Palm Sunday

I laughed out loud in the car. This wasn’t a smile or a grin but a laugh that went for a few miles. I’m still smiling as I type. Not sure why it tickled me so much – after all, it was just a lady walking her dog. There was nothing remarkable as I drove up – she was on the footpath walking the way I was going – I took the scene in as drivers do – the lady and the dog (a little one) in a blink of an eye. The dog had a collar and as I got closer I could see one of those retractable lead gadgets. I passed her and slowed ever so slightly near the dog. I could see the collar and the lead coming from it but what I didn’t expect was that the dog was holding the retractable gadget in its mouth! It was on a leash but free to roam. For all I knew that lady wasn’t walking her dog! The dog might have been taking itself for a walk!

Click! The snapshot image in my brain of a little dog walking energetically along the footpath, collared, leashed but with the controls in its mouth is a picture of humanity. We know that complete freedom is only for hermits and even then they should be on a deserted island! For the rest of us, living in communities whether formed by DNA (families) or geography (countries) or faith (that can cross over families and countries and most other boundaries) we know that freedom – the idea and ability for me to do what I want when I want – always has boundaries and limits. We recognise the need for such boundaries and limits – for reigning in behaviour – for curbing desire – so that anarchy doesn’t ensue and life is hopefully peaceful and prosperous for all. We know this – that laws are necessary and important.

Yet people also want to be able to fit them to themselves. Laws are fine for everyone else but if anyone needs some leeway, some flexibility, some room to move, then people claim that for them-selves. If we break the rules, we have special reasons – which of course are always valid. People can be scrupulous about some rules and flagrant about others. I’m not just talking personal behav-iour as history is replete with examples of groups who bend the rules to themselves or who believe they are above the rules – think some dimensions of government, banking, law enforcement, church bureaucracy – and the reasons for the phrase ‘who watches the watchmen’? We can be like little dogs running off with a leash in our mouths.

And when it comes to God, then our nature as human beings really is for God to fit into our plans and views of the world. Gods exist all over this world – despite what atheists hope. Whether they are our creations or a recognition that the true God does indeed exist, people want their God to conform to them, to be in their image. He can have whatever rules he likes, as long as we have the final say about interpretation. We want the controls in our mouths.

However such control – like freedom – is an illusion. We discover our limitations – not the least being death – and carve out a place or a path for ourselves and try to be free and in control of that as much as possible – and that isn’t much. The little dog was free to run under my car. I’m glad it didn’t. We can’t control the behaviour of those around us. (And isn’t it so annoying when people do the ‘wrong’ things, ie. not what we say?!) But we do have something to do with our own behaviour. Yes, do’s and don’ts and boundaries can help us with our behaviour but they aren’t foolproof or perfect. What best governs our behaviour is the rela-tionship we have with the people around us.

It’s the same with God. Depending on your relation-ship, he/she/they are to be feared, avoided, ignored, placated, and so on. It is only when God has revealed himself – made contact – and established a relation-ship with us, that we can know him personally. And when Jesus at his birth lies in a feed trough and rides a donkey as liberator and sits on his throne in the shape of a cross wearing a crown made of thorns, then you have a God doing the unthinkable – justify-ing the ungodly and giving them life with him. That relationship changes everything! No need for a leash – not really – when we follow our Lord’s voice.  — GS