When Loving My Neighbor Gets Lost

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S (Scripture): Matthew 25:1 Talking with his disciples, Jesus said: “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. 4 But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.

5 “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’

7 “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’

9 “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.

11 “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’

12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.

O (Observation): Jesus has been talking with the disciples about what the end of time would look like…what the coming of the Kingdom would entail. Much of what he says comes from his experience with the Pharisees. The Pharisees and religious experts have tended to focus on strict adherence to the belief system they created, and lean less on living out their belief system.

Living out the Commandments God gave the world would look and sound a lot like what Jesus did and said. Striving for life aligned with God’s purposes is the point: be doing the work of God…which looks and sounds like Jesus. This is being ready for the groom.

A (Application): How much do we focus on belief over practice in the Church? We need beliefs to guide our practices, but as post-Enlightenment people, a people focused on dualistic thinking (right OR wrong, true OR false), we feel the most important thing will be belief. Why? Because we believe that gets us into heaven. I think (through this parable, Jesus challenges that belief that belief alone is what is needed.)

If we believe in Jesus as Lord, that’s like a switch that automatically means we are going “up” instead of “down.” One problem with this dualistic approach is that my neighbor in need is ignored.

If my faith is solely focused on my own personhood and salvation, then what do I make of my neighbor? Well…that’s complicated.

First, that person needs to subscribe to my understanding of salvation (remember, dualistic mindset and faith.). So I will speak to that person in such a way as to invite them to believe what I believe or be shamed.

Second, loving neighbor looks like this: tell them that the thing they are missing is Jesus, rather than inviting the other to “check out what I believe.”

The way something is said is important. If I tell you what I believe as, “Duh, of course this is the only truth,” then you lose people.

I would propose another tactic: burn your lamps and grab some more oil now. Pray, worship, give, develop healthy friendships, serve your neighbor, read Scripture. Allow your interactions with your neighbors to be filled with grace and mercy. Let that space between you be a place where the Spirit connects you.

If the door opens for that person to invite you to share your own faith story, move into that conversation. If not, then don’t.

But in all things, show love for neighbor.

P (Prayer): Lord, clear the path for us to love and serve our neighbor. Amen.

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In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.