MAF Copywriter and Editor Gary Clayton wonders whether men should take their cue from Jesus – or Henry Paget.
Satan, I think, has a number of plans for men. One, of course, revolves around hate. He hates all men, and he particularly hates those who follow Jesus – however imperfectly.
So if he can get one religion, sect, country, creed, colour or race fighting against another, so much the better. It doesn’t matter whether it’s White against Black, Scots versus English, Protestants versus Catholics, rich against poor, North against South, the House of York vs the House of Lancaster, Remainers vs Leavers, Hutu against Tutsi, Nuer against Dinka, or Gentiles against Jews.
But then there’s another ‘plan’ – equally pernicious in its way – for men to live lives as if each one were an island, and their lives as an Englishman’s castle (or dungeon), where one’s hopes, fears, struggles and problems remain locked up, and where men feel they cannot call out or seek help.
– All making for a relentless existence of stiff upper lips and permanent scowls.
A good illustration of this, I think, can be seen in an incident from the life of Henry Paget – an example of a somewhat extreme form of stoicism and restraint. (If it’s possible to have such an antithetical concept as ‘extreme restraint’ or, say, ‘measured panic’.)
Henry Paget – the Marquess of Anglesey – and the Duke of Wellington were sitting on their horses, conversing, while the battle of Waterloo raged on.
When a shot from a French cannon suddenly hit Lord Uxbridge’s right leg, shattering it upon impact, Paget turned to the Iron Duke, and said, ‘By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!’ Wellington turned and replied matter-of-factly, ‘By God, sir, so you have!’
The diagnosis may have been uncannily accurate, but there’s little empathy, sympathy or offer to help!
It’s an approach to life which probably extends to the end-of-service atmosphere of certain 21st century churches in Britain, where the minister stands at the door, asks everyone how they are, and expects them all to respond, “Fine!”
(Unfortunately, in nine cases out of ten, ‘F-i-n-e’ generally stands for ‘Frightened, insecure, neurotic and emotional’!)
When my wife and I first visited our local Bible-believing church, we were feeling pretty vulnerable: we’d lost our jobs; suffered bereavement; had the stress of helping my grieving mother adapt to life without my dad, then experienced ill health – though mercifully, not life-threatening.
Despite not wanting to appear vulnerable, we sought help and friendship (it was that kind of fellowship) and found it, even though it wasn’t the reason we’d joined. But I remember it took a fair bit of courage to open up and admit I was finding things difficult.
But here’s the thing: we think our problems, quirks, sins or foibles make us different from others. That, if only people knew what we’re really like, they’d avoid us, despise us, and think the worst of us. That they’d look down on our weakness and vulnerability, then look away.
But that’s the enemy’s lie!
We all have our struggles. We’re human, we’re vulnerable. And, as a result, we all need to give and receive help, love and support. To provide, in a phrase borrowed from Mission Aviation Fellowship, ‘help, hope and healing’.
As the late President John F Kennedy famously said, shortly before his life ended and a host of conspiracy theories began: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.”
So, is being vulnerable bad, or is it part of what makes us human? Was Jesus, in His humanity, vulnerable?
Did Jesus, who started life on this earth as a fragile child and knew danger, exile, thirst, tiredness and hunger, allow His disciples and friends to see His vulnerability?
In John 15:15, He told the disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.”
In His humanity, Jesus exposed Himself to deprivation and temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-2), and He faced danger from crowds, who picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:59).
He risked derisive laughter. Matthew 9:23-24 tells us: ‘When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, He said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.’
He risked showing His feelings after His friend Lazarus’ death: ‘When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” He asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said: “See how He loved him!” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb’ (John 11:32-38).
We see a similarly non-Wellingtonian response in Luke 19:41-42. ‘As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”’
But Jesus’ vulnerability doesn’t end there. He also faced rejection and desertion from His own disciples.
In John 6:66-67, having told the crowd they must ‘eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood’, many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the twelve – which is a pretty vulnerable thing to ask!
And of course, at Gethsemane, Jesus faced up to the agony and humiliation of Calvary. ‘Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me”’ (Matthew 26:38). He tells His disciples how He feels.
Of course, apart from the example of Jesus, Scripture provides a number of examples that show the disciples’ own humanity, vulnerability and strong emotions.
So perhaps there’s something in Jesus’ openness, transparency and willingness to be vulnerable that we can learn from.
One of the things I appreciate most about some of my closest friends is their willingness to be open and honest; their ability to be vulnerable – and to allow me to be vulnerable too.
My encouragement to Keep the Faith’s readers, based on Jesus’ example, is to be willing to risk openness – when and where appropriate – yourselves!
Pray about what’s troubling you, seek God’s counsel, then share your burdens, concerns and struggles in an appropriate way with someone you trust – whether it’s a friend, elder, pastor, youth leader or fellow church member.
Look around for someone that God, in His eternal lovingkindness, may have put in your path. Someone who is able – and willing – to pray with you and support you. (In time, as you yourself ‘find your feet’, you will find yourself able to support and assist others.)
It’s something, as I said earlier, that we’ve experienced in our church, and it’s something for which we are profoundly grateful.
It has enabled us to rise from the dirt and stand on our own two legs again – an experience denied to the otherwise unflappable Henry Paget.
Gary Clayton is married to Julie, and father of Christopher (14) and Emma (11). He is Copywriter and Editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). To learn how MAF aircraft help some of the world’s poorest and most isolated people in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, visit www.maf-uk.org.