In the Western World, people are becoming less and less biblically literate. As a growing number of people have begun to regard themselves as atheists and agnostics, as secular people who have given up on religion, so large portions of the population, especially in England, have become more and more biblically illiterate.
And yet, what is fascinating is that despite this fact, many people in British culture quite unknowingly use Biblical phrases in their everyday life. It shows how over the centuries the Bible has left a long lasting imprint on our culture.
The following list gives some examples
Bite the Dust from Psalms 72:9.
The Blind Leading the Blind Matthew 15:13-14.
By the Skin of Your Teeth from Job 19:20 (from the Geneva Bible).
Broken Heart from Psalms 34:18.
Can a Leopard Change his spots? from Jeremiah 13:23 (KJV).
Cast the First Stone from John 8:7.
Drop in a Bucket from Isaiah 40:15 .
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry from Ecclesiastes 8:15.
Eye for Eye, Tooth for tooth from Matthew 5:38.
Fall From Grace from Galatians 5:4. Prince Andrew
Fly in the Ointment from Ecclesiastes 10:1 (KJV).
Forbidden Fruit from Genesis 3:3.
Go the extra mile from Matthew 5:41.
He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword from Matthew 26:52.
How the Mighty have Fallen from 2 Samuel 1:19.
The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil from 1 Timothy 6:10.
Nothing but skin and bones from Job 19:19-20.
The Powers that Be from Romans 13:1 (KJV).
Pride comes before a fall from Proverbs 16:18.
Put words in one’s mouth from 2 Samuel 14:3.
Rise and shine is from Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”
The Root of the Matter from Job 19:28 (KJV).
Scapegoat from the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 16:9-10)
See eye to eye from Isaiah 52:8 (KJV).
Sign of the times from Matthew 16:3 (KJV).
Straight and Narrow from Matthew 7:14.
Twinkling of an Eye from 1 Corinthians 15:52,
Wit’s End from Psalm 107:27 (KJV),
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing from Matthew 7:15
Finally: Bearings one’s cross... “It just my cross to bear” (Taken from Matthew Mark and Luke). (For further examples see end of sermon).
Interestingly, Luke’s Gospel contains an addition to the phrase which does not appear in Matthew or Mark. In both Matthew and Mark Jesus says: “If anyone wishes to be my disciple he/she must... take up their cross and follow me.”
Luke is the only version that inserts the word ‘daily”. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must ... take up their cross daily and follow me.
I would like to explore briefly what the phrase “bearing one’s cross” might mean for us:
1stly, in popular language and popular usage, bearing ones cross in life is often interpreted as bearing one’s lot in life. It suggests that we should just accept the difficulties and bad things in life because that is just one’s fate in life.
There is a truth in that interpretation that at times can indeed be useful and helpful. There are indeed times in life where suffering cannot be avoided and cannot be changed. And in those instances when we stop resisting the difficult situation and simply accept things the way they are, then our suffering can actually decrease. In those situations the phrase “it is just my cross to bear in life” represents an acceptance of a situation that cannot be changed and there can indeed be a freedom to be found in that.
But the danger of such an interpretation of the phrase “to bear one’s cross in life”, is that it can lead to a passive acceptance of suffering and a fatalism about suffering that is not always healthy.
I think of the example of a woman living in a situation of domestic abuse and violence. I see in October of this year the PSNI hit a record high in the number of domestic violence and domestic abuse cases. Sometimes in situations of such domestic abuse, many woman would say to themselves: “This is just my cross to bear in life”. Sometimes women have been told that by their ministers, priests and pastors.
But I think that Jesus would have been horrified by this interpretation. Jesus spent all his life working to liberate people from suffering and now some have taken the saying of Jesus and turned it around to suggest that we must blindly accept whatever suffering that comes into our lives, even when it is abusive.
Perhaps if we want to get a clearer understanding of the phrase, it would be helpful to ask what the phrase meant in Jesus day and how Jesus may have understood it? Whenever you wish to understand a verse or passage in the Bible, it is first important to ask what it meant in its historical context.
In answering these questions, the first thing to remember is that crucifixion had a very specific meaning in Jesus day. It was a means of execution that was reserved for those who were a political threat to the Status Quo of the Roman Empire. Only those regarded as a political threat were crucified. When we read of Barabbas who was allegedly released in Jesus place, often we are told that Barabbas was a common criminal. But to be accurate, Barabbas needs to be understood to have been a political revolutionary, because it was political revolutionaries who were crucified, not common criminals.
When we consider the teachings of Jesus, while Jesus was not a violent political revolutionary, all indications are that Jesus was in a very profound way a non-violent political revolutionary. His teachings envisioned a very radical alternative vision for society where the poor would no longer live in grinding poverty and the rich would no longer lord it over them.
The fact that Jesus had such a large following amongst the poor and the marginalised clearly posed a threat to the social order of the Jews. If Jesus did not at some level, pose a threat to social and political order, then he would never have been put to death. At the very least, Pilate saw that he was a threat to peace amongst the Jews and therefore agreed to have him put to death.
From this perspective, to take up ones cross and follow Jesus is to stand up for what is right. It means to be willing to work for a more fair and justice world, and also being willing and ready to face the consequences for doing so.
The protests of Extinction Rebellion might be from one perspective, an example of what it could mean to ‘bear one’s cross’. In order to draw mass attention to the plight of the environment that is already beginning to unfold around us, they have been willing to be arrested by police and even abused by passers by because they desperately wish to catch our attention on the climate crisis before it is too late.
How willing are we to bare the consequences for standing up for what we believe in?
How willing are we to bear the consequences of standing up for honesty and integrity?
How willing are we to bare the consequences of standing on the side of a society that is more just and fair when fellow human beings are being oppressed and dealt with unjustly?
How willing might we be to bare the consequences of standing up for environmental justice, fighting for a world that will be a good and wholesome place for our children to live in?
Today is the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. It is a day in which we remember that Christ is King. Our passages today remind us that To call Christ King, is to become part of an upside-down kingdom, a kingdom whose values are different from this world. To be a follower of Christ is to be a follower of a crucified King. It is to be willing to follow the way of the servant King, it is to be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Further examples of scripture verses that have become part of ordinary everyday English usage:
- There is a time for everything under the sun... It is sometimes rephrased: There is a proper time for everything... or there is a time and a place for everything. Many do not realise that it comes from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
- “Am I my brothers keeper” - is a phrase that comes from Genesis 4:9.
- “The truth will set you free” - John 8:32 – a quote from Jesus
- A Millstone around your neck –from Matt 18:6
- “It is better to give then receive” - is a saying of Jesus which interestingly doesn't appear in the 4 Gospels. Instead, it appears in the book of Acts 20:35.
- “The writing is on the wall”, from Daniel 5.
- “To be weighed and found wanting” from Daniel 5.
- “Kicking against the goads” - from Acts 26:14.
- “Iron sharpens iron” from Proverbs 27:17
- “Not judging by appearance” from John 7:24
- “A good Samaritan” from Luke 10:33.
- “I have washed my hands of it” from Matthew 27:24
- The phrase “Ivory tower” is often used to describe people and especially academics who make pronouncements on things of which they have no practical experience. “Sitting in their ivory tower”... suggests that they are impractical dreamers. The phrase originally comes from the Song of Songs / Song of Solomon and is used to describe a woman’s purity.