Sunday, May 6, 2018

Lost in translation

In the Gospel lesson for today (John 15.9-17) Jesus says "love" 9 or 10 times.

But that's the thing: John is written in Greek, not English, so Jesus didn't say "love".

There are three words in Greek that are all translated as 'love' in English.

There is 'eros'....'nough said, you know about 'erotic love'.

There is 'philios'--like Philadelphia, the city of 'Brotherly (Sisterly) Love".

And there is "agape", which is the love that literally gives itself away. As in that passage, Jesus says, "if you AGAPE each other you will lay down your life for your friend". Agape is that kind of love.

And 'agape' is the word Jesus uses in that passage. "I agape you as the Father agapes me." "This is my command, that you agape one another. (The tenses and declensions make 'agape' more complicated but you get the gist.)

"Love" is really a throwaway word in English in many ways. I say, "I love my grandchildren" but I also say, "I love the New York Yankees" and "I love blueberry pie". English has no clear distinctions regarding the levels of 'love'.

Obviously, I agape my grandchildren since I would willingly die for them to live. Baseball and pie aren't in that category.

So, we are called by Jesus to 'agape' each other.

That's a hard call to answer.

Remember at the end of John's gospel (21.15-17) when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and Peter always answers "yes, Lord, you know I love you." Remember that?

So lost in translation. The first two times Jesus asks Peter "do you agape me" and Peter replies, "you know I philios you". The third time, giving Peter the benefit of the doubt, Jesus asks, "do  you philios me?" and Peter replies, "you know all things, you know I philios you."

Some theologians don't think we're up to agape. They think only God can agape. But Jesus, in today's gospel tells us he commands us to 'agape' one another.

Imagine if we were willing to lay down our lives for everyone. Imagine how that might transform the world.

(One aside: "love your neighbor as you love yourself". We don't love ourselves enough. We're taught not to. But we need to truly love ourselves if our love for our neighbor is to be agape.)

"There is enough light to see," a wise rabbi told his followers as the sun was rising, "when you can look into the face on any human being and see the face of God."

That would truly be agape love.

Pray, my brothers and sisters, for 'enough light to see...."

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.