Lent Reflections 2024: Recognising Jesus

Lent Reflections 2024: Recognising Jesus

Bishop Geoff reflects on the issue of identity, and how we recognise others. He asks us to consider how we recognise Jesus this Lenten period…

Text below:

I was once a member of a Youth Theatre Group and when performing I was told by the make up artist that I had a particularly fine facial bone structure.

But clearly this ‘fine facial bone structure’ is very common because over the years I have often been mistaken for other people.  I am told that someone saw me while they were on holiday in places I have never been to or that I once conducted their niece’s wedding in a village I have never heard of.

I was quite flattered to be told that I resemble the very talented Star Trek actor, Patrick Stewart but I was less flattered when I discovered he is ten years older than me!

The most embarrassing mistake was when I was a brand new Curate in South London attending a Confirmation at which one of Southwark’s retired Honorary Assistant Bishops was Presiding.  The poor man came over to me in a fluster and apologised profusely for having got the wrong Confirmation, mistaking me for the then Diocesan Bishop, Ronnie Bowlby – who clearly had a very fine facial bone structure and was at least 20 years older than me!

February began with a vital recognition as Simeon holds the infant Jesus in his arms when his parents present him in the Temple.  This righteous and devout elderly priest recognised the child as ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’ – destined for the falling and rising of many and a sign that would be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed’.

He and the prophetess Anna were both right in recognising Jesus as the longed-for Messiah but as the child grew into a man, others mistook him for John the Baptist, others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets.  It was Simon Peter who recognised Jesus as the Messiah, the ‘Son of the Living God’.

This year February has also taken us into Lent – six weeks of preparation for that day of ultimate mistaken identity when the people did not recognise Jesus for who he truly was and instead called him a fraud who had failed to live up to their expectations.  They crucified him on the cross, giving him an identity as a common criminal.

Yet three days later the events of the Resurrection showed just how wrong they were and it would be easy for us in a post-resurrection time to look back and judge them for being stupid in failing to recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, as Simeon and Anna had done.

It would be easy – except that so many today continue to make the same mistake.

Assuming they have actually heard of Jesus they may see him as a good person and well-meaning but pretty ineffectual and certainly not someone whom they are going to allow into their well-ordered lives.  Or they may regard Jesus as a kind of Che Guevara revolutionary whose life may have had a certain degree of impact upon world history but who has little influence on them.  Life is complex enough without the extra demands of having a faith!

What a pity that those who fail to recognise Jesus also fail to understand the positive changes that following Him could have on them and the way his teaching and example might help them deal with the very complexities of life that so often weigh us down.

We must not make the mistake of turning Jesus into some kind of ‘Super Hero’ who always swoops to the rescue and rights our wrongs for us.  But those who do try to follow in His Way recognise in Jesus someone who travels alongside us and ensures we never face our problems and challenges alone.  In Jesus we recognise a person of great love and compassion who is always more willing to forgive us than we are to seek that forgiveness.

As we journey through Lent it is not a bad thing to ask ourselves if we truly recognise Jesus as our Lord and Saviour or whether we too have mistaken him for someone else. 

And if our identity is in Christ what are we going to do to reach out to others and help them to recognise Him as we do – for God made us so that we might make known who God is to those who do not know.

Of one thing we can be certain:  Jesus is never mistaken about our identity whatever our facial bone structure!