Often during Advent, I return to reflect on an article Brian Zahnd wrote about a problem he has with the Bible. He says:
I have a problem with the Bible. Here’s my problem…
I’m an ancient Egyptian. I’m a comfortable Babylonian. I’m a Roman in his villa.
That’s my problem. See, I’m trying to read the Bible for all it’s worth, but I’m not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt. I’m not a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.
I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me. This is a problem.
I think he has a point. Perspective is important to be aware of, and we mostly view Scripture through our Western lens. There’s nothing inherently bad with our lens, we miss a lot when we can see outside of it.
But why make this an Advent reflection? Because one of the most revolutionary text occurs in the first chapter of Luke during the narrative of Jesus’ birth. Here, Mary sings her Magnificat:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (51-53)
You can hear the cry for justice, years in its formation. Remember, Mary lives as part of an oppressed people waiting on God’s redemption to rescue them. She first celebrates God’s favor on her and then she shifts her attention to the great reversal where the humble are lifted up in God’s plan and the proud are brought down.
And where do we find ourselves in the story? Be careful, because if we’re too quick to align ourselves with lowly Mary when we’re really much like her oppressors, we’ll miss out on something important. When we assume we’re already like her, we have quite a humiliating journey ahead of us.
So, we have to remember that even one our most cherished narratives has a revolutionary tone to it. And to understand it, we should pay fresh attention like Zahnd would have us do.
I have a problem with the Bible, but all is not lost. I just need to read it standing on my head. I need to change my perspective. If I can accept that the Bible is trying to lift up those who are unlike me, then perhaps I can read the Bible right.