The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us for ever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
Since I first came across the short – only thirteen verses long – and curious second letter of John, I have been intrigued about the identity of ‘the elect (or chosen) lady and her children’!
While some commentators do think that this does refer to an individual family, more consider that this is a code where ‘the lady’ represents a Church community, and ‘the children’ denotes its individual members on the grounds that it seems unlikely at this stage in Christian history that one family would have been so prominently known.
I wonder what provoked the writer of 2 John to need to write in code? Reading the letter as a whole it would seem that this was written in a time when the Church was being persecuted and perhaps the ‘false teachers’ were not false in the sense that they were attempting to lead the faithful astray through suspect teaching but rather that they were spies from those persecuting the community posing as visiting teachers and preachers!
Codes have a long pedigree as a method of hiding messages. Arguably the last thing that today’s Church needs or ought to be doing is working in code. If ever there was a need to speak plainly that is today. But different parts of the Church do use a certain code. I am aware in my ministry developing an ecumenical county with friends in other denominations that we each have our own shorthand and ways of speaking that seem normal to each but strange or even impenetrable to our friends. Different parts of the theological spectrum have different ways of speaking too. Perhaps we need to check ourselves to see if we are actually talking in code when really we need to speaking plainly? Do we think we are talking plainly – without jargon – but actually might as well be speaking in a different language as far as those outside the Church – the people we are yearning to reach – are concerned?
God of the elect lady and her children,
teach us how to speak plainly.
Plainly of you.
Plainly of the Good News
taught by Jesus.
Plainly of the Good News of the Kingdom.
So that we might help others
see the way to be your disciples.
Help us to repent of our jargon
and to let go of the codes we use.
In the name of Jesus,
The Rev’d Sarah Moore is a member of Carver Uniting Church, Windermere, and is currently serving as President of the United Reformed Church in Cumbria
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