Once in a while I find that it's a useful exercise to paraphrase scripture.
The idea, for me, is to re-write verses from the Bible in my own words. It's so that I can listen more distinctly. I always learn something new, and several things happen when when I do this.
- First, I have to read and re-read the selection very carefully - that's always a good thing.
- Next, I find that I pray about what I'm doing, because I want to really hear the word. Prayer is the best context for Bible reading, and I can only hear the word if I involve God from the beginning.
- I also end up reading the text immediately before and after my selection, putting it in perspective, and finding out some of the historical/cultural/physical context as well.
- Then, I think about how God's word is currently interfacing with my life. I personalize the text. I imagine what relevance the ancient words have in my world at this particular moment.
- Finally, I take great care with my interpretation, understanding that I have no skill in ancient languages and no formal training in biblical scholarship. So I proceed with caution.
John 3:16-17: And so I woke up this morning with one of the Bible's most oft-quoted verses on my mind. John 3:16 is a classic, but I've always felt it was an incomplete message without at least including verse 17.
Today, Wednesday of "Holy Week", this selection is resonating with special meaning for me. It worked its way into my head and into my heart. So I'm taking this risk and writing my own paraphrase. Remember, this is a personal devotional exercise. I'm thrilled that a handful of folk are "listening in", looking over my shoulder as I think out loud. But be reminded that I am not a scholar, just a thinker.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17) NIV
Now, my (amplified) paraphrase:
- John 3:16... The Creator - so infused with committed love for creation and for people (formed from both spirit and dust) - willingly gifted this world with Emmanuel (the fullness of God, resident in the frailty of human form). Why would God do something like this? Jesus was - and is - our solution for the cumulative weight and the toxic residue of every act, thought, condition, word, disposition and intention that has served (and still serves) to separate humanity from a dynamic relationship with the Divine, with light and life.
- 17... God's intervention is not designed to denounce the world, or to condemn its people. God's plan was not calibrated to discourage, castigate, reject, destroy, or pile on like a ton of bricks. Instead, Easter is an imperative born of love, a self-sacrificial gift initiated by the great compassion that under-girds God's purposeful, redemptive nature. Christ's action reveals the author of creation as both architect and sustainer; hope for reconciliation; the ground of all being; our clear pathway to salvation.
I understand that my written language is limited by my knowledge, my skill with words, and my personal experience. Regardless, this is as good a week as any to embrace the meaning of John's powerful rendition of what Jesus has to say about why he came.
So, to answer my question at the end of Monday's post: To some extent God's love for me is what sent Jesus to the cross. Jesus got himself killed by being the flesh and blood presence of God in the middle of a world that had no room for courageously redemptive love.
Our great opportunity is to take similar risks every day. The world today is no less dangerous a place for an authentic witness to God's embracing, non-condemning, welcoming love...
Peace - DEREK