What is True?
LeAnn Snow Flesher
Dr. Flesher, Ph.D., is Vice President of Academics and Dean of the Faculty at Berkeley School of Theology.
The hard road is the one that requires us to patiently listen to one another, to show respect and consideration for those that believe differently from ourselves.
It is no secret that the US is experiencing a significant political schism. It is also clear that the schism flows along religious and theological veins. Christianity in the US is not monolithic. The US Christian community has very different ideas concerning the critical issues of our day. Yet, we are all reading and quoting from the same sacred text. How is this possible?
Each of us reads the biblical text through our own set of pre-understandings and pre-suppositions.
It is impossible to have grown up in the US and not been impacted by Christian ideas. Whether we are an agnostic, atheist, None, marginal church attender or regular church attendee, or even from a different religious community, we have been impacted by Christian messages we have heard at home, school, through our music, in the political arena, in the media, etc. We all come to the biblical text with our pre-understandings and pre-suppositions intact.
This means that we are reading the Bible through a particular lens or set of lenses that significantly influence our interpretations of the text. Thus, two people that hold two very different ideological perspectives may draw very different conclusions from reading the same biblical passage. Or, individuals with differing ideologies might choose to focus on various sections of the Bible – chapters and verses that support their beliefs on a subject of ethical and moral import.
One could suggest the Pharisees understood the principles of interpretation described above when they gathered to test Jesus, hoping to trick him, by asking him, “which is the greatest commandment?” in Matthew 22:36. Jesus replied by quoting scripture to them “You shall love the Lord our God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Deut 6:5) And then went on to say, “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19:18) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” (Mtt 22:37-40)
When I was a child, I heard the golden rule often quoted “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Mtt 7:12) These Matthean texts (7:12 & 22:36-40) became my guiding star, i.e., the lens through which I read the entire Bible and simultaneously, the lens through which I make decisions related to moral and ethical issues.
In Matthew 7:13-14, the gospel writer goes on to say, “Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Many quote Mtt 7:13-14 and interpret these verses as a call to rigid legalism – the necessity to follow a stringent set of rules as determined by themselves or some ecclesial authority. Typically, those that follow this path are quick to condemn those that do not adhere to the rules that they have deemed essential.
Yet, the call to enter the narrow gate and follow the hard road that leads to life follows immediately after the Golden Rule, suggesting that the Golden Rule is the hard road that leads to life, not some set of ecclesial rules created by clerical authorities.
Matthew is fond of summarizing the great truths by stating, “on these commandments hang the law and the prophets.” Thus, diverting attention away from the trees (i.e., specific and specialized laws) and on to the forest (the broad general call to love). It is far easier to condemn and, consequently, shut out those that believe differently than we do.
The hard road is the one that requires us to patiently listen to one another, to show respect and consideration for those that believe differently from ourselves. And to humble ourselves enough to think we might learn from one another and, as a result, enter into a broader, better way of being.
What is true?
It is more challenging to love the neighbor who thinks differently from despising him/her. What are we called to do? Love God, love neighbor, and treat the Other as we would wish to be treated. Let’s enter post-election 2020 through the narrow gate and travel the hard road.
Let’s run our conflicting political and ideological agendas through the lens of love and begin the hard work of creating communities of hope, justice, and reconciliation in our nation. Who knows? We might even start to like that neighbor that looks and thinks so differently than ourselves.