Wednesday, January 22, 2014

News from the Lessons

If you're preaching this week, here are a couple of tidbits you might use.

1)  We are now in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an event often observed principally in the breach by American churches.

In Romania, touchingly, it was a pretty big deal.  Churches that genuinely hated each other, and had a long tradition of doing dirt to one another whenever possible, would do their best to suck it up on this one week and try to imagine what it would be like to live the way Jesus wanted them to.

Anyway, the theme of this year's Week of Prayer, "Is Christ Divided?", is taken directly from Sunday's Epistle.

2) "I will make you fish for people," the NRSV translation of Matthew 4:19, is grammatically misleading.  Jesus promises to make the fishermen into something.  And what he promises to make them is a noun, not a verb -- fishers (haliei).

This may very well matter to a preacher.  The word Jesus uses for "make" is poieso, from poiein.  It is the root of our English word "poetry," for which page Sir Philip Sidney and his dubious argument that poets make a new world which is actually better than nature's.  And when we confess in the Nicene Creed that the Father is the "maker" of Heaven and Earth, the underlying Greek is poieten.  One interpretation, then, is that when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, he offers to make them anew -- with the implication that his mission is in fact a new creation for the whole world.

Another, less cosmic, interpretation is simply that Jesus is giving these two people a new identity.  But this is where the grammar comes in, because he is not giving them a new skill.  He is not, in other words, teaching them to evangelize; he is making them evangelists.  Spreading the Gospel, in other words, is not a thing we do; it is an expression of who are.  "Evangelist" does not describe a skill set, but an identity.  (Better yet, it describes a renewed form of human nature.  But that may be too abstract for most people.)

That said, "of people" is a better translation into modern English than "of men," since anthropos can refer to either or both sexes.

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