Today I preached to our local church plant from John 12:44-50, a passage often titled “Jesus Has Come to Save the World.” Preaching today meant that yesterday I sat down with a local believer, *Harry, to go over the sermon manuscript, checking for language mistakes and smoothing out the grammar. For the dozens and dozens of times that I have now preached in the local language, God has never failed to provide me a local brother to help with this important prep work – and every time that local brother manages to save me from at least a couple proverbial foot-in-mouth situations. Last night was no exception.
“Jesus teaches us here that it is his words that will judge us on the last day,” I read out loud.
“When?” my friend asked, raising an eyebrow.
“The last day,” I repeated.
“A.W.,” Harry continued, “in our language ‘the last day’ means Friday, not the final day of judgement. To communicate your meaning you have to say ‘at the final age.'”
“Ohhh, thank you. I’m definitely not trying to say that Jesus’ words will judge us on Friday!”
“And when you say ‘the final age’ don’t forget that short vowel in the first syllable of ‘age.’ If you forget it you will be saying ‘at the final tongue!'”
We laughed, sipped our hot drinks, and continued. A little later my friend put up his hand again for me to pause.
“Stop,” he said, “Read ‘Jesus Messiah’ out loud for me again.”
“Jesus Messiah,” I repeated.
Harry shook his head. You are saying it too fast and skipping over the final throaty H in Messiah. When you said it just now, it sounded like you were instead saying ‘Jesus of the squeegee.'”
I chuckled. This was not the first time I had made this kind of mistake. Preaching through Ephesians years ago I had publicly proclaimed, “The Squeegee is our peace!” instead of my intended meaning, which was “The Messiah is our peace.” That tricky throaty H is one of the old nemeses of us English speakers attempting to learn this particular Central Asian tongue.
Idioms especially can be like hidden bombs, ambushing the innocent speaker who is merely attempting to speak in literal and clear ways. Just a couple weeks ago I was doing sermon checking with *Darius when I learned that I can’t say “the person and work of Christ” in that simple form.
“‘Person and work of’ together like that,” he told me, “is always an idiom for someone’s closest circle of relatives. You don’t mean to say that we are saved by the relatives of Jesus Christ, am I right?” He laughed. “That sounds kind of Catholic!”
Then there’s those tricky words that are spelled the same and sound the same, but differ in meaning based on the context and construction of the sentence. This kind of similarity between the local words for canary and shore led to one of my more famous blunders, when teaching through the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew.
“And then Jesus sat down in the boat, next to the canary, and began to teach about the kingdom of God.”
The local believers leaned into their Bibles trying to figure out where the song bird I was referencing had suddenly come into the text.
Last night Harry and I finished our editing work together around 9 p.m. I thanked him sincerely for his help, knowing that his investment of a couple hours with me would mean greater clarity for the rest of the church on the following day, Friday, when our church plant is able to meet.
As we parted ways I shook his hand and said to him, “See you on the last day, brother!”
“What?” he said back.
“Tomorrow is Friday. You know, the last day.”
Harry laughed and shook his head. “Right! See you on the last day indeed.”
*Names changed for security