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The Main Thing

Psalm 119:145-168

160 The main thing about your word is that it’s true; and all your just rulings last forever.

Jeremiah 11:18-23

18 Adonai made this known to me, and then I knew —

you showed me what they were doing.

19 But I was like a tame lamb

led to be slaughtered;

I did not know that they were plotting

schemes against me —

Matthew 10:16-22

16 “Pay attention! I am sending you out like sheep among wolves, so be as prudent as snakes and as harmless as doves.   

Today is the commemoration of St. James of Jerusalem. (Known as ‘The Just’, the brother of Jesus.)


Funny, lately I’ve read a great deal about James the Just, and as far as the readings go it seems there’s been a coincidence in other areas as well, mainly regarding discussions I’ve been having about things that are True and Eternal, and about Paying Attention.

So it’s time to ferret out the connecting thread, I guess.

The first reading reminded me painfully of the times that I had been ‘like a tame lamb led to the slaughter’, oblivious of other people’s ill will. When I did finally get it, it hurt something awful. I was forced to notice that the psalmist said that God ‘made this known’ to him. It never occurred to me that it might have been God that made me get it; made me see that  I’d been set up to be mocked by people who really didn’t like me.

The other thing that I’ve been adding to my understanding lately, is the idea that we are all connected; all ‘in the same boat’; all beholden to one another.

So if I put those two things together, it shows me exactly how God makes that kind of thing known. God makes us see into other people’s hearts, and see how we are connected. We see how we share the impulse to harm; to belittle; to make fun of other people. We don’t just get it because we’re told, we get it because we feel it. When we know, we can then look back on when we did not know, and when we compare the two and ask ourselves, “How come now we know the difference?” the answer has to be, “Because I might have done the same thing to someone else.” We have to recognize that our understanding came from asking the question, “Why would they do something like that?” And not just asking it, but actually trying to answer it. That’s when we understand that the only way to answer the question is to ask ourselves, “Why would I do something like that?” That’s when we understand that the only reason we’re able to answer the question, is that we too are perfectly capable of ‘doing something like that’. It’s our trust, like the tame lamb, that tempts us to ‘lead each other to slaughter’. It’s knowing in our hearts just how tempting it can be to abuse trustfulness for the sake of a practical joke. Not to mention what Jeremiah is talking about, which was deadly serious and could have ended up with him not just mocked, but deader than a doornail.

So how does that tie in with the Gospel? Well, Jesus told them to be both prudent and harmless. He also implied that knowing the danger ahead of time doesn’t always help you avoid it. In fact, he pretty much said that it wouldn’t. So why bother? I think the key to understanding it is that it isn’t about avoiding your enemy’s plots. No, it’s about being able to see the value of being a “tame lamb,” and the resolution to go right on being a tame lamb, only a tame lamb with its eyes wide open, knowing exactly where it’s being led off to. It’s about knowing that we are all lambs being led to the slaughter. So all that stuff in the Psalms and the Old Testament begging God to visit ‘retribution’ on our ‘enemies’--- could that be simply a request for our enemies to have the same understanding about the whole mess that we do?

The other thing that popped into my head was this: I can’t think of anything more disconcerting to an enemy than to realize that their victim knows perfectly well what they are plotting, and is going to just go ahead and let them do it! After all, that’s exactly what Jesus did, and it disconcerted all of history.

So the Psalm and Jeremiah prefigure the Jesus event. God shows the trusting Lamb what the enemy intends, and the Lamb goes right on trusting anyway.

Jesus tells his disciples to be prudent but harmless, because those are good ways to be. He sends them into danger and tells them that they might not survive, and expects them to follow his example and go anyway, still trusting.

I’m not sure if there’s a thin connecting thread that leads to James the Just, but there must have been a reason that he was called ‘The Just’. So where is the justice in all this?

That leads us back around to the Psalm, and its unsophisticated point that “the main thing” is that nothing’s worth anything if it isn’t true, and once a thing has been decided, it’s a done deal. It’s a good thing God’s verdicts are fair, right?

Well, what about when there’s no way to be fair? What about when trust encourages contempt? What about when it’s the innocent that suffer, and the shrewd that escape? What about when God’s retribution turns out to be enlightenment? What if God’s punishment is just that moment when you realize the truth, and you say, “Oh, Shit!”

What about the smack-in-the-face realization that trust exists because of deceit; innocence depends on guilt, and vengeance relies on mercy? Where does that leave us? Back at trust?

Well, maybe it just leaves us at the gates of Heaven, asking ourselves, “Where to now?"

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