When I began work in the Lord Chancellor’s Department (as it was then) many years ago, a senior colleague told me I had bagged a good posting as my first job. In outlining its many blessings, he added a phrase that struck me as much less than encouraging; ‘unreasonable expectations’.
I did not then, and I do not now, think that unreasonable expectations are a positive thing to look for in a job. They are, however, unavoidable, and I fear increasingly so. We are, it seems to me, placing one another under ever more pressure to live up to ideals of how we look, how we behave, how we speak and how we think and I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t remember agreeing to be judged against these standards.
The unreasonable expectations of others may only be the tip of the iceberg, however. When we consider the expectations we have for ourselves, and the harshness of the judgements we execute on ourselves for failing to live up to them, what other people demand may seem trivial in comparison. In pastoral ministry, we often encounter people who have been crushed by their sense of failure to live up to the standards that they have set themselves.
It’s easy to read the Bible as just another set of unreasonable expectations. If we do that, we may end up with a ‘triple-whammy’ of condemnation – from God, from others, and from ourselves.
Thankfully that is entirely the wrong way to read the Bible. B-I-B-L-E is not an acronymn for ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’, whatever you may have heard, and indeed the ‘instructions’ we find in its pages are much better understood as invitations and promises.
Human beings who know themselves to be created and loved by God, who are secure in the faith that their eternal destiny is safe in God’s hands, are people whose sole priority is to stay where they are. ‘Remain in me’ says Jesus in today’s gospel reading, which is again offered to us on Wednesday. The disciplines of prayer, theological reflection and sacramental worship are what enable this to happen. And the promise that follows from it is that we will bear fruit. Living well, in the richest possible sense, is something that happens quite naturally when people are in a good relationship with God.
This isn’t easy, of course, but it’s not an unreasonable expectation, just a very simple invitation. God reaches out to us at all times and in every place, each and every moment filled with the possibility of grace. Those who accept this invitation discover freedom and joy and find that it transcends the expectations of the world around us, as well as those that we place on ourselves. Being drawn into the eternal life of God is where we discover that who we were created to be, who we are and who we want to be are being made one in Christ.
May God bless you all,