Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman offers a different perspective on the life and social context of the life of Jesus. I think this perspective can be an encouragement to read the Bible from the point of view of those on the margins. Howard Thurman was a minister, theologian and civil rights activist. He was a mentor of Martin Luther King Jr. and it’s said that he carried a copy of this book in his pocket during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Thurman explains that Jesus was a poor Jewish man living under the Roman occupation. His country was conquered by the Romans so Jewish people lived under their oppression and longed for the day when they could be free of Roman rule. He also wasn’t into a family with money or social status. So when Jesus began to preach and teach and started the movement that we now know as Christianity he wasn’t talking to people with power and influence. It was for those who were oppressed and marginalized. His disciples were men who were social outcasts and were the farthest thing from religious leaders.
Overtime Western Christianity has moved away from seeing Jesus and the Bible this way. Over the last several hundred years Christians have gained more power and social control, so the Bible has been read and interpreted from that point of view. Instead of seeing Scripture from the point of view of the marginalized and oppressed we read it from a place of power. We often think of ourselves as the one defining and shaping the culture rather than being the ones having a culture forced on us. We often think of ourselves of the heroes in the story, as the one giving the help but rarely as the one needing it. We think of ourselves as David but not Goliath, as the Good Samaritan but not the traveler needing help.
I’d like to encourage us all to practice reading from the margin, to read from the point of view of the marginalized. This is a term I’m borrowing from M. Shawn Copeland who wrote an article called “The Thinking Margin”. Reading from the margin is simply the idea of reading from the point of view of those who lack power and who are oppressed in Scripture and in our society.
In order to effectively read from the margins, it is important to evaluate the lens we bring to reading scripture. To begin to interrogate the lens you bring to reading the Bible, when reading the Bible ask yourself questions like:
- What things in my social context inform how I read the Bible?
- How might someone without the privileges I have read this story differently?
To practice reading from the margin, a good story to start with is Acts 3:1-10.
Begin by reading through the passage, then read it again from the perspective of the lame beggar.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- From what perspective did you read the story from the first time
- How did reading from the perspective of the lame beggar change the story for you?
- What new things did you notice the second time?
- What might this story mean for someone today who is in a position in life is similar to the lame man’s?
Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
The Thinking Margin by M. Shawn Copeland
Reading the Bible from the Margins by Miguel A. De La Torre