It can be a violent swing to lurch from, say, Jesus’ apocalyptic words to the this-worldly cadence of the biblical Proverbs. ‘Whoever is not with me is against me … Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but a sword!’
These are the kairos-inflected call to decision that come from Jesus lips, though hardly the only tone that he struck.
Yet living in accordance with biblical tonalities requires also that one know how to bring grace and harmony to this earth, not only to decide viscerally to ally one’s self with Jesus’ incoming kingdom.
The proverbs wish one to learn to be a good neighbor:
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you. Do not plan harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly beside you. Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you. Do not envy the violent and do not choose any of their ways; for the perverse are an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.
The collection envisages a man or woman of generous disposition, one prepared to respond to his neighbor’s need with an almost gullible transparency. It is the perverse, we are asked to believe, who indulge in the needless complexity of scheming and the heartless egocentricity of intending harm for others.
The neighbor’s capacity to live unharrassed is elevated as a worthy community value. One’s task, seen from this angle, is not so much to change or to convert him as to let him be.
No proverb tells the whole story. Its ambition is not so large.
Yet the proverbs probe about in what are likely to be the forgotten and neglected corners of human existence and aspiration, reminding one that—even as fire falls from heaven in the Bible’s more transcendent matters—a bit of quiet in the neighborhood after 9:00 p.m. can be just the thing.