Sermons from St
John le Carre has just published a new book, ‘A Legacy of Spies’ about his quintessential spymaster, George Smiley. Who is George Smiley? Alec Guinness’ portrayal of the enigmatic character in the 1970s adaptations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People, is mesmerising. In this role he has been described as someone who holds within himself the very secret of the universe. When challenged by a young girl he is trying to help, 'Are you God?' He proclaims 'I am just an ordinary man'.
Smiley is on a quest first, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to find the double agent within the British secret service and later, in Smiley’s People, to force the chief Russian spymaster, Karla to end the killing spree and to defect to the West, once and for all.
George Smiley is one man with the lives of so many souls dependent upon his actions, the success of his endeavours, his absolute moral integrity and selflessness. There is the sense that he is the last of the good men. Whilst the career minded cynical and self-serving masters of the British secret service hold the levers of power. Only with George Smiley, men and women are safe and can sleep at night, as he secretly works for their good. If only it were always so that those in power use their power only for the good of others. Even within the climax of Smiley's People, the corrupt officials retain and even tighten their grip on power, capitalising on Smiley's ultimate victory over the Russian spymaster, Karla. When Smiley's colleague says, at the end ‘You Won George, You won!’, Smiley asks 'Did I?' conveying unmistakeably that he knows he did not. He recognises that the very use of power corrupts – and that he is compromised. He also knows that his was only one small victory. There is hope though – in his absolute steadfastness to a strict moral code.
You may ask, why am I talking about George Smiley? What has this character to do with today's readings? There are parallels. You could say that John le Carre has borrowed some ideas – some big themes, from Christianity.
The prophet Isaiah exhorts the people to be obedient to God. Only then will they enjoy the grace of God. Isaiah despairs of the people, as they turn their back on God, focusing only on material things. Isaiah does though hold out promise and hope to the people in today's passage, but only if they can be steadfast in their obedience to God:
The Lord ' will swallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces'
A sense of peace and calm reigns, with the promise of God's grace. This is a vision of a utopian world, where men and women are at peace with God, themselves and one another.
So too, in the Psalm today, the Good Shepherd looks after his people. They are all safe in the protection of God.
The horrific consequences of disobedience and wickedness are laid bare in Matthew's Gospel. The dire outcome for those who do not heed God. The murderous people have no fear but they pay the price, as the wedding host takes his revenge upon them.
The need and imperative for us to be faithful to God is told clearly to us today. It is a dangerous world, where we may easily become ensnared in some wickedness, either as victim or oppressor. God is constant, always present, but we need faith in God to realise this. It is something which needs strength to maintain and in obtaining it we are strengthened.
The Gospel inspires fear and awe in us, the dark side of humanity and the wrath of God. By contrast, the passage from Isaiah is comforting and warm. That we need God, but that to maintain our relationship and closeness to God, we must be firm and true to God, to ourselves and to our neighbour. Even if the wickedness of man is not punished in the way described in the gospel passage, by living in such a way, cut off from God, this is enough of a catastrophe for mankind. Yet, people are often blind to the reality and the consequences of their actions.
George Smiley recognises that so much evil is perpetrated, often because people want an easy life and will not face up to the reality of what is happening around them. As he says, he has seen it all - ‘I’ve seen people hop up and down and call it progress, when all I’m left with is me’. He therefore takes the decision to act for the greater good.
For us as Christians, the lesson is that when we distil everything down, all we are left with is ourselves and God.