Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Uncovering illusions...

Here's the third of my Lent reflections:

‘After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets,”’
(Luke 5:4-5)
I think Simon-Peter grudgingly obeys, humouring the carpenter who thinks he knows better than the fisherman, perhaps meaning to show him up, or make him look foolish. Was their sarcasm in his tone? Whatever the case, Siom-Peter soon realises there’s more going on here than meets the eye. This is not just a fortuitous catch of fish and neither is it a lucky guess on the part of Jesus.
All of a sudden Simon knows that Jesus isn’t just a good man, a wise teacher, a dispenser of ideas or a kindly friend. Face to face with the full reality of all that Jesus is, he becomes all too aware of who really is too. In that moment, Peter feels ashamed, like Adam and Eve when they realised they were naked: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10). Or like Isaiah in his vision in the heavenly throne room: ‘“woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…”’ (Isaiah 6:5). Peter, a little more bluntly, simply blurts out, ‘“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).
When we truly encounter Christ we cannot maintain our facades of holiness, our vain attempts at charity, our continuing shortcomings. Any true encounter with Christ in his righteousness strips away the masks and illusions we put on to allow us to have our own way whilst keeping our consciences sufficiently distanced from the scrutiny of God and others.
The problem, of course, is that we desperately want these illusions about ourselves to be true. That’s why W.H. Auden can write:

We would rather be ruined than changed.
We would rather die in our dread
than climb the cross of the moment
and see our illusions die.

But as we encounter Christ, our illusions of ourselves cannot survive.
The French painter Georges Rouault was walking past a circus caravan one evening and saw an old clown repairing his costume. What struck him was the contrast between the costume and make-up worn by the clown and the ‘infinite sadness’ that rested just below the paint. Rouault wrote, “I have seen clearly that the clown was I, was us, almost all of us… That sumptuous sequin covered costume is given to us by life, we are all clowns to a greater or lesser extent, we all wear a ‘sequin covered costume.’ But if someone surprises us as I have surprised the old clown, oh! Who would then dare say that he has not been overwhelmed, down to the pit of his stomach, by an immense pity?”
Christ surprised Simon-Peter on the shore of Lake Galilee that day and Simon-Peter was ‘overwhelmed , down to the pit of his stomach, by an immense pity.’ And he was right to be, as we all should be when face to face with Christ in his glory. But the amazing truth to hold onto this Lent is the word Jesus speaks into Simon-Peter’s moment of agonising self-awareness: “Don’t be afraid” (Luke 5:10).
In our world of illusions, masks and make-up, only Jesus has the authority to say those words at the moment of our unmasking, because he alone knows us as we really are, and yet loves us anyway! And only Christ’s love can redeem the poverty that we so desperately seek to hide. No wonder Simon-Peter ‘left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:11).

‘Because of your all-embracing, wonderful plan
which you have carried out in our regard,
we give you thanks and glorify you ceaselessly
in your church which you have redeemed
through the precious blood of your Christ.
With open mouths and faces unveiled
we present you with praise and honour,
gratitude and adoration,
to your living, holy, and life-giving name,
now and always
and forever and ever.
The Anaphoras of Addai and Mari

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