On being Honest and Fair
Mark 7. 24–end. James 2.1–10, 14–17.
—Fr John Quick, 9 Sep 2018
+ May I speak in the name of God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning I am going to tell you two stories and they are both about being honest and fair when as we go about our daily lives and most importantly treating others as we wish to be treated. Jesus says at the end of our reading from the letter of James, ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have work? Can faith save you? Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’
Our first story is about someone who mistreats those around him but he changes when he learns the error of his ways. It comes from the book The Water Babies, a fairy story with some meanings. It is about a Victorian boy chimney sweep who escapes from his life by becoming a water baby living under the sea where he meets some interesting characters:
But I wish Tom had given up all his naughty tricks; and left off tormenting dumb animals now that he had plenty of playfellows to amuse him. Instead of that, I am sorry to say, he would meddle with the creatures, all but the water-snakes, for they would stand no nonsense. So, he tickled the madrepores [corals], to make them shut up; and frightened the crabs, to make them hide in the sand and peep out at him with the tips of their eyes; and put stones into the anemones' mouths, to make them fancy that their dinner was coming.
The other children warned him, and said, “Take care what you are at. Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid is coming.” But Tom never heeded them, being quite riotous with high spirits and good luck, till, one Friday morning early, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid came indeed.
A very tremendous lady she was; and when the children saw her they all stood in a row, very upright indeed, and smoothed down their bathing dresses, and put their hands behind them, just as if they were going to be examined by the inspector.
And she had on a black bonnet, and a black shawl, and no crinoline at all; and a pair of large green spectacles, and a great hooked nose, hooked so much that the bridge of it stood quite up above her eyebrows; and under her arm she carried a great birch-rod. Indeed, she was so ugly that Tom was tempted to make faces at her: but did not; for he did not admire the look of the birch-rod under her arm.
And she looked at the children one by one, and seemed very much pleased with them, though she never asked them one question about how they were behaving; and then began giving them all sorts of nice sea-things—sea-cakes, sea-apples, sea-oranges, sea-bullseyes, sea-toffee; and to the very best of all she gave sea-ices, made out of sea-cows' cream, which never melt under water. ...
Now little Tom watched all these sweet things given away, till his mouth watered, and his eyes grew as round as an owl's. For he hoped that his turn would come at last; and so it did. For the lady called him up, and held out her fingers with something in them, and popped it into his mouth; and, lo and behold, it was a nasty cold hard pebble.
“You are a very cruel woman,” said he, and began to whimper.
“And you are a very cruel boy; who puts pebbles into the sea-anemones' mouths, to take them in, and make them fancy that they had caught a good dinner! As you did to them, so I must do to you.”
“Who told you that?” said Tom.
“You did yourself, this very minute.”
Tom had never opened his lips; so he was very much taken aback indeed.
“Yes; every one tells me exactly what they have done wrong; and that without knowing it themselves. So there is no use trying to hide anything from me. Now go, and be a good boy, and I will put no more pebbles in your mouth, if you put none in other creatures’.”
“I did not know there was any harm in it,” said Tom.
“Then you know now. People continually say that to me: but I tell them, if you don't know that fire burns, that is no reason that it should not burn you; and if you don't know that dirt breeds fever, that is no reason why the fevers should not kill you. The lobster did not know that there was any harm in getting into the lobster-pot; but it caught him all the same.”
“Dear me,” thought Tom, “she knows everything!” And so she did, indeed.
“And so, if you do not know that things are wrong, that is no reason why you should not be punished for them; though not as much, not as much, my little man” (and the lady looked very kindly, after all), “as if you did know.”
In our first reading from the Letter of James we hear about treating everyone equally, not to judge by appearances, or how much money and influence people around us may have. In the story no one had taught poor Tom to treat those around him kindly and fairly, all he knew was a cruel master called Grimes who sent him up filthy chimneys to sweep.
In our Gospel story today, Jesus meets a woman who was not a Jew, but who had faith that Jesus could cure her daughter. At first, he replied saying that his first loyalty was to the Jewish people but she reminded him when people are fed even the dogs get the scraps under the table. She was bold enough to challenge Jesus. He realising that she had faith healed her daughter.
Again, in the letter of James, Jesus is quoted, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus speaks about obeying the law but also having mercy. If you gossip and backbite about the actions of those around you, it may be just as destructive to the harmony of everyone’s life as actually breaking the laws laid down in the ten commandments.
In our lives and our dealings with those around us we should be honest and fair. We should avoid destructive gossip which can ruin peoples’ lives. Worse for the gossip may be untrue.
Our second story is about a woman who gossiped about others around her and then asked a friend how she could make amends:
Many years’ ago, a woman in a country village went to talk to her best friend one day, and the friend said I hear that you have been spreading gossip all around the village. If you want me to continue being your best friend; and feel able to sit next to you in church you have got to change your ways.
I have got a plan to teach you a lesson, and everyone in the village will see that you are sorry! It is a two-part plan, this is what you do first.
You travel to town in the farmer’s wagon (there was no bus in those
days). Go to the market and buy a nice plump hen to roast for your dinner. Don’t wait until you get home to pluck the feathers from the bird. Pluck then as you go along the way, they will be carried away by the wind.
When you come back I will tell you the second part of the plan.
The woman did as she was asked and returned triumphant to the friend.
Well done said the friend. Now comes the hard part. I want you to go back along the road and pick up all the feathers you plucked belonging to that hen.
The poor woman broke down in tears. You have set me an impossible task, By now the wind will have scattered those feathers far and wide. Why, dear friend, have set me such a cruel penance?
Because, dear friend, you see what happens as a result of your gossiping. It is impossible to call the words back again; once you have sent them on their way.
I value our friendship and I do hope that you have learned your lesson. In future I am sure that you will be very careful what you gossip. It is always impossible to repair the damage.
The two remained firm friends so we can only assume that she changed her ways.
+ In nomine