These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“Who is my neighbour?” (v.29) asked the lawyer. His original question had been how to be sure he was going to inherit eternal life. Jesus recited the two great commandments (the first from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18). The lawyer was anxious that he would be able to fulfil these two prerequisites (love the Lord and love your neighbour) for entrance into heaven.
He therefore wanted to verify that his understanding of the Jewish law was correct. His neighbour was surely limited to fellow Jews. Did not the Law command that one should hate one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43)? But Jesus was going to have none of it. His story of the Good Samaritan revealed that not only was anyone in need who came across our path our neighbour, but that the greater question was, are we being a good neighbour?
The story illustrated that the Priest and the Levite were too fearful or too busy to be moved by compassion. They both noticed the need of the beaten up man. The “man” (v.30), incidentally, was of no particular ethnicity or creed; he was simply a helpless victim. The story goes on to show that a Samaritan (neither Jew nor Gentile, but a half-caste) showed more natural compassion than God’s ‘chosen people’.
Jesus seemed less concerned with which group people belonged to, than whether the love of God was evidenced in their lives. It should have been taken for granted that God’s special and chosen people should have been the best exemplars of God’s love. Sadly then, as now, that is so often not the case.
The definition of ‘our neighbour’ from the story is someone whom we come across who is in need and whom we can help. This doesn’t include everybody who is in need, but it brings it down to the particular person whom God puts under our nose.
Lord, may I embrace each opportunity to show your love to those who need what I can give. Amen.
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v.31) RSV
The two commandments that Jesus gave to sum up the Old Testament law were: a) to love God with our whole being, and b) to love our neighbour as our self. We cannot of course fulfil the second, unless we fulfil the first. And we cannot fulfil the first, if we are not fulfilling the second!
In other words, we do not have the love of God with which to love our neighbour, unless we are loved by and love God. As we walk with our God so we are able to fulfil the commandment to love our neighbour: his love is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).
Conversely, if we think we love God and yet are not loving our neighbour, then we are deceiving ourselves (1 John 3:17). The way that we show that we genuinely love God is by loving our neighbour “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
We cannot give if we have not received. We cannot give what we do not have. If we do not love ourselves then we cannot love others. Maybe we have never been loved. How then can we fulfil this great command? The answer lies in the love of God. Once we start to understand how much he loves us, and that he accepts us as we are, then we shall find that same love starting to work through us to others.
This is why Jesus gave us a “new commandment” (John 13:34). This new commandment deepened the original commandment (Leviticus 19:18) that he had quoted. Now the requirement is: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This love, in the words of Ignatius, is “to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.”
Let us resolve to love God, not only face to face, but by loving others, for he loves them too.
Teach me, O Lord, to love others, whoever they are, with the love with which you love me. Amen.
“I have fought the good fight … I have kept the faith.” (v. 7) RSV
Paul was never less than 100% in whatever he did. As a Pharisee he was more zealous than any of his peers, and as a Christian he put most to shame in his missionary zeal. That is why when in prison and believing that his execution must be near he was able to say, “I have fought the fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” No doubt he had many regrets and sins, but he knew the Lord had forgiven them.
He was consequently able to look forward with eager longing to his reward. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness … “ (v.8). This reward is not for him only but “also for all who have loved his appearing.” (v.8).
When we reach old age, and perhaps are weak or infirm, we can feel that we are a burden on others and a fairly useless addition to this world. If we have a faith we may long to die and go to be with the Lord which, as St Paul said, is “far better” (Philippians 1:23). But we are in our mortal coil and must continue to rejoice every day. Our very weakness may be an opportunity for others to serve. Our agedness is not our fault. If we can’t hear, can’t remember and repeat ourselves, it is not our fault. It may be extremely humbling, but we must not let it become humiliating.
King David must have been tempted to despise himself when in old age, the beautiful ‘hot water bottle’, Abishag, failed to arouse him (1 Kings 1:3-4). But David could look back over a life of many achievements. His Lord would not abandon him. And then there was Peter. He was told by Jesus that in his old age, “another will gird you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). Each of the 7 ages has its joys and difficulties. Nevertheless, the Lord is constant and he always teaches us to rejoice.
Lord, grant me to be content, even in old age. Amen.
“I am still as strong today as I was …” (v. 11) RSV
Caleb had been one of the two faithful spies (together with Joshua) who had been into the Promised Land and returned saying they could take it. He had been forty years old at that time. Since then Moses and Israel wandered in the wilderness for a further 40 years. Caleb was now into his retirement years. But he was still full of life. As the Psalmist says: “They still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:14).
A follower of Christ should always be full of the Holy Spirit. Joy should both be his hallmark and his strength. As Nehemiah wrote: “… the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Caleb was not prepared to rust out in retirement, but he was determined to continue living for the Lord all the days of his life.
Retirement from our employment can be a hard pill to swallow, though some may welcome it with relief. But as followers of Christ it is “he who endures to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). We always need purpose, and even more so when we retire. Fortunately Christians always have purpose; their aim is to know their God better, and to serve him with every fibre of their being.
Some people find retirement difficult because they become a ‘nobody’. A former Bank of England Governor referred to the transition from ‘Who’s Who’ to ‘Who’s He’! But disciples are not concerned with importance and recognition; they are concerned with using what’s left of their time and talents to the full.
They are not seeking the praise of men but rather the pleasure of their Lord. They want finally to hear that welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Thank you Lord for the strength that is left to me. May I find worthy outlets and opportunities for service. Amen.