Murder at the Vicarage: I have to admit to a penchant for Murder Mystery TV programmes, and classic ‘who done it’ novels. Though I do prefer something noir and bleak rather than the relentless frissons of humour that encapsulate the multi-machinations of ‘Midsomer Murders’. Much better the bleakness of ‘Shetland’, the dourness of ‘Rebus’, or the complex inter-personality layers of ‘Broadchurch’.
Then, of course, there is Agatha Christie, giving us the famous Miss Jane Marple and her investigative talents. Superficially Miss Marple is a gossipy, annoying and very inquisitive lady snooping around the fictional 1930’s village of St Mary Mead. Sharp of mind, but kind of tongue, she displays incredible skills of observation and grasp of human nature.
‘Murder at the Vicarage’ is the first book in the Miss Marple series. Ironically it is the Miss Marple novel in which she plays the smallest part. With her gift for sniffing out the malevolent side of human nature, Miss Marple is led on her first case to a crime scene at the local vicarage. Colonel Protheroe, the magistrate whom everyone in the town hates, has been shot – a bullet to the head. No one heard the shot. There are no obvious clues. Yet, everyone surrounding the vicarage seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead. Most of the characters will at some point of the novel be suspected of being the wanted murderer. The novel is written from the first-person-perspective of the vicar, the inquisitive Revd Leonard Clement.
So what is it with vicars and murder? Is a Freudian hope of reducing the congregation? Doesn’t the day job keep us busy enough? Should our ordination training include watching copious re-runs of ‘Father Brown Investigates’ or ‘Grantchester’? Why should a subject, which in real life is so abhorrent, be of such clerical fascination? I suspect that it boils down to innocent escapism – something that for 60 minutes viewing, or a few chapters of reading, disengages mind and thoughts from the everyday.
Alongside my predilection for fictional homicide I do have a real passion for one book in particular. Should a TV series be made of this book in its entirety then some episodes could definitely only be shown after the 9 o’clock watershed. The meta-narrative is awash with wars, assassinations, betrayals, marriage infidelity, sexual violence, crime, and several gruesome murders. Yet we refer to this book, the Bible, as the greatest story ever written. And it is the greatest story because it is a real story, a story that tells how amidst our failings, weaknesses, inhumanity, and the depths to which we are capable of plummeting.
God makes human appearance in Bethlehem. It tells how he dignifies the undignified, gives status to the meagre, brings healing to the hurting, and new starts to the failing. Amidst the reality of our existence, despite the superficiality of our lifestyles, his light pierces our darkness and brings us a story of forgiveness and hope.
Unlike the redoubtable Miss Marple, God is not here to sniff out the malevolent side of our human nature or to prove us guilty. Rather he is with us, and if we make space for him is in us, to enable each one of us to be the person he always intended us to be.
So whatever we have done, whatever we have failed to do; then because of Jesus and despite all evidence to the contrary, we can be acquitted - found not guilty.