Dear Henri, The Last of The Just – Week 15, Day 6

The last of the justDear Henri,

Did you ever read "The Last of the Just" by Andre Schwarz-Bart? Originally published in French as Le Dernier des justes, it's a sweeping saga following "The Just Men" — the "Lamed Vovnik" in the Levy Family over eight centuries.

These chosen ones were 36 men called upon to bear the pain and sorrow of humanity, justifying its purpose before God. The novels traces its way from 1185 to WWII Europe where the main character, Ernie Levy, slowly discovers that the legends of The Just Men aren't simply legends. They are real.

And he is the last one. The Last of the Just.

During some of darkest days on the planet, Ernie struggles with self-torment, suicide, madness and brokenness. When love finally comes to him, she is snatched away to the camps. In an act of sheer craziness — or witful courage — he admits himself into the camps to be with the love that saved his life.

They are both boarded onto a train marked for The Final Solution. Ernie finds himself surrounded by terrified children, headed for the same fate as he and his love. It is here Ernie steps into his destiny as a Just Man. Before God and the world, he bears the suffering of the children in himself, caring for them until the very end in the gas chambers. Assuring them that Paradise is close, that their parents are close, he urges them to breathe deeply (bringing a quicker, more painless death).

"When an unknown Just rises to heaven, he is so frozen that God must warm him for a thousand years between His fingers before his soul can open itself to Paradise. And it is known that some remain forever inconsolable at human woe, so that God Himself cannot warm them. So from time to time the Creator, blessed be His name, sets forward the clock of the Last Judgment by one minute." Page 5, Chapter 1

Understand that in these days — my time — the Israeli Army is committing unspeakable acts towards the people of Palestine. The Gaza Strip is in tatters. Civilians, especially children, are dying. The whole situation is far more nuanced than a short summary to you, but many of us are crying for "Peace!"

Some developed nations' governments are Israeli supporters. We are not clean of bloodshed here. Whatever you believed Israel's role to be during your lifetime, it seems she has turned another violent and vile corner. But I must add not all Israelis (or Jews around the world) despise Palestinians; nor do they want bloodshed. Many have friends and relatives across ethnic lines; many live their culture and faith of peace. It is the war-mongerers that are creating the slaughter… and the media vultures feast on the butchery.

All that being said, I think of your words about all of us being wounded healers. The Just Men: they were wounded healers as well. They were divinely wounded so that their people could live on. I suppose one could say that there's a bit of a martyr complex here; but after reading about the madness and sorrow of The Just Men, the sheer incapacitation towards even God's healing love, I doubt that this is the case.

Any good evangelical would enjoy this book very much, but think to herself: "But this is why Jesus came. The Just Men are only stories!" 

You're the Catholic… what do you say to the story?

I don't know what I am, other than a lover of Christ. And in that, I don't see an attempt by humans to save the world through their own strength. Rather, I see men loving their people so much that their own lives as individuals pale in comparison. Giving their lives away in service to Neighbor and God, be there suffering or silence, renews the people… empowers the people… loves the people.

And wounded they are, imperfect and often cowardly. But so are we. None of us are healthy and whole healers when we stretch our our hands to touch, turn our eyes to gaze, and open our arms to hold. We are fully human, fully loved by God, and fully flawed.

Perhaps in some ways we are all called to be Just People. I don't mean we take on the suffering of the world to justify humanity's existence. I don't think that's why Jesus came either. Jesus was here because He loved us. Whatever compelled Him to the cross, his life also bore a heavy love. He was wounded, and He was/is a healer. For us, I think it means that we see the suffering of our neighbors around us. And we are called to be healers, even in our own brokenness. 

It is a message counter-intuitive to the "take care of yourself first" message. I'm not advocating for false humility to the point of burnout. No! Self-care is a part of wisdom, showing by example how people can accept our love by how we love ourselves. However, we are not the first people in our own lives when we lay our lives down to the Rabbi of Nazareth. We are second. However we end up in this place — abused, exploited, ragged, addicted, greedy, selfish, petty, impatient, warlike — we are received with a welcoming smile and a renewed power to ease the pain of the person in the dust beside us.

Maybe one day we'll pick up this book and read it together. 

Until next time,


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