Sunday 23 February 2020: Next Before Lent
Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Context: a regular congregation in a village setting
Aim: to use a narrative form to demonstrate links between the Gospel passage and contemporary life
I remember hearing it at school. The Headmaster used to teach us himself – at least when he wasn’t busy with more important things Anyway, in this story it said Jesus’ face shone like the sun I doubt if any of the others gave it a second thought. Copy out what we were told – get out of the classroom as soon as you can. You know the set up. But for me. Well, I kind of wondered – perhaps cried a little, inwardly like, I wouldn’t want any of them to know.
No one has ever seen their own face. How often have I wished to God that were true? Sure, I know the physics - what you see in a mirror is a reflection – the wrong way round, all so subtlety coloured by the light and the quality of the glass. That’s good enough for most
– and too good for some of us. I’ve seen too much of my own face – back to front or not
How people stare – as if they can’t see enough. When you’re young, it’s the taunts that
get you. ‘Wart face.’ ‘Cabbage cheek.’ ‘Boot face.’ ‘Boot face! Boot face! Boot face!’ Timmy Gregory said he could see the holes where they’d sewed it on, my skin graft, like the holes for bootlaces.
‘Boot face! Boot face!’ How I hated him. I spent hours in front of the mirror. Trying to see the hole-marks he claimed to have seen. Rubbing the cream in that was supposed to make it all disappear. ‘Rub a little moisturiser around the edges, morning and evening. That’ll help it fade.’ I believed him, that doctor,- for about a month. When I couldn’t see it working with only two rub-ins a day. I took to taking the stuff to school, I’d go to the toilets or into the changing rooms, when no one was about. Find a mirror, and eagerly rub some more in.
‘Look at ‘im, “Now hands that do dishes can feel as soft as your face.”’ ‘That’s washing up liquid – don’t be stupid, this is something important – this is something that’ll make a
real difference – listen to me, listen, listen!’ ‘Boot face! Boot face!’ That was the end of cream rubbing. Words matter a lot to kids, but when you grow up it’s the staring.
People don’t say anything. They just stare. You can feel it you know, you can feel a stare.
It’s like one of those heat lamps. It burns into you – it has direction, almost force, it sears into you. But if you look back, in an instant they look somewhere else. ‘Oh, no it wasn’t me staring at you, I didn’t give you a glance, I wouldn’t be so rude, I treat everyone the same, it doesn’t matter to me what you look like, I’m cleverer than that, more considerate than that, more civilised than that. I’d never judge someone on a glance, not me.’ Hypocrite.
I see what happens when you open the door to me. When you rise from the desk to welcome me to the interview. When you usher me to the dinner table. When you call me from the waiting room. I see alright. The pupils of your eyes only move a fraction– but I’ve had the training. I read your face, like you think you’re reading mine.
You see ‘disfigured,’ and the me that is me starts to melt away. I am the scar you see –
that’s the threat. Every stare, every quick looking away, builds that wall I can’t get over. Disfigured. Boot face! Boot face! Boot face!
Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Turns his face towards the wall he can’t get over. They know that. To turn his face to Jerusalem will bring hurt and anger and bitterness – even death; disfiguring, devastating death. What will they see? The bruised and bleeding face of another fool who thought himself bigger than the powers that be. The filthy face of
dashed hopes and fraudulent smiles. That’s their fear – they hardly dare say it, except Peter, rash and loud-mouthed as ever. No, the rest, they won’t say it – but their faces betray them. They’ve got a mountain of fear to shift
Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem, and nothing they say or do will alter his course.
Have you seen those little fishing boats going back into the river harbour, through all those flows and eddies, mud banks and treacherous currents? The safe way is to move left, then
swing right, then further right, then back. And all the time the helmsman watches
the guiding lights on the estuary banks, tiller in hand – all the time his face towards those lights, his little boat shifting as if face and rudder are one. Face and course and guiding
Jesus has his guiding lights. Moses and Elijah they are. But then they have always been there – the Torah, the law of God has been Jesus’ inspiration since his childhood; and the prophetic voice that dares to name God’s purposes in the middle of life’s troubles and worries, has been his repeated effort. So much so, that when Jesus was around people would say, ‘It’s like Moses is back amongst us,’ or ‘Elijah the great prophet has been raised up, his call is coming loud and clear to us in Jesus.’ Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem, and the two who have been with him from the cradle will go with him. They will be with him to the very end. All the rest will run away – but once you’ve known, really known the likes of a Moses or Elijah, things are different forever, no matter what. His face shone
Is that why I remember the story? I was too young to get it, or was I? Didn’t I meet Moses?
When my Mum’s tear stained face stared down at me in the recovery room she saw me alive. Not Boot face. When my Gran nursed me through the months of recovery it was me she cared for – not the scar. That’s the law of love, the law of God, which reaches beyond the scar, beyond what disfigures, to where healing is. And the wall of separation and hurt comes tumbling down.
Is that why I remember the story? That day when Ken said to me, genuinely perplexed, ‘What scar?’ And I knew I had been judged solely on the basis of my character and my actions, not my looks. Isn’t that the voice of prophecy that looks to what is really
important? Did I meet Elijah in Ken, and Ralph, and Phyllis, and all those others who broke the spell of the scars and let me be me? Whose words and deeds did away with Boot face.
Dare I claim this story as mine? Dare I say that a Saviour turning his face towards Jerusalem turned towards a teenager’s scars? I think I may, for this one shining face smiles on all. No disfigured soul escapes his care. Every scarred life is significant to him. Each injury and affliction a grieving of his heart. Every disfigurement is to be transfigured. The Lord makes his face shine upon us, for his is gracious to us. No more Boot face.
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