There I was, sitting at my home office desk, minding my own business, reading my sermon notes for this week, when about halfway through Scott Hoezee’s post at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, I learned something brand new. It hit me right between the eyes. It was one of those things that changes the way you read scripture: one of those moments when you realize just how less than ideal English translations really are.
“But then comes one of the most famous things Jesus ever said [that he never actually said]. Starting in verse 35 Jesus talks about the human soul, conveyed four times in three verses through the Greek word [psuche].”
The NRSV translates this word as life throughout verses 35-37, but the underlying meaning in Greek seems mean something closer to soul or self.
“Jesus is concerned about our souls, about that mysterious but undeniable spiritual center to who we are as marvelously complex creatures made in the image of God. If Jesus is who we Christians say he is… then we ought to take seriously what Jesus has to say about our souls. After all, we believe Jesus is the One who created those souls in the first place. Who would know better than Jesus how they work?”
Whether you choose to translate this word as life or soul or self (my preferred translation) the deeper meaning in Jesus’ words need to be highlighted. He isn’t telling the crowd to martyr themselves beside him on the cross, though some of them will meet that fate, but rather to be aware of, as the well worn adage goes, “who they are and whose they are.” Giving up life, soul, self, is about a change in identity that comes through repentance (to change one’s mind). When we turn away from our own selfish desires and turn to God’s will for our selves, for our family, for our Church, for the world God created, we have, in effect, laid down our selves and picked up a new identity as a beloved disciple, a child of God.