Fr Louis Reflection - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

It may have attracted your attention, but one of the topics covered in great depth by the media this week has been that of this year’s ‘exam results’. Of course, there were no exams, which meant that some sort of assessment or judgement had to be made concerning the expected grade that a student may have been likely to achieve.

It’s all supposition of course. The education authorities considered how to accomplish a satisfactory resolution to this problem, something which would surely have caused Solomon in his wisdom a few problems, and there was no way on earth that all students would be satisfied. I hear the cries of ‘foul’ echoing from wounded students throughout the land. The negative tone of the response to the final grades awarded to each student was set long before the results were released.   One irate ‘A’ level student, who was being interviewed alongside his mother, voicing his opinion on the possible outcome of the grades he would eventually be awarded said .... ‘I deserve A*’s!’ .....

I am not going to reveal my immediate thoughts on that reply, but I know that thousands of young people will have worked just as hard as our ‘A Level Student’ and would have been pleased to achieve any grading awarded by the local examination board.

Life is not made up of guaranteed success, because ultimately, we do not have control over our own lives and disappointments as well as successes are part of the mix. In today’s reading from Isaiah, Shebnah the steward, the King’s official secretary is demoted from his position of royal steward. We are not told why, but if he had had the audacity to argue the toss with the king, he may well have been dismissed from the kings service altogether, or even worse may have forfeited his life.  Education is about training for life, to learn how to deal with problems, to build the mental stamina to ‘roll with the punches’, to know when to keep one’s opinions to oneself and alternatively when to let them ‘rip’.

Our student, who rated himself among the exam elite, said he deserved to be awarded A*’s. The dictionary defines the word ‘deserve’ as ‘to be entitled to or worthy of merit.’  A couple of weeks ago, I referred to the current age as the ‘Age of Entitlement’, not my own title, [he said enviously] but one I consider both whimsical and appropriate in describing some attitudes of the society in which we live. Our ‘A’ level student owned up to be ‘deserving’, -entitled - and was furious at the prospect of being denied his entitlements because the ‘authorities’ were not seen to be acting quickly enough in resolving the situation to his, and others, satisfaction. The ‘blame game’ was taking centre stage. Like minded students didn’t have the control of the situation they considered they were entitled to!  Government heads as well as Education department heads had to roll, the algorism was flawed, leadership was lacking and so on.

In the defence of students, I am well aware that for the sake of attracting viewers or listeners, the news media concentrated on those criticising the situation, and I can’t recall listening to students with an alternative opinion, but I’m sure many students had a more balanced approach and understanding of the situation, but their opinions were perhaps not considered to be newsworthy. I have always treasured Chesterton’s opinions on life, and this one on education is most suitable in the current climate; he says: ‘Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.’  I wonder what comment he would make on this generation in the current situation.

In the gospel, Jesus asks the disciples what the population in general think of him, how do people rate him, what is his standing in the opinion polls. The disciples tell him that he’s rated fairly highly among the spiritual greats, but it is Peter who gets it spot-on. ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ says Peter, who never took an ‘A’ level in his life. ‘Peter, I’m going to build my church on the rock that is your faith’ says Jesus, ‘and I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’... ‘I give you the responsibility for instructing and shepherding my people.’

As you know, Peter’s life wasn’t a bed of roses from then on, because within minutes Jesus was comparing Peter with Satan!  Peter had failed his first test!  He didn’t sulk because of his failure.  He was to fail many more times, but through the experiences of human weakness he acknowledged that the one thing he could rely on in life was the love of his Saviour and not the accolades of his fellow man.

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