Whether or not King Henry II said ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome (or turbulent) priest’ of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, the phrase has entered our vocabulary and how some look at the clergy. I heard on Radio 4 a preview about a profile of Archbishop Justin with this as the title of the programme broadcast on Monday.
The use of the phrase often suggests that priests, bishops, archbishops should not be troublesome, should not be turbulent. That’s nothing new. Read the Old Testament and it is full of clashes between prophets and kings, the out spoken, speaking the word of the Lord, and those in government who would rather not hear it. Jeremiah ends up in the stocks, imprisoned, down a well, isolated but he won’t stop speaking out, because he knows that this is his vocation.A bishop being welcomed into the House of Lord is not so unusual – it happens regularly as one prelate drops off the end of the bench and another takes their place. But when the Bishop of Gloucester is admitted tomorrow (Monday) it will be a moment in history. As Bishop Rachel takes her seat she will be the first woman to sit with the Lords Spiritual. One of the exciting things that I had to do when I was Chaplain to the Bishop of Southwark was to make sure that my bishop was properly briefed when he was on duty in the Lords. It was exciting and a privilege because it felt as though we were doing something so important. It could easily be seen as an anachronism, to have bishops in the legislature, but I think that for all faith communities in our land, they need to be there and they need to be disturbing the waters when they need disturbing. I look forward to hearing Bishop Rachel’s voice in the debates. One of the great stories in St John’s Gospel happens at the pools of Bethesda. Visitors to the Holy Land can see the remains of the pools and the porticos that surrounded them just beyond the beautiful crusader church of St Anne. In John 5.1-15 we hear the story of the healing of a blind man. He can’t get into the water by himself and certainly not at the critical moment. He says to Jesus
‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.’
It was in the turbulent waters that healing came. The Spirit of God disturbed the waters and peace and healing flowed.
Stirring the waters, speaking truth, is seen as creating turbulence. But into this situation God speaks and acts. If from our pulpits, in our mission, in our service as priests and people together we are not being troublesome for justice then I believe we are not really doing our job, not fulfilling our vocations. And when we are in such challenging times as these then we have to pray that as the Spirit stirs the waters so the hearts of those in positions of influence will be stirred so that justice. mercy and peace can be experienced by all.
God of the troubled water,
may we disturb the comfortable
and comfort the disturbed.