1. March 2020

D is for Definition

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‘…You are God’s People…’ (1 Peter 2, 10b)

Even for those not liturgically minded, Lent is an opportunity to set the Easter story in its wider Scriptural context; Jesus’ final journey, from Galilee to Jerusalem. It begins with Jesus interrogating the disciples concerning who it was that people thought Him to be, and then His asking them, who they thought Him to be. It was a defining moment as far as Jesus’ ministry was concerned. It can work at any level. Each one of us might wonder how the wider world sees us; we might ask of those closest to us, how do they see us. Simon, speaking for himself, for them all, who knows, replies – ‘You are the Christ the Son of the Living God’. Jesus appears to accept this response as genuine and commends Simon, telling him that such a ‘confession’ could only have been prompted by the Spirit of God. But then, as Jesus goes on to describe what has to happen to Him if He really is whom Simon confessed Him to be, Simon responds angrily, declaring that this shall never be. At which point Jesus realises that Simon’s confession may not have been what it appeared to be – rather than an honest, heartfelt response, revealing exactly how Simon felt – it was nothing more than Simon telling Jesus what He imagined Jesus wanted to hear. As it was for Jesus, so it might be for us.

It is all too easy for those closest to us to tell us what they think we want to hear. When asked the question, they wonder how we might answer it, and then parrot that answer back to us. What is true for us as individuals, is equally true as far as Church is concerned; whether that be the whole Christian Church, or an individual congregation such as ours. If truth be known, as far as wider society is concerned, Church is not that highly regarded – whether that matters or not is another question altogether – but a succession of scandals, especially in respect of clergy sex abuse, has done untold harm to the church’s reputation. And even if as far as we are concerned, we are directly untouched by such activity, guilt by association is often assumed. Or else Church is ‘condemned’ by polite indifference, damned with faint praise, thanks but no thanks. But in spite of all of this, there will be those, either at arm’s length, or up close, who are prepared to speak positively on behalf of Church and of the contribution for good which the church has meant for them in their lives. Lenten discipline demands that we take a close look at ourselves. Not so much, how do others define us, but how do we define ourselves? Lent dares us to engage in what some call ‘self-appraisal’ – not so much in terms of ‘what am I?’, rather, given what I am, ‘how do I measure up?’ And, because it is Lent, this ‘self-appraisal’ is a ‘guided self-appraisal.’ How do I measure up as far as God is concerned; and in particular as far as the God who is revealed in Jesus is concerned. If we are honest, the outcome should be, at best, uncomfortable. Jesus was brutal in His treatment of Simon; comparing his outburst to that of Satan.

Yet, how many of us would have responded differently?

Would anyone of us stand by and let the ‘Son of the Living God’ be treated in the way Jesus described.

Fast forward to Gethsemane and Simon (Peter) is true to his word…when they come to arrest Jesus, he takes up his sword to defend Jesus, wounding the servant of the High Priest. He would have done anything to defend Jesus’ honour. For Simon, it would have to wait until after resurrection, breakfast on the beach, when the risen Christ ‘guides’ him through a self-appraisal that would shape the whole of the rest of his life. The description of that encounter is to me the most poignant of all passages in the Bible. Why, because I am there too, I have to be there, I cannot avoid being there. It is the place to which all of us must come; it is the conversation we all have to have.

Jesus had asked, ‘who do you say that I am?’, now Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me more than these?’ In terms of a ‘guided self-appraisal’, neither question is that easy, but each has to be answered, because how we answer will be a defining moment for us all…