Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hidden treasure in the Common English Bible

It absolutely made my day to read John 2 in the CEB.  "Passion for your house consumes me."

Passion.  It's a good word.  A nice, strong, ordinary word that means roughly the same thing as the archaic anglicized Greek word  "zeal."  As such, it's a solid translation choice.

But it's more than that.  In a subtle, quiet, inconspicuous way, it's also brilliant.

I don't know about you, but when I think of "the zeal of Christ," I think about the cleansing of the temple.  When I think of "the passion of Christ," though, something else comes to mind. The same thing, in fact, that came to the disciples' minds.

The Psalm John quotes isn't just about a passion that consumes him internally, but rather about a passion that consumes him externally--a passion that attracts persecution. The psalmist's enemies sought to destroy him precisely because of his fervor for God's house, and the same was true for Jesus.

John's account of the temple cleansing is a puzzle for harmonizers of the gospels.  In the synoptics, the temple cleansing comes at the end--the last straw that finally gets him crucified.  John tells this story near the beginning of Jesus' ministry, right after the wedding at Cana. 

Here's the strange thing, though:  in John's gospel--the one gospel that doesn't chronologically link this event with the crucifixion--the whole point is that this action got him crucified.  The synoptics draw out the reasons why Jesus was angry, the cheating and the disruption.  John leaves all that tacit, though, and simply talks about Christ's death and resurrection.  "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again."

I suppose that it's logically possible that Jesus cleansed the temple twice--but given the unique focus of John's account, I read the temple cleansing as a careful and intentional flash-forward.  I suspect that John assumes that his readers are already familiar with the chronological placement of this event, and he wants them to understand the wedding at Cana ("...my hour has not yet come...") in light of that context. Even the heavily time-laden transition between between the two scenes is richest when read as a reference to the brevity of Jesus' entire earthly ministry.  Jesus stayed present in Capernaum with his mothers and brothers and disciples, but not for many days, because the passover of the Jews--the Passover of the Jews--was near at hand.

Be all that as it may, it's clear that one way or another, when John talks about Jesus' passion in 2:17, he also wants us to be thinking about His Passion.  It delights me that there would be a single English word that could simultaneously refer to the one concept, and hauntingly suggest the other.  I'm not sure which delights me more--the lovely serendipity of language, or the sense of kinship with the modernday disciple-wordsmith who recognized "passion" as exactly the right word for that spot.

1 comment:

  1. Love this thought on how John and the synoptic writers could have been recording the same event. John is such a good writer and this type of fast-forward would be totally in line with his style.