From the good folks at Merriam Webster – the “Word of the Day” – diffident. Probably not a word that is part of my everyday usage, but one that curiously arrived on the Monday of Holy Week. In modern usage, the word “diffident” means: (1) hesitant in acting or speaking through lack of self-confidence or (2) reserved, unassertive. But it is the now-archaic meaning of the word that also interests me: distrustful.
Diffident and confident are etymologically related antonyms, both tracing their origin to the Latin verb fīdere, which means “to trust.” Diffident arose from a combination of fīdere and the prefix dis-, meaning “the absence of” – hence, “distrustful.” Confident arose from confīdere, a term created by combining fīdere with the intensifying prefix con- to arrive at the archaic “trustful.” Where originally the terms looked outward, as in, an assessment of one’s attitude toward another person (did you trust them?) or circumstance, by the 15th century both terms express an attitude towards oneself as a primary meaning.
Holy Week is one in which fīdere (Greek pistis) stands in high relief. At the beginning of the week, the apostles when told by Jesus to go get a donkey with which to enter the gates of Jerusalem, trust that it will work out. When told that at the last minute there would be a room available in the Passover-busy city of David, they trusted. But Holy Week became a gauntlet that challenged their trust in the person and mission of Jesus.
Judas became archaically diffident and by “Spy Wednesday” had arranged the betrayal of Jesus. The fidere of the other apostles comes into question sometime during the night at Gethsemane at the arrest of Jesus. In their own way, their absence betrays Jesus as they slip into the more modern meaning of diffident, no longer sure of their next step. Not even the empty tomb will budge them out of the Upper Room where they hide.
The Latin fidere is most often used in the Vulgate Bible (Latin) to translate the Greek pistis. In the everyday Greek of Jesus’ time pistis meant trust; in the religious context it was taken to refer to faith or belief. But oddly, pistis is also said of God. While we might express that God “believed” or had “faith” that the Apostles would eventually carry out the mission, we are more likely to say God trusted the mission to the Apostles.
Given pistis is used of God, Jesus and Apostles alike, perhaps pistis should probably be rendered as vow to faithful relationship as the truer understanding of the word. In biblical terms that speaks to a vow, pledge, or covenant loyalty. Clearly the Apostles will have ups and downs in their loyalty to the covenant, in their faithfulness to following Jesus. Even after witnessing the risen Jesus in the Upper Room, they will be diffident (hesitant) in the mission, but with the coming of the Spirit they will become ever confident in their faithful relationship with the New Covenant in Jesus.
We too have our ups and downs, but this week, may your journey of Holy Week be blessed and confident.