Fire and water

I met a man today who is weighed down by pressures from every side: the bank, his fellow workers and his family situation. I wished I could give him courage to fight back! I longed for him to sit down and think out a plan of action and decide to “do it.” There are gifts you can give people but you cannot give them the will to struggle. They must find that within themselves.

We admire people of determination who work out their goal and steadily pursue it: Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon Bonaparte come to mind. Napoleon fought 63 battles. He won 57 of them. He is still admired by the French for his decisiveness, daring and imagination, though he also brought great suffering to hundreds of thousands who died in his wars.

Despite all its dark areas modern society has cleared the way for people to make decisions which give life to others and life to them. People can choose and build their lives in ways their parents never could. It is still only a fraction of the earth’s population who can do this but the movement has begun and it is contagious.

But we are in the midst of a setback where more and more people are voting for leaders who appeal to their fears rather than to their generosity and imagination. Politicians build on these fears instead of raising people above them. Over two hundred years ago Edmund Burke lost his seat as Member of Parliament for Bristol because he refused to bend to the selfish inward looking desires of his constituents.  Your wishes, he told them “ought to have great weight with me, your opinion high respect; your business my unremitted attention… But my unbiased opinion, my mature judgment, my enlightened conscience, I ought not sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living… Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

As we look around now we often see “your opinion” outweighing the “mature judgement and enlightened conscience” of our leaders. They bask in saying what people want to hear. They dare not say something that shakes society. “How will people take it,” they ask? Seeking consensus is a good thing but it should not be a consensus built on the basest instincts. A leader is there to lead: a consensus will follow.

The Sermon on the Mount is the “constitution” of the Church and Jesus is blunt about his call to break with the “consensus” of prevailing religious practice. “Unless your virtue goes deeper than that of the scribes you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” He fulfils the best tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures; “If you wish you can behave faithfully; man has water and fire, life and death, set before him” (Ben Sira 15). Which does he choose? We make small decisions all the time – mostly for our convenience. But we can make big decisions that are life changing for us and for others.

12 February 2017        Sunday 6 A

Sira 15:15-20               1 Corinthians 2:6-10               Matthew5:17-37

Post published in: Faith

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