Saturday, December 20, 2014

para

Annunciation by Francisco de Goya
Image from goyapaintings.org 
I was reading Luke 1 a few weeks ago, you know, the story where Gabriel the heavenly messenger brings messages of hope to the old priest, Zechariah, and then to the young girl, Mary. In both cases, women who could not technically have children were given promises that they would conceive and have a boy.  Zechariah was astonished and expressed doubt that this would be possible. He was soon given a sign that anything is possible with God. Mary was also taken aback and wondered how she could conceive a child since she had never been intimate with a man. Gabriel assured her that "Nothing will be impossible with God." Luke 1:37 RSV

And this is where I stopped short in my reading. The word "with" in verse 37 jumped out at me. It was like I had never noticed it before. So I took my dusty Greek bible off the shelf and took a closer look at the verse in its original language. Here it is:

ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρ πν ῥῆμα

Then I pulled out the big, green lexicon and translated it (yep, my Greek is really rusty). Here are the meanings for each Greek word:

ὅτι (hoti) = now
οὐκ = by no means (because it is placed at the beginning of the sentence, this word carries extra emphasis)
ἀδυνατήσει (adunatesei, verb, future active indicative, 3rd person singular) = it will be powerless, impotent, impossible, disabled 
παρὰ (para) = beside, in the presence of, with, before
τῷ θεῷ (to theo) = the god (dative  case, primarily a case of personal relations, the root idea is personal interest, of god, from god)
πᾶν (pan) = all, every
ῥῆμα (rema) = thing, object, matter, event, word
Put it all together and you get: "Now by no means will it (all things) be impossible with God." Pretty much like the translation from the New Revised Standard Version I quoted above. 
So let's take a closer look at the word "para" which is translated "with." It includes ideas such as:
People or things together in one place
In the company of, alongside
Two or more people or things doing something together or involved in something
Used as a function word to indicate a participant in an action, transaction, or arrangement
So as to be touching or joined to, in relationship to
In respect to, so far as it concerns
What became apparent was that my understanding of "with" in Luke 1:37 had always been the last, least used definition, the one that translates something like this: "In respect to and as far as God is concerned, nothing is impossible." See how I just removed the human element from the equation? And that is the opposite of the intention the I believe is present here in this word, "para." Para is a relational preposition, putting people and things into contact with each other, beside each other. You might recognize "para" from some other words:
Paralegal/paramedic – working with, beside a lawyer/doctor, enhancing their work
Paradigm – to show side by side, pattern, model
Parallel – alongside one another
Parasite – alongside food, the idea of eating at another’s table (that one was just for fun)
Paraclete – to call alongside, advocate or helper, used to refer to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16)
All of these uses of "para" include the idea of doing something together with someone, in the presence of another, of being "with" someone in intentional, close proximity. "Para" invites collaboration and emphasizes relationship. When Gabriel says that nothing is impossible "with" God, he means that when we are in close proximity to God, when we work together with God, when we say Yes to God and cooperate with God, the very things that limit us, that stop us, that are obstacles to us...lose their power. When we are with God, dis-abilities or in-abilities give way to possibilities. When we are with God, the places we are powerless become occasions for demonstrations of glory. This is what Jesus came to show us. In fact, he was identified by that very concept of "with." 
Matthew 1:23. "A virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and His name will be Immanuel (which is a Hebrew name that means “God with us”)." (The Voice) 
Yes, God is with us. May we be with God as well.

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