(By Viola Larson, Naming His Grace blog). This posting covers the last lesson in Presbyterian Women’sHorizons Bible Study, Who is Jesus? What a Difference a LensMakes. Author, Judy Yates Siker, could have helped the reader of the whole Bible Study by placing this lesson, “According to Contemporary Cultural Interpretations,” or at least its underlying theme about biblical interpretation, as a part of the introduction. Looking back over the nine lessons one sees the real cheat—there is, according to Siker, no absolute answer to the question about Jesus—instead there is personal opinion.
I have already quoted twice, in other parts of my continuing review, from this lesson. Siker’s words are the mainstay of all nine lessons whether they be orthodox or heterodox. She writes:
“As we become more and more conversant with our sacred text, we begin to understand that to seek the meaning of a text is not as useful as seeking what New Testament Scholar Brian Blount calls ‘meaning potential.’ Some who hear this term may fear that it is watering down the biblical text, allowing it to mean whatever the reader wants it to mean. After all it is much more comforting to think that if we try hard enough or if we study enough, we can know the one true meaning of the text. I would like us to consider, however, that the approach of ‘meaning potential’ is a more honest reading of the sacred text. This way of approaching our Bible acknowledges the reality that every reader is an interpreter standing within his or her own community. Each interpretation is a conversation between the biblical writing and the biblical reader, most often mediated by centuries of tradition and immediate experiences and situations of the reader. Along the way, we encounter many potential readings of the text, some more compelling than others. There is no such thing as a completely objective reading of a text.”
Siker, using a radical feminist and liberation theologian, Leticia Guardiola-Sáenz, to exegete Matthew 15:21-28, attempts to explain how ‘meaning potential’ works. The effect is a Jesus who errs since he seemingly excludes the ‘other’ and needs to be “humanized” by the other.
The story in the text is about Jesus’ response to a Canaanite woman whose daughter is demon possessed. The story is problematic because at first Jesus apparently refuses to help stating that “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The woman’s response, “…even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” is seen by most progressive theologians as a wise means of getting Jesus to see the other as equal to himself and others, also encouraging him to change.
Siker writes of Guardiola-Saenz’s view of the story as a liberation story. Her take, to say the least, is horrific:
“Reading the story this way, Jesus represents the powerful ones who demand that she stay in her place, as it were. This kind of power play is dehumanizing, even as we are surprised to see Jesus treating the Canaanite woman as less than a full human being. A culturally sensitive reading suggests that, rather than succumb to being dehumanized yet again the Canaanite woman stands firmly in her place and leaves Jesus speechless. The woman is able to awaken Jesus to the dehumanization that she has experienced, and the result is that she humanizes Jesus.”
I want to deal first with the story and then look deeper into the problems connected to Siker’s statement about biblical interpretation.