Consider three things and you will not fall into the grip of sin: Know what is above you –
a watchful Eye;
an attentive Ear;
and all your deeds are recorded in a Book.
Rabbi Yehudah ben Nasi continues giving guidance on how to live a moral life, how to choose one’s way in the world. His advice was good then and even more so today! Our world has options and choices today that have never been available before – for both doing good and doing evil. Perhaps what is most new today is that so much of our lives and actions and choices can be made in relative anonymity. Our cities are large and crowded and we may just be a face in the crowd, a driver in rush hour traffic, … And, of course, there is the Internet.
The rabbi lived in a time when most folks lived in small villages or cities and were well known to all those with whom they came into contact. People did business then based on trust and honor – rooted in previous dealings. People lived in close contact with one another and really could not have a ‘private’ life such as we can create for ourselves today. They ate together, drank together, lived together, worked together, and slept in the same room together at night.
Even then folks needed to be reminded that there is nothing that is unseen (sooner or later!) How much more so now!
In the gospels Jesus tells his disciples that what is hidden in the darkness will someday be brought out into the light. Rabbi Yehuda ben Nasi is expressing much the same sort of thought.
Know what is above you – a watchful Eye, an attentive Ear. Notice that it’s not our thoughts or even desires that come to God’s attention. No – it’s what we do that is seen and what we say that is heard. In contrast to some passages in the New Testament the rabbis were much more focused on what was done and not done than on the interior disposition of a person. (Not that the inner life was ignored or considered unimportant – what we desire has a way of being acted upon – but until acted upon (or not in the case of positive commandments) there is no sin.)
The rabbi reminds us that every big and little thing that we do is noted by someone – God. Every opportunity to do good that presents itself is noted by someone – God. And the same with what we say, the promises we make, the remarks about others, and more. We are not anonymous in the eyes of the LORD.
That can be terrifying as much as it can be reassuring. We are not anonymous in the eyes of the LORD.
All your deeds are recorded in a Book. This represents what has been called in both the Jewish and Christian traditions as the Book of Life. We used to imagine this as a literal book of good and bad deeds that a judging God kept about us – much like Santa’s list of who has been naughty and nice.
But the reality is that the book is ourselves, our very being. Every choice we make, good and bad, shapes who we are. At the end of our lives – we are who we are. Nicked up here and there, strong and proud of this and that, ashamed of our weaknesses which we fed during our lifetimes.
At the end of our days or at the end of time we will stand before God and our very selves will be the record of our deeds and our words.
Now, we know that God loves us more than we can understand. We can take comfort in God’s love and mercy. But we also know that God calls us to goodness and life, we know that God sets before us God’s will and desires us to cooperate with God’s self in creating the Kingdom. So, what we say, what we do, really matters.