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"I know! I know!"

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

Why is the school swot so infuriating?

You know the type. The moment the very question mark has escaped the teacher’s lips, that spotlessly clean hand goes up with a barely suppressed, “me, me, me! I know! I know!” The worse thing is, the swot does know, every single time.

People who are right are hard to bear at times, especially when they are so smug about it. It’s that smugness that we find so infuriating. What we really object to is that school swots give their answers in a way that suggests that they are better than we are because they know more. Clearly, we recognise the sin of pride in their activity. School swots see greater worth in knowing things than appreciating their relationship with the people around them. Their knowledge is valued above love, and that is pride. The fact that it’s always “me, me me!” shows where their priorities lie.

Yet, if we’re not careful, we might forget something.


The school swot is a child. Children need to learn. The school swot may know the answer and thus doesn’t need to be taught what the answer is. The lesson that needs to be learned is that the way that we present our knowledge has repercussions. We see that most when we listen to Joseph tell his brothers and his father Jacob of his dreams.


The fact of the matter is that Joseph’s dreams are absolutely spot on. They do foretell the future accurately. They also reveal much about Joseph’s attitude to other people. We can see how his attitude has been shaped by Jacob’s love for him and we can see that this comes out in the way that he speaks. He is a tell-tale on his brothers but his concern is about how much credit with Daddy he will get if he does tell on his brothers. Even before his dreams, he is behaving in a thoroughly objectionable manner. He needs to learn.

Actually, we learn a lot about what God is like here. We can see how He looks into the hearts of Joseph’s brothers and sees boiling away in them the indignation, the anger, the cruel intentions which Joseph’s actions have caused. In the great incomprehensible mind of God, we can begin to see how He can use the situation not only to fulfil Joseph’s dreams but also to teach him how to behave and how to love. It is the brothers who cause Joseph’s suffering and languishing in slavery and prison, but it is God who uses this suffering to make Joseph better. Joseph does the right thing and learns to trust in God. He stops loving himself for his own sake and starts loving God more. He grows up from being the spoiled child and is raised to the height of Pharaoh’s deputy but as a humbler, kinder, less self-interested man.


Children have a lot to teach us grown-ups for, in them, we see ourselves more obviously. We can see ourselves fighting over positions of power, over titles, over riches. If the worst that a child can do is say, “me, me, me, I know!” then perhaps we should listen to their answer rather than despising them for knowing. They will learn how to behave in time at the hands of teachers who have their best interests at heart.

If we trust God then we will be taught humility but only if we’re willing to receive the lesson. When we see someone trying to show off, we can fall into resentment and indignation, but that isn’t the Christian way. We must bless and not curse. The son of Sirach says,
“Better is he that laboureth, and aboundeth in all things, than he that boasteth himself, and wanteth bread. My son, glorify thy soul in meekness, and give it honour according to the dignity thereof.”
And, in the letter to the Hebrews, we read,
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
We have to remember that show-offs and swots are immensely forgivable and that, in showing off, they have revealed themselves to be just as vulnerable and in need of learning and growing as we are. By trusting in God when our patience is tested and bearing up when we suffer the unfairness that others’ actions inflict on us, then we do grow, and we grow from the solid Rock that is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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