17 April 2016

How do you choose a favorite verse of Scripture?

Whenever I assist on a retreat such as Teens Encounter Christ, someone always asks which verse of Scripture is my favorite. Perhaps someone has asked the same question of you.

It is an innocent enough question and one often asked to help the inquirer delve deeper into the Sacred Scriptures by discovering a passage they perhaps have not yet read. Still, it always seems something of a risky question simply because, as Samwise Gamgee might say, the verses of the Scriptures "seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak" (The Lord of the Rings, 1.IV). How do you choose a favorite among the words of God?

Three days ago, Bob Lonsberry of WHAM 1180AM, asked the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump which verse of Scripture is his favorite. Mr. Trump answered as follows:
You know when we get into the Bible I think many, so many. And ‘an eye for an eye,’ you can almost say that. It’s not a particularly nice thing, but you know when you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, you see what’s going on with our country how people are taking advantage of us and how they scoff at us and laugh at us an laugh in our face and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking our — you know, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be very firm and we have to be very strong and we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.
The passage he refers to is first found in the Book of Exodus: "If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Exodus 21:23-25). It is repeated in the Book of Leviticus: "When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured" (Leviticus 24:19-20). We find it again in the Book of Deuteronomy: "Your eye shall not pity; it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deuteronomy 19:21).

When read in the context of these verses, it is clear that the meaning of the phrase "eye for eye" is not one of revenge, but of justice. It is given by the Lord to Moses to limit the harm exacted upon an enemy. If a man pokes out my eye, I cannot take his life; I can only take his eye.

It seems to me, however, that a Christian cannot rightly claim this verse as a favorite, simply because of what our Master and Teacher says: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matthew 5:38-41).

From this, we see that Mr. Trump's interpretation is not correct. We also see the importance of reading from the Bible every day so that we have a fuller understanding of the sacred text. The trouble with choosing a favorite passage or two is that we tend to stick with those passages when the Lord may desire to use one or the two passages we do not like as much to stir us out of our complacency.

Returning to the initial question that began all of us this, if I had to pick a favorite verse of the Scriptures, I do not think I pick could choose from among these four:
  • And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah hear it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave (I Kings 19:11-13).
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • So you also, when you have done all that is commanded, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10).
  • Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" (I Timothy 2:23-26).

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