Thursday, 14 June 2018

Week 10 Thursday (Year 2)

Readings: 1 Kings 18:41-46; Psalm 65; Matthew 5:20-26

Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor believed that Jesus had, naively, judged humanity too highly: 'it was created weaker and lower than Christ thought'. St John's Gospel on the other hand tells us that Jesus did not trust himself to them because he knew what was in everyone. No naivety in the Incarnate Word, then, only the fulness of truth, uncompromising justice, and endless mercy.

What kind of humanity is capable of living by the Sermon on the Mount? Its demands seem unreal even for personal relationships. For social and political decision making it seems even more remote and romantic. A political leader in Britain has just resigned saying he cannot combine being a Christian and being a political leader. The saints who come closest to living it out in practice are precisely the ones who say that they are far from what it demands.

We might imagine that it is humanity redeemed that can live like this. Is it not the ethics of the kingdom that we find in Matthew 5-7, not an ethics for this fallen and corrupt world where even good people end up doing terrible things, perhaps even convincing themselves that they are acting justly? Is it not an ethics for super-humanity, people graced and gifted with the Spirit not just 'in principle', as all the baptised are, but in the realisation of the Spirit's gifts?

It is more helpful, though, to think that this is how we would live were we to be simply and truly ourselves. This is the ethics of 'normal' humanity, our best selves, the people God knows us to be, people with hearts of flesh rather than hearts of stone. Lovers find themselves not only capable of living like this for the ones they love, they rush to live like this for the ones they love. The response of neighbours to the tower block fire in London bears witness to this common ground of humanity that all share - people of all faiths and none, of all races and classes, clubbing together to help other human beings in desperate need.

We might say that it does not endure, that the old man re-asserts himself sooner or later. But we do get glimpses of life in the kingdom, of what a civilisation of love might look like, where those who are truly loved become capable of loving, and those capable of loving are truly loved. Then there is no question of murder, obviously. And there is a new sensitivity to words like 'renegade' or 'fool', a new sensitivity not just to our actions and omissions, not just to what we say, but also to what we think, to those thoughts of anger or revenge that are never far from our door.

There are of course many good reasons to be angry. There is great energy in anger. In this world it is put at the service of revenge and oppression. In the kingdom of God such energy is put at the service of justice and mercy. The Grand Inquisitor might have thought the Incarnate Word was naive but it is he who is out of touch with reality, blind to the reality of God's anger. We see the energy of that divine anger in the resurrection of the Son from the dead. And we pray that God will continue to manifest His anger at sin in precisely the same way, by bringing about a new creation, a new kingdom, a humanity restored to itself.

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