When the HSBC’s slogan ‘Assume Nothing’ was mistranslated as ‘Do Nothing’, business slackened significantly—it took $10M of rebranding to restore customer confidence in the misrepresented company. When Pepsi’s tag line ‘Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation’ was translated into Taiwanese as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’ the company was left with a big promise to fulfill. And when the Parker pen company advertised ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ came out in Spanish as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’ more than a few eyebrows were raised. Knowing the intended message matters.
In contrast, Jesus was the perfect interpreter; His life on earth performed the unique task of interpreting God’s true intentions for planet earth in general and for the human species in particular. Chapter twelve of Matthew’s gospel describes for us some of the difficulties Jesus faced when the messages of the self-appointed interpreters of the day clashed with His message. A quick summary would be: The religious teachers of the day demanded the people obey the letter of the Law; Jesus taught His followers (through parables, teachings, and example) to be moved by the Spirit of the Law.
“Look!” scorned the Pharisees, following Jesus into a farmer’s field like vultures encircling their prey. They had seen Jesus allow His disciples to glean grain kernels from a field to take the edge off their hunger. “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
They followed Jesus into the local synagogue, finding an opportunity to bait Him. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” they challenged, looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.
When Jesus left the synagogue, the Pharisees also slipped out, dogging him like hounds on a scented trail. Hearing the people rejoicing over the healing of a blind and mute demon-possessed man, the Pharisees then grumbled, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
“Teacher,” they sneered, having missed the action, “We want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
For anyone else it would have been exhausting dealing with the bitter denunciations of the gatekeepers of Jewish Law and culture. For Jesus it must have been heartbreaking. He knew the heart of the Law like none other. He had come from the Father, having created all that is in existence; the moral standard by which His creatures were designed to live had been misinterpreted until the Lawgiver Himself had become obliterated by the power-hungry Law-keepers. The understanding of the moral nature of God was being deliberately twisted, distorted and skewed to benefit the ulterior motives of those who considered themselves experts of the Law. The Pharisees were mistranslating ‘Assume nothing’ into ‘Do nothing.’
How did Jesus respond?
To the issues of misrepresenting Sabbath Day requirements for eating and healing, Jesus replied, “(I am) the Lord of the Sabbath” and “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” We can imagine how that enraged the Law-keepers—who was this man, claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath and telling them what was good?
But Jesus wasn’t finished correcting their misinterpretations. The hunted became the hunter as Jesus faced the Pharisaical pack and confronted them with the seriousness of their errors. Jesus would not take issue when people attacked Him personally. But when they went so far as to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in His miracles, assigning the power rather to the work of Satan, Jesus took exception. “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus warned, “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Jesus said much more to them, not mincing His words as He cut to the heart of their problem. Their hearts were cold to God. Everything that comes from a heart cold and closed to God results in misinterpretation of God’s words and God’s ways—worse, it ultimately results in that person becoming completely hardened and unable to accept the greatest miraculous sign given to the world—Himself, God incarnate, paying the debt for our moral crime by accepting an unjust execution at our hands.
We do well to take Jesus’ words to heart. How often have we misinterpreted Jesus by acceding to His goodness as a moral teacher while denying His ultimate sovereignty over our lives? We are often tempted to interpret His words in a way that preserves our autonomy, but is that what He intends for us? Let’s dust off that old Bible, crack it open, ask for His Spirit’s presence and wisdom to interpret for us what He means, and then obey Him. Then ‘Assume Nothing’ will never be misunderstood as ‘Do Nothing’.
(Photo Credit: elspeth-itsamystery.blogspot.com)