Sunday devotion: 13 January 2019, The Baptism of Our Lord

Sunday Devotions

Fishing for metaphorical red herrings

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Main readings: Isaiah 43.1-7; Ps 29; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-22

Supplementary readings: Ps 111; Romans 6.1-11; Isaiah 43.15-21; Ps 2; John 1.19-24

“…and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3: 22)

If you’re a movie watcher, you’ll see many versions of this Lucan scene depicting a literal dove flying down to land on Jesus. But this may be another example of how literalising Scriptural metaphors is only as helpful as our imagination goes. “Like a dove”, the verse says. But the Holy Spirit is not “a dove”. It can’t be caged. It won’t trouble a statue. Something about the descent described was dove-like in some respect. But what?

In fact our scripture is packed with metaphors. God as mother hen. Jesus as gate, way, bread, light, vine and more. Each one only loses its power when we decide we’ve decoded it; that it has nothing new to teach us. Or when we give one metaphor literal ascendance over all others, such as “God is father and nothing else”.

Jesus continues to engage us as we renew our sense of wonder about each biblical metaphor, playing with them like a puppy with a chew toy, in order to explore and wonder anew what each has to teach us today.

It’s the mystery we enter into, wondering just what these metaphors mean that is one of the great gifts of scripture.

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