Sometimes the “insiders” don’t get it, but the “outsiders” do!
When you read Scripture pay attention to how often the “insiders” (i.e. God’s people) don’t get it and how often the “outsiders” do. It reminds me of what Jesus said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9.12).
Here are a few examples …
John 3 and 4 parallel each other. In John 3, Nicodemus (a religious leader, a man), visits Jesus in the middle of the night and has a spiritual conversation with Jesus. But Nicodemus doesn’t get it (at least not immediately). However, in John 4, an unnamed woman (a Samaritan, an outsider), has a conversation with Jesus in the middle of the day. Unlike Nicodemus, though, she gets it! (BTW, the fact that Jesus, a Jewish man, approached a Samaritan woman was scandalous enough!)
Look at the Book of the 12 (i.e. the “Minor Prophets”). As I understand it, 11 books involve God’s prophets (people who get it, in this case) going to God’s people (insiders), but they don’t get it. One book, though, involves God’s prophet (Jonah, who doesn’t get it), going to a foreign nation (outsiders) and they get it!
The Gospels (the four tellings about Jesus in the New Testament) are full of subversive words and actions. Jesus was often criticized by insiders (i.e. religious leaders) for hanging out with outsiders (tax collectors and various other questionable people). Compare that with how Jesus sometimes treated religious leaders, including his actions in clearing the Temple (the last straw that led to Jesus’ arrest and subsequent death).
Many of the stories Jesus told were subversive in nature, too. The story of the Good Samaritan is based on a story where the Samaritan (an outsider) was the hero of the story. A priest and a Temple worker (insiders) were the bad guys.
Jesus once healed a group of lepers after he sent them to the Temple (they were healed on the way). Interestingly (and subversively), the writer notes that only one of the ten men returned to thank Jesus for healing. The only one who returned was the Samaritan (not only an outsider, but a despised outsider at that!).
Another subversive story recorded in Scripture begins this way: “Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else.” The story was about an insider and an outsider both offering prayers to God. Jesus notes, rather subversively, that it was the outsider (the “despised tax collector”) who was accepted by God. Jesus concluded, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” You can read the fascinating story in Luke 18.9-14.
So what does all of this mean?
While I think we must be confident about what we believe, we must also be humble. As a follower of Jesus I believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I believe in absolute truth. But I can never say that I have it all figured out. I like what I’ve heard Leonard Sweet say: “Twenty percent of my theology is wrong. I just don’t know which twenty percent!” 🙂
I also think Christ-followers have to be intentional when reading Scripture. We often read Scripture as if we’re the people who get it. But sometimes (probably more than we’d care to admit) we may be the people who don’t get it. This should lead us to read Scripture with open ears and hearts!