Robert Farrar Capon intrudes on yet another sermon…
Just home from our Sunday evening worship, and wanted to post this one right away. Part of the gospel reading tonight included those wonderful words from the Gospel according to Matthew: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (11:28) As I said in the sermon, this reading put me in mind of an incredible set of conversations I shared with the writer and theologian Robert Farrar Capon back in the winter of 2004, sitting out in the sun room of his home on Shelter Island, New York. As part of our conversation, we ended up engaged in a bible study, which took us into the text from Matthew. He worked from his Greek New Testament, while I followed in my English version.
Now before I give you the translation Capon produced, I should tell you that the context for this was a conversation around the fruit of the Spirit. I had my tape recorder running, so I can give you this word-for-word excerpt from my transcript:
“The whole thing is done in Christ, and Christ in me. When you get to the fruit of the Spirit – one fruit – as opposed to the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh – adultery, uncleanness, lasciviousness, witchcraft, hatred, strife, wrath, sedition, all that stuff – those are all things we’re perfectly capable of doing and executing and planning and acting on ourselves. They are works that we can accomplish, every one of them. And opposed to them are simply nine, unboring fruit. Ninefold fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the spirit, of course, is Jesus. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Therefore the ninefold fruit of the Spirit is Jesus in me and in everybody. Then it becomes interesting because it means that I already fully possess everything that is that fruit. I possess all of his love now, complete, and it is operative, active, in me. Love, joy, peace – those are the nice ones, ’cause they’re rosy – longsuffering, the Greek means big-heartedness, big-breastedness, bravery, courage, because it takes courage to put up with crap, it takes a lot of courage, because you want to change it, you want to get rid of it, you want to retreat from it, you want to run away from it… so longsuffering, stoutheartedness maybe; gentleness, christotes, niceness. You’re not nice, I’m not nice, we have our days when we’re really not nice at all, and maybe more than not… I don’t know. But the niceness of Jesus, the gentleness of Jesus.”
And that brought us to Robert’s translation of Matthew 11:28-30, which he did for me on the fly, jumping about the verses as he went:
deute pros me pantes oi koprontes kai pefortis menoi – come to me all you who are labouring and struggling, laden down with burdens – kago anapauso umas – and I will give you rest, I will give you rest – oti praus –because I am gentle, good, nice, wonderful – eimi kai tapeinos tay kardia – and humble in heart – kai eurasete anapausin tais yucais umon – you will find rest for your souls – arate ton zugon mou ef umas – take my yoke upon you – mathete ap emou – learn from me – o gar zugos mou kristos – because I am nice, I am tasty – taste and see that the Lord is good – the Lord is gracious, the Lord is kristos, he is a yummy dish; for my yoke is nice, gentle, easy – God is easy – kai to fortion mou elafron estin – and my burden is a joke, is light, is happy. His yoke is the cross, and the cross is our joy in our sorrow, our joy in our perplexity, our confidence.
If you want to get a good sense of Robert Capon’s thought and teaching, you can access his take on the parable of “The Father Who Lost Two Sons” in both text and audio formats.