Get out of the water?

Have you seen the film ‘Jaws’?  Are you old enough to remember it the first time it came out. What a scary film that was. Even going to the swimming pool was a little frightening after seeing that. After two people are killed by the great white shark, the police chief closes the beaches, but he is overruled by the Mayor who wants them open, he doesn’t want to damage trade on the 4th of July, the busiest day of the year. Despite all the evidence and the warnings, the packed beach stays open and the shark claims another victim. The shark is an unseen killer lurking, who knows where, beneath the surface, the spine-tingling music by John Williams indicates to the viewer that he is getting close.

The police chief is driven by concerns for public safety and the politician by consideration of the local economy. Both have different priorities. There is the same tension in dealing with the pandemic now. No doubt there will, in time, be a colossal enquiry into how the pandemic has been handled and motives for action will be held to account.

In today’s gospel readint (Matthew 10.26-33), Jesus says  ‘everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear.’  Jesus’ mission was initially rather furtive and clandestine. He told those whom he healed not to tell anyone what he had done for them. He kept his true identity concealed because he knew the danger of declaring himself the Messiah too soon. He had to bide his time.

The Book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is not always easy to discern. One has to admire the Chinese doctor, Li Wen Liang who issued warnings in Wuhan about the new virus but was silenced by the Chinese authorities and then contracted and died from the virus. He knew he had to speak up, even if the might of the Chinese state came down on him. Dr Wenliang spoke with a prophetic voice.

Speaking with a prophetic voice, following your conscience and saying what needs to be said, can leave you isolated. The prophet Jeremiah experienced great suffering as a result of the warnings and denunciations he gave to the people of Judah. He suffered the loss of friends who turned against him. But his stark warnings were given out of love for his people. He spoke the truth in love, as recommended by St Paul.

There is a saying that goes ‘don’t trouble trouble, till trouble troubles you.’ That is a wise saying, who wants unnecessary trouble in their lives? But there is a danger that our silence means collusion with what is wrong, we do not challenge it, or call it out. The argument of many in the 'Black Lives Matter' movement is that silence on racism means condoning it.

However these movements can in themselves become rather oppressive, and shut down free speech. Some issues become so sensitive that we cannot have a free and open discussion of them. If you challenge the 'groupthink' in any way, you risk being condemned yourself. There is something rather disturbing about attempts to fillet history by tearing down statues. Is there much difference between these iconoclasts and the Taliban blowing up statues of Buddha in Afghanistan? The past is an easy target.

Jesus says, 'what is told in secret must be proclaimed from the roof tops'. He is not of course recommending the breaking of confidences and the spreading of gossip. He is telling the disciples that what he has taught them privately must be shared publicly. The gospel is not just for the select few, it is for all.

Jesus calls us to be children of light, to live our lives openly, and do nothing to be ashamed of. We should be prepared to stand corrected, to have our faults pointed out to us. And we should be thankful for those who are brave enough to do so.

When we feel moved to speak out, we need the bravery and courage of the prophet, but first we should check our motivation. Are we speaking the truth in love? Is our motivation to speak in such a way that will encourage and build up or  destroy and tear down?

What we say will have consequences. Staying silent may also have consequences. In each case, we should ask which is worse? It might help us to put ourselves in the position of the police chief on the beach: knowing what we know, do we warn people to get out of the water or do we stay silent and hope the shark turns away?