Weekly Reflection – 12-18 July 2009

Posted on: Saturday 11th July 2009

ALMA Sunday

Sometimes people wonder why the Church spends so much time and so many resources on its relations with the developing world. Bang on from the pulpit too often about organisations like ALMA, our Diocesan link project in Mozambique and Angola, which we support with our Lent Appeal, and you can see congregations stiffen slightly and compose themselves into the appearance of polite attentiveness while silently working out Sudoku puzzles in their heads. This is, in part, because we feel that issues closer to home might be more profitably addressed, or we may have acquired a measure of forgivable scepticism about the usefulness of intervening in the politics and economics of poorer countries, or we may simply be bored. But I think also there’s something unsettling about being confronted, in our relative prosperity and comfort, with harsher realities. Look at the effect John the Baptist, unkempt and unmannerly, had on the court of King Herod, and what it cost him.

But that image of John the Baptist, of the prophet Amos, and of Jesus himself, appearing like irritating anomalies amid the luxury and self-regard of courts and palaces and Temples, is at the heart of Christian witness. If we wish to be faithful to Christ and his teaching and his example then we must stand alongside, and among, the poor. This is so fundamental to what we do, and so deeply rooted in our tradition and the Jewish tradition it arises from, that we perhaps take it for granted; perhaps we have lost sight of just how radical an idea this is. Why does our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, every Maundy Thursday, hand out purses of money to the ‘deserving poor’, to use the antique phrase? Why does the Archbishop of Canterbury, at that same service, wash their feet? Even when these rituals have been abstracted by ceremonial there is still something strikingly odd about people of majesty and power putting themselves among the poor to serve their needs. Far more frequently the majestic and powerful seem to strive to distance themselves from the poor, for fear that they may lose their lustre?

Choosing to be among the poor, even if it is on unilateral terms, is a sign that who we are, at the deepest level, is not decided by our achievements, our standing in the world, our place at the top table, but by our common humanity, a humanity which only makes sense when we begin to understand it as bearing the likeness of Jesus Christ himself.

Fr Richard Coles, Curate