I am reading Tim Costello’s new book ‘Faith’ during morning prayers. It is a great book in the tradition of those collections of ‘readings for each day.’ One story he tells is of a Lebanese Christian man, Milak, who is supporting refugees in his home and business. The refugees are Syrian, and Muslim.
Tim tells the story of how, during this conversation Tim asked Milak about how he lived with the tensions of Christian and Muslims, with different tribal backgrounds, living under the same roof. Milak replied ‘Because they are human and they are vulnerable.’
At that moment, Tim was hit by a thunderbolt. Is this not the story of the Good Samaritan in replay? Tim says ‘we know [that] ethics seem simpler, stronger and clearer when it comes to one of our mob. Yet we are told that the Samaritan, sho had no clues as to who the man was responded compassionately.’ Tim goes on ‘Milak was transcending tribal ethics to include the stranger and was reliving this ancient story.’
The thing that grabbed me about this story was the way in which the Bible came alive for Tim.
There are some Bible interpreters who want to talk about ‘application.’ This means that with any given text, the final question that is asked is “How do we ‘apply’ this text to our lives?” The idea is that the text is ‘outside’ us and like a plaster we are asked to do something with it, to ‘apply’ it to us.
But Tim’s story is not like that. The connection between the story and Tim’s own life and the actions of Milak were not ‘applied’ but came like a thunderbolt! This is a different thing altogether. For my money it is a much more authentic way that the Bible becomes Scripture for us.
The first thing that happens is that Tim knows his Bible. The regular reading of the Bible, even when there is no pressing need, or problem to be brought to God for understanding provides us with a treasure house of stories ‘old and new’ that are there, waiting. If I don’t know what is in the Bible, it cannot speak to me.
This is the meaning of Louis Pasteur’s aphorism that ‘chance favours the prepared mind.’ Knowing the Bible is away of ploughing up the ground of our lives for God’s work with us.
But the other thing that Tim is doing that also ploughed the ground of his life was ‘putting himself in God’s way’, as it were. His position in World Vision created the means whereby he went to see what was happening. He did something that allowed him to let the question come to the foreground. More people act themselves into new ways of thinking than think themselves into new ways of acting.
The third thing that happened was that the claims of the people in Milak’s story ‘got in’. How many times do I walk down the street and see the people begging, and close my heart to them by rationalising away the claim on me that the beggar represents?
Rationalisation is the way that we have as humans learned in order to distance ourselves from the claims of others. What is more, governments have learned how to demonise others whom they don’t want to help by calling them names like ‘illegals’ when they are not, in order to provide a ‘rationale’ against letting the pain of others into our lives.
Tim’s story is repeated a million times. St. Francis of Assisi hears a voice ‘rebuild my Church’, so in hearing the claim of god on him, he does not set up a ‘programme of renewal for the Church’ but goes out to the ruins of a church near him, and starts to rebuild that, stone by stone.
While I was in Montreux, the helping of asylum seekers in Switzerland was by no means a forgone ‘good thing to do.’ But having people who are in need, in our congregation, on our doorstep, combined with the reading at the Eucharist every Wednesday “Whoso hath this world’s good and seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”, means that the Bible becomes Scripture. It speaks with authority and changes the situation.
My attitude to Gay people changed the day I discovered myself as a minority in a predominantly gay congregation, and I could see my prejudice, to which being a majority made me blind, for the first time
Last week I wrote about the people who want to defend ‘the Authority of the Bible.’ Well now I think that the Authority of the bible does not need defending. The Bible already has authority. The question for me now is not, ‘How do I defend the authority of the Bible’ but ‘How does the authority that the Bible already has become real for me?
Tim’s story tells me that it is not a matter of ‘application’ but there is an organic process that goes on between reading, remembering, and actions that come together and strike us ‘like a thunderbolt’. All of a sudden we are brought before the face of God. We take off our shoes because we are on holy ground, we go into the cave and cover our faces, we are held in the cleft of the rock because the presence of God is too much to bear, all at once.
These are the moments where the authority of the Bible is expressed.
Here I am with Martin Luther. He says ‘sin boldly, but believe more boldly’ and spoke of faith, not as a possession, or habit, but of the daily living before the face of God.
At one council meeting in a parish where I served, the members expressed the idea that it is better to ‘look after our own’ first. ‘Charity begins at home.’ They said. Well it does, if we would put ourselves in the way of those who need it. But I fear that these statements were rationalisations whose purpose was to defend the council members against the claims of others, at home or abroad.
God comes to those who follow. Those who follow know God. It is the mystery of this circle of revelation that Tim’s story highlights for me. This is the Authority of the Bible.