Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You Don’t Want To Be ‘That Guy’

I wonder what it was like for the Jews who sang David’s psalms.

I suspect a bunch of them were kind of like we tend to be. You know how you can sing a hymn 100 times and on the 101st time it suddenly dawns on you what the writer was trying to communicate.

The same words were all there before; they all meant the same thing they mean when you figure them out, but somehow you sang them over and over again from childhood without really processing them. Maybe you were reading the music and trying to figure out if you should go for that high note or drop down an octave for safety’s sake; or a kid down the pew was fidgeting and kept dropping crumbs from the cookie you wish her grandma hadn’t given her; or you were somewhere else entirely in your own head, possibly contemplating missing the NFL pre-game show.

Whatever the distraction may have been, you sang those words but didn’t register them. You missed the point.

I’ve certainly done it enough.

The View from Outside

That doesn’t happen as much to people who don’t take going to church for granted. I’ve never experienced being a teen or an adult and walking into a little local meeting with no previous knowledge of what churches are like. I sat, diapered and drooling, in a church pew many times a week. By the time I knew where I was being taken, it all seemed perfectly normal to me.

But I can picture myself walking into a church building at, say, seventeen, having never heard any of it before. I’m not sure what would get me there in the first place, other than duty to a friend or relative, or maybe the hope that there might be some cute girls to hit on.

But assuming you could get me in the door, what would the experience be like?

Even if I thought Christians were absolutely loony, I’d be registering everything, because it would be entirely foreign to me, like the first Catholic funeral I ever attended. (I thought I was on Mars; I remember every little liturgical beat, because it all seemed so arcane, elaborate and bizarre.) And if you threw me into the average local church at seventeen with no previous experience of it, I’d respond exactly the same way.

I’d register all the words of the hymns. I might like them, I might totally dislike them, I might not understand them at all — but you bet I’d be paying attention.

The Proselyte at the Temple or Synagogue

I suspect it would’ve been like that for a proselyte from a foreign nation standing at a respectful distance to listen to the worship of the God of Israel in the Old Testament, like Ruth or Rahab, hearing the psalms for the first time and trying to make out what this ‘Yahweh’ was all about.

They would’ve heard it in a way the average Jew, born and raised with it, would not. The average Jew might have glossed right over words like David’s in Psalm 69 because he or she had already heard that one, no doubt many times. It was old hat.

Three Ways of Interpreting

He or she may have understood Psalm 69 as an account of David’s personal suffering at the rejection and betrayal of friends or loved ones — delivered, as you might expect, with a poet’s dash of hyperbole: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck”.

Or maybe the average Jew would think about the psalm solipsistically, seeing it in terms of his or her personal experience and needs. On hearing “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons,” they might think something like, “I really relate to his sense of being an outsider”.

Or maybe the average Jew heard the passage exposited by a particularly perceptive priest or rabbi who happened to mention that David prefigured the coming Messiah, and that the psalm was really about God’s promised deliverer and king. (Could have happened, though probably not that often, given the confusion about Messiah that was rampant in the Lord’s time.)

But whether the average Jew heard the passage the first, second or third way (or any combination of them), the point is that it would have been just as easy to gloss over any particular phrase in Psalm 69 as it is for us to fail to register the real significance of any verse of a familiar hymn.

A Fresh Perspective

But imagine the eager proselyte hearing the psalm for the first time. I’m putting myself in his or her shoes, picturing the priest or rabbi reading down through the virulent imprecations against the enemies of the sufferer in the psalm, like this one:
“May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents”
I would be thinking some variation of, “Wow. I wouldn’t want to be that guy”.

Same with many of the other psalms: In Psalm 109 David again speaks of wicked and deceitful mouths “open against me” and of people who hated him “without cause”. And again, it’s very possible that the average Jew hearing those words would understand them just as he or she understood the similar language of Psalm 69. And again, the curses from the psalmist follow right behind the story of a man who suffered, was despised and rejected. His enemies and his betrayer are spoken of in this way:
“May his days be few; may another take his office!”
And again, as a proselyte paying attention to something I was hearing for the first time, I’m pretty sure I would be thinking yet another variation of, “Wow. I wouldn’t want to be that guy”.

The Prophetic Word Realized

The thing is, one day, someone WAS ‘that guy’.

He wasn’t born into the world as ‘that guy’, of course. He became ‘that guy’ bit by bit, choice by choice, with a million opportunities to turn back, all of which he rejected one after the other. His name was Judas.

But when the Lord said to him in front of all the other disciples, “What you are going to do, do quickly”, sending him on his way to betray his Lord and master, Judas had no idea he was ‘that guy’. I can’t get into his head, and the scripture doesn’t enable us to read his thoughts, but he went out to betray the Messiah thinking that what he was doing made some kind of sense. He was being paid, after all. Maybe he was fed up with seeing the way the Lord did business, tolerating people like Mary Magdalene, maybe he was just plain greedy, maybe it was that Satan entered into him.

But I will absolutely guarantee you Judas did not read the Old Testament and say, “Yup, that’s me. Tonight, I’m going to be that guy in Psalm 69 and Psalm 109.”

But Peter tells us in the book of Acts that:
“… the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas … For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’ ”
It was inevitable, you see. Judas, much to his subsequent distress, really was the man of whom David prophesied; that man who would have been better off not being born in the first place.

If prophecy means anything at all, somebody HAS to be ‘that guy’.

The Bottom Line

The thing is, Jesus said of the Old Testament, “not an iota, not a dot” will pass away “until all is accomplished”. Just as the scripture had to be fulfilled in Peter’s day, it is impossible for any word of God given throughout human history to fail.

God’s revelation to John, the very last book of the Bible, in its very last chapter, says this:
Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Just as the man spoken of in David’s psalms turned out to be a real, historical individual rather than a mere literary construct, this prophecy refers to real people; people who may well be in the world already. The “dog”, the “sorcerer”, the “sexually immoral” person, the person who “loves and practices falsehood” — each and every one of them is (or will be) a real, living human being with normal hopes, dreams and aspirations, normal jobs and friends and interests; maybe even a perfectly ordinary husband, wife and kids. A person who thinks what he or she is doing about Jesus Christ in dismissing his claims on their life makes perfect sense.

You don’t want to be ‘that guy’.

1 comment :

  1. This brings up one of the most difficult topics to understand about being human. Where does your responsibility start and where does it end? Namely, is our destiny predetermined and therefore there is nothing you can do that will affect the outcome? A somewhat fatalistic view. Or, is the universe indeed a cafeteria style buffet where you are free to put on your plate moral and spiritual food that will make you healthy or ill? Then, just because God (being God) knows what your selection will be over your lifetime, does that fact negate the free will argument?

    How does one then get out of this seeming conundrum? From my life experience I know that there is a point where you have to let your children go and let them make their own choices and these will not always be for the better. Hence, free will is a real phenomenon, the same also for all of us as children of God. However, what if there are variables not under your control? E. g., I could just as easily have been Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, as I am Catholic. Clearly, the bible provides instruction in regard to that too.

    Acts of Apostles - Chapter 10
    "Then Peter addressed them, 'I now really understand', he said, 'that God has no favorites,
    but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

    Here Peter is addressing the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius. What Cornelius exemplifies to me is that there is something that all people are capable of interiorly, namely have innate curiosity, a will to want to do what is right and the ability to discern right from wrong. I have come to the conclusion that Judas had the same abilities but lacked the interior tenacity or even desire to assert that which was potentially good in him. We are therefore doomed if we no longer struggle, no longer falter and get up again, are no longer constantly and patiently petitioning the source of all strength which demonstrates its greatest power in weakness.

    In case you just get started, here is a good way to cover your next 24 hours. Eventually, you'll learn to add more. I still petition frequently this way, especially when I am dead tired or in a rush.

    In the morning simply say with sincerity: "I am getting up in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen," simultaneously making the sign of the cross. With this I petition for divine guidance and help in my daily chores and challenges.

    When retiring say: "I am going to sleep in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen."

    You are now covered for an entire 24 hours under the umbrella of divine projection and I can assure you that you will receive aid and the benefits promised to God's children in proportion to your needs, spiritual and otherwise.