Who is my neighbour?

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is perhaps one of the best known stories in the Bible, and yet perhaps also one of the most misunderstood. These days, the word Samaritan is strongly associated with the Samaritans charity who provide vital support at the end of a telephone line for a person who is struggling so much with the stresses of life that they may be contemplating harming themselves or taking their own life.

A Samaritans charity telephone box and sign on the Erskine Bridge, Scotland

The parable was given by Jesus as the answer to a question asked by a lawyer, an expert in the Jewish religious law. After he had responded to Jesus to say that believers were commanded to love God and to love their neighbours, he asked Jesus: who is my neighbour?

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10.25-29

Jesus told him the story of a man who was robbed and left for dead at the side of the road, and who was then ignored by both a Priest and a Levite. They both saw the injured man but crossed over to the other side of the road. The most likely reason for them not wanting to touch the man would’ve been that it would make them ritually unclean according to their religious laws, either by touching blood or a dead body, therefore making them incapable of performing their job of offering sacrifice in the Temple until they had become clean again.

Jesus said that after they both walked past him, a Samaritan man came along, he bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn and paid for him to be looked after until he was well again.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Luke 10.30-34

During the time of Jesus, Samaritans lived in the North of the Roman Province of Palestine. They shared many similarities with religious Jews in terms of their heritage and what they believed about God, but Jews considered Samaritans to be followers of a false religion and they were mostly shunned as a result. The actual differences between the Jewish and Samaritan religions are not important in terms of the parable, rather it was told by Jesus for two reasons. Firstly, to show that the act of loving our neighbour isn’t dependent on first of all checking to see if the person is worthy of our love before we choose to show that love. Secondly, it was to show that if the act of being religious gives someone an excuse to not show love to someone in need, then their religion is nothing more than a sham.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the lawyer which of the 3 men was a neighbour to the one who was injured. In his answer, he couldn’t bring himself to say that it was the Samaritan man, he just said that it was the one who showed mercy. Jesus’ response to him, and to us, by extension, is the same, to show mercy.

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10.36-37

It can be a hard lesson to learn, that God expects us all to show love to all, not just to those who we think are deserving of it, or to those with whom we share faith in God. It can also be a hard lesson to learn that very often the religious things we do, and which we think are done for the right reasons, can very often be the very things holding us back from showing love to our neighbours.

If our religion makes us care more for separation than for love then we perhaps need to examine our motives. The prophet Hosea sums this up best. Some translations say steadfast love rather than mercy, but they are interchangeable terms:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6.6

The Good Samaritan painting by Vincent Van Gogh, with the text of Hosea 6v6 overlaid on it

The Wonders of Creation

When you’re out and about, have you ever stopped to watch and admire all that is going on around us in nature? We’ve been enjoying sunny weather recently and as winter turns to spring, it is lovely to see new life appearing.  Spring bulbs have been flowering, producing beautiful splashes of colour in gardens and parks as well as by paths and hedgerows.  Leaves are beginning to appear on trees and blossom is also starting to open.  In the fields lambs are enjoying the sunshine – sometimes playing with each other, running and jumping about, or just curled up with their mothers in the fields.  The birds have paired off and are busy building nests.  In fact, some of them must already be feeding young ones as we see the parents flying off with beaks full of food.  Such a variety of things, with their different shapes and colours, and the vibrancy of life, surely point to careful and precise design. 

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we are told that God said

“Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1 v 11,12)

Later, we read that “God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”  (Genesis 1 v 20,21)

Finally, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1 v 31).

We see therefore that God is the Designer and Creator of all life.

Picture of a butterfly

So, next time you are out or looking from the window, please pause and take note of the wonderful things in nature.

I hope you too will marvel at the amazing variety and beauty of God’s creation. It is indeed very good!

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life!

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life!” 1 Timothy 6 v12

What is faith? A blind belief? Accepting that your team will win the league? Both of these are rather stretching possibility; no guarantee can be offered!  Faith is of course also a word which relates to which particular religion you “belong to” and hence can be a “label” identifying individuals in the eyes of others. However, an expression which we hear much more often these days is “people of all faiths or none”; the irony being that people of “no faith” might form an attachment to an idea, a practice common – practicable and acceptable – to all. Is faith logical then? Many, given some initial exposure to Bible teaching, to Holy Scripture, would not be convinced. Where the conviction, the faith comes from is the truth perceived in the completeness of the whole account; the way in which God’s Truth is supported in what Scripture threads together. This is the reason why we need to read it from Genesis to Revelation; to find what we call Bible echoes, and learn from them. “Keeping Faith” – a TV drama? Yes, but the origin of the idea is seeking the means of living according to those life truths which we learn from Scripture. Faith, we are told, does not serve us on its own. A short, but very practical, New Testament book is The General Epistle of James where we read in Chapter 2 v26:  

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

We have to live according to what we have learned, or we are wasting our time. Some in the world have learned as much; in an oft-repeated/misquoted saying, we have: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So, we have to try to get our lives right.  James has advice on this too. In Chapter 1 v27 he says:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

Not easy in this world where we are so exposed to its ways. 

In the New King James Bible, the word “faith” appears over 200 times in total, predominantly in the New Testament with only two instances in the Old Testament. From this we can discern how important it should be to us. The great faith-affirming chapter, Hebrews 11, includes a list of notable characters from the Old Testament, who are commended for their faith, and the consequential blessing promised to them by God. This blessing is for all as, at the end of Jesus’ first mission to this tired world, he commanded his disciples in Mark 16 v15:

And He said unto them, Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  

And so it has come to us! Let’s finish by showing some verses from Luke’s gospel which highlight Jesus’ responses to those whose faith was made evident, so we too can receive our spiritual sight, and be forgiven for our weaknesses! So much is possible when we have faith to believe! 

Luke 5 vv18-20: “Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralysed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him [Jesus]. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”” 

Luke 7 v9: “When Jesus heard these things, … He turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”” 

Luke 8 v48: “And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.””

Luke 18 v42: “Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.””

The Great Comeback!

Last week, Christians all across the world marked Easter – a deeply significant
date in the year – and if you are reading this blog then I’m confident that you
know about this weekend, whether it’s all about the enjoyment of sweet
chocolate goodies, or remembering the man, and son of God – Jesus Christ
(the two are not mutually exclusive, of course!).

A depiction of the empty tomb. | “Hallelujah he is risen”.

I’d like to share a little reflection of why this is such a big deal.

Jesus was a man who took it upon himself to do God’s will:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me to
bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;”

Isaiah 61:1

In living a life of dedicated service to his Father’s will, as laid out in this verse
from Isaiah, Jesus made it possible to see how much God loves us – because
Jesus allowed his conduct and way of living to reflect God’s character. He
showed us that God wants to be in a relationship with us, right now.

At face value, right up until what we now call Easter Sunday, Jesus’ life was
cruelly taken by people who didn’t truly understand or appreciate who he was,
or what he was about. It resulted in a brutal death, and those who were
following Jesus must have come close to losing heart altogether that Jesus was
who he said he was – God’s son, who came to free us from a burdensome life
that would otherwise result in death, and separation from God’s love.

It was not the end of the matter, though – because Jesus was raised from the
dead – resurrected – because he’d lived a life of loving service to God, he
hadn’t sinned, hadn’t turned away from the work that God gave him to do.
This is why I’ve called this post, “The Great Comeback” – because that’s what
Jesus’ resurrection means to me! He was pushed over the edge by those who
hated him, who didn’t understand what he was all about. And he came back!
This is a cause for great joy in our faith community across the world!

Jesus’ resurrection shows me that there is hope beyond death, when we seek
it through Jesus.

A picture of a small cross. | “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” John 11:25-26

There is so much more to talk about on this matter, but I hope the essence of
this amazing concept gets you wondering, thinking and contemplating about
what it is to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and what it means for you and me.

Come unto me, ye weary

This is the first line of Hymn 327 from the Christadelphian Hymn Book which is sung in the video below.  Here are the thoughts of one of the performers about it:

This is one of my favourite hymns and I love the harmonies of the lilting tune. But it’s the words which impact me most. It speaks to each and every one of us – in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. After a year under lockdown conditions we all, to a degree, find ourselves feeling weary and our hearts are heavy with longing to see our loved ones again. We may be experiencing sadness and feel lost and full of doubt. But, if we listen with open ears and hearts we can hear the welcome voice of Jesus promising us a time soon to come when he will bring never-ending joy, mornings of gladness and boundless love. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Words of Hymn 327*

“Come unto me, ye weary,
And I will give you rest.”
O blessed voice of Jesus,
Which comes to hearts opprest!
It tells of benediction,
Of pardon, favour, peace;
Of joy that hath no ending,
And love that cannot cease.

 “Come unto me, ye wanderers,
And I will give you light.”
O loving voice of Jesus,
Which comes to cheer the night!
Our hearts were filled with sadness,
And we had lost our way;
But morning brings us gladness,
And songs the break of day.

“Come unto me, ye fainting,
And I will give you life.”
O cheering voice of Jesus,
Which comes to aid our strife!
The foe is strong and eager,
The fight is fierce and long,
But thou hast made us mighty,
And stronger than the strong.

“And whosoever cometh,
I will not cast him out.”
O welcome voice of Jesus,
Which drives away our doubt!
Which calls us – very sinners –
Unworthy though we be
Of love so free and boundless,
To come, dear Lord, to thee.

*used by kind permission of the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association

Reflections

Like much of the world, I have been reflecting on the last year as we reach the anniversary of UK wide lockdown. It came as a shock to many of us, and went on for much longer than we had anticipated. Currently, in Scotland, we have a vague route map out of our third lockdown, and there is a quiet optimism that this one might be the last.

I look back on the past year and marvel at the ways society has found to keep in touch. Online video conferencing has grown exponentially and allowed us to continue working, chatting to family, meeting new babies, witnessing weddings, and let’s not forget the new concept of a friendly quiz night!

I am very thankful that church has continued online. I have spent a whole year moaning about it and saying how much I hate it, but as I reflect, I realise how much of an important part it has actually played in this most unusual of years. It’s not surprising though, how innovative we have been in keeping in touch.

From the very first days of human creation, God saw that it was not good for people to be alone. We do require human to human contact, however much or little is needed for each individual; without it we risk withering away. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul writes

‘Therefore comfort each other and edify one another just as you also are doing’
1 Thes 5v11

Isn’t that just what we have been doing this last year? Checking in with friends more regularly than usual, joining our neighbours in clapping for our NHS staff, caring for each other by shopping alone, keeping our distance and wearing a mask.

I look back on this past year and see many examples of God’s love, shown in the way people have cared for each other – as the Bible commands us to do.

I chose this song as it inspired my writing here – one drop of love with a phone call, a doorstep clap, a mask donned.

Disclaimer regarding videos and external links from this blog.

The Word of God stands Forever

A daffodil

Spring is one of my favourite times of year – after a cold winter we see life coming back into the world around us. Buds start to grow on trees, the flowers begin to bloom, and we tend to see the sun just a little more. I am however reminded of God’s word in Isaiah 40v8 which says:

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Spring is an exciting time of rebirth, but come the Autumn, everything will wither and die away again. However, God’s word never withers away or dies and we still read it thousands of years later. His words hold fast and that gives us hope in His promise of joy and peace in an everlasting Kingdom.

God and us

With scientific understanding of the sheer size of the universe growing rapidly, one of the points often made is that compared with the vastness of space, we humans are just so insignificant. Those of us who have a faith in God aren’t immune from this sort of struggle either. Although we believe that God made all that we can see, both with our eyes and with expensive electronic telescopes, it can be difficult to comprehend how a God capable of such amazing creative acts should be so interested in us.

King David pondered this too, around 3000 years ago, when he wrote what would become Psalm 8 in the Hebrew Bible. I just want to focus on a few verses in the middle of the Psalm (v3-5) where David first of all declares the magnificence of the night sky, and yet he then says that humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation, crowned with glory and honour.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.

Alignment of Saturn and Jupiter, December 2020

These 2 pictures were taken in the last few months. One is the view I had of the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter in December 2020 and the other is of a beautiful sunset at the start of March 2021. Just being able to view these amazing sights with my own eyes, let alone being able to photograph them to share with you, boosts my faith in God.

Sunset, March 2021

In Psalm 8v5-8 David tells us that God has put humans in an elevated position of glory and honour, in charge of all of His creation. If you look at Hebrews 2 in the New Testament, then you can gain more insight into how God’s son Jesus fits into this.

David started and ended his beautiful and profound poem with the simple words (v1 & v9):

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

This should be the respectful way we approach God; it is essentially about giving Him the glory and honour He is due, and part of that is our response for the love He shows us.

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