“These are the ones who survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Second reading for All Saints Sunday. I John 3:1-3
The great question, “What does it mean to be pure, a saint?” When I was in the service, in the mid-70’s there was a great sailor, a great hospital corpsman and a great leader. When he saw you make a mistake he would confront you with it, and then say, “Welcome to the human race.” We would then work to clean up the mess. Mistakes do not make us less than human; they make us human.
The Ethics of the Fathers has two quotes: “When sitting in judgment, do not act as a counselor-at-law. When the litigants stand before you, consider them both guilty; when they leave your courtroom, accepted the judgment, regard them as equally righteous. Increasingly cross-examine the witnesses. Be careful with your words, lest they learn from you how to lie.”
The Hebrew word for “White,” in the second reading is the color, white. It also means, “Transparent.” Transparent people have nothing to hide. When we make a mistake and nobody sees us, we think we can hide what we did. Then we spend years worrying if people will find out. This is guilt. When we are harsh with those making mistakes, we cause them to hide those mistakes. Tough love teaches people to lie.
I talked with a conservative who asked why working class people make a big show of pointing to other people’s mistakes, then pat that person on the back, and go get a beer. My response was, “When they do this, it tells the person with the mistake, ‘we know your faults, and we like you.’ This allows people to be transparent.” When we are transparent, we are pure, white with the Lamb’s blood.
When people come forward for judgment, we cross examine witnesses. We view both points of view as being faulted. We overturn every rock, find the truth, and show it to them. When they leave court, real or of public opinion, they are righteous, part of the community. We make like my friend from 40 years ago. The idea is not to ridicule the guilty, though to an outsider it may appear as such. There is nothing to hide, and when there is nothing to hide, there is no guilt. The found-out feel like part of the community, parts of the grander family which is our nation.
Another quirk of Aramaic is their word for, “Blood,” is related to the word for “Image.” We are transparent in the image of the Lamb. The Hebrew for “Lamb,” and for “Word,” is the same. “In the beginning was the Word,” and “In the beginning was the Lamb.” Community members acknowledge faults in each other; they build each other up. This is living in the image of the Lamb. This allows others to be transparent, saints. They do the same for us, and this is a community of saints.
There is a reason Halloween comes before All Saints Day. During Halloween, we become transparent by showing our wicked side. On All Saints, we show our merciful side, our saintly side. We show we are a community of imperfect people. This is being saints.