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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