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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

How to hurry and still make time

“These are the decisions of a prime minister in a hurry’” observes BBCs political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, of our new prime minister. “One who is aware that he's up against the clock.” Maybe Boris should heed the advice of one of his predecessors. “Beware of endeavouring to become a great man in a hurry,” cautioned Benjamin Disraeli. “One such attempt in ten thousand may succeed. These are fearful odds.” Now I think about it, I'm in a hurry now, getting this blog done in a relatively short-time frame. No getting up and making myself a cup of coffee or even chatting to Jacqui. Not even a loo break. The advantage of being in a hurry is that it gives you focus. There again, you can be in too much of a hurry to respond to people in need. I recall driving to church one Sunday, somewhat late for the evening service. Five miles to go we passed an elderly lady standing at the kerbside, holding a white cane. Immediately Jacqui said “Stop! See if she needs a lift” I explained patiently that she was waiting for a lift – that was why she was standing where she was. “And we’re in a hurry - I’m preaching in 30 minutes.” Even so, Jacqui persisted. “What are you preaching about?’ she asked, probing my motives for driving on. “The parable of the Good Samaritan.” So shamed, I turned around and yes, she was waiting for a lift. But nevertheless thanked us for our kindness, that we had taken time out to help her. As it happens we arrived for the service just in time. The question is ‘Was Jesus a man in a hurry?’ In one sense, yes. Given his time frame of just three years to change the world, there was no hanging about. Mark’s Gospel, for one, opens at a frenetic pace with the disciples doing their best to keep up with him. You may remember how Simon with the other disciples organised a search party one early morning to find Jesus. “Everyone is looking for you!” And Jesus’ surprising reply: “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Jesus is a man with a mission, with a definite goal. He simply hasn’t the time to linger – too many villages to visit, so little time. One of the strangest passages in the New Testament is when Jesus with his disciples enters Gentile territory near Tyre where he tries to keep his presence secret. Jesus may be a man in a hurry but he needs time and space for rest and recuperation, a key theme especially for Mark. However, somehow a Canaanite woman tracks him down. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” (Matthew 15: 22). Strangely, Jesus seems to ignores her until he explains “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Clearly, this would appear to be his overarching purpose and as such has priority. However, such is her desperation she persists and such is his compassion that he relents. “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Matthew 15:28). Is Jesus simply testing her out or changing his mind because of her stubborn faith? On balance it seems that he is using the encounter as a teaching for his disciples, a rabbinic technique. Yes, Jesus does have to keep moving, given the strength of opposition from powerful men. He has only a limited time frame. You can actually see his determination, his focus, as Luke forcibly demonstrates at a key moment: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9 51) And yet, Jesus never seems to be in a hurry. How often does he respond to interruptions, even in at least one case responding to an interruption to an interruption as he stops to affirm the woman healed of bleeding through touching his tassel while being hurried to Jairus’ house to heal his dying daughter? (That was a long sentence). “It is refreshing, and salutary, to study the poise and quietness of Christ, “ comments Bible translator, J. B. Phillips. “His task and responsibility might well have driven a man out of his mind. But He was never in a hurry, never impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock.” What we learn from Jesus is the balance between having a single-minded focus while at the same time being available. Here we can rely on the resource of the Holy Spirit: he freely gives patience as well as right judgment. Going back to the Good Samarian, I recall a seminal paper published in 1973, just before I was ordained, by two social psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson. Their aim was to test how in helping others we are motivated by our religious thinking, particularly when there is some time pressure. For guinea pigs (or should it be rats?), they used theological students, just like us at Cranmer Hall, with an actor playing someone in distress. Time is short and I’m in a hurry, and I’ll skip how they conducted the experiment and go straight to their conclusions. Those students who were en route to give a talk on the Good Samaritan were no more likely to give help than students who were going to give a talk on an unrelated subject. And more to the point given the aim of this blog, those students who were in a hurry were much less helpful towards the man in need. Some were in too much of a hurry even to see him. As John Ortberg observes: “Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don't have.”

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