Isaiah and Eugene are right: We are such Blockheads!
I was reading through the Eugene Peterson’s and I just love his translation of the verses (a quote from Isaiah 6:9+) at the end of Acts (28:26-7):
Go to the people and tell them this:
“You’re going to listen with your ears,
but you won’t hear a word;
You’re going to stare with your eyes,
but you won’t see a thing.
These people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they don’t have to look,
so they don’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.”
I love how cleanly Peterson lays this out.
In the NRSV, the last two lines read:
and understand with their hearts and turn—
and I would heal them.
The NRSV is a more faithful translation of the passage, in that it incorporates the word ‘turning.’ The idea is repentance. To repent literally means, here, ‘to turn’ and what is meant by that is that repentance is literally a change of heart, a turning back to God. Not ‘trounced by God.’ Or, ‘shamed publicly in the town square so that they can be made to feel as small as possible.’ Nope. Just the word ‘repent’ in its simplest manifestation.
We protestants love to get all moralistic about the word ‘repent.’ We make it a power-over word and weigh it down with ideas of ‘you will pay’ and ‘you deserve punishment, you slug.’ We want to see you suffer for your sins. Sinner!
The trouble is, judgment is for Jesus, not us. And in this passage, Jesus has no condemnation for those who turn. Like the Prodigal Son, they are welcomed, loved, healed. Jesus isn’t interested in ‘making them suffer.’ Jesus is interested in their courage, so that they might unplug their ears and hear. So that they will not be afraid to look at their transgressions in the Light, and be healed and forgiven.
Eugene Peterson, in this translation, forgoes using the word ‘turn’ on the page. Instead, he delivers it as an experience at the end of the verses. As you read along, you think you know where you are headed. Jesus the judge! Isaiah the condemner! Those rotten people out there! Your neighbor the sinner who will finally get his!
But you would be wrong. You (fearful sinner or self-righteous jerk) read these lines in a tumble of momentum, dropping from from one line to the next, sure of where you’re headed. And then …screech! You are flung into a u-turn! You weren’t headed where you thought you were after all. This isn’t the race to blame and judgment you thought it was. You are, instead, turned to healing.
Gotta love it.