I have read the Sermon on the Mount more times than I can count.
But reading it today in John Henson’s translation (Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures), it popped. Again. This is the benefit of hearing the voice of different translators, especially those coming at the text from a different place – which Henson most certainly is. He’s clearly unorthodox if not outright heretical in the eyes of many – which is undoubtedly a selling point for some. I’m just fascinated by fresh renderings of a Greek text I’ve been playing with for three decades now.
Case in point.
Here’s a passage I’ve read and recited repeatedly this way:
Don’t give what’s holy to the dogs or throw your pearls to pigs; if you do, they’ll trample it under their feet and then turn on you and tear you to pieces. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you; for everyone that asks receives, and he that seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.
I started off treating these as two separate “pearls” on the thread of this sermon; over time as I recited it, I connected the pearls and heard Jesus talking about people as dogs and pigs, with the follow-up “ask and it will be given to you” as a query for discernment – ask who the dogs and hogs are so you don’t waste your time with them, more or less.
But now try this on for size:
You’re fond of those sayings, ‘Don’t try to have a conversation with a rapid dog’ and ‘You can’t teach pork.’ Make sure you’re not the ones who fail to appreciate the good things offered you! If you have an open and inquisitive mind you’ll get the answers you’re looking for. Those who ask questions learn; those who explore, discover; those who knock on the door get invited in.
Oh my God, have I been getting this wrong all this time?
What if this isn’t Jesus endorsing our already quite natural tendency to categorize each other as teachable and unteachable, as worth the time and effort or not worth the time and effort, and then exhorting us to ask for divine wisdom in making such distinctions…
What if, instead, two ways, two approaches to life are being contrasted here: the way of dogs and hogs who are insensible to divine truth because they are quite content to wallow in the pigpen of their current thought/ value/belief system (be it religious or irreligious) and the way of the inquisitive heart that asks and seeks and knocks?
What if instead of encouraging us in our labeling and categorizing of others as either closed or open minded, Jesus is actually challenging us to step out of our religious kennels and irreligious pigpens and embrace a truly inquisitive path in which we never cease asking, prodding, poking, knocking, nudging, nagging, investigating, searching, roaming, digging, and excavating the Reality of all things?
Sometimes it does indeed pay to read the works of heretics.