Yesterday on my morning commute, I listened to an episode of The Bible For Normal People. This podcast has provided me a way to regularly engage a question I’ve been exploring for many years. Pete and Jared pose it this way: What is the Bible? And what do we do with it? The episode’s topic was “Reading the Bible Through the Lens of Love” featuring Jonathan Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Professor of Religion and Society at Harvard.
Walton advocates for “responsible biblical interpretation… trying to use Scripture to heal broken hearts, to heal communities, to speak to injustice and evil.” Pete sums it up so eloquently – “Reading the Bible in ways that humanize other human beings… something that promotes love.” Jared points out that Walton draws his idea of love from the biblical texts – “Love that is rooted in the justice passages of the prophets and Jesus.”
When asked for an example of “source material” for his “lens of love,” Walton turned to the parable of the Good Samaritan. In a way I had not before, I imagined myself as the “man [who] was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30).
“My neighbor is the one who is able to, when I have been beseiged by thieves along life’s Jericho road… It may be someone from my neighborhood who comes by and keeps on walking. It may be someone of the same racial identity. It may be someone of the same sexual orientation who walks by. But if they all keep walking along, concerned about ‘What will happen to me if I stop to help him?’ then they are not my neighbor. My neighbor is that person, regardless of the differences between us… who stops and says first, ‘What will happen to him if I do not help him?’ And that is what this lens of love I’m taking about, this is that ethic of love. Leading with that, leading with the question ‘What do I owe this person as a child of God?'”
I’ve always read that story to challenge myself to be a neighbor. Will I be the insider who walks by to preserve my own position? Or will I model myself after the outsider who risks himself to demonstrate love? This time I imagined myself laying on the side of the road, beaten and left on the margins. I imagined myself, but it was clear I was imagining the LGBTQ community in general. There I am, watching good religious people walk by. Surely these people with the “right” theology I’ve heard preached time and time again about love, peacemaking and justice, about gender equality and inclusion, will stop for me. They will interrupt their important work, their good deeds and pick me up out of the dirt. They will disrupt their comfort and risk their privilege and reputation to tend to my wounds. Surely they won’t leave me to die. Surely, they won’t leave us to die. But they do walk by, they do avert their gaze, they do rush off to their religious jobs, their missions and ministry, and they leave us there. After all, what if stopping to tend to our wounds means those thieves will come back and beat them and leave them for dead? After all, what if stopping to tend our wounds means being deemed contaminated and having to join our exclusion? Isn’t it better they sacrifice us to preserve themselves?
June is pride month. Pride marches and parades and other celebrations are happening all around us. I’m seeing so many different reactions to these pride events as I browse social media. There are plenty of those who would gladly walk by us on the side of the road ridiculing our beaten and left-for-dead plight. There are plenty of those who would pity us, yet walk by for reasons of fear or discomfort or self-preservation. There are also those who would be moved with compassion, kneel down before us, bandage our wounds, bring us to a safe place, and generously give the resources necessary for our healing.
When we read the Bible, the lens through which we interpret it shapes the way we allow it to shape our lives. Do we use scripture to heal, to speak to injustice and evil? Do we read through the lens of love? Do our families, churches and communities bear the fruit of reconciliation and human flourishing? Yes? For whom? Is our healing and justice work and love and reconciliation and flourishing actually inclusive? Are we brave enough to be honest about the casualties suffered by those on the margins – the ones we pass by, the ones we scapegoat, the ones we deem too costly to love?
May the life of Jesus, the one who shared this story to demonstrate what it means to “love your neighbor,” inspire us to more expansive and bold love. Because love is the way toward all things being made new. Love is the good news.