Repetitive repetition

Have you ever noticed in the gospels how often Jesus starts a statement with, “Amen amen. I say to you…”? Why the repetition?

I was at a conference last year where a YouTube video for golf store was exemplified as what to avoid. The owner of the store was doing his best to use this media to get the word out, only he just kept repeating, “We buy golf clubs.” And I do mean repeating; 9 times in 40 seconds of video. However, I do remember that video and know without a doubt, if I had golf clubs to sell, that would be the first place I would think to go. The video, via the repetition, has done its job.

In last week’s reading from Revelation on the feast of Mary’s Assumption, I noticed again repetition. “Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child when it should be born. She gave birth to a son — a boy destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” (Rev 12: 4-5, emphasis added) While this example may be more subtle than other repetitions among the books of the Bible, the point is clear: a child was born. For those that struggle to see Jesus as human, this repetition of the words child/son/boy and birth/born anchor the thought in our memory.

This past Sunday’s Gospel reading continues with the Bread of Life discourse. While it may seem like a recycled reading from last week, it’s actually a continuation of the gospel. It is also a gold mine of repeated words and word families.  There are 5 instances of bread, 6 instances of both eat and flesh, and 9 instances of life/live/living. As a marker of how important all this is, Jesus prefaces the most important teaching,

“Amen, amen. I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53)

The double amen is used to focus our attention on the teaching Jesus is giving us. Some translations use the word truly instead of amen. I’ve even seen it translated as Let me solemnly assure you. I think I prefer the use of double words to make that impact of catching our attention.

In a world that did not have videos to watch or soundbites to hear, repeating key teachings was a way to makes sure the message was communicated, and more importantly, remembered. In today’s world, repeated keywords still capture our attention, like fingers snapping us to pay attention.   

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