Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Post About Jesus' Bowels

Once (Mark 1:40-45) when a leper came to Jesus to ask for healing, Mark tells that Jesus was “moved with pity.” The NIV, btw, says “compassion” instead of “pity.” The Message says simply, “deeply moved.” The TNIV says, “Jesus was indignant.” That’s pretty cool.

Dig this - the Greek word is splangknidzomai.

Don’t you just love that word? Even the sounds of it, if you can force your mouth into shapes conducive to producing them, are fun! You really need to try it a few times to appreciate it.

There is a Greek word from which this verb comes, the noun splangknon. That means “guts.” Bowels or intestines. No, really. That’s what it means. Look it up in your Brown, Driver, Briggs if you don’t believe me!

So if we were going to be literal with this little vignette, Jesus would have been moved to his bowels for the leper. Of course, the key to interpretation is knowing that, at that time, the bowels were considered the location of the deepest emotion. For the Greeks, your guts were where you felt violent passions – anger and love, for example. But for the Hebrews, guts were for more tender and gentle feelings like compassion and mercy.

Nowadays, we might say that such emotion is “from the heart,” thereby ascribing to another internal organ that for which we really have no explanation. Biologically, emotions come from somewhere in the chemical makeup of your brain, I suppose. But semantically, I’m kind of glad that we’ve moved from the guts to the heart as our metaphor for emotional responses.

What motivated Jesus to heal? He was moved. Deeply moved. (Insert potty joke here). But elementary school humor aside, Jesus was emotionally moved by the leper who came to him asking to be healed. Compassion perhaps. Or maybe Jesus was moved by the leper’s faith. Or both.

The leper (let’s call him Bill) said with certainty, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” There’s not any doubt in Bill’s mind that Jesus can heal him. It’s not a question, “Can you make me clean?” – it is a statement of fact. Bill had been shunned by the rest of society by consequence of his illness, and yet spoke with confidence to a man he was certain had the power within to heal him. And after being healed, defying Jesus’ instructions to silence, he goes around telling everyone what has happened.

It is a miraculous story on so many levels, but at the same paradoxical time, a very human story. Bill is sick man and professes an immense faith – Jesus feels it in his guts and responds with compassion – joy spilling over, Bill cannot help but share with everyone what has happened to him.

It’s a beautiful little story, with a hundred lessons to teach us. And I can feel that in my splangknon.

8 comments:

JustJen said...

I have to say I've never heard an etymology of a biblical phrase like this.... and frankly, if more were this entertaining I probably would have listened more! haha

Rev. Jeremy Smith said...

This made my day! Thanks Andy!

Anonymous said...

Steve and I lived in Tarpon Springs Florida the first few years of our marriage. It is a Greek fishing community, and has managed to maintain the sanctity of their culture very well, including language. English was definately a second language when we lived there. I wish that I would have paid closer attention to the conversations, instead of just wondering what they were saying!!

Today, Andy, you sent me down a very peaceful memory lane - Thanks!! Diana

steveh said...

The old joke about it being all Greek to me aside, I smell something fishy here. According to the NRSS Bible (New Revised Slovakian Standard), the word is a form of zmrzlina, or ice cream. Now I’ve never been one to trust a word that begins with 5 consonants, but this is true. Over the centuries, the strong Goth/Greek influence has phonetically morphed the “sp” into “zmrz”, the “lang” into “lina”, and as we all know that “knid”+” zomai” are silent when placed together.
So…what this verse REALY means is that Jesus is moved to the “coldness” of his bowels. This, of course, is a much stronger adjective expression – active rather than passive.
Regardless of the interpretation, it represents a strong motivation for Jesus’ feeling and caring for us sinners.

Patrick Moore said...

I am going with the textual variant, "he was moved with anger." I don't have any compassion, but I do have lots of anger.

sparklesax said...

Stephen Colbert would love this! He's a "gut" man himself.

Adamgv said...

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Anonymous said...

Actually it has now been proven scientifically that the bowels (gut) have millions of neurons (brain cells) that act as a "second brain". (see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain)