Sunday, 7 March 2010

the child in the playground

Luke 13:1-9
Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’
He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”

greater sinners?

One of my saving moments in faith, and one that came to me not that long ago, was when I realised that God knew I was not perfect.

There was, certainly when I was younger, an overlying feeling in my faith that suggested that my life should be lived in fear; that God had a measure with my name on it and that I would never, ever live up to it. The shared and scary tales of catholic education based on the tenet of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ had God’s stamp of approval; and it seemed that the baptism that delivered me from original sin also marked me with a permanent ‘could do better’ notice and that better would never be ‘good enough’.

In some ways, I suppose, I do still think that’s true – I can certainly always do better. Without the desire to do so there is a risk of complacency that would limit my spiritual growth to ‘good enough’ – for me, rather than for God. But I don’t believe in the measuring stick anymore. My thoughts and actions are my own and, right or wrong, there is nothing and no-one I can measure myself up against except my own expectations –but why, knowing that there is always a chance to begin again, should beat myself with it? I do believe that God is the most loving of parents who sees the effort and the mistakes and the mishaps, and, just like us with our children, forgives and forgives and forgives.

So the next question is – if I believe this is true, why do I carry a measuring stick of my own?

If I have become so accepting of my own failings and sin; and my opportunities to redeem myself; why do I look at other people with critical eyes and opinions? Why do I act like the child in the playground, jostling for favour by criticising the ones who are getting the attention and playing down my own failings with excuses; why do I feel justified when they fall, when they get left behind? And why do I think that that’s ok?
The shift of emphasis that changes ‘I am better than….’ to ‘but I am not as bad as…’ is not acceptable. They both belong to Pride, possibly the greatest sin of all because it works in all directions; the pride of ‘I’m not worthy’ and the pride of ‘I’m worthier than them’.

It is this sense of Pride that Jesus challenges us with day after day; the sense that we know better than God. Only with pride can you judge yourself; only with pride can you judge others; only with pride can you decide you are good enough and better than; humility does not allow it.

And humility is the lesson Jesus tries hardest to teach; through the Beatitudes; through his actions; through the giving of his life. Jesus himself will not judge; to the woman caught in adultery he says ‘I do not accuse’; even though they did; even though she did.

Jesus echoes the Baptist’s words – the message of the whole of the Gospel in one short phrase – repent and believe the Good News. If you can’t repent – that’s pride; if you can’t believe – that’s pride; and if you think it’s not for everyone – then that is also pride.
Spare the rod; against yourself and others; and learn to live the lesson of humility; through love and not fear.


I am no more the person that I was
Than I am the person I will be.
From heartbeat to heartbeat,
I am born anew in Your loving mercy.
Always-another opportunity to be
The child you want me to be.
To be with the Eternal You
In the everlasting now of Your love.
Relying on human perceptions
I measure myself against past failures
And future dreams.
Seeing myself through a flawed lens.
Yet I can find peace,
Be content with my imperfections,
Knowing that in Your eyes I am perfect
Because you made me.
For I am no more the person that I was
Than the person I will be.
And in that moment is the grace,

Always, to begin again.


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