Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.
Attention to language is often something that people gently ridicule in others. When a person is regarded as paying too close attention to words and their meaning, they are said to be “splitting hairs.” Or such examination is dismissed with “oh, that’s just being semantic,” meaning, it is not necessary to pay such close attention to words: the meaning is about the same either way. Six, or one half dozen of the other, is an axiom we often hear. A person claiming “I did not yell at you, instead I spoke firmly with my voice raised,” might be demonstrating this. To which the other person might respond: yes, and that’s splitting hairs, because you should not have done that. So sometimes, we use a strategy of being very attentive to language, perhaps overly so, as a way to protect or defend ourselves against the accusations of others, or to hide from our behavior we know was inappropriate.
Attention to language with respect to the Sacred Scriptures, on the other hand, is constantly demanded. This is why the Collect for the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday at the end of each liturgical year has taken a special place in Anglican spirituality: “Grant us so to hear the Sacred Scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” To read and to mark, to learn and inwardly digest, means to be attentive to the words of a passage, even just one word—attentive through prayer, through silence that allows us to hear how the words echo in our mind, echo in our memories, echo in our soul.
The perfect example of the importance of attention to language is the Eucharist. Of the bread and wine, Jesus said “Take, eat,” and “Take, drink,”—“Do this for the remembrance of me.” The word “remembrance” might lead us to understand this moment as a mere recollection of the past, and the bread and wine are symbols of that. But closer attention to the word “remembrance” in the original Greek reveals something else entirely. “Remembrance” is a translation of the word “anamnesis,” which means “actually making present again.” So Jesus did not say, “Eat and drink as a symbol of me that you recollect.” Rather he commanded us to “Eat and drink for the actually-making-present-of-me-again.” The doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is been developed through close attention to the actual word Jesus used.
In Saint Mark’s account of the transformation of the synagogue leader’s daughter, close attention to language opens up this teaching dramatically. Jairus, the leader, had come to Jesus and said, “My little daughter is at the point of death.” To him, Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” In part Jesus said this because Jewish beliefs at the time maintained that bodies at the time of death rendered anyone who touched it ritually unclean and therefore shunned from the worshiping community. For Jesus to say, “Do not fear, only believe,” restores the dying daughter to the loving hands of God. Words matter, because prayer matters.
Even more so is it important to pay close attention to the healing words of Jesus to the daughter: “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” The signal to do so is the Aramaic used by Saint Mark: “Tal?itha cu?mi.” The word here for “rise” or “arise” is the same word Mark uses to describe the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in chapter 1, the healing of the paralytic in chapter 2, and the resurrection of Jesus in chapter 16. Mark wants to teach us a crucial theological point. Healing is intimately tied to Resurrection. Put the other way round, the Resurrection of Jesus heals us. And because we experience the Resurrection primarily through the Eucharist, Jesus gave us the Eucharist to heal us.
And furthermore, because when Peter’s mother-in-law was healed, she is described by Saint Mark as immediately ministering—literally the word for being a Deacon—Jesus’s Resurrection, being experienced through the healing of the Eucharist, is tied directly to Mission, of being a minister that serves the poor around us.
“The poor will never cease out of the land,” we hear from Deuteronomy. “Therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.” The poor around us here in Tazewell County are primarily suffering from a poverty of being lonely. But God is calling us to serve the lonely in Tazewell County. God is calling us to imitate Jesus, who did not avoid but rather sought out the lonely, and gave them His healing presence. And Jesus died on the Cross so that we might be filled with His Body and Blood, that we can bring His healing presence to lonely people around us. Indeed, that by the grace of God acting through us, they too might arise.