When I first arrived in NYC, replete with my obvious southern accent, I mentioned to a member of our Board: “I understand they speak 168 different languages here in the city.” Without hesitating for a moment, she replied: “169 now!” That was a quick and funny response.
You and I hear the voices around us all the time... in subways, in restaurants, in check-out lines, on the sidewalks, in the church, voices speaking in languages we do not understand. Sometimes even in our own native language, phrases are used that still sound foreign. Often it’s the continually emerging tech language. Twice in the past week I was asked about “memes.” Each time (yes, even the second time after having it explained to me once) I was clueless. It sounded like someone asked me if I were familiar with “mimes.” The answer to that would be, “Familiar? Yes. Fond of? No.” But, they didn’t ask about “mimes.” They asked about “memes.” A meme is an Internet cartoon kind of thing. It’s a word in my own language, but to me it is foreign.
There are other words or, often, phrases that may as well be in ancient Vedic Sanskrit so far as I am concerned. I hear them, I just don’t understand them. I heard someone say that she loves to listen to music “while ironing the sheets.” Ironing the sheets? A foreign phrase. “Runner’s high” is a good one. Talk about a foreign concept. “Pizza high” or “chocolate high” I could comprehend, but to get that excited about running? Wow! My own wife sometimes will say, “There aren’t many things I enjoy more than a good salad.” I don’t understand that one at all. In fact, I cannot imagine using the words “good” and “salad” in the same sentence. Continuing with the food theme (not surprising, I’m sure), someone actually said to me last week: “I was so busy today that I forgot lunch.” Forget lunch? Really? As I said, sometimes things are said in our native tongues that are still foreign languages.
If we really listen, I mean really pay close attention, some of the things Jesus said seem like totally foreign concepts:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As much as myself? And that doesn’t refer just my spouse or child, but almost anyone and everyone? As much as myself?
“Turn the other cheek.” But if I do, what will stop a person from slapping that one, too?
“Love your enemy, and pray for those who despitefully use you.” That’s a joke, right? I mean, it’s a stretch to actually “love” a stranger, let alone someone who has intentionally done me harm.
“Render unto God the things that are God’s.” Whoa! If everything is God’s, then that means I have to allow God a role in or a portion of everything that I cherish. And what if God wants to do something with my stuff that I don’t want to do?
“Take up your cross and follow Me.” Crosses are sacrificial and painful, right?
“You shall forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Hmmm. The truth is I’m better at bearing grudges than at bearing olive branches.
See what I mean? Jesus spoke a foreign language. And He knew it. He even said “Narrow is the path and steep the way” that leads to His Kingdom. His is not the easy way. The things He asks of us are not simple and occasionally are even alien to our human nature. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe He comes to transform our human nature into something much more like His own. “Be ye perfect,” He encouraged. That doesn’t mean that perfection is something we can attain in this world, but it does mean we are expected to aspire toward and move toward being more, better, and different than we are now.
Jesus speaks a language that we understand verbally but which often sounds foreign conceptually. And yet, it is the language of redeemed spirits. It is the language that describes what we will look like if we become authentic. And so, however difficult some of His teachings are to hear, my life will never become whole if I quit listening.