There is a television story, Reasonable Doubts, about a woman defence lawyer representing a man convicted of brutal assaults. This man was asking the Parole Board to release him after serving a 14 year prison sentence. The lawyer was successful and the man was released.
A policeman who was present at the original crime scenes gave the lawyer a rough time after the hearing, telling her she shouldn’t represent such people. This man was nothing but scum.
Subsequently, the police officer discovered that the lawyer’s mother had died from cancer the day before the hearing. So, the next time he saw her he apologised. I’m sorry, if I had known your mother had died I would have been easier on you.
Another figure in the story – the prosecutor, who had been the main star in the original trials, also gave the lawyer a hard time for representing the man before the parole board. He, too, later heard about the death of the lawyer’s mother.
So, the next time the prosecutor saw the defence lawyer he also apologised. Sorry, If I had known I would have been easier on you.
Such stories can make us think about how often we do and say such things, If only I had known…
In fact it happens all the time – in the normal bustle of daily living: – when we fail to recognize what is happening around us:
– when we are not in touch with what might be happening for others.
– when we are moving too fast, or feeling in need of help ourselves.
Sometimes we load up other people with our burdens, pouring out our complaints and troubles, only to discover later that the person is dealing with their own emotional burden, a burden far heavier than our own..
Sometimes we ask someone to do this or that thing, without considering their work load. We can assume that the other person is, or should be, willing to help us, only to discover later that they are overburdened perhaps because of a sick colleague, or a family member in hospital.
Other times we may, in good humour, tease someone, thinking we know them well enough for that to be ok, only to discover later that he or she is extremely sensitive about the very thing we thought was safe to tease them about. And we realize we’ve blown it – we have acted inappropriately. Like the policeman, like the prosecutor, we too, may take the opportunity to talk to the person concerned. In almost every case we say something like: I didn’t know. If I had known, I would not have asked you, if I had known, I would not have bothered you, if I had known, I would not have said that.
If only I had known….
Today is the final Sunday of the Church Year. Next Sunday will be Advent Sunday. On this Sunday we are asked to remember that Jesus is Lord, our King, if you like. I can’t help thinking that when it comes to honouring The Christ, when it comes to our willingness to show him our respect, many of us end up making the same mistake with him that we make with other people: we blunder ahead on a business as usual basis, being casual, abrupt, insensitive – until, all of sudden it seems, we realize that something special may be going on. If only I had known….
What is this – If only I had known excuse anyway?
I think it is a genuine sort of excuse. People are usually very sincere, even mortified by their blunder, when they offer their apology, but does it really count for a lot in the long run? Shouldn’t we be caring and loving and respectful all the time?
Shouldn’t we always pay attention to where people are at, before we say or do something; pay attention to the situations people are in?
And shouldn’t we honour the Christ all the time, not just at special times and Sunday morning?
Think of the crucifixion of Jesus for a moment – that passage we heard read a few minutes ago. Just about everyone present in the scene in Luke, from the guards and the pharisees, to the thief on the cross beside him, taunted Jesus, saying to him: If you are the Messiah, if you are the king, then save yourself – and save us.
It’s pretty obvious from the gospel story that none of these people recognized Jesus for who he was: so it seems, this meant they could abuse him, as they might abuse any convicted criminal. To them nothing special was going on, just the execution of trouble makers and rabble raisers.
It was simply business as usual, business without thinking, business without considering what it was that God would want from them, whether or not this man on the cross was the Messiah – or simply a misguided fool.
If those who acted this way at the foot of the cross could come back and stand before Christ today – would they say to him: I’m sorry, Jesus, I didn’t know. If I had known I would have been easier on you. If I had known I would have taken your part like the other thief took your part. If I had known I would have wept for you instead of jeering at you.
So, what does it mean to claim that Jesus is our Messiah, our Lord, our King if you are comfortable with the royal imagery? Does it mean we are to act differently?
Does it mean we are to show him respect, and to strive to honour him and serve him at all times?
But what happens when he isn’t sitting on a throne, is not announcing his presence among us with trumpets?
What happens when we don’t recognize that our God and Lord is actually here among us?
Cast your mind back to a Good Friday reading from Isaiah 53, to what the Prophet said about the Messiah. He had no form of majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him –
and so it was he was despised and rejected by others,
a man of suffering and acquainted with grief.
If only we had known.
We claim the presence of Jesus, the Christ, here in our world, somewhere in our communities, somewhere in our faith communities, somewhere in this community.
As Isaiah says, He has no form of majesty about him that we should look at him, nothing about his appearance that we desire him — But he is here.
We owe him – we owe him our praise, our service, our special honour and care, not just at worship on Sunday morning, but in each minute of each day, as we go about our normal daily business. He is there.
None of us can really say – if only I had known,
For we do know – we know we are called to live with respect and care for all whom we meet, every day, for as the story of the Guru and the Abbot says – Christ is among us. AMEN.