Saturday 30 October 2021

Partners in Provocation

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,
and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

—Hebrews 10:24-25

‘Provoke’ is a strong word. Often, we use this word with a negative connotation, as when we counsel ourselves not to provoke someone to anger, or to refrain from stirring up volatile emotions in others. If we say a film or novel is ‘provocative,’ we usually mean that it is somehow dangerous or edgy, possessing the ability to arouse us in ways we might not always find helpful or welcome. Yet in the Letter to the Hebrews we are told that, when we gather together to encourage one another, we should also find ways to provoke each other.

The Greek word that the NRSV translates as ‘provoke’ in Hebrews 10:24 is paroxysmon. That is an intense word too. In fact, a variation of that word (paroxysmos) is used in Acts 15:39 to describe the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas that caused them to break up their shared ministry and go their separate ways. What a throw down that must have been!

Of course, we still use the word ‘paroxysm’ today, which one dictionary I checked defines as “a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity.” Is Hebrews, then, asking us to figure out how to instill something like that in those with whom we gather? Whatever the case, I think it is safe to say that here we are counselled to do something more energetic and challenging than simply give our fellows a gentle nudge. In fact, other translations use words like ‘stimulate’ or ‘stir up’ to communicate the kind of incitement that the word paroxysmon connotes.

I like to think of ICS as a place where those who seek and desire God’s shalom, to live a life of love and good deeds, can meet to encourage—and even incite and provoke—one another. What is more, that meeting place does not only exist inside our classroom but includes all the other conversational spaces we curate both within and outside of the academy—even this very letter from me to you. I think what I like most about this passage in Hebrews, then, is that it speaks of provoking and inciting in the context of such a mutually supportive gathering of conspirators. I thus see ICS as a learning community that includes you, its community of support. Together, we are ‘partners in provocation,’ an encouraging community that does not shy away from the task of challenging each other to live lives replete with love and good deeds.

As we await “the Day that is approaching” (vs. 25), we do so together, encouraging and provoking one another. Thank you for being a partner in this joyful work. May God bless our collaboration so that it may erupt into a paroxysm of love and good deeds!

Shalom, my friends!

Ron Kuipers