One thing among many other that can change our lives has to do we way in which we read things, be it books, articles, our stories, our history, our theologies and God. Prof. James Cone use to say to first year students at Union theological Seminary that in seminary they were suppose to learn how to become critical readers and read texts and reality critically. That applies to the Bible. When we read the Bible critically, it should be a challenging time when we learn and exchange, get consoled and outraged.
In this brief space, let me give you one hermeneutical possibility that may help us to approach the Biblical text. Paulo Freire, a famous Brazilian educator, taught us when doing any reading to go through 3 steps: to see, to judge, to act. In this process we can interact with the text and update the Bible in and for our lives and our time.
First step: To see. We start by seeing not only what is written but also what is happening around us. The power to see is the power that enables us to see beyond what everybody sees. There are forces that blind us, preventing us from seeing what is happening right in front of us and we do nothing. What Jesus helps us to do is to have open and freed eyes to confront the ways we usually see not only the text but also ourselves and our reality. The Biblical text are always challenging us, always asking us to convert and repent our ways to God. On the other hand, to see is also to have eyes that are able to see our own reality. Our reality becomes a way into the Biblical text. It can inform the text, it might even change the text, that is, the ways in which we read the text. It makes the text come to life time and again as we bring our stories, relate contexts and situations to the Biblical world. It is something what the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth used to say, that we must have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. He only forgot to say what kind of newspaper…
Second step: To judge. When we see, we have to make a decision, we have to judge, to struggle and to decide whether we go this way or that way. To read the Bible is to keepo this struggle open as we make continuous evaluations and observations about things in general. As we proceed, we change, we move and are moved by the spirit. This process is not so much about taking sides but being able to see the larger picture from a side that will not places us aside from it but within the whole system at work. The whole system also includes what does not belong to the system, the things and the people who are beyond the margins of what we do not like or what we disagree. We are always making decisions even when we think we are not making decisions. When we do not make deliberate decisions, other people will decide for us. One thing must be clear for all of us: we are not excused from the ways our world is moving. We are not excused from the existence of poverty. We are not excused from terrorism. We have to judge our world, our politicians and the ways in which they lead our lives and the life of the world. By making evaluations, judgments and observations, we have to take care to not judge people with the intention to exclude them.
Third step: To act. We are called to go through the whole program. We cannot avoid the third step. We must act. A life lived without action is a life settled in the neutral mode, a life lived without accomplishments, without the risks that life bring to us. The gospel calls us not to hide in our faith but to shine our faith through Jesus in our daily life. Only by acting can we demonstrate what we take our faith seriously. Through our actions, we show as deeply as we can where our heart is. We say our creeds every Sunday in our services. However, what we really do during the week with this creed, our practical actions, gestures, words, and use of our money, is what really tell us where our treasures and beliefs are.
To see, to judge and to act. When it is done we go back to the beginning and start it all over again. For the Christian believer, this is the work of a lifetime.
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With due respect to Paulo Freire, I would like to clarify that he is not the founder of ‘See-Judge-Act’ methodology.
M. J. Ruben