This is a parable I have written to go with this week's sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.
The Parable of John and Jane
John and Jane weren't the most likely of couples. They got together after Jane helped John get through a crisis in his life, and they stayed together after it. There were always tensions between them, but somehow they managed to get over them. John was not an easy person, but Jane seemed to bring out the best in him. It seemed that there was nothing he couldn't do with Jane by his side guiding him and encouraging him.
John's influence on Jane was not nearly so positive. John valued power and success. And it was largely to please him that Jane pursued and did well in a career that made money and won her respect. She was never truly happy, however, and, despite her outward achievements, at times she didn't feel she was being the person she truly was inside.
After a while together, the strain got too much for Jane and she had a breakdown. John and Jane got through it, but something had changed in their relationship. John still looked to Jane for support, but John became increasingly the dominant partner and Jane more and more dependent upon him.
Then John got bored with Jane. He felt she was holding him back. Things he had once liked about her, he no longer liked. There was so much more he could do without her. He resented her constantly nagging at him and telling him what to do. Their relationship didn't come to a sudden end, but it was clear to those who knew them that something had changed and that John was spending less and less time with Jane.
Jane sensed John's increasing lack of interest in her, which only heightened her own insecurity and lack of confidence. She had been with John so long now, and had come to rely on him. She was used to the life they had together. She simply didn't know how to live without him.
So she did all she could to win him back. She pleaded with him. She changed her appearance to make herself look like the other women John was taking an interest in. She spent more and more time seeking to help John in his life to the neglect of her own life and work. Staying with John and keeping John in her life was now her main goal.
John realized that Jane could still be useful to him. After all, he was able largely to do what he wanted. If Jane was happy to give him the freedom to live as he liked and was willing to fit in with his plans, then why should he care? He had to give her the odd present to keep her happy and spend time with her now and again, but this was a small price to pay. And he could always just get rid of her if she became too big a nuisance.
Meanwhile, Jane's friends, who loved her deeply, became seriously anxious about her. They could hardly recognize her any more. They pleaded with her to end her relationship with John. To be the person she really was, but it was as if Jane had forgotten who that person was.
Her friends reluctantly came to believe that it was going to take something terrible to happen to bring the relationship to an end. They noticed that John was getting more and more impatient with Jane and feared that it wouldn't be too long before that 'something' happened.
But how was Jane going to cope when it did?
The Parable of John and Jane (explained)
The story of John and Jane is an all too familiar one and the chances are we all know of people who are, or who have been, in similar relationships.
There is some value in going over the past and looking at the history of the relationship and how things got to how they have, but the pressing issue for Jane is what happens now. As the saying goes: 'it is what it is'.
Many people, normally women, find themselves in abusive relationships, but just can't bring themselves either to accept the relationship is at an end or to end it before it destroys them completely. They would rather put up with the abuse than end a relationship that they have so much invested in. And if they are in love with the abuser or even derive material benefit from being with him, it is so much harder.
It's easy to see all this when you are on the outside looking in. And all too easy to give advice, which we, if we were in the same position, would find hard to take ourselves.
This doesn't, however, alter the fact that Jane needs to end the relationship and begin the long, slow journey of finding both healing and her true self.
It would, of course, be better if Jane came to realize that for herself and took the painful and necessary steps needed to free her from the relationship. Tragically, that is not often what happens. More often, it takes 'something', and usually the 'something terrible' that Jane's friends fear, to be the catalyst for change.
The good news, as many have found, is that once the break has taken place there is a sense of liberation and peace. It doesn't mean, however, that Jane will find the future easy. Her freedom will come at a price. She will not have the security that her relationship with John, for all its abuse, gives her. Materially, she will probably be worse off. There will be an inevitable change in her relationships with people who knew her as part of a couple. The loss will take some considerable time to adjust to and building a new life for herself free from John is going to take time.
But the hope is that Jane will find discovering her real identity and purpose in life both exciting and fulfilling. With love and support, Jane will come to see that she has much to give. Above all, hopefully, she will see she is beautiful, intelligent, and of value.
And, looking back - that is, if she has the time in her new life to look back - she will realize that she didn't need John after all. The question of the relationship between the World and the Church, both what it is and what it should be, is a difficult one.
All are pretty much agreed that it has been changing for some time and that the relationship that once existed, exists no longer. But given that the relationship has changed, and given the way that it has changed, what should the relationship be now?
All can probably agree with these comments about John and Jane's relationship. They are ones that I think most people would agree with. Agree, that is, when they are about an abusive human relationship between two individuals. But what when the relationship is between communal or social groups? For example, between society and the Church?
If the relationship in which the Church now finds itself with secular society were a relationship between a man and a woman, we would know exactly what needed to happen. It is only because we, the Church, have become addicted to the abuse in the way many abused victims become addicted and subjugated that we can't see what is staring us in the face.
It is frightening and challenging to go back to the Story itself, and then to the comments on it, and read them both simply changing the name 'John' to the 'World' and 'Jane' to the 'Church'.
If you have the time, I think you will at least find it an interesting exercise!