Thought for the Day : Friday 16 October

Thought for the Day by Alan Griggs

Readings: 2 Kings 12: 1-19 and Acts 28: 1-16

It is the later part of October, and soon winter will begin This autumn has been very scary; until recently many feared that they were going to die, but now they are beginning to hope that they will survive. and that when the Spring comes their lives might be able to move on. It is a gloomy prospect but there is little that we can do except wait and hope. It feels as though we are just marking time until it becomes possible to carry on with life.

This has nothing to do with our current coronavirus (!) but is a description of what St. Paul and his companions must have felt when they were shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Their ship, bound for Rome, had been blown to smithereens on the rocks. In fact they were well received by the islanders who made them welcome, gave them food and shelter, and were warmly thanked for what they did. In return, Paul was able to heal some of those who were ill, including the father of the island’s governor. When the time came for them to depart, they were provided with everything they needed. They journeyed on to Rome in a ship from Alexandria, that had wintered on the island of Malta. So they all came safely to Rome. For the last few miles they were escorted by some of the Christians from Rome who had heard that Paul and his companions were on board.

Sometimes, when we are afraid, things turn out to be not quite as bad as we expected. Some dangers pass, and even in those that don’t, we can find companionship with people we scarcely knew; and we may find resources within ourselves that we didn’t suspect. I recall, after the plane crash at Dunkeswick in the 1990s that the pilot’s widow found resources within herself, that she never believed she had, to provide great comfort to the relatives of others who had died in the crash.

Today’s Old Testament passage makes very uncomfortable reading for clergy. The priests in the Jerusalem Temple around 850 BC had misused money that was due to be spent on Temple repairs. Worshippers made offerings which were handed to the priests. We don’t know whether the priests had simply pocketed the money for themselves, or spent it on something other than fabric repairs. The matter was reported to the king; King Joash appointed a Royal Secretary to look after the Temple finances and to be responsible for the payment of the craftsmen who were doing the work. The priests may have been relieved to be free of looking after the Temple fabric but must have felt humiliated that they had been found guilty of financial misappropriation. The people would have expected the priests to have set an example. The priests no doubt hung their heads in shame.

Today the clergy have been found guilty of something much more serious. The revelations of the extent of sexual abuse by clergy has been highlighted in the media. The abuse itself has been shameful, but has been compounded by the way church leaders, clerical and lay, have tried to cover up what has been going on, and have been shewn to be more concerned about the image of the church than the care of those who have been abused.   This is truly shocking and reveals a systemic failure of leadership. It is not enough for other clergy to say smugly – I wasn’t involved’; we are all involved, and if we didn’t know what has been going on, then perhaps we ought to have done. Abuse is common in our society and has become worse during the current epidemic. And yet we hardly hear it mentioned in our church life. One woman vicar told me that she preaches about domestic abuse at least once every year; she has never done so without at least one person in the congregation coming to her afterwards and telling her that they have been abused. 

Should we all be holding our heads in shame?

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