“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.” Between the first and second century, the same time our new testament reading was written, the Roman writer Juvenal wrote these words in his 6th of a series of satirical poems. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.” “Who watches the watchers?” It is a reminder to watch those in power. Christ reminds us to watch, to keep awake, to be aware. In this, what I enjoy seeing as Christ’s encouragement of critical thinking, we can ask, ““Who watches the watchers?” We can watch over those who can only watch the darkness, and partake in the light of hope. We can remember the dark Bethlehem night past that we prepare for, and we prepare in hope. Today we prepare in hope for the day when Christ will come again. We hope in awareness and ask, “Who watches the watchers?”
At the very beginning of the week I struggled with these insights Jesus shares in our passage today. I thought “Well, I don’t know how this results in anything but a paranoid judgment of our neighbor!” Gratefully, a Lectio Divina member had another interpretation. Sitting together and letting our minds wander through the text, this meditator thought of the waiting as between two lovers. One has gone on a trip, and the other is waiting at home in anticipation of the loved one returning. It has the same effect as the Isaiah passage, in which we are reminded to ask, “What we were created by God to be?” Like a potter, God molded us to love, to be in loving relationship with God and one another. Thinking critically enough to ask, “who watches the watchers?” can also be much less ominous in this light. It can be hopeful rather than judgmental or condemnatory. It can help us act in hope rather than wait in despair.
I just finished reading “The Book of Heaven” by Patricia Storace. It recasts Biblical stories from the point of view of women. Eve begins by telling us what happened in Eden, and then we hear the recreated stories of Sarah, a nameless woman, Job’s daughter, and the Queen of Sheba. They all have flickers of other Bible stories wrapped up in them. The last story ended with the lovers, with the two who always parted and came back together again like in the Song of Songs.
In Storaces recasting, it is a Philosopher and the Queen of Sheba who fall in love. Toward the end of the story, entwined in one another’s arms, they share the tales of their people. The Queen of Sheba shares an origin story from long ago about a man who built an ark named No and his wife Malista (which in Greek means yes). They are the richest people in the area, with many vineyards and a house with many rooms on top of the hill. No hurts Malista, and on those occasions that he does, she travels down the hill to be away. Down the hill is the village, and she begins to make friends. One day, No receives a prophecy from God: a great flood will come and wash everyone away. They must build an ark that only their elect family can board. Everyone else must perish.
Naturally, Malista is upset. She is not wanting to anger God or her husband, but she loves her friends at the bottom of the hill. When the waters start rising, she goes down the hill. She gives Ember, he closest friend, a key to her house, imploring for her to take everyone up the hill to it, just in case. Ember gives Malista her infant child. After a moment’s hesitation, she takes the child, intending to bring her onto the ark unseen. All goes well until they are about to embark, when the infant cries out. No tells Malista that she must not bring it aboard. She stands there, unable to abandon it or leave, which No takes as her answer. He boards without her and the gangplank is raised up. As she watches them leave, she also watches the community below coming up the hill to join her. The waters rise, and rise, and rise.
And then they recede, and recede, and keep receding. Those left behind lived together forevermore on top of the hill.
The Philosopher asks what happened to No. The Queen of Sheba does not know. “None of them saw him again,” she says. “I imagine he stayed on the ark he was inspired to build as his wife stayed on the ark she built.” We build our ark together in the face of impossible odds. We insist that there is always resurrection, that God always returns. We actively engage in hope. How many times lately it has felt like the end times? We may have heard that we must “have” hope. But… we do not possess hope, we release it, we activate it, we encourage it, we embrace it, we glow with it, but it is not ours to have. Who watches the watchers? We do. The Love led parts of ourselves watch and act into hope through our awareness of Christ.
We watch as Malista lovingly watched those down the mountain who could only watch the waters rising, helping them to higher ground - as Isaiah lovingly watched his people who could only watch war, reminding them of their relationship to God - as Christ lovingly watched the powerless in the midst of Roman occupation and continues to watch us in love through all time. We prepare with that watching - we co-create hope with God and one another. We co-create a world our God can feel at home in, when Christ returns. We watch the watchers, holding one another accountable to being tender as new growth in spring, to being God’s foreshadowing of what’s to come. We watch in hope the watchers of doom, preparing actively for the life we know always follows.
Photo by Hiep Nguyen on Unsplash