Life and Love and Change
How do we cope and deal with life in times such as now when danger and adversity seem to be all around us?
It goes without saying that as Christians we follow the teachings of Christ and, in one of those teachings, he was asked, ‘Which are the most important commandments?’
Luke 10, 25-38
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] 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.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Mark 12, 28-34
The Greatest Commandment
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
So we need to love our neighbours as ourselves and all that means, knowing that we are not perfect and make mistakes and that also our neighbours will do the same.
If we truly love ourselves then we can forgive ourselves for our wrong doings and we can also forgive our family, friends, neighbours, strangers – and even fellow members of the church!
Love means accepting ourselves for who we are and others for who they are; it is not about controlling others, but about choosing to interact with others in a positive, loving and kind way.
The foundation for living through any times, however difficult, is in a loving and kind way. This is through the selflessness of the Holy Spirit, choosing to live through God and Christ rather than following our ego and self-interest and trying to control events through others.
Through science and evolution we learn that anxiety of one kind or another is our natural state. We are designed and have evolved to respond to change. Change is an essential feature of life and often at its most challenging when it becomes necessary through adversity, for example when, as now, normal life grinds to a resounding halt. So we thrive on change but when our daily routine is severely disrupted where do we turn?
Matthew 25, 14-30
The Parable of the Talents
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
I have talked about love as the foundation of a good life, but how do we deal with change in adversity? All people, to live successfully, have to be able to cope, not only with the good times which are much easier, but also with the hard times, that are far more difficult. How as Christians do we deal with difficult times? We often ask the question, ‘What do God and Jesus want us to do? How do They want us to live our lives?’
We have already heard that They want us to love Them, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, our neighbours and ourselves. But what does it mean? Well, it is about trusting people with their own decisions whilst fostering encouragement in the way that a good person of Jesus would. That is what a good teacher does.
We are on earth for many reasons, known and unknown, but there is one undeniable fact, that we are all here to learn. We have no choice in but to deal with the constant change of everyday life.
The greatest gift that God has given us is love, but hand in hand with that is free will. This is what we saw with Adam and Eve. We have the free will to make kind and loving choices through the Holy Spirit, through truly loving decisions that respect others for their individuality and difference and their right to make their own choices. Alternatively, we can choose to make poor and selfish choices that are egotistical and about personal gain, about trying to control others, trying to make them do what we want them to, rather than what is necessarily the best for them.
I think that’s what it means in the Parable of the Talents when the person who does nothing is antisocial and thinks only of himself. What he has is taken from him and given to others, because of his antisocial behaviour, but above all for his meanness of spirit.
God’s second great gift to us is our own free will and freedom to choose; we are not compelled.
Often when we search through life asking specifically what God wants us to do with our lives, we won’t actually be told. That is why we so often ask what the meaning of life is and ask the same questions again and again.
That is what, ‘My Father’s house has many rooms’ is about. There are as many ways to God as there are individuals. There are many ways of living a ‘good’ life. That is what the Parable of the Talents is all about.
God wants us to self-actualise – to live life to the full with the talents we have. We can’t all be Jesus or Peter or Mary, a saint or a disciple. For better or for worse, we have to be ourselves.
We can all do our bit by living life to the full through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, to exercise love through lack of ego, through the choices that we make.
That is what the meaning of life is – the expression of love through the choices that we make. It is a concept rather than proscribed rules and actions. That’s why the Pharisees didn’t get it and why some institutions of the church often still don’t get it.
We might ask God for guidance about what we should be doing in our lives, but if we are expecting specific answers to specific questions then we are asking the wrong questions.
What God wants us to do is to make our own decisions through loving our neighbours, not only as ourselves, but also by loving ourselves. We make the most of our lives on earth when we do that. We self-actualise through that love and through making those decisions.
That is how we grow spiritually. That is why the ‘ant slowly ate the bear’ and why from tiny acorns great oaks grow.
So don’t so much ask God how you should live your life, just grasp the nettle and do it. That is what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is about, because in that way we not only help ourselves, but we also save each other, through love and forgiveness, and we also survive through one of the biggest constants in our life in a meaningful way – we survive change.