There is an adage which has come back to bite me a few times, more so in recent years. The saying has its origins in scripture where we are reminded in Matthew’s gospel: “If we live by the sword we shall die by the sword”.
In more local terms it can be translated: “If you slag, you are going to get slagged too”. If you enjoy winding people up then be prepared to be wound up in return. So this week I got a valuable lesson in having to learn to take my oil. Last week I was all ‘gung-ho’ as I mentioned the fitness regime of one of my friends who has managed to lose a considerable amount of weight.
Having shed all the excess pounds, he keeps himself trim. Even in the name of aerodynamics he doesn’t allow what used to be a full head of hair to become an additional drag as he becomes ever more streamline as he cycles hills, climbs mountains and inhabits gyms.
Over the course of the last two years the Facebook community, me included, have received hourly updates from the fitness fanatic. In many respects he is a born again weight-watcher, a reformed salad dodger. So last week I kind of praised his efforts and when my sentiments appeared in print the die was cast.
As fate would determine, the setting for his revenge was none other than the aforementioned Facebook. Those familiar with the social networking site will be aware of the dangers of displaying photographs, or leaving yourself open to comment. People are afforded the opportunity to make comments about your pictures or in response to any statements you may have printed.
Your friends can even press a button to like the photograph you have posted. Usually you find photos published from weddings, birthdays, nights out on the town, and quiet days in the house, pictures also of unsuspecting family members, not to mention the scenes of unfortunate events and mishaps.
A Confirmation photograph which had appeared a few weeks ago on my homepage this week had now reappeared slightly doctored or altered. If my friend from the County had photo-shopped or adjusted the photograph to make me look six feet tall or like George Clooney I wouldn’t have minded too much. Of course this wasn’t the name of the game and I have to give him ten out of ten for his initiative in light of the revelations from Rome in the last week.
What had once been an innocent Confirmation photograph had now been turned into a political campaign. Superimposed in the photo was a placard or a sign which was now being held by me. On the sign it read and I quote: “I have been told by the Vatican if I get 10,000 likes, they will make me Pope”. The only reality more disappointing than getting only 200 likes on my Facebook page, a mere 9,000 or so short, was the frightening realisation that many people thought I was serious about the campaign and had genuinely posted the photograph myself.
As we begin the season of Lent we are asked to reflect on Jesus being led out into the wilderness. After many days of prayer and fasting when he is at his weakest, Jesus is tempted by the devil. It is in the desert far removed from our confront zones, when life is reduced to basics we discover our true selves.
Ron Rolheisier concludes: “In the desert Jesus deprived himself of all physical supports that protected him from feeling, full force, his vulnerability, dependence, and need to surrender in deeper trust to God. And in doing this, we are told, he found himself hungry and consequently vulnerable to temptations from the devil but also, by that same token, more open to God. The desert, by taking away the securities and protections of ordinary life, strips us bare and leaves us naked, both before God and the devil”.
We have to rid ourselves of all the masks and distractions which prevent us from being honest with ourselves. Only when we understand our weakness and limitations can we ask for God’s help.
Only when we’re conscious of what motivates our actions and shapes our desires can we pray for God’s healing and ask for his mercy and forgiveness. We have to strip away all our false ambitions and desires for power, revenge, greed and control. Only in honest humility can we recognise our own brokenness and imperfections and allow God to fill the gaps and mend the hurts.
As sinners before God we ask for the courage and the strength to allow this Lenten season to be a time of renewal when we learn again to trust and celebrate the mercy of God. Shaped and formed by God’s love for us we ask for the generosity to forgive one another, letting go of past hurts and releasing one another from the chains of guilt and shame.