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Mirror, mirror on the wall


01 May 2005 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

NT: James 1.22-27; Gospel: John 16.23b-33

There is one thing that most (if not all) of us have done this morning - however briefly - and that's look in a mirror: whether to comb our hair, apply make-up, shave, or just check that we look how we think we want to look, or aught to look….

And what did you see? Was it your 'natural face', as St James in this morning's Epistle puts it? Taking the image a little further, but giving it a perceptive, rather cunning twist, James suggests that when we see ourselves in a mirror, we are apt to go off 'and straightway forget what kind of person we were'!

When you find that familiar face looking back at you from a mirror, does it give you any hint of the kind of person you are? And if it does, how comfortable are you living with that memory throughout the day? It's a question worth pondering, because your answer, according to James, indicates whether or not you are deceiving yourself.

Your answer will also tell you whether you are a 'doer' or just a 'hearer' of the Word. Self-deception is a crippling affliction; and however common it may be, it's effect can be corrosive on us as individuals, but also for society at large. It's no accident that "trust" has become one of the key issues in the current election campaign.

However, we need to be mindful that the more we desire or demand trust of others, be they politicians, people in our church, or even members of our own families, the more we need to check ourselves from falling prey to the same complaint.

The most effective remedy is to keep before us what James describes as 'the perfect law of liberty', the law that sets people free. Not the restrictive, oppressive law which Jesus criticised the religious and political leaders of his day for laying upon people to keep them subservient, but rather the live-giving law which sets people free, free from injustice, ignorance, rejection, exclusion, poverty, from all that denies the God-given dignity of being fully human.

To 'look into' that law, and to 'continue therein', rather than just pay lip service to it, heedless of its real significance, to make the teachings of Christ part of yourself, and to put them into practice, that brings God's blessing. As I've observed the coverage of the election campaign, I've been struck by the attention being given to those who seem to have no social concern, and have become jaded or cynical, and who say that won't be casting a vote on Thursday, because they have no faith in any of the parties or candidates, or the electoral system. That's a sad comment. It's also a cop out.

For those of us who claim the name of Christian, and the dignity of children of God, it matters a great deal what kind of society we live in, and the kind of people we choose to represent us in parliament, and the values they espouse.

In coming to our decision on whom to vote for - whatever it may be - it is important for us to analyse the priorities and values the competing candidates are enticing us with. Our Archbishop was surely right, very early on in the campaign, to call upon all the parties to avoid playing on the electorate's fears.

But it is equally important for us to be wary of appeals, however subtle or attractive, to selfishness, personal convenience or comfort, unfair advantage, or policies that may lead to social divisiveness.

All of us are all too prone to be deceived by others, not because we are foolish or gullible, but because we all have the capacity to deceive ourselves. St James knew this, as did the original readers of his letter, as have readers ever since, as I hope do you and I.

The next time you are looking in the mirror, take just a moment to look deeper than your natural face, to register the kind of person you are. And then ask yourself how comfortable you are having the company of that person throughout the day, in all the situations you are likely to find yourself. It may provide just the incentive you need to become a doer, rather than remain just a hearer of the Word….

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