Erasmus was a classics professor during the days of the Reformation. He not only produced the first critical edition of the Greek New Testament (which became the fuel for the Reformation), but he also taught language arts. One of his more notable works was De Copia–the title means “of the fullness”–it explored the richness of language for communication.
To help his students understand how rich and expressive language could be, he had them do an exercise: Write the sentence “Your letter has pleased me very much” in a hundred different ways. Quite a fascinating exercise!
Some years ago, teaching high school juniors and seniors, I saw their need to be more attentive to how they wrote and expressed themselves. So, I decided to use Erasmus’ little exercise–although I tempered it a bit, asking my students to write his assigned sentence in just 25 different ways. And the response of the students was startling. You could not imagine the complaints and objections that were raised. “We can’t do that! That’s impossible! How can you expect us to do that?”
When they returned the following week with their assignments in hand, those responses had become much more tempered. Many had realized that the homework was not as hard as they had imagined. They admitted they had become lazy and complacent in how they thought about what they wrote and how they spoke. Quite a number of the students realized that it wasn’t the challenge of the assignment but their habit of not thinking well, not applying themselves to what was assigned.
And experience helps me understand something the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote to fellow-Christians.
“Concerning Jesus we have much more to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. But though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God.” ~Hebrews 5:11-12
The author of the letter will go on to explain and highlight and call attention to more of the excellencies of Jesus. He wants his readers to see more of Jesus, to grasp more of how wonderful He is. And he is admitting it will be challenging to explain all that Jesus is–but not because of the difficult of the topic but because of the “dullness” of his hearers.
That is an interesting word: dullness. It only appears twice in the New Testament; both times in Hebrews. It’s found here and in Hebrews 6:11–12. The basic idea? It s about being sluggish, inattentive, slothful.
I have felt, at times, that this life of following Jesus in faith is difficult, hard, too challenging. I have heard other Christians, thinking about the life we are called into by grace, say things like: “We can’t live that way! That’s impossible! How can we be expected to do such things, live in that way?”
But what if the heart of the issue is not how unattainable Gospel truth is? What if it’s not about how beyond us we think the message of a Spirit-empowered, Jesus-glorifying life seems to be?
What if the issue is more about our having settled into an attitude of “Well, I know enough to get to heaven” and have resigned ourselves to not intentionally pursuing all that is offered us in and through Jesus?