it’s in the cards

You know that card game in which you try and get rid of your hand of cards by adding to the discard pile, when it’s your turn, one to four cards, face down, claiming they’re of the rank below or above the cards previously played? So someone puts down two cards and says, “Two queens,” and the next player, placing his or her cards, says either, “Three jacks,” or “One king.” In some versions you can only go up or down in rank. The key to the game lies in the fact that the cards don’t have to be what the player claims they are. So as soon as someone adds cards to the pile, naming what they are—what they purportedly are, anyone else can say, “I doubt it” (or some variation thereof!), and the cards get turned over. Whoever is proved wrong picks up the discard pile.

In the Russian version of the game (verish ne verish), after someone plays their cards, only the player whose turn it is next can say either “ne verish” (I do not trust) or “verish” (I trust) or remain silent (silence indicating trust).

It’s a not at all known fact that Jesus’ disciples often played a version of this card game in the evenings to pass the time away. But they also played a variation on the card game as a way of making and commenting on some of the more outlandish claims circulating about Jesus. “He healed a leper.” “He raised someone from the dead.” “He appeared to a tribe of native north americans and a man named Smith.” “He appeared on a tomato, a pancake and a piece of toast.” “His middle name starts with H.” “He cares about the outcome of sporting events.”

Jesus would actually, occasionally, good-naturedly, join in. Though the disciples noted whenever he did, he always transposed their fascination with acts of power into incarnations of his teaching—daring them to doubt his word made flesh: “I pray for my enemy.” “I don’t play anyone else’s game by anyone else’s rules.” “I love more than just those who love me.”

He seemed to take great delight in confronting their doubts with the consistency of his teaching and being, or maybe it was simply the great joy of such a consistency: “I am that I am that I say that I do”—until the flesh that had become God’s word was put to death for that consistency. And the disciples would remember Jesus entering their game, three particular times actually, saying very specifically: “I will die—I will be put to death—before compromising who God calls me to be, and yet those who put me to death will come to realize that if I don’t compromise who God called me to be, neither can they … no matter what they try” (Mark 8:30-9:1, 9:30-32, 10:32-34; Matthew 16:20-28, 17:22-23, 20:17-19; Luke 9:21-27, 9:43-35, 18:31-34). And each of those three times, the disciples remembered responding, “We doubt it.”

It was later (after the end that wasn’t the end), in an upper room that the disciples came to realize that Jesus only showed his cards to indicate that remarkable consistency of his speaking, teaching, doing and being. And they experienced first-hand God’s whole-hearted commitment to one so completely committed to God.

Thomas though, was not present to experience the stunning fullness of the truth of God ever-present with us, and when he returned to be told that Jesus Emmanuel had been raised from the dead—that he had appeared to the other ten, his response was “I doubt it,” though I’m guessing the Aramaic would have sounded a lot more like “Ne verish”—I do not trust—I do not trust you.

But then the next week, in that very same room, Thomas encountered the truth of Jesus himself, and our translations read that Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” Again, I’m guessing the Aramaic sounded more like “Verish.”

I do trust—I do trust you. I trust your ever-consistency, and I pray with all that I know of who and how I am, that your consistency is not just some example I’m to follow—some model toward which I’m to strive relying on my own will power and discipline—because I know how that won’t work, but rather I pray that somehow—somehow, your consistency might be mine—that it’s not me I have to rely on, but you in, through and beyond me. Verish verish.

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