The Reverend Margaret Legg
I love my new Smart phone. I know Steve you’re wondering about upgrading your Nokia 6210. Go for it: you can enjoy What’s App groups, photos, apps (bus times, free prints)
Just imagine if Jesus had used a Smartphone! Thousands of followers - the system may well have crashed from overwhelming numbers of users. BUT... would he have used one? I ask because they can lead to a somewhat restricted way of life. And readings are about a full life. Life in all its fullness. Life lived as Jesus models it, based on love for all and service to all.
Let me explain. Travel writer Simon Parker, thought he had a full life, with 603 followers on Instagram and hashtag addict – think ‘wanderlust’, ‘instatravel’. A really useful tool for a travel writer. But then Simon hit a problem. Getting ready to explore the Yucatan Peninsula (SE Mexico if you’re wondering) his Smartphone left a Central American bar in someone else’s pocket. He would have to travel without it! For 24 hour he was grief stricken and then he realised his life was much fuller than before: muscle memory had returned to his hands and eyeballs; he’d freed up several hours each day and he was now looking around at the real world, not the screen of his phone world, and rediscovered how bright and lively it was. So perhaps Jesus wouldn’t have bothered. The full life in many ways doesn’t need Smart phones.
Smart phones allow us to add to our contacts and to delete unwelcome ones. It’s very useful, indeed absolutely essential to control who has our personal details – hence this year’s Data Protection Act. Jesus wouldn’t need that. He’s preparing people for life in eternity, for the time when we will, as Paul puts it, be brought into God’s presence and will be seen as we really are. And that’s everyone and everything. He includes those who would normally be out in the cold: the poor, the disabled, even the insane. He asks us to do the same, as far as we can. To acknowledge at least, engage perhaps, rather than ignore and walk past. To live life fully means living it alongside everyone.
Really inclusive, you may well ask? What about his mother and sisters and brothers? Isn’t he excluding them, when he asks at the end of the Gospel: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Well the Lectionary is confusing, because it cuts out the first, vital part of the opening verse, which tells us ‘Then he went home’. ’Then he went home’. It had been a frantic period of preaching and healing, and he’s only just begun his ministry. So he’s gone home, desperate for some tlc and he’s enjoying some home cooking, or trying to. The crowds are so thick he can’t even do that. He has to abandon his meal and go out to them. His family can’t get through the dense throngs to rescue him, so they resort to sending a messenger. I think of Jesus, when he answers the messenger, as throwing his arms wide open so that not only his family, but everyone present, is included in the embrace. His family are part of a much larger one, and very definitely included. For us, to live a full life means embracing those we instinctively dislike, turn away from, find difficult. Perhaps within our own families, among our neighbours, or just on the bus. Not literally putting our arms around them, but maybe trying to lessen our bias.
What about the Jewish authorities? Yes Jesus does exclude them. They are beyond the pale. And it’s because they choose to reject Jesus. They reject him by saying his power to free the insane from the demons that possess them is down to sorcery. Nowadays, we usually think of demons as the ones inside ourselves, our inner demons, our dark sides. When we’re up against it, when things go really badly wrong, we all, I think, have the capacity to lose the plot, and we do well to acknowledge this and to address it. For first century Palestine, insanity was the devil at work and the scribes denounce Jesus as a devil. It’s Beelzebub – not God, who is behind these miracles of healing. Jesus shoots back. The king of the demon world, who causes disease and insanity, cannot destroy his own power by being instrumental in healing. Only God’s power, stronger than all evil, can do that. Those who call goodness evil, who refuse to recognise what is good because of malice or prejudice, put themselves beyond God’s forgiveness. And that’s the point – we can exclude ourselves from the full life, life centred on Jesus and his way of living. Exclusion is the last thing Jesus wants. In that poignant passage we listened to from Genesis, when God searches anxiously for Adam and Eve who are hiding from him, we can feel the pain of rejected love. He wants us to be present with him, he has our well being at heart, as Mary has, when she tries hard to reach her son and bring him back into the home. We block God and it grieves him. So even What’s App groups, which are so very handy, would probably not appeal to him. He’d have just one – for the whole world!
What about photos – such an asset on a Smartphone - would they be handy for Jesus? Maybe, but not if they’re airbrushed or cropped to cut out the bits we don’t like. The crowds throng around Jesus precisely because he doesn’t airbrush what he sees. He looks long and hard and gets to the heart of people and of situations and puts them right. The travel writer, Simon Parker, found during his travels that often the planet doesn’t look half as good as it’s portrayed on Instagram. The pollution and poverty is all too often airbrushed out – it just doesn’t fit with instaperfect. When he checked into his hotel in Guatemala, that had looked incredible via instapics, he realised that the half built, derelict hotel next door was JUST out of shot in every single one of its posts. He also came across beaches that were incredibly smelly because they were swamped in tons of seaweed. Not that you’d tell that from Instagram, because hotels were working round the clock to rake out gaps in the sand for amateur photo shoots to take place. It does raise the question: should we not be documenting the problems we face and trying to do something about them, rather than glossing over them? It’s unhealthy for our collective psyche, perhaps for the future of the planet and it’s not portraying life in full reality.
Simon Parker described his 33 smartphone free days as ‘blissful’. So blissful, that he’s decided to return to what he describes as an old ‘brick’ of a mobile phone. As for Jesus, perhaps he’d delegate the smartphone to his disciples while he got on with the real work – dealing with life in all its fullness, just as we are called to do.