It’s the way you tell ‘em.
The opening gambit, as you might say, of Jesus’s public ministry, is carefully recorded in Luke 4. Jesus opens the scroll of Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth, and begins to read from chapter 61. It’s his powerful mandate for what is about to ensue: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…”
That’s a fairly regular translation of a vital verse, but the translation misses an interesting point.
The phrase “preach good news” is actually one word in Hebrew, the word basar. There’s nothing really wrong with the translation into “preach” except for what the word “preach” has come to connote. It is nowadays, after all, a “preachy” kind of word, a bit stuffy and sanctimonious. No one wants anyone to “preach” at them outside of a very specific setting; and that setting is that of “Believers gathering to hear a Qualified Minister expound Scripture in a Church setting.”
Outside of that one setting, it is somewhat different. Imagine a room full of teenagers to whom you’re explaining that the music is too loud. Your explanation, be it ever so gentle, acquires the “preachy” quality of nagging, condescending, belittling, whether or not you intend that!
Imagine any use of the word “preach” outside of the hallowed halls of pulpiteering, and it conveys something of that flavour.
The King James Bible actually uses the phrase “Bring good tidings.” Better, but no cigar.
The word basar in Isaiah 61 carries the strong implication of, if not exactly humour, then cheerfulness. Strong’s Concordance says the word means “to be fresh, i.e. full (rosy, figuratively cheerful; to announce (glad news) … bear, carry, preach, tell good tidings.” בָּשַׂר] Verb: bear tidings (√ rub smooth the face; compare Arabic remove the face of surface of a thing, compare Arabic be glad, joyful; he rejoiced him with the message of the birth of a son; Ethiopic bring a joyful message, so Assyrian bussuru (Pa.) — gladden with good tidings: birth of a son Jeremiah 20:15; victory 1 Samuel 31:9; 2 Samuel 1:20; 1 Chronicles 10:9; Psalm 68:12; היה כמבשׂר בעיניו he was in his eyes as a bearer of good tidings 2 Samuel 4:10.
That was my dictionary moment! Did you get the gist? “Rejoice him with the message of the birth of a son”! Something new, wonderful and exciting! No wonder all the worry-lines have been smoothed away. This is good good news, the very best – This is the quality of the news that Jesus was beginning to announce.
When you tell news like this, it’s difficult to keep still. When Jairus put his arms around the daughter whom he thought he had lost forever, he was not about to be sober and restrained about it. When something really good happens, who wants to keep it to themselves?
Here’s a modern translation of Matthew 5: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
When I read a translation like that I catch a little of the bubbling laughter of Jesus as he announces the unconquerable kingdom of God.
There’s a moment at the end of Life is Beautiful when Guido having successfully protected his little boy from the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp through the gift of his irrepressible laughter and joy, knows that he will not survive. And yet, looking at his son, he pulls one more stunt, goosestepping along with his executioners as his son watches. It’s as if he’s saying (as C.S.Lewis said) “My joy is not at the mercy of the misery that the world doles out. No matter what.”
Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of LIFE, of joy itself. He did it not with a “preach”, if that means the solemn nagging of naughty teenagers; he did it with a blast of grace that blows all fear away.
- Open Heavens Daily Devotional. Wednesday 23 October 2013 Theme : a Divine Champion. (greaterworksoffaith.wordpress.com)
- a divine champion…. (godswordarelife.wordpress.com)
- Time Released (devotionsinmotion.wordpress.com)
- Sam’s answer and mine (transformergirl.com)