LENTEN DEVOTION for Friday March 24



There is much I think I know, O God, teach me the value of unknowing.



One day, some elders came to see Abba Anthony. Among them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, Abba Anthony suggested a text from the Scriptures. Beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave an opinion, as he was able. But to each one the old man said: "You have not understood it." Last of all, he said to Abba Joseph: "How would you explain this saying?" Joseph replied: "I do not know." Then Abba Anthony said: "Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way. For he has said: 'I do not know.'"

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9) 


The Bible is a weapon. At least it is for those who pick it apart, isolate passages and use them as ammunition in a debate. Many American Christians, thinking they understand the "literal meaning" of a Bible verse will try to use it to attack and win. But really, these people only know what they already think and use the Bible to bolster what they believe. But the Bible is not supposed to be a weapon. If anything, the Bible invites us to set aside what we think we know. Even if we've heard the story hundreds of times, we ought to approach the Bible without trying to confirm what we already think and believe. Many people think it's a problem that they don't understand Scripture. Abba Anthony says that this is the best place to be.

Ancient Christians taught that there were different levels of understanding Scripture. At each level, the reader confesses that he or she does not yet know what the passage means. The first level is the literal or historical meaning. The reader asks, "What does this passage mean plainly or in its historical context?" This is the lowest, most basic reading. The next level examines the words, wondering what they signify. For example, when Jesus enters Jerusalem in his last days, Mark says he rides a "colt" into the city. A "colt" is a rather ordinary creature to ride in a royal procession. Kings often ride impressive horses in processions. This might symbolize Jesus' humility. The next level of reading is the spiritual reading. The reader asks, "What is this text saying to me, right now?" If we continue with Mark's account of Jesus entering Jerusalem, maybe the passage is saying something about the kind of ruler Jesus is. If Jesus is a humble leader, where and how is he leading me now? Any scriptural text can have a multitude of meanings.

The Bible is not a book to understand and used for our purposes. The Bible is a book that leads us to increasing understanding. At every step, we confess with curiosity, "I don't know."


God of wisdom, lead me into new understanding. What do I need to un-know and know this day? 

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