by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
One of the things I love most about the Christmas story ever since I was a child is the way in which God makes heroes out of the least expected characters – be they single mums, smelly uncouth shepherds or star-gazing foreigners. What’s more, I soon learnt that those you assumed ought to be “good”, like powerful Kings, were anything but – just like the villains in a pantomime.
It helped me understand that things are never quite what they seem in God’s upside-down kingdom.
As I got older I also began to understand that those we deemed the “bad guys” seldom saw themselves as the “baddies”. I mean, take the religious leaders of the time – they were convinced that they were saving the Jewish faith from a false preacher who had come to usurp the law. They truly believed they were the good guys, and were used to being perceived as such in the face of the pagan Romans.
The Gospels go out of their way to continually make this point.
Those who ought to have been the wise, kind, spiritual mentors of the people turn out to be more obsessed with being “right” than being open to what God was doing right there and then amongst them. They were more in love with defending the law as “they had received it” rather than being open to what the Holy Spirit was doing amongst them in their generation. Their longed for Messiah was standing right in front of them, fulfilling all that they had read about and studied, and yet they just couldn’t see it – despite all the loving acts and miracles that were done in their presence.
All, that is, save Nicodemus. As John explains there was at least one religious leader who recognised who Jesus was and sought him out, even if it was under cover of darkness. He humbly braved everything in the process – particularly his standing amongst his peers – and in doing so found himself challenged to be “born again” of the Spirit. He would no doubt have been labelled unsound by his colleagues on the Sanhedrin for doing this, but as we learn later in the Gospel it was a price he was more than willing to pay for the prize of being true to the God he worshipped.
To be fair, nobody I think likes being seen as the “bad guy”, especially when they think they are actually the “good guys” who are just being severely misunderstood. History shows us they normally create a narrative that says that they are in fact victims and that this is the cross they bear for being ‘true believers’. I wonder if that’s what the religious leaders in Jesus’ day did amongst their friends?
In fact, I wonder how many got to a point – perhaps at or after his death when there were so many signs and wonders – of realising that they were in fact wrong? Did they repent? Or were they too fixated on trying to prove they were right and everyone else was wrong? Or maybe just too proud?
We all know the type. There is a hardness that seems to descend, a stubborn outer shell that seems to be formed that is impervious to logic or truth. A friend of mine calls it “the voice of no negotiation”.
I wonder, what does it take for someone like that to admit that they might have been mistaken?
This has got me reflecting on what was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, where I had to admit at some cost that I was wrong. There have been several but the one that comes to mind immediately is one that at the time I greatly feared would lose me both my job and my career.
It was during my first year at Procter & Gamble when I was working on the multimillion dollar Fairy Liquid Defence plan against Unilever, which would become know in the trade as the great “Soap Sud War”. It was a year of intense promotional activity, which had given me significant exposure to the company’s Senior Management Team and was something extremely unusual for someone of my junior level. Given the millions we were having to spend to protect the brand, we needed the most senior managers in the company to sign off and agree our plans.
On the way to the Board Room on what has to be the most nerve wracking presentation of my life, I suddenly realised with a great sinking feeling that I had made a major miscalculation in the budget. This was even more embarrassing given the fact that I was a mathematics graduate from Cambridge, and should have known better than anyone how to do the calculations. It was a mistake that meant our plans were out by quite literally millions.
I tried to get my bosses attention, but he had already gone into the intimidating boardroom and was seated at the head of the table and was waving at me to sit next to him. I tried to whisper under my breath that we had a problem, but he just motioned me to be silent. I realised that I had a choice – either I needed to own up in front of the whole Senior Management Team that I had made a terrible mistake, or I needed to just stay silent and let the problem be discovered at a later time. I remember feeling sick to the stomach and could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I decided I couldn’t possibly let this expensive error go unnoticed – it would probably cost me my job, but I didn’t want my boss to ultimately blamed. It had been a genuine mistake, made in good faith, but it was still wrong.
So I sat there and stutteringly explained that I realised there had been a significant miscalculation.
I remember my General Manager (my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss) staring at me and then over at my boss, who was looking at me as if he would explode. I wondered if I should just get up and leave.
And then something happened that I will remember for the rest of my life – the General Manager sat back and smiled. Looking me straight in the eyes he congratulated me for having had the guts to own up to my mistake, and for being willing to take the rap. He explained that it was an easy mistake to make, and that none of us were infallible. Yes, the plans would cost the company a significant amount of money, however they were still the right thing to do. We proceeded and “won”. I got promoted. It seemed honesty and courage was valued far more than being “right”.
I believe that God values that too – far more than we know. Honesty, courage and I believe humility.
For “He chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the things that are weak to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
It’s an upside down world. Always.