Wednesday, December 22, 2010

nazarene or nazirite

The first reading for today recalls for us the ambiguities that always occur in translations. In this case it is one of the ambiguities of translating the Hebrew/ Aramaic world of Jesus into the New Testament world of Greek, the mother tongue of Christianity.

The New Testament speaks of Jesus being a Nazarene, and scholars have argued over the meaning of the word. Does it mean he was from Nazareth or does it mean he was at some point a nazarite? Or does it mean both?

A nazirite vow was a type of consecration to God. Usually it was done for a limited period of time, at least 30 days. Some were nazirites for life. The most famous were John the Baptist, Samson, and the one in today's reading Samuel. Most often a person consecrated themselves. The connection of this reading to Christmas is that Samuel was consecrated by his mother even before his conception. (1 Sam 1:11)

While scholars may debate the nazirite status of Jesus there is no doubting that each of us is consecrated to God by virtue of our baptism. The requirements of that consecration are different.

We can have a glass of wine or haircut. But the demands of our consecration are no less real. As we prepare to celebrate the moment when God became man was made visible in Jesus Christ, may we deepen our own understanding of what it means that we too are temples, dwelling places of the very divinity of God.