There are 66 books in the Bible. Between our two weekly Bible studies we have read 27 of them in three years, including Isaiah (probably to everyone’s dismay because it is a very long book).
One of the rediscoveries for me has been how Scripture always corrects itself. If one reads Joshua, the Canaanites throughout most of it are considered “the bad guys.” Throughout much of the Old Testament the Moabites are described as vile people to avoid at all costs. In the gospels, one hears the scribes portrayed as Jesus’ opponents. The centurions are Romans, part of the occupying force and thereby, one imagines, enemies.
And yet, what we have been reminded of in our reading is that Scripture does not allow for wholesale dismissal of any group of people. Within these groups of people that Scripture decries, there are exceptions; ones we would miss if we didn’t take the time to discover them.
So for instance, when we read Ezra and Nehemiah we heard how exclusionary the Israelites were. Coming back from exile, they were concerned about identity and purity and harshly excluded people, especially the Moabites. But do you know who is a Moabite? Ruth. And do you know that there is an Old Testament book named after this Moabite woman? And do you know that Ruth is found in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew?
In Joshua where the Canaanites are the ones to be conquered, Rahab (also a prostitute) is a Canaanite woman who hides the Israelite spies sent by Moses. When Jericho is destroyed, Rabab, the Canaanite along with her family, is remembered and saved. She too is found in Jesus’ family tree.
On All Saints’ Sunday we heard the All Saints’ gospel, but had we read the regular gospel reading for the day, we would have heard the interchange between Jesus and a scribe who with Jesus understands that the center of our faith is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. And when we hear Mark’s version of Jesus’ death, it is the Roman centurion who looks upon Jesus on the cross and gets what no one else does: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
Scripture doesn’t allow us to disparage a whole people – to paint any group of people with a broad brushstroke. Neither does it allow us to say things like, “Well, Rahab, she’s a Canaanite, but she’s nice.” That’s that exception to the rule thinking we can find ourselves espousing. The Holy Book, however, blows that kind of thinking out of the water, too. Rahab and Ruth and the scribe and the centurion are so much more than exceptions – they are the very ones through whom God works – the ones through whom God’s plans are furthered. Some of these “exceptions” are the very ones whom God works through to bring into being Jesus.
And then of course, Jesus becomes the biggest exception of all.
- Pastor Dianne