|Pen and Ink Reflections||
‘By faith’ – what a powerful and ringing repeated phrase that is in the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 11. Last Sunday and this Sunday we have heard it read in two parts, telling some of the stories of those who have gone before us in the story of God as told in the Bible. This great passage relates the stories of so many heroes of faith in the Hebrew traditions. ‘By faith’ – the Letter affirms so strongly how all kinds of extraordinary events and achievements flow from the power of trust and courage that true faith enables. Note well: this is faith not as a set of beliefs or practices or organisational structures, as so many would have us see ‘faith’ today; but biblical faith, which is about inspiration, risk, and energy. As such, it encourages us to take heart, to draw on similar energy, and to take risks in our own day. What might we ourselves seek to achieve?...
I’ve always loved words and the play of words – puns and shades of meaning, not always obvious in translation. All translations of the cluster of texts we call the Bible are exactly that – translations. As such they are always inadequate to some extent. And even if we read the original language, we read it with our own twenty-first eyes, and through numerous other lenses of gender, ethnicity, and other particularity. Hence, we need to be on the alert for nuances that are sometimes missed.
There is a little word play happening in today’s Gospel text – it’s around the word meno, which the writer of John uses a great deal, because of its fluidity of meaning. “Live on in me as I live on in you” Jesus says in our version. The older translations read ‘abide in me as I abide in you’ and that’s the translation offered in the passage we heard from 1 John. Now, abide and abode are not words we use much these days, which is no doubt why the Inclusive Bible has made the change to the Gospel passage that it has. But there are some shades of meaning that enrich our understanding here. That original word meno means many things - to stay, to rest, to dwell, to remain (and yes, with that sense of continuity) to live on. It can mean to stay strong in ones resolve. But we need the underpinning of the dwelling words as well. As a noun, menai, it means a dwelling place, an abode, a lodging – a place indeed, somewhere to live, to have life as well as furniture! When the disciples early in John’s gospel ask Jesus ‘where are you staying?’, it’s the same word – and not used idly. Eventually they will come to understand that Jesus stays, remains, dwells, lives on - in God – and we do too if we remain part of the vine – because as Jesus will eventually say in John 17, ‘in my Abba’s house are many dwelling places’ – same word.
So where are we going to live in every sense? Well one metaphoric answer that John’s Jesus gives is ‘in the vine’. It’s a metaphor that tells us something vital about our relationship with God - that it is a relationship of mutuality. We need God, but - and this is the bit we often forget - God also in some mysterious ways needs us to bear fruit. So, let’s think a little about vines...