Passing by on the other side

Jan 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Ministry

Dr Stewart looked around the classroom. “Well, lads”, (it was all lads in those days), “I’ve taught you all I know . . . and you still know nothing”.

It was a self-deprecatory remark with which he would conclude every year. (His other trade mark comment was made in a Scots accent at the end of each class, “Well, that’ll do for the noo”; no-one ever knew from where the line had come).

Memories of his classes are happy ones; the New Testament Greek he taught still remains in the memory long after not only other people’s lectures, but even the name of the lecturers have been forgotten.

Would that other things would stick so firmly.

Walking along the seafront in the late afternoon in a sweater, open-necked shirt and fleece, a man walking the other way made direct eye contact.  Not wearing a clerical collar, there seemed no need for a token smile and nod; he must have been mistaken and assumed it was someone else.

“Hello, reverend”, he said as we passed.

Too late to appear sociable and to pretend recognition; a “Hi!” was hurriedly muttered.

“Do you know that man?” came the question.

There was nothing about him that was remotely familiar. “No”.

“Well, he knows you. That’s what comes of wearing your collar on a walk”.

I turned and pointed out that sweater, jeans and fleece made one indistinguishable from everyone else on a January afternoon, and that I was not wearing a clerical shirt.

There was a disconcerting feeling.  A complete stranger knew who I was and was confident enough in his recognition to offer a passing greeting.  He even knew I was Protestant, otherwise he would have used “Father”.

The man had appeared, at best, down at heel, and had been slighted by someone from whom he might have expected at least a sympathetic “Hello”.

Perhaps Dr Stewart was right, some of us still know nothing.  Not because of anyone’s failure to teach us, but because of our failure learn, or, more precisely, my failure to learn.  Reading Tolstoy’s Papa Panov’s Christmas during Advent, in which Papa Panov unwittingly meets Jesus in all the people he helps; there should have been consciousness that whatever one does to someone less fortunate, one does to Christ.

Wearing or not wearing a collar should have been irrelevant; the man should have been greeted as another human being and not passed by without a word.

Dr Stewart, my apologies; there are times when I am too stupid even to recognize Jesus.

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  1. Ian, why are you so hard on yourself? I am sure that you were deep in thought in the moments before that man addressed you.

    Clergy are allowed a time for rest and reflection, otherwise they would be no good to anyone.

  2. I think if I had been deep in thought, it would have been okay. I looked directly at the man and thought, ‘why’s he looking at me? I have no obligation today’.

    I agree about the rest and reflection; but that doesn’t excuse one from behaving with just ordinary humanity.

  3. Ian, Don’t be too hard on yourself, even you are allowed to “turn your phone onto silent” every once in a while.
    It was a quick hello, you didn’t recognise the person and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over not stopping and having a conversation with him, you responded with a quick salute, it’s how anyone would have reacted.
    Was sorry to miss service this morning, had a sleepness night because i messed up my meds with the whole routine change of the Christmas, ended up crawling the walls until the chemist in Ballybrack opened at 11!
    Have a good vacation if I don’t see you before.

  4. Hmmm, I suspect he would have thought it a dismissive grunt!

    The ESB men seemed about to dig up your gateway this morning and now seem to have gone.

  5. Yes, I saw that this morning. No idea what that was about. I’m sure we’ll find out tomorrow when they decide to turn off the power for a couple of hours without pre-warning us!

  6. In the local small town many people greet me when I am there, most of them I do not recognise, now I just say hello to all of them and hope they do not send for a man in a white coat, In your calling you stand up and are seen by many, An Individual, but we are but one in a crowd,

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