Today we’re presented with some of the crown jewels of scripture. “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” One of those passages from scripture that concentrates so much truth. And the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: a necklace of the finest diamonds. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jewels in scripture’s crown, showing us the way of blessedness.
But why are we so struck by the beauty and power of these passages? Why do they resonate so deeply within us? Why do we choose them above others? The Bible, after all, is a big book, a book of books, a library of many types of writing, a treasure chest of many things. Histories, poetry, hymns and love songs, parables, letters, sage advice, prophecies, legislation, lamentations, curses and maledictions. Tall tales and theological treatises. And, of course, many writers, each with a cultural setting, each with biases and limitations, each advancing an agenda.
And we call every bit of it “the Word of the Lord”. Yet we are drawn to some words more than others (like the Beatitudes and what might be called Micah’s “summary of the law”). Some parts of scripture fade into the background. And some parts are offensive. The curses and maledictions of the Psalter, for example. If we haven’t taken actual scissors to scripture, as Thomas Jefferson did, we each have our metaphorical scissors handy.
It can be an unsettling fact that we can have different opinions about which passages are the crown jewels of scripture, which passages become our guiding lights. The people of Westboro Baptist Church read the same Bible we do. They are the folks that show up at funerals of soldiers with signs saying things like “God hates fags”. And other curses and maledictions. They’re clearly not reading the Bible the way I read the Bible. They are an extreme case, but people who call themselves Christian can have very different takes on scripture. North, south, east and west: the church reads the same Bible. But not necessarily in the same way.
And what resonates powerfully for us one day may not on another day. Over time and space our perspectives change. We may be drawn to certain words of scripture for a season of life, but our preoccupations and concerns can change.
So, given this fluidity, how do we know if we’re paying attention to the right things–or at least on the right track? Maybe we can’t know for sure. And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe this is the test: what will we choose? What will we choose as the crown jewels? Paul speaks of the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” [Romans 8:21]. Perhaps this is the ultimate test: given the freedom to choose, what will it be? Will it be words of life and light and love? Or will it be curses and maledictions and death? Will we choose words that lead to the small and dark places of the tomb? Or will we choose words that lead to the sunlit garden outside, the broad and bright places of life?
Words are notoriously provisional, contingent, fluid. What words mean depends on context; and meanings shift over time and from place to place. Words of text are not bedrock. The only bedrock of life is the Living Word himself. Some words of text root us, ground us in the Living Word, the Living Bedrock. Some words of text, Biblical or otherwise, root us and ground us in love, as Ephesians puts it. Some words bind us to darker realities. Some words bind us in chains in small dark tombs.
Which words will we choose? “You have the words of eternal life”, Peter says to Jesus [John 6: 68]. But which are they? Which shall we choose? Which will we take into the treasury of our hearts? Which words will be our crown jewels?
Before we decide that, there is a more fundamental decision to be made, an existential choice. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus says to the man at the pool of healing [John 5:2]. Do you want to live? Do you want to live fully? Do you desire abundant life, expansive life? He says to us.
This is the fundamental choice before us: choosing the expansiveness of life (in all its manifestations) over the diminishments of death (in all its manifestations). Having chosen life over death, there are words that root us and ground us in the Living Word himself.
You might find it a meaningful in your time of prayer to choose the words that lead you to the expansiveness of life, to choose the passages of scripture that are your crown jewels. Or, to use a more up-to-date metaphor, choose the top ten on your “play list”.
Here’s the top ten of my playlist, my crown jewels—at least as of today.
- 1 John 4:7 – God is love
- John 1:1-18 – “In the beginning was the Word…the Word became flesh…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ…”
- Matthew 5-7 – Sermon on the Mount (Jefferson kept this in his cut-up Bible)
- 1 Corinthians 13 – Paul’s hymn to love (“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…”)
- Genesis 1:27 – “So God created humankind in his image”
- Mark 12:29 – Jesus’ Summary of the Law (“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all our heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”)
- Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…”
- Isaiah 53 – The Song of the Suffering Servant (“…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed…”
- Micah 6:8 – “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
And just one more, one more jewel, a jewel of dazzling color and brilliance —words of light, words of infinitely expansive life.
- Revelation 21:1-2 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…”
Hallelujah and amen.
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