Friday, March 26, 2010

Luke 3 -- jack up the radiator cap[0]

I was born on June 24, the day when the Catholic church recognizes the life and work of St. John the Baptist. Like him, I can be brutally direct, offending people without even thinking about it when the facts of the matter appear so plain -- at least to me. In today's reading, John adopts the metaphor of highway construction:
Luk 3:4 Nitekim Peygamber Yeşaya'nın sözlerini içeren kitapta şöyle yazılmıştır: "Çölde haykıran, 'Rab'bin yolunu hazırlayın, Geçeceği patikaları düzleyin' diye sesleniyor.
Luk 3:5 'Her vadi doldurulacak, Her dağ ve her tepe alçaltılacak. Dolambaçlı yollar doğrultulacak, Engebeli yollar düzleştirilecek.
Luk 3:6 Ve bütün insanlar Tanrı'nın sağladığı kurtuluşu görecektir.'"
Let's look at a few words:
  • vadi -- wadi. Arroyo. Dry desert valley.
  • Her dağ ve her tepe -- every mountain and every hill.
  • Dolambaçlı yol -- tortuous course. detour. devious path. ramble. twisty road. roundabout route.
  • Engebeli -- broken. rough. rugged. uneven. bumpy. steep and broken. hilly. rugged.
In one of her "Little House" books, Laura Ingles Wilder described the process of building a railroad road bed. Teams of draft animals dragged scoops across hill tops, then dumped the fill in the lower areas. The process of "cut and fill" made a level and efficient route. [1]

The glory of the Lord was about to be revealed to Israel, but the nation was sleepwalking in complacency, certain that they were God's "special" people,[2] and therefore the future only promised more of the same of more of the same. They knew not the times, they were ignorant of the abyss opening under their feet, the need for radical personal reformation. In this culture, John's message dynamited a straight path through the clutter and devious detours.[3] He prepared the way of the Lord, prepared the hearts of the people to expect the Messiah. He described appropriate behavior for those who asked him. The examples given -- tax collectors and soldiers -- were the agents of the alien occupying force. Hostile to Israel's national identity and aspirations, but integral parts of God's project. One more indication that things would never be the same.


[0] "The only way to fix that truck is to jack up the radiator cap, and drive a new truck under it." Israel was so far gone that it could not be salvaged. A whole new paradigm was needed. The Titanic had hit the iceberg, but the passengers were not yet aware of the doom that impended.

[1] Yes, I've also served as a "highway man," a soils and concrete technician who evaluated roadbeds and road materials. I can do a sand cone, a proctor, an air entrainment measurement.

[2] This notion was so deeply embedded that our Lord's own disciples asked the stupidest question in the Bible in Acts 1:6 -- "Lord, will you at this time restore Israel... ?" Israel had just repudiated Jesus, railroaded him through a rigged show trial, and demanded his humiliating and painful execution at the hands of the Romans. And for all this, Israel deserved to be exalted, made the chief of the nations? Maybe wishful thinking makes us all view ourselves as "special" people, no matter what we do.

[3] As a technical writer, I have a gift for finding the most direct route through a clutter of interesting facts. Engineers are fascinating people, smart people, but the way they write will drive you crazy. They have a habit of never getting to the point, but only elaborating all the details around the main point!

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