By Canon Gerry Conroy
Someone recently was telling me they asked a Chinese man how the Chinese government had managed to contain the outbreak of covid-19 in China compared to the west. He said people were told to stay in their homes and not come out, the army delivered food and essentials. I don’t know the truth of that, but I thought to myself that would never work in the West. People wouldn’t put up with it. We might be tempted to say we value our freedom more and aren’t willing to give up our independence for anyone, but I suspect that such reasoning might be doing people from other nations an injustice.
Closer to the truth, I think, is the fact that in the West we seem to place less value on authority to get us to the truth, we all have our own ideas and those are ultimately what we follow. What we feel is how we decide what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what not; what we feel is how we justify our actions to ourselves and to others. We seem to think that this is progress and other cultures need to think as we do, but it brings with it its own problems. Our feelings are open to being manipulated by all sorts of things and that is how our thoughts about what is right and wrong, about what is true are manipulated also: Social Media, advertising, there is a long history of manipulation so that we hardly notice it anymore.
The first reading presents an attitude that is markedly different and perhaps somewhat strange to us. It tells of how the people rejected their own experience and chose to listen to someone with authority instead, first of all Moses and then a Prophet that God would raise up for them. Can we say we do that? We listen to the experts until it impinges on what we want to do – stay indoors, don’t socialise, we listen up to a point and then when it no longer suits us, when it is too difficult, we do what we want, what we feel is right for us.
The Gospel tells us that Christ taught them with authority and it raised the whole question of authority for the people who saw the miracle he worked. It puts that same question before all those who listen to that story, the question about the authority we recognise in our life. Is the only authority we recognise, the feelings we have, are they the sum total of how we decide what is right and what is wrong, what is true for us? Probably there are other authorities we listen to as well, but the real question is who is the ultimate authority in our lives; is it our feelings, or is there something else? The Gospel is asking us where is Christ in it all? Without him there is no salvation from evil.