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A Scary Word 

SCARIEST WORD IN SCRIPTURE

 

     “Darryl, why is there an expiration date on sour cream?”

     Ace looks up from the card table to see “Uncle” Joey, a grin on his face, a bag of potato chips on the table, looking at a container of sour cream and onion chip dip.

     “Well, probably the same reason they put croutons in air tight bags. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with stale bread?” he laughs.”

     “Me, I’ve always wondered how they get Teflon to stick to the pan,” Mike the Russian chimes in.

     “How do you know when you’ve run out of invisible ink?” asks Reverend Williams, a smile on his face.

     Picking up his cards, Mike Daniels fans them, mischief in his eyes. “While we’re pondering the profound questions of life,” he says, “somebody tell me … if love is blind, why’s lingerie so popular?”

     “Or,” laughs Bobby “Pretzels, “… why is ‘abbreviation’ such a long word?”

     “Speaking of words,” Rabbi Josh says, a devilish grin wandering across his face …

     … tell me, what’s the scariest word in Scripture ever spoken? …”

 

     Hi, I’m Tony Baggz.  We’re here at the weekly Council financial meeting … that’s right, the poker game ... again.  It’s Joey’s turn to host. He was last week’s big winner. Won a grand total of an even dollar. And looking at the spread, winning probably cost him forty bucks.  I think I’ll get a roast beef sandwich on some great Jewish rye, some of Sam’s incomparable cole slaw, and a good cold one, compliments of my friend the jeweler.

     Seems this evening it’s silly time. Every once in a while someone pulls a prank or tells a joke and things just start rolling. Seems while preparing the chip dip, Joey noticed the expiration date on the sour cream. Come to think of it, it is odd that something already sour could go bad. Actually, I think the question has been asked before, but I guess he couldn’t resist. And the ball started rolling. Which has prompted an interesting question from the Rabbi.

     The look in Josh’s eyes is intriguing.  He’s very familiar with the writings of the Christian New Testament, being a part-time professor at St. Ed’s; teaching Jewish history and culture. And I know the other clergymen often consult him about Jewish teaching and tradition. Well, tonight it seems Josh’s question has a few of the guys thinking. I’d say we’re in for an interesting conversation.

     … What do you say we listen in …?

 

     “Word, Josh?  I don’t know,” Bobby says, “never thought of it. Famine … maybe leprosy?”

     Crucifixion?” Mike asks.

     “Stoning gets my vote,” chuckles Joey.

     Examining his cards, Walt Robinson sips his drink. “What do you think it is Rabbi?” he asks

     “As.”

     “As?” asks Walt.

     “As,” replies Josh in a firm tone of voice. 

     “And that’s your scariest word in Scripture,” Hammer chuckles. “I figured you for plague or something like that.”

     “Um hmmm.”

     “ Fold … I gotta hear this,” Walt says, shaking his head and setting his cards  face down  on the table.

     “ ‘As’ is the scariest word in all of Scripture,” chuckles Vinnie. “You’re kidding, right?”

     “To me it is, ‘Bullets,’ at least if I were in your shoes,” Josh says, stroking his beard and examining his cards. “You say it all the time and I wonder if you really understand what you’re saying.”

     “Wait, you lost me. I’m saying it all the time … when?”

     “Your Carpenter used it.”

     Sipping his coffee, Father Bob sets his hand down.  From the smile on his face, I think he knows what’s coming. “Go ahead, Josh,” he says, “explain it to them like you did to me.”

     “Okay, fellas,” the Rabbi says, winking at the priest. “Now you know I don’t share a good many of your beliefs. But most people have heard the verse I’m referring to. Even Jewish children had to recite it in public schools a couple of generations ago.  I know I did in Brooklyn when I was a kid.”

     “And what verse is that, Josh?” Pretzels asks.

     “It’s in what you call your ‘Lord’s Prayer’.”

     The room falls silent. A moment passes.

     “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us … that the one, Rabbi?” Gumshoe says tentatively, putting emphasis on the word ‘as’.

     “Exactly. And in context, to me it’s absolutely frightening.”

     “How so?”

     “Well, if I understand your Carpenter, you will be judged in the manner you judge others, and you will be forgiven in the same manner, as, you forgive others,” Josh says, emphasizing the word ‘as’.”

     Heads nod as the guys, folding their cards, listen.

     “Now, I don’t necessarily agree.  It’s our tradition that man has the right to judge and exact punishment for transgressions.”

     “From the Torah, right?” says Reverend Randall.

      “Correct.”

     “But still, how is the word, ‘as’, frightening?” Ace asks

     “Okay, let’s for a minute say that I accept your belief.  One day I will be judged by your Jesus. I will look into his eyes, those eyes you believe see the entirety of your life, and he will say, ‘Joshua, many times I heard you say the words of that prayer I taught you.  Many times you asked me to forgive you in the same manner you forgive others’.”

     “Yes,” I would answer, “It’s true, I said that prayer many times.”

     “Okay, then how do you reconcile those words with your feelings about the death penalty?” 

     Silence descends as the group ponders the rabbi’s words. A thoughtful look creeps into Hammer’s eyes.  “I see what you are driving at.”

     “I’m not sure I’d have a good answer, Walt. Would you?”

     Hammer shakes his head slowly.

     Sipping his coffee, Josh continues. “Take for instance that story on the news the last couple nights.  The drunk driver who drove over the sidewalk and killed six people, including a cheerleader from West Side High. And it’s not his first DUI. He’s had what, three previous according to the papers. The state revoked his driver’s license, but that didn’t keep him out of the bars or from behind the wheel of a car. A lot of people say he’s been given far too many chances. Listen to the talk on the street and you hear people calling for his execution. The state, the citizens have that right; first as punishment for what he did, and second so he can’t do it again.”

     “A little harsh, wouldn’t you say Josh?” asks Joey.

     “Is it? The guy shows no concern for anyone else and his history says, given another chance, he’ll do it again. Should he be put to death? Some say yes, me included.  Society needs to be protected and his execution would accomplish that. Now is the time to stop him, for the good of society and every other cheerleader walking on the sidewalk when he’s out driving drunk again in eight years.”

     “But ‘vengeance is mine' sayeth the Lord,’” Ace says. “How do you reconcile your view with that?”

     “True, Darryl, but doesn’t your Church allow for capital punishment, the just war, self-defense; things that, to my mind, contradict that idea of your Carpenter’s?”

      Ace pauses a moment to digest the Rabbi’s words. Then, he turns to the priest. “So, Father Bob, what do you think? Mercy or justice?”

     “Mercy, yes Ace, mercy and justice.  I think he should be given life without any possibility of parole. To me that would be a more horrible punishment anyway. One’s freedom taken away, forever.”

     “But why should the taxpayers pay for this guy for another forty years?”

    “Ah, that’s the issue, and one of the reasons behind the church’s position. You can never put a dollar value on human life; even a wretched life lived badly,” Father Bob says.

     “Besides, studies have shown capital punishment costs the taxpayer more than life imprisonment, anyway” adds the Rabbi. Pausing for emphasis, Josh looks over at the priest and winks. “Just to be fair to my friend, Bob, here …” he says, smiling.

     Pausing to sip his coffee, the Rabbi continues. “You see, Darryl, Bob and I have talked about this several times and we understand each other’s position and agree to disagree.”

     “So, you’re saying it should be left up to each individual to make that decision?” Walt asks.

     “Not necessarily.  In fact it’s actually where I see the benefit of Bob’s Church.  Its teaching comes from its central authority and is constantly reevaluated and refined. And while the faithful must understand and respect that teaching, latitude is given to one’s conscience. I think that’s better than everyone independently making up their own mind about an issue.”

     “That’s why the church exists, Walt,” the priest says softly. “Not to exercise power, but to teach. To set a standard of moral order with a unified and universal position. To interpret the Scriptures in light of the world in which we live.”

     “But still, doesn’t it scare you, that you are asking to be judged in the same manner you judge others?” Rabbi Josh asks.

     “Yea, Rabbi, I see your point,” Walt says. And it’s an awfully good one … 

     … Funny how such a little word can send chills down your spine.”

 

     Where does divine mercy end and divine justice begin?  For the Christian, from the Lord’s own lips comes the possibility that our individual salvation may depend on how we judge and forgive others.

     How strict will Christ be in His judgment?  Do his words suggest that there has to be something more than just a simple acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior, or participation in religious rites and ceremonies?  And, when you look around, do you get the nagging feeling that many who say they are relying on God’s mercy, are really hoping for a case of Divine amnesia? You perhaps?

      “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven …

    … only those who do the will of the Father.”

     Thinkaboutit … I’m Tony Baggz.

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Episode 5: The First Step — No one can do it for you.

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