Here’s another recycled sermon:-
Once, there was an intrepid explorer pushing into the wilds of what is now Alberta, who had found a native guide. He was trying to map the area and was asking the native names of things; pointing at a mountain, he said “what is that called”, and the mountain is now Mt. Tadwagogol.
Of course, the “native” was in fact a French-speaking halfcaste trapper, as the French had been into the interior long before any Englishmen; of course, the French can speak English but on the whole the English know no French.
And so, to the French-speaker, that mountain is now called “Yourfingeryoufool”.
I could now say, like the African storyteller, “I don’t know if it happened this way, but I know this story is true”.
Actually, I do know that it didn’t happen that way, because I made up this version of a story which is told about mountains in many lands, and I suspect all of them are apocryphal, or in other words they didn’t actually happen like that. But they tell us a truth or two. The guy who knows more languages can baffle the one who doesn’t, perhaps?
Or more, never trust a translator. If you can, learn the language in use somewhere and you’ll go wrong a lot less often. In the Bible, nothing was written in English. All we have is translations. All we have is translators to produce the translations, and translators (as we’ve seen above) sometimes have their own agenda. Often, they don’t even realise they HAVE an agenda, because they just know it’s right to translate in THIS way and don’t ask themselves why they know this, what is it makes them sure – and nine times out of ten, it’s because they already have a theory of what it is that the word is likely to mean.
Such as a mountain, rather than a finger.
Or a very scary Last Judgment with the possibility of getting things wrong without realising it, rather than a corrective exaggeration encouraging people to obey the Second Great Commandment when Jesus says (Matthew 25:40) “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”.
However, there are excellent Bibles, printed and online, which have the literal translations of each word made available to you (I say “translations” rather than “translation” because a huge number of words do not translate with direct equivalence – consider “In the beginning was the Word”, which in one French translation is “Au commencement etait le verbe” and in another “le parole” giving a sense in the first of action, in the second of speaking, where our English word is a static one. I’d have translated “the Word” into French as “le Mot”, which no French Bible uses, or at least I would if I weren’t more interested in what the original said, which was “Logos” in koine Greek. And THAT is completely different again – but that’s another topic
The story shows us also that you should never mistake whatever it is that points the way for the thing which it’s pointing to. Indeed, that you should never mistake the man doing the pointing for the thing pointed at, or some part of him at least. You don’t drive up to a signpost saying “Paris” with an arrow on it and say “Right, now we’ve reached Paris”. Because that would be stupid, wouldn’t it?
And yet we sing songs in Church worshipping Jesus. No matter that the fellow we’re actually supposed to be following said on numerous occasions “not me but the Father” (in much the same way as John the Baptist is said to have said “not me but the one to come”). We have only one instance of Jesus’ words on how to pray, and that’s in Luke 11:1 (and Matthew 6:12): “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples'” . What follows is the Lord’s Prayer. You all know it. It’s a prayer to God, not to Jesus, and that’s how he, the man himself, the person we are actually supposed to be following the teachings of, actually told us to pray.
In Mark 10:18 Jesus says “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone”; that is echoed in Matthew 19:17. In John 14:28 he says “My Father is greater than I”. Even Paul manages to keep the two distinct in his mind; in Coll. 3:1 Jesus is seated on the right hand of God, 1 Cor. 11:3 “the head of Christ is God”.
There are a few problematic passages in John which have produced the concept of Jesus as God (and although it’s outside the scope of this, I have reasons for thinking that is not an unreasonable thing to say), but in all the cases I’ve mentioned so far Jesus is less than God or not God at all, really; he cries “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani” ( “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) in Mark 15:34 which Matthew also reports in 27:46.
Many of the others can be more easily explained as God being revealed through Jesus than by Jesus being God.
The big one, though, to my mind, is John 14:6, which we all know “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father but by me”.
The topology of going through God to reach God is a bit too much for me at the moment. No, I think he was rather explicitly saying “Look, this way” (or “that mountain”).
Now, what is a “way”? It’s a path, a road, a direction. Now assuming that we’ve got over our literalist tendencies today, I’m sure we’d prefer not to take home the image of walking on TOP of Jesus to get to God, so perhaps we could settle on “direction”?
Jesus is the direction to God from where we are. We don’t stop there, any more than we stop at the signpost saying “Paris”. We walk there in fellowship in a church.
And the church is the body of Christ. Paul says (1 Cor. 12:27) “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I have always suspected that, as a body part, I am the ingrowing toenail…)
I point to to Jesus, and Jesus points you to God, to a way to God, to a journey which all of us can take, walking together, side by side, but with Jesus our guide.