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.
If forgiveness (see last week) is one of the hallmarks of good neighbourliness, hospitality is the other. How do we show people the love of God? We welcome them into our homes and (probably) feed them. God welcomes us into his household and he spreads before us a heavenly banquet.
Many people are hospitable and give feasts, but that is not necessarily reflective of God’s hospitality. For instance, Dives (the rich man) gave feasts every day (Luke 16:19), and in today’s reading Jesus was dining “at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees” (Luke 14:1). However, Jesus castigated him for inviting only his friends and honoured guests (v.12).
God’s hospitality is given to the unloved and the unlovely, to the poor and outcast (v.13). Jesus said elsewhere: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Now this kind of hospitality or outreach may not seem very attractive. We tend to feel the Church needs the rich and the talented, so that we become strong and effective in reaching out. But God has always chosen the despised in this world. As Paul wrote, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
Hospitality is sharing what we have with others, it may be board and lodging, a cup of coffee, time to chat, or a word of guidance. But one way or another it takes the other person seriously and pours out loving kindness in their direction. We can all do it; we are all called to do it. We are not meant to keep God’s love for those who already have it; it is “for its non-members” (Archbishop Temple).
Give me a generous heart, O Lord, and a care for the lost and lonely in this world. Amen.
One of the most priceless gifts we can give to a friend, or even an enemy, is forgiveness. The word ‘forgiveness’ has ’give’ at the heart of it. Indeed the ‘for(e)’ part of it means ‘before’. In other words the word means ‘giving beforehand’. The offender cannot give anything to us until we have first given forgiveness to him. This act cannot be earned, it arises from our mercy and generosity of spirit. They say ‘sorry’ and we say ‘I forgive you’.
This is the way to bring reconciliation. There was a film many years ago that included the catch phrase “Love is not having to say you’re sorry.” I think this is an error. To brush things under the carpet is not to deal with them satisfactorily. The offence has to be acknowledged and the forgiveness clearly given.
Forgiveness should be our heart’s disposition even before any repentance has been expressed by the other person. Remember how Jesus said as he was being nailed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); well, that was forgiving before they asked.
But to forgive before the other person acknowledges their guilt and repents cannot restore relationship, although of course it will do us good by keeping our heart soft and pliable. Reconciliation can only take place when both parties desire it. Even then forgiveness is costly. We have to absorb the pain, offence or whatever has been done against us. Again, we follow our Master when we do this, for he absorbed the cost of our rejection and rebellion and it cost him his life!
He also forgives us again and again. His hope in us is undiminished. That is why he told Peter (and of course it applies equally to us) that we are to forgive each time it is genuinely sought. ‘Seventy times seven’ (v.22) can only mean times without number. Do we love our neighbour?
Lord, you have forgiven me so often, time without number. Help me to have that same attitude in my relationships. Amen.
“let us not love in word … but in deed” (v.18) RSV
Words are comparatively un-costly to utter. It is too easy to offer platitudes or good advice. It is something very different to get involved, to get our hands dirty and to put our hands in our own pockets. Our reading starkly condemns anyone who does not give practical help when they have the wherewithal to do so.
John tells us that however much we think we love God, we manifestly cannot do so if our hearts are hard and uncompassionate when face to face with need. Yes, we may agree. But what do we do when confronted with too much need; we haven’t got the wherewithal to meet all the need so how do we know which to respond to and which to ignore?
I believe the answer remains theoretical until we start to help. The main thing is to start to help one person, and then take it from there. Even Jesus did not meet the needs of everyone in Israel, but only those who came to him. Even then he might leave the crowd and go off alone to pray.
What we have to beware of is failing to respond at all to any need. James gives a similar warning when he writes: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-17). If we are tempted only to say, “I will pray for you”, when in fact we could do something practical to help, then we fall into this very trap.
It matters not whether people are being good neighbours to us, as it is our privilege and our duty as followers of Jesus to take the initiative and be good neighbours to them. As we pray for someone or listen to their need, let us try to hear if there is something we should be doing to help them. God has done so much for us, what can we do for him?
Thank you Lord for those who have helped me, especially for your care for me. May I too learn to love others in a real and practical way. Amen.
1 Who would not offer something that cost him nothing?
“Love your enemies and pray for (them)” (v.44) RSV
The Sermon on the Mount makes very uncomfortable reading. In this week’s portion we read of Jesus quoting what was being taught in his day: “Hate your enemy” (v.43). The religion of his time was based on justice and fair play, otherwise known as “an eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38). This had been a vast improvement over the days before Moses, when retaliation could far exceed the original crime. It was more like, a life for a tooth! Moses was therefore improving the situation by inculcating fairness and parity.
Jesus was now raising the benchmark again. No longer was justice the way people should live, but instead there should be mercy. This was the way God treated humans. If we were dependant on his justice then we would all be lost. But because of his love, mercy and grace we are forgiven and restored. “Whilst we were yet sinners (i.e. enemies of God) Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words we did not deserve it; it was the grace of God.
Since God has so loved us, we are now required to do the same. It is comparatively easy to love someone who loves us; it is far harder to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.44). Yes, our loving God is requiring us to love all people – not all people in general, but each person in particular!
This love is sadly not natural to most of us. There comes a point, sooner or later, when our love runs out. This is why we first need to have experiences and receive the love of God. Was it not Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, who was told, “She loves much because she has been forgiven much (Luke 7:47)? When we know that we are loved (despite not deserving it) then we will find the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The fruit of the Spirit is “love” (Galatians 5:22). Only God can teach us to love the unlovely from our hearts.
Lord, I want to be more like Jesus. Fill me with your abounding love, that I may show that love to others. Amen.