Jules Does

Jules Does Lent: Monday Week 1

Posted on: February 15, 2016

Sometimes, Christianity can seem a bit easy. Living when and where I do, I don’t face persecution for my beliefs; indeed, they’re relatively well-known and widely shared to the point where the holy days of my religion are national holidays. There aren’t any prescriptions about what I can and can’t eat (apart from meat on Fridays), or where I can or can’t go, or much about what I can or can’t wear (the chilly temperature lends itself nicely to full-coverage clothes as the default). Yes, Christianity can sometimes seem like a bit of a doddle, a gentle walk through life and a golden celestial handshake for all eternity at the end.

But then come readings like today’s.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament readings for today (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18 and Matthew 25:31-46) clearly set out God’s expectations for our behaviour as His people. His reminder that we are to be holy as He is holy (Lev 19:2) has a memorable echo in the New Testament, Matthew 5:48, when Jesus tells us to “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. And how are we to be perfect? Well, Leviticus gives us some pretty clear guidance in that area: don’t show preference to the underdog or to the big shot, but treat all people with perfect justice. Don’t hate people and let anger fester in your heart, but talk to the person who has upset you. Do not exploit or oppress the vulnerable, including those who work for you. Love your neighbour as yourself.

Already a lot of those commandments seem incredibly challenging. Act with perfect justice? Confront people who upset you rather than holding grudges? Love others to the same extent that I love myself? How is this to be achieved? Well, God reminds us several times in this passage that He is the Lord, and this repeated statement should serve to remind us that God’s Kingship is not only the reason for us to behave the way that He wants us to but it is also the mechanism by which we will be able to do this at all. God has made us His people, and he will help us carry out His commands, because He knows that there is no way we could do them on our own.

As though the commands of Leviticus weren’t enough, we are told again in the New Testament reading that God demands that we live our belief. The good are not rewarded for staying out of people’s way, for putting their heads down and getting on with things, being nice to people when it is convenient for them. No, the good respond to the needs of others actively – clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry. Those who are sent away from the presence of God are not those who made the naked that way, nor did they take food away from the hungry or make people sick and lonely. Instead, they simply fail to respond to the needs of others. They are like the people in the parable of the Good Samaritan who pass by on the other side of the road – they aren’t responsible for the man’s plight, but neither do they work to alleviate his suffering.

This command to help others actively ties in nicely with our Lenten directive to give alms. Alms don’t need to be exclusively monetary – you can give alms by spending time with people, or using your talents in the service of others. Call someone who might be lonely. Help out at a mum-and-baby group. Make tea for the people in your office. Do the washing up without being asked. Self-giving can take forms both large and small, but the important thing is that you give yourself for others, and in doing so love others as yourself. If we do that, Christ tells us, we will be serving Him.

 

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