You can imagine my surprise when one Sunday, during tea after the service, someone said casually to me, “Oh, I saw you in the Telegraph yesterday. Lovely pictures”.
At first nothing landed and I had no idea what she was talking about.
I forgot all about this for a while. Then the scramble began to find the day before’s Telegraph. A week or later we had it in our hands, and gazed down in disbelief. There we were, occupying two full broadsheet pages.
A year or so earlier we had had our loft converted. And the loft company had taken some pictures, of us as a family, and photographs of the property, and sought our permission for publicity. Typically, it’s been a family strategy to keep well below the radar, with only mild participation in social media, but we said okay. I think there might’ve been 100 quid in it.
As unnerving as it was to see our family and house splashed across the pages, what really shocked was the commentary.
“Claire and John seem like a couple for whom all is going well”, it read. John is a business consultant in the City and Claire is a psychologist, but they had unwittingly fallen into a trap in the London property market. They had bought a property that they would quickly outgrow”… it read.
The reality was very different. Had they probed they would have found out that far from unwittingly buying a small house, it was always our intention to save up and expand into the loft. Also, far from everything seeming to go well, Claire was recovering from surgery to remove cancer, and I was about to quit my lucrative city job and move the whole family to Oxford so I could train for ordination.
Of course, it is the writer of the article who had fallen into a trap. One that we all fall into. Our perceptions, and reality, are often entirely different things. What we see often does not equate with what is actually there.
So much of our view of ourselves, our view of others and our view of the world is through a lens clouded by our own judgements and expectations.
We often don’t see ourselves as we truly are, or indeed other people as they truly are.
This disconnect between our perceptions and reality, was starkly illustrated in an encounter programme I was involved in, a few years ago in Johannesburg, where I was living.
During the weekend, people from all backgrounds came together. Wealthy people from the Northern Suburbs, unemployed people from Soweto and many in-between. The weekend workshop facilitated deep conversations, connections. Participants were encouraged to be honest, to open their hearts to the other. It was a safe place to show vulnerability and to engage with others in a loving and open way.
At the end of the weekend, one woman stood up to say how wonderful it had been for her. She spoke about seeing people of a different race in a new way. She said at last, “It is a pity it is not like this out there, in the real world.”
What was plain for all to see was, this was the real world. Real people coming together in a real way. The imaginary world was the one where she had spent most of her life, blinkered. Not seeing all there was to see. In letting go of her preconceived ideas about others, and herself, a new way of being with the world was starting to emerge.
While our ability to see is often hindered, Christ sees us as we really and truly are. A God that knows how many hairs there are on our head, knows us from top to toe. There is nothing that can be hidden, and nothing that we need to hide.
In our reading today, Jesus is at home in Capernaum. I imagine it is Peter’s home, and he is inundated with people wanting to be near him. His words are new and fresh, and he is healing people. And then suddenly some young guys start dismantling his roof, to lower down their friend who is paralysed. We know the story well.
What is remarkable here, is not that Jesus heals him. We’re expecting that. But his first words to the young man are “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Jesus knows that the first healing that needs to take place, is not the thing everyone is assuming.
We do not know what the man’s sins were. We do not know anything about him, other than he was paralysed. But Jesus did. Jesus saw all of him, Jesus looked on him with love, and tenderness and knowing. He had his own agenda and it came before the physical healing.
Today is Candlemas when the 40 day old Jesus is presented at the temple. Simeon receives him and when holding the baby Jesus he says the “inner thoughts of many will be revealed”. With Christ there is transparency and truth.
The healing that Jesus offers the young man, is more than just enabling him to walk. He offers a deeper healing, a holistic healing that transforms, not just fixes.
When we come before Jesus we come before the one who knows us best, sees us as we are, sees what work needs to be done. Knows what to heal, and when, and how.
When we come before Jesus we do so in the context of a relationship. And our healing is part of that relationship, part of the spiritual journey we are on. All we can do is come before the Father, and leave it up to him. His time, his ways, his leading.