Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (I’m hoping)


As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him. (Proverbs 10:26)

Once, when I was about seven years old, I awoke early and went to the kitchen where I found a glass of what looked like apple juice. Without hesitation I picked up the glass and began chugging the unexpected delight. Unfortunately, it was not apple juice, but vinegar. For whatever reason, my mom had left it on the counter the night before, and I had downed a huge swallow before the horrible discovery hit me like a mouthful of diesel. Never again have I imbibed mystery food products. I read labels very carefully.

Such is the imprint of the sluggard, says the Bible’s wisdomeister. The sluggard is a hit of pure puke-inducing cuisine, an eye irritating fog of sloth that blights the landscape. The lazy bum is a negative number, a vacuum sucking at the marrow of health, wealth, and neighborhood beautification. Of the seven deadly sins, sloth is the most repulsive. Give me a Charles Manson over a Louisville sluggard any day.

A sluggard is somebody who doesn’t want to put out an effort for anything, even if he directly benefits from the effort. As another proverb says, “the sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth.” The sluggard is a do-nothing, good-for-nothing. He’s a laggard and a loafer. He’s a shirker, a slacker, and a slouch. He’s an embarrassment to productive society and a spear in the side of responsible religious folk who earn their salvation with hard work like they’re supposed to.

I do want to draw the distinction, however, between a Biblical sluggard and a spiritual man of letters like me. At first glance, the apparent lack of meaningful pursuits and the apparent absence of useful activity may lead the uninitiated to mistake one for the other. Nothing could be farther from the truth, or further either. The sluggard actually does nothing; the spiritual man of letters only seems like he’s doing nothing. The slothful person produces little fruit of any kind; the spiritual man of letters produces a great deal of fruit which, unfortunately, is mostly invisible—but, I hasten to point out, is not the less fruit because nobody sees it. The sluggard is a repulsive leech who saps the strength of the community by sucking its vital juices; the spiritual man of letters, by contrast, depends upon the understanding and generous patronage of the financial elite who recognize his high priestly calling and support him with monthly checks. The sluggard is a mindless surfer of pipe dreams; the spiritual man of letters is a fully engaged contemplative of truth. A sluggard is a pain to be around; however, hanging out with a spiritual man of letters is a great privilege.

With this important qualification, I share the Biblical revulsion for the slothful person, if only because the sluggard makes it hard for people to recognize and appreciate my own noble vocation.


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