Sometimes I can listen to a brother speak, and his talk is so filled with figures of speech that I wonder if he even knows the literal application of them. I know I don’t always. I’m not a farmer, and yet I know, for example, that the Word is filled with words and ideas that draw upon the life and work of a farmer in a bygone age.
Speech is developed out of — and dependent upon — cultures, languages, locations, and genders, among other circumstances. To appreciate this, we need go no further than our own brotherhood of Christadelphians. It can be a maze of confusion, bewilderment, sometimes agitation, and even amusement. Speech is the warp and woof of our communal life, and I love it.
The Bible has cultural idioms too. I was reading recently about a certain passage in the New Testament where, supposedly, there is a wonderful double entendre in the Greek. When the early Church Fathers tried to translate this, they recognized it could not be done and so they didn’t try, but left it as it appeared in Greek. Consequently the full impact of what the apostle said was lost, for it cannot be approximated in English either. What was written in Greek, between the lines so to speak, had to be translated and explained to me several times, and in sequence and context — before I could finally understand it. Only then could I laugh!
We don’t need to be an astronomer to “survey the heavens” (Psa 19:1). Nor do we need to be a biologist to understand God’s promise to Abraham, that his seed would be as the stars of the heavens. William Tyndale, to whom we owe so much for the translation of the Bible into English, prayed that even a simple plowman would one day be able to fathom the depths of the divine majesty. And so it came to pass. Me, I’m not even a plowman!
We don’t need to be an agronomist to understand how a seed must die to bring new life. It is enough to know that it must. It can be the little things of life that can be most profound if we let them.
An example of this occurred in our kitchen the other day, and my wife shared it with me. She was shelling almonds for her morning cereal (that’s about as mundane as you can get), when she dropped one. Alas, our kitchen has almond-colored flooring with a busy pattern. From a standing position, she could never see the almond. But when she knelt down, there it was.
She came to me in the other room and wanted me to “rejoice” with her, for she had found the almond that was lost. Supportive husband that I am, I said, “Huh?” She then told me about dropping the almond and how she found it, and how that reminded her of the woman in Jesus’ parable who had lost her coin:
“Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin’ “ (Luke 15:8,9, NIV).
For a few moments we refreshed ourselves in the teachings of the Master, thanks to a dropped almond. Then we thought, this could only have happened because we were both familiar with Jesus’ little story, and we thanked our heavenly Father for providing it.
The mundane, whether coins or almonds, are of little consequence without the vital spiritual application, which in this case is in the next verse:
“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v 10).
If we are open to the possibility, then we will contemplate the wondrous gift bestowed on us who, though “like sheep gone astray”, have been found by our Creator, who reached down and recovered us from the mire of this world — so that another verse could be written to the lovely hymn:
“Behold the amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestowed
On us, the sinful sons of men,
To call us sons of God.”