Sunday 4C, 30th January 2022
In this second part of the gospel passage which we heard the beginning of last week Jesus goes straight to the point: Israel is not here for its own sake but for the sake of all – it’s why Israel today can never escape public notice, but going straight to the point can be troublesome as we hear in today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah:
They will fight against you.
Interestingly, the part in this passage which is missing is precisely the bit where Jeremiah shows fear and wants to avoid coming straight to the point.
Then said I, Ah Lord God! Behold I cannot speak: for I am a child(Jeremiah 1:6 KJV)
To which the Lord replies:
Say not I am a child: for I shall go to all that
I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.
Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee.
Time and again in the gospels we will hear Jesus say ‘Do not be afraid’ for it is fear that stops us navigating correctly, keeping to the straight way. In a fascinating book on Wayfinding by Michael Bond, two categories of people stand out as capable of following a straight line naturally because they are without fear: the very young and those with Alzheimers – the very small child because it hasn’t yet learnt what is dangerous and is not yet self-aware, and those whose sense of who they are and where they are becomes confined to this very moment and no other, who are again in a sense not self-aware. They will wander off as it were and just keep going. Adults in between these stages can also have a vestige of this ability if not cowed by authority or other fears: Michael Bond describes it as ‘following desire lines’
All settlement contains desire lines, informal paths that emerge when people spot a more efficient line of travel than the one laid out by urban planners. In response planners sometimes attempt to impede desire lines by force. But this tactic is doomed to failure – hedges will be trampled, signs uprooted, fences felled. Wise designers sculpt with desire, not against it.(p193)
Now before we wander too far off the point we can visualise Jesus here not only as the ‘straight way’, the royal road through the desert predicted by Isaiah and repeated by John the Baptist, but as the Way itself for the sake of all humanity. And we discover that way and know that we are on it when we speak truth to power or to sin as Paul does so beautifully in his warning to the Corinthians that this way is the way of love. This is the straight way to God because, as John the Evangelist says so clearly, God is love. So what we have in Christ is God’s love made manifest and a sure sign of our way back to God, to recovering that experience of reality without fear which only the very small child and those with Alzheimers perhaps may have, though I wouldn’t wish Alzheimers itself on anyone. But to be without fear – now that’s something and perhaps can only be done in God in whom love drives out all fear.