Prudence (And How to Ride a High Horse)

Published on by Vincent Ragay under

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In a chat with old high-school buddies, the story of Jesus raising a dead girl came up and someone commented that it was a prime example of priestly prudence when the Lord brought along the girl’s parents into the room where she lay. Seems like a valid observation; although it is merely one possible, albeit farfetched, conclusion out of the many larger reasons why the Lord did so.

But let us talk about prudence or, more precisely, self-control before we go into some of those reasons. Although prude is generally considered different from prudence (or prudent), its accepted origin is the Old French word prude or prode, meaning “good, excellent, brave”(1); while a source claims it also is rooted in the Old French prod, meaning “wise, prudent”, which “came from the Vulgar Latin prōdis, with the same sense”(2). Arguably, we can say that prudence and prude are quite related. Rightly so, for prudence (as in jurisprudence) requires the same positive qualities of goodness and excellence to describe its basic meaning of judicial wisdom. Incidentally, the word prude came into the English language in the 18th century and “only ever had negative connotations in this language”.

Today, being called a prude is derogatory. Nevertheless, its positive meaning still remains valid. If to be prude is to be good, morally excellent and righteous, then no greater prudence could be more desirable for anyone who desires to live a meaningful and exemplary life before God and men. Certainly, being excessively prude — or “puritanical” — can be a social turn-off for many. There is, therefore, a need to draw the line in order to define what being positively or wholesomely prude (that is, prudence or being prudent) is.

Priests and preachers have this unwritten rule (or maybe it is written in some Code of Ethics for clerics) that they should not be alone with any individual of the opposite gender in a car, a restaurant or any other public place where people can see them and make all sorts of nasty conclusions or indecent ideas, true or not. More so in a private place, such as a room or a deserted area where any one of the parties may be tempted to think of or commit immoral acts. And that is probably one of the reasons Jesus also sent the disciples in pairs to the lost tribes of Israel. Aside from the security it provided, having a buddy along prevented any inappropriate situation open to solo individuals visiting and staying in other people’s homes.

We recognize the vulnerability of ladies – young, married or widowed – who visit pastors or chaplains for advice or counseling. And not even males are exempt from this danger, whether we are talking of female counselors or not. Many a church member or any wayward individual has become prey to lecherous or even well-meaning church leaders who fall into the devil’s hand to commit lascivious acts. It happens to all – men or women of the cloth, teachers, politicians, artists and, more so now, teenagers.

Seduction is the rule of the day. Look at all the ads on the Internet, TV, billboards and the papers. Even the most self-controlled individual will succumb to modern society’s morbid penchant for physical beauty – as a purveyor or as a prey. Ironically, seduction does not always originate from a visual appeal but a more visceral stimulus or need. Proof is the amusing story of a college professor who went on a teaching assignment in a country where women were not as attractive as the ones at home – mainly because of the skin color (yes, oftentimes, sexual attraction can be influenced by racism). And even though not one of the local prostitutes in that place appealed to him, he was left with no choice but to take that “bitter pill” for his uncontrollable itch, out of desperation.

Boys will be boys! So they say. There is nothing one can do to fight or avoid the desires of the flesh when the spirit has not been trained and protected by the Lord’s incomprehensible spiritual power against Satan’s insidious schemes. With the advancement of medicine, surgery, beauty enhancement techniques and even pharmacological aids that prolong active sexual-life, the war raging between the spirit and the flesh has reached an apex where the spirit has willingly and completely surrendered to the latter in the case of many millions of people today.

This talk of prudence may even seem like a completely foreign topic for many who have lost total control over their carnal desires. And the story of the men of Sodom pounding on Lot’s door so they can quench their morbid sexual hunger on the two messengers from God might be nothing more than a myth to them; but it was a real precursor of the depravity that would occur and prevail in many cities today where discretion is no longer a virtue to be practiced and living dangerously on the edge is a rule for those who spend each day and each night in search of physical satisfaction. Like cats constantly on the prowl for any kind of food — whether they are rats scurrying around, chicks separated from their brood or spoiled food thrown away from the kitchen. The natural instincts of cats make them what they are — animals; but what do they make of humans who act the same way?

A priest or a preacher is expected to behave like a servant of God – living in modesty, decency and uprightness. It is not a job for everyone. But prudence is for everyone. How to develop it is a task that parents must undertake early on in their children’s life. It is either you had it as a child or you never did. Yes, it can be learned; but it takes great courage and strength to claim this high prize.

For this reason, servants of God are seen by many as individuals who “ride a high horse”. And mockers would say that those who ride high horses are bound to fall hard. As such, many people indeed ride short horses – so short that they have their feet scratching the ground as they ride. They avoid taking on higher values and virtues for fear they will fall short of the calling. And, in many cases, they do fall and end up on the ground — just like some who fall from high horses, their heads stuck in the mud! We have heard of TV evangelists falling high from their lofty pedestals. But who said they were riding high horses all along? Like the Pharisees of old, they may have been fake riders claiming God to be their commander when they were followers of the devil all along.

Riding a high horse requires rigid training that one cannot create or impose on oneself but must receive from a higher Being. Those who rode high horses – such as the prophets and the apostles – went through a grueling period of training and practice (often failing so many times along the way) before they could become perfect at it. Hence, there is nothing wrong in riding a high horse if you know how to do it. You do not look for a high horse. It just comes along and the challenge is put before you: Will you ride or will you not?

The real expert rider on a high horse has perfected the virtues expected of all humans. Like Confucius who claimed that at 70 he could “follow his heart’s desire without breaking moral principles”, a high-horse rider will not hesitate to put himself or herself in what others might call a compromising situation. Thus, Jesus was alone with the Samaritan woman when they conversed at the well. Not only was it shameful for a Jew to talk to a Samaritan, it was also imprudent for a Jewish man to talk to a strange woman alone, especially in a public place. And considering the woman was a loose woman having had 5 husbands, Jesus was definitely breaking all man-made rules on prudence. But Jesus did it in spite of what the disciples thought of it.

Jesus was likewise alone with the adulterous women after no one was willing to stone her to death. Perhaps, even the apostles left because they had instinctively picked up stones and felt humiliated like the rest of the people in the crowd. And in Jerusalem, the practice of stoning was done outside the city gates – at Golgotha itself where people were also crucified. In that deserted place and the very spot where He himself would die, Jesus was left with an adulteress. Any other prudent man would leave such a sinner right then and there, if not out of pity then out of propriety. But Jesus came not to condemn or exploit people but to save them. On Calvary, sins were already forgiven even before death was finally conquered. For Jesus was the high-horse rider.

Elisha had the same privilege as Jesus had of raising a child. The Shunnamite woman’s child had died and the prophet took the child to his upper room and closed the door. What Elisha did to the boy to raise him would scandalize any person who saw the entire process. But God had sent him to save the boy. Today, we would call Elisha’s method highly improper or questionable for a man of God. But, hey, we are talking of no mere prophet here. For Elisha was a high-horse rider as well.

Joseph was alone with Potiphar’s wife so many times (as a slave, he did not have much choice); and in spite of her many attempts at seducing him, he never succumbed. But God put him under that situation for a reason – so that he will be unjustly put in jail and, eventually, save a nation. What a price Joseph had to pay for his self-control! Yes, Joseph was definitely a high-horse rider. No Egyptian prince would think of riding a donkey, what more for the pharaoh’s right-hand man, in a literal sense. Jesus’ choice of riding a donkey and her colt was a show of His humility, not hypocrisy, upon entering the lion’s den that was Jerusalem. (You know how people love appearances; but God favors the lowly and meek and will lift them up.) But be warned: He is coming back riding high on a white horse – as in, high above the heavens and the clouds!

Riding high does not exempt anyone from temptations or the rules of propriety. It raises one high above them to a level where what really matters is the goal of saving other sinners, not protecting oneself from sin or preserving one’s reputation. It provides a person with the necessary self-control to prove that God is indeed at work to fulfill His will for others through that person.

So, Christ did not need to prove His prudence by bringing along the little girl’s parents. He needed witnesses – especially those who really knew their child was dead – that He could and did bring her back to life. Prudence should be the least concern for a person entering the room of a dead person. Unless, we are talking of a Shetland-pony rider who is dragging his knees on the ground and has all the intentions of having physical satisfaction with a cadaver! No, we are talking of the Lord, the Creator and Giver of Life Who came to raise a child back to life and present her alive to the entire family and neighborhood.

Satan delights in planting corrupt thoughts in a person’s mind, if he could, and even in the mind of Jesus, as he had tried to do often in the past. Who would think of taking advantage of a child at such a moment as that except the totally depraved? But we are talking of the Lord of Lords and the King of Righteousness. The moment was about the matter of choice between death or resurrection, despair or hope and defeat or victory – not just decency or prudence. The higher the purpose, the higher the thoughts we bear. The lower the purpose, the lower the thoughts as well. And lower thoughts often deal with worldly things, not heavenly things. Prude-ness misses the point here as its goal is vanity or self-glory; but prudence shows its power through sincere and mature godly behavior.

Satan is the source of all impure and horrible thoughts. They begin like seeds of imaginations he injects into our minds; and once we entertain them, they sprout and bear acts of imprudence and all kinds of sins. Admittedly, as ordinary humans, we must take great care of how we behave before all kinds of people. But when we overdo it, what does that show to the Lord? Only one thing: that we value the thoughts of other humans than the thoughts of God. A person knows his or her own strengths and weaknesses. So let every person act according to that knowledge. But we should not apply what we know or believe in to all people. Organized religion’s practice of imposing rules takes away much of our freedom as individuals, thus, stifling creativity and progress.

For all we know, we could be riding shorter horses than those of others. Which means, we might think we are high or fast enough, not realizing others may be riding higher and faster than us. And God CAN make anyone ride high and fast if He wants to.

Do not settle for a short horse. Ask God to give you a high horse. That, is real prudence.

Endnotes:

(1) http://theprudeproject.com/2014/09/03/an-origin-story/
(2) https://ph.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070111144910AAMpcb7

(Photo above: An artist’s rendition of how Jesus would have riden “a donkey and her colt” — sitting on a living throne and having a living footstool — as wriiten in Matt. 21. Such satire must have been lost on the ancient Pharisees. From a video-capture of Visual Bible – Book of John)

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