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The Archbishop of York and the Parable of the Moth

The disciples were talking excitedly with one another about a story they had heard that morning.  The General Synod was meeting that week, and various disturbing stories were filtering from the meetings.  They had just heard that the Synod had voted to ‘prioritise the common good of all people.’  One disciple thought that this was good news, especially in light of examples in recent days where people had put making a profit above the lives of others.  

Another disciple, however, pointed out that words were like free dancers and had a way of expressing themselves in any variety of ways unless given more direction.  ‘What do you mean?’ asked the first disciple.  ‘Well, if I say that we should all champion justice, for example, then we will have to say what we mean by ‘justice’, won’t we?  Otherwise, we will all agree to something but not have any agreement about what we mean!’  

Another disciple joined in.  ‘Yes, I know exactly what you mean.  One person makes the word ‘love’ mean, ‘If I love you, I will support you in whatever choice you make.’  That person understands love as a form of freedom.  Another person makes the word ‘love’ mean, ‘If I love you, I will tell you what the right thing to do is.’  That person understand love as a form of truth.  And so, while we all agree that we should be loving, we end up disagreeing because we have not defined ‘love’.

'All virtues and values are like this,' said another disciple.  'They are like presents wrapped in colourful paper on Christmas morning.  They have to be unwrapped and then openned, otherwise we have very little idea what they are.  We all like presents, but we don't always like the present that someone gave us.'

And such was the nature of the discussion along the way for several miles while the disciples walked with their master from Kittle to Killay.  As they refreshed themselves in Killay, they received some additional news about the General Synod.  Someone had proposed that the Synod emend the wording about seeking the common good to read the common good 'as revealed in the Bible and taught by the Church.’  ‘See,’ said one of the disciples, ‘that is what we were discussing.  We cannot know the ‘good’ unless we define it, and if we are Christians, we are going to define the good according to Scripture and the teaching of the Church through the ages.  And our understanding of Good is going to look very different from, say, the 'Good' that ISIS is pursuing--or even the Good as defined by our Parliament.’

‘Wait,’ said the disciple with the news about Synod.  ‘There’s more,’ he said, reading a bit of online news.[1]  ‘The Synod actually rejected the additional words.  The Archbishop of York, apparently, stood up to challenge the amendment.  Apparently, he replied, ‘If you are going to serve the whole community please don’t limit our language….  The Word became flesh and sadly we are now making it Word, Word, and Word again.  Resist the amendments.’  The disciple looked up at his fellow disciples, who sat quietly blinking at him in shock.

Finally, one of the disciples said, ‘When John wrote that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he meant that God’s revelation of the truth was given through Jesus.  The archbishop seems to think—or wants to imagine—that John meant God passed His work of revelation over to people, as though they could now generate the truth from their own beliefs without having anything to do with Scripture, Jesus, or the Church’s convictions through the centuries.  That’s rather like letting your grade 8 class set their own final exams!’

The disciples’ master spoke up.  ‘This archbishop is like the moth.  The moth flies by the angle of rays from the sun as they hit its eyes. Because the sun’s rays are parallel, the moth is able to fly in a straight line by keeping the angle of the rays the same.  But when the moth flies by the light of a candle, the rays of light spread out in different directions, and they hit the moth's eyes at different angles.  That is why the moth flies in a circle around the light, getting closer and closer until it burns itself in the fire.’  

The master looked at his disciples, ‘If we do not set our course for what is ‘Good’ by the light that God has given us, we will fly in circles around the light of human ideas about the Good, who have all sorts of views, and we will meet our end in the fire.  Sadly, the archbishop has rejected the straight rays of light by which we can set our course for what is good, the revelation that Jesus brought to a world living in darkness.  He seeks to please human beings in all their diversity and, in so doing, fulfills the rest of what John wrote, that Jesus ‘came to his own, but his own people did not receive him (John 1.11).  Do not live as the moth, who flies by any light, but live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, God's revelation of truth to a world living in darkness.'

[1] 'General Synod: Archbishop of York Rejects Authority of Bible,' Christian Concern (14 July, 2017).  See: (accessed 15 July, 2017).