EDITOR’S CHOICE: Tell It Slant, by Eugene Peterson
TRIBUTE TO AN EXCEPTIONAL AUTHOR
AS KINGFISHERS CATCH FIRE
Great scholar of God’s Word and author of The Message, Eugene Peterson seeks the profound wisdom inherent to several aspects of the language employed by Jesus, and makes it known to us in this excellent book, “Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers”.
WITH SO MUCH teaching He transmitted, Jesus did not leave any writings of his – he only spoke. The author begins with that in mind, bringing us to another dimension of communication, be it spoken or written.
Later on, Peterson describes the different types of communication employed by God for our understanding, with preaching being the language that personally links us with the action of God in the present. Teaching through metaphors was also extensively used by Jesus to make us internally aware of His living, multidimensional truth.
It is also vital that we practice the conversational exchange due to its informality – at home, at the table, among family and/or friends. Peterson dedicates another significant part of his book to the journey’s narrative, as it appears in the Gospel of Luke, providing insightful examples such as the Samaritan hospitality, which has endured in the Middle East throughout centuries, and which Peterson himself has experienced. This remarkable trait influenced the Benedictine hospitality and several other communities, rooted on the principles of the fourth-century monastic community founded by St. Benedict of Nursia at Mount Cassino, in Italy.
Through three of Jesus’ parables, Peterson explains how Luke highlighted the Greek expression “ánthröpos tís”, meaning “a man.” This expression connects the three parables found in chapters 15 and 16: the Parable of
the Lost Son, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, and the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Afterwards the author goes on to a thorough explanation of how metaphors and stories characterize Jesus’ language: a language without formalities or distractions that could lead to ambiguity. Those who follow Him do not merely listen to Him, but they learn how to communicate as He does.
Going from Jesus’ parables to His prayers requires care, as it is the same as going from a local language, with its circumstances and constraints, to Himself, to His body and soul. In prayer, our first language, silence is essential in order for us to listen to Him. Jesus prays with us and for us, as he did in His last moments of agony.
Eugene Peterson exposes Jesus’ prayer on the cross, his last seven words. Seven prayers and only one sentence. None of the Gospels contains them all. Peterson chose to present them in a fitting sequence, with an internal coherence.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) As the author affirms, death is the “purpose” of Jesus’ life. It was much more than a death. After he lost His signs of life, Jesus obtained our salvation. Dying in a voluntary and sacrificial way, He gave himself for the sins of this world – for Death.
The seven prayers are metaphors, albeit real ones, that we are invited to use in our daily prayers. Peterson refers to Raymond Brown, great scholar of Jesus’ true challenge on the cross, revealing that Jesus bowed his head and delivered His spirit as He finished that prayer, claiming He did it to those who stood close to the cross, and that, in a certain way, would include those who follow Him today.