At the Community Cafe talking with a group who came in for the scones - as you do - they are very fine scones. And they aren't the size, or the weight, of curling stones. One of those friends had retired from Wimpey Houses, where he had been as he phrased it, just a humble joiner. Which was his hook line to say, "Like Jesus."
Those who know me will be aware I have conducted a long term campaign, gentle but persistent, against the adverbial use of "just". Yes I know, it is overused and bankrupt and redundant when used in prayers as a semantic breathing space to keep the words flowing as if God might interrupt in any space we leave. But I am also referring to that use of the word which is self-diminishing or other-diminishing. "I am just a whatever" is a form of self-deprecation that can become a habit, and is based on making comparisons between what we are and what we, or others, expect us or wish us to be.
Now in fairness my new joiner friend wasn't the least bit bothered by his use of the word; in fact he was perfectly content with being a joiner, indeed a ship's carpenter which is the Premier League of joiners. But the conversation set me off thinking about the consequences on our view of ourselves, or of another person, when that word "just" is used in the description. The long slow drip, drip, drip of reductionism, the danger of habit growing into mindset, as I compare who I am with who others are, their status and mine, their gifts and mine, their worth and mine. I guess none of us set out to think that way; and indeed many of us don't consciously think that way, though we often do unconsciously. And yet.
It's that niggling "and yet" that has turned me into someone who can occasionally sound rude when I correct mid-conversation by gently asking the word "just" to be dropped, along with its downward pulling ballast. And I do that as a Christian, and for reasons of Christian pastoral understanding. Paul's great charter of liberty, implies as much. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." No room for a diminishing "just" in that description of the new community that is the body of Christ; no patience with any suggestion someone is just a Greek not a Jew, just a slave not free, just a woman not a man.
Then there's that long narrative metaphor of the body in Corinthians, where Paul has fun imagining all kinds of distortions and incongruities when any part of the body becomes self-important at the expense of the other parts. The whole passage is about the relative worth of each part of the body to the rest. None is all important and none is disposable; each is required and all are needed; any assumed hierarchy of importance that looks down on other parts as "just" a toe, ear, appendix or whatever is, well, just wrong!
To those of Pharisaic mind, those who think otherwise are just sinners; a woman with an alabaster flask saying thank you with attention grabbing extravagance is just an embarrassment; a man mad with grief or fear or rage or these and many other destructive and addictive urges is just mad Legion; and that woman in bed with the wrong man was just an adulteress. And the scandal of each of these stories is that nowhere in their telling, can the word "just" ever be heard on the lips of Jesus.
So as a follower of Jesus, part of my continuing education is to identify the word "just" in my own speaking, or in my inner attitude to others, and correct it. And yes, as a trait of pastoral attentiveness to others, to hear and even more gently correct the stated or implied "just" in the telling of their story. In nearly all cases the diminishing adverb "just" devalues, betrays comparisons of worth and status, and generally damns with faint praise. The Gospel on the other hand is the good news that in Christ all such comparisons are redundant, and personal worth indexed to a love both cruciform and transforming.