Weekly Thoughts

by Rev. Tim Hastie-Smith of St. Mary's Church, Bibury

This Sunday we continue with the patriarchs in Genesis, with the focus shifting from Jacob to Joseph, his brothers, and his well known coat (Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28)

The Gospel reading is Matthew 14: 22-33, which tells of Jesus walking on water, and Peter, slightly unsuccessfully, seeking to do the same.  There is no obvious link between the passages, although there is quite a neat connection, which I suspect the compilers of the lectionary were not intending. But to start with the obvious: In Genesis we see the sins of the fathers very obviously being visited upon the children. This isn’t about God being capricious (The Bible is very clear that no one will be held responsible for the sins of another) but rather about the depressing way that history repeats itself. We reap what we sow. Just as the favouritism of Isaac and Rebecca caused strife throughout Jacob’s life, so his favouritism sows the seeds that wreaks havoc and misery in that of his children. Some things we must take responsibility for.

We also see another universal truth. The baton passing on to the next generation. Jacob still lives but he is no longer center stage. Maybe it’s the death of my father, marriage of my son, and birth of my first grandson, but even at 58 one feels the inexorable shifting of the spot light to the next story in the saga. And its no longer mine! The baton is passing on. Its no longer about me. And, of course, the liberating truth is that the moment one realise that, you also realise that it never was! Its not that one is on the scrap heap at 58 (A delightful book of my father’s called Tolstoy’s Bicycle shows that it is almost never too late to start. The title references the fact that Tolstoy learnt to ride a bike aged 67.) but that as we get older we start to see the self evident truth that it really isn’t about us, as Shelley’s Ozymandias ruefully discovers. The dog barks, the caravan moves on. But its not just that the baton passes on, as long running soap operas seeking new story lines, or sweeping Roman-fleuve demonstrate. That’s life. It’s the profound truth that only new born babies really think the universe revolves around them. Maturity is the Copernican revolution that comprehends that there is different sun. Once we understand that, life begins to make sense.

Which takes us to the third self evident truth in the opening of the Joseph story. The complete lack of any mention of God. This may explain the continuing mistakes, but it also allows the stunning conclusion of the tale (warning: Spoiler alert) in Genesis 50 when Joseph explains to his brothers ‘you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today’ As the famous misquote puts it: Man proposes but God disposes.

Its not simply that God is in control, giving us both assurance and hope, but it allows us the courage to take risks knowing that God can bring good even out the most appalling messes! Failure is never final, as Nelson Mandela so beautifully put it in a letter to Winnie: Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on.

A quote from George Orwell which I found on a scrap of paper, acting as a bookmark in old book says it slightly depressingly: A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. But the truth is that failure is normative, and is simply a part of learning. Just as God brought good from a botched attempt to kill Joseph, so good comes from Peter’s failed attempt to walk on water. Failure brings learning. The bigger the risk, the greater the learning. Peter might have been tempted in response to Jesus’s rebuke O you of little faith, why did you doubt:  ‘Well at least I tried’ and that might have been true. But actually Jesus is encouraging him to try again. His meaning is clear. If you trusted you wouldn’t have sunk. Aim higher. Peter’s whole ministry is littered with mistakes and errors of judgement. But he is still Jesus’s rock. Just as Andrew Roberts’s Churchill makes no secret of Churchill’s numerous errors, mistakes and flaws, he beautifully shows how they all played a part in preparing him for the key role he was to play in his resistance to Nazism.

There is no place for plaster saints in the church or the world.

Our heroes need to be flawed or they are of no value to us.

Today’s Caravaggio The Musicians, an allegory of music sustaining love as food sustains the body, is generally regarded as one of the master’s worst. Not only has it worn badly, but the composition simply doesn’t work. The four figures, the one on the left the angel from last week’s picture, the second from the right Caravaggio himself, and second from the left, his companion, Mario Minniti, simply don’t relate to each other, and the whole composition, even the violin in the foreground inviting the viewer to join in, is clumsy. It is, of course, a Caravaggio, so it hangs in the Met in New York, but it was painted on an off day, and is a helpful reminder that even a genius makes mistakes. But a true genius learns from them. As Nelson Mandela observed once again. Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

Today’s readings are a wonderful encouragement, challenge and release. Let God be God and all things begin to fall into place, including our own lives.

Give thanks for

  • The birth of Polly and Dom Hewitt’s son, Fox; Charlie and Charlie Driver’s daughter, Lily; Bea and Will Barter’s (married Barnsley 2018) son, George Gabriel, Henry and Helen Titley’s third child, and Emily H-S and Chris’s son, Sebastian Timothy Edward.
  • A good start to our twice weekly football/activity club
  • The recent baptisms of Ivor Birtles and Rory Phillips

Please pray for:

  • Ian and Lillian Muir
  • James Miles
  • Barbara Jones
  • Rianna Read
  • Jane Wykeham Musgrave
  • Jock Pease
  • Wendy Fraser Williams
  • Cyril Stringer.
  • The bereaved: Alan Adey, Alison Kemp, Joanne Hastie-Smith and others known to us.
  • Antonia Sterck whose baby is due any day now.
  • Charlotte Farmar and Tiago Silva: marrying in September