A scoundrel, a villain, is he who deals in crooked talk
He winks his eyes, shuffles his feet, makes signs with his fingers;
He has perversity in his heart…
The shortcut, the quick deal, the easy out: each of us has, at some time, had the opportunity. It might not be something as direct as cheating on an exam or a tax return – perhaps using someone else’s employee discount or museum membership, making an excuse to cover an absence or a lapse, driving down the shoulder to avoid a traffic backup, or helping someone else to do these things. The temptation not to sit through a long red-light in a quiet town at 2 a.m.
The image in Proverbs is not so subtle: the stereotype of the shady character seems to be at least 3000 years old.
If the shady character is so unattractive, why do we need to be warned?
“Just this once” is at the root of many temptations. Even if we are strongly behind some principle – know that it’s important for the common good and our own – we wonder: if just one person breaks it just one time, will it really make a difference? When nothing dreadful happens, the thought comes to us more persistently. Character is built up – or torn down – one small choice at a time.
It’s easy to think of the many public figures who suddenly find themselves in the news for various nefarious deeds – a TV celebrity and a bishop just this week, after a string of bankers and politicians in the last several months. But the sudden discovery or rapid downfall happens in the workplace, in marriages, in friendships – often without a clue. To the person involved, the last deed or episode didn’t really seem so bad.
Proverbs paints this caricature of the shady person- a vaccination against those tempting words and an anti-image of what we might become. The loss is utter: not just money or fame or position, but the soul itself: beyond cure.
Therefore suddenly ruin comes upon him; in an instant he is crushed beyond cure.