I was trained to do proper exegesis, that is, to rightly divide the Word of truth. Seminaries are good for teaching students how to do that kind of thing.
Jesus is teaching me to another type of exegesis: to exegete lives. Exegesis comes from a Greek word that means “to lead out.” It is the discipline of studying a text and “leading out” the proper meaning. Exegesis is a field of biblical studies. Pastoral exegesis is the field of human lives.
Scholars primarily exegete (ancient) texts. Pastors, who can be scholars, too, primarily exegete present human lives.
In the Western world the developing Christian pastoral ministry took a sad turn and a horrible confusion occurred. Pastors were taught to primarily deal with the sacred text (the Bible). Peoples’ lives were disposable; the Word was eternal. Pastors with Bibles in hand, therefore, were called and paid more to talk and to teach than to listen. We were trained to lay down the truth on people’s lives without even knowing much about those lives. Lives were disposable, transitory; the Word was eternal. We forgot that the good Shepherd said, “I know my sheep…by name.” Many pastors today could not tell you the names of the people to whom they “exegete” the Scriptures. The text is supreme; people are disposable.
Am I saying the Bible (biblical exegesis) has no place in pastoral work? Of course not. But if we take our cues from Jesus, we’ll listen long and well to people before we start spouting off good biblical exegesis. Maybe every seminarian should spend 30 years in obscurity, like Jesus did, before he or she is inflicted on the people of the land. I am convinced that the stories (aka “parables”) Jesus told were based on years of listening to the concerns, the dreams, the pains, the histories, the passions and the hopes of his people. I imagine when Jesus spoke, the people said, “Finally, someone is speaking my language.” We can only speak a person’s language when we know the person’s story. Jesus was a radical exegete.
Some people think Jesus was clairvoyant, with supernatural powers to read minds. I think he was a keen listener and sharp observer. One time his disciples freaked out when a woman poured expensive perfume on him. Jesus, however, ”exegeted” the woman and her actions as exceptionally sensitive.
I know of a pastor in my area of the world who actually avoids his people. Using the excuse to be “in prayer,” he hides in his office between his morning services. He prides himself in being a good Bible teacher. Maybe he is, but he’s a sorry excuse for a pastor.
When pastors, of all people, in the USAmerican form of church are too busy to exegete lives, then they betray their primary study. People are amazingly unique human beings made in God’s image and redeemed by God’s Son and loved by God’s Spirit, each one with a story uniquely his or her own. The pastor’s task–a diligent, artistic contribution–is to show people how their stories may be caught up into God’s grand story.
Maybe pastors should be sent to detective training school rather than to seminary. It’s a thought.
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