Wednesday 27 March 2013

He annoys us- Holy Week reflections

                                                             Joseph thrown into a pit.

12 Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing.
Wisdom 2

25 Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26 Whoever serves me, must follow me

John 12

Humans, saints and sinners alike, can seldom honestly claim to commit any action for but one single motive. We bring the whole of our previous experience, our outlooks and our feelings, to bear upon each of our acts whether we are conscious of this or not. An artist when asked how long it took to make a particular sketch could honestly reply "five minutes and an entire lifetime." Those authorities of Church and State who conspired to bring about the trial and death of our Lord on the first Good Friday did so, they thought, to prevent Him fomenting a dangerous spirit of unrest which would bring down upon all Israel the avenging fury of Imperial Rome. In part that really was their motivation, and a very sensible one by worldly standards. The prophetic words from the Book of Wisdom, however, point us towards another reason, no less powerful but unacknowledged, which was at work in the conspiracy to kill Jesus.

Saintly people are intensely annoying. They irritate us. We think that we live good, moral, justifiable lives which could be a little bit better but not much. We are better than our neighbours, so we are within our rights to despise them, and not very far short of the best we could be. When we encounter (or hear about) those whose lives are massively more genuinely good than our own we are, as they say in Scotland, black affrontit. Their existence poses a fundamental challenge to how we understand ourselves and how we choose to live and move and have our being. They imply that we require a complete change of mind and heart if we are to be genuinely, absolutely, good and not just relatively so. Rather than doubting ourselves it is existentially much easier to doubt the saint. They are lying, they are hypocrites, they are bigots, they are dangerous. The fury against Jesus was not simply the result of an accurate political calculation. It was personal, truly, madly, deeply personal.

The implication of our Lord's words that His followers must hate this life is that those who love this life must necessarily hate them not for what they say but for what they are. His life no less than His words are a constant reproach to those who find themselves more or less comfortable with themselves and the case is the same with His followers. We do not like being reproached. Still less do we like it if we are in the positions of teacher, leader and exemplar. If we cannot ignore the challenge, as the High Priestly party and the Pharisees could not, then our choices are to accept it and change ourselves, repudiating all that we are and all that we have been, or to silence it by whatever means come to hand. Passiontide was a conjunction of political expediency with personal angst. The boil which was to be lanced, and lanced it truly was, Jesus, stood as a thorn in the flesh of those for whom flesh was all that they considered to be important.

Those Christians of today who retrospectively stand on the side of Jesus and in condemnation of His condemners will do well to recall these words of His Whoever serves me, must follow me   Being considered annoying is not in itself a sign that we are following in our Royal Masters footsteps. Neither is being persecuted although both these things should be notes of the Christian life amidst the masses of the worldly. What following Jesus means here is just this, live the Good Life unselfconsciously. Do what comes unnaturally to us as if it came naturally because it comes supernaturally. Complete and humble surrender to the work of Grace within us is the only basis upon which we can do this. We must provoke annoyance not by being provocative but by being pure peace.

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