Reading from the End – Brad Jersak

Reading from the End:

In a previous blog post, I wrote about moving “From the Letter of the Law to the Spirit of the Word.” I wrote about how children move from seeing the letters c-a-t to seeing the word “cat” and, ultimately, see past the letters on the page to the image of a cat in their minds automatically. I shared how John Behr compared that to the apostle Paul’s encounter with Christ, after which he moved from death-dealing law enforcement to a life-giving gospel.

My friend and teacher, John Behr, offered a second analogy to follow up on how the first Christians’ reading of Scripture was turned upside down by their experience of the risen Christ. The basic gist is that what they thought their Scriptures meant before Christ shifted radically when their fulfillment showed up. To illustrate, he suggested we think about a plant and form an image of that plant in our minds.

The plant in my mind was of the garden variety or perhaps one of the trees I see outside my window. Right now, if I look up, I see a healthy maple tree, lush and green, with just a few of the leaves turning red. The wind is blowing enough that I can hear the leaves of this beautiful plant “clapping their hands,” to quote the Psalmist.

Behr then asked us to consider how lengthening the word into a descriptive phrase might add to our plant image. He suggested the short sentence, “The plant is swarming.”

How do plants swarm? I recalled how hosts of bees from a local hive swarm around the flowering plants just down my street. Attracted to the bright colors or the smell of nectar, it is as if the plants themselves are buzzing! More recently, an oak tree by my driveway was swarming with birds of all types of tiny chirping chickadees, sparrows, siskins, and bushtits to our larger species: northern flickers, snarky stellar jays, and my pet crows. Yes, the plants in my mind are indeed swarming!

Behr then adds a final modifier, asking how finishing his sentence might change our understanding of what he intended: “The plant is swarming with workers.”

Suddenly, the image of the plant in my mind is thrown topsy-turvy. Hearing the end of his sentence, I realized I had imposed my image of a plant onto something altogether different from what he was describing. I could now see how hearing how it ends impacts my understanding from the beginning… the same words took on a different meaning.

So it is with the Scriptures. Even during the life of Christ, the prophecies foreshadowing his death and resurrection were obscure. The rabbis’ interpretation and expectations of what they described formed an image in their minds that was incomplete and even misleading. But with the Passion of Christ and subsequent illumination of the Holy Spirit, “the plant” formerly known as the Tree of Life could now be identified with the Cross and the One who conquered death by dying! Now the “sign of Jonah” was not just a strange tale of a man swallowed by a great fish, but could be seen as the Man who Death had to give up after his weekend in the tomb! (And so on).

Reading from the end didn’t negate what Scripture had said, but we simply could not see their deepest sense without finally hearing and encountering the One to which they pointed.

In the final installment of this series, I’ll share a third gem from John Behr’s treasury… watch for my forthcoming and shockingly familiar post on “recapitulation.”

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