"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." John 20:25.
We all know the story about Thomas, Doubting Thomas. The story is unique to John's Gospel. Some scholars believe that the story is fundamentally about doubt and that the author personified the telling of the story in the person of the apostle Thomas.
The primary job of a criminal defense attorney is to instil doubt in the minds of the jury members hearing the case. In criminal cases, it is always the prosecution that bears the burden of proof and that burden is a high one indeed: beyond a reasonable doubt.
One of the most astounding criminal trials of the last century was that of OJ Simpson. What made that trial so unique was the extent of forensic evidence connecting Mr. Simpson to the crime and the consensus of opinion of observers that Mr. Simpson would be convicted. Notwithstanding the evidence and notwithstanding the popular consensus, Mr. Simpson's lawyer was able to instil sufficient doubt in the minds of the jurors that the prosecution had not proved their case.
While the "not guilty" verdict was a great victory for Mr. Simpson and his lawyer, it was less than a great victory for the justice system and the legal profession as a whole. We want our trial courts to arrive at the right results using proper procedure and fairness as a roadmap and a compass. But as we saw in Mr. Simpson’s case, fairness and right results are not always achieved. When we see unfair results, results that are achieved by legal tricks and gamesmanship, we doubt the fairness of the result, we doubt our system of justice.
What makes a great lawyer? For the person accused of criminal activity, the answer is easy: one who can obtain an acquittal, one who can get the accused "off." Acquittals, however, are far and few in-between. Some statistics show that only 3% of criminal cases end in acquittal.
The legal process, whether it be a criminal or civil trial, a contract negotiation, the drafting of a will or even the purchase of a house, can be downright daunting and the ultimate result often in doubt. We all want an honest, competent lawyer, but a lawyer who can compassionately guide one through the process, a lawyer with a special bedside manner is a rare commodity.
This week we celebrate Law Day with a Evensong sponsored by the Guild of St. Ives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The service will be attended by plenty of lawyers, lawyers who go to church, Episcopal lawyers. These lawyers are ruled by more than the "billable hour." These lawyers passionately pursue their vocation and compassionately minister to their clients. These lawyers know how daunting the legal process can be and stay with their clients every step of the way.
Each year the Guild of St. Ives honors a particular lawyer with the presentation of the Servant of Justice Award. The award is not for the most billable hours. The award is not for the lawyer who has generated the most revenues for the firm. It is not for the lawyer who has won the most verdicts at trial. It is for the lawyer who has exhibited special attributes that do not always translate in earthly success. The award is for a lawyer who has exhibited attributes of being a servant of Christ Jesus, a lawyer who has sacrificed by putting the law, the interests of justice and the client above the lawyer’s own self interests. When we honor lawyers such as these, we replace the doubt that lawyering is all about slick courtroom tricks and gamesmanship with the virtue, the ideal that even in a profession much maligned holiness still exists and perseveres.
Come join us Wednesday, May 4, at 6 pm, at St. Paul’s Chapel for the Law Day Choral Evensong.
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Luke 18:1-8
A few weeks ago, we heard the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, two people at opposite ends of the social spectrum of the ancient world. In this parable, we see a widow and a magistrate, two people on opposite ends of the power structure.
In first century Palestine, widows were essentially destitute, had no voice, and likewise, had no power. Women depended upon their husbands for support and if their husbands should die before they did, they had no means of support. They had to depend upon their families and friends to survive.
Magistrates or judges, on the other hand, were in positions of significant power. Here, we find a corrupt judge, perhaps one who takes bribes. He is admittedly corrupt, as he “has no fear of God and no respect for anyone,” the opposite of what is expected from judges.
Jesus delivers this parable to his disciples to make the point of their need to “pray always and not to lose heart.” The lesson obviously concerns perseverance. The destitute widow badgers the corrupt judge persistently, so much so that he gives in to her, not because of any bribe he is able to procure from her, but simply because she is a nuisance, she keeps bothering him.
The point is that if a widow, a person of little influence in society, is able to prevail upon a corrupt judge without having to give a bribe, the prayers of the persistently faithful person will be answered, and answered generously. Jesus questions how many will be able to be persistently faithful in this regard: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
There is a nuance to the parable as well, and it is about the difference between the earthly world and the spiritual world. While the widow is faithful in pursuing her remedies in the earthly world, Jesus reminds us of the importance of pursuing heavenly things through prayer. He does this by referring to the generosity of God when compared to the generosity of the earthly judge. A corrupt judge may grant justice, but God’s justice is that much more fair, abundant and merciful. The implied message is that only God’s justice can be relied upon. The earthly world cannot be trusted because it is flawed by fallible human leadership, as represented by the corrupt judge here.
Here is a true story about a corrupt judge. About ten years ago I was arguing a case in court. I made a motion to dismiss a lawsuit on the ground that the lawsuit was based on the wrong contract; the contract had been superseded. When we appeared in court on the motion, the judge refused to accept my papers. He asked me what the motion was about. I simply said: “They sued on the wrong contract.” The judge did not review my papers, the contracts or my brief on the law. The other side had not yet opposed my motion. The judge had only one word to say: “Denied.” While the judge received no bribe, he was intellectually dishonest.
This transitory earthly existence is fraught with fallibility and frustration; it is inherent in a fallen world. It is futile to believe that earthly institutions will uniformly reward good and sanction evil. Senseless wars, rampant disease and famine are bountiful. We can trust only in God and the spiritual rewards that God delivers through prayer and a faithful life. St. Paul said it best: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
The spiritual life starts with a prayer life. A healthy prayer life centers us in a way that allows us to remain focused on the important things while in this earthly existence. It also helps us to avoid sweating the small stuff.
When I was a postulant for holy orders, I wrote to my bishop about how my prayers were actually helping me to relax and be anxiety free. There were studies at the time that demonstrated how prayerful people have lower blood pressures and pulse rates. The bishop wrote back sharply correcting me on my motives in prayer: “We pray to communicate with God.” It is only through prayer that we open ourselves to God and to the mystical side of our earthly journey.
A few years ago, a close friend of mine told me he was diagnosed with cancer and asked me to pray for him during his surgery and treatment. I put him on the prayer list of the parish and included him in my personal prayers. I prayed for his well-being, not necessarily for his cure, for that was a decision for God and God alone.
He went through the ordinary preparation for cancer surgery. He was initially diagnosed by a hospital in Long Island and opted to have the surgery done here in New York City. He arrived at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, one of the premier cancer hospitals, for his final pre-surgery testing. After extensive testing, the doctors sent him home. They told him he didn’t have cancer after all. He didn’t need the radical surgery that he was about to undergo.
Did our prayers work? Was that a miracle, or just bad science? We will never know.
What we do know is that the earthly world is filled with unfairness and disappointment and that in God alone should we put our trust. God answers all prayers, but not necessarily in the way that we want. If we focus our prayers on earthly things, our prayers are subject to failure. When we keep our prayers focused on spiritual things, such as understanding and love, our prayers can never fail.
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
The Greek word “doulos” has different meanings. The primary meaning is “slave.” Some of the older translations use the secondary meaning, “servant.” In America, use of the word “slave” can be distracting, as we can’t help but think of our awful history of slavery in the United States. Jesus is talking about servanthood, not slavery.
Jesus is also talking about faith in servanthood.
We are often confronted with the competition of life. This could be no more apparent than in New York, especially in the financial community, or what I like to call: The World of the Bottom Line.
Many company sectors have a so-called “P&L,” which stands for profit and loss. When it comes time for the annual bonus, the supervisors want to know the P&L. How you obtained the P&L is often overlooked because it’s the number that is most important. Character and approach rarely factor into the calculation. It is precisely this kind of approach that drove some companies into financial disarray. Because P&L was such a primary focus, companies often overlooked the risk involved in obtaining the P&L.
When it comes time to be rewarded for the annual bonus, some companies ask their employees to write a memo about their accomplishments for the year. The most faithful and dutiful employee is turned into a self promoter when it comes to bonus time.
Here is a true tale about two lawyers and self-promotion.
Two lawyers are being interviewed by a prospective client. Each of them has fifteen minutes. This process is commonly referred to in the profession as a “beauty contest.” One lawyer takes the fifteen minutes to talk about his accomplishments. He talks about all the cases he has won, conveniently leaving out the failures. He talks about what a great lawyer he is, who his famous clients are and how successful he is. It’s all about him.
The second lawyer says virtually nothing about his accomplishments. Instead, he spends the time closely listening to the client talk about the intricate and complicated problem. He spends the time trying to solve the client’s problem and showing concern for the difficult predicament.
* * *
We live in a world of self-promotion. It’s me, me, me, all the day long. But no one likes the self promoter. Certainly Jesus didn’t. Can you imagine Jesus pushing his way through the crowds on a New York subway platform, trying to get ahead of everyone else? If asked to assemble his P&L for the year, accomplishments such as “salvation,” “healing” and “preaching” would have resulted in a dismal annual bonus.
Jesus was driven by his faith and his sense of duty. And he did what he did without ever bragging about it. He was a faithful servant, even unto death.
Self promotion is often a product of a lack of faith. In my story of the two lawyers, the first has no faith that his skill as a lawyer will become apparent to the prospective client, unless he talks about himself. In the process, however, the client is neglected. At the end of his fifteen minutes, the client is no better off than when he started the interview.
The second lawyer, on the other hand, has faith. The second lawyer puts his ego aside, puts his faith to work, and gets down to business. He serves his client by attempting to solve the difficult problem and shows his skill, not in any advertisement, but in his actions, in the solution of the problem itself.
* * *
The Christian life to which we are called has nothing to do with self promotion or economic success. Jesus’ burden is light. We are called to a simple duty of faithfulness and love for God and one another. We are called to step aside while others are entering the subway train. We are called to talk about how others, not ourselves, are talented. We are called to help each other, no matter how difficult life can get, even at a cost to ourselves.
How difficult is the Christian life in a 21st Century dog-eat-dog existence? How difficult is this in The World of the Bottom Line, especially when being asked to account for a P&L?
If we have faith, and are faithful to our calling to servanthood, somehow life works-out. This is part of living the Gospel. The faithful life doesn’t always work-out in a way that we expect, but in a way that is peaceful and fulfilling, in ways that really matter. A life of true faith is safe from all attacks and ills that The World of the Bottom Line can dish out in this transitory existence.
By the way, in the story about the two lawyers, the client hired the second lawyer!
Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side." --Luke 16:19-31
* * *
Here we go again, talking about possessions. Is it all about the haves and the have-nots? Are we more spiritual when we are unsuccessful financially because that makes us need God? Does too much money make us too independent and in less need of religion?
A quick reading of this Gospel might turn someone to the view that possessions lead to evil and poverty is bliss. But there are many different ways to look at this Gospel.
Jesus sometimes uses hyperbole to make his point. The rich man in Jesus’ parable here is very, very rich. White linen was difficult to create. It had to be soaked in clay. There was a lot of labor involved. Purple dye was very expensive. Even affluent persons found it difficult to afford such a luxury.
As rich as the rich man is rich, so poor is the poor man poor. Lazarus is his name. Lazarus is at the rich man’s gate. The dogs lick his wounds, an insult that also suggests they know where to find him because he has been there for a long time. He is lying at the rich man’s gate.
The Gospel story is fundamentally about the sin, which we define as being separation from God. But it is not the wealth of the rich man that makes him fall from grace. Money and wealth is a necessary tool that can often be used for great good. It can be used to fund important ministries. Perhaps it is the lack of stewardship and lack of attention to Lazarus that makes the rich man fall distant. Worse still, perhaps the rich man is so concerned and focused on lining his coffers, that he doesn’t even notice Lazarus at his gate. This is a man who is unaware, he is clueless.
* * *
These difficult economic times have spawned unfair phenomena. It is bad enough that many people have lost their jobs. But the people who have been able to keep their jobs are being asked to work longer hours, often at no extra pay. Many younger people are subjected to this, and are often unable to leave their offices before nine or ten o’clock at night, and sometimes even later.
When I was a young lawyer, I worked incessantly. I worked on a hostile takeover during the 1980s that had me at the office for four months straight without a day off. It was a lonely existence. The only people I had time for, were the people with whom I was working. I had no social life. I had no church life. I had no prayer life.
“Success” is a subjective word. Some view money and possessions to be the end all. I was once proud of the amount of hours I devoted to my secular job. Outwardly, I tried to project a “cool” image. Inwardly I was hurting, starving and not very happy. The only emotion I could experience was numbness. I was insensitive to what was going around me in the spiritual world, in the real world. My only universe was my office and my job. I wouldn’t have noticed Lazarus if he was blocking my gate.
Do you ever feel that you are so focused on your work and your office life, that you have lost your sensitivity of what is going on around you? Do you stop to smell the roses? What do you do to strike a balance in life?
Author: The Rev. Deacon Robert Zito
Created: September 28, 2010
Bob Zito is Trinity's deacon, and a lawyer with an office on Wall Street.
Gospels are not just stories, but a way of life. This bi-weekly blog will discuss the broad ways in which the Sunday Gospels can be interpreted and applied to daily living.
Bob leads a lunchtime Bible study on most Mondays. Contact him for more information or to get involved.