St Swithun, Hither Green     

21st April 2016

‘A Truer Beauty’



In London’s Tate-Britain Gallery there’s a well-known picture by Sir John Millais. It’s called Christ in the House of His Parents. It shows Jesus as a young boy in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, learning the family trade from St Joseph, his foster-father. At first sight it seems as though we are looking an ideal, harmonious family at ease with itself: the sort of family we’d all wish to belong to.

But a closer look at the picture shows that the Boy Jesus has just had an accident with a carpenter’s chisel and cut his hand badly. So instead of seeing a family at ease, we see a family in crisis. But that misfortune has brought out the very best in each of its members, each of whom sees it as his (or her) responsibility to face the demands that the accident is placing on them. His Mother is there at Jesus’ side to support Him (as she would do again on Calvary); St Joseph is looking anxiously at the wound; and we can almost hear him saying, “You must be more careful, my Boy! Those tools are very sharp.”

Those of us who have been privileged to minister to Len and his family through his final illness can testify that such crises bring out the very best in everyone involved – not least the family itself. Living and learning and growing up and dying – even if we do such things in an ideal family – all involve suffering. That’s a lesson everyone needs to learn early in life; otherwise we shall grow up with a perpetual ‘chip’ on our shoulder and find ourselves constantly bearing a grudge against somebody or something (even perhaps against God Himself!) every time we get hurt, or face disappointment.

Len was the least likely person to bear a grudge – against God or Man. This was because he had, to the end of his life, an unshakeable faith in the providence and love of God. In a fallen world, where things often go wrong; where failure and success follow one another with bewildering regularity; a world in which our fellow-men often ‘let us down’, and where everyone’s life (including our own) ends in death: God’s gracious gift to us, of an unshakeable faith in His divine goodness is one of the most priceless things on earth that we can possess.

Len had that quality – and it made him someone to whom one instinctively turned in a crisis. Whether it was a leaky roof, a tap that wouldn’t turn off, a burst pipe, a broken window or the thousand other things that houses are heir to, my family’s first reaction was to say ‘Let’s call Len he’ll be able to fix it’. And he was, and he did. At whatever inconvenience, Len would soon turn up to put things right!

The Lens of this world have a valuable lesson to teach us about God’s love. Try to imagine this world as being God’s workshop, and you and me as the materials He has to work with. God’s Plan, from the moment of our conception and throughout our earthly lives, has been to change us from the natural beings we were at our birth, into the super-natural beings He always intended us to become.

Change involves pain – and being changed by God is no exception; but when our Creator has finished His work on us, we shall discover, as Len is undoubtedly doing now, the incomparable joy that we are fulfilling the end for which God created us – namely to glorify Him and to enjoy Him for ever.

Which brings us back where we started – the Carpenter’s Shop and the wounded hand of God Incarnate. Becoming perfect involves suffering – even for God Incarnate!

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, Master Carpenter of Nazareth, who on the Cross with wood and nails hast wrought man’s full salvation, wield well thy tools in this thy workshop, that we, who come to thee rough-hewn, may be fashioned to a truer beauty by thy hand; for thy name and glory’s sake. Amen.    

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