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…

Nathan’s Parable


After King David had slept with Uriah the Hittite’s wife, Bathsheba, and impregnated her, he arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle so that he could take Bathsheba as his own. This angered God greatly. So He sent the prophet Nathan to confront the King.

Nathan feared for his life. What if the King decided to kill Nathan right then and there to keep the rumor of his sin from spreading? It was not uncommon for powerful men to kill those that brought them terrible news. Still, God had sent Nathan to rebuke King David and he resolved to be faithful to his call. Nathan devised a creative way to confront the King. While David was sitting on his throne, judging the people and arbitrating their disputes, Nathan came forward and brought him a case:

“O King, in one of your towns lives two men. One of those men is quite wealthy and the other is vey poor. The wealthy was blessed with hundreds of sheep and cattle but the poor man had nothing but a little lamb he bought at the market place. The poor man loved this lamb. It grew up in his house alongside his children. He fed it with food and drink from his very own table. Often times the little lamb even slept in his arms.

O King, one day a traveler came to this town and, as it is custom, the rich man invited him in and offered him a meal. Only, the rich man refused to slaughter any of his own sheep for the meal. Instead, he took the little lamb belonging to the poor man, without his knowledge or consent, and slaughtered it to feed to traveler.”

King David was enraged when he heard this. 

“As surely as the LORD lives, this man must die! Bring him to me and he will be forced to pay for that lamb four times over for doing such a cruel and merciless thing!”

Then Nathan stood up straight and his eyes flashed as with the fire of God. He pointed at King David and said, “You are the man!” 

Nathan then told the shocked King how he had offended God and he laid out the severe consequences that would result. Rather than getting angry or defensive, David simply bowed his head and said, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

It is a difficult thing to speak the truth to power. So difficult that many stomach injustice rather than standing up for what is right. This story from the Hebrew Bible demonstrates the profound effect a little bravery can have. Nathan used the power of story to tug at the heart of his King so that he could see the error of his ways. Jesus, too used story to show the powerful their folly. He also challenged them directly. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus have a responsibility to stand up to the powerful when they wield it to hurt others. Sometimes this means being straight forward. Other times it may take a more creative approach. Through art, we can hold a mirror up to the face of the powerful and let them see just who they are and what they are doing. As Hamlet says: “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Child’s Drawing


There was a kindergarten teacher who made a habit of giving her class free time to draw. She felt this encouraged her students to use their imaginations. She made a practice of going around the room and asking the kids about what they were working on. On this particular day, one of her students had a very serious expression on her face as she drew. The teacher could tell she was drawing something that meant a lot to her. When she came around to the little girl’s table, she asked her what she was drawing.

The little girl looked up, smiling, and said, “I’m drawing God!”

The teacher was a little surprised. “No one knows what God looks like…,”she reminded the little girl.

The girl, not looking up from her intense art session, replied, “That’s because I’m not finished yet.”

Of course God is unseen. He is bigger than our human categories. How do we present a picture of this God to others? For Jesus, the answer had to do with the way we live our lives. Christ lived his life in such a way that the character and nature of God was unmistakable and he challenged his disciples to do the same. “Be therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” Being made in God’s image gives us the responsibility of bearing that image to others. As disciples, we are called to live in such a way that people come to see God in us that through the power of the Spirit we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ each day. Being perfect as God is perfect- a tall order to say the least! You may think it impossible but I, for one, am not finished yet.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…