Lectionary Reading for August 7th, 2016 : Luke 12:32-40
In my first year of ordination training, without any intention of doing so, I managed to get
half of a small Bible-study conference really upset. We’d been talking in plenary about the
Gospels and Acts; about overarching narratives in the Gospels, and their inseparable
connection from Hebrew Scripture. I volunteered my feeling that most of the Bible could be
looked at as poetry. The room blew up. The energy had gone from low, after-supper and
meditative to high, uber-irritable and loud. I wasn’t taking the Bible seriously! I was ignoring
the multifarious historical aspects of the Bible! I was trivialising the Bible! I was reading,
dangerously, without rigour!
This was alarming to hear, even more than it was interesting. Apart from the health and
welfare of my son, there is nothing I take more seriously than poetry. It is a lens through
which, and by means of which, I try to understand, express and share my world. On occasion
it is the only way that I can do any of that.
For me, it’s like this: The Bible stretches commonplace constructs to rush and skip and stride
further. It works with seraphim, snakes, miracles, promises, prophecies, rainbows, riddles
and ash. It works with reported speech and with crafted poems. It sings us its songs and
whispers us its suspicions, prejudices, hope, despair, delight; it is light, and healing flame,
and wounding fire, passed from torch to torch through the hands of people now dust;
people who still speak to us, in spite of knowing nothing of us… Blimey, isn’t that poetry?
In the midst of trying to defend my point, against my peers and professors, I was trying to
make sense of the angry energy I had unleashed. I hadn’t said the Bible was poetry, or was
only poetry, or was merely poetry…
But I believed then – and believe now – that being poetry allows the Bible to survives
through time, abuse, and misreading. It avoids permanently being twisted by knaves to
make a trap for fools* because it is poetic, not prosaic. It is not merely a manual, a map, a
mandate, or a manifesto. It isn’t merely history, written in agenda, and read out of context.
It isn’t as mechanistic a mere simile and metaphor.
I want to say that a great deal of Jesus’ reported words are poetic. (Not solely poetic, OK?
But poetic.) What continues to astonish me is that, at every point along the journey, from
Jesus’ lips to our ears, poetry has survived. What an utterly extraordinary Person, to create
images so burningly bright, so readily grasped, and so lively. These words have been either
heard by – or reported to – Luke, paraphrased by Luke, re-expressed in Greek by Luke,
interpreted, however inadvertently, by Luke. They have been translated by Cranmer, re-
translated into scholarly modern English, but with an eye on Cranmer. They are built over
bones so dry, so old they cannot live – but they do. They dance.
I am not a scholar or a commentator. I’m a poet. So, for me, this is the rigour of the passage:
– what is the little flock?
– are you part of it?
– why “good pleasure”? why not pleasure?
– what is the purse that doesn’t wear out?
– what would wear it out?
– what does it hold?
– what would the moth destroy?
– what is the moth?
– what is your moth?
– what are the lamps?
– what are your lamps?
– what is the fear in “the unexpected hour”?
– could self-knowing be approached more acutely and more delicately
without use of the poetic?
Come back soon?