Cyril and Methodius, whom we remember today in the church calendar, were brothers born in the 9th century at Thessalonica, a large Greek city on the Mediterranean, a city evangelized by St. Paul many centuries earlier. By invitation, they became apostles to the southern Slavic people, the Moravians. Cyril was a student of philosophy and a deacon, who eventually became a monk and missionary. Methodius was the first governor of this, a Slavic colony, then became a monk, and was later elected abbot of a monastery in Constantinople.
Some of their task among the Moravians was to transcribe their native tongue into the Slavonic language, for which Cyril invented an alphabet – the “Cyrillic” alphabet. Their work in translation and communication was received with great gratitude and joy… except where it was not, by those who found the Slavonic language “barbarous.” The brothers, quite faithful and innocent of any political agenda, were inadvertently caught up in a web of mistrust and miscommunication generated by both foreign and local powers. In their lifetimes, both brothers suffered greatly. It was only following their deaths that the fruit of their linguistic work was fully acknowledged and they, revered.
All of us must be linguists. What we hear in today’s Gospel lesson from Mark is a mandate from Jesus “to go into all the world to proclaim [Jesus’] good news.” We don’t, each individually, “go into all the world” of course. But all of us have a portfolio that gives us access to certain people because of our cultural heritage, our age, our training, our vocation or location, our personal or professional language abilities in our own little corner of the world.
Our motivation for being Jesus’ linguists is twofold: one, Jesus tells us this is what we’re to be about, what St. Paul calls “being ambassadors of Christ.” That is why we’ve been given breath. A second motivation for our being Jesus’ linguists comes from within our own souls, recollecting how God has met us along the way in our own lifetimes. The language I now use in my relationship to God is not the same language that I used as a child. As a child I experienced Jesus’ presence and love in monosyllables and very simple images. I understand something about Jesus’ being “the lamb of God” because I had a stuffed animal whom I called “Lamby,” and I have no doubt that Jesus stooped to meet me in such simple and reassuring ways a young child would recognize and trust. So we do unto others what was done unto us – expressing Jesus’ light and life and love in their first language, where they are. That’s our two-fold motivation for our being linguists.
Our inspiration for being linguists is the Holy Spirit who has words of Jesus’ welcome for every tribe and language and people and nation. We can take Jesus at his word, that we will be given the words we are to speak to those to whom we are called. Lord Jesus: supply what you command.
1. 2 Corinthians 5:20.
2. A riff on Revelation 5:9.
3. Mark 16:17; Luke 12:12.
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