You’ve likely experienced it at times in conversation with someone. You say something, thinking that you are clear. The other person responds in a way that makes evident that either they missed what you were saying or they had another agenda in the conversation and simply passed by what you were seeking to communicate.
So, you restate. You explain. All with the hope that the other person will come to understand what you meant in what you said. It’s not uncommon . . . as frustrating as it might be.
Something similar can happen when we read Scripture. And you have seen this happening as well. It’s often most noticeable when reading and discussing a passage with others. You all read the text. And then someone makes a statement about what the text is saying, and you are quietly thinking: One of us has either missed what the passage is saying or someone has an agenda that they are pressing that overshadows what this passage is about.
Well, when it comes to reading texts, you can’t ask the author to explain or restate his point. The only option is to read . . . again . . . attentively. And to grant the benefit of the doubt to the author (not to ourselves as readers!) that he did intend to communicate something and to communicate clearly.
I saw this happen recently, reading Mark’s account of Jesus healing a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1–12) with some friends. After we read the passage and made some initial observations, one of the group said: “Well, Jesus is simply proving that He is God.”
Now it is true that Jesus is God incarnate; no debate about that. But I did have a question about whether that was what Jesus was communicating in what He said and did. I wondered whether that was why Mark recounted the event for us.
Jesus could have said, “So that you know that I am the incarnate God, I’ll tell the paralyzed man to get up and walk.” But He didn’t. The crowd could have responded by affirming their amazement and glorifying Jesus. But they didn’t.
So, Jesus didn’t state what my friend insisted the text was about. And those present, in that moment recorded for us by Mark, didn’t affirm what my friend insisted the text was about.
It seemed to me that someone either missed what this passage was about or they had an agenda about what we should say and know about Jesus (well-intentioned as it might have been) that overshadowed what was being communicated in this particular passage.
What did we need to do? Read the text . . . a bit more attentively . . . holding loosely what we were bringing to the text and letting Mark tell us what he wanted us to know.
It’s not really that hard. But like all good communication, it will take a bit of attentiveness.