In slightly random news, after nearly 4 years of my begging/pestering/pleading/asking nicely, the college students have consented to forming a Canterbury Bible Discussion Group. This has led to many tangents, interesting theories, and my having to re-learn Greek verb tenses.
It also led to this sermon.
October 28, 2012
Ordinary Time, Proper 25
Mark 10: 42-56
There was a Seinfeld episode that revolved around the idea of conversational ellipses. Not in those words of course. The idea was something Iike Jerry told a story, and to skip the boring part, he’d say, “Yadayada yada.” And continue on. Just to make it shorter. But problems arose when the rest of the gang adopted the habit. George and Elaine didn’t understand the boundaries of the yadayada’ing, and they employed it over some really important details–I took the car out yesterday and yada yada yada, the repairs will cost $5,000.
Hijinks inevitably ensued. And the phrase yadayada was deployed into the American lexicon.
Mark, the gospel writer, however, has no such stock phrase. And so, there’s this weird thing that happens in the first sentence of today’s gospel reading. “They went to Jericho. Period. Then, upon leaving Jericho, …”
Gap! Big gap. No hint or clue about whatever the heck happened in Jericho, or why they’re hanging out there in the first place. Which is odd for Mark, since his is such a spare gospel. No word out of place, nothing extra. Just this weird hole in the text.
Biblical scholars call this a lacuna–a hole in the manuscript. Reams and reams of scholarly work have been done on what’s missing at this part. Something an ancient monk objected too? Something that got left out by mistake? We don’t know. Whatever it was, it’s gone. And all we have is the hole that’s left. Yadayada yada.
There are actually a lot of places in the biblical text where there are these gaps, but they are less noticeable. The book of Job has quite a few places where we have no idea what the Hebrew means. Not because there’s a gap, but because whoever the author was, decided to break all the rules of Scrabble, and invent new words. Words that appear nowhere else in any ancient Hebrew text, but bam! There they are. Because of context, because of linguistic structure, we can take a swinging guess at what they mean, but know for sure?
When I studied Hebrew in college, there was a student in my class who was all excited to finally read the Bible in the original language. He was convinced that now he would really know the singular truth, the REAL TRUTH of the Bible. He was really not happy, then, when our first assignment was Exodus 3– God reveals himself in the burning bush, and the professor blithely broke the news to us that God’s announcement to Moses ‘I am who I am’ can’t be translated. Because the Hebrew doesn’t have firm verb tenses. Or punctuation. Or vowels.
He was furious. He thought it was a trick. And he dropped the class.
For some, the idea that we are sent ‘yadayada’ ing through the Bible might be destabilizing. This is the book upon which we base our faith! We lean on this thing! If there are holes in it, or we don’t know what the words mean for sure, then what is left to rely on? How will we know what to believe?
It’s worth remembering that as helpful as the Bible is, we don’t worship the Bible. Or rather, we shouldn’t worship the Bible– we worship God, and God, while very powerful and capable of anything, isn’t the Bible. If you find yourself confusing the two, you’re doing it wrong.
God inspired the Bible, but what God inspired was people. A bunch of people who were as enmeshed in their cultures and their biases and their histories and their issues as we are. And those people took their Spirit-driven inspiration and wrote stuff, and then other people, also inspired, edited it, so still other people could read it.
So what we are left with is a record, not of God’s little instruction book on how to live in 2012, but a record of generations upon generations of faithful people struggling with how to live faithfully in varying circumstances. Sometimes they got it right. Sometimes they got it wrong. But they tried, and each time, they left an example for the generations to come, to either emulate, or avoid emulating.
And sometimes, they left a blank. Sometimes, they left a gap. A made up word, or a textual hole. Sometimes we don’t know what anyone was doing.
Those places, those gaps are reminders to us that we have a role to play. We need to fill in the gaps ourselves. That we can’t rely on any 2000 year old book to answer all our questions about a constantly living, constantly complicated God for us, that we need to keep struggling to live faithfully right now. The Bible is sacred, not because it holds all the answers to every question ever asked, and not because it’s verbally inerrant. It’s sacred because it’s here that we can let our story, and our struggle to be faithful intersect with the stories of those who have gone before.
So I have no idea what happened in Jericho 2,000 years ago. And chances are, I’m not likely to find out. But what I do know is what happens in our communities, and in our lives. What happens in your life, and moves you onward, on the road, to someplace new? What causes you to ask Jesus for something? What makes you jump up, and change your life?
Those things, that’s what’s important. Because that’s where God still speaks to us. Even through the gaps. And that’s what we hold on to.