I recently read a great article called “My Problem with the Bible”, by Brian Zahnd. He offered a unique perspective on the task of reading the bible. Basically, he said that most of the time history is written by the victors. Thus, our version of history is heavily weighted towards those countries that were fortunate enough to come up on the winning side.
In the case of the bible, however, that does not hold true. The bible is written from the perspective of the underdog. It is the point of view of the Hebrew slave, the downtrodden Jew who was oppressed by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and then the Romans. In the parables of Jesus, we are asked to identify with poor Lazarus who does not even get to eat what the dogs get while the rich man dines in splendor. And what about those few times in the history of Israel when the country was enjoying good times? It was then that the prophets came forward to hurl accusations of sin at King David and all the others who dared to take advantage of the poor.
The problem that Zahnd has with the bible is that we Americans fail to understand that we are not in the same position as the ancient Hebrews. Our situation in life is much closer to the oppressors than it is to the oppressed to whom Jesus gave his message. We are much more like the tax collectors and the rich than the poor among whom Jesus moved freely.
So what happens when we read the message of Jesus and we identify with the wrong people in the parables and in his stories? We miss the chance to have an honest encounter with God. First of all, we are in danger of seeing ourselves as the oppressed when we really are not. We then turn around and start looking for imaginary oppressors. Sometimes we target the real poor and blame them for our problems. That is quite an upside down approach to the words of Jesus!
We also miss the chance to have Jesus truly critique our way of life. Zacchaeus was a wee little man but he really heard what Jesus said to him. Maybe if we actually understood where we stand in the stories, we could hear the message, too. Perhaps we would be able to repent of our sins and begin life anew. It is never too late even if it is never easy to take a hard look at ourselves.