Letter to parishioners, 15 October 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

After so many months of being cautious, the last week has finally seen my falling victim to the dreaded Coronavirus. For almost ten days I have experienced the whole gamut of symptoms that have become so familiar through the media. My temperature has been shooting up and down, I have lost all sense of taste and smell, and I have felt as though I have been suffering from one of those heavy colds that could easily be described as flu. In addition to all this, I have had to self- isolate, cutting myself off from all that I normally do in a working week.

During those times when I have felt able to work, I have reflected upon our gospel reading of the week (Mark 10:35-45) in which Jesus emphasizes the importance of humility and service. These words trip lightly off our tongues, but what difference do we let them make in our daily lives? How often do we put ourselves at the back of the queue as we offer to help others along the way?

This week’s gospel reading opens with the disciples James and John asking Jesus for a ‘blank cheque’. They are not seeking worldly wealth; their eyes are set on eternal glory. They are asking Jesus to set them ahead of everyone else and award them the glory and the power of sitting at Jesus’ right and left hand when they are united in heaven. Jesus’ immediate response is to test their willingness to share in the pain and suffering that lie ahead. It almost goes without saying that the two brothers declare their willingness to do just that. But there is more … The other ten disciples are outraged by the self-interest being shown by the two sons of Zebedee … what about them? It is at this point, the point where all the self-serving instincts of humanity bubble to the surface, that Jesus steps in with his counter-cultural teaching on humility and service: whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all.

The disciples recognized and acknowledged Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. However, they had not seen how the narrative was going to play out. They, like other believers, still believed in a military and political victory and not the real victory that was to come in the form of Jesus’ resurrection. The idea of victory being enshrined in humility and service would have made little sense to them … just as it does not make that much sense to us! We like to think of ourselves as being strong, resilient and ‘different’. We see our ‘uniqueness’ as being that which makes us ‘special’. We do not see ourselves as being called to serve in the lowlier positions. Surely, we are all born leaders! Well, as Jesus says: the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. If this is the destiny of God’s Son, how can we expect anything less?

As I have returned to a time of isolation I have meditated upon all those times people have claimed that it is unnecessary and that the virus is not really a threat. I have also mused upon all the other excuses I have heard for not working to keep others safe … all based upon the desire for self-gratification. All of this thinking leads me to offer just one message: none of us are so special that we should be anywhere other than at the back of the queue helping others along the way.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen