Living Interpretations (Jan – Feb 1994)

By Matt Dabbs

by Mike Cope
January – February, 1994

23Finally! A chance to sit! Robert’s day had begun when “the enemy” (a.k.a., the alarm clock) started screaming, “It’s 5:45, you sluggard! Get out of bed!” And it had been a screamer of a day ever since. For some reason, Robert’s boss seemed to think that someone needed to fill the potholes on this wonderful new information highway people kept talking about. So, guess who was now the Assistant-Manager-in-Charge-of-Fixing-Potholes?

Anyway, the normally hard church pew felt like an old Lazyboy recliner this Wednesday night. At first, the thought of tacking a night at church onto his frantic day wasn’t very appealing. But, hey, at least no one could reach him by phone.

His mind was treading water for a while as everyone else swam. He suddenly realized he’d been in a coma through the announcements, the opening prayer, and the first three songs. But now it was time to focus. The special guest speaker was supposed to address something of grave concern: a new hermeneutic that was invading the church.

Robert’s first question was, “What is a hermeneutic?” His second question was, “What was the old hermeneutic?” But the fervent minister was getting to that. Some lame joke about “Herman Who?” followed by the three-fold hermeneutic: command, necessary example, and inference. Or was it command, example, and necessary inference? “What’s an unnecessary inference?” Robert wondered.

Despite his best effort to knuckle down and follow the fiery darts that were being launched, it wasn’t long before Robert’s thoughts were diverted. The last thing he’d heard the preacher say was that he was really talking about interpreting the Bible.

With his mind now floating free, Robert remembered how his father used to quote Mark Twain: “It isn’t the part of the Bible I don’t understand that bothers me. It’s the part I do understand.” And as the arcane lesson droned on and one, he started noticing how much clearer the Bible became as he looked around the auditorium.

Off his right shoulder, a couple of rows behind, he could see the Johnstons. Not two of them. But three—as usual. This godly couple, surely now in their sixties, had shown a lifetime of love to their son who had been born in 1955 with Down Syndrome. When Donnie was born, there wasn’t much support for families with children who are retarded. The Johnstons had endured years of gaping stares; they had watched their savings account slowly dwindle; they had forfeited things like new cars and vacations. But they had their son! And the amazing thing was, they always seemed (at least on good days!) to consider themselves the beneficiaries of a great gift rather than the butt of a bad joke.

Robert recalled the passages in the New Testament that said to “practice hospitality.” One of them said something about receiving strangers who might be angels. As he looked again at the Johnstons, he thought how they provided the hermeneutic he needed: a living interpretation of Scripture.

Then his eyes moved to the “perfect family,” the Hodgkins. They always looked like they’d stepped out of the latest Dillard’s catalog. They’re the kind of family you could easily hate: good-looking, wealthy, and children who starred on ball teams, helped older widows cross streets, and stayed on the honor rolls (producing those infuriating ‘MY CHILD IS AN HONOR STUDENT AT YO-YO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL” bumper stickers!).

But on the other hand, he didn’t hate the Hodgkins at all. He had deep admiration for them. They were genuine. They didn’t think of themselves as a cut above everyone else. In fact, they gave up a part of every Saturday to work in the church’s food and clothing pantry. Robert remembered seeing them assist the people who asked for help. They—the whole family!–had a marvelous way of doing it so that no one was demeaned in the process.

He had learned of their love that was demonstrated in giving time and resources for children who either had no parents or had been removed from abusive homes. Robert had also noticed that any time he passed their house, it looked like the official gathering place for kids from all over town.

What was that passage in James? “Pure religion is taking care of widows and orphans in their afflictions.” Robert realized he didn’t need a better hermeneutic. The Hodgkins were his hermeneutic. They were the ones who had properly interpreted the passage for him.

Then he noticed Katie. She was the member of their church whom he would vote “Most Deserving of Resentment.” She and her husband had divorced about a year ago because of different interests: She liked Kenny G playing in the background during a quiet, romantic dinner, and he liked her (former) best friend, who lived two blocks away.

Now Katie was just trying to get by. She was lonely, obviously. But on top of the hurt and loneliness was exhaustion. She was trying to be Superwoman who worked 12 hour shifts as a physical therapist at the children’s hospital and then returned home to her own two children. As time rolled on, the kids’ father saw them less and less often—after all, his new wife was having a new baby—so they needed Katie’s attention even more. And the medical bills for her son’s cystic fibrosis kept piling up. At least she didn’t have to pay for a physical therapist!

But amazingly, Robert mused, Katie had managed to turn her resentment over to God. She still hurt—terribly. But she had made the decision not to live in bitterness. What new or old hermeneutic could ever interpret Jesus’ command to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” like Katie’s living example? She was a commentary in 3-D.

Eventually, the familiar words “as we stand and sing” snapped Robert out of his trance. He stood and began singing, “O do not let the word depart, and close thine eyes against the light…” But even as he sang, he thought about how much light was already around him: the light of God’s Scripture was being interpreted for him by these people who had been captured by God’s love. Interpretation surely centers on love, he thought—love for God and love for others.

“Is that the old hermeneutic or the new hermeneutic?” he wondered. Unfortunately, he hadn’t paid enough attention to know. He chuckled to himself that he had been trying to be a living interpretation of Paul’s command “Wake up, O Sleeper.”

Mike Cope

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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