Weeks ago I read through several of the
upcoming readings for Sunday mornings. This coming week, “Holy Trinity,” features the creation story from Genesis 1, and what is often referred to as the “Great Commission” from Matthew 28. As I explored themes for sermon titles I picked a word from Matthew 28:20b (New Revised
Standard Version), “And remember, I am with you until the end of the age.” I chose the word, “remember” for the title for this week’s upcoming sermon.
I’ve been thinking about remembering and all that the word implies. I thought about animals who remembered how to get home after being displaced. There was a great story recently about a dog who walked home with two broken legs after being thrown around by a tornado. I thought about the horrors people live through by remembering personal tragedies. I thought of the promise of Jesus who tells us to “remember” that he is with until the end of the age.
Trying to be a good student, I decided to look the word up. As it turns out, the Greek word in the text is “idou” – which means: “Look! See! Behold! Lo!” Unfortunately for me, it
doesn’t mean “remember.” Well, there goes that sermon!
“Idou” seems to be more about an “Aha!” moment than an “Oh yeah” moment (like when you recall where you left your keys or wallet, a realization of something obvious). There certainly seems to be a sharper edge and urgency to “Look! See! Behold! Lo!” than simply recalling Jesus is here, just in case you forgot. I looked up how a few other familiar translations communicate this verse:
King James Version – “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Revised Standard Version – “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
New International Version – “And surely I am with you until the end of the age.”
The Message – “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Contemporary English Version – “I’ll be with you always, even to the end of the world.”
Words matter. It matters how we use words, and what we mean by them. When we substitute words, even to guide speech along, we may even inadvertently change the meaning. A recent move by a publisher substituted the word “slave” for “a word I
care not to repeat” in Mark Twain’s, Huckleberry Finn, stirring debate and controversy. A regional judicatory of a Protestant denomination recently restructured its purpose statement using the word “love” instead of “God” – figuring that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The argument went that those outside the church may not know what we mean when we say “God” and using “love” might communicate better. (I’m not so sure considering how many people say OMG all the time). It does change the meaning of a sentence when you say, “Go where love leads; serve where love calls” versus “Go where God leads; serve where God calls” doesn’t it? I remember a synod assembly several years ago when we received our new hymnal and one pastor ripped the page with the Apostles Creed out of the book (ELW, 105) as a public display of disgust. A bit rash perhaps, but words do matter. He thought the newest translation of the creed had changed its meaning completely and could not reconcile the two versions.
We are limited by language and much as it opens our world. Different languages construct sentences differently; use different grammar, word order, even concepts as to how thoughts can be expressed. One reason there are so many translations of the Bible is the
variety of languages, and the changing nature of language. Just think of the slang you may have used five, ten, fifteen years ago, (or more) and how new words have replaced those same phrases. I was at a youth gathering a few years ago and while the speaker was talking, the Bible passage he was referring to flashed across a screen in texting script. At the time I hadn’t started texting yet, and didn’t realize it wasn’t gibberish until a youth pointed it out to me. Reading the King James Version four hundred years ago when it was first printed would sound contemporary. Today it sounds poetic, but more than a bit arcane. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, it was the contemporary language
of the Roman Empire. Years later when Wycliffe and Tyndale first translated the
Bible into English, and Luther translated it into German their translations were seen as threats to established order. I wonder what my pastor colleague would have done with a translation like that in his hands.
Yet the best thing to “remember” or better yet “behold” when regarding these human efforts to translate the Bible into our common languages is that the Bible’s credibility and message ultimately does not rest on us. Yes we use our lips and tongues to speak its words, and our eyes and ears to receive it. But if we believe that Jesus really is with us to the end of time then we will not be forsaken, even in our folly. The Bible translates us. The Living Word (this Christ who will not abandon us) interprets us always by his cross – revealing
our sin, estrangement and brokenness that kills us while also revealing God’s love for us (or is it Love’s Love for us?). In the meantime God uses us to speak the faith, in word and deed by writing it upon our hearts. (I’m not sure if Love alone can do that).
Peace to you,
“(Aha!) I am with you until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
What does your Bible say? How would you say it in your own words?