Saturday, July 06, 2024



I was struck, on Friday, by the final speech made by Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, and by the first speech made by his successor in that role, Keir Starmer. Both men acknowledged the role that the support and hard work of others had played in the opportunity presented to them; the will of others in constraining their own hopes; and the reality that whatever can be built, however our common life is shaped, is and can only be done together.

We do not impose our will on the world, or other people, as a blank canvas or a lump of putty. Indeed, we do not only discover the extent to which our will may be realised in engagement with other people and the physical world we share; our will is actually formed in relation to the will of others.

In the Gospel passage set for this Sunday, Mark 6.1-13, we are reminded that Jesus is constrained by his work as a carpenter, by his family of origin, and by the wider community in which he is situated. This embeddedness places limits on what he is able to do, and in this passage he discovers something of those limits. But these constraints are not solely negative. It is within the contexts of these constraints, these interactions that combine to give shape to what is possible, that Jesus comes to understand himself not only as the Son of Mary, but as the Son of Man, that is, what it is to be a human being, part of humanity. It is within these same constraints that others come to see Jesus as the Son of God, or also the Son (descendant) of David, both of which are to say, the legitimate king of Israel.

Within this embedded context, indeed within the specific context of coming up against the push-back of others, Jesus calls twelve others to him, and sends them out ahead of him into the surrounding area. As they go, and meet other people in the embeddedness of their lives, they proclaim that all should repent. To repent means to change your mind, in relation to something; but, more than that, to change your mind as a consequence of having spent time with another person, of getting to know something of them and their life. The twelve do not go out telling people, repent, or that certain types of people need to repent, but proclaiming that all (that is, the twelve included) should repent.

In other words, this is the work of building bridges, between people, between me and you, together. For this to happen, I must reassess what I believe, including my assumptions about Others, in light of having met with you, having listened to you, having seen you, and you, me. This is listening to people on their doorsteps, rather than just speaking at them.

This goes against the grain of our cultural assumptions, which denies the existence of a grain to work with. We surely only need to programme our desired outcome into the 3D printer. But Jesus was a carpenter, and a carpenter becomes a master carpenter in the mutual submission of the carpenter to the wood and the wood to the carpenter. They work together, this sentient being, and this given material reality or Other, which would only frustrate the inexperienced or immature worker.

We live in a world where the grandson of immigrants, or a man who grew up in a working-class home can become Prime Minister—and can be removed from office. But this is not to say that you can be anything that you want, which is an unbearable burden that can only result in a sense of failure and the deep shame that comes with it, the sense of inadequacy for which we alone are to blame. It means that we start, somewhere, with a set of givens that shape possibilities, that shape further possibilities. Like sailing across a lake, at times we advance carried by the wind, at times we must tack into the wind as a corrective; and at times the wind is so hard against us that we can only get anywhere at great effort, abandoning our ideal plan for what is possible.

Generally speaking, we would prefer that other people repent, than we are willing to repent ourselves. We want to impose our will, or we surrender any willpower and abandon ourselves to fate. We need, instead, to learn that the world is created, and that we are creative agents in that world, through mutual submission. That requires trust, and the willingness to honour the other, even (especially) those with whom we disagree. In this, on Friday gone, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer both served us, as a nation, well.


No comments:

Post a Comment