In this week’s readings, we find ourselves in Ephesians 4, listening to Paul’s encouragement in “Christian Living” (as the inspired sub-heading tells us.) As we are discussing the finer theological merits of the passage, one person speaks out and asks, “What does that word ‘tenderhearted’ mean in the Greek?”
32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (NRSV)
This is the point when having a New Testament Greek scholar at the table really helps out! As we let the scholar do the heavy lifting, we look up the various other translations of the word. Compassionate. Understanding.
Then the scholar speaks up, “eusplagchnos!”
“Bless you!” comes the now-anticipated comedic chorus.
After the chuckles die down, the scholar tests my memory of that one time I took that one class, like 10 years ago. “Are you familiar with the term?”
Full credit to Rob Wallace, I DID remember it!
“It’s in the guts!” I shout proudly.
More specifically, as we unpack the meanings, we talk about how those most intense emotions (love, passion, fear, anxiety, etc) are often times felt in the stomach.
Think back to that last big interview you were about to walk in to, or that first kiss shared with a new love. Where did you feel the butterflies?
This shared experience led early cultures to understand that our stomach (or more descriptively: guts or bowels) are where those deepest emotions generate.
So the root, splagchnon, which deals with guts (with the cultural understanding of those deep-seated emotions) gives us a much stronger word than “tenderhearted.” We need a better translation!
The prefix eu qualifies splagchnon as having a positive, or good quality (ruling out those negative emotions.)
We live in a culture where it doesn’t cost us anything to “love” something. You just have to click that button, and voila! Love! But this deeper understanding shows us that this type of love, by nature, costs us something. It demands a response. We never feel those butterflies and ignore them, acting like nothing happened.
The kind of eusplagchnos that God experiences causes God to go to any length, even to death, to be with us. This is a bit more than smashing a “Like” button on the newest social media platform. It costs something.
How do we live into that example? How do we share life with those around us so deeply that we are moved in our deepest emotions for our neighbor’s well-being? What would the Church look like if we took Paul’s teaching here to heart?