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June 10 2018 LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

Part 1. "If your children do not do as they are told, you are not alone!”

The theme that best sums up for me the message of today’s scriptures is in four words of parental advice we regularly received as kids: "LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP!” Sometimes, these were sage and timely words for the young who were in too much of a hurry to stop and think before they blundered blindly into danger. At other times, it was more an expression of our parents’ own anxiety; advice which, if we had heeded it too closely, would have meant that we would have never grown up!

It can be the hardest thing in the world to let other people make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences.

The story of Samuel’s encounter with the children of Israel over the issue of their wanting a King to rule over them contains one huge irony. Remember, how Eli had lost his authority as a conveyor of God’s messages because his sons had mucked up? So the boy Samuel replaced Eli as God’s conduit to the people. Now we read that Samuel himself is no longer trusted to lead because his sons have let him down! If your children do not do as they are told, you are not alone. Now the people want a really truly king, just like the nations that surround and oppress them. They see this as the solution to all their problems. As much as Samuel tries to dissuade them, they want none of it. And God’s wisdom to Samuel is this- "Let them have what they want.”

The relevance of this story was brought home to me while reading Madeline Albright’s book "Fascism- A Warning, where she reflects on how ambitious, driven leaders can capitalise on human impatience to restore what they can be led to believe is rightfully theirs. In these precarious moments, what we know of civil society and ethical restraint can be sorely tested and easily fractured. While reading a section where she names a series of recent national leaders who were able to manipulate their peoples’ desire for security, imagine my surprise when I came to this reference, and I quote:

"Going much further back, the ancient Israelites- surrounded by enemies,- pleaded with Samuel to give them a king. So that "we will be like all other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” The prophet cautioned the Israelites to think twice, warning that the monarch they are demanding will certainly take their sons to be warriors, their daughters to be cooks, and their vineyards, cattle, sheep, and servants to satisfy his own needs. Still the people persist, and their prayer is answered. A century later, their kingdom is split and careens towards destruction.”

And so the concern of Samuel is overruled by the wisdom of God, who sees the unfolding of salvation history over a much longer timeframe. God also knows that people, be they individuals or nations, have to make their own mistakes. Having chosen in haste, they will then, hopefully, grow to wise maturity by reflecting on the suffering that results from their poor choices.

As one commentator says of the children of Israel’s desperation to have their king, "In their attempt to avoid oppression from without, they have embraced it from within”. They have fallen for the old line "We have to do it for reasons of national security”

I see all that. Yet deep within me wells the urge to say- we know about these mistakes of history; how people bringing the blight of fascism upon their own heads. Do we have to do it AGAIN? When will we ever learn?

And so the people, no matter how great their dedication, cannot resist the impulse to take matters into their own hands. That’s fine. They have to grow up. At the same time, the God they cannot quite trust any more is the One who bends the arc of history towards peace. A better choice that "peace through violence” is "peace through justice.”

And yet, even then, like the best of parents, the true king will not abandon them, even when his chosen agent of peace and reconciliation finds his own family trying to withdraw him from the action.

Gospel reading: Mark 3:20-35

Time of quiet reflection

TIS 670 "Jesus put this song into our hearts”

PART 2. "If your child does not do as they are told, they are not necessarily wrong!”

The flip-side of the Israelites impulse to get a King, is the compulsion of Jesus’ family to restrain him in the midst his overwhelming success. Here is the irony- the people want a King. They finally get the one who can give them the fullness of life they so desperately desire. Now mum wants him back home for dinner.

One would have thought that Mary’s encounter with the angel before Jesus’ promised conception would have alerted her to the fact that this child would be special. Again, as they lose him, aged 13, in the big city, then find him, debating the scribes and scholars in the Temple, she would have known that he would grow to be a great teacher. Even so, she would not be the only parent on the planet wanting her gifted teacher son to be appointed to a nice, safe school.

Intellectual honesty requires us to consider the possibility that this unlikely scenario (Jesus is, after all, about 30 years of age at this time), is a literary device by the author of Mark’s Gospel to promote the community of faith over all other social units, including the family. We need to remember that in these tumultuous times, many families would have been split by persecution, or conflicting allegiances. Readers are given the reassurance that in the face of these rifts (and remember that Jesus does predict that he will in some ways be a divisive influence), their new family of faith is an appropriate place to find the love and security they need.

Getting back to the face value of the story however; psychologist Eric Berne, father of the theory of Transactional Analysis, gives us a key insight into the dynamics of parents and children. He claims that the usual pattern is that parents will have a script, conscious or unconscious, for their child’s life. The child will then live out this script up to the time that they realise that this is what is happening. They can then choose to stop, think, and then rewrite their script for themselves. When the light finally dawns, careful consideration will lead the wise to know that they have their own destiny to pursue, even when it includes facing danger of some sort. Jesus, of all people, would have been very clear about this. He would also have known the power of family persuasion, which might be why he did not speak to his mother or brothers when they came for him.
We all receive a call, at some stage, to leave the village and embark on our own journey of discovery”. Whatever the outcome, we need to become our own person; to raise up our lives to the heights of their potential; even though, as the hymn writer so eloquently puts it "E’en though it be a cross that raises me”

Time of quiet reflection

Part 3: ‘Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.

According to the With Love to the World Commentator for this week, "All of life is a process of knowing when to yield to another and when to assert. Not knowing when to assert leads to an existence of harried conformity. Not knowing when to yield leads to arrogant self-belief and indulgence.”

But how do we know when to do what? Without wanting to be too cute, I suggest that it comes down to two words: impulse control. In the canine world, a well-trained dog can see its food put down, but not touch it until its owner gives the word. Or wait for the appropriate command before running into the flock. Now forgive me for the implication that we are in any way like animals; but we do have some things in common. Unchecked by ourselves or others, we act on impulse. "What do we want” "A king!” "When do we want him? Now!” It seems to me that at the crux of making good decisions is the ability, in the heat of whatever moment demands our action, to stop, control the impulse to act, and look inside, or look around; so as to discern when our choices are based on ego or wisdom; fear or love; greed or generosity.

It is, of course, not always easy to tell the difference in the heat of the moment. For example, is Mary, in trying to restrain Jesus from his ministry, acting out of love, or fear? She would probably say it was love, but if so, it is a kind of love that cannot look beyond the confines of her own impulses, to see the greater love, that no man has than this.

It is also well to note that when we are faced with the classic choices of fear or love, greed or generosity, ego or wisdom, that fear, ego and greed are almost always the stronger impulses, based as they are in our reptilian brain, which fires our drive for survival. I am sure that we can all think of hundreds of examples of impulsive acts that led to disastrous consequences; like the batter who decides, in advance of the ball being bowled, that they are going to hit it for six; or young lovers who get so engaged that they fail to take appropriate precautions. All advertising includes the tactic to get us to shop on impulse. To get to choose the other options requires that we control those base drives, re-centre our attention, engage our higher selves.

There are a number of skills involved here, skills that we all have to one extent or another. This is indeed part of our spiritual growth. Remember St Paul’s list of the nine so-called fruits of the spirit? These fruits are the qualities manifested in the lives of those who follow Christ in the way of the common good. The first is "love”, and so it should be. The ninth and last, and certainly not least, is "Self-control”. Look before you leap.

Look, for your own soul’s sake

Look, for the good of valued others

Look, for the sake of your beloved country

Look, for the good of all creation.

AMEN


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