Tag Archives: loving your neighbour

Debt

Debt cancellation is a popular theme among those concerned with world development. How can struggling nations repay money which has long since been mis-spent or disappeared into corrupt hands, when they need to help their people to a better life? It is not a simple issue, but one example of how debt can throw a long shadow over life.

Paul tells Christians (we are reading Romans 13:8-14)

 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another

Romans 13:8a

and we might wonder how that works out in practice.

Jesus (Mark 12:31) summarised the law as loving the one God, and your neighbour as yourself. It brought together two vital strands. The love of God is a response to the love God first shows us, accepting his gift and putting it into use, our motivation for new life. But our love of those around us is a reality check. If we really love God, then it will show in our behaviour, even to the difficult or demanding. After all, God loved us when we were just like that!

But how are we to set about cancelling debts? Doesn’t society depend on favours owed and favours returned? Isn’t our social life founded on remembering who you owe? Perhaps some people do give the impression of a frantic counting and reckoning of who is owed what. But there is an alternative. The Lord’s Prayer taught us “Forgive us . . as we forgive”; – not a careful accounting, but a generosity which reflects the generosity of God’s treatment of us. I think what Paul is recommending is that generosity in our relations with our neighbours.

It may be in terms of money, including making sure that we repay anything borrowed promptly and willingly, but it is really about a wider generosity of spirit. Sometimes money is not the issue. Generosity may offer time and a listening ear (rather than advice!). It may find sympathy rather than blame. It will control irritation, contempt, and cynicism.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone is wise or does the right thing. But if there are words of guidance or correction, they will be spoken gently, and by the right person. And those words will only be heard after any personal anger or hurt have been dealt with, so that they are spoken with a positive slant, and with love.

Easy? Like so many Christian things, it is not complicated, just hard to do. But this is a response to a God who deals lovingly with me, so there is a reminder of what is possible!

A Great Commandment

The Great Commandment (which we read in Mark 12:28-34) can be analysed in several ways:

Some will point out that the two parts each quote the Old Testament – Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and ask with the scholars whether Jesus was the first teacher to bring them together in this way – it seems likely that it is.

Others will find it helpful to set this story in the sequence of questioning of Jesus after the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. There is the parable of the Vineyard, the hostile questions about taxes, and the resurrection, and then this more friendly scribe.

I want to ask a more fundamental question: What does it mean to do it? What would loving God and neighbour in this way look like in today’s world? There is a single-mindedness about it – something we find difficult in a diverted and distracted world. Interestingly Mark (not Matthew and Luke, who deal with the story in different ways – perhaps reflecting different occasions when Jesus used the summary?) quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” The force of that may be clearer in CEV “’People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God.” Because there is one God, and not a choice, a wholehearted response is necessary. This is most important – more than personal inclination, comfort, even wealth and career.

What then? Clearly we are put in our place, and it is not at the centre of the universe! That might offend our selfishness, but it can also be a relief. We do not have to invent a meaning to life, a reason for our existence or anything else – someone else has done that. If for a time we lose our way, and find it hard to see pleasure, let alone purpose, this is a personal malaise, not the end of the world! God knows, God plans, God is, and our responsibility is to him first. There is a relief in letting him be in charge!

Strangely, the second thing about being put in our place is that we are not free to disparage ourselves – or indeed other people. If we are made and loved by God, we are not unwanted, useless, or rubbish. We do not have to justify our existence by exceptional achievement.

I do not matter because I am clever, successful, or professionally competent – but because God made me, loves me, and saves me. That is true today, and will be tomorrow if I am suddenly confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or do anything much at all.

You are not free to think badly of yourself – that can be a temptation, to be recognised as such. You are to love the Lord your God – and his evaluation of you, and of others.

Loving your neighbour is a consequence of this. Yes, you may have the worst possible set of neighbours, but God still cares for them. You may be the means of bringing them to faith, and so to heaven (which is about as important as anything could be!)

You don’t love your neighbour when you can find a nice one. You don’t love your neighbour to be thought well of, to be praised for your charity. You don’t love your neighbour to convince yourself that you aren’t such a bad person really. You love your neighbour because you know that God, who is the most important person in all the Universe, loves you and loves them as well. You are told to love them; it may even have a part in God’s plans for you both. So you do it.

Correction !?

(There is a Dialogue Sketch on this gospel available at http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/dialogue-sketches/index-of-dialogue-sketches/matthew-1815-20-community-gossip-and-heaven/ )

Surprisingly, in a world where individualism reigns and everybody does their own thing, this is signing-up time. Students are committing to courses: school, college, or just evening classes and church housegroups.  Of course, many things you can do on your own: buy the book, manual, video and get on with it. But its easier with a real teacher and the fun of a group. Sometimes it helps when you are tempted to duck a wet evening in February to know that you will be missed. There is support and help in belonging.

So also in Church, but sometimes we damage that. When we don’t relate to other people, or do it badly, we weaken the encouragement, and make it harder for church to challenge or correct.  What! you say. You have no intention of being corrected? Well, read today’s gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) more carefully! Any community not only has values and rules, but ways of enforcing them.  They can be good or bad. Bad would include gossip, and arbitrary exclusion – being thrown out without warning or explanation. Good ways of enforcement might be – well, as in Mt – a careful proportionate response, with checks for truthfulness and the avoidance of kangaroo courts.

The Romans reading (Romans 13:8-14, especially verses 8 and 9) quotes Leviticus 19:18, and Jesus, about loving your neighbour as yourself. That is not just about being co-operative when they ask for help – lending tools over the back hedge. It is certainly much more that “doing anyone a good turn”. To love your neighbour is to have a real concern for their wellbeing, so if their life looks as if it might not be leading to heaven, you need to love your neighbour. It may be to say something to turn them again to God; it may be to point out what is happening in warning; or perhaps the only opportunity you have will be to give an example. The lesson from Ezekiel 33:7-11 sets out the responsibility, and not only for Old Testament prophets.

It’s signing-up time. Perhaps you will do some course, learning a language or skill. I certainly hope you will join in with a Church (and perhaps its groups!). One way and another we need to sign up to a congregation where we encourage one another on the way to heaven, and when necessary correct and warn one another of danger in the careful way Matthew lays out.

We have to love our neighbour, and to let them love us, for that is a central part of our faith. Loving our neighbour includes not letting them wander the road to hell without warning, or encouragement to take a better route.