Interpret This!

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S (Scripture): Exodus 21:20 When a slave owner hits a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner should be punished. 21 But if the slave gets up after a day or two, the slave owner shouldn’t be punished because the slave is the owner’s property.

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges. 23 If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, 24 an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, 25 a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound.

O (Observation): God’s people have just received the 10 Commandments and are still living into life as freed people – freed from Egyptian enslavement, yet they still have slavery within their own system.

These words are a shock to the modern hearer. Slavery has long been outlawed in our modern time, but in the time this text was written, slavery was a reality. If you owed someone, you were in their debt and had to work off the debt.

As a slave, you were property.

In regards to “eye for an eye,” it seems that the words here are meant for restricting punishment, rather than “getting even” with someone. In other words, let the punishment not exceed the harm done.

In both cases, I wish to lift up the importance of seeing the Scriptures through the eyes of Jesus. I could take these scriptures and support getting even with our neighbor and I could twist the words to justify slavery. Yet…as a follower of Jesus, I cannot accept those interpretations.

As one who follows the ways of Jesus, I look at the Scriptures through the “lens” of Jesus – his words and actions.

Instead of enslavement, he wishes folks would be set free and forgiven of their debts. Instead of getting even, Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek.”

A (Application): How we interpret Scripture is very important and has led to major schisms within the Church. To those outside the Church…perhaps they see hypocrisy amid the actions of those inside the Church.

What lens are we using to interpret scripture? We all come to the Scriptures with some kind of pre-conceived notions of what we are reading. Do I read Exodus in the same way I read the Gospels…and the Psalms?

One of my notions is to read the Scriptures (all of it) through the lens of “Jesus.” What does that mean? Any interpretation that counters the words and actions of Jesus is no longer a valid interpretation FOR OUR TIME. What if Jesus was silent on a subject? I do my best (along with the Church) to interpret the reading as Jesus might have.

Basically, we cannot simply “forget Jesus” in our interpretation of any Scriptures (even those that come after Jesus in time).

We forget this important step all the time: look at the readings through the lens of Jesus. We think that simply because we read it from the Bible, it must be able to be lifted cleanly and without interpretation.

Some suggestions: don’t ONLY read the Scriptures alone. Personal reflection is great, don’t get me wrong…just be sure to include others in your discernment from time to time…or attend worship where others are helping to interpret the scriptures. And if you’ve spent enough time reading up on devotions and other people’s reflections on the scriptures, you are certainly not reading “alone,” for you are carrying the thoughts of others with you as you read.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see clearly your words in the Scriptures. Amen.

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