On every baseball team there is always a kid who has a hard time judging fly balls.
This is the guy who is so fixated on where the ball is that he never can figure out where the ball is going to be. So the coach puts him out in right field, where fewer balls are hit.
The ability to catch a fly ball is completely dependent on a person’s ability to judge the trajectory of a ball’s flight and run to the exact spot where it is going to land.
It’s an exercise in predicting the future, literally on the fly. If you can’t do it, you get stuck in right field.
When it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible, there are a lot of right-field Christians. They can’t judge the Bible’s trajectories; most aren’t even aware that there are trajectories in the Bible.
Let me offer an example from Deuteronomy, which lists the Canaanites as among the people of the Promised Land with whom the Israelites were not to associate.
In fact, they were to kill them. “You must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2).
In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus, begging him to heal her daughter from a demon occupation.
Jesus resists, telling her that he didn’t come to save non-Israelites. That seems harsh, but at least he didn’t kill her, as Deuteronomy would have him to do.
She persists, and he relents, marveling to everyone around him at the great faith of this Canaanite woman, which I suspect was his intention all along. And with a word he heals her daughter.
Deuteronomy 7 is where the ball was; in Matthew 15, Jesus could see where the ball was going to be.
Genesis 17 offers another example. God told Abraham that every male, in order to be a part of the people of God, had to be circumcised.
If they refused, they were to be cut off from the people of God because they had violated the covenant.
This wasn’t a temporary matter, either. “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant,” Genesis 17:13 states.
Flash forward a few hundred years to the time when Paul has taken the news about Jesus to Gentile lands, and many were becoming believers.
There were many Christians back in Judea who insisted that these new believers become circumcised in accordance with the everlasting law.
Peter and Paul, however, insisted that such a thing was no longer needed as a sign of God’s people since the Holy Spirit coming to the Gentiles was sign enough.
The Judean Christians could only see where the ball was; Peter and Paul saw where the ball was going to be.
Deuteronomy 23:1 provides yet another example. At that time, eunuchs were prohibited from being a part of the people of God, yet in Acts 8 a eunuch asked the apostle Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
Instead of looking at where the ball was and citing Deuteronomy, the Holy Spirit led Philip to see where the ball was going to be, and he baptized the eunuch.
If you were to name the trajectory these stories describe, it would be from exclusion to inclusion. Exclusion is where the ball was; inclusion is where the ball was going to be.
Those who once were excluded from the people of God are now included through faith in the grace of God through Jesus.
There are still plenty of Christians who read Leviticus and Deuteronomy as if the ball is always right there. As a result, the ball is always flying way above their heads.
You have to be able to judge trajectory. Even in right field.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.