I’ve been reading scripture wrong my whole life…and you probably have been too.

Have you ever so radically shifted your perspective on the world that it felt like the floor was falling out from under you?

I remember exactly where I was in 2012 when a single statement from a friend made me feel this way. And in a way, I’ve been falling ever since.

Let me set the scene for you: I was living in southern India at the time. The vast majority of Indians, if you didn’t know, are of the Hindu faith. Faith and religion was a conversation I often had with my Hindu friends.

Our culture and our preconceptions color the way we interpret the stories we read in scripture. That’s what happened when my friend heard this story.

One day a few of my friends were at my apartment. We were sitting around discussing a story of Jesus which you may be very familiar with. I know I was. It was the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair.

Jesus was having a meal with some friends (and others who weren’t so friendly). During the meal, a woman with a certain reputation walked in. Her reputation was not good and she likely wasn’t a very welcome guest to the dinner party. The fact that she walked in at all must have had everyone on edge and confused because no one said anything directly to her. Instead, the not-so-friendly friends of Jesus decided to keep quiet and watch. They knew that Jesus had a reputation as well. It was reported that often associated with lowly, unwelcome people. If he did this time, they would catch him in the act and her shame would become his shame as well…they thought. As they talked, the woman approached Jesus and performed an odd act. Without going into the cultural significance of the act, just know that it was the act of a servant towards one of greater status; she washed his feet. But she took it a step further: instead of a towel, she used her hair.

If you’ve heard this story before, you likely have a picture in your mind of what the scene looked like. Jesus and others gathered around a table, talking. Food and drink are being consumed. A woman hunched over with her head near Jesus’ feet as she cries and scrubs.

It was at this point that my friend made the statement that destroyed my paradigm about reading scripture.

He said, “Wow, that’s amazing…that this woman would cut off her hair and use it to wash Jesus’ feet!”

::Insert record scratch here::

I sat still and quiet, my mind racing. Did it say that? Did it not say that?

That certainly wasn’t the picture I had in my mind (google it…you won’t find ANY pictures where the hair isn’t attached to her head)…but as I thought about it, I realized that I had approximately and exactly zero information to contradict the way my friend had pictured the story.

Here’s some more background for you: In Hinduism, it is a common practice for people to shave off their hair and offer it to their god in their temple.

So when my friend heard a story about a woman using her hair to wash the feet of the god-man Jesus, it made perfect sense to him that it wasn’t actually attached to her head when she did it!

Our culture and our preconceptions color the way we interpret the stories we read in scripture. That’s what happened when my friend heard this story.

But it wasn’t more than a split second before I had a second wave of understanding knock me over…

If his culture was causing him to interpret the text that way, could my culture be causing me to interpret it the way that I did (always had)?

Upon a closer examination of the text, I found that I had just as much support for my interpretation of the event as my friend did: none.

He said, “Wow, that’s amazing…that this woman would cut off her hair and use it to wash Jesus’ feet!”

And if my culture had potentially (definitely) colored my interpretation of this story, how many others had I potentially bent to fit my culture and understanding as well?

It is an equally haunting and healthy question to ask.

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As you read scripture for yourself, we must remember that the stories were written in and to a culture that is not ours. There is much “between the lines” that we do not see, and much that we assume as obvious that is actually completely wrong.

Be open to questioning how you read.

Learning this lesson has been critical to my eyes being opened to the real message of scripture.

May you have eyes to see.

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Ryan Mayfield

Ryan Mayfield

Want to know what things are on my mind this week? Here’s where you can find it! Think of this like us sharing a cup of coffee and catching up on life.