Poor Worms and Tiny Mites

I, the Lord, your God, I am holding you by the right hand; I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid, I will help you.’ Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm, Israel, puny mite. I will help you — it is the Lord who speaks  — the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.

The opening words of today’s first Mass reading, Isaiah 41. 13–20

As General Election Day dawns in the U.K., these are potentially encouraging words. I say ‘potentially’, because they presuppose our willingness to accept the Lord’s help. Most of us know that we can and do resist grace, that we make selfish choices. A few of us (me, for instance) will also admit that we can be plain stupid at times. To acknowledge weakness, however, goes against one of the popular memes of society today, that of empowerment and entitlement. From being told that we can become whatever we like to attacking any awareness of difference as discrimination, it can be confusing to try to work out what we are or where we stand without incurring misunderstanding, disapproval or alienation. Today, as the U.K. goes to the polls, there must be many agonizing about how to vote, conscious that they are but a small drop in an ocean of electors. The values we hold dear, the desires we cherish for a better, kinder world and the way in which we see them being achieved, are not necessarily the same for everyone. And being but one among millions of voters, there is a temptation to abandon the whole process, to say we cannot make a difference. Without actually saying so, we acknowledge our own weakness and give up.

I think we are thrown back on 2 Corinthians 12.10. Like Paul, we confess the paradox that when we are weak, then we are strong. It is not the strength of the human strongman, not the strength of the victor, but the strength that comes from a willingness to put the needs of others before our own, relying on the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how weak we may feel, we have the assurance that He is always with us and that the Holy Spirit will come to our aid. One of the great themes of our Advent liturgy is integrity and trust. Today, all over the U.K., whether believers or not, we must act with integrity and trust that the outcome will be, or can become, one that serves the common good. Poor worms and tiny mites that we are, let us pray it may be so.


Held by the Right Hand of God

For some of us the present turmoil in British politics is disconcerting. We are not fazed by blatent personal ambition or the curious kind of ‘political-speak’ many adopt when they wish to avoid committing themselves to anything, but we are wondering whether the concepts of public service and the common good mean anything any more. Amid all the insults being traded in Parliament and on the internet, it can be hard to discern the voice of mature reflection. At times, the apparent lack of political vision is extremely worrying. Whatever we think about Brexit, the present shambles helps no-one, and any attempt to look into the future is discouraging.

Today’s first Mass reading (Isaiah 41. 13–20), therefore,  could not be more timely. We may feel as helpless as a worm, one whose fate is entirely decided by others, but we’re not. God is holding us by the right hand. That doesn’t mean we can just sit back and make no effort of our own. On the contrary, it is because God is involved in every aspect of our lives that we  can find the courage to go on, however adverse the circumstances in which we  find ourselves. Hope is the great message of Advent, but it is one we have to live in practice, not just theory. That includes being hopeful about the present chaos — not in a silly, ostrich-like refusal to look facts in the face, but in genuine openness to what may come about. It means going on praying, going on searching and working, refusing to give way to the rancour and self-seeking of some or the bitterness and hostility of others. In other words, it means allowing God to lead us,


Poor Worm, Puny Mite

Few of us would be flattered to be called a ‘poor worm’ or ‘puny mite’ by a stranger, but that is exactly how the Lord addresses Israel in Isaiah 41. 13–20. Context is everything, of course, and in Isaiah it is the language of tenderness and intimacy. We can identify with Israel, shivering with fear, shrinking from the violence on every side, but held fast by God’s right hand. The trouble is, although we know it is so, we don’t often feel it is so — or if we do, doubts about our sanity may arise. We have to  live a strange paradox, knowing how weak and vulnerable we are yet at the same time knowing that the victory has been won; and the God we can’t see or hear or touch is closer to us than we are to ourselves because his Spirit dwells within us.

Today’s gospel introduces the figure of John the Baptist to our Advent liturgy (Matthew 11. 11–15). John did not speak of poor worms or tiny mites but broods of vipers, yet there is a tender eagerness about all the Baptist’s doings that is arresting. He, too, lived a strange paradox, as ‘the greatest yet born of woman, though the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’

How we are to reconcile these paradoxes, I don’t know, but they provide ample food for thought. My own private accommodation of these texts may strike you as fanciful, but whenever I think of Isaiah’s poor worm, I think of the glow-worm — not a true worm, at all,  but an insect, destined to have wings and soar to the heights with a beautiful luminescence. There is in all of us, in the black carbon of our being, something of Hopkins’s ‘immortal diamond’ which God has created, treasures and keeps safe. John saw that and spent his whole life trying to get others to see it, too.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail