If “Location, Location, Location” is a critical determinant in the assessment of value in real estate, “Context, Context, Context” is an essential ingredient for our reading and understanding Bible stories and gaining valuable insight in trying to live a Christian life now in the twenty-first century. In some ways the idea of our home as the structure in which we live offers a great metaphor for the idea that the Bible is also a kind of home place for us as Christians.
I reflected a long time ago on how we try to get to know each other when we first meet: the kind of questions we either ask or, more usually, really want to ask in getting to know someone. Whatever our ages the questions seem to revolve around current geographic location/home (where), history (background like work, school, interests, hobbies, sports), relationships (spouse, kids, family, friends). After a while we tend to move into narratives, maybe a couple of stories here and there, maybe something that happened recently or is expected/hoped for. This tends to happen on a surface level, then move to a bit deeper, broader level as relationship develops.
Storytelling and story listening have always been important. Stories are how we get to know each other. They also help us get to know ourselves. Stories always present out of a certain “lens” which is shaped in part by the contexts within which the story is told. Today, the popular word for this lens is “worldview.” Information about the worldview of a story (and the worldview of the story teller) helps us enter the story and engage with it. As we begin to relate to the story, find connections between the story and our story, the story may open us to new insights about living life.
On Sunday, September 9th in church I introduced the idea of exploring a Biblical story by considering its contexts: geographic, historic, socio-cultural/relational and its location within the overall narrative. I hope those of you present found this approach to be engaging as we dealt with the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman confronting Jesus about healing her demon possessed little girl. Did it surprise you, as it did me, when Jesus first rejects her plea, then seems to change his mind?
This past Sunday we again talked about context when Jesus tells the disciples and the surrounding crowd of “wanna’ be” followers: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Looking at the image of “cross” through the eyes of early first century folk living with the Roman approach of dealing with those challenging authority and the status quo certainly challenges us today in our trying to follow Christ. And, then our question for the week that evolved out of examining the “what then” of that story as it poses a “what’s now” for us two thousand years later gives us something to think about this week: “When does our Christian identity (as a Christ follower) take you and me out of our comfort zone?” because it sure did big time for “wanna be” disciples and followers in the first century.
In our upcoming Bible Study series we’ll put on our “context” lenses as we explore the Bible as a living document in which the stories that ground us in our faith tradition become alive in relevance for life today. It’s really a multi-disciplinary adventure as our study connects us with other “disciplines” such as history, psychology, sociology, geography. We’ll find ourselves considering such contemporarily relevant ideas as leadership theory, family systems concepts, organizational dynamics, international relations, etc., etc. I hope you will seriously consider being part of this adventure. But, be assured that we’ll continue to focus on this contextual approach to the stories of our faith on Sunday mornings. So, let’s sharpen our sight, open our hearts and minds and see what’s waiting to be discovered in this amazing narrative we know as the Bible. After all, it is the context of life if we wanna’ be Christians.