Right Field Bible Reading

canstockphoto23395578Right field.

On every baseball team there was always a kid who had a hard time judging fly balls. This was the guy who was so fixated on where the ball was that he never could figure out where the ball was going to be.

So the coach stuck him out in right field, where few balls are hit. (Right-handed batters tend to hit to center or left fields, and since there are fewer lefties than righties, fewer balls are hit to right.)

The ability to catch a fly ball is completely dependent on a person’s ability to judge the trajectory of a ball’s flight and run to the exact spot where it is going to land. It’s an exercise in predicting the future, literally on the fly. If you can’t do it, you get stuck in right field.

When it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible, there are a lot of right-field Christians. They can’t judge the Bible’s trajectories; most aren’t even aware that there are trajectories in the Bible.

Let me give you an example. Deuteronomy lists the Canaanites as among the people of the Promised Land with whom the Israelites were not to associate. In fact, they were to kill them: “You must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. (Deut. 7:2 NRSV)

In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus, begging him to heal her daughter from a demon occupation. Jesus resists, telling her that he didn’t come to save non-Israelites. That seems harsh, but at least he didn’t kill her as Deuteronomy would have him to do. She persists, and he relents, marveling to everyone around him at the great faith of this Canaanite woman—which I suspect was his intention all along. And with a word he heals her daughter.

Deuteronomy 7 is where the ball was; in Matthew 15 Jesus could see where the ball was going to be.

Here’s another example: In Genesis 17 God told Abraham that every male, in order to be a part of the people of God, had to be circumcised. If they refused, they were to be cut off from the people of God (you have to love the wording there) because they had violated the covenant. This wasn’t a temporary thing either. “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 17:13. Again, you have to admire the word-choice.)

Flash forward a few hundred years. Paul has taken the news about Jesus to Gentile lands, and many were becoming believers. There were many Christians back in Judea who insisted that these new believers become circumcised in accordance with the everlasting law. Peter and Paul, however, insisted that such a thing was no longer needed as a sign of God’s people, since the Holy Spirit coming to the Gentiles was sign enough.

The Judean Christians could only see where the ball was; Peter and Paul saw where the ball was going to be.

One more: Deuteronomy 23:1 would prohibit a eunuch from being a part of the people of God, yet in Acts 8 a eunuch asked the apostle Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Instead of looking at where the ball was and citing Deuteronomy, the Holy Spirit led Philip to see where the ball was going to be, and he baptized the eunuch.

If you were to name the trajectory these stories describe it would be from exclusion to inclusion. Exclusion is where the ball was; inclusion is where the ball was going to be. Those who once were excluded from the people of God are now included through faith in the grace of God through Jesus.

There are still plenty of Christians who read Leviticus and Deuteronomy as if the ball is always right there. As a result, the ball is always flying way above their heads.

You have to be able to judge trajectory.

Even in right field.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / freddl

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