I love stumbling upon word treasures…
After eleven chapters of Paul’s most systematic presentation of his God-thinking (aka theology) in what we know as the book of Romans, Paul now is perched to make his appeal to action – for with Paul, all true, healthy God-thinking must lead to true, healthy God-doing.
And he begins with “please.”
He could order, he could hammer, he could harangue.
But he begins with “please.”
The “please” is actually obscured beneath the traditional rendering, “I beseech” – although I would actually love to see a rejuvenation of “I beseech,” as in, “I beseech thee, kind sir, to make me a caramel vanilla latte.” Yes, do try that with the barista next time around.
Paul says, “please” – and then he says, “my brothers.” Family, connection, embrace, kiss. If we perceived Paul in a pulpit glaring down at us, we must now re-envision him next to us, his arm embracing, his tone close and endearing.
To be living sacrifices is his appeal, but it’s the motive behind it that arrests me now.
It’s our word. οἰκτιρμός / oiktirmós / oyk-tir-mos’.
I could have been satisfied with the gloss of “mercies,” but dictionaries are dens of discovery for me rather than tedious depositories to be avoided. I love authors who make me look up words. It slows down the read, and we’re all in so much need of that. So I looked. I wanted to catch the flavor, see from whence it came, examine its verbal swaddling clothes.
οἰκτός. It goes back to οἰκτός. And οἰκτός goes back to οἰ.
Oy! The interjection of extreme pity and compassion that can’t help but move us to get up and do something about it. That’s the kind of compassion we see in οἰκτιρμός. And it’s plural. And it’s what’s at the heart of God that drives the appeal for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.
At heart of God, at the heart of all reality is “Oy!” More than that, a chorus of multiplied “Oys!” “Oy” is the engine that drives all things. Much more so than “woe!” The Greek interjection for “woe!” is οὐαί! (oo-WHY!) which is one of those onomatopoeic words imitating the cries of vultures circling their prey. οὐαί is filled with a grieving denunciation, it’s filled with death. There is a time and place for it, to be sure, in this broken world. But the exclamation at the heart of the Story, at the heart of Reality, at the heart of all true religion and healthy God-thinking isn’t οὐαί! but οἰ! It’s not shame, death and denunciation, but a relentless pity that shapes restoration and healing.
For herein lies the practical difference between the offering of our bodies as sacrifices that build the world,
or the offering of them as sacrifices that burn it.