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Last week, I posted the first part of my defence of a constitutional monarchy.

Today’s post concludes that defence of the UK’s system of government, the Queen being our Head of State.

Longest reigning monarch?

Since I wrote the first part of this series, the Queen became one of the world’s longest-serving monarchs.

On June 12, 2022, the Mail on Sunday reported (emphases mine):

The Queen has reached an incredible new milestone after becoming the world’s second longest reigning monarch.

Her Majesty, 96, will overtake Thailand‘s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years and 126 days between 1946 and 2016, from today.

Earlier this month, the Queen surpassed Johan II of Liechtenstein, who reigned for 70 years and 91 days, until his death in February 1929

Louis XIV of France remains the longest-reigning monarch, with a 72-year and 110-day reign from 1643 until 1715, while the Queen’s stint on the throne now stands at 70 years and 126 days, equal to King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s.

The milestone comes as Her Majesty celebrated her Platinum Jubilee last week, with four days of parades, street parties, and other events, after officially reaching the milestone on February 6 this year.

But — and it’s a BIG BUT — two days later, on June 14, the Daily Mail posted an article proclaiming, ‘Queen is the world’s longest actively reigning monarch, royal expert claims’:

Although it’s widely reported she holds little interest in breaking records, her astonishing reign would only be beaten in length by King Louis XIV of France.

Known as Louis the Great, the French ruler became king at the tender age of four following the death of his father Louis XIII, and he ruled from 14 May 1643 to 1 September 1715.

According to the record books, only Louis XIV, or ‘The Sun King’, ruled for longer than the Queen.

But royal biographer Hugo Vickers says Her Majesty may be able to lay claim to being the world’s longest actively serving monarch by virtue of the fact the French monarch did not fully ascend the throne when he was aged four.

Although he was crowned King Louis XIV from May 1643, he technically served under his mother Queen Anne’s regency for eight years, owing to his tender age

In a letter sent to the Times, Mr Vickers writes: ‘In Louis XIV’s reign, there was a regency between May 14, 1643, and September 7, 1651, until he reached the age of 13.

‘Hence, while he may have been king the longest, our Queen is unquestionably the longest actively reigning monarch in the world.’

Sour republicanism

Republicans, i.e. anti-monarchists, are a dour lot.

Cromwell had Charles I beheaded and banned Christmas celebrations, so it was a relief when, after England’s Civil War, Charles II ascended the throne in 1660. That period in British history is called the Restoration.

The anniversary of the Restoration is on May 29:

Maypoles, music and gaiety were also banned. The Calvinistic Puritans were the Taliban of their time.

Like the Taliban, they ruled for the people’s ‘own good’:

The article that barrister Francis Hoar cites says, in part:

The seventeenth century Puritans did not impose their austere rules purely for the sake of it … Their banning of Maypoles and Christmas and football was ultimately about top-down, rationalistic social control to the end of spiritual and ethical purity, an attempt to eliminate anything untidy, spontaneous, and in particular to impose their own (extremely unpopular) ideas within the cultural and social vacuum thereby created.

Moving to the present day, in 1977, pundits predicted that few in Britain cared about the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, especially with the Sex Pistols’ caustic God Save the Queen being banned from the airwaves but purchased in record stores such that the single sold out.

Columnist Rod Liddle remembered the mood well. That year, he, too, was caught up in punk and republicanism. On June 5, 2022, he wrote an article for The Sunday Times: ‘As a teenage punk, I sneered at the Queen. Sadly, the music is almost over’:

I enjoyed the Queen’s Silver Jubilee immensely, shouting out horrible things about our monarch on stage with my punk band at a “Stuff the Jubilee” gig in a pleasant suburb of Middlesbrough. We were in a tent, erected with great magnanimity by the organisers slap bang in the middle of the proper, official Silver Jubilee celebration, with its stalls of cakes and beer wagons and plates bearing pictures of her Maj.

It may have been HM’s Silver Jubilee, but 1977 was also the year of punk, even if its impact on the charts was marginal. It is often suggested that punk was a left-wing phenomenon, but in truth it was far from it — even if one or two of the bands, such as the Clash, later proclaimed their left-wing credentials for the benefit of the very liberal hippy music press. In truth, punk at its core was energetically poujadist. It was lower-middle-class kids who were tired of, or bored with, the sclerotic institutions in our country — the big record companies, the civil service, the BBC, the aristocracy and so on.

It was individualistic, not communitarian. It had no great quarrel with capitalism, only with capitalism done badly. It saw Great Britain as stagnating and it wanted change. It had no time for the unions either — it was the unions that boycotted the pressing of the Sex Pistols’ second single, God Save the Queen.

The Queen represented continuity, much as did Jim Callaghan’s hobbled government. We didn’t want that and nor did the newish leader of the opposition [Margaret Thatcher], who was also lower middle class, despised outdated institutions such as the trade unions and the BBC, and was for individualism

As for 2022, with age, Liddle has had a change of heart:

This weekend’s celebrations are very different. Never before have we craved continuity quite as much as we do now, faced with an array of existential threats from which you can take your pick as to which is the most pressing: newly belligerent Russia, China’s quest for world domination, radical Islam, climate change, weird viruses …

Under a lesser monarch our disaffection with the royal institution — and, as a corollary, with our own history as a nation — might have spilt over long before. But she ruled with a dignity, duty and dexterity that precluded such an eventuality.

I wish I’d remembered, while standing on stage in that tent 45 years ago, the words of an old hippy: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Returning to 1977, in a retrospective for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, The Telegraph pointed out that people turned out in the millions to celebrate her Silver Jubilee, proving that republicanism was as unpopular then as it is now:

Elizabeth II has demonstrated that, in fact, the monarchs do possess a power: an unactivated power, one that a partisan, career-politician president would hastily trigger – and divide us – but which the Queen handles judiciously. She uses the authority of her office to carry out and promote public duty. And, refreshingly, she simply gets on with things – no grumbling, no complaint.

When the country celebrated her Silver Jubilee, in 1977, the cynics predicted a washout: what was the relevance of royalty in an age of strikes and national decline, they asked? In the end, one republican rally, on Blackheath, attracted just five people and was cancelled. Millions turned out to celebrate the Queen, with such passion that it surprised even her: I had “no idea”, she told a lady in waiting, that the people valued her so much.

On May 30, 2022, the left-wing New Statesman tried to rally its readers around republicanism, but the magazine’s Twitter thread was unimpressive:

The magazine suggests eco-warrior David Attenborough as someone around whom we could all rally — heaven forfend! Ugh!

There can never be a charismatic republican leader, because that is an oxymoron.

And, no, we can’t have Boris, either. Although he’s probably not much of a republican, when he was a boy, he announced to his family:

he would be “world king” one day. 

On Friday, June 3, some broadcasters picked up booing outside of St Paul’s Cathedral as he and his wife arrived for the Queen’s Service of Thanksgiving:

Boris was booed only on one side of the cathedral’s exterior. This is why the BBC did not pick up the sound on the day, whereas some other networks did. It depended on where their film and sound crews were located:

The culprit was a Frenchman:

I do hope that M. Jacquemin did not have the bad grace to take advantage of Boris’s Special Status scheme, granting — to as many EU citizens as cared to apply — official leave to remain in the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

Finally, let none of us think that doing away with the British monarchy will resolve child poverty — or even pay for the NHS:

All we would get would be President Blair — UGH:

How awful that would be.

Ireland loves our Queen

Given Britain’s fractious relationship over the centuries which caused the Emerald Isle to achieve independence in 1921, one would expect that the Irish would want no further reminders of the monarch.

In another retrospective for the Platinum Jubilee, The Times published a series of historic milestones about the Queen.

Regarding an independent Ireland, the article says:

Northern Ireland has been a key feature of her reign, during which the Troubles have erupted, calmed and simmered. This conflict hit close to home in 1979 with the IRA’s murder of her cousin, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Time heals many wounds but forgiveness is a choice. So it was, in 2012, she shook the hand of Martin McGuinness, the former IRA man who was then deputy first minister in the province. Queen or not, it was an act of which many would not have been capable.

It came as a direct consequence of her successful state visit to Ireland the year before, the first by a reigning British monarch since independence. The events were examples of where she has perhaps done her greatest work: as a stateswoman.

The Irish were indeed delighted to have the Queen visit in 2011. A 2010 article from the Irish Independent reported that many towns and villages requested that she pay them a visit:

THE British Ambassador to Ireland has revealed he has received dozens of letters from towns and villages across the country inviting Queen Elizabeth to various events.

As speculation grows over a visit by the British monarch, the ambassador Julian King said his government was committed to a visit.

He said he was encouraged by the response among Irish people. Mr King was speaking to reporters in Muckross House during a visit to Killarney, Co Kerry, after accepting an invitation from the chairman of the board of trustees, Marcus Treacy.

Her popularity in Ireland continues. On her Platinum Jubilee weekend, an Irish poll showed that the Queen was more popular than past or present Irish presidents. The Queen scored a 50% approval rating compared to everyone else who scored 40+ per cent or lower.

Unfortunately, this clip from Mark Steyn’s GB News show doesn’t show the poll graphic, but the aforementioned Royal expert Hugo Vickers explained the Queen’s enduring popularity and the hope he has for her successor:

The enduring Commonwealth

The Queen is credited for creating the Commonwealth of Nations affiliated with Britain and/or the Crown.

Any of these nations can pull out of the Commonwealth voluntarily. Neither the Queen nor the British Government can forbid them from doing so.

Australia is once again considering renouncing the Queen as their Head of State. However, we must remember that they have important ties with China that might be persuading them in that direction. The same is happening in the West Indies. Money talks.

Similarly, a nation that has not been part of the British Empire may apply successfully to become a member of the Commonwealth. Rwanda is one such country. It was originally a Belgian trust territory that had been a German colony until the First World War.

A nation can also leave the Commonwealth and rejoin at a later date. The Gambia left in 2013 and rejoined in 2018.

In November 2021, Barbados removed the Queen as its head of state but remains a Commonwealth member.

A Forbes article from December 2021 explains the permutations of this group of nations:

… Queen Elizabeth II currently serves as the Head of State of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

These Queen-led nations are known as “Commonwealth Realms,” which are distinct from the broader 54-nation Commonwealth of nations that have some connection to Great Britain, but do not necessarily have the Queen as Head of State.

The Queen’s role as Head of State is largely ceremonial, and she is represented in each country by a governor-general who carries out the Queen’s day-to-day duties.

In addition to Barbados:

The last country to remove the Queen as Head of State was Mauritius in 1992, and other Caribbean countries that have removed the Queen are Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica, which all removed the Queen in the 1970s.

Participation in the Commonwealth is voluntary, and in response to Barbados’s decision to remove the Queen, Buckingham Palace said in a statement: “This is a matter for the government and people of Barbados.”

Monarchy — an eminently sensible way forward

The Revd Marcus Walker, whose thoughts have graced my ‘What’s on Anglican priests’ minds’ series, wrote a thoughtful piece for The Critic this month.

In it, he points to the great strengths of the British monarchy:

He begins by giving us the sour republican narrative:

The State Opening of Parliament last month saw three narratives promulgated at the same time by very different people, all of which (deliberately or not) betray a fundamental lack of understanding of monarchy.

The first, by the Left, saw an attempt to heap ridicule on the rituals of the ceremony: of the procession of the Imperial State Crown, of the uniforms worn by those involved.

The second, by a more centrist kind of commentator, asked whether it was fair or just to have as our Head of State a woman of 96 who is no longer able physically to take part in major ceremonies.

The third, by the pro-Putin end of the Right, saw continued attacks on Prince Charles, whom they seem to have anathematised because he likes the environment. The political categorisation is a tad crude, and I’m sure you’ve seen overt and covert republicans using all of these lines over the last few years.

He explains why those narratives are so misguided:

What’s interesting about these attacks is that they unintentionally highlight the strength of monarchy, not its weakness. The ritual is not meaningless; it unveils layers of history. The Commons slamming the door in the face of Black Rod tells of the struggles between Parliament and the King which have been settled in our constitutional framework of the Crown in Parliament.

The Crown has the history of the nation woven into it, bearing within its frame St Edward the Confessor’s sapphire, the Black Prince’s ruby, the Stuart sapphire, and the Cullinan diamond.

Each tells a little bit of the past that brought us to today. In the chamber we have elected parliamentarians, peers, senior judges, bishops: an interweaving of the different perspectives and professions which collectively set the political culture. This will change over the years as the nation changes, and this too will be good.

Ritual is not empty; it tells a story, and all nations have their rituals and their stories. If you are embarrassed by monarchical ritual, I caution you not to cross the Channel and find yourself in Paris for Bastille Day or Moscow for Victory Day. Losing your monarch does not remove your need for ritual and story. What you lose, though, is an embodiment of that story.

He asks us to consider the life cycle that the monarchy represents. A life cycle is something all of us can understand and appreciate:

The human realities of life, death, love, marriage, childbirth (and betrayal, hurt, and divorce) are at the core of the strength of monarchy. They are experiences we all share.

Monarchy, no matter how set-up in trappings of ritual, is a profoundly human institution. Its rhythms are human, as are its failings …

So why not be rid of the Crown and its rituals? Because they hold the space at the centre of our national life, preventing it from being held by a politician. No Trumps for us, no preening Macrons, no sour-faced Putins, no German Steinmeier with his terrible legacy of appeasing Russia. The centre holds, while the political world swirls around it.

Over this month we will be celebrating the Queen’s personal achievements across her 70-year reign, but we will also be celebrating the institution which she has embodied these many years, and doing so by marking in great state that most natural and human of all things: the passing of time.

I will have more on how society has changed over the past 70 years next week and how the Queen has adapted to those changes during her marvellous reign.

As one would have expected, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee brought out a number of snide republicans — anti-monarchists — on social media.

However, there is a reason why a constitutional monarchy is still a relevant form of government today.

On June 1, 2022, writing for The Telegraph, veteran columnist Allister Heath explained (emphases mine):

The 1,136 years of Royal continuity since Alfred the Great have been a remarkable story of evolution, a shift from absolutism to rule by consent, from feudalism to a form of capitalism, from Catholicism to a multi-faith society, from Anglo-Saxon kingdom to empire to Brexit. The monarchy, paradoxically, given what it was prior to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, now protects the people against power. The monarch serves as a reminder to politicians that they are not, ultimately, in total control: there are forces and institutions above them.

Other methods exist to protect nations against extremism or tyranny, such as the division of powers at the heart of the US constitution. But the downside for America is constant paralysis and an inability to reform institutions that are broken. Thanks to our constitutional monarchy, we are able to evolve when necessary; others must raze everything if they are to change. This is no naive paean to a Whiggish view of history: plenty of the changes made to this country over time have been bad, with botched devolutions a case in point. But we can cope with and absorb damaging ideas or ideological revolutions without losing our souls; the French and Russians and even Americans cannot.

It used to be argued by republicans that meritocracy was incompatible with a monarchy: the huge changes of the past few decades, Big Bang in the City, the drastic progress made by the working classes in the 1980s and by minorities in the 2010s, has shown this not to be true. Anybody in Britain today can be prime minister or a billionaire.

Crucially, the monarchy’s central role in British life moderates our politics and society. It drastically reduces the threat of extremism, violence or ideological overreach, a quality that the rest of the world values hugely about Britain.

A monarchy, with its titles, palaces, carriages and servants, is obviously not compatible with communism, although it can coexist with pretty radical Left-wing governments. The Royal family is inherently internationalist, as is the Commonwealth: autarky or complete isolationism would be psychologically difficult. When military personnel sign up to the Armed Forces they swear an Oath of Allegiance not to the prime minister, but to the Queen: the threat of a coup organised by some hothead demagogue is vanishingly small

Monarchies’ time horizons are extremely long, a useful counterpoint to a social media-addled age where attention spans are diminishing, where senior roles turn over too quickly in the public and private sectors, where ministers come and go every year, and where wisdom and experience are undervalued. Western societies also tend to downplay the importance of the family: nepotism is rightly taboo in educational institutions, big firms and the public sector. But in the private sphere, in the real world, the family and blood ties matter, and often more than anything else. The Royal family reminds us of the continuity between the generations, even when there are tensions, disagreements and scandals. When millions are battling atomism, a demographic implosion, loneliness and a quest for meaning, anything that rebalances our perceptions of the good life is surely welcome

The monarchy has become a unifying focal point around which every group can coalesce without degenerating into identity politics: all can feel pride. It is an institution that reminds us of our unique history, of the extension of rights, individual and political freedoms and immense economic opportunity that has characterised British history. No honest reading of the past 1,000 years can remotely claim that we are uniquely bad – for all our flaws, all our mistakes, we have long been a beacon among nations, improving and developing before others and tackling injustices more quickly.

Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi, perfectly captured Her Majesty’s remarkable qualities and dedication in his special Jubilee prayer: “Her crown is honour and majesty; her sceptre, law and morality. Her concern has been for welfare, freedom and unity, and in the lands of her dominion, she has sustained justice and liberty for all races, tongues and creeds.”

The monarchy, and the Queen in particular, have provided us with an in-built advantage in contending with the destabilising forces battering Western democracies. For that, and for everything else Her Majesty has given us during her 70 extraordinary years on the throne, we should be eternally grateful.

On April 21, 2021, the Queen’s real birthday, Mary Harrington, a contributing editor to UnHerd, also put forward the historical case for preserving the constitutional monarchy. This was just days after the Queen attended Prince Philip’s funeral.

Harrington wrote:

I was reminded of her iron self-control and bird-like fragility watching our Queen enter St George’s Chapel for the funeral of Prince Philip on Saturday. She stumbled momentarily as she approached the chapel door; inside, she sat alone. Born 12 years after my grandmother, she has been our Queen since 1952 and remains so today, her 95th birthday.

And yet despite the dignified pathos of last Saturday, we can be sure that some will celebrate the Queen’s birthday by calling for her deposition. For many progressives view the Queen as an unacceptable relic of the past. Never mind personal travails; monarchy, they say, is undemocratic, even if the Queen never wields her power. We should have an elected head of state.

But far from being a relic of despotism, constitutional monarchy is our best protection against its reappearance. The story we like to recall traces a thousand years of royal continuity — the same deep history which progressives say demonstrates the obsolescence of our monarchy. But in truth this story skates over a profound rupture: the end of absolute kingship

Just as the Reformation represented England’s secession from spiritual absolutism, the Glorious Revolution represented something similar in the political sphere. Having got rid of one absolute monarch, the statesmen who defenestrated James II set about making sure their new monarch, William, knew his place. A 1689 Bill of Rights set out constitutional principles we have to this day, including regular Parliaments, open elections and freedom of speech. The Bill also limited and specified the monarch’s powers.

The Reformation and Glorious Revolution produced an England in which both spiritual and temporal rule had the same figurehead: a head of both Church and Parliament. The change was subtle but profound, as the authority of England’s priest-kings now theoretically extended across moral and political domains. But in practice, they wielded no direct power.

This homeopathic dilution of theocratic tyranny proved exceptionally liberating. The new settlement drove the emergence of our parliamentary system, our two main political parties, and — as the monarchy sought a new role — many of the High Victorian institutions such as the Royal Societies, whose grand buildings form the majestic backbone of London today …

Two world wars, one collapsed empire and a de-industrialised North later, things look rather different. Today, younger adults widely believe the world has been getting worse throughout their lives, and are pessimistic about the capacity of science, government or their own agency to change this. In parallel, the freedom of speech first guaranteed in the 1689 Bill of Rights is increasingly regarded as a stalking-horse for hatred. Growing numbers believe that what’s right and wrong — especially where it concerns the rights of marginalised groups — are sufficiently self-evident they shouldn’t be up for debate.

But who decides on the exceptions to our post-Glorious Revolution norm of debate? It’s been nearly half a millennium since Henry VIII ended England’s official embrace of the Pope in this role. Progressives have yet to offer a clear alternative to either the Pope or the Defender of the Faith, though many assert that no hereditary ruler should be allowed such spiritual clout.

Unsurprisingly, then, progressives (such as Jeremy Corbyn) who support abolishing the monarchy, often also argue for disestablishment of the Church of England. Meanwhile a growing chorus of other progressive voices calls for a lengthening list of often self-contradictory articles of faith to be excluded from legitimate debate — a move that bears comparison with the religious ordinances of England’s Catholic and Anglican eras.

But what if the progressives are wrong and power can never truly be democratised? This was the argument advanced by political theorist Carl Schmitt. Schmitt argued that democracy is always compromised by absolutism, because no matter how flawless a set of rules you devise, and no matter how fair your electoral system, sooner or later a situation will crop up that doesn’t fit the rules.

When that happens, you have to break the rules: a situation Schmitt called the “state of exception”. Coronavirus lockdowns are a good example: of the past year, countless ordinary freedoms were abruptly suspended in the name of virus control. Schmitt argued that you can tell who’s really in charge by who gets to implement such a state: Sovereign is he who decides the exception.

Carl Schmitt was, of course, a Nazi. For him, exposing the traces of arbitrary rule that persist even in democratic government was part of a wider argument in favour of strongman rule

It wasn’t the Queen who decided to suspend our ordinary liberties for the pandemic, but Parliament, which is made up of our elected representatives.

The role of our Queen is to symbolise that tyrannical twitch we can’t wholly eradicate even in democracies, lest such twitches break out more regularly among our elected leaders. And she must do so without availing herself of actual power. As such, she acts as a kind of inoculation against real tyranny.

Our Queen has two birthdays: her actual birthdate, which is today, and her “official” birthday on the second weekend in June. This aptly reflects her double existence. On the one hand she’s a human individual with a family, a birthday and a recent, terrible bereavement. On the other, she’s an interchangeable cipher, a part not just replaceable but designed to be replaced by her heir apparent when the time comes. Her role is to act, with total self-effacement, as the fulcrum between tyranny and democracy. It’s a position that, once understood, is rightly seen as profoundly sacred.

On the topic of coronavirus, The Telegraph‘s French correspondent, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, wrote of her fellow countrymen’s envy when the Queen addressed the United Kingdom on Sunday, April 5, 2020. It was a planned address but was aired — coincidentally — shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital with coronavirus. Talk about serendipity.

Moutet wrote of French leftists who praised the Queen:

Three weeks into le confinement, the complete lockdown French authorities have imposed on the nation, TV viewers here tuned into the Queen’s address yesterday more out of curiosity than to find any kind of succour.

The nation is exhausted. A good deal of Emmanuel Macron’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been deemed flawed. The President and the country’s health authorities simultaneously decreeing that masks were unnecessary for the general public and pledging to buy millions as soon as they could be sourced was rightly seen as inconsistent. So was the failure of the French health ministry’s bureaucracy, for weeks, to greenlight promising antiviral therapies while deaths rose by the thousands. Trust is at its lowest.

And yet, after a four minutes and thirteen seconds speech broadcast on all our news channels, France, a country that has forgotten neither Waterloo no Mers-el-Kébir, had been utterly won over. “Queen Elizabeth II Would Make Me a Monarchist,” Marion Van Renterghem, a seasoned former Le Monde reporter, who now writes for both L’Express and the Guardian, tweeted. “A model Chief of State. A class act”

“The entire world has just been given a masterly political communication lesson in a crisis by a 93-year-old grande dame,” tweeted one of France’s foremost spin doctors (and a professor at Sciences Po, Paris’ answer to Oxford’s PPE), Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet.

In a country where, since the day of Charles de Gaulle, the President has simultaneously tried to symbolise the Republic and manage current affairs hands-on, the Queen’s address has reminded everyone that there’s a lot to be said for an uncontested head of state, completely detached from the fluctuations of day-to-day politics — and from politicians’ vagaries. Most of Emmanuel Macron’s speeches here have been too long: in time (rarely less than 20 minutes); on posturing (“We’re at war,” repeated 6 times in an awkward televised speech three weeks ago); on insincere technocratic babble

“It was moving; it was subtle; it carried weight because instead of trying to instrumentalise war parallels, the Queen never even said the word, but let us all remember her and her father’s history. She had grace, she had authority, she had compassion,” says Moreau-Chevrolet.

That direct link between the sovereign and her people, above politics, has often been mocked in Britain as in France; but faced with it, we all recognise it. A politician who had to campaign for the job, and has to look to his numbers the following days — Blair, Sarkozy, Macron — simply can’t manufacture that.

Even more notable: patriotism, a word too often used pejoratively, came spontaneously to describe the strange experience of hearing Britain’s great-grandmother praising and encouraging her people in adversity. We were, to be honest, more than a little envious.

The day the Queen delivered her coronavirus message to millions of Britons …

… Tony Blair’s odious spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, wrote an editorial for The Telegraph, ‘From her sense of humour to sense of duty, The Queen is the most remarkable person on earth’.

I am hardly a fan of Campbell’s, but he explains how he shifted from being a republican to becoming a monarchist. The Queen’s example showed him the way:

My first political row, aged six or seven, was about The Queen, when my mother said I had to sit with her and the rest of the family to watch the traditional Christmas message. ‘Why?’ I protested. ‘Why should I care what some rich woman says, just because she lives in a big posh house, wears a crown and has a silly voice?’

That was more than half a century ago, and the beginnings of fairly persistent Republicanism. My mother, born in the same year as the Queen, and with the same first name, Elizabeth, is alas no longer with us. The Queen, very much, is. How I wish my mother was here to see me write this: that in common with millions around the world, I was keen to see and hear The Queen as soon as it was announced she would be broadcasting a special message to the nation about the coronavirus crisis.

I would go further… I think it is possible to make the case that The Queen is one of, if not the, most remarkable people on the planet. Below are just ten among many reasons.

Campbell praised Her Majesty’s longevity:

She has ‘done the same job’ for almost 70 years … 70 years; there is nobody else, in any other walk of life, who has done that.

He praised her ‘enduring excellence’:

her standing with the public has never been below 60 per cent approval in the polls, and often in the 80s and 90s, because of the way she has performed her role.

He pointed to her universal fame:

Her face is perhaps the most reproduced image in the world (300 billion stamps and counting, hundreds of millions of coins and banknotes throughout the Commonwealth.) She is universally known, and near universally admired. Say ‘The Queen’ in conversation anywhere in the world, and she, the Monarch of all Monarchs, is the one people assume you are talking about. Her death, when it comes, will be one of the defining moments of our times, globally.

He praised her humility:

Despite that fame, and the authority that comes with her constitutional position, she wears both lightly. As one of her advisers once explained to me, ‘she knows that she did nothing to deserve the privileged position she holds. She was just plonked there, an accident of birth.’ Not for one second, he said, does she ever forget that.

He recalled her ability to handle a crisis, specifically Princess Diana’s horrible death on August 31, 1997. Princes William and Harry were with the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral at the time. Tony Blair was Prime Minister then, and Campbell was working for him:

… There was considerable reluctance among many at the Palace, her included, to lowering the flag at Buckingham Palace, to returning from Balmoral, to the Queen speaking to the nation. But when she and Prince Philip decided it all needed to be done, it was all systems go, and her walkabout outside the Palace, as I recorded in my diary at the time, dramatically changed the public mood, instantly. ‘The Queen,’ says historian Tristram Hunt, ‘will become a business-school case study in the management technique of rebooting.’

Campbell recalled her resilience when Windsor Castle caught fire in 1992, the same year when Charles and Diana’s marriage was breaking down:

There have been periods when the Republican movement has felt wind in its sails, and sensed the possibility of the whole Royal edifice crumbling. She has survived them all. Her annus horribilis, 1992, amid the grisly soap opera her family had become, with the Windsor Castle fire the tipping point to tears, was the only time her courtiers feared she was losing her capacity to endure whatever life threw at her. From that too though, she emerged stronger.

He admired her humanity:

I have met a fair few of her staff, at various levels, and have yet to meet one who doesn’t like as well as respect herAnother of her advisers told me that the reason she loves horses so much is that when she rides, ‘she feels like an ordinary human being, not a Head of State.’ 

He said she has a sense of humour, citing a quip of hers from 2002:

At the time of her Golden Jubilee, Tony Blair hosted a dinner for The Queen and all surviving Prime Ministers at Downing Street – Blair, John Major, Margaret Thatcher and Jim Callaghan – and descendants of the Prime Ministers who had died. As they all gathered somewhat nervously, she said: ‘Isn’t it just marvellous not to have to be introduced to anyone?’

On the subject of Prime Ministers, Campbell said the Queen has a certain mystique:

Even those who see her regularly, like her fourteen Prime Ministers with their weekly audiences, do not really know what she thinks about many of the major issues they discuss. She never puts a foot wrong on the political front, and though she is one of the most written about people on earth, we don’t really know much about her beyond what we see.

He praised the Queen’s sense of duty, performing the same rituals time and time again:

This defines her, really. She would not be human, if she did not occasionally think, ‘oh no, not another garden party/investiture/State opening/Trooping the Colour/regional visit/Commonwealth trip/State banquet for me to read platitudes drafted by the Foreign Office.’ Whatever it is, she just does it, again and again and again. Because it is her duty

Campbell ended by noting the change through which the Queen has lived. Yet she remains a constant presence in our lives:

She has seen so much change, and helped to drive change too. But she just is; ‘show not tell’ at its best. The Queen of 1953 would not have had a rock star like Brian May playing the national anthem on the roof of Buckingham Palace, as happened at the Golden Jubilee. The Queen of 2002 would not have appeared in a film for an Olympic and Paralympic Games opening ceremony, with Daniel Craig as James Bond, and a Queen lookalike jumping from a helicopter, as she did in 2012.

There is so much change in those different scenarios, but the only thing different about her is her clothing, and the colour of her hair. She just is, that’s it, and her latest broadcast, just being The Queen, will further add to the legend, and the history, of a truly remarkable human being.

That is the one time when Alastair Campbell and I have agreed on something.

That said, the year before, in September 2019, The New York Post published the results of a Sunday Times poll on Labourites’ — Campbell’s fellow travellers’ — views of the Queen. Who knew there were so many republicans among their number?

Only 29% of party members polled believe in keeping the British monarchy, the Sunday Times of London reported. And only one in five would be “happy” or “proud” to sing the national anthem, “God Save the Queen”

Even more shocking in a country that’s in the midst of leaving the European Union in part because of immigration issues, almost half of the poll’s respondents agreed that nations “should remove borders and people should decide where they want to live.”

I had forgotten about that poll, but everything remains true today. Few Labour MPs attended the Commons debate on the upcoming Platinum Jubilee. Furthermore, with regard to illegal immigration, most of them say that there is no such thing. In other words: come one, come all, no matter how.

Speaking of Labour, in 2005, Keir Starmer had just been made a Queen’s Counsel (QC). This was before he was made Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 2008.

Guido Fawkes unearthed this video, in which Starmer said he was against the monarchy:

Guido posted the video on February 3, 2021.

This begs the question: as the current leader of the Labour Party and desperate to appear as a safe pair of hands, is Starmer still a republican?

Guido offered this analysis about Sir Keir, as he now is (red emphasis in the original):

The 2005 interview … shows Sir Keir smugly boasting about his long-held republican views. Sir Keir, reflecting modestly on his other achievements, brags “I also got made a Queen’s Counsel, which is odd since I often used to propose the abolition of the monarchy” before smirking …

UPDATE: Owen Jones et al [more leftists] are blabbering on about the past tense of “I often used to propose the abolition of the monarchy”. That strictly reads as he used to propose the abolition, now he does not. Doesn’t necessarily mean Starmer has changed his mind, just his campaigning priorities. As he embarks on his patriotic makeover, it is reasonable to ask; is that a tactical change or has he truly converted to the merits of a constitutional monarchy? If so, what was it about becoming a knight of the realm that converted him?

I have much more to write about the merits of a constitutional monarchy and the Queen’s role within it.

For now, I will close with the thoughts of Alexandra Marshall, an Australian who contributes to that country’s edition of The Spectator.

Marshall was on Mark Steyn’s GB News show prior to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and made a solid case for a constitutional monarchy, which she also summed up in a tweet:

Precisely.

Paradoxically, today’s monarchies safeguard their citizens from tyranny.

More to come on this topic next week.

Yesterday’s post recapped the horrific murder of Sir David Amess MP on October 15, 2021.

Today’s will cover more about this much admired man’s personal character and political causes.

Posthumous victory: Southend-on-Sea now a city

I was delighted to learn at dinner time last night that the Queen granted Southend-on-Sea city status. Sir David must have mentioned Southend at least once a week in Parliament. He had long campaigned for it and made 115 references to it. Here he is with his two French bulldogs, one of which is Vivienne. He was due to participate with her in the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event on October 28:

The GB News article says that Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement to MPs on Monday, October 18 (emphases mine):

The Prime Minister has notified the House of Commons that the Queen has agreed to confer city status upon Southend in tribute to Sir David Amess who was recently killed.

MPs cheered in the Commons as the Prime Minister announced Southend “will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves”.

Mr Johnson said: “As it is only a short time since Sir David last put that very case to me in this chamber, I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves …

That ‘short time’ was probably last Thursday, October 14:

In a three-hour debate on Monday, preceding a service of remembrance at St Margaret’s, the Parliamentary church next to Westminster Abbey, Boris noted that Amess was never an MP interested in climbing the greasy pole to a Cabinet or party leadership position:

“That Sir David spent almost 40 years in this House, but not one day in ministerial office, tells everything about where his priorities lay.”

Boris Johnson, opening tributes to Sir David Amess, told the House of Commons: “The passing of 72 hours has done little to numb the shock and sadness we all felt when we heard of the tragic and senseless death of Sir David Amess.

This House has lost a steadfast servant, we’ve lost a dear friend and colleague, and Julia and her children have lost a loving husband and devoted father.

“Nothing I or anyone else can say can lessen the pain, the grief, the anger they must feel at this darkest of times.”

Returning to Southend-on-Sea, having city status will help to increase its profile and encourage outside investment, as the leader of the city’s council explains below. Incidentally, having a cathedral, the traditional marker of an English city, is no longer necessary. City status is now a symbolic designation:

On Friday night, this Southend business owner said that Amess was dedicated to making his town a city:

Everything I know about Southend I learned from David Amess’s contributions in the House of Commons:

‘Community man’

There are MPs and there are MPs.

Sir David was the type of MP who will be sorely missed by his constituents, who called him a ‘community man’. GB News interviewed several over the weekend, some of whom were in tears or close to it, including men, such as this Leigh-on-Sea councillor:

This councillor from Southend says that Sir David, whose mother lived to the age of 104, used to throw parties for constituents over 100 years old. He also used to ask about local issues in Southend and resolve them with the help of councillors:

Another councillor remembers that Sir David would check on certain constituents to see if they had transport for important meetings, probably related to issues of theirs he was dealing with as an MP. The man says that Sir David would personally drive those constituents to the places they needed to go. And, yes, there were right to life issues he campaigned for:

The Chairman of Leigh-on-Sea council recalls Sir David’s selflessness:

This lady from Leigh-on-Sea, the Essex town where Sir David was stabbed to death (17 times), discusses his dedication to his constituency. Like many other people, she had the pleasure of meeting him at work in nearby Southend:

As was the case with other people GB News interviewed, a man interviewed (at 2:35 in the next video) said that people used to see Amess in the local Lidl, where he took time to chat with fellow shoppers. The man said that he did not vote for him but said that the MP was always available and accessible to everyone:

Vigil Mass

On Friday evening, the Revd Jeffrey Woolnough conducted a vigil Mass at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea.

This is the church the Amess family attend.

The video below has a few photos from the Mass. Starting at the 40-second point, notice how traditional it is. The priest stands with his back to the people, as in days of yore. He also wears a short chasuble that is very pre-Vatican II, a fiddleback. How fortunate for the Amess family to have found such a church:

At 1:50 in the video above, two ladies expressed their grief on Friday night following the vigil Mass. One of them said that Amess ‘knew everybody’. As was the case with other people GB News interviewed, one of ladies said that people used to see him in the supermarket.

GB News was on hand to cover the Mass:

 

A service at Saint Peter’s Church in Eastwood Lane, close to where Sir David was killed, was held on Friday evening to remember him – where he was described by a priest as “Mr Southend”.

The church fell silent as Father Jeffrey Woolnaugh paid tribute to the Conservative MP and invited his constituents to remember him.

He placed a photograph of Sir David at the front of the church, and said: “This liturgy is one I was not expecting to lead today.

“The whole world grieves. In this Mass we pray for the repose of the soul of dear David.

“Have you ever known Sir David Amess without that happy smile on his face? Because the greeting he would always give you was that happy smile.

He carried that great east London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people and the level they’re at. Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that.”

Around 80 people attended the service and listened as Father Woolnough recounted his own memories of Sir David.

He said: “When you can speak to your MP and you can talk and get on like a house on fire, that’s when you can talk to them later about things that are important to your area.

“What can we say? He died doing the thing he loved, meeting his constituents, his local people.”

Father Woolnough added that his constituents could “count on” Sir David, and said: “He was always available. We don’t have the words tonight.

“Dear Sir David, rest well.”

The priest also said that Amess’s smile is ingrained on everyone’s hearts:

On Saturday night, a secular candlelit vigil took place near where Sir David was murdered. The Daily Mail has many moving photographs of the gathering.

Biography

Most Britons think that all Conservatives were born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Not so.

David Amess was born in humble circumstances in London’s East End.

The Telegraph recounted his life:

David Anthony Andrew Amess was born on March 26 1952 in working-class Plaistow, East London, to James Amess, an electrician, and Maud, née Martin, a dressmaker. As Amess recalled, “we were very poor and lived in a small terraced house with no bathroom, an outside toilet and a tin bath hanging on the wall”. In 2014 he would compile and publish a pamphlet, Party of Opportunity, containing short biographies of Tory MPs with working-class origins.

David’s mother was a Roman Catholic who brought him up in the faith and he remained a staunch Catholic throughout his life, his commitment reflected in his opposition to abortion and to the broadening of LGBT rights. “Confession,” he once said, “is very important to me.”

He attended St Antony’s Junior School, Forest Gate, where he was “often in classes of 50, and the teachers still gave us excellent tuition and kept order to a high standard”, and St Bonaventure’s Grammar School, Newham, where he remembered being “quite bossy and pushy” and was rumoured to have once hit a fellow pupil over the head with a bicycle pump.

Until the age of five, Amess said, he had the nickname of “Double Dutch” on account of a bad stutter: he could not make the sounds “st” or “the” and saw a speech therapist for three years, which also had the effect of virtually eliminating his Cockney accent.

He had a varied career prior to entering politics:

He took a degree in Economics and Government at Bournemouth College of Technology. Then, after 18 months’ teaching at a primary school (“I specialised in teaching children who were described as ESN”), and a short stint as an underwriter, he became a recruitment consultant.

One wonders if he met his wife Julia while he was an underwriter:

In 1983 he married Julia Arnold, a former underwriter, who survives him with their four daughters and a son.

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister during Amess’s early years in politics:

A dedicated Thatcherite, Amess contested the safe Labour seat of Newham North West in 1979, and in 1982 became a councillor in the London borough of Redbridge.

During those years, Essex went from electing Labour MPs to Conservative ones. The county is still Conservative-dominated in Parliament.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the media coined expressions for Essex voters, many of whose families had been moved out of London after the Second World War had ended. The next generation of voters became known collectively as ‘Basildon man’ and ‘white van man’.

Amess rode the crest of that wave, as The Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh explains:

Basildon was the first constituency he served, beginning in 1983:

When the incumbent Tory MP for Basildon, the Right-wing Harvey Proctor, moved to safer Billericay for the 1983 general election, Amess was chosen to fill his shoes and was duly elected. Three years later he stood down from the council to concentrate on his Westminster seat.

Basildon was regarded as a bellwether seat, and when Amess won it again in 1992, albeit with a tiny majority, it provided the first indication that despite the pundits, and the triumphalism of Labour’s leader Neil Kinnock, the Tories were on course for a fourth successive election victory. He would later describe his campaign in a short pamphlet entitled 1992: Against All Odds! (2012).

Boundary changes prior to the 1997 general election meant that Basildon was almost certain to go Labour, so Amess decided to look elsewhere, and in 1995 was selected to fight Southend West after the retirement of Paul Channon. Returned to Westminster again, he held the seat until his death.

Amess focused on his constituents, first and foremost:

Assiduous and likeable, Amess built a strong personal following by concentrating on constituency issues: the Guardian’s Andrew Rawnsley once suggested that the secret of his electoral success was that “he never completed a sentence without mentioning his constituency”.

This was also reflected away from Parliament:

Amess … was a lifelong supporter of West Ham United, and also followed Basildon United …

Even after he left Basildon, he still returned to visit, as this former Basildon councillor remembers:

He had many accomplishments with regard to charity, earning him a knighthood. He:

was knighted in 2015 and received several awards for his contributions in parliament, including the Animal Welfare and Environment Champion award of the 2011 Dods Charity Champion Awards, and the “Outstanding Achievement Award” at the same event the following year, in recognition of his lifetime commitment to charitable work.

This was how the newly knighted Sir David celebrated:

He did not always follow the Conservative line in Parliament:

he incurred the wrath of many fellow Conservatives by consistently voting to ban foxhunting and hare coursing (though he was in favour of capital punishment), and supporting numerous other animal welfare campaigns.

Many MPs will remember his staunch support of Brexit, however.

They will also remember him for supporting animal causes and an end to fuel poverty:

The most significant of these were the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act (1988), and the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act (2000) …

The animal-related Act, supported by the NFU, banned the tethering of “any horse, ass or mule under such conditions or in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering”.

The second piece of legislation, following on from the death of a constituent from cold, required the Secretary of State to “publish and implement a strategy for reducing fuel poverty”. The measure was credited with pushing fuel poverty to near the top of the political agenda, contributing to a dramatic fall in the problem in England from 5.1 million households in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2004.

Another cause that Amess supported, thanks to a Leigh-on-Sea constituent, Carla Cressy, was that of endometriosis. 

The Telegraph has the story:

“I first approached Sir David Amess when I’d just found out I had endometriosis five years ago,” says Carla Cressy, 30, an accounts manager from Leigh-on-Sea. “I didn’t know much about it, and realised there was very little awareness, support and education around it. He’s my local MP so I visited him at his surgery. I had no expectations of what would happen. I just knew I wanted to share my story with him, about how I’d suffered with endometriosis for an entire decade before I was diagnosed.

He was so lovely – genuinely concerned and upset about what I’d been through. He said we need to do something about it, and he then really did. He went above and beyond to champion this community like a beacon of light. It was incredible. I am devastated that he’s gone.”

This is what happened:

“Sir David recognised the significant impact endometriosis could have, and really wanted to make a difference to help those with the disease,” says Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK, a charity that was working closely with an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) that Sir David set up in 2018 to raise awareness in Parliament of the condition …

One of Sir David’s goals when he created the APPG was for the government to provide education on endometriosis in schools. It’s something the group achieved over a year later, meaning menstrual wellbeing is now included on the English curriculum. “We made so much progress together,” says Cressy, who worked closely with Sir David on the campaign. “He really has changed so many lives, including my own.”

One of Sir David’s upcoming tasks, had he lived, was to ask for further research funding, as a Labour MP explains:

“He really wanted that debate,” says Labour MP Emma Hardy, vice-chair of the APPG on endometriosis. “We’d published a report last year, collecting evidence from women around the country with their experience of endometriosis, and Sir David wanted to draw attention to our recommendations.”

Their key goals are to reduce the time it takes for people to be diagnosed, ensure GPs have enough information to make them aware of the condition, raise public awareness, and fund more research into non-invasive ways of diagnosis …

“The main thing that comes from women is not being listened to, not being believed, taking ages to be diagnosed and then when they are, there’s not much change. Sir David wanted to change that. Endometriosis isn’t party politics, but he was really passionate about trying to do something about this condition. I don’t want him to be remembered as the person this tragedy happened to, but the person who worked so hard to improve the lives of people with endometriosis. We can’t replace him, but I hope we can find another Conservative MP to champion his work and continue with the APPG.”

This GB News video covers Sir David’s public life from the time he entered politics:

MPs paid respects

On Friday afternoon, Union flags were lowered to half-mast over government buildings, including No. 10:

On Saturday morning, prominent Conservative and Labour MPs laid flowers near the Methodist church hall where Sir David was murdered:

Government whips have reminded MPs that there is an Employee Assistance Programme for anyone among them who wants counselling after Sir David’s senseless murder.

Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, was deeply sorry to lose this man:

This was because he befriended MPs from both sides of the aisle and found ways to work constructively with them:

One of the things I found moving in watching and reading these tributes was the recollection made by more than one MP, regardless of party affiliation, on his befriending of new Parliamentarians. He introduced himself, asked how they were getting on and enquired if they had any issues with which he could help.

Conservative MPs

These are some of the Conservative MPs’ tributes, beginning with Boris’s:

Long-time friend David Davis paid tribute to Amess’s career of service, rather than ambition:

Stuart Anderson remembers Amess helping him settle into the job:

Andrew Rosindell, another Essex MP, lamented the loss of his oldest friend in the Commons:

Another long-time friend, David Jones, called him ‘frankly irreplaceable’:

I agree with Mike Wood. Forthcoming Adjournment debates will never be the same. That said, Southend is now a city:

The folks running PARLY agree on the adjournment debates, during which Sir David addressed more issues than Southend:

Labour

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer emphasised Amess’s Christian faith and the fact that he was well liked across the House:

Hilary Benn remembered Amess’s dogged campaigning and dedication:

Siobhain McDonagh will forever connect Amess with Southend, and who can blame her?

Steve McCabe will remember Amess’s cheerful nature:

John Cryer was a former neighbour:

Liberal Democrat

The most moving tribute, however, came from Lembit Öpik, a former Liberal Democrat MP, who spoke to Mark Dolan on GB News Saturday night:

The former MP was so moved that he had to sit down and recover after that interview. Mark Dolan’s producer was with him during that time.

Conclusion

It was serendipitous that the Gospel reading for Sunday, October 17, was about service (Mark 10:35-45):

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

What apposite verses for Sir David Amess, who gave his all in service to his constituents.

May his place in Heaven be an exalted one.

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost — is October 17, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading about pride and humility would have been more powerful had the Lectionary editors added the preceding verses, which follow last week’s reading, about the rich young ruler. It ended with Mark 10:31:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Here are verses 32-34, where, for a third time, Jesus tells His disciples what will happen to Him (also see John MacArthur’s sermon):

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

After hearing that, it is incredible that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would have the utter brass neck to ask that He do whatever they ask of Him (verse 35). Well, early on, Jesus had called them the ‘sons of Boanerges’, the sons of Thunder:

a name signifying sons of thunder , given by our Lord to the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, probably on account of their fiery earnesty. (Mark 3:17) See (Luke 9:54; Mark 9:38) comp. Matt 20:20 etc.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that, in Matthew 20, their mother petitioned on their behalf and they seconded it:

This story is much the same here as we had it Matthew 20:20. Only there they are said to have made their request by their mother, here they are said to make it themselves; she introduced them, and presented their petition, and then they seconded it, and assented to it.

Note, 1. As, on the one hand, there are some that do not use, so, on the other hand, there are some that abuse, the great encouragements Christ has given us in prayer. He hath said, Ask, and it shall be given you; and it is a commendable faith to ask for the great things he has promised; but it was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their Master; We would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. We had much better leave it to him to do for us what he sees fit, and he will do more than we can desire, Ephesians 3:20.

So Jesus asked what it was they wanted Him to do for them (verse 36).

Henry says this was a way of putting them in check so that they might realise the folly of what they were doing:

He would have them go on with their suit, that they might be made ashamed of it.

They continued in their conceit and pride, asking that Jesus place one of them on His left and the other on His right in glory (verse 37).

Henry explains the two brothers’ reasoning:

James and John conclude, If Christ rise again, he must be a king, and if he be a king, his apostles must be peers, and one of these would willingly be the Primus par regni–The first peer of the realm, and the other next him, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, or Daniel in Darius’s.

John MacArthur has more:

Now as we look at this incident with James and John coming to Jesus and making their request, I want you to see how this breaks out into three characteristics of self-promotion, three characteristics of self-promotion, the path to greatness through self-promotion.

First of all, it’s motivated by self-ambition, or its defined by selfish ambition. Verse 35: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’” James and John called the sons of thunder, they were brash, bold men. They were the inner circle. They were with Jesus intimately with Peter, the most intimate of all the disciples and apostles. They were close to Him on a regular daily basis, and they think they have gained some ground by that because of their intimacy, because of their participation in the transfiguration, because they have been privy to so many private conversations in times with Jesus. They are sure that they are certainly above and beyond the rest of the men, and so this has come to the place in their minds where they’re bold enough to ask for privilege in the coming kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why their mother petitioned on their behalf in Matthew’s version of the story:

Now this is important. Why would you bring your mother? Come on, be a man. What, you bring your mother? Well, it’s not just that they brought their mother, it’s who their mother was. When you study the crucifixion of Christ in the account of Matthew, Mark, and John, you see three women at the cross: Mary the mother of our Lord, Mary Magdalene, and a third woman. The third woman who is at the cross is identified in three different ways. Matthew calls her the mother of the sons of Zebedee; so it’s this woman, which means she hung in there. When the apostles had fled she hung in there, she was at the cross. So, strong faith there.

Matthew calls her the mother of Zebedee. Mark calls her Salome; so that was her name. John calls her the sister of Jesus’ mother. So their mother is Jesus’ aunt. So this is now a family deal. They’re going to play the family card here, okay. “Not only were we at the transfiguration, not only are we intimately involved with You in the inner circle, but Your mother is our mother’s sister. That’s got to be good for something big, really big.”

She bought into it. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, she didn’t ask if she could have a seat on the dais, she would find her proud fulfillment through her children, like unsuccessful people with bumper stickers, and others on the Internet. She comes worshiping proskuneō. She comes bowing low, and Mark – Matthew says she’s desiring a certain thing of Jesus, and what she’s desiring is exactly what they asked.

So they’re really – this is serious ambition. This is not just personal ambition, this is not whimsical ambition, this is family ambition. Everybody’s in on this deal; and they’re going to come and they’re going to gang up on Jesus thinking they have the right

There’s another feature of pride that rears its ugly head as well, and we could call it arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence. This is so much a part of people’s life and attitude today, it’s just absolutely everywhere. They say, “We want to sit one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

Jesus tells James and John that they do not understand what they are asking; can they drink the cup that He will drink and can they be baptised with His baptism (verse 38).

MacArthur tells us what Jesus was saying. The cup was one of God’s wrath and the baptism was not one of water but being submerged in something profoundly horrible, akin to what we would call a baptism by fire:

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” That’s an Old Testament idiom for taking in something, draining it. And it’s the cup in Isaiah 31 of God’s fury: “Can you handle, can you handle all that is to come?” Jesus was going to drink the cup of God’s fury. Remember in the garden He said, Matthew 26, “Let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done,” the cup of God’s wrath, He would drink it to the bottom. That was the image. Drinking the cup was literally imbibing it all in. It’s an Old Testament idiom meaning fully absorbing something, fully experiencing something, taking it all in.

Psalm 75, verse 8 talks about the ungodly drinking the cup of wrath. So that cup is very often associated with suffering. “Are you able to do that? Are you able to be baptized?” meaning not Christian baptism, but immersed into, plunged into, submerged. “Are you really able to go all the way under and suffer, to be, as it were, drowned in persecution, and ultimately martyrdom?” This is strong language. “Can you literally drink it all in and be submerged in it, because that’s what you’re really asking, because if you want the glory, the glory is the reward correspondent to the suffering.”

Naively, the brothers asserted that they were able, so Jesus agreed that they would drink His cup and be baptised into His baptism (verse 40).

Of the two, John was present at the Crucifixion and stayed until the end, with Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. Jesus commended John to Mary before He died. In fact, John was the only one of the twelve Apostles to be there. Judas killed himself that day and the other ten, James included, hid themselves away in fear.

James and John had no idea what they were affirming and what lay ahead for them. Jesus granted their request about drinking His cup and bearing His baptism, as MacArthur tells us:

“Jesus said to them,” – verse 39 – ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.’” That’s a prophecy, folks, that’s a prophecy. “Oh, the suffering? Yeah, you’ll have that. You will have that. Yes, you will drink the cup in full, and you will be submerged in suffering.”

For James, he’s the first martyr; for John, he’s the last martyr. James’ martyrdom – had his head cut off – came fast, soon, sudden, lightning quick. For John, his was a slow agonizing, disappointing death as an exile at the end of the century on the island of Patmos which was virtually a prison island. “You will, you will drink the cup.” Rejected, exiled, in John’s case; rejected, executed, in the case of James – the first and last who died because of the gospel.

Then Jesus said that He could not grant them a seat at His right hand or his left, because that status has already been prepared, and not by Him (verse 40). The implication here is that God determines who will sit right next to His Son in glory.

Mark tells us that the ten Apostles listening to this conversation became angry with the two brothers (verse 41).

MacArthur says this was not because they thought the two were prideful but because they got there before Peter and the rest did in asking the question about sitting next to Jesus in glory:

Ha, they got preempted; James and John got there first. They were furious not because they were spiritually offended, but they thought they were getting cut out of the deal. And this is the third aspect of this, and it is ugly competitiveness.

This argument about who will be first continued until the Last Supper, even though Jesus was constantly reminding them of the pre-eminence of service, such as in Mark 9:34-35:

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

MacArthur says:

Look, they’re still arguing about this at the upper room. They just had a hard time humbling themselves.

Jesus called the Twelve together and reminded them of the Gentile tyrants who lord themselves over their subjects (verse 42).

He said it would not be that way for the Apostles, because greatness lies in service; the one who wishes to become great must be the other’s servant (verse 43).

Jesus went further, saying that whoever wishes to be first must be the slave to everyone else (verse 44). Talk about radical theology: there it is.

MacArthur discusses the Greek words for ‘servant’ and for ‘slave’:

Here’s the path: Be a servant. Be a servant. Diakonos is the word. “Table waiter” was its primary meaning. “Be a waiter.” Don’t be the person that everybody serves, be the person who serves everybody. Big difference, you know. The fancier the restaurant you go to, the bigger the gap between the people eating and the people serving. You be the server, not the one served. You be the table waiter. That’s what it is to be a servant.

There are six words in the New Testament for servant, all of them Greek words. All of them describe a function: oikonomos, a house servant; hupēretēs, an under-rower in a galley ship pulling oars down in the bottom of a big trireme ship. Be a servant. Be somebody who does something for someone else. You’re not served, you are serving. Be a servant. He doesn’t say, “Be an archōn, be a ruler.” He doesn’t say, “Be a timē, a dignified official.” He doesn’t say, “Be a telos, possessing a powerful office. He doesn’t say, “Be a hiereus, a priest.” The word is, “Be a waiter. Be a waiter. Give your life giving people what they need. Spend your life giving people what they need.”

And it doesn’t end there. Go down even from there, verse 44: “If you want to be first,” – prime – “then be the slave of all.” Wow! The slave of all? This is the word doulos about which you have heard much because of the book Slave. I cannot tell you, folks, how important it is that you read that book; it’ll change your entire understanding of what it means to be a Christian, slave. Slaves were inferior to servants. Servants did a job; slaves were owned, totally controlled. He’s saying, “Consider everybody a person to be served, and consider everyone to be your master.”

Jesus ended by telling them about His primary purpose: to serve and to give His life, ‘a ransom for many’ (verse 45). Notice that He said ‘many’ and not ‘all’. Not all will be saved, because God has already chosen whom He will save: past, present and future.

MacArthur says that Jesus was the slave of His Father:

The greatest service and the greatest slavery was exhibited in Christ, right? He didn’t come to be served. He’s not like other kings, He’s not like other rulers. We say He condescended. That’s one of the ways. He didn’t come like all kings to be served, He came to serve. He didn’t come merely to be Lord and Master, He came also be slave of His Father, and do His Father’s will. He came to be the servant – diakoneō is the verb – but to serve.

But it goes down from there. In giving His life He actually offered a level of obedience that could be deemed slavery. And that’s the language of Philippians. Listen to this: “Do nothing” – verse 3, Philippians 2 – “from selfishness or empty conceit.” This is the same kind of instruction coming from Paul that our Lord gave the apostles. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s exactly what our Lord is saying.

And then, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but the interest of others.” And here is the model: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a doulos, the form of a slave. Humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

And what happened to Him? “For this reason God highly exalted Him.” He made the greatest sacrifice, so He was the most exalted. “God gave Him a name above” – what? – “every name.” So, He got the highest name because He made the greatest sacrifice. That’s the principle. The greater the sacrifice, the more the glory. The greatest sacrifice gets the greatest glory. That’s Christ; That’s the model, that’s the pattern.

We are slaves to sin. We cannot help it. Sin is in our nature and sin is our master.

Through His horrifying and humiliating death, Jesus paid our ransom in blood to God the Father, the only efficacious propitiation for our sin. We are redeemed in God’s eyes, and He welcomes us into His kingdom.

MacArthur discusses ‘ransom for many’:

You want greatness in the kingdom? It’s correlated to your selfless serving slavery on behalf of others in sacrifice. And what was the actual service that Christ rendered? End of verse 45: “He gave His life” – we know that; why? – “a ransom for many, a ransom for many.” Lutron is the Greek word; it means “the price paid for the release of a slave,” the price paid for the release of a slave. Only used here and in Matthew 20; parallel account. He gave His life as the price paid for the release of a slave.

To whom was the ransom paid? To God. To God. God is the judge who had to be satisfiedGod is the executioner who had to be appeased, propitiated. This has now today, gratefully and thankfully, become the dominant theme in our understanding of the gospel, that Jesus is the ransom, Jesus is the substitute. Jesus dies a vicarious, substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. That’s what it says. He gave His life to pay the price in full. The price of sin had to be paid to God, to His divine justice; His justice had to be satisfied. The price that Christ paid satisfied God, propitiated His anger, settled His justice. He did it for many. I love the, kind of, Hebraic way of saying this: “for many,” in exchange for many.

What does that mean? What’s the emphasis there? Why does the word “many” appear? Because it’s juxtaposed with “Son of Man.” The ransomed bought by the sacrificial death of Christ are the many in contrast to the one Son of Man. One Son of Man pays the ransom for many.

Somehow I doubt whether any clergy are going to discuss serving or slavery in their Sunday sermons about this reading.

Let us put away our pride and instead embrace humble service.

Blessings to everyone for a good week ahead.

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