Heart: In v 27 of today’s Gospel reading Jesus instructs his followers not to “let your hearts be troubled …” We could say this in English, but we would be more likely to say, “Do not let your minds be troubled …” In ancient times, it was customary to ascribe emotions to inner organs of the body, a habit that continued into the 17th century. In Colossians 3:12 St Paul refers to ‘bowels of compassion’ (KJV), for pity, sympathy and similar feelings were deemed to be particularly located in the intestines. The diaphragm was regarded as the seat of thought – but it was the heart that embraced most comprehensively the inner life. It was the general seat of thought, will and emotion, although, as Leon Morris points out, it could veer to one or other of these according to context. Mediaeval Europe took over many features of ancient thought, especially in medicine, although details might differ. The spleen was regarded as the seat of anger, and we can still today refer to a short-tempered person as ‘splenetic’. In the 16th and 17th centuries the kidneys rather than the intestines were thought of as the seat of the affections, and are so referred to in the King James Version (where they are called ‘reins’).
Know: The primary way of acquiring knowledge is through the senses. But sense impressions have to be interpreted by the inner faculties of mind and spirit, and these may be so prepossessed by a fixed outlook that sense impressions may be misinterpreted or even ignored because they do not fit that outlook.
A frequent exhortation of Jesus is, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’ There are many references in Jesus’ preaching and teaching to seeing and hearing, and his criticism of ‘the Jews’ in today’s Gospel reading is that they have heard and seen yet do not believe, and so do not ‘know’ or recognise who he is. The connection of ‘seeing’ with ‘knowing’ comes out in oida, one of the Greek verbs meaning ‘know’ used in John’s Gospel (although not in this passage), which is the perfect tense of a verb meaning ‘see’. The verb used in v 27 of the Gospel passage, where Jesus says, ‘I know my sheep’ is ginosco (= ‘know’, ‘recognise’). It is a verb appropriate to express knowledge acquired during the course of a relationship, such as a relationship with God. This verb is related to gnosis (= ‘knowledge’) especially the ‘special’ knowledge of the Gnostics, a heretical movement which held that the body was evil and the spirit good, and so denied Jesus’ full humanity, and ascribed salvation not to faith in Christ but to spiritual knowledge. To be ‘a-gnostic’ is to be ‘un-knowing’, especially in articles of religious belief.
Peace: In today’s Gospel reading Jesus twice bestows his ‘peace’ upon his disciples. Our English word ‘peace’ derives from pace, an oblique form of the Latin word for ‘peace’, pax – cf Pax Romana, the peace imposed by Rome upon the subject states of her empire. But Jesus must mean something more by ‘peace’ than civic law and order, ‘peace and quiet’. His meaning probably owes more to the Hebrew word shalom, a word connoting wholeness and well-being, especially the spiritual well-being flowing from a right relationship with God. The Greek word used in the Gospel for ‘peace’, eirene, gives us our English derivative ‘eirenic’ or ‘irenic’, meaning ‘promoting peace’. Eirene also gives us the girls’ Christian name ‘Irene’. This was originally the name of the Greek goddess of peace, but no doubt owed its subsequent adoption by Christians to the fact that it was the name of a saint of the Greek Orthodox Church who was also the mother of the Byzantine Emperor, Constantine VI
A Word in Season