Jesus, I know not what to say

*** This hymn is offered in solidarity with everyone who has ever found it hard to commit to the way of God embodied in Jesus’ call to take up the cross and follow him. But the hymn is not really about myself (‘I’, ‘me’). It is (as the last verse makes clear) about the saving love that flows from the cross.


Jesus, I know not what to say.midi

There is a good deal of irony written into this hymn, and I hope it will not be thought to make the hymn too ‘difficult’.


First, it may seem that the subject of the hymn is ‘I’, as in, ‘I know not what to say, I do not all God’s will obey’. The first line of each of the first four stanzas seems to be concerned with ‘I’, and in each of the first three stanzas the last line is about the effects ‘Jesus’ has ‘caused’ on ‘me’, ‘my faith’, and ‘my hope’.

But, in reacting to Jesus, the self who seems to be the subject is in fact clearly acknowledging a stronger power than its own. The self is the passive object of Jesus’ impact, and the real subject of the hymn is Jesus’ ‘demand’ and ‘God’s entire command’, with the offer of ‘forgiveness at (Jesus’) hand’. Paradoxically, therefore, this hymn has a strongly objective base, as the closing verse at last makes plain.

The hymn is derived from Matthew 21.23-32 in two ways. First, through the parable of the two sons, one of whom promised to obey his father, but didn’t, whilst the other threw his father’s command back in his face, but then did as he was asked. Each of the sons in his own way knows what it is to be challenged by their father’s commands, to feel himself stumbling over what is not palatable to him. In the hymn the ‘I’ is a hybrid of these two, and it is not clear at any point which son is represented. This is arguably closer to the experience of Christian believers, for it is not very often that we plainly exemplify only one extreme or the other, but there can nonetheless be few who have not from time to time felt themselves inconvenienced (at the least) by Jesus.

Second is the story’s context in Matthew’s Gospel. It takes place in the Temple at Jerusalem, and comes directly after the catastrophic collision between Jesus who has enacted the beginning of what Robert Goss called the ‘Stop the Temple’ campaign[1] and the Sanhedrin and its chief executive, the High Priest. They were scandalised beyond description by Jesus’ action, and in their perception of him the ‘scandal of the gospel’ comes into dramatic focus, for Jesus made no apology for his action or his teaching, and good news for the poor would finally be preached from the cross.[2]

This hymn is offered in solidarity with everyone who has ever found it hard to commit themselves to the way of God in Christ, especially those who, like the man who had many possessions, go away grieving when they hear Jesus’ word to them[3]. If the hymn can cause such as these to change their minds, it will have served its purpose.

The music is called MUMBLES, not primarily after the lovely beach by Swansea, but in playful acknowledgement of the poetic conceit that has the stanzas conclude with, successively, ‘stumble’, ‘tumble’, ‘crumble’, ‘grumble’, and ‘humble’, and ‘mumble’..



[1] Considered in Elizabeth Stuart: Gay and Lesbian Theologies. Repetitions with Critical Difference. 2003 p82

[2] cf  Matthew 11.6 …the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me. (The Greek verb for ‘to take offence’ is skandalizein.)

[3] Matthew 19.16-24