He’s Been Waiting For Us
(aka “The Exegesis”- A Love Story)
Here at St. John’s, near the beginning of each school year, there’s a celebration for the new seminarians, affectionately called the New Man Party. It’s put on by the 3rd Year guys and it usually consists of making fun of (but not being mean to) the new guys. This time around, we new guys had to (or got to?) dress up as pirates, with bandanas, eye patches, and fake moustaches. But the highlight of the night was the series of fake movie trailers the 3rd Year guys produced for the party, especially the one entitled “The Exegesis.” This spoof on “The Exorcist” had us all in stitches laughing. The high budget (not really) special effects included thin strings to make a book look like it was floating in mid-air and clear tape to make it look like a chair was moving across the floor on its own. There was even a ghost in the library (ok, so it was really just a seminarian with s sheet over his head). But the kicker, and this had the seminary abuzz for days afterward, was, after the title of the movie was shown, as well as the opening date (Coming This Fall!), there was a sudden, stuttering image of our New Testament professor, Fr. Pat, flashed across the screen like any good horror flick requires.
Sure, we were howling laughter all night about this little, light-hearted dig at one of our priest-instructors and the high quality special effects of a haunted theology library. But really, it got me wondering, what’s really so terrifying about “exegesis,” anyway? Why are we comparing it with exorcisms and horror movies? I’m not trying to take away from how hilarious that movie trailer was, but I think there’s something we can learn about how we view the Bible and what it means to our lives as seminarians, but most importantly, as Christians.
I bring this all up because I just wrote my first exegesis paper. I’ll find out once I get my grade if I did it right, but either way, it was actually quite a cool experience. First of all, and I’ll be honest, I went and I looked up what exegesis means in the first place: it comes from the Greek for “to lead out,” and it generally means to draw out the original meanings of a text in order to find out what meaning we can give to it today. Secondly, I picked a text to work on: I chose Joshua 6, the Fall of Jericho, because it’s just so darn confusing to hear of how God wanted the Israelites to burn down a whole city and kill everyone inside (I’m not the only one who thinks that, right?). Then, the fun part; hours of research, mostly to see what other people have had to say about it and how they’ve interpreted the original Hebrew and later Greek versions of the story. Finally, I got to compile their information and write my own analysis and reflection on the text. And there you have it, no floating books, no chairs with minds of their own, and no seminarians running around with sheets over their heads, I mean, ghosts.
And so I write this not to tell you what I’ve come up with in a short exegesis paper about the already infamous story of the crumbling of the Walls of Jericho and the slaughter that happened afterward, but because I got a glimpse of what it means to read the Bible that I never really had before. Sometimes, down here in the seminary, the Bible is just another one of our text books. We’ll use what little we know of Greek or Hebrew to see what the original text literally says, or we’ll do a historical view of things to see what kind of mindset the human authors may have had and why they wrote what they wrote at that time and in that place. Sometimes we’ll throw a Bible in our backpacks and forget about it until our teachers tell us to look something up.
But really, the Bible is so much more than one of our text books, and we know it! It’s just not enough to simply read it like a history book. That’s not what it is meant to be. But sometimes we forget that. Which leads me to think, maybe we’re so terrified of the effort that goes into exegesis, into digging deeper and deeper into the Bible, because we wish it wasn’t such a hard book to read. Maybe we wish that everything we read in the Bible was as simple as it appears to be as ink on paper and bound together as a book.
Don’t get me wrong, though, Exegesis is very important, as the Church has been telling us for a long time now. But the Bible is a living and breathing voice, too. God has given it to us as a gift. It is the written record of our faith community, not just the words of some dead men from 2,000-5,000 years ago. It’s our faith, too. Which means the Holy Spirit has been working on giving it to us for a long, long time. God has waited patiently, as primitive humans first sought God, as culture flowered in Egypt, rational thought expanded in Greece, as different language spoke the voice of God to different people, as Jesus was born into a poor family in Palestine, as empires rose and fell but Christianity remained, as words were finally put into books, as we learned to read and write, all the way until we first picked up a Bible of our own. God has been waiting, and the Holy Spirit as been preparing for us. And so it’s that same Holy Spirit (you know, the One who created all things, overshadowed Mary and brought Jesus into this world, and empowered the Apostles to preach Christ on Pentecost) that gives us the courage to read this gigantic and daunting book. The Spirit gives us, as a Church, the understanding to face the violence of the Old Testament, the hearts to embrace the compassion found in the New Testament, and the realization that God is there in the whole humongous story of Salvation: lifting up the oppressed, lowering the oppressor, feeding the hungry, and sending the rich away empty.
So the terrifying thing about reading the Bible, whether you do it as a Bible study or as an exegesis, is to forget that it is meant to be read with a heart of faith and it is meant to be read with Christ in mind. No matter what you read in the Bible, you’ve got ask yourself, where is Jesus in this, and what is he asking of me, here and now. Yes, the Bible can be a scary thing. And it’s when we forget that the Bible is given to us as the words of God, written in human words, telling us of Jesus, the Word of God, that it becomes scarier than exorcism. But it’s when we let the Holy Spirit take us by the hand and help us understand what we’re reading, that we encounter the Bible as it truly is, the living, breathing voice of our faith. So don’t stop reading the Bible, drink it in, chew on it, for as Jeremiah said, “When I found the word of God, I devoured it, and it became the joy and the happiness of my heart.”