of your career will happen when you first disembark that airplane onto Vietnamese soil? First impressions are everything. It’s what YOU see that is important. What YOU experience, that is new and fresh and different that you will want to write about.” Reading scripture is a little like journalism. Take note of YOUR first impressions of a text before finding out what others have to say about it.
Step #2. “Open your heart.” Rev. Dr. Walter Wink, was a change-agent for how we study scripture. He wrote a book which started out as a thesis for his doctoral project at Union Seminary. That thesis which was subsequently published as a book is entitled Transforming Bible Study. Walter Wink instructs us to not just use our heads when we read scripture, but our hearts, too. That idea actually got him kicked out of his doctoral program at Union. Lot of academics at Union at that time (which was in the 1970’s) were offended. They thought that dissecting words and studying word derivations was what scripture reading was all about. “You mean you just read a text and then analyze how you feel about it?” Pshaw!”
His thesis which became a book, is now considered a classic. And yes, Walter Wink did eventually earn a PhD, but from a different university. He really did transform the way we do Bible Study. Studying scripture isn’t like studying calculus, or mechanical engineering. God’s words are embedded here. And God means for those words to touch us here (head) AND here (chest). So, again, open your heart.
Step #3. Look a little above and a little below the text you want to study. What happened before and what happened after the text we are going to be studying, which is the wedding at Cana. Well before this, Jesus has chosen his disciples, who actually accompany him to the wedding. After this story, Jesus and his disciples travel on to Jerusalem to the temple, where Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers. I don’t see any real connections, yet, but maybe we’ll see them later on. Let’s just keep this in the back of our minds.
Ok. Brains scrubbed, hearts opened, we have done the requisite reading above and below. NOW, let us listen for the word of God!
So what jumps out at you?
Maybe you were struck by the fact that Jesus calls his mother, “Woman.” That’s what struck me on a fresh reading this week. If’s offensive, isn’t it? I mean, if one of my daughters referred to me as “woman,” I would be stunned and hurt. Now here you might rightly wonder—Could this be a bad translation? And, maybe you are also wondering, “Is this the only time Jesus uses “woman” to refer to his mother? Those are both very good questions, and they lead us to steps 4 and 5.
Step #4. Look at other translations.
Step #5. Compare this text to other scripture passages.
The best place to go to get to the heart of the matter, is the interlinear text. In an interlinear text you can read the ancient Greek (the New Testament was originally written in Greek) and under that the word-for-word English translation. Today you can find good interlinear translations on-line, but there are also hard copy interlinear translations of the Bible you can purchase.
The Greek word translated as woman is Gynai. Our word gynecology comes from the Greek word Gynai. Gynai really does mean (pause) woman. No wiggle room here. Jesus calls his mother “woman.” Again, why?
By comparing this text to other scripture texts we find that this is not the only time Jesus refers to his mother as “woman.” He does that once more—at the end of the book of John. In John 19, Jesus is on the cross, and his mother and his disciples are down below looking up at him. He says to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Heart-breaking scene, yet even here Jesus does not recognize the family connection. Odd.
So this is what I know. John is the only book that records Jesus using the term “Woman” to refer to his mother. Many commentators believe that the author of the book of John, uses “Woman” instead of “Mother,” or “Mom,” as a way of demonstrating Jesus’ otherworldliness. Jesus does not belong to a mother, or to a specific family. John is making the point that from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is the son of man, or maybe better the offspring of God, and a brother to us all.
We could mention other things about this text—we have a suspicion that Jesus knows his future, right? He says to Mary, “My hour has not yet come.” He intimates that he knows when his hour WILL come. The author of John definitely believes that Jesus knew from the beginning of his ministry how it would all end. Other gospel writers aren’t so sure.
And finally, maybe you noticed that there are a lot of numbers in this text, third day, six wine jugs, 20 to 30 gallons, first sign. Believe me when I tell you that a lot of scholars have tried to decode the numbers in this text. I could spend an entire sermon talking about that. But I won’t, mainly because I don’t think it is all that important. What IS important is the miracle.
Jesus changes water to wine, a lot of wine. And the stewards, who know their wines, are impressed by its quality.
It’s a big deal, and yet it’s not, right? If at our Christmas party at the Grove House, we had run out of wine, and then someone had presto changeo, filled up empty wine bottles with more wine, even better wine, what would it really matter? I mean there would be gossip here at the church, and maybe in Scottsville. Might make the Daily Progress, but wars would still rage, there would still be hunger in Syria. Seems like a waste of a miracle, right?
And yet it DOES matter on another level, doesn’t it? Jesus has given us a sign--a sign or a vision of God’s kingdom which was right there among the partiers then, and which is right here among us now.
What he did is really is huge for those who are wanting to understand the nature of God—which is most people, I think, whether they admit it or not. We are told on the news, by our governments, by business-- we don’t have enough money for all people to receive decent health care, or an education, or food to eat. If we are not careful we actually come to believe those lies. And they are lies, because we know that God’s grace is abundant. God doesn’t hold back. If there is scarcity, it’s because humans have mal-distributed God’s gifts. But God is generous in the extreme.
Jesus turns water into wine. Jesus pokes a pin hole in the veil of lies that are obscuring their and our vision of the kingdom. In that moment when we are privy to what Jesus has done, we are aware of God’s abundance. You poke enough holes in that veil and eventually, no more veil.
I wanted to circle back around for a close to this sermon. Remember our steps to reading scripture? One of those steps, the last step actually, was “Compare the text to other scripture passages.”
There is another story in scripture about water being turned into something else. Remember? The Hebrews are in slavery, and God elects Moses to liberate them. When Pharaoh will not release the Hebrews, Moses raises his staff over the Nile River and he turn water into (pause) blood. It was in fact, God’s sign to the Hebrew people, God’s FIRST sign of God’s liberation followed by the plague of frogs and all the rest.
Water to Blood; Water to wine. There is symmetry in that, definitely. Moses leads his people out of bondage in Egypt—to freedom in a new land, the Promised Land; Jesus turns water into wine, and symbolically frees people from the myth of scarcity to a new kingdom, God’s kingdom of abundant living. Believe it, it is true! Amen