Why was it scandalous for the father in the story of the Prodigal son to run to meet his son at the edge of the village in Jesus’ parable? Why was there a sinful woman in a righteous Pharisee’s home in Luke 7 anyway? What does it say about the Samaritan woman’s daily life in the village that she was walking to the well in the heat of the day…alone?
All of these are questions that matter to the context of scripture and they are cultural subtilties that would have been as natural as breath to the audience of the 1st century Middle Eastern peasants who made up Jesus’ primary audience, but these vital nuances are lost to those of us who are the products of a western background. Much of our translations of the Bible may begin with Greek, but it is at its very soul a Middle Eastern work of literature.
Recently, my 14-year-old daughter came to me and asked why God seems so often angry in the Bible. I told her I was so glad she asked. I explained to her that Greek was a legal language but Hebrew was a relational one. The Greek mind asks “how” the Hebrew mind asks “why”. The Greek wants to know- “What does this mean to me?” The Hebrew always questions, “What does this tell me about God?”
Hebrew, for example, has several words for the word “law” and the word for God’s law, the blessed Torah, always reflected God’s grace. To the Hebrew mind, the Torah was God’s gracious gift to man showing him how to “hit the mark” in his relationship with both God and his neighbor. It was gift. The Greeks had only one word for “law” and it was a legal term.
And so, I want some Middle Eastern Specs. I want to see God in relationship, not in legality. I want to look for his heart, not his fist. I am weary of the how, and ready for the why.
If you want to gaze through the Middle Eastern lens with me for a bit, check back. I’m going to answer the questions at the top of this post and maybe a few more. It is good stuff, healing waters, healing truth. After all, didn’t Messiah say, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)