Can reading the Bible get in the way of seeing Jesus? It’s a risky question to ask, 288/365 through a year-long project to read the whole Bible… Certainly Jesus seems to suggest that, at the very least, the Pharisees weren’t getting any closer to him or to God through their earnest study of the Bible. (John 5:39-47)
It’s easy to forget that, on the whole, the Pharisees were good, holy people, and sincere in their own interpretation of Israel’s faith. On many things they agreed with Jesus – but their overall approach to faith was completely at odds with his. They pored over the details of the Law, debating and arguing to establish the true interpretation on every detail. Perhaps they’d lost sight of the wood while examining the patterns on the bark of the trees. They weren’t thinking in the big picture of God’s work of creation and renewal, which was coming to its climax in front of them. They were reading the Bible in the wrong way, looking for the wrong things and finding them.
So perhaps it’s not reading the Bible which is the problem (which at this stage is a relief!) but the questions we bring to the text. Jesus tells the Pharisees that Moses bears witness to him – in other words, the Old Testament leads us to Jesus, including leading us to the point where the world needs and is ready for Jesus. If we read it without keeping him in view, then (this side of Pentecost) we won’t understand what God has to say to us.
Likewise, if we study the New Testament too analytically, there is a risk that we repeat the distraction tactics of the woman at the well in the last post – keeping the discussion (whether with others or just within ourselves) on interesting but secondary questions of doctrine, ethics and so on rather than engaging with God himself as he speaks to us. The Bible isn’t mainly given us to answer questions but to introduce us to Jesus.
That leads me on to thinking about Andrew, who as usual gets second billing, always introduced as ‘Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother’. One of the four fishermen who followed Jesus together, for some reason he often isn’t among the other three as Jesus’ closest disciples. It hardly seems fair. But perhaps he has another role.
It was Andrew who introduced his brother to Jesus. It’s Andrew who (in chapter 13) brings Greeks to Jesus. It’s Andrew here who, while the other disciples are trying to work out how they will feed the crowd, bring to Jesus an unnamed boy who’s willing to share his packed lunch. There’s beauty in Andrew’s consistent role as the one who introduces people to Jesus. Perhaps he actually needs to be outside the inner circle to do that. I do find that the best people in our congregation at bringing new people to the point where they can find faith are those new to it themselves. We need our outer circle as well as our inner circle if we are to keep people coming to Jesus to have their lives changed.
So if you’re not sure about the answers to all the questions you can think of about faith, take heart. Jesus doesn’t call most of us to be absorbed in the detail of faith. He calls many of us to be a bit on the edge, to meet those who are ready to meet him. And introducing us to him is the heart of the purpose of the Bible.