Thinking Anew – The messenger and the message
Nobody is a prophet in their own land. And it is not simply memories of childhood antics that leave your old neighbours unimpressed with your wisdom.
When it comes to listening, more often than not, the speaker is more important than the words. A bad idea from the mouth of a person we dislike could become a great idea if a person we like suggests it. The clearest examples are in big politics. If the yellow party suggest a new motorway supporters of the russet party are likely to reject it as a daft idea. Yellow supporters think it is great even though they would have opposed the same motorway if it was suggested by the russets. Ideas are only good when we like their authors. It is a strange part of our thinking that should not remain unchallenged.
Something that is good is still good even if it is announced by somebody we dislike. Conversely, something that is bad remains bad even if we respect the messenger. In Jesus’ case there was something else at play. The Gospel tells us that his neighbours dismissed Jesus because carpenters shape timber not spirituality. We do not simply reject ideas because of our like or dislike of the author; we also reject them if the author is not officially qualified to express a view in this area.
The old saying is that there is nobody blinder than the one who would not see. Since the time of Christ himself we have been adept at dismissing anything that does not come from a source we approve of. Call it the human condition if you will but it is a condition that faith cannot respect.
Every year in Ireland literally millions of good ideas and wishes are ignored because they came from a disliked source. It is a double-edged sword. For every good idea that we reject there is an equal and opposite bad idea that we whole-heartedly embrace simply because a friend suggested it.
There are people who criticise Saint Augustine of Hippo; mostly for his dismissive attitude towards the mother of his son. It was that same Augustine who advocated that hating the sin whilst loving the sinner. Even if we dislike Augustine we can easily see the value of his advice. Many a person can continue to love another person despite the fact that the other may have done something awful.
We are all too aware that friends can do the wrong thing so we should have no difficulty realising that they might also say the wrong thing. That is regularly not the case. Christianity expects we should be attempting to distinguish between the idealist and the idea, the messenger and the message, the sinner and the sin.
Our faith also challenges the belief that nothing good can come from a bad thing. Putrid bread gave us antibiotics. The other side is also true. Something bad can come from a good thing. Persecutions have produced faith but faith has also produced persecutions.
It is unlikely that Jesus would be any more impressed with us today than he was with the people of his hometown. His incredulity in this weekend’s Gospel was well justified. How intelligent beings could persist in this daft contradiction by simply describing it as part of our condition is unbelievable.
But if something good can produce something bad and something bad can produce something good, it should be no surprise that something intelligent can produce something stupid too.