A doubtful reputation

Lent 4c – Sunday 10th March 2013
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

The credibility and moral authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland has been damaged, according to the man who has replaced Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia took over temporarily as administrator of the Archdiocese of Edinburgh and St Andrews after the cardinal’s resignation.
The cardinal has since apologised for his sexual conduct.
Archbishop Tartaglia told an evening mass that: “This is a sad moment for the church in our country.”
Cardinal O’Brien was Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric until he stood down last Monday after three priests and a former priest had made allegations of “improper behaviour” against him dating back to the 80s.
Initially, he said he would contest the allegations but on Sunday issued an apology, saying that his behaviour had “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. [Taken from BBC News Scotland]

There’s no show like the spectacular-fall-from-grace show. We love tuning in to watch it. It has the ability to cheer us up, make us feel better, stops the rain from falling on our parade for a short while. We love the sneering contempt, the snorting I’m-better-than-them attitude. Oh yes, it’s made my day.

That is until I remember what I intoned last week:

Then I read my Bible and it says:
Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.

Yes, I’m no better. And if he turns out to be a dyed in the wool sinner I guess I am too. And as if to further reinforce this point the first few words of this weeks lectionary reading say:

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently.

The cynical might say that they were hanging around Jesus waiting for a get-out clause for their doubtful reputation. But the truth of the matter is that they discovered that Jesus offered hope, love, forgiveness, healing and grace for people like themselves – sinners. Luke 15 is a wonderful passage for people like Archbishop Tartaglia, Cardinal O’Brien and me. In fact, it’s a wonderful passage for everybody. Because it shares the loving heart of God, the waiting Parent, the caring and compassionate Father, the graceful Friend, the rejoicing God.

And what makes this passage even more amazing is that the Prodigal Son isn’t thrown on the scrapheap, isn’t cast aside. He deserves nothing. He blew his inheritance on wild living. He should get his just deserts. He should get nothing.

We love to kick someone when they’re down, don’t we? Precisely because of this there are now so many media commentators and social experts pouring scorn and sneering contempt on Cardinal O’Brien and his actions. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because for so many years the church has poured scorn and sneering contempt on the world and its sinners. There’s been so little humility, so little grace, no wonderful examples and role models. How many Mother Theresa’s have there been? How many Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s? Not enough.

I know I could stand alongside Cardinal O’Brien – and those disreputable characters from Luke 15 – and say with all sincerity and true humility, “I have all fallen beneath the standards expected of me.” Could you?

And for some reason there’s a very excitable person on the horizon. They’re jumping up and down, doing a little jig, whooping and hollering something. What was it? Did I catch that right? Did they say, “My son is here — given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!” Wonderful. Amazing.

Happy days

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About Neil Chappell

Husband, father, Congregational Minister and football fan all rolled into one convenient package.
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