When I was flying back from my holiday on Monday, in the 13 hour stretch from Guangzhou, I suddenly started thinking about my small suitcase in the hold of the plane. I think the map said we were flying over Helsinki at the time, vote Saara tonight, as you know when you are way above the clouds although you are nearer the sun, it is extremely cold up there. The baggage section is unheated . It was the stuff I was smuggling that I was worried about. Liquid expands if frozen. I had two litres of Fish Sauce in multiple layers of plastic in the bag. What if it burst? Would I have a suitcase dripping and stinking at the baggage carousel? Would I get questioned by customs? That is no fun as I found out one time at St Pancras. Was I worried for myself or for disappointing the friends who were looking forward to authentic ingredients. Was I making a right choice?
Fish Sauce can be a source of moral choice. Especially if one of the guests at the dinner party is vegetarian. Moira was hosting a dinner party, she was known for her cooking skills, she made providing a splendid feast and hosting a lovely evening seem easy. At one stage of preparing the main course she reached for the bottle of fish sauce to add just three drops that would just lift the dish from fabulous to stupendous except she suddenly remembered one guest was vegetarian. There was no time to make a whole new or a separate sauce so the three drops dropped in. The meal was a great success as usual.
The following week she confided in a close friend that there was a moment of choice in creating the dish. The end justified the means though. No one was hurt. It wasn’t as if the vegetarian had been asked to eat a pork chop or even struggle to select the flesh from a whole fried fish served up. The stuffed pepper for them was delicious.
The friend, Antonia, was horrified and not supportive at all. She said Moira had totally breached her guests trust. You knew he was vegetarian and ignored it. It was not an accident, there was a conscious thought and decision. Moira had wanted to continue to be seen as a wonderful cook more than respecting her guest. What if Ernest was Jewish or Muslim? Would Moira have willingly disrespected food laws? Or is there a deeper prejudice against vegetarians and don’t even think of inviting any vegans, Moira could never cope.
Poor Moira, in trouble over just three drops of Fish Sauce. Maybe Ernest gets more than three drops of non veggie ingredients in lots of prepared foods but being none the wiser is not harmed.
Another friend was phoned. Elena is a lawyer, she knows the score. She was helpful as legally it was de minimis, a trivial amount, but the moment of choice of reaching for that bottle, pausing and continuing was damnation.
Just got to hope for Moira’s sake that Ernest or other potential guests remain none the wiser. Antonia was on a roll now though, scoffing at the trivialisation. Next you will justify your husband using the firms photocopier to colour print your next party invitations. Poor Moira.
The end does not justify the means. It is all about making the right choice. Is there a time to shine as a star if the path to success is not right or even deliberately selfish. Is it right that an established dancer is head to head against a total novice only famous for being on love island.
As we go through Lent, we have lots of choices to make. Some choose to deprive themselves in this period, giving up something that is enjoyable but not essential. Some choose to take on an additional project, usually to help others benefit. Some choose to support a charitable cause in donation and praying through the provided resources. Some choose to attend special Lent Courses which reminds me to highlight that Wednesday evening there will be a Mystery of God session in the Vicarage, Fr Steven will say more later before the Blessing.
I ask all of us to consider thinking more carefully about the choices we make in this period of Lent, or even always. In the Gospel we all know Jesus resisted the temptation to be nourished, worshipped at an early stage of his ministry, protected, grounding his decisions in the scriptures he knew were there to guide his community to be part of the Kingdom of God.
Are our choices about our self interest or about living by scriptural guidelines and looking out for others as Jesus and the Holy Spirit remind?
If we have good fortune, earned or gained, do we remain selfish or do we pause to give thanks for the opportunities that led to our state, to remember that life can be without and good fortune is not to be taken for granted. To offer God thanks by the offering of first fruits, by giving back a portion.
If we make any choices in coming weeks, can we think whether we can help someone else to be bettered by our actions. Can we make the right choices.?
I am baking something new later today, there is no fish sauce. Not today or in the rest of Lent. Tell me in a few weeks if you succeeded to resist temptation or made considered choices in Lent and we’ll pray together to thank God for all the glory and promise that Easter and Pentecost reminds us of being counted in Gods Kingdom. You know where to find that invitation.
(It should be noted that the dilemma of adding three drops of fish sauce first aired on BBC Religion and Ethics in 2013. Adapted and characters given assumed names.
I did however carry the two litres this week.)