Crooked

“There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”

I first heard this poem as a child, and there is something about it that just stuck with me. I imagined what a crooked man would look like, and then I would imagine that I was the crooked man. I would try to walk a crooked mile, pretend to live in a crooked house. I had no idea what a crooked cat and mouse would look like.

Years later, I learned that I am in fact a crooked man. There is little in me that’s straight and true. Becoming crooked didn’t happen over night. I started early and it’s been a process; something like osteoporosis where the bones become weaker until your back is bent and you can’t stand up straight. This is what sin has done and now every mile that I walk is a crooked mile, and every house that I inhabit is a crooked house.

You can’t tell by just looking at someone. Some of the people who look the straightest are the most crooked. The reverse is also true. Look at an icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Once, thieves robbed him and virtually broke his back. From then on, he walked like a crooked man, yet there was hardly ever a man who was straighter than he.

In Luke 13, we hear the story of a woman who had been bent over for 18 years. It is difficult for us to imagine, not being able to straighten ourselves and stand upright for 18 years. Yet,  it is not the woman who was truly crooked, it was the leader of the synagogue. His spirit was twisted and distorted with hypocrisy. He was indignant because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. How crooked can you get?

That’s the problem with hypocrisy. It causes no noticeable pain. It’s a silent spiritual killer, that eats away slowly at the strength of the soul, until the soul is crooked and cannot stand upright. The interesting thing is that the straighter a hypocrite seems to stand, the more crooked he is. All is pretense, and  the garments of respectability are rags indeed. Crooked people will often speak long and passionately about the right way to do things, yet there is little true humility in them, and even less love. They will slay you over a calendar, and sacrifice you on the altar of their piety. They will feed the donkey of correctness, but will not lift one finger to ease your burden.

Well, as crooked as I am, all it takes is one touch from the Lord, and I will stand up again. I must approach Him as did the crooked woman-with the sure knowledge that I am crooked indeed, and not as the ruler of the synagogue-convinced that my piety has made me straight. If the ruler had truly been straight, he would have helped his crooked sister to stand up. In eighteen years of pious living, it had never occurred to him to do so.

I am a crooked man. I walk a crooked mile. I live in a crooked house. I’ve been this way for many years and I’ve fooled a lot of people along the way with my bright garments of piety.

It will be a great day when the Lord tells me that I am loosed and can stand upright. Then I can bend over like St. Seraphim, and walk the Way that is straight and narrow.

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