This is well worth reading. It is my son’s latest post. He is stationed in Okinawa and is a Naval Chaplin.
I once read a bit of graffiti that redefined the acronym USMC. Rather than United States Marine Corps, the author claimed USMC really meant “Uncomplicated Stuff Made Complicated.” It is true that any organization will over time tend to complicate things it once did simply—one only needs to look at the tax code to see that. Such complications have become so common place that it often surprises us to find simple solutions to anything, and it is the assumption that important truths must necessarily, if they are to have substantive meaning, be complicated or hard to understand that leads to elitism. There is, of course, a place for scholarship and erudition, but more and more we allow people to use complicated terms and arguments to explain why what I can see for myself to be true is actually false. The problem is with me, you see, I am incapable of understanding. It may be that sometimes things are difficult to explain simply, but often artists and intellectuals make me think of Ambrose Bierce’s poem about fellow poet Robert Browning’s style:
Words shouting, singing, smiling, frowning–Sense lacking.
Ah, nothing, more obscure than Browning, save blacking.
St. John Chrysostom, I think, would agree that intellectual elitism is a problem. To him “There is nothing clearer, nothing simpler than the truth, if we deal not perversely; just as (on the other hand) if we deal perversely, nothing is more difficult.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 7:37-52; 8:12)) reading Jesus is teaching in the temple, and within his hearing are officers that have been sent there to arrest him. Upon listening to what Jesus has to say, however, they cannot bring themselves to nab him. The officers then went back to the chief priest and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” To which they answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!”
Jesus’ words were direct and clear, they carried meaning without need of a dictionary, and they were few. Jesus’ words had impact. They impressed people not because of his education, for they “marveled, saying ‘how does this Man know letters, having never studied?’” (John 7:15), nor because of where He lived, since some said “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:41-42) No, Jesus’ words had impact because they were true, even if the elites could not make sense of them.
As Chrysostom notes, the officers were not convinced by syllogisms, logic, or argument, “Yet they had not heard a sermon either, but a short one; for when the long mind is impartial, there is no need of long arguments. Such a thing is truth.”
The officers, once convinced, didn’t keep the truth to themselves, either, but went back to their masters. They could have avoided the hassle and been on their way, following Jesus, but instead became heralds of the wisdom of Christ to men who wanted to complicate matters. And all because “No man ever spoke like this man!”
When is the last time you spoke such impactful truth? How was it received? Have we been impacted enough by the words of Christ to want to share them with others? We cannot use our lack of education or our address as an excuse to keep to ourselves our experience with the risen Lord. We can’t let people with lots of letters after their name intimidate us into believing that lies are true. It is time that we, as the Church, speak Truth plainly into the world around us. To do so these days will likely prompt others to say of us “No one ever speaks like they do!” At least, it should.