Sunday, March 12, 2006

Which Words?

Jesus said, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Yes, Lord; but, which words? I’m not interested in debating the qualities of various translations; and, bless me, but my Greek is not as good as it once was, and so translations are, by and large, where I work. I’m not interested in issues of historicity. I believe that you came, that you spoke, and that the words got recorded, in not perfectly, at least well enough. I’m not thinking about whether Paul also got “your words,” and got them down accurately. And I’m not particularly interested in playing off one Gospel against another.

But still, which words? We spend so much time and energy on just this question. Sometimes you call for rigid personal discipline and piety. Sometimes you proclaim forgiveness, and call us to forgive without limit. Sometimes you say things that confirm the Jewish tradition as you received it, and sometimes you stand that tradition on its head. Sometimes you expound high theology, and sometimes you proclaim folk wisdom, and sometimes you make no sense at all. Sometimes you show great grief and compassion, and sometimes you lash out in anger. Sometimes you cry out in frustration, and sometimes you just have to get away to be silent.

So, Lord, which words? Must I pick and choose? Barring direct revelation of the Spirit or the coming of the Kingdom, it seems I must. And if I must, mustn’t everyone else? Is there anyone who does not face this limit?

There are of course those who say they don’t, who try to hold them all in an unruly package, an uneasy tension. There are those who say that, led by the Spirit, they can approach this question knowing your perspective, your choices.

But I’m not one of them. I know my limitations. And so I must set my standards and make my choices. And I must do so with utmost humility, because I know my limitations, and I still wait for the Kingdom and its clarity. Whether or not I think others exercise such humility, that is what I must do.

And if I must make choices, Lord, it is only because I struggle to understand, to hear you clearly. It is not because I am ashamed of you, Lord. I can only pray you will not be ashamed of me.

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