Write, if you any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or to add to the answers given below.
As I brought my eight-year-old granddaughter home from school, we listened to Choral Evensong. The music was wonderful, but the New Testament lesson included Matthew 18.1-9. She was horrified and found Jesus a great turn-off. Should the Church not be more careful about the passages put out to the public in this way without explanation?
Such is the nature of the Bible that some passages require a certain amount of unpacking or, at the very least, a word of explanation. That said, one wouldn’t normally expect to meet with a sermon or homily at a weekday cathedral evensong, and, so far as the Radio 3 broadcast service is concerned, time constraints militate against the inclusion of one.
There are perhaps occasions when a brief word to try and clarify the meaning of a passage may be useful before it is read. The first five verses of Matthew 18.1-9 should delight any child’s heart. Verses 6 and 7 are a stern warning to those who would put stumbling-blocks in the way of children.
So far as I can see, the only “difficult” verses are 8 and 9, where Jesus clearly isn’t speaking literally, but in a non-literal sense. A wise parent or guardian should be able to explain this to a young person.
Adrian F. Sunman
South Collingham, Notts
I would ask the questioner to explain to his or her granddaughter that Jesus is not at fault, but that the translation has lost its original meaning. Matthew 18.8, 9 use Aramaic idioms of first-century Palestine which have been given too literal a translation. Jesus was speaking in Aramaic to people who used these idioms, which did not mean amputation of hands, feet, or eyes.
I have read (I apologise that I can’t lay my hand on the reference) that “hand” represents “the work” you do. “If your hand . . . offends you, cut it off” means “If the work you do causes you to sin (act unjustly in interpersonal relations), change your job.”
Similarly, Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh in the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Fortress Press) infer that “hands and feet” mean “activity”, and “eye” means “way of thinking and judging”. I am reminded of the English idiom “having an eye for it”. They relate back to the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6.13, “and do not let us enter into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Lamsa’s translation of “the Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern text, the Peshitta”). Malina and Rohrbaugh link Matthew 18.9 to 6.14, “For if you forgive men their faults, your Father in heaven will also forgive you” (Lamsa’s translation).
Helpfully, there is a footnote to Lamsa’s translation which explains that “cast it away” (or cut it off) means “stop it”. Therefore, we are to stop doing those things that lead us into temptation or sin.
S. G. (name and address supplied by post)
All passages can be meaningful of course, but a number need to be explained in some way either in the sermon or by at least a preface by the person doing the reading. They may be fine for Bible study, or people with an in-depth understanding of the passages, but not for a service where people who may not even have been to church before come along.
The Rt Revd Lord Williams is shown (News, 7 October) giving his blessing without wearing a mitre. I have noticed other bishops doing this, and also not wearing a mitre when giving absolution. Bishops always seemed to wear a mitre when carrying out these functions in the past. Has there been a change in custom? If so, for what reason?
The traditional Advent themes are death, judgement, heaven, and hell, which is why, as I understand it, on the Third Sunday, those of us who do these things light a pink candle among the purple, and wear pink, not purple, vestments. In Common Worship, the themes are the Patriarchs, the Prophets, St John the Baptist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Can one use pink on the Fourth Sunday?
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