″‘That’s all right,’ said Edmund. ‘Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.‘” — CS Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Lewis was a master at saying much with little. Maybe it was his ability to construct characters so universally relatable that within the dialogue, hidden between the lines, a vast memory of our secret thoughts reside.
Technically, Eustace wasn’t an ass, he’d been a dragon. A mean, miserly, miserable dragon who made everyone’s existence a torturous drudgery. Maybe it was a fair assessment of Edmund to call him an ass. I probably would have done the same—I’m prone to casting such judgements at the Eustace Scrubb’s in my life.
I curate my Twitter feed fairly carefully, but somehow these dragons still swoop in. My Facebook feed is even more perilous, a veritable dragon’s paradise, but I tread carefully there on the few times I’m brave enough to venture in. But the problem truly comes to life where the virtual world runs out and the real world swings into view—my neighbours, the folks who walk the grocery store isles, even those who sit beside me on the pews—beware, “Here be dragons!”
I’m prone to shy away from their sulphurous breath, their tearing claws, their flaming vitriol—to simply denounce them as a ‘dragon’, or more crudely, an ‘ass’. I’m quick to play the part of either the fair maiden who runs and hides, or on occasion, Saint George who rides out to slay the beast with lance in hand. But here is where I must pause and take a lesson from wise King Edmund the Just.
“You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.”
Or maybe we should take the wise words of someone who doesn’t spring from the pages of a fictional tale.
“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.” — Epictetus
Or more recently,
“When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad.” — D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Here’s what Edmund had learned under the severe mercy of Aslan—we are all asses and traitors. The very worst of dragons out there are dwarfed by the giants of my own treachery. The curse of sin runs in deep ravines that cut closer than I am often willing to admit or even acknowledge. Yet this is precisely where the good news of the gospel becomes so great.
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” — Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
First and foremost, this is news to celebrate. Dragons, asses, and traitors come before the Lamb on level ground. There is forgiveness enough for all. With gusto we sing together the old refrain:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
At Calvary. — William Newell, At Calvery
But secondly, God’s mercy to sinners—both asses and traitors—leads me to sit humbly with my neighbour, my fellow church member, even my Social Media Feed. The gospel shapes my vantage point to see sinners saved by grace, or which I am the greatest. It invites me to say softly,
″‘That’s all right,’ said Edmund. ‘Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.‘”