Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. There is far more to life than food, and far more to the body than clothing. Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns. They are free and unfettered—careless in the care of God. And you count far more to God than birds. Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they never primp or shop, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and kindling for the oven tomorrow, how much more will you be clothed—you of little faith? Therefore, do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? For it is the Gentiles who make themselves frantic over such questions. God knows exactly what you need. Instead, seek first the reality of God and the right-relationship that comes with it. You will find that you have everything you need. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:25-34
I have a history with this passage of scripture. It’s one of the first pieces of scripture that I learned as a kid. Let me be clear, I did not technically memorize this scripture, nor did I “learn” it with noble intentions. Being raised in and around the church, I recognized early on that there were going to be occasions when I would be called on to share my “favorite scripture” or a passage that meant a lot to me. Whether it would be in a Sunday school class or on a retreat or at a youth gathering, what I could count on was that, at some point, the “share your favorite scripture” spotlight was going to come to me, and I wanted to be ready.
The truth is, I didn’t have a favorite verse.
Other than the Lord’s Prayer—which I’m not sure I realized was scripture—I didn’t have any Bible verses memorized and I didn’t really have a lot of interest in changing that. What I needed was an answer. Something that would satisfy the question and get the spotlight off me and on to someone else. There were a couple of kids around me who determined the path of least resistance and memorized John 11:35—the shortest verse in the Bible—“Jesus wept.” These geniuses would declare “Jesus wept” as their favorite verse, spew out a few words about how they related to being sad, and suddenly, they were off the hook. It was brilliant. My problem was that they thought of it before I did. So, when I heard an adult refer to this passage from Matthew 6 as the “Do not worry” scripture, I wasted no time in claiming it as my favorite scripture. All I had to do was memorize three words…“Do not worry”…and talk about how I didn’t like to worry, and Matthew 6:25 became the answer I needed. It wasn’t even untrue. I didn’t like to worry. I agreed with what I thought Jesus was saying. It was as if he and I agreed that everyone should calm down and relax. That’s what I thought this passage was about. To be clear, I hadn’t actually read Matthew 6 or engaged it in any way. I just memorized the important phrase and decided that I had it mastered. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had applied my first hermeneutic to the scripture. I didn't even know what a hermeneutic was.
A hermeneutic is simply the way we interpret spiritual or philosophical writings, like the biblical texts.
It’s the methodology we use—the worldview we apply—the consciousness we bring with us. Think of it this way: Our hermeneutic is the lens through which we examine the scripture to find meaning—the interpretive tools that help us make sense of ancient texts that often seem out of reach and confusing. We all do this—all the time—every time we engage the scripture. It is impossible to read or hear a biblical text without a hermeneutic. In truth, we aren’t even limited to just one. We operate with numerous interpretive filters at the same time—different lenses simultaneously shading what we see and understand. And lest we think that this is a new phenomenon—or an exclusively Christian practice—human beings all over the world have been wrestling with their interpretive lenses for thousands of years.
For over 2,500 years, the practice of Buddhism has encouraged the use of only those hermeneutics that move people toward spiritual enlightenment and awakening.
2,400 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote Peri Hermeneias, or On Interpretation, to explore how hermeneutic tools navigate the relationship between language and logic.
For over 2,000 years, our Jewish brothers and sisters have used a hermeneutic technique of interpreting one scripture through the lens of another. This is called a remez, which is a hint or directional arrow within a scripture that points to another text. An easily recognizable example of remez is how John starts his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning…”—thereby directing his audience to interpret his Gospel through the lens of another text that starts with the same words—the creation poems of Genesis 1 and 2.
1,600 years ago, Augustine—an early Christian theologian and church leader—advised approaching the Bible with a hermeneutic based in humility, love, and a studied knowledge of the signs and symbols implicit in the scriptures.
In the 18th century, John Wesley—founder of the Methodist movement and hermeneutic—encouraged bringing the interpretive lenses of tradition, experience, and reason to the scripture.
Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr recommends what he calls a “Jesus hermeneutic”—a lens that “connects the dots” of God’s overarching story in order to move toward “mercy, non-violence, and inclusivity” as Jesus did.
My friend, the wise rabbi Chris Estus, uses a hermeneutic that he calls “the smell test.” Chris says, “If it smells like love, then you’re probably on the trail of God.”
As a kid, my hermeneutic was that I needed a verse I could memorize and repeat with the least amount of effort. That, and only that, was the lens through which I looked at the Bible. As you can imagine, my childhood hermeneutic limited my understanding. It left some chicken on the bone, so to speak. I didn’t actually understand this passage at all. If anything, in reducing Jesus into some sort of detached hippy telling everyone to chill out, I had actually misinterpreted the scripture.
Our hermeneutic matters.
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