If your mind were to work in the strange way that mine does, you might imagine the Gospel passage John 12.20 set for today finding its way into the letters page of a respectable newspaper: Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Yours, etc. The Greeks. I suppose then the challenge to the editor would be to reply with another quotation from this passage, ‘Where I am, there will my servant be also’: referenced by page numbers relating to articles in said newspaper depicting in image or in prose where one might see Jesus, if one were to look. And so, assuming that editors have better things to do, I’ve done the hard work for them and read through the paper. Unfortunately, save for the 83 year old lady from Maine who renamed herself ‘Jesus Christ’ and wrote to Oprah Winfrey urging her to be president, and for a review of Magdalene the Movie, references were in short supply. Odd? Perhaps not. A closer look is required, as at the image here in order to really see to catch a glimpse of the story behind the headlines. For to see Jesus, is to recognise something beyond the obvious. Why is Jesus depicted here as a homeless person? Because often we walk on by suggesting we never saw a child hungry or naked, forgetting the words ‘when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.’ So digging deeper into the stories through the paper, there we will find Jesus the refugee, the abandoned child, the one fleeing from conflict, the accused and the wrongly accused. And on the other side of the coin, we find those offering shelter, those preparing a place of welcome and hospitality, those seeking justice for others. And then there are the (all too) few places where we find the celebration, yes, Jesus was here too, at the party, in the background, telling stories. Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Well then, the stories are there, beneath the surface of the headline where all those images of Jesus are present. If we want to truly see Jesus, we will need to look into the eyes of each of those who are in these stories to hear and feel their pain, join in their suffering, begin to understand where they have been let down and pushed aside. To have their empathy and care. To join in their celebrating. In response to the letter then: ‘Sir, We wish to see Jesus.’ The response perhaps ought to be ‘then, open your eyes.’ For we might, rather than just see Jesus, be able to see as Jesus sees – that within every one of these stories there are ordinary folk struggling to make a life worth living, those who are in need of hope, warmth, support and love. And there are those struggling to make a life worth living for others. And there are those for whom someone has succeeded in helping them and create a better place. And then, when all these things are done, we too will be able to say to the request, ‘We want to see Jesus.’ Look, then where Jesus’ servants are, for there he will be also.
If we are to believe the idiom dictionary, then turning the tables as we hear it in regular use means being given the hand you dealt to your neighbour. Jesus on the other hand turns over the tables in the temple, not reversing the fortunes of those involved, but revealing the hand of the temple authorities to be as loaded dice. What do we make of these houses of prayer? Do we need to overturn the tables ourselves?
It is Lent, which means it is time for a film to help us through the wilderness. I prefer the title (in translation) “The Hidden Beauty.” But because this is hollywood, (with an all star cast, and a slating by the critics) It is called “Collateral Beauty.” A story of beauty and of pain. A story of an inner wilderness, the torment of a mind reconciling itself with life and all that it brings.
If you were to put pen to paper and write a letter, strange I know in this digital age, what would you write, and to whom would it be written? But if perhaps you were asked to write, not to a person, but to a thing, to an idea, a concept? To, say; Love, Death or Time. What then would you write? We long for Love. We fear Death. We wish we had more time. Love. Death. Time. These three abstract things bind everything and everyone together.
What would your love letter say? What would you want to say to that experience we call love? Would you write words of regret, an emotional outpouring or a letter full of the beauty of love at its purest if, that is, you have been so lucky to experience it. What would your love letter say?
What if you were to write to Death? Poetic words of bravado overcoming fear? Come unto me and take me from this mortal realm. Come close to me my old friend Death? Words of anger perhaps, hurt, pain for the loss of those taken untimely? Or words of fear of the unknown?
What if you were to write a letter to Time? Would it be a one word letter? Rewind? Or perhaps two, Slow Down? The alternative: Faster? Wanting to see beyond time unfolding? Would you write of the desire to see each moment for itself, captured like a snapshot on a camera or a smartphone. Moments to re-live in other moments. Or would you choose just one? Love. Death. Time.
Jesus was driven out into the wilderness… And he was with the wild beasts… And the angels waited on him. Three temptations then. The temptation of Love. We long for Love. To be loved, for what we do to be seen and admired. To seek out love in the wrong places and to mistake Agape or Phileo for Eros. To be loved, beyond who we are.
Temptation of Time – The desire for Time to run to our desires. To manipulate the natural course of a day to our whim. If only time would pass slower, quicker. Not enough or too much. Each day passing as if in the blink of an eye, or month or year passing as if they were ten of the same. If only we could see and live in each moment cherished as much as the last rather than chasing on to the next or longing for what is past.
Death – The desire to behave as if the rules do not apply to us or to those around us. The desire to control, to take control over that which is part of living. And when it comes unexpectedly, to wish it were not a part of life at all. Or to wish that death would come and take us from a life felt no longer worth living. To be tempted even to bring death upon ourselves to escape the torment of our own minds. Take then, death, my life, for it is all I have to give.
Three temptations. Love, Death, Time. In the biblical account: To have all power and authority. To have the angels save a leap into death. To turn stone into bread, manipulating the natural. Love. Death. Time. How are we to overcome these temptations, these seemingly basic human desires? To be loved beyond who we are. To fear death, to see it as something to be challenged and beaten. To wish for more time, to manipulate the natural. Jesus, we read, has been into these wilderness places before us, has challenged them and overcome them.
Worship the Lord and serve only him. Know that you too are made in God’s image, know your self worth and be humble in it.
Do not put God to the test. Do not worry about that which is out of reach.
Live in the light of life before death.
One does not live by bread alone. Resist the temptation to look beyond that which is here, now.
Counting not the passing days, but the beauty that each one brings.
With thanks to John Davies sermon on the horesemeat scandal. Published in ‘Devon Sermons’ available from the author.