Janet and I brought our son Tim to Bath last week for the start of his second year. We drove to Sainsbury’s to do some shopping.
Like they do in Otley, Sainsbury’s have a camera which records your car’s number plate as you enter the store’s car park. You have 90 minutes allowed before you become liable to a fine for staying too long.
We were in a queue of cars moving very slowly. I let the car ahead drive on and watched its number plate appear on the screen overhead. Once it was through I accelerated a bit so that I passed quickly past the camera’s view. Our car’s number plate did not show on the screen. We watched the car behind us pass through and its number appeared as normal. We had got through undetected!
I’m not telling you this so you can try it out on the camera as you enter the Otley Sainsbury’s! It made me think about getting in under the radar. About doing something and not being noticed.
At the time I was thinking about the sermon for last Sunday from Mark 9. The disciples are travelling with Jesus and arguing about who is the greatest among them. They must have been confident he was out of earshot. I imagine it was a rolling conversation – a recurring thread in many conversations throughout the day, with plenty of banter. At the end of the day in Peter’s house, there is silence as Jesus asks them what they were discussing on the road. But of course he knows. He always seems to know.
A favourite Psalm which I often reflect on is Psalm 139 which begins:
“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.”
The psalm speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us from the moment of our conception, and every moment of every day. So verse 2:
“You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.”
There’s no getting under God’s radar. And that’s a bit scary. So verse 7:
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?”
But God is love. He may be grieved by our behaviour, but Jesus shows us how extraordinarily patient and kind he is. Instead of condemning the disciples, Jesus teaches them a better way: the one who would be first (the greatest) must be the servant of all. He puts a small child in their midst as an example of those they must particularly serve – the ones society considers least important and who cannot repay or reward them.
Two things particularly help us to live with the fact that we can never do anything under the radar with God. The first and most important is that God knows us and loves us. There is nothing we can say or do to make God love us any less.
The second is to learn to love ourselves ‘warts and all’, the way God loves us. This enables an honest humility about the fact that we frequently ‘get it wrong’. Which in turn enables us to stop our anxious self-justification or denial and accept correction. And in this way we allow God to help us grow and gradually become more fully the people he intends us to be.