Judge Softly

On my way to and from Lairg early on Sunday morning, there were two items on the radio that particularly caught my attention and as the day went by I started to see connections between them.

The first was in the Sunday Service on Radio Scotland, when the preacher said “Jesus leaves His Father in Heaven to come to a world where He’s not welcome, where He’s not received. He experiences alienation and rejection. His earthly family misunderstand and reject Him. His enemies pursue Him. Jesus has no home, no pillow of His own to rest His head on. And in the end He’s dragged through a rigged trial, condemned to death even though He’s innocent and then crucified.

The second was in the review of the papers, when the news that Brendan Cox, husband of murdered MP Jo Cox, had stepped down from the two charities that were set up in her name as a result of a number of earlier allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women. In his statement, Mr Cox said: “I do acknowledge and understand that during my time at Save the Children I made mistakes and behaved in a way that caused some women hurt and offence, this was never malicious, but it was certainly inappropriate. In the past I have focused on disputing what I felt was untrue in the allegations, but I realise now that it’s more important to take full responsibility for what I have done.” He also said he was committed to holding himself to “much higher standards of personal conduct” in the future.

On the face of it they don’t appear to have much in common, so where is the connection? For me it’s in the two sections in bold type. As I listened to the first piece, I became increasingly uneasy, because I felt that that what was being said was a gross simplification, it was casting the whole thing in terms of goodies and baddies in much the way that the old Westerns did (except in this case the goodies didn’t wear white hats and the baddies black!) From the perspective of Pilate, he had a responsibility to keep peace in his corner of the Roman Empire and woe-betide him if riots had broken out on his watch. Caiaphas, for all his faults, was committed to preserving the Jewish way of life, not rubbing the occupying force up the wrong way and having Jewish freedoms curtailed. Yes both played fast and loose with the facts to preserve what they believed in and, broadly speaking, they were dealing with a dissident who was bent on upsetting the status quo. They were however far less brazen about it than the leader of a country three and a half thousand miles to our west today. The point is that there are different points of view and the ‘Kingdom of Pilate’ and the ‘Kingdom of Caiaphas’ are radically different than the ‘Kingdom of God’. I don’t believe either man to be wholly bad without any redeeming features; but they did understood the situation very differently to the message of Good News that Jesus was preaching.

Now to Mr Cox. In any interaction between two people, there are (at least) two understandings of what has happened. In the past, he has concentrated on the aspects of the testimony of his accusers that he believed to be wrong, in order to maintain his innocence. So what has changed? Mr Cox in reflecting perhaps on the legacy of his late wife, has switch his focus from his feelings to those of his accusers. He may well not understand why they are so upset and hurt by his past behaviour towards them, but he now accepts the plain fact that they are hurt and upset by what he did. He has now realised that his understanding is different to theirs and is prepared to acknowledge that publically. What he has done might: help to bring some healing to those that he has hurt, allow the charities set up in his late wife’s name to move forward without a shadow hanging over them and help him to become the better person he would like to be. What Mr Cox has done is what the Prayer Book means when it says “Remission of all your sins, true repentance, amendment of life”.

It is just so easy to see things from one point of view and as black and white. This Lent as we reflect on how we live our lives we might do worse that consider this short extract from a poem written in 1895 by Mary T. Lathrap called Judge Softly (often mistakenly attributed to to various indian tribes):

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow minded, even unkind.

Blessings
James

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