Question: When does interpretation become misinterpretation?
Peter Gomes: That’s a very good question, and I deal with that in my preaching course when I say, “We must remember that it’s not about me. It’s not about you.” And therefore you have to ask this question: “What does the text permit me to say? What are the options available here? How may I … How may I …” and that’s the operative word. “How may I proceed?” Not, “How can I twist this into something that I wish to say?” Or, “How can I make this fit the agenda of the moment?” And there’s a certain humility – which may not seem to be one of my chief characteristics – but one actually facing the text, the longer one studies, one actually says, “What is here that I am allowed to . . . to deal with?” Which is very different from editorializing or expanding on a particular given point of an argument. You are really looking to see, “What is the subtext here? What is the life that is waiting to be called into being here? And how will it use me, instead of how will I manipulate it or manufacture it to do my bidding?” That’s the hardest thing in preaching, being what an old English … used to call “servant of the Word”. We preachers who take our task seriously are literally servants of the Word. The Word is there. We are in the business of trying to find what it wants us, permits us, wills us to say. Which is why preachers at their best are always dependent upon that third, most mysterious member of the blessed and undivided Trinity, the Holy Spirit. And we’re supposed to be listening, and we’re not supposed to speak until we have heard what the … what it is we are meant to say.