God promises the people of Israel that he will not “pass them by.” At
the same time, God sets a plumb line against Israel, using a divine
standard to measure the fidelity of God’s people. A visit from God,
then, is presented as judgment that shall lead to desolation and
One of the satisfactions of reading Living by the Word is sometimes having our own interpretations affirmed and amplified by colleagues. Thus we can empathize with the lawyer in Luke who wants to justify himself by asking a question about interpreting scripture.
I am by principle and often spontaneously, as if by nature, a man of faith. But my reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands. This is the confession of an unconfident reader.
Imagine that Congress has set up a committee to report on the disquieting events on the Jerusalem-Jericho road and their aftermath. Here are some excerpts from its findings: “The Inquiry is satisfied that the priest acted in a thoroughly professional manner. We are aware that he is a man of high profile in Jerusalem society, and that his first priority is to conduct his temple duties in a proper manner. Getting involved in self-indulgent gestures of solidarity is not recommended: such projects are invariably underresourced, nonstrategic and open to media misinterpretation."
Sometimes the point of scripture is the transcendence of the Holy One. This was something Isaiah knew well—“Truly, you are a God who hides yourself” (45: 15) —as did the long-suffering Job. So did Paul, who comes to a point in his Epistle to the Romans when he realizes he cannot go any further. “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!” he writes.