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The higher a monkey climbs…

October 22, 2016

There is a colourful saying from my native Yorkshire (clean version), “The higher a monkey climbs, the more he shows his backside.” I’m a Rector of a large benefice of churches, a Rural Dean, a Cathedral Canon; I’m dressed like a peacock most Sunday’s to take our communion services; I wonder, in all of my grand titles and finery, am I just giving everyone a good show – of my backside?


It’s a sobering thought. It’s a worrying thought. It is deeply unsettling. It feels like standing in front for a whole high school assembly and suddenly thinking, “Did I fasten my flies?” There is nothing that I can do; nothing that nobody will notice that is! Being unsettled can then lead to paranoia: Are those girls sniggering discreetly?!


Jesus did something very similar to the ‘important’ (self-important?) people of his day (Luke 18.9-14 CEV):


Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

10 Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. 12 I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.”

13 The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.”

14 Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured.”


This story makes me feel uncomfortable, and I’m glad that it does. I like to be well thought off, I like praise, it is flattering to be looked up to – AND it is a deadly trap that better ministers than I have fallen into. My only hope is to listen again to Jesus. To let him in to me. I need to let Jesus burst the bubble of pride. That way I have a real chance of thinking and living a humble life – a life with love and generosity at its heart. That way I am more and more likely to look at anyone, whoever they are (a prostitute, a drug dealer, even a paedophile or a terrorist), and look with only love and never revulsion or judgement. That does not mean that I agree with the lifestyle or actions of any of those people, but if I believe that God will always love me, no matter what, I have to believe it possible of others too. I’m not there, not by a long way. I still feel revulsion and even hatred when I hear what some people do.


I need once again to let Jesus in, to be humble before him, to let him change me and trust Jesus to judge, in a way that I never can. I need also to remember that, “The higher a minister climbs, the more he shows his backside!”

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