Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Genesis 45:16-28, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 6:13-29
The French have an expression: l’esprit d’escalier. Its translation is “staircase wit.” It describes that moment someone thinks of the perfect retort – but too late, such as when we’re out the door and down the stairs after a confrontation. If such a confrontation catches us unawares, we can easily find ourselves dumbfounded.
Herod, the ruler of Jerusalem, was a target of John the Baptist’s criticism because Herod had married his brother’s wife Herodias. Herod imprisoned John to silence him, but was afraid to have him killed because the people considered him righteous and holy. Shortly after, a drunk Herod had his step-daughter dance for his court. He was so pleased, he promised her anything she wanted. After a quick consultation with her mother, she demanded John’s head on a platter. Herod was stuck.
Afterward, Herod probably had a lot of staircase moments. Perhaps he wavered between wondering how he didn’t see it coming and how he could ever have anticipated it. What could he have done?
Evil, when it emerges, bewilders us. Maybe that’s why it so often seems to have the upper hand. It goes places and does things we could never dream of. Stunned, we look up from the bottom of the stairs and it is still laughing at us. As followers of Christ, our loving response can seem inadequate and even pitiful. Though what else can we do but love? Friedrich Nietzsche, while not a man of faith, wisely said: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.” Our uncertainty and delay in responding to evil isn’t always a weakness; rather it is evidence we have not yet learned to think like monsters.
The beauty of stairs is that they travel both directions. We are not trapped at the bottom in a state of regret. Meeting evil with more evil is quick and easy. Instead, we need to gather our breath and wits before ascending to confront it again. With God and Christ on our side, we can afford to play the long game. In the end, no matter how slowly, God assures us love wins.
Comfort: Though evil in the world may seem overwhelming, goodness and justice persevere.
Challenge: Resist – or at least seriously evaluate – the urge to combat hate and violence with more hate and violence, even if it feels good or justified. Pay attention even to the language you use: does it approach conflict with an attitude of conquest or of reconciliation?
Prayer: Merciful God, please grant me strength and wisdom to confront evil where I find it. Bless me with the confidence to persevere when discouraged. Thank you for your faithfulness in all times and places. Amen.
Discussion: Jesus tells his disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” How do we learn to anticipate evil without damaging our souls?
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