Lent 2: Year A.
The words are familiar enough: ‘In the beginning was…’ well what? What was it that was ‘in the beginning’? John the Evangelist tells us that it was the ‘logos’ – which our English translations generally render as ‘the word’. However there are those who would say that this is not an entirely satisfactory way of translating a word which originally denoted the whole act of speech, not merely an item of it (the Greek word for that is ‘rhema’). In ancient usage ‘logos’ could refer to the principle of intelligence, which, so some philosophers taught, pervades the universe as a kind of cosmic rationality and which, like Wisdom, coming out of the mouth of the Most High, reaches from one end to the other and orders all things mightily and sweetly. ‘Logos’ could also denote a narrative, an account, a story; it could refer to the inner mental processes of thinking and reflecting, or to the external exchange of communication, conversation and discourse. In fact the 16th century Dutch humanist Erasmus, drawing on a tradition which goes back to the early days of Christianity, in his translation of the Greek New Testament into Latin, rendered ‘logos’ as ‘sermo’ – the Latin word for discourse, talk, conversation. It is a fascinating and intriguing notion that ‘in the beginning was the conversation, the conversation was with GOD and the conversation was GOD’. That is how it all began – with mutuality and exchange and consultation within the GODhead. Nothing happened without it.
to Christian belief, the conversation became audible and we were invited to join
in. Because it is in a language which we can understand and to which we can
respond, our participation in the divine conversation has the effect of raising
our human nature on to another level, making us a new people, a new creation.
Jesus can be said to be GOD’s way of being human, he can also be said to be
the conversation which GOD wishes to have with us. Jesus is for us the King’s
Speech and if we will allow him, he will make it his business to heal us of our
halting and faltering human discourse and enable us to speak clearly.
you may remember, thought that a book without pictures or conversations as
altogether unsatisfactory. Perhaps the fourth evangelist was of the same
opinion, for of all four Gospels his is the one which in so many ways is richest
in circumstantial and pictorial detail and which also reports some of the
conversations which Jesus had with those whom he encountered in the days of his
flesh. Among them the Woman of Samaria, various groups of Jews, the disciples in
the Upper Room on the night of his betrayal, Simon Peter on the shore of the Sea
of Tiberias and others as well. Other conversations are hinted at; we hear, as
it were, the murmur of voices behind closed doors (think for instance of Andrew
and the other disciple, who following Jesus, spent the rest of the day with him,
presumably talking with him). In today’s Gospel reading we eavesdrop on a
conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, ‘a man of the Pharisees… a leader
of the Jews…a teacher of
Conversation – encounter, exchange, discussion. At one time it was not unusual to speak of our ‘Mother Tongue’. It is a significant metaphor. Language is maternal, it is the womb in which we are formed and nurtured. In the beginning it was by being addressed by others, in words, in speech, in song, in silence, that gradually we were able to develop a sense of self, a sense of identity. Because of that, we are able to do the same for others.
ours is the vocabulary, the grammar and the syntax of the King’s Speech, our
dealings with others will be like his fertile and life-giving. ‘My word shall
not return to me empty,’ says GOD ‘but shall accomplish that which I purpose
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’. (Isaiah 55:10).
That is how it is to be with our speech, our words. What we say to one another and how we say it is of immense significance for the making of ourselves and of one another and of our world. It is the choice which we make a hundred times a day as we talk to one another, talk about one another, as we gossip, joke, exchange news, share our hopes, our doubts, our uncertainties, our fears, express our opinions and pass on information.
conversational range is immense.
It belongs to our Christian discipleship to speak words which are good, blessing-filled and life-enhancing. We need to be aware of what we say and of how we say it, if we are to nurture and cherish the dignity of others.
reporting the conversation which we hear in today’s Gospel, the
Evangelist tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus ‘by night’. It is often the
case that GOD’s creative and fertile address to us enters our lives when we
are in the dark. It is in the ‘unknowing’ that the new life germinates
within us, waiting for the moment when we shall be ready to receive it. Jesus
said to the disciples that he had many things to say to them but that at that
point they were not ready for them. ‘For everything there is a season, (says
the Preacher in
in what Jesus says to Nicodemus is the truth that it is in the darkness and
silence of our ‘unknowing’, if we have ears to hear, we can learn to
relinquish the control and power with which we seek to manage our lives and wait
quietly upon GOD. This is how we are to be born again, by becoming small and
dependent. This is how we are to live in the Spirit, who moves in us and among
us as and how he wills. For the Spirit is always present to our lives and he
will renew us and teach us how to take our place, how to listen and how and when
to speak, in the conversation which is from the beginning and into which GOD,
who is always a new language, invites us and bids us welcome.
Eric Simmons CR