Wednesday, June 2, 2010

John 1: Nancy Pelosi and "the Word"

The blogosphere is aghast today that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told the Catholic Community Conference that her favorite word is "Word." Here's the clip:



Pelosi's getting religious here, but she sounds a little ridiculous to me--in no small part because she says "word" twelve times in less than a minute and keeps looking at her (silent) audience expecting them to acknowledge just how clever she is.

But Pelosi has a Biblical point to make. Her "Word" is the Greek logos, which appears most prominently in the opening verses--or prologue--of the Gospel of John:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it [...] And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-5;14).

For the John author, the "Word" is Jesus. (And for the record, John writes "Word" only four times to the Speaker's dozen.) Pelosi's point--it seems--is that she takes Jesus as her inspiration and her model.

But John's vision of Jesus is special--it is what theologians sometimes call a "high Christology" because it depicts Jesus as very powerful, eternal, and immutable. Said differently, if Luke's Jesus is born in a stable in Bethlehem, humbly and lowly, John's Jesus is never "born"; he is always already present. He is the creative principle of the universe. And he floats over the face of the deep when God, through him, builds the cosmos. He is extremely high.

Pelosi's critics take issue with her pontificating because it implies that she creates policies that Jesus would support. Critics on the right believe that her positions are not at all Jesus-like; critics on the left argue that in a secular state, Jesus (or Moses, or Muhammed, or Lao Tzu) should not be a model for legislation.

I personally believe that Jesus would like quite a few of Pelosi's signature bills--most notably a health-care overhaul that will eventually give 30 million more people insurance. But I take issue with her implication that the Word serves as her inspiration.

Indeed for John, Jesus as Word is wildly beyond comprehension and imitation; it is only when Word becomes flesh that we can draw near. Thus, Pelosi can pass very good bills based on her understanding of Jesus's example. But she can as soon lobby for Word-based legislation as she can fly.

And that's the Word.

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