This fantastic and unsettling creative piece from author Jeff Martin responds to Titus 1:5-14; 2:9-15; 3:8-14.
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5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. 10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things ; not answering again; 10 Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. 11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. 15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. 9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; 11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
12 When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. 13 Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them. 14 And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.
Poor Titus. Think about what he’s been asked to do in this letter – find job candidates who are not only holy and just, but who are also blameless (“a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God”). It’s a tall order at best, a laughable one at worst, since how many people can say unequivocally that they’re entirely without blame? It got me thinking about what that job application would look like in our HR-driven modern era, and the fact that the very first question would necessarily have to be, “Are you blameless?” The other requirements are equally demanding: Are you holy? Are you just? Are you righteous? In other words, exactly the kinds of questions that the truly holy, just, and righteous would probably never answer yes to. It was both interesting and frightening then to write a story about someone who would answer yes to those questions and fully believe he was in the right in doing so. I say "frightening" because it strikes me that it's precisely this reaction – assumed, but unexamined, righteousness – that's brought our political discourse these days to a full stop, a stop the vast majority of us, myself included, are likely complicit in.
Political sentiments aside (if that can be done these days), it’s a strange story for sure. What I wanted the narrator to have the experience of, but never understand – the understanding is for the reader – is that he can believe himself to be holy and just all he likes, but God is still going to remain maddeningly mysterious, maddeningly unexpected, always near, always far.
Jeff Martin co-directs the UVA Young Writers Workshop and has been published in New England Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and No Tokens Journal, among others. Find more of his work online at readjeffmartin.com.