I am staring at a blank sheet of paper – or rather a computer screen, seriously wondering what will happen next, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Normally at this stage, there is a theme which I want to expand upon, but now there is really very little – except this: that what I have to offer is an emptiness, in that I have few ideas or themes of my own that I want to explore. This time there is no agenda or pressing issue, and I generally try to avoid those that are in today’s news in favour of asking questions about how we develop our understanding in today’s culture without compromising or distorting the things that guide our faith. Last month’s comment was written some 12 days before the magazine came out and three days before the chemical attacks of 21 August in Syria.
The normal course of life is about developing ourselves and exploring and then fulfilling our potential. Indeed Jesus grew up in a carpenter’s workshop, learning the tools and materials of Joseph’s craft. He would also have learned about sourcing his timber, and of course getting commissions.
But an essential part of His mission was also about emptying Himself. His temptations after His baptism could have led Him into public welfare and charity (“Command that these stones be made bread”), or politics (“All these lands I will give you, and their glory”) or indeed showmanship (“Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple”). The road He did choose was one of self-giving and self-emptying. He had nowhere to lay His head, no guarantee of food or clothing or safety. More than that, He was wholly taken up with obeying His Father’s command and commission. He would make no claim on home, family or friends. His teaching would be what He had been given to say, His works would be in response to the needs of others, and His lifestyle and teaching would attract constant criticism.
And yet, and yet, and yet: no one else had given such teaching as this, for He taught as one with authority. The word about His miracles spread far and wide. His words would penetrate the deepest thoughts and desires of His listeners, and His works would wholly astonish those about Him (“Just what kind of man IS this?”).
Jesus fulfilled Himself all right but He did so by denying Himself – and that was the very route to His growing up from childhood into the fullness of manhood that God always wanted Him to enter. He did so by denial and even suffering, and His hidden years are probably hidden so that we may not pry or speculate. Such is the emptying of Jesus, a self-giving which reached its climax on the cross.
For us there is much hurt and perplexity when things fail us and life turns against us. Some lose their faith entirely while others become bitter, distrustful and resentful, losing their humour and joy and peace in the process. And part of our mission is to recognise when things do not go as we had hoped – and then to yield the adversity into the merciful hands of God, that He might take the matter, bless it, break it and give it back to us in portions that we can handle.
“Thy will be done” certainly has a depth to it that we will have to pray and meditate upon thought the whole of life.