Freedom & Responsibility in Scriptural Interpretations

Today my brother asked me to commend on a video which he sent me through whatsapp. Some of his friends sent it to him and asked him of the regressive nature of the same. I have seen this video quite some time ago, but didn’t care about it at all. Now when he asked, I felt it was significant to comment as it was not just on youtube, but even on Shalom TV (very popular in Kerala). The video is old and in Malayalam, but it has a priest ranting (word is purposefully used) against the dressing of women, about her wearing so-called men’s clothing. I don’t have anything against the priest (i didn’t recognize him too), but much against this sermon.

And it has the priest justifying the same on the basis of Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God”. And he concludes that all the sexual immoralities are happening due to this aberration.

Either he has not read any biblical commentaries on the verse or he doesn’t have enough common sense to check before giving a sermon to a huge audience. [I know I am harsh here, but it is okay]. Definitely the young won’t give any attention to his sermon. I am sure this is not the interpretation of the church too.

Now my brother’s question was… How a priest could give such an interpretation? I don’t have a good answer for it. But three words which are significant in this context are freedom, responsibility and contextual sensibility.

I don’t think the church has a fixed interpretation for each of the verses in the Bible. Definitely our understanding and interpretations changes and grows over the years, inspired by the holy spirit. For this process to happen, freedom is essential. [Freedom is definitely not the option to say as you like. It is a very narrow understanding of freedom].

But along with that, You have a responsibility to convey an authentic interpretation (based on your reflections, and the understanding of the church). Misusing the Word of God to give a punch or to increase your popularity is not the right approach.

The call of a Jesuit is to be holy and learned. [I am nowhere close to it, leave that]. It is not either-or … but both… St. Teresa of Avila (the great mystic)is famed for having advised that, if we must choose, it is better to have a learned director than a holy one — since one who is learned will be able to advise the safest course to take in the spiritual life, but one who is holy (without being learned) will not know of any spirituality beyond his own. It is in no way belittling holiness, but sensing the importance of learning.

Such videos are an invitation for any preacher (priest/religious or lay) to have the combination of holiness and learning to understand and interpret the scripture. It is foolish to believe that Holy Spirit will keep on inspiring me and I needn’t learn anything. Use common sense (again a gift of God )to understand that the contextual sensibilities have to be regarded to understand most of the verses. And lastly the courage to apologize if you have gone wrong.

A Jesuit interested to think and write; Loves philosophy, spirituality, politics…. Believes in God & well-being of all humans… Open to difference & newness..

A Jesuit interested to think and write; Loves philosophy, spirituality, politics…. Believes in God & well-being of all humans… Open to difference & newness..