Scripture readers rarely think the way Scripture authors thought. Something different happens in our brains than happened in the brains of the Hebrew and Christian writers who composed the biblical books.

No matter our nationality, almost all of us think Greek. We pattern our thought process on that of the classic Greek philosophers. When we think, we analyze the object on which were concentrating. We mentally tear it apart, studying each dimension of it separately until we get to the point of our analysis.

Our sacred authors did the opposite. They synthesized when they thought. Being Semites, not Greeks, they pulled as many different aspects of an object together in their brain when they thought about it, studying it as a whole, simultaneously contrasting even its contradictory dimensions.

Differences

Thats why we Greeks usually express ourselves in terms of either/or, while Semites talk of both/and. Greeks hate contradictions; Semites love to surface them. Tevye, the hero of Fiddler on the Roof, is a perfect example of Semitic thinking. His favorite line is, But, on the other hand...! While theres always another hand for Semites, Greeks are content with a completely analyzed one hand.

Those who dont understand Semitic thought process probably wont understand Sundays first and third readings. Both the Genesis author (Gen 18: 20-32) and Luke (Lk 11: 1-13) give us different images of God. They presume were synthesizing as were listening, noticing at least several dimensions of God we might never have reflected on.

Abraham, the ancestor of all Jews, is famous not only for the hospitality we observed last week but also for being a terrific negotiator. In a culture in which fixed prices are rarely put on anything, ones bargaining skills are essential. The author shows how Abraham is able to get even Yahweh to drop His price from 50 to 10.

Yet, even outside of Abrahams negotiating skills, the remarkable insight in the reading is that our God is a negotiable God. Yahweh doesnt work from set-in-concrete patterns. Greeks hate such an idea; Semites love it.

In the same way, in the Gospel, Jesus compares God both to loving parents who always give their children whats best for them, and to disturbed neighbors who give only to minimize their disturbance. Which image really mirrors our God? Semites believe both do, no matter how contradictory.

Versions

Notice also how Lukes version of the Lords Prayer differs from Matthews, the one we usually say. Scholars presume Luke conveys the more primitive form of the prayer. Matthew seems to have added to the original. But notice especially what Lukes Jesus says after forgive us our sins.

For we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, contrasts with Matthews Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Matthews version implies that well be only forgiven as much as we forgive. Luke, on the other hand, believes that we forgive simply because weve already been forgiven. Those who ask which theology is correct are betraying their Greek mentality.

Confused? Perhaps we should zero in on Pauls remark in the second reading (Col 2: 12-14): When you were dead in transgressions, God brought you to life along with Jesus having forgiven all our transgressions.

Our God-given assignment as Christians is not to get rid of the contradictions which we find in our images of Jesus and God; its to become one with the risen Jesus. His contradictions must become our contradictions.

If Jesus was comfortable thinking and teaching on the level of both/and, what are we conveying about the depth of our dedication to Him if we continue to think and teach only in terms of either/or?

(07-26-01)