Saturday 26th October The State We’re In – Repentance
St Luke 19: 1 – 10
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a Sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
At the heart of Brexit is a desire, primarily by the more southerly residents of the United Kingdom, to “take back control” and not to be an equal partner in a family of European nations. This is fed by the, erroneous, myth of British exceptionalism and a looking back to the false glory of Empire.
All parts of Britain gained and profited from the Empire. As a result of a failed overseas project, brought about by Westminster in its desire to persuade Scotland to unite and benefit from joint empire building, the Scottish Lairds and noblemen voted for the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. In the aftermath of that Union, Scotland and the other countries of the Union profited excessively from the exploitation of other nations and, thence, the slave trade. A traveller on a journey down the Firth of Clyde today, may visit communities such as Kilcreggan, Cove, Blairmore, Rothesay, Tighnabruaich, or Largs, and marvel at the numerous very large country houses and castles; many of these were built directly or indirectly by the profits of Scottish Caribbean or American plantations and the capture, trade and exploitation of African people as slave labour.
Other imperial powers have had to repent – Japan and Germany in particular – and, as a result of coming to terms with their past, have flourished. Britain, like Russia and America hasn’t come to terms with our imperial designs – nor, in our case, a loss of Empire. What might repentance look like in the context of empire given that our Union was an imperialist project?
For Zacchaeus repentance meant putting things right not just expressing sorrow. Making financial reparations would bankrupt the United Kingdom, but, perhaps, eradicating racism in our country by channelling vast amounts of money into predominantly black or Asian communities for social, educational, medical and mental welfare improvements might be a good start. If we were to improve the quality and availability of social housing, remove the postcode lottery from good NHS healthcare, improve schools and make universities more accessible, then we might begin to make right some of the wrongs that still haunt our own land.
If we were to clamber up that Sycamore tree to better see Jesus, I wonder…would he walk right past us, or would he see promise in us as he saw in Zacchaeus.
help us to reform our thinking.
May we seek to become a people of potential, like Zacchaeus.
May we work together to eradicate individual and community inequality.
May we become a nation,
renown for the way we share our wealth
so that poverty and inequality
have no place in any of our communities.
We can do this, gracious God,
with your help and by your grace. Amen.
The Rev’d Craig Jesson is Minister of Park URC, Airdrie; Coatbridge URC and Cumbernauld URC in Lanarkshire.