Thursday, 24 September 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
As I write this letter a new set of regulations and sanctions are coming into force. These restrictions on our daily lives are designed to keep us safe as the Covid 19 infection and death rates are rising once again. Unlike the announcement of a national lockdown in March, this time we are being given notice of how long the new restrictions are going to last, and we are being warned of the need to obey the new rules unless we choose to find ourselves in total lockdown once again. Since the Prime Minister’s announcement I have heard and read many people criticizing the politicians, the medical professionals, the scientists, the economists, the university students, and many others for the situation we are currently having to live through. Once again, I have heard people talking about ‘common sense’ when they actually mean ‘by what authority are you doing these things?’ And that brings me to my consideration of the relevance of this Sunday’s reading from Matthew’s gospel in our very strange and challenging times.
In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 21, vv.23-32) we read of a very modern situation. We read of people questioning Jesus’ authority, and of two sons whose words were in direct opposition to their actions. This reading opens with Jesus being confronted by those who questioned his authority to be teaching about God in his very counter-cultural way. In response to the questions that were thrown at him, Jesus responded by testing the knowledge and understanding of the self-styled religious experts. Then Jesus told the parable of the two sons who said one thing, but then did the opposite. So how does this two thousand year old account of a moment in Jesus’ earthly life connect with this week in twenty-first century Britain?
Jesus came among us to share fully in the human experience, but he also brought with him the knowledge, experience and authority that came from the only true ‘expert’, his Father in heaven, God himself. Yes, it is reasonable to question such a radically different way of living, but it was not reasonable to approach that teaching with minds already made up and battle lines already drawn. Jesus knew that humanity was in desperate need of a new way of living. He came to earth to show how such a way of life might be achieved. Humanity played its part by rejecting and killing him. That is where we are today. Neither the politicians nor the scientists can claim any sort of divinity, but they are doing their best to show us that there is a new, safer way of living our lives. That new way of living is different, and it is uncomfortable in many ways, but it is rooted in a depth of knowledge most of us do not have.
The second half of this week’s reading speaks of two sons who were asked to do a job by their father. One son said, ‘Yes’, but then didn’t do the job, and the other said, ‘No’, but then did the job anyway. Too many people are living their lives in this way. Too many people are saying one thing and doing the opposite, even if that opposite endangers others. In his parable, Jesus is encouraging us to open and honest consistency in the way we live our lives. He is urging us to show that we really do love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves. As throughout his whole earthly life, Jesus is promising us a better future than we can possibly imagine, and we can be absolutely certain that when Jesus says it, it is true.
With every blessing to you all,