We looked yesterday at how Jesus warned the Jews against judging against appearances. The first reason was that they were judging him by his education, and as a result, many blew off his teaching.
But the second reason Jesus warned the Jews against judging against appearances was that their interpretation of scripture was wrong. To the Jews, it appeared that healing people on the Sabbath was wrong because it was “work.” But if they had looked carefully at all of the scriptures, they would have discovered it is always lawful to do good. (Matthew 12:12)
Sometimes Christians make the same mistake. They look at a scripture and they misinterpret it. Why? Because they miss the context of the passage. Sometimes it’s the immediate context of the scripture. Sometimes, it’s the context of all of scripture.
What do I mean?
We saw one example of this in John 6, where Jesus talked about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Taken out of its immediate context, it sounds very gruesome. Put into its context, we see that Jesus is talking figuratively. That if we come to him (eat his flesh), and put our faith in him (drink his blood), we’ll have eternal life.
I had a friend point out another passage where Jesus was anointed with very expensive oil, and his disciples criticized the woman who did this (Mary of Bethany), saying she should have helped the poor instead by selling the perfume. But Jesus told them, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11)
My friend commented, “How arrogant Jesus was being.”
But he failed to take two things into account. First, in the book of John, we find that Judas, the main person who criticized Mary, had no actual concern for the poor. He was actually embezzling money from all they collected for the poor. (John 12:6)
Second, Jesus was actually quoting a scripture from Deuteronomy 15:11, which says,
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
Jesus’ point then was not that the poor weren’t important. He was saying, “There will always be poor people and we should help them as we have been. But you won’t always have the chance to show love for me. She’s taking that opportunity while she can. So don’t criticize her for that.”
So in the whole context of scripture, Jesus wasn’t being arrogant at all; he was simply defending Mary’s actions against a hypocritical disciple’s criticism.
But when we pull a scripture out of context, it’s easy to make the kind of mistake my friend did.
Let us be careful then, how we read scripture. Let us take in the immediate context of what we read, as well as the whole of scripture. Only in doing so can we make right judgments about what it is saying.