For those of us who grew up in the church, sometimes the Bible gets a little....familiar. We've heard the same stories over and over and can quote many of the famous bits. When you hear the same words so often they can begin to lose some of their punch. When that happens for me I like to branch out and read more unusual translations of the Bible. I like Eugene Peterson's The Message for a more informal read of the Psalms, and I like to read Robert Alter's versions of Genesis and Daniel, translated word for word from the Hebrew. But for pure fun, I like to go to Clarence Jordan's The Cotton Patch Gospel.
Clarence Jordan was a farmer and New Testament scholar who is best known for starting the integrated Christian commune Koinonia Farm in the 1940s and helping to found Habitat for Humanity. He was a remarkable person with a fascinating perspective and in the 1970s he began writing the Cotton Patch versions of books in the New Testament. They are "a modern translation with a Southern accent." Jordan situates the life of Jesus in the rural Georgia of the 1970s, which gives a sobering twist to Jesus' ministry and teachings.
I often return to his re-telling of the Sermon on the Mount because it snaps me out of my complacency and challenges me to rethink my understandings of the meek, the poor in spirit, and the hungry. May Jordan's words also speak to you.
The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John - by Clarence Jordan
"When Jesus saw the large crowd, he went up the hill and sat down. His students gathered around him, and he began teaching them. This is what he said:
The spiritually humble are God’s people, for they are citizens of his new order.
They who are deeply concerned are God’s people, for they will see their ideas become reality.
They who are gentle are his people, for they will be his partners across the land.
They who have an unsatisfied appetite for the right are God’s people, for they will have plenty to chew on.
The generous are God’s people, for they will be treated generously.
Those whose motives are pure are God’s people, for they will have spiritual insight.
Men of peace and goodwill are God’s people, for they will be known throughout the land as his children.
Those who have endured much for what’s right are God’s people; they are citizens of his new order.
You all are God’s people when others call you names, and harass you and tell all kinds of false tales on you just because you follow me. Be cheerful and good-humored, because your spiritual advantage is great. For that’s the way they treated men of conscience in the past.”