Inhabiting a Word

Once the Rabbi Eliezer was teaching his disciples how they should read scripture. “If a man really wants to understand a word in scripture,” he said, “he has to enter into it with his whole being.”

This confused the disciples so that one of them asked, “Teacher, is it not impossible for a grown man to enter into a small word?”

The Rabbi Eliezer smiled and his voice grew quiet. “I did not speak about men who think they are bigger than words.”

According to the ninth chapter of Proverbs, “The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” “Fear of The Lord” is a phrase in the Hebrew Scriptures that means something like “humility before God.” The way of wisdom begins with the acknowledgement that God is greater than we are and that His word is greater than we are. Rabbi Eliezer, in this wonderful little story from the Babylonian Talmud, is reminding his students that they must search scripture in a posture of humility. They must be willing to not see themselves as the consumers but the consumed. Liberals and conservatives, allegorists and literalists, are all guilty of bending and contorting scripture to fit their own desires and agendas rather than bending their desires and agendas to fit scripture. When we come to scripture with preconceived notions and search out those verses that agree with us, then we see ourselves as giants towering over the book. How foolish. Do we not know that God made us small enough to inhabit a word?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Where is Paradise?

A man was fast asleep when he was awakened by the soft heavenly glow of the Angel Gabriel. After the man was convinced that he was truly awake and not dreaming, Gabriel said to him: “I have come to you from the Lord of Hosts! What would you ask of Him? Inquire anything and you shall know!”

The man gave this a moment’s thought and then said, “All my life I’ve wanted to know the location of Paradise so that I may go there someday.”

The Angel took the man by the hand and they flew out the window, zig zagging around stars until finally landing outside in a modest looking garden. “Is this paradise?” the man asked.

Gabriel took the man by the hand and lead him to a small house and brought him inside. There they saw a few old men drinking coffee and studying the scriptures. “This,” said Gabriel, “is Paradise!” The man looked around confused.

Gabriel smiled. “I know why you are puzzled… see, you were under the impression that the saints are in Paradise while all this time Paradise has been in the Saints.”

This old Jewish legend teaches something very profound. While we do believe in the hope of Resurrection as Christians, we must not lose sight of the fact that eternal life begins in the here and now. Whenever we gather with one another to search scripture and pray, we are creating a little piece of paradise in our hearts where God can begin to dwell. A far better teacher than I once said “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am with them.” God calls us into loving community where the most ordinary of tasks, through his grace, is transformed into heavenly light.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…