JESUS’ USE OF LANGUAGE
(Matthew 7: 3-5).
3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother. Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye: and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Jesus was a master of creative use of language. He knew how to take everyday words and use them in such a way that it took his hearers by surprise. His vocabulary in most settings was that of his audience, the common people, and he avoided the technical, theological jargon of rabbis.
He understood even technical rabbinic issues quite well, however, and when he needed to he could make his point forcibly on their terms (see, for example, the dispute about “corban,” Mk 7:1-13). Usually, however, Jesus stayed away from obscure conflicts and spoke directly to the broad cross-sections of the people in words they could grasp.
To get his message across, Jesus would sometimes bury his meaning somewhere below the surface in order to force listeners to think about what he said. An example of this is Luke 9:60, where Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” In some instances, Jesus went on to explain what he meant, but in most cases he let the words he had spoken do the work. Sometimes, Jesus would use highly graphic language to make a point. A well-known example of this is when he said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3-5)
Other times Jesus used paradoxical or seemingly self-contradictory language to force his hearers to think or to make a decision, as when he said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mt 16:25) or “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mk 10:31).
Jesus could also use the language of calculated overstatement to arrest attention or even to shock his hearers. An example of this is in Mark 9:42-48, where Jesus speaks of cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye to enter the kingdom of heaven.
In all of this, Jesus was exercising an extraordinary creativity by taking the common language of his day and making it do things it had rarely if ever done before.