The Curmudgeon


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Inspection

A Christmas Tale

On the night before Christmas, the son of God appeared in the courtyard of St Paul's Cathedral. He stood still for a few minutes, trying to work out why the temple precincts contained so few Jews; then two armed policemen appeared and told him to move on. He proceeded to the Cathedral's front door, where a plump young canon greeted him politely. The Archbishop was somewhere in the vicinity, of course, but he was on the telephone at the moment, discussing another possible compromise over female bishops.

"I'm glad you've arrived," the young canon said. "It's been a most unfortunate year; we need someone to put things right."
"I did my best," said the son of God, holding out his scarred hands.
"Well, I realise that, of course," said the young canon; "but it was, after all, rather a long time ago, and some of us were sort of hoping you might return and help us out again. We can't talk properly here; let's walk about a bit."

Indeed, the grounds of the Cathedral were crowded with people, and there was a long queue at the front door. People chatted among themselves, or squabbled over their place in line, or waved at some television cameras which happened to be standing about the square; and it was quite easy for the young canon and the son of God to slip out unnoticed.

"This is our busiest time of the year," the young canon said as they walked; "there was some doubt as to whether we'd be able to make back our costs after the disruption a few weeks ago, but it seems to have been sorted out."
"What disruption?" asked the son of God.
"Oh, the poor camping on the steps," the young canon said; "we asked them to go away and told them quite politely that they were interfering with business, but they were very obstinate. In the end we had to bring in the soldiers to disperse them."
"I hope you took contributions first," said the son of God. "Remember the widow who gave her two mites. It's easy to take money from those who can spare it, but extracting tithes from people who can't spare anything is truly the work of a good and faithful servant."

The young canon nodded sagely; he had spent almost his entire career ministering to the spiritual needs of bankers and hedge-fund managers and their mothers, all of whom claimed to be permanently on the verge of destitution.

They reached the main street, which was festooned with flashing lights spelling out messages of peace on earth and goodwill to the sponsors' customers. In the bright shop windows, vast stockings full of bargains hung amid fake snow and glittering testicles. The shops were at least as crowded as the Cathedral, as the young canon pointed out indignantly to the son of God.

"This is one of our greatest problems," the young canon said; "the commercialisation of our society, which leads to misinterpretation of the Gospel message and the spread of unconstructive cynicism. Oh, excuse me," he said to a sleeping bag which he had nearly tripped over. "If you're homeless," he told the contents of the sleeping bag, "there's a kitchen with spiritual comfort a few streets away, but try to navigate around the Cathedral precincts otherwise you might be arrested.

"You see," the young canon went on, as he and the son of God resumed their promenade, "we've become so materialistic these days that the Church has to call on armed men to protect it from the poor, which means an unfortunate creature like that one can't get soup and a sermon without making an inconvenient diversion."
"Perhaps," said the son of God, "you yourself have allowed all these bright lights and loud noises to make you blind and deaf to the Gospel message. Whence comes this Judas-like preoccupation with the poor? They will always be with you, and at best they are nothing more than a means to an end, a convenient cess-pit in which to dispose of worldly dross. I thought I had made myself quite clear on that point."
"Well, of course the Gospel message has evolved and developed over time," said the young canon, a little huffed; "over the ages this particular festival has accrued various aspects of pagan abandon, Roman gluttony, Victorian sentiment and neoliberal boorishness; but the essential message has remained the same."
"And the essential message is what?"
"Peace on earth," the young canon said, "and goodwill toward men."
The son of God frowned. "I came not to bring peace, but a sword," he said; "and toward men I always recommended a more disinterested attitude, like that of your Father in heaven, who sends his floods to inundate the righteous and unrighteous alike."

They had arrived back at the Cathedral. The building was lit up like a shop-window, its dome glittering plastic in the rain. "Well, thank you for the tour," said the son of God; "it was most instructive, and now I have to be getting along."
"But wait a minute," protested the young canon; "have you nothing to say on the great issues of the moment? Have you no wisdom that could help us in our trials? Don't you want to give a broadcast with the Queen or anything?"
"I have spoken already," said the son of God, beginning to ascend; "let those hear who have ears to do so. This has been a purely routine inspection, so that I can let my Father in heaven know he is morally justified in continuing to sleep through the tribulations of his children."


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