Classes are underway as the spring semester kicks off today. The library is humming as students compete for reserve texts and favored commentaries. While we do more than read at seminary, reading is surely an intensive, focal practice for the formation of ministers. C.S. Lewis is purported to have said: “We read to know we are not alone.” Finding community with others who have penned their struggles with life’s relentless questions somehow makes the tragic more bearable; we are not alone in facing the mystery of our existence. We learn a new grammar for our faith through Scripture as well as those who have reflected on its theological teachings. It is not possible for us to understand fully what we are reading in isolation. Recall Philip’s question to the Ethiopian on the way to Gaza: “Do you understand what you are reading?” He responded: “How can I unless someone guides me?” Central guides learners in their study of sacred texts that they might be reliable guides for others.
Two of the lectionary texts for this week point to the significance of reading in community. Nehemiah 8 narrates the public reading of the law. It was a reading marathon! From morning until midday Ezra the priest read “with interpretation” so that the people understood the reading. The reading accomplished its purpose as the people were drawn to worship the God who had given the law to guide their footsteps. They were reminded that they were a covenant people whom God loved. The Gospel reading recounts Jesus’ visit to his hometown synagogue and his remarkable interpretation of selected readings from Isaiah: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Only in a community that knew and revered the Hebrew Bible could his inspired proclamation have made such an impact.
We dare not read Scripture alone—without the Spirit or without the community that calls to accountability. Scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to fresh listening to texts in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world. Personal devotion is always enlarged by the wisdom of saintly interpreters and the wider community of faith. The Spirit beckons the church to read the Bible through the lens of the paschal rhythms of the life of Jesus, which lead us to resurrection practices of justice and hope.
Molly T. Marshall
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