Never underestimate the power of perspective!
One of the highlights of my week at St. Olaf Parish is our Wednesday Bible study. While our youth attend faith formation, I offer a Bible study to their parents on the readings for the Sunday ahead. The purpose of this study is twofold. Primarily, I want to give my parishioners the opportunity to reflect on God’s word in preparation for the Eucharist. The secondary reason is to get feedback for my homily, ensuring that I speak to the concerns of my flock.
Last Wednesday, we read Mark’s telling of James and John asking Jesus for seats of power. The language of, “Lord, let us sit, one on your left and the other on your right,” rings with the tone of ancient kings. It indicates that Jesus’ disciples didn’t quite grasp the full meaning of what in meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. When Jesus responds with the question, “Are you willing to drink the cup I am willing to drink,” Jesus is using a turn of phrase from the ancient world that basically implies, “Are you willing to do God’s will?” Jesus’ affirmation that they will drink of the same cup as he foreshadows both that James and John will do God’s will, but will also share in the same suffering Christ will endure.
The interesting twist of this Gospel is that Jesus does imply that there will be people who will sit at his left and right. Who will those people be? One of my parishioners, drawing upon the crucifixion narrative of John, said, “It would be John and Mary.” I affirmed that this is a good guess, but we needed to remember that Mary and John are not present at the cross (at least not mentioned) in Mark’s account of the crucifixion.
Mark is stating that the ones to sit at his left and right are the two thieves. In the Gospel of Luke, one of those thieves received a great gift after he begged the Lord, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” with Jesus responding, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” The true power of the Gospel from this past Sunday is that it is not those who seek worldly power that take the positions of honor next to Jesus, but, rather, it is the outcast, the forgotten, the despised, and those, to quote Pope Francis, who represent the margins of society.
The power of perspective. Two different Gospels. Two different insights into who it may be that sits at Jesus’ left and right.
One of the connections between faith and science I’ve reflected on with you in the past is how the different Gospels can be seen as “filters” to view Jesus’ life from a certain perspective. Each Gospel, through its distinct authorship and specific audience, gives us insight into how the followers of Jesus understood his life, death, and resurrection. I find it analogous to how scientists use different types of filters to focus on certain sets of data, revealing a piece of what is true about what is being observed, but also affirming that the filter doesn’t tell the whole story.
In a fun, lighthearted way, I was reminded of the power of perspective through filters by subjecting one of my latest paintings to a series of color filters. These filters are not scientific in their design, but artistic. Still, I found it interesting how each filter highlighted different aspects of my painting. None of them were the original, but the power of perspective each filter gave allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for the work. In an odd way, I appreciated my canvas more after altering its image with filters, even though it wasn’t quite the same as the original painting.
Since some have shared with me that my paintings remind them of the cloud bands on Jupiter, I decided to take some recent Juno images and wash them through the same filters. Is there scientific data to be found in these filters? Probably not. As with my paintings, these filters are meant for more artistic purposes and even if there was scientific knowledge to be gained, my eyes are not trained to see what that knowledge might be. Nevertheless, these filters do speak to me of how beautiful and wondrous Jupiter can be… from a very, very safe distance!
One of the phrases that is used to describe filtered images is to call them “false images.” Yes, the filtered image can look quite different from the original. Yet, when it comes to the science of using filters for the purpose of gathering data, it isn’t the the data is “false,” but the false image brings forward different essential data that isn’t self-evident in the original image. It is the odd irony of science that sometimes you need to have a “false image” to gain true knowledge of what you are studying. The best example of this was a false image from the Pluto flyby that had a rather psychedelic appearance. Everyone knew that this wasn’t what Pluto looked like. However, it was an essential image for scientists to understand different surface feature on this fascinating dwarf planet.
In a similar way, someone can point out inconsistencies between the four Gospels, like Mary and John being at the foot of the cross in the Gospel of John, but not being present in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some may even want to disregard Scripture due to these “glaring” inaccuracies. However, to approach Scripture in such a way would reduce the Bible to something like a newspaper, only interested in the who, what, when, were, and hows of a story with slight commentary on these facts. (I’m very tempted to explore numerous times when news stories of me didn’t get the who, what, when, were, and hows right, making an interpretation of the facts skewed, but we’ll save that for another post.)
Christians committed to Scripture know that this is not how one reads the Bible. Since the earliest days of interpreting the Bible, there was a clear understanding that there are multiple genre’s of literature in the Bible, requiring different interpretive approaches or “filters” to pull out the true meaning of the Bible. When we draw all this information or “data” together from these varied filters, we get a truer vision of who Jesus is and what it means to be Christian. To only dwell on one book of the Bible or one interpretive lens of Scripture makes it monochrome, rejecting the beautiful richness of God’s inspired Word. The Bible is a spiritual kaleidoscope of vibrant contrast, radiant like the most colorful canvases imaginable.
Spiritual Exercise: What are the interpretive lenses or “filters” you use to approach life? Through what filter do you view faith? Through what filter do you view science? Are they filters that set one at odds against the other? Do you use them in a way to help you understand two different approaches to the world we live that can give you a more accurate view of the world? Pray with these questions today, and may all of us, regardless of the “filters” we use to approach life, be inspired by the truth that emerges from the varied ways we approach our world. May we have the courage to explore new perspectives so we can experience the true vibrancy of both the world we live and the God who brought this world into existence.