chapter  53
8 Pages

Irony

ByMATTHEW DICKERSON

The world is full of seeming incongruity. Incongruities abound in the meanings of words, and in the meanings as well as the results of actions.

Human words, for example, are often best understood in some way other than their literal meaning. This can be the case either because of the intention of the speaker (or writer), or through the hearers’ (or readers’) broader understanding of context for those words. When we read of King David’s response to the prophet Nathan in II Samuel 2:5-6, condemning the man who has stolen a sheep, we know something that David does not know: Nathan’s parable was about David, and David is thus judging himself. Readers thus understand David’s words more deeply than they are intended to be understood. We might say that David’s expression of righteous wrath at the moment is incongruous with his own life. Similarly, when the high priest Caiaphas notes that it is better for one person to die than an entire people (John 18:12), he has the sacrifice of Jesus in mind. However, he almost certainly did not understand the meaning of that sacrifice in the same way that Jesus did when speaking of his own death (for example, in John 12:20-26). In the context of the whole Gospel story, readers might see the words of Caiaphas to have a much deeper meaning than the high priest could have intended.