I think it’s a really good thing to spend time thinking about why we do what we do, and what our motives in life are. Our 2 readings give us some insight into that.
Our first reading tells us that the faith and love that we profess springs from the hope stored up for us in heaven. Just take a moment to think about that. How does that fit with what we may have thought about where our faith and love come from?
That hope, realised in our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ is the very source of the faith and love we have. It is so important to have hope and to be hopeful people. I’ve shared before that great quote by Miroslav Wolf “Our hopes are a measure of a greatness.” In this passage we encounter the picture of faith and love springing from the hope stored up in heaven. The Bible often uses illustrations of springs and water, and when we think of faith and love springing from that hope it reminds me of when Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
It can be very easy, can’t it, for us to seek purpose and definition by the ‘here and now’ of our present life and circumstances? That’s like all of those things by which we might seek to define ourselves; job, family, belongings etc. Yet our first reading makes it very clear that our purpose and definition comes from the hope stored up for us in heaven – and we aren’t even there yet! However, being mindful of that hope and always holding that hope before us, the fruit is realised in faith and love.
What serves to remind us of that hope is Scripture. That’s one of the many reasons why it is so important for us to spend time reading the Bible; it helps to root and ground us in all truth and to have a good and Godly perspective on life. It is something that enables us to clear out the weeds and dead branches and that clearing and pruning helps us to grow in our faith and love. What is clear is that the point that this begins to happen in our journey of faith is when we have heard and truly understood God’s grace. Let me say this; if we are not gracious with other people and ourselves, I would suggest we haven’t truly understood God’s grace. Pray that you might because it is hugely important. Yes, we must have faith; yes, we must have love, but we must also have grace. You see, in and of ourselves we cannot life a life worthy of the Lord “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)
When we begin to understand and embrace this truth, filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, we may then live a life worthy of the LORD and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work. Don’t ever think you have fathomed the depth and breadth and awesomeness of the love and grace of God; and don’t ever stop seeking to be hopeful, faithful, loving and gracious people. In beginning our journey of faith and discipleship, we begin a journey of growth and transformation, growing daily in the knowledge of God.
When I think about this, I sometimes imagine that I am wearing an ‘L’ plate or sign on my back to signify that I am a learner. When I’ve led Christian nurture courses it’s been wonderful to see people of faith of many year’s standing having those light-bulb moments and revelations as they’ve realised something they never realised before about God. Likewise it’s been wonderful to see people embarking on their journey of faith discovering treasures along the way. I’ve had those moments too; it is great when that happens in fellowship and the Body of Christ. In faith we can awakened by grace, filled with hope and surrounded by love.
However old we might be, however many years of faith we profess, we can all appreciate the importance of learning and how transformative it can be in life; we only need to see children being helped to fulfil their potential in schools to see that. It’s good to remind ourselves that we all have something more to learn. That learning strengthens and equips us with all power according to his glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience and giving joyful thanks to the Father. I don’t know about you, but that makes me excited to learn. We certainly need endurance and patience in life. As that old chorus goes, I would like more of that love, more of that power, more of God in my life. Do we even begin to comprehend that God has qualified US to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light? God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. That is truly amazing!
With these thoughts in mind, we turn to our second reading in which the expert of the law stands up to test Jesus. Immediately that tells me that he had poor motives; firstly, he wanted to test Jesus, and secondly, he wanted to justify himself and his behaviours. It seems to me that he was looking for a ‘get out clause’ and wanted to interpret the law on his own terms, in ways that would be convenient to him. Have you ever found yourself doing that?
The man’s initial response to Jesus’ question about what was written in the law, is to “‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” It always comes down to love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). That has to be what remains when everything else is stripped away. If you find yourself in a relationship in which you know fear, then it really isn’t loving.
This does not mean, however, that we get to choose who to love, or even when to love. We are quite simply to love everyone, at all times and unconditionally – although I would add a caveat – provided it does not result in us or anyone else being harmed. Perhaps this is why the man wanted to justify himself, because his love was not unconditional; he was being selective and it was on his terms. In response to this, Jesus tells him the story of the Good Samaritan. It is such a well-known story. Let’s remind ourselves of it.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
When we think about that account, it wasn’t as if the passers by could come to any harm by helping the man. He was, after all, “half dead”. That poor man was clearly in need.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager I encountered someone who was begging for money. He told me a story about how he had just got out of prison, how he was trying to raise money to travel to stay with family. In compassion I emptied my pockets and gave him all that I had on me. My father was with me at the time and realising what I had done he rebuked me. I asked him what I had done wrong. My father said, “Didn’t you smell the methylated spirits on him?” The poor man was a ‘meths drinker’. Now, it may well have been his story was genuine, and that the money I gave him would indeed help him to get to his family. But it may also have been just a story to illicit money to feed his addiction. That experience really distressed me.
In my country we sometimes have rough sleepers stood on street corners selling a magazine called “The Big Issue”. This magazine exists to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Vendors buy The Big Issue magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50, meaning each seller is a micro-entrepreneur who is working, not begging. Therefore, it is vitally important that buyers take their copy of the magazine when they pay for it. We also have rough sleepers begging outside mini-markets and supermarkets.
The truth is, these people are all our neighbours. It can be all too easy for us to simply walk by and ignore these people, just like the priest and the Levite did. We are not to judge these people who for a huge variety of reasons have fallen on hard times. What I now tend to do is try to spend some time with each of these people, listening to their story and then I tend to buy them a meal and a hot drink. I also know a variety of places locally where people can get free hot meals as well as help and advice, and I pass this information on too.
There may also be times when we find ourselves in need. Perhaps we have had experiences in life that have left us feeling ‘beaten up and humiliated’? Who has helped us in these times? Was it always the people we expected? I know that when I’ve gone through very challenging times in life, I have been doubly surprised – both by the people who have stayed constant and true friends, and by people I thought were friends who faded away and vanished – people who crossed over the road to avoid me in those times.
We must be prepared to journey with people where they are in life. We must be willing to share with them love and grace because of the love and grace that we have been shown by God. That means journeying with people even if at times it is messy, unconfortable or inconvenient. The Samaritan spared no expense and took time out of his journey to help that man. Are we really so busy and so impoverished in life that we can’t take time out too?
Jesus said “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” I would hope that you, like me, would want to live a life worthy of the Lord. Oh that I always got that right; sometimes I spectacularly fail! But what keeps me going is the hope that I have in Christ, an awareness of his great love and a knowledge of his grace. These things fuel my faith. So Lord, open our eyes and give us compassionate hearts for our neighbours in their times of need. Amen