09 June 2014

On Dynamic Equivalence, the Beatitudes, and Being Driven into the Desert by the Spirit

One form of translation of the ancient (or really any) text is called dynamic equivalence. This means that rather than formal equivalence where a translator simply plugs in the proper word in English for the original Greek word as literal translations do, the translator opts to try and go the further step of giving us a translation which also conveys the idiomatic quality of the original. It is a form of translation in which the living character of the language is respected as well as the formal dimension. In today's gospel lection we hear the  good news of Matthew's version of the Beatitudes. Unfortunately, it is one of those texts we know so well we might never truly hear it in a way which challenges and transforms. At my parish our pastor also provided us with a contemporary "dynamic equivalency" translation of the lection as part of his homily. It is wonderful in the dimensions of the text it opens up to us and in its ability to allow us to hear with new ears. I wanted to share it here.

Matthew 5:1-12
from The Message, Eugene H Peterson

[[When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said.

"You're blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You're blessed when you are content with just who you are --- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves the proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.
You're blessed when you get your inside world --- your minds and hearts --- put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's Kingdom.

Not only that --- count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens --- give a cheer, even --- for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.]]

Throughout the following couple of weeks we are going to be initiated into a vision of "desert spirituality" --- that spirituality associated with prophets, hermits, and even the occasional (and genuine) messiah; we will find it to be central to Israel's own identity, to those of her greatest leaders, and of course, to Jesus himself and the God he reveals in kenosis. It is that spirituality associated the Holy Spirit's impulse in our lives, with the opportunity to cast ourselves entirely on the Lord and the abundant nourishment, strength, and refreshment God faithfully provides so that we can become true daughters and sons of God.

During this time the basic struggle in the OT readings is between two forms of Kingship, two worlds or perspectives on reality, two different sets of values. The entrance to the reign of God, the values of his Kingdom and true discipleship is always through the desert. Elijah, in a paradigm of desert life, is fed by the ravens and drinks from living springs of water. In today's Gospel lection the Beatitudes are presented as the paradigmatic code or charter of desert spirituality and this new Kingdom. It defines what it means to be Jesus' own "apprentices," "the committed" -- as Peterson describes those who actually climb the mountain with Jesus. Throughout this post-Pentecost period we will find the Spirit of Pentecost is driving us each into the desert in these readings, into, that is, the privileged place where Jesus himself was driven by the Spirit, plumbed the depths of his own heart, and claimed and consolidated his own Divine Sonship while rejecting the temptation to exploit and distort it represented by Satan and the "other kingdom". Thus, we will find God calling us to do the same with our new gifts and Spirit-renewed identities.

See also, Driven into the Desert by the Spirit of Sonship