Thursday, September 15, 2011

"I" LOVE "when" people misplace and misuse quotes!

If there is such a thing as a pet peeve that brings a person utter delight, mine would be finding, pointing out, being amused by, and mocking misplaced quotation marks.  I saw a book (see the blog) in Borders (R.I.P.) not too long ago that someone had compiled with images from all over the US of signs posted with quotes used incorrectly.  So, for the next 30 minutes I was so locked in on this book I barely noticed the havoc my children were wreaking in the store.  Here are a couple images to amuse the reader:

 
  Actually, Timmy, you're going nowhere. Loser. 

 
So where does this lead? Over the ledge of the 12th story?


   
So what exactly do they do here on Sundays?              

 
The one sign in the group that I apply willingly.


Okay, so I offer this to you because the editors of the NIV have placed some quotation marks in the Gospel of Mark that just might be misused, misplaced, or misleading (to see a really funny, insane, angry-preacher comment about said editors, watch this).

The story - found in "chapter" two - is of "the" calling of Levi (aka Matthew), the "tax" collector.  Jesus calls a man who made himself wealthy as a traitor and, very likely, as a cheater.  He was a cheater because accepted practice would have been to charge beyond the required tax amount so that he could line his own pockets.  As long as Rome got what Rome demanded, they didn't care too much about the amount their tax agents would have collected.  Even if, however, Levi was fair in his dealings as a tax collector, he was seen as a traitor since he was a Jew working for the foreign, illegitimate, pagan occupiers of God's chosen land.  He was taking from God to pay tribute to Caesar.  That is why tax collectors are almost always lumped in with those who deliberately reject God's will, the "sinners."

And it is to this group of "sinners" and, mainly, to the quotation marks encapsulating them that I now turn.

Here is how the NIV prints the story in Mark 2
 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


As you noticed, the editors chose to not just translate the word but to put it in quotation marks.  I have always appreciated this move and thought it wise.  It helps to pick up on the irony that the sinners are the heroes in the story and the righteous men are the villans.

It also helps us to be aware that the author of the Gospel was not agreeing with that term but using it how it would have been used then.  It makes us aware that Mark (as well as Jesus) would have scoffed at such judgmental language, prejudicial thinking, and offensive labeling of others. 

So, for these reasons, I have always appreciated the move to put the quotation marks around the term.

But... I think I just may have "changed" my "mind" about the quotation "marks." (Sorry, couldn't resist.  That's the last time - "promise!")

I think I might be in favor of leaving them out.  I think something subtle may be at work in this that affirms some unhealthy thinking about ourselves, others, and the nature of sin.  I think the editors of my much cherished NIV may have made an error in printing the phrase like this: "tax collectors and 'sinners.'"

Forgive me as I am still trying to sort through and discern these thoughts myself.  But here goes...

When we accept that this group should be called "sinners" and not sinners, then we are lessening the ugly nature of that label.  We are saying with "sinners" that they are labeled thus unfairly and prejudicially.  And we have learned to use words that are less acidic, inflammatory, and judgmental.  But if the text were to simply call them sinners, that would come across as an affirmation that the term is accurate, fair, and justifiable.

And for these very reasons I have been glad that the NIV has called them "sinners."

Until the other day when, for the first time, I caught a glimpse of a disconcerting reality that may be at work here.

I think they should be called sinners.  I don't think we should view them as "sinners."  To call them "sinners" is to lessen what is true.  They are a group of people whose lives have been lived in rebellion, in sin, and in utter brokenness.  They have willfully not given their lives over to the will of God.  They are fully and wholly dependent upon the free mercy and abundant grace of God to have any place at that table with Jesus.

Now, here me out.... I am NOT - absolutely, unconditionally, feverishly not - in favor of the elitist mentality that allows one group to bestow this title on another as if they are exempt.  That is why I have always liked "sinners" because it refused to allow the Pharisees the power and right to name who is in God's favor and who is not.  But instead of qualifying the word with quotation marks to lessen the blow of the Pharisees judgment, I am in favor of the full and painful sting of the word... just as long as we are all-inclusive in our use of it.

The truthful irony of the story is that the rightful place for quotation marks would be the words "healthy" and "righteous."  Sinners was dead on.  Sinners was perfectly applicable.  Though from the mouths of judgmental, hypocritical pricks, the label is accurate.

The words that are not accurate are "healthy" and "righteous."

Ok, let me cut to the reason for this reflection.  I am really not that picky about translations (promise!).  To be honest I am more interested in making a point about the way we think of sin.  I may be off on my reading of "sinners" vs. sinners, but I do think there is some truth in this:

We too often treat ourselves like "sinners" and not sinners.

How many times do we say, "I'm only human" or "I'm not perfect" or "We all make mistakes."  These, of course, are phrases so true that they are pointless to even say.

What we say less is, "I am a sinner.  I am broken.  I am utterly ruined by sin.  I am hopeless apart from the free mercy of God.  I am lost without the abundance grace of God in Christ.  I am totally depraved.  I am sinner through and through."

In reacting to judgmental, exclusive, prejudicial terminology, maybe the reaction is not to lessen the blow on that fact that we are sinners but to be more honest about how ridiculous it is to call ourselves healthy or righteous.

So... this officially concludes the longest post I ever hope to have that is not on the Words of Scripture but the punctuation that surrounds those Words.



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