The ‘beautiful’ shepherd

March 22, 2023 in News

Aidan Mathews continues his Lenten retreat reflecting on the gospel readings of Matthew. Week 5 features the parable of the Good Shepherd, and Aidan has this interesting commentary on the appropriateness of the translation of the word ‘good’ about which a schoolmaster of his had plenty to say.

“The same master, a hearty, hirsute baritone, taught me Latin and Greek at each stop on the three scholastic terraces, prep, secondary, and college; and, because he looked quite Olympian, if benignly so, to the students in his charge, I am inclined to take seriously his repeated assertion that the good shepherd is a mistranslation of ‘kalos poimenas’ and is better served by the word “beautiful”.

Goodness, he would argue, has a functional resonance in idiomatic English. It bespeaks expertise and can-do, the wherewithal of craft and competency. The good shepherd is good at his job, and he ought to be. But “beautiful” – which is the usual translation of kalos in other contexts – exceeds the utilitarian to indicate the aesthetic as well, and extends beyond the prudential economy into the prophetic sign. As mercy is the stunning surplus of justice, so too beauty or loveliness is that addition or inflection of the adequate action which makes it luminous with lyrical meaning beyond the mere mental arithmetic of its own practical purposes.”

In week 6 Aidan tackles the controversial and often ‘uncomfortable’ parable of the workers in the vineyard who received as much money as the men who worked all day, even though they worked only the last few hours of a long hot day.

”The parable of the labourers in the orchard has less to say about the horrors of heredity than it has about the hierarchical cruelty of meritocracy, which system of graduated demarcation is everywhere touted in our democratic world as Justice incarnate and therefore an essential algorithm of righteousness in a post-religious order,” argues Aidan. He goes on, ”Jesus, however, contradicts our contented unanimity on this point of principle, even though meritocratic measures have long since infiltrated our official Christianity, although they are potentially as toxic and obnoxious an attempt at ethical doctrine as the Enlightenment primacy of personal autonomy.

Reflect and pray more on these two passages by clicking here »