May 12, 2009

Reading Scripture with Understanding

            The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a wondrous account of gospel inclusion.  One who could have no lineage among the people of God is made welcome through the power of the Spirit. It is also an encouragement to “rightly divide the word of truth.”  The faithful god-fearer who had traveled to Jerusalem to worship was on his way back to his homeland, seeking to absorb dimensions of the Jewish narrative of faith through reading the prophet Isaiah.  Prompted by the Spirit, Philip drew near to him and asked him a simple question: “Do you understand what you are reading?”  The Ethiopian responded: “How can I understand Scripture unless someone guides me?”  Beginning with the prophetic description of the sheep led to slaughter, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus, Philip “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).

            We are only three days away from Commencement at Central. My deepest longing for each of our graduates is that they will be able both to pose and to answer Philip’s question: “Do you understand what you are reading?”  The church, as well as the larger community, hungers for persons who can be reliable guides in understanding Scripture.  God continues to speak through the Bible, and thoughtful interpretation allows fresh hearing.  Scripture has power to reveal the expansive compassion of God—witness the conversion of the Ethiopian. Scripture narrates God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, vivified by the empowering Spirit.

            Eugene Peterson in his book Take and Read suggests that we read spiritually not for information but for companionship.  When we understand that we are always accompanied by God’s Spirit and the larger interpretive community, we read with understanding.

                        Molly T. Marshall


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