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The Performative Verb and Jesus

Four or five years ago when I was still considering seminary, I wrote on a few topics within Christianity for the heck of it. So I think it was a Wednesday night around 10:00 pm that I wrote this. About a year later I posted it on FaceBook in the “notes” section and then promptly forgot about it (with three or four others like it). This remains unedited; I just figure I might as well put it on the blog with all my other ramblings.

The performative verb and Jesus’ six woes of luke 11:37-53

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then He said, “Let there be Light.” God created the universe not by construction or design but by speaking. The creation of the whole universe was done with voice. With the commandment that there be light, and light obeyed, and was.

God creates using something discussed linguistically as a performative verb. Unlike saying, let’s think of light or we need light, He said, “let there be light.” This is an action. It’s a commandment. He said, “ there is now light” and there was. What he said preceded the product. God creates by having the verb form the noun.

Likewise, humans have performative verbs, too. A minister says “I now pronounce you man and wife.” While not one thing physically happens to the couple, their entire legal state changes. Without any chemical change whatsoever the minister’s words have all of a sudden changed a nicely dressed man and woman into husband and wife my simply saying it.

This is the nature of God as revealed in Luke. Jesus is dining with Pharisees when he gets on a shtick about them not doing what they are. He yells at the Pharisees for missing the whole purpose of what they are. They are nouns without verbs.

Jesus begins with the nature of the cup, that it can only be cleaned by giving the contents. The contents of course is a metaphor for their knowledge and instruction. In the same sense we can also conclude that the Pharisees are dirty, since they don’t deliver the knowledge, i.e. emptying the cup, subsequently allowing it to be cleaned.

Then Jesus moves on to what they give, in tithing. The Pharisees give ten percent, but never justice or love. Not only are they not giving everything so that they can be cleaned, they aren’t giving what they should.

He moves on to them wanting the most important seats in the synagogues. This is a stern warning to Christians getting caught up in church politics, also. He makes the point that they are missing the purpose of these invaluable positions, which is to give everything.

Then he moves to a metaphor of the Pharisees being unmarked graves, constantly walked on without ever knowing. This means the content is there, and completely unappreciated. Were the grave to have a tombstone, people would respect and value what this area is. This is a stern warning to educated Christians that are caught up in only the learning but not the teaching.

Jesus moves on to the law experts not helping. This is a wonderful example in western medicine, which is curing the symptoms, not the ailment. The Pharisees dish out burdens (which are punishments) without helping. When a child can’t read because of poor vision, we don’t just buy the glasses and leave him there, we still must teach the child how to read. Likewise, the Pharisees should help the people, not just castigate them.

Then he laments the Pharisees for being unaware of the prophets. The Pharisees are hypocritical in that they bury the very prophets that generations earlier were killed by these Pharisees’ ancestors. Because they Pharisees do not take responsibility for their actions, jesus tells them that they are personally responsible for the blood shed of all previous prophets. This is the Pharisees saying without doing and—it is what they say that makes them both hypocrites and responsible.

Lastly we have the experts that take the key of knowledge. The key has one intended purpose: To open doors. If a key does not open a door, it is worthless. Likewise learning the gospel and not doing what it says, or at lease sharing the contents, the noun without a verb is useless. It is not having the key that opens the door, it is taking it out and using it that opens the door. And what is the room? It isn’t a room of knowledge, it is a room of God. The key is one of knowledge. Subsequently the knowledge is useless without being used. And the only purpose of knowledge is to unlock the door that reveals God. The Knowledge does not open the door, it only unlocks it. It is the duty of the keyholder to open the door and allow another to enter first.

Knowledge is not the actor, to know is not a performative verb. Knowing will never show God. Instead, it only permits the possessor of knowledge to be able to open the door. The performative verb would be Show! And the product would be knowing. And likewise knowing and not showing means we are truly poor students if we never become teachers in christ.

As God let the acting create a subordinate action, we must do the same. Before standing on street corners or on high pulpits we must do what we wish to represent. A Christian must love before explaining love, and Christian must BE Christ-like before defining his faith. We must perform our faith. After all, it is called the book of acts, i.e. people acting like Christ, not talking about Christ. We must perform like God our savior, and let the learning be seen by this action.