How we see, understand, and interpret scripture for our lives is influenced by the color of our glasses. Our glasses are colored by the many factors that make our lives and selves uniquely different. Some of these things we are born with, others we live into throughout our lives. Examples include: gender, race, ethnic background, economic class, and political affiliation. Dr. Mark Allan Powell, Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio, has researched, taught, and written about these as influences of Biblical Hermeneutics. In his book “What Do They Hear?” Dr. Powell writes about Social Location, the effect of our geopolitical location in the world and its’ effect on Biblical interpretation.
Last Sunday many of us heard from the Gospel of Luke chapter 15, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Dr. Powell has worked extensively with this parable in an interpretive study with seminary students in the United States, Russia, and Tanzania. The outcomes of his research on how we interpret scripture is amazing because of the effect of Social Location. When surveyed and asked what is the point of this one of Jesus’ parables, one group overwhelmingly determined it was that the younger son squandered his inheritance. Another group overwhelmingly said the point was that the famine came and made him destitute, while the third group of seminary students said the message was about why others did not come to the aid of this and other starving people in the midst of this famine. Same parable from Jesus, three very different (and faithful) scriptural interpretations.
The color of our glasses (for reasons often beyond our understanding) can limit or enhance what we faithfully hear and learn from the Holy Scriptures. I pray for a deeper sense and sensitivity to scripture for my life and the lives of others – in Christ Jesus.