Grammatic Grace

This past weekend’s Mass readings gave me a lot of food for thought. Unfortunately, the thoughts I had weren’t particularly spiritual in nature. But it’s hard to stop thoughts.

Bill started it all. He, unlike me, always reads the day’s Liturgy of the Word prior to Mass. I wait for the lectors and the deacons or priests to do their thing. I like to be surprised.

He’s doing so when he leans over to me prior to Mass and asks, “Isn’t this sentence redundant?”

The sentence to which he referred was from St. John’s gospel about the adulteress who the scribes and Pharisees were about to stone. It comes after Jesus had suggested that anyone among the group who was without sin should throw the first stone, after which they all slunk away like boys who broke a window with a baseball. Jesus tells the woman he wouldn’t condemn her either. Then he says:

Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

It took me a few readings before I saw the redundancy: from now on do not sin any more. See it?

So, I lean over to Bill and whispered, “I guess you need to take that up with St. John. He wrote the gospel.” To which Bill responded, “Well, he was quoting Jesus.”


The bolt of lightning didn’t come, so I suspect that Jesus didn’t condemn Bill for his concern about a potential grammatical error. Jesus likely just blamed it on the translators. It’s probably not the only grammatical error in the gospels. The writers were fishermen and tax collectors, not writers. And they didn’t have spellcheck.

But since grammar was already on my mind by that time, when I came across this sentence in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I cringed:

…..For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippeans 3:8-14)

Say what? Oh Paul, for the love of all that is good and holy, there must be some way to divide that sentence into several that make sense. Here was my best effort:

For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things. I consider them so much rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him. My righteousness is not based on the law but instead on faith in Christ, and his death and resurrection. If I share in his sufferings, I too may attain new life.

No wonder Paul got on everyone’s nerves. And it’s bad enough that I have to be the world’s editor, but do I have to look heavenbound?

(Oops. And now I, too, have to watch for the lightning bolt.)

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