When I was a teenager and performing in the theatre I was once told by the makeup artist that my face had a really good bone structure. Clearly it is the kind of structure that is common because over the years I have often been mistaken for other people. Frequently I am told that someone saw me while they were on holiday in places that I have never been to or else that I am the ‘spitting image’ of a vicar they once met in a village I have never even heard of!
I was quite flattered to be told by a number of people that I look just like the famous and talented actor Patrick Stewart (and I can see the similarities) but was a little bit abashed when I discovered he is ten years old than me! The most embarrassing mistake was made when I was a Curate in South London attending a Confirmation at which one of Southwark’s Honorary Bishops was Presiding. The poor man came over to me in a fluster and apologised profusely for having got the wrong date, mistaking me for the then Diocesan Bishop, Ronnie Bowlby – who has now retired and is living in Shrewsbury. So if you are reading this Bishop Ronnie, at least you know your face has a good bone structure!
The month of February begins with a vital recognition as Simeon holds the infant Jesus in his arms as his parents present him in the Temple. This righteous and devout elderly man recognised this 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 prophet Anna (who also worshipped in the Temple) were both right in recognising Jesus as the longed – for Messiah but as the child grew into a man, many 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 the month of February also takes us into Lent – those six weeks of preparation for that day of ultimate mistaken identity when the people failed to recognise Jesus as anything more than a fraud who had failed to live up to their expectations and crucified him on the cross as a common criminal. Of course just 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 the longed-for 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 who they are going to allow into their well-ordered lives. For them, Jesus is recognised as just another historic figure whose life may have had an impact on world history but has little impact 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 cannot understand the positive impact that following Him could have on their lives and the way his teaching and example can help them to deal with the very complexities that weigh them 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 of us who do try to follow in His way recognise in Jesus someone who travels alongside us and ensures we never face our problems 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 start our 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.
Of one thing we can be certain – Jesus never mistakes our identity whatever our facial bone structure!
With love and every blessing,