Monday, March 25, 2013

Following Jesus in Recitation

I wonder when Jesus memorized all the scripture he knew?  When did you?  

I had amazing Sunday School teachers as a kid. I remember this map up on the board where you could pick out where all the stuff happened to Jesus during his ministry.  The teachers loved "sword drills".  That's where you stand in a line and the teacher calls out a Bible verse and you see who can find it first. I memorized the books of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the 23rd Psalm. I learned the verses from the temptation of Jesus, all of the 1st Psalm, to recite Acts 2:38 in my sleep, and a dozen more. My mom would help me at the kitchen table, correcting my pronunciation and reminding me of "a" and "the" when I'd forget.  I can't claim to have the purest motives for all this recitation. We had a homemade poster on the wall where the teacher marked how many verses you could memorize. There was delicious satisfaction in watching my spot on the poster climb and climb and climb. 

Some of that stuck.  I can still sing all the books of the Bible, and I can say the 23rd Psalm.   In fact when I am overwhelmed and sleep alludes me, I recite it again and again to calm my mind. Yet much of that early memorization is just out of reach.  I remember a phrase or an idea, so I call out across the house, "Honey where is..." and my walking concordance answers.  Or I dial up for a quick Bible reference. I had a giant concordance that I used to use but it's in America. I have technology and my husband for help.

I often wonder about Jesus: did he have to memorize all the scripture he used?  My daughter and I sat down one afternoon at my mom's table and looked up every time that Jesus quoted scripture from memory.   He is pictured reading the Bible aloud one time (at the beginning of his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth-Luke 4, Isaiah 61).  Otherwise, unless he had a pocket Old Testament scroll secreted away, we can assume he was reciting from memory. My daughter and I sat down to catalog the times and were astonished.  She and I filled up 4 pages with examples from the various gospels.  Did Jesus come to earth already knowing all the scripture his Spirit inspired? Or because of his humanity did he instead have to memorize those scriptures. I lean towards the latter.

I wonder if he learned them in synagogue?  Jewish boys did that kind of recitation as part of their schooling.  I wondered if they sang them?  Jewish children and adults learned the Psalms as songs not poems.  I wonder if he'd go to the synagogue, read the scrolls and then say the verses over and over on the way home, to the rhythm of his hammer in the workshop, to the rhythm of his feet running errands?  However he learned them, he had a wealth of scripture at his recall.  

All these ponderings leave me with a thought. Was that how Jesus prepared for his ministry? He didn't run out and begin being a rabbi at 15, or even 25.  Perhaps part of his preparation was memorizing scripture, studying it, and worshiping. We see the latter two reflected in his time in the temple at 12 years old (Luke 2:40-52). I was prepared for Christian life by my parents and Sunday School teachers in much the same way.  We memorized, we studied and we worshiped.  But in a super-fast world where much of our Bible study is technology driven (something I am grateful for both because I am forgetful and because I am a blogger) there's a real possibility of the words just not sinking in. Technology has its place in our study, I use it all the time.  It finds a good place in our worship as well. Can you imagine addressing a crowd without a microphone for example? 

But I wonder still.  What if at midnight when my girls are afraid of the shadows, or a test, or a failed relationship they don't have the 23rd Psalm to claim over and over to lull them back to peace?  Could there be a day when they are faced with a complex choice, when right and wrong is not crystal clear, when they have to decide immediately and there is no scripture hidden in their hearts?  What if they have a moment, one chance, to share to good news of Jesus Christ with a friend and without wi-fi access are helpless?  God forbid. 

I learned my scriptures when I was young.  And then I forgot them.  Shame on me.  My girls have no access to Sunday School and I have not made them sit and memorize the word.  Double shame on me.  Two weeks ago we memorized Isaiah 40:31.  The girls both got it quicker than me.  This week we are going to work on Luke 10:27-28.  We're going to try to make it a regular part of our morning devotional.  Feel free to ask me about it later and see how it's going.  But if my Savior spent his youth learning His Father's word, my girls can do no less.   
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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