The Diocese of
What is wrong with these people?
What is wrong with these people? As we pull on our boots, waterproof trousers, gloves, gaiters and Goretex tops, ready to enjoy another summer’s day in the fells, we watch a procession of jean-
As we read of yet another stabbing in London, taking the death-
As I get ever older, and ever grumpier, it’s a question I find myself asking more and more often, as I regard the increasingly large and increasingly incomprehensible younger generation. What is wrong with these people, that they can imagine nothing better to do with their lives than twittering vacuously to one another on their mobile ’phones, which seem capable of doing everything except making actual ’phone calls; or wasting endless hours playing video games; and this week, shooting each actually rather than virtually dead?
I’m not the only one. It is a question that has been asked down through history. As the magistrate orders the deportation of yet another impoverished peasant to Australia, for the heinous, monstrous crime of poaching a rabbit, he cannot understand how difficult it might be to feed your family, and so asks himself, ‘What is wrong with these people, that they cannot understand the concept of private property, nor resist breaking the law?’
As the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith begins its session, this is the question uppermost in the minds of its members. We know them better as the Inquisition. Their job is to root out heresy, wrong belief, in order to save the souls; if necessary by the destruction of the bodies of their victims. ‘What is wrong with these people, that they will not simply accept the doctrines and the disciplines of the Church?’
And it is the question the Pharisees and Scribes ask each other, as they cast their superior gaze over Jesus’ dissolute band of fishermen, tax collectors, fanatics and sundry other hangers-
‘What is wrong with these people?’ is a question that we use to condemn. To distinguish those of us who are right, from those of them who are not. Whether in my smug dismissal of those who have not yet learned their mountain-
Jesus comes along, and with person after person whom he meets, asks quite a different question. ‘What is right with these people?’ And the force of this question remains as powerful today as it ever was. The Invictus Games take place again next month. Together with the Paralympics, these events are inspiring demonstrations of asking, not about what is wrong with someone, but about what is right with them. They are celebrations of ability, not disability. We watch as people with the widest range of physical and mental limitations nevertheless do things that the rest of us could not do. They succeed in all manner of amazing ways, because of what they can do, rather than because of what they cannot do. They prove the power of asking Jesus’ question.
For we all work within limitations, of age and ability and intelligence. I can’t understand Japanese; although Japanese people manage it ok, so there must be something wrong with me. I can’t solve differential equations. I can’t even tell you what they are any longer! I can’t clip a sheep, or teach a class, or rig a power line, or build a stone wall or suture a wound. I can’t run a hundred metres in under ten seconds; I never could. The list of things I cannot do would fill libraries.
And I can’t make myself acceptable to God, no matter what rules I try to keep. Washing my hands to avoid ritual uncleanliness like the Scribes and Pharisees; allowing myself to believe only the teachings accepted as orthodox by the Inquisition of the day, keeping to some monastically inspired Rule of Life. None of these rules will prevent me becoming a horrible person, if my attitude to others is not godly. As Jesus goes on to point out to the Scribes and Pharisees and the crowds that gather round him looking for rules, ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.’
Yet God sees, not only the failure and the limitations and the human-
The Sermon is based on the following passage from the Bible: Mark, chapter 7, verses 1-
© Jon Russell 2018
A Preacher’s Tale:
Explorations in Narrative Preaching
by Jon Russell
Available from SCM Press, priced £16.99