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Lectionary Reflection for February 9th 2014: Unlearning

Lectionary Reflection for February 9th 2014: Unlearning

These readings from the scripture were all used against William Wilberforceslaves in our Parliament to justify the continuation of the slave trade.

Genesis 9:25:  When Noah woke up with his hangover, he learned what his youngest son had done. He said, Cursed be Canaan! A slave of slaves a slave to his brothers!  Blessed be God, the God of Shem, but Canaan shall be his slave.  God prosper Japheth,  living spaciously in the tents of Shem.  But Canaan shall be his slave”.

Leviticus 25:4-46:  You may also purchase the children of foreigners… You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.

Numbers 31: 7-18:  Moses was furious with the army officers, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, as they came back from the battlefield:  “What’s this! You’ve let these women live! …Finish your job: kill all the boys.  Kill every woman who has slept with a man.  The younger women who are virgins you can keep alive for yourselves.

Ephesians 6:5:  Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”

Titus 2:9:  “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect”

There are several quotes from Jesus’ ministry, for instance: Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7:14-23:  where Jesus insists that we look again at Scripture to extract what is really important.  In this case, the disciples had to relearn about Jewish Food Laws to determine how these laws should influence their lives.  We take this glimpse of the life of Jesus as guidance about our own thinking.

My respect for my father grows with every year that passes. When he was not driving lorries to earn our bread he was a widely read preacher and astronomer. I still have his telescope. I learned so much from him. I remember him explaining to me towards the end of the 1950s in some detail why it was impossible ever to put a man into orbit round the earth. He was wrong. He was thinking in a different age. He could not see the future.  This does not diminish my respect for him in any way.

My respect for my father in law grows with every year that passes. I learned so much from him. He spent most of his life teaching geography, getting boys into Oxford to study the subject. He was teaching continental drift before it was in most university syllabuses. I remember him explaining to me towards the end of the 1970s in some detail why it was impossible ever to pollute the oceans. He was wrong. He was thinking in a different age. He could not see the future.  This does not diminish my respect for him in any way.

I have made so many mistakes in my life that I frequently overcome by shame. They have usually been mistakes that arose from applying insufficient love to a problem. One I can share with you is that for the first thirty years of my teaching career I opposed the teaching of typing because we were all going to be using voice recognition in 5 years. Five years came and went so often that I learned to touch-type at the age of fifty.

The Bible passages at the top of this blog  were all used to justify the continuation of the slave trade in our parliament leading up to 1807.  The people who used these arguments, based on scripture, were not bad people but they confused what they perceived to be the will of God with their own self-interest; much as some do today in respect of limiting carbon emissions to reduce climate change for our grandchildren. These readings are promoting values in opposition to what we know of the life and teaching of Jesus. In that respect we would call them wrong, misleading, un-Christian.

The presence of these passages in the Bible written by people thinking in a different age, who could not see into the future, who were guilty only of applying insufficient love to the problems that faced them, does not diminish our respect for the Bible. They don’t prevent us learning from its pages.

One of the reasons I am so proud to be a member of our church is the frequency with which I find other members telling me that the will of God for them is to: build a school in West Africa, or to stimulate employment prospect for the poor of Nepal, or to support grandparents looking after AIDS orphans in in Durban. None of these projects is going to make our members financially rich but rich in Jesus-shaped love. They would all be quite capable of finding scripture to support doing nothing about these situations. They don’t.

Remember the anger of Jesus at people who did not allow love, or even common sense to help them interpret scripture. Jesus-shaped people have to be ready to change their cherished views in the light of love.  Our task, in becoming more Jesus-shaped, is to make sure that every conversation, every action, every spending decision, increases the amount of love in the world rather than diminishes it.

About the Author:

Mervyn has worked as an engineer, as a teacher and headteacher in comprehensive schools, as a university lecturer and latterly as a dry-stone waller, and lay pastor of the church. He also serves as Eco Officer. His hobbies include walking and he leads holidays in Italy and here in the UK, especially holidays for families. He has been a local preacher in the Methodist Church for fifty years and has been riding motorbikes for slightly longer. He is married to the girl of his dreams and has several children and grandchildren of whom he is inordinately proud.

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