Thursday, 18 June 2015

Stop the noise!

Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no-one will hear his voice in the streets. Matthew 12:18-19.

One of the saddest features of our modern world is that it has become so noisy, so loud - the din of traffic, the sirens of police cars and ambulances, the thudding music belting out of peoples' radios, even from their head-phones on the bus or tube, voices raised in the streets in the early hours of the morning, sometimes in anger, sometimes in celebration.

No wonder the world seems to be going mad. It often seems that it's those who shout loudest who get their way. I confess I know next to nothing about the “Noise Abatement Society”, but I’m glad such an organisation exists. May it prosper!

These words of Matthew are taken straight from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (42:1-4). They refer originally to a mysterious figure called "the servant of the Lord": mysterious, yes, in Isaiah's day, but the early Christians had no difficulty in applying them to Jesus.

And how true they are of him. There is no doubt that there were times when Jesus got angry, especially against hypocrisy, religious abuse and exploitation. But he was never a quarrelsome or argumentative kind of person. He didn't "do" aggression and confrontation, not at least until he was absolutely forced to it.

As a child I used to sing about "gentle Jesus, meek and mild...”, which sounds beautiful. But there can be a problem with those words - they can suggest that Jesus was weak, a bit spineless and wishy-washy.

But of course meekness is very different from weakness. If you aim to be meek - that is, truly self-effacing, refusing to insist always on your own rights, preferring to listen to the voices of others first - if you aim to be truly meek in that sense, you do in fact need to be a very strong person.

When Jesus was before his accusers, just hours ahead of the crucifixion, we read that he chose to keep silent (Matthew 27:14). Given that he was being lied about, shouted at, mocked and abused, that took some backbone, didn't it? His quiet manner was a sign of deep inner strength.

"He will not quarrel or cry out. No-one will hear his voice in the streets". How do we measure up to this?

There are, perhaps, two main types of noisiness. Some of us just have loud voices and always want to be heard. We drown other people out. That's bad enough. But combine that with the noisiness that comes from being aggressive, argumentative and quarrelsome, and it's far worse.

There's a great saying in Proverbs 15:1: "A gentle answer turns away wrath" - or, as The Message puts it, "A gentle response defuses anger". That's well worth pondering. The verse, though, has a sting in the tail: "... but a harsh word stirs up anger". Mmm - haven't we all found out sometimes the bitter truth of that?

(Have you recently dipped into Proverbs, by the way? "Life coaches” and counsellors are all the rage these days, and I don't say we don't need them. But so many of our problems could be solved by meditating on the words of this ancient book. Why not give Proverbs a try?)

God speaks in Psalm 46: "Be still, and know that I am God". Time to turn off the television? to stop talking and start listening? to calm down and allow space for peace?

Dear Father in heaven, please forgive me for the times I have added to the world's noise and tension, its anger and hostility, by failing to "be still". Please help me to be a peacemaker, like Jesus, in every sense of that word. Amen.

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