21 July 2007

How to Read Difficult Scripture Passages

The parable of the unjust steward is as challenging to the modern ear as it was in the early church. Homilists of all ages struggle over how to understand and interpret this narrative; particularly the following "punchline": And the lord commended the unjust steward, forasmuch as he had done wisely: for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. 9 And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings. (Lk 16.8-9)

St Peter Chrysologus has at least two sermons on this pericope. He opens his first with this comment which, I think, gives the best perspective on how to approach not only this parable but all difficult passages in the Scriptures. In doing so, he places reason in its rightful place--as an obedient, subservient aid to understanding the God-breathed words.

Salt indeed is a healthy seasoning for all food, if it is used in limited amounts; otherwise, used immoderately, both the salt itself is ruined, and it destroys what it seasons. For an excessive amount makes bitter what a moderate amount could have made tasty. So too the reasoning faculty that is in us, if it should have moderation, provides flavor, gives birth to understanding, produces prudence, enlarges the heart, increases ability, gives mature expression to what must be said, puts eloquently what must be heard, becomes delightful to itself, and becomes perfectly delightful for those who partake of it. And certainly that reasoning faculty will be sweet as honey which will let nothing bitter come out of its mouth.

We have made these introductory remarks, so that our reasoning may be kept within the bounds of moderation in interpreting the Gospel, so as not to ruin the food of life, the divine nourishment, the heavenly flavor, but so as to preserve them for us with most judicious sobriety, according to the words of the Apostle: “To know no more than it is right to know, but to know in sobriety.” (Rom 12.3) But now let us listen to what the Lord has said.

Read a larger excerpt of St Peter Chrysologus' sermon on Luke 16.1-9.

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