“Will the Interpretation-Understanding Circle be Unbroken?” ©
Thoughts on the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 8, 2018
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today’s 2nd Reading familiarly recounts Paul’s mention to the Corinthians of his “thorn in the flesh” that stood for him as a humiliating weakness. It seems to refer to a disability, perhaps they were uncontrolled seizures that occurred as he preached. In the Gospel, also familiarly, we hear of the time in his home town synagogue that Jesus was rejected by its residents and his family members. It is a telling of rejection and isolation for him.
In another time and another spirituality these texts were interpreted to reveal weakness and how Paul and Jesus accepted experiences of humiliation and rejection. I would guess that for centuries the understanding of these passages created a view about victimhood accompanied by a spirituality of passivity. It went something like, “Take your experiences of weakness and model them after the crucified one who was nailed to the cross. And then wait for God to act; wait passively upon resurrection.” For many of us the entire Season of Lent, for example, was made to put us in a position of being made to feel less than we are in order to atone for one’s sins.
Well, I don’t see it that way and I’m guessing neither do you. We have put aside weakness and rejection. To read these passages today is to witness Paul’s ability to go from weakness to strength. As folks say in the disability community, “You don’t let disability define you!” Unfortunately, today we don’t get the story of Jesus’ response to rejection. In the very next passage, though, in Mark’s Gospel we read of Jesus’ newfound strategy of creativity in his Mission. If people won’t accept him, he instead sends his disciples to do the Preaching. Paul turns weakness into strength, Jesus turns being rejected into being creative.
One might ask how it is that we walk away from a spirituality of passive victimhood and take on a spirituality of strength and creativity. This is a decision, a choice, that reflects the relationship between interpretation and understanding. Because the fact is there is no such way that understanding exists on some linear plane that steps from one certainty to another. All those so-called Spiritual Masters who taught passivity and waiting on God in the face of weakness and rejection had an understanding driven by a certain interpretation.
Rather than linear truths what we’re dealing with here is the circle that includes both interpretation and understanding. In many places circular reasoning is considered faulty reasoning. Such a circle, they say, exists only to feed on itself having no value which adds to our spiritual life. But, they do not understand.
In the philosophers’ trade, we call the living dynamism of this relation of interpretation and understanding – the hermeneutic circle. In this circle we see how Paul refused to be defined by his disability and how Jesus turned rejection into a positive creativity. This positive understanding happens not through some kind of straight-line, linear view of truth, but by way of the added dimension of depth. This circle digs deeper even as it rotates. Paul went ever more deeply into his own spirit to understand the poser of God by way of his interpretation of this experience of apparent weakness. Jesus explored the possibilities of preaching the Word as he came to understand the Mission by way of his interpretation of creativity, namely, trusting the disciples to preach as well.
The depth dimension of our response to God’s call within each one of us is what strengthens us and fosters our creativity as well. This is the spirituality that abandons passivity for the sake of enjoying and celebrating God’s Spirit.
This spiritual understanding strengthens the ability of each of us to interpret how God moves and who God is. It is what compels us to celebrate in community. Not because God takes on weakness but because we go from strength to strength.
Praise the One who lives in this circle of interpretation and understanding – of revealing the depth of courage to which we are called. Widen this circle of many interpretations of who God is and how God is so that we may share an understanding that is compelling without constricting, assuring without demanding, revealing without commanding.
A Prayer (JR)
Bless this circle that honors your Presence, Holy One. We welcome your guidance through the sharing of this community. May your Word and Sacrament deepen our understanding and widen our view to honor your creation. May your Spirit be our constant light. And may we accept Jesus through the witness of our actions. Amen.
Leader: Turn to me and I will give you rest.
All: O God, give comfort to the weary.
Leader: By your actions all will know you are my disciples.
All: . O God, give strength to the weak.
Leader: .I pray that they be one in love.
All: O God, give assurance to the isolated.
Presider: . Gather us as your people to be your witnesses
In the world.
All: Today and every day. Amen.