This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, following publication of Sue Gray’s update on her investigation into alleged gatherings on Government premises during covid restrictions.

Publication of Sue Gray’s report yesterday poses questions for all of us. Put bluntly, what sort of society do we want to be? And what role should leadership play in shaping such a society?

These are tough questions that can’t just be addressed in the abstract. However, any answers must be built around a moral framework that delimits what is acceptable and what is not. Any living community in which competing values and convictions play for priority will have to agree on some moral parameters – what the late Jonathan Sacks used to refer to as “the moral limits of power”.

Around 3,000 years ago the Hebrew Proverbs asserted that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – not the fear of terror, but what we might term ‘awe’ and ‘ultimate respect’. Such fear assumes a reference point beyond me and my interests; it takes responsibility for the consequences of decisions made and priorities set. And I think this applies not only to individuals like me, but also to whole societies which must choose whom they worship – that is, to whom or what they give ultimate value. Pragmatic reflex is not enough.

And there’s the rub. Character is shaped by the habits of a lifetime and must always be held against some commonly-owned measure of what society claims to believe about truth, love and justice … if you like, what we wish to teach our children about how to live well.

I was thinking about this on Sunday when celebrating Candlemas in two parishes in Yorkshire. Candlemas marks the transition from Christmas and Epiphany towards Lent and Easter. Christmas offers us the mystery of God coming among us in the vulnerability of a baby; but, we move on in the story to the child who grows up, makes choices, and ends up on the gallows.

The remarkable thing is that this child, Jesus, never wavered, even when the cost of leading others towards a radical change of life led, in the end, to his own death. Choices, consequences, costs. The victory of power is a sham.

The Christian story speaks of forgiveness for failure; but, it also speaks of repentance and change. Not for reasons of pragmatic convenience, but because ethics matter for both individuals and society together.

We live in challenging times on many fronts. The question to be faced is: what sort of a society do we wish to be?