A Question of Focus

Earlier this morning I thought of writing a post about conscience with topical allusions to Bishop Philip North, the new guidelines being proposed by the General Pharmaceutical Council and the European Court of Justice’s decision regarding the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace. But I quickly realised that any such post would end up becoming not a discussion of conscience but a battle over the rights and wrongs of the three cases I intended to use as illustrations.

I don’t think such a diversion would be because people failed to see the point I was trying to make (although sometimes they do); I think it would be because the point they themselves wished to make was infinitely more interesting than anything I could say, and who could possibly blame anyone for that? We all do it. We all love to turn the subject of conversation round to something that really interests and engages us. The only problem is, we tend to do the same thing when confronted with scripture or the liturgy or anything else that requires us to stand aside from our own noisy certainty and listen, humbly and attentively.

I often think that when Mrs Zebedee came to Jesus and asked for James and John to sit at his right hand in the kingdom of heaven (today’s gospel, Matt: 20. 17–28), it was not so much because she was a pushy mother as because her sons had very selective hearing. They had filtered out all Jesus had said about suffering in order to concentrate on the coming glory of the kingdom. Their focus turned out to be quite different from that of Jesus. This Lent we might all usefully ask ourselves what we are trying to filter out from the gospel, what we are trying to avoid. The answer may surprise and chasten us.

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5 thoughts on “A Question of Focus”

  1. All of the things you mention have been or are in the news.

    However, the real concerns we might have are masked by the media having little interest in reporting them. Child Poverty, lack of funds in the NHS and in Social Care, don’t make good headlines, unless you are into politics and want to go to the barricades.

    At the session of our Lent Course last evening, we reflected on the passage from Matthew 13 “The feeding of the 5000 (men and the women and children) with them. I made the connection with the Eucharist and last Supper, while others seemed obsessed with the language of exclusion ‘5000 men, and Women getting a brief mention.

    Like others, they missed the point of what Jesus was saying and Matthew’s whole theme for the Gospel – building the Kingdom of God.

    I wasn’t leading the session, as someone new to Vocation with us led for the first time. But he too made the connection that I did, and intervened to bring people back to the point of the Gospel passage.

    For me, this illustrates the ‘Red Herring’ theory, which we were taught about while learning to instruct soldiers. Someone will ask a question, completely irrelevant to the point being taught or discussed to distract from it. It does seem to me that we have an overdose of Red Herrings around at the moment. 🙁

    • I would gently question what you have perceived as ‘obsession’….I think your fellow students were, in all likelihood, talking about the contemporary cultural exclusion/diminution of the value of ‘women and children’ expressed by the writer of the gospel, rather than any misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus. The cultural facts are not a matter of opinion, but reflect the values and understanding of the time….it is surely helpful for us to see this and be able to ‘defuse’ it of any meaning for us today? I don’t think we can judge whether someone has ‘missed the point’ or not….but we can use a critical and historical eye on the actual writing of the gospels (and their authors) without detracting from the loving message of Christ. I don’t think that challenging prejudice can ever be a red herring!

  2. Listening to others with an open mind and heart seems in be short supply these days. Becoming more aware of our own filters sounds like a good first step to reaching an environment where respectful and constructive dialogue is possible. Thank you for this post, Sister.

  3. Thank you for pointing this out. I will try to be more attentive and listen. I can see we can miss much by not listening and thinking only of what we have to say.

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